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"The Mystery of the Artist's Model" is an expanded version of "A Studio Mystery" (Jarrold & Sons, London, 1897), which Francis Henry Atkins wrote as "Frank Aubrey." It is twice as long as the original novel. Atkins inserted additional chapters, increasing the number from 11 to 25, and changed the names of places and protaganists. A digital edition of "A Studio Mystery" is available at RGL.
No evidence of publication of "The Mystery of the Artist's Model" in book form could be found, so Atkins presumably wrote it for syndication as a newspaper serial. It appeared in at least one British newspaper (The Linlithgowshire Gazette) and in a number of Australian newspapers.
—Roy Glashan, 8 August 2018
"IT is a most horrid, weird, gruesome, uncanny- looking creation. It gives me the creeps. I do not wonder that Harold hates it, and wishes to rid the studio of it!"
"But, my dear Miss Carlton, consider! It is a work of art, and it cost a lot of money, too, I can assure you!"
"Ugh! It is enough to give one the horrors even to look at it, apart from its history. But when, in addition, one thinks of the monster it represents, and that those clothes are the very same garments—blood-stained and hideous—in which the wretch, was executed! Ugh! Mr. Dorman! I wonder how you have endured its presence in your place day after day all this long time!"
Fred Dorman laughed; an easy, good-natured laugh that seemed to tell of a mind free from worry, and a disposition at peace with itself and the world. And these were indeed his most prominent characteristics. Successful as an artist, though still young—he was scarcely more than thirty—full of life and energy, a noted athlete, and a general favorite amongst all who knew him, he had had very little to complain of thus far on his way through life. And today he was in extra good spirits, in that he had just sold—for a goodly sum—the two pictures that stood on the easel—the result of some months of careful work.
Evelyn Carlton, the young lady with whom he was talking, was the charming fiancée of his chum, Harold Gainsford, who shared his studio. She was quite young—barely nineteen—neither tall nor short, but of fair average height, with rich, golden-brown hair, and a face that attracted all who came within its influence by its sweet smile and quiet, child-like beauty. Her eyes were large and lustrous, and had at times a wistful, half-sad expression that was peculiarly touching. They told indeed of a deeply sympathetic nature, and one had only to look at them, and read the message they seemed to convey, to understand why it was that she was so loved, and petted, and admired, not merely by her widowed mother, or her devoted lover, but by everyone who came in contact with her.
Harold Gainsford was in every way a contrast to his friend Dorman. His face was pale and refined, indicating the neurotic, dreamy student, and his figure, thin, and slender in build, was suggestive of either a lack of constitutional vigour or the after-results of a wasting sickness. As a matter of fact both these things were true; he had always been somewhat delicate, and he had but lately passed through a long and dangerous illness which had left him weak and depressed. But though not robust, like his chum, and unable, as he did, to shine in open-air sports and games, he was equally beloved amongst their circle of friends, everyone who became acquainted with him being at once attracted by his open, kindly nature, and the generous warmth of his disposition.
The conversation recorded above had reference to a model, or lay figure, which was placed at one end of the studio upon a platform, raised a foot or so above, the floor, and set out to represent, in realistic fashion, a rocky mountain background. Near the centre of the scene this figure was seen seated upon a slab of rock just outside the entrance to a cave. It represented a Sicilian brigand, and was complete and exactly true in every detail to the original from which it had been taken; and wonderfully life-like it looked. It was the very ideal of a black-browned and scowling, murderous-looking ruffian, with a rifle leaning against the arm, and pistols and dagger stuck around in the belt. The curious point, however—the fact that rendered the creation unusually gruesome—lay in the circumstance that it was a clever reproduction of a blood-thirsty scoundrel who had actually existed, and who had been executed for his crimes. The wax mask which made up the face had been taken from the miscreant himself; and the clothes, the dagger, and the pistols were those he had actually worn and used during his blood-stained career.
Altogether the figure was—as Evelyn Carlton had declared —gruesome and uncanny-looking, and it was not surprising that she should regard it with instinctive dislike. What, however, was considered a little strange was that Harold Gainsford had, ever since it was first set up in the studio, exhibited towards it an aversion so strong as to amount at times (by his own confession) to a sort of superstitious dread or horror. Of this feeling he could give no reasonable explanation, and he himself felt rather ashamed of the weakness—as everyone around him considered it. But, try as he would, he could not shake it off. So far from getting used to the figure, he seemed to experience every day a stronger repugnance to its presence in the studio. And now that his friend had finished his pictures— for which the effigy had served as a model—he was desirous that it should be got rid of. If he had had his way (he had more than once declared) he would have "chopped it up and burnt it—to the last scrap."
But Dorman had reasons of his own for wishing to keep the figure in his possession. Not only had it cost him, as he had said, a good deal of money, but it was a memento of a thrilling adventure, that had once befallen him, one in which there had been a terrible tragedy. The pictures he had just finished represented two scenes connected with that exciting time in his life, and he had incurred the expense referred to in order that he should have a model to paint from which would render those pictures as realistic as was humanly possible.
Later on—in the evening of that same day—Gainsford gave a further demonstration of his antipathy to the offending model, and as this episode was burnt into his brain by its curious relation to the terrible events which followed, it is of importance to our story that it should be set down here.
It had been early afternoon when Mrs. Carlton and her daughter had called to see the two artists, and, when they left, Gainsford left with them, and accompanied them to their home in Kensington, where he stayed to dine. Dorman, meantime, went off in another direction upon business of his own. Almost immediately after that dinner Gainsford left his friends, and returned to the studio, where he found his chum busily engaged, for it happened that Dorman was starting early the next morning upon a trip to the South of France. He had finished his pictures and sold them, and so considered himself entitled to a holiday, and Harold had good- naturedly cut short his evening at the home of his fiancée in order to assist his chum in his packing and other, arrangements before his departure.
Thus it came about that they had made their preparations, and were seated before the fire—for it was a cold winter's night, and there was snow outside—smoking their last pipes while it was still comparatively early.
"Well, we've settled everything, I think," said Dorman, "and it's not yet ten o'clock. That's well, for I never like to go to bed late if I've got to be up early next morning."
"I know, old chap, and I'm ready as soon as you like," Harold returned.
"There's just one thing though that I almost forgot," Dorman went on. "Old Shylock, as you often call him, paid me for those pictures this afternoon, as he usually does, in cash-notes, and I have them in my pocket. Now I don't want to take all this with me, so before I leave tomorrow I'm going to hand what I don't want over to you."
As he spoke he took out a pocket-book, and, selecting from it a bundle of notes, put some of them into an envelope, and then thrust them all back into his pocket.
"Don't forget to remind me to give you that envelope before I go in the morning," he observed.
"What am I to do with it?" Harold asked.
"Anything you like, so long as you don't lose the notes, or get robbed."
"Humph! I'd better pay them into your bank, hadn't I?"
"Just as you like—if you're sure you won't want any of 'em yourself before I'm back. If you pay 'em in you can't get at 'em again, you know. I have put aside all I shall want for my holiday."
"It's very good of you, Fred, to say that," said Harold. "It's like your good nature of think of it; but I'm not likely to be hard up and to require such a favor while you're away. But," he added, with a sudden change of manner, "there's one favor I would like you to grant me before you leave."
"What's that, Harold?"
"To let me smash up that beastly model yonder! There it sits, staring at me with its idiotic eyes and horrible face! Fred! I tell you I can't stand that thing—I can't have it here to keep me company, when I am alone in the studio while you're gone! You must let me smash it up now, and have done with it!"
Dorman, who had become used to these sudden outbreaks, only smiled.
"What? Still so bitter against the poor thing?" he said, lightly. "Pooh! Harold, I am—! Hullo! What the dickens are you going to do?"
Harold had started up and taken down an old broadsword which was hanging against the wall. He brandished this in frantic style, and advanced threateningly towards the object of his dislike. Dorman sprang up, too, and tried to stop him, but he would probably have been too late if Harold had not stopped dead of his own accord. He did more than stop, however, he actually retreated a step.
"I say, Fred!" he gasped.
"Well? What on earth—"
"Fred!" said Harold, turning with an awe-struck face to his chum, "there is something uncanny about that thing! I always felt there was! I—I—saw—it—wince!"
"Wince? Rubbish, man—"
"I tell you I did! I would almost swear to it!"
"You're excited, Harold! You have worried yourself so long about this figure that you've become a bit 'barmy' over it." said Dorman, soothingly, as he took the sword from Harold's now unresisting hand. At the same time he drew a curtain across, shutting the figure from sight. "How should a lay figure wince? There, there! Let us get to bed! I'm sleepy—and the longer you sit up the more morbid you'll get!"
Harold, whose excited mood had passed away, offered no objection. His bed was in a small room opening into the passage outside; and with a brief good-night he went off to it.
Dorman's bed was in one corner of the roomy studio itself, in a curtained recess opposite the fire.
Instead, however, of going to bed immediately, he sat down on the side of it with the curtains undrawn, staring reflectively at the fire. His thoughts were running on the incident that had just occurred, and he shook his head dubiously two or three times. Presently he lay down, all dressed as he was, and, still staring thoughtfully at the fire, fell asleep.
THE studio jointly occupied by Fred Dorman and Harold Gainsford was situated upon the first floor of a large, old-fashioned house standing in a corner of a square just off the Marylebone-road.
The square formed a cul-de-sac, as it were. You could only enter or leave it at one corner—the one opposite to the house referred to. It stood there quite alone, for in both directions there were intervals between it and the other houses of the square—these intervals were filled in by blank walls shutting off two large buildings, public institutions of some kind, that had their chief entrances in other streets.
The old house thus stood, isolated in its corner, with an air of having shut itself off from other habitations in a fit of sulky discontent with its own fallen fortunes. For it was very different in structure and appearance from the more modern residences on the remaining sides of the square. The ground or garden in front was uncared-for and weed-grown. A pathway or carriage drive curved round from gate to gate, one on either side, to the broad flight of steps that led up to the front door. The house itself, too, was gloomy and dilapidated in its general appearance. It impressed you with the conviction that it had "seen better days;" that it had retired to this corner to mediate undisturbed upon its former glories and ancient grandeur; and it seemed to protest, in moody but dignified silence, against the fate that had brought it down from its former high estate.
On the night when this story begins the snow lay thick upon the ground in the square, and the air was keen; but a full moon, riding high in the sky, lighted up the scene with a radiance that made the lights in windows and street lamps appear ruddy by comparison. In the garden in the middle of the square the leafless branches moved slightly to and fro, now and then, when a light, but icy, breeze came sweeping past, their shadows tracing quaint, over-changing, lace-like patterns on the snow beneath them.
The clocks around tolled out midnight, and in the hush, due to the muffling by the snow of the usual sounds of traffic from the neighboring streets, one could hear chimes and bells ringing out the hour in all directions—some close at hand, others far away in the distance. When all had finished, the square could not have seemed more quiet had it formed part of a country village, although it was within a few hundred yards of busy, restless, London thorough-fares.
The silence was soon broken by the sound of voices, intermixed with snatches of comic songs, sung or whistled, and growing louder with the appearance in the square of two men in Inverness capes. They seemed to be in high spirits, and their talk and attempted musical interludes suggested that they had been having a pleasant and merry time of it.
They passed the nearest houses, and were now walking alongside one of the high walls, evidently bound for the large detached house in the corner.
"What a grand dancer that Lanelle is, isn't she?" said one of the two. "I don't think I ever saw such a clever dancer! And for grace! She beats Carina all to nothing. That's my opinion! Don't you think so, Ted?"
"Well, I don't know as to that," returned the other, "but certainly she's out of the common. She's, not so good looking, I thing, as Carina; and besides—Hulloa! Who's this?"
The speaker had turned round at the unexpected presence behind them of someone whose footsteps had been so deadened by the snow that he had come up quite close before they were aware that they had been followed.
"C'est moi, Monsieur Manton," said the newcomer with a deferential bow. "Permit, sare, that I go to open ze door for you."
"Ah, Henri," said the one whom he addressed, "what brings you out so late, eh? Been to post letters or something?"
"No, sare. I have been out all ze evening. Mr. Dorman he give me leave to go out to-night to give my what-you- call—sweetheart—a treat, because it's her day of birth."
"Your sweetheart's birthday, eh? Lucky dog to have a sweetheart, and to be able to take her out. Where have you been? To the theatre, I suppose?"
"To ze Alhambra, sare."
"Oh, to the Alhambra? Then you saw one we were just talking about—Carina? What do you think of her dancing?"
"C'est superbe, sare. The finest I have ever seen; I knew not before there was one so splendid in London."
"Ah," put in he who had been addressed as Ted, "you should have gone to the Empire and seen the one we saw there to- night—Lanelle; she beats Carina all to fits."
"If that is so, monsieur; I shall go zere ze next time I shall be able. Voila, Monsieur!" and the speaker, throwing open the door, stood respectfully aside to allow the others to enter.
The spacious hall was lighted by a gas lamp; at the end was a broad oak staircase, up which Henri went, after bidding the others good-night; while they entered a door on the right and one turned up the glimmering gas jet that had been left ready-lighted against their return.
The two were Ted Manton and William Ranger, and both were artists. They occupied between them all the ground floor; indeed the whole house was let out in flats, or floors, to artists. The two who had the first floor were Fred Dorman and Harold Gainsford; and Henri, the foreigner who had returned at the same time, as the two first-named, was Dorman's factotum—a sort of combination of valet, cook, general servant, and, on occasion, model. The ground and first floors ran out some distance to the back, and on each was a suite of rooms or small flat, shut off by one door; but above that the floors were smaller. On the second floor was an artist named Dennett, who had two rooms, the remaining two being let to a tenant who was at this time away. The top floor was empty, with the exception of one room, which Henri used as a bedroom.
When Ranger had stirred up the fire, which responded by sending a cheerful blaze flaring up the wide chimney, he said to his friend while they were taking off their wraps:—
"Funny Henri should be out to-night."
"Why?" inquired the other. "He's got a very indulgent master; Dorman often lets him off for the evening."
"Yes; but Dorman's going away tomorrow for a month or two. You'd have thought he would have wanted some packing done, or something."
"I suppose Henri pleaded specially hard on account of its being his sweetheart's birthday, as he informed us so fully. By the way, what countryman is Henri? Do you know? I suppose he's French, but I'm sure I don't know," returned Ranger indifferently, "and I'm equally certain the matter doesn't trouble me. Only if I were Dorman—Good heavens! What's that?"
They both rushed out into the hall just in time to meet Henri tearing—almost tumbling—down the stairs, calling out and shouting while he ran.
"Messieurs, Messieurs! Ah, nom de Dieu!"
Following him up the stairs, and along a passage, they entered the large studio occupied by Dorman and Gainsford. There a terrible sight met their eyes.
Upon a small bedstead that stood in one corner lay extended, upon its back, the form of Fred Dorman, with the front of his clothing covered with blood, which also had run down on to the bed, and the floor. Over him stood Harold Gainsford, muttering incoherently, and seemingly scarcely in his right senses. He, too, was blood-stained, both as to his hands and his clothes; his hair was disordered, and he was but half dressed, and had on neither boots nor slippers.
Manton went up to Dorman's side and took hold of his hand. He found that it was already stiff and almost cold.
"Good God, Gainsford!" he exclaimed, "what terrible thing is this? What do you know about it? Speak, man, for God's, sake? What?—Ranger, send Henri off for a doctor at once. Yet I fear 'tis too late. He's dead—been dead some time; but—still—send Henri at once!"
Henri darted off, leaving the two horrified men alone with Gainsford, from whom came, only the words. "He did it. That thing there. I saw it—saw him strike, but was not in time! He did it! He did it! I always said it would be so; and I saw him do it!"
The two listeners stared incredulously at Gainsford, who pointed to the lay figure at the other end of the studio. Across the front of the platform ran a rod with a curtain upon it, and this had been pulled quite back to the wall on one side. Suddenly Gainsford sprang to the side of the studio near the fireplace, and, taking down an old broad-sword hanging against the wall, made a rush at the lay figure, and, in a seeming access of frenzied rage, cut and hacked at it with terrible fury. The figure fell over on to the ground, the mask came off and rolled one way, and the wooden head another; but he continued to hack at the rest, and had broken it almost to pieces before the two witnesses of his extraordinary acts could interfere and get the sword away from him.
By the time this had been done, Henri returned, accompanied by a doctor and a policeman, the latter being followed, shortly after, by another and a sergeant.
But neither doctor nor policeman could do aught for poor Fred Dorman. He was dead—killed by a deep stab in the breast; and all that was left to be done was to discover the murderer and bring him to punishment.
It seemed an easy enough thing to do this; so at least thought the police, for Gainsford had been taken almost—indeed, only too literally—red-handed, and the sole doubt appeared to be whether he had done it in his sober senses, or, as looked more probable, in a fit of homicidal mania.
At any rate an hour later, Gainsford was charged at the Marylebone police station with the murder of his friend and chum, Fred Dorman.
ANDREW HUNTLY sat in his sanctum on the day following the tragic death of Fred Dorman, apparently, deeply, engaged in some papers spread out before him; but, in reality, staring blankly at them and seeing nothing. His thoughts were far away, and words and half-sentences that escaped him now and then indicated that he was pondering upon the strange circumstances surrounding the murder.
Huntly was one of the class known as private detectives—and a celebrated one. To his offices in a side street leading out of the Strand came many from far and near, to seek his aid in all kinds of difficulties and troubles. He had had a long and extensive experience, was known to be honest and faithful to those employing his services; but he had been so successful that he had for some time contemplated retiring, and only a sort of inborn love of puzzling out difficult problems had kept him from carrying out his half-formed intention. As it was, he now accepted only such cases as happened to interest him, declining many that were pressed upon him, no matter how liberal might be the remuneration offered. Therefore he was not easy of approach in such matters, and the comparatively few who succeeded in inducing him to lend them his assistance deemed themselves fortunate.
In appearance there was nothing at first sight very remarkable about him. About middle height, neither stout nor thin, yet of muscular build, he showed no sign of age, save, perhaps, the iron-grey color of his closely-cut hair. Nor was there much in the clean-shaven face to serve as an index to the casual observer, unless it were, to be paradoxical, a curious impassiveness when the features were in repose. But, if one looked a little deeper—especially if one watched him when talking upon any subject that interested him—there was a keenness in the steady glance of the grey eyes, and a firmness about the mouth and chin, that were irresistibly suggestive of latent power and repressed energy.
In the midst of his meditations there came a knock at the door, and in response to his sharp, "Come in!" a clerk entered, bearing a note which he handed without remark to his principal.
Huntly took it, opened it, and read it; then sat for a minute drumming with his fingers upon the table. "Who is it that has brought this, Sankey?" he presently asked. "Two ladies, sir!" laconically answered the clerk. "Look like mother and daughter."
"Mother and daughter, eh? H'm, well—show them in."
"Yes, sir!" and Sankey went out, but returned almost immediately, ushering in an elderly lady in widow's weeds, and a very charming but very pale and sorrowful-looking young girl, dressed in a sort of half-mourning; from their appearance they were ladies of good position.
After requesting them to be seated, Huntly glanced again at the letter he still held in his hand, and looking at the elder of the two, said inquiringly:—
"Yes, sir," answered the one addressed, "and my daughter," indicating her companion.
Huntly gave a short, sharp look at the young girl, bowed slightly, and then said to the mother—
"I see this letter is from Dr. Mellor. What is it you wish to see me about?"
Mrs. Carlton essayed to speak, checked herself, and then said, with an evident effort—
"It's about that dreadful affair of Mr. Dorman. He was a friend of ours—and so is Mr. Gainsford."
"I see," replied Huntly. "But what is it you require?"
"We have heard, sir," answered. Mrs. Carlton, "of your skill in investigating matters of this kind. Also the difficulty there is now in prevailing upon you to take up a new case."
She paused, evidently looking anxiously for some sign of encouragement; but, receiving none, she continued, still more hesitatingly—
"Dr. Mellor, who is also a friend of ours, said that, perhaps at his suggestion and recommendation, you might make an exception in our case—and we know of what value that might be to us—and we thought that, perhaps, when you had heard—that is—when you know how we are connected with this dreadful business, you might—that is Dr. Mellor said he hoped you would—take it up for us. Money is not an object, compared—"
Here her daughter sprang up impulsively, and extending her clasped hands towards the impassive Huntly, evidently fearing his refusal, exclaimed, with tears running from her eyes and her voice choking with sobs—
"Oh! do not refuse, sir! Do not say no! Wait—wait before you answer! You do not know—you cannot tell—what this may mean to us, and to—to another—it, may be life or death. Oh, sir, say—say you will help us in this awful trouble."
The mother got up and put her arm tenderly round the girl, who was trembling so that she could scarcely stand.
"Evelyn, my child," she said soothingly, "sit down. You are over-excited. You must not upset yourself. Sit down and be quiet a moment, while I explain to this gentleman. He cannot possibly say either yes or no until he knows what it is we want;" and she tried to lead her back to her seat.
But the girl pushed her gently from her, and fixed her eyes on Huntly, waiting in a strained agony of hope and fear for his answer.
From his face her glance wandered around the room, then back to meet his, reminding Huntly, who was narrowly observing her, of the pathetic look of a hunted hare.
"Come, come, Miss Carlton," he said kindly, "do as your mother asks you. I see you are both in great distress, and, if I see my way to help you, I may be willing to do so. But we shall never get on if you do not allow your mother to explain matters, you know."
Somewhat re-assured by his tone, she went back to her seat; and Mrs. Carlton recommenced, this time more firmly.
"We have known both Mr. Dorman and Mr. Gainsford for many years, and know them to have been firm and affectionate friends, who never had quarrel or indifference of any kind, and both high- spirited, honorable English gentleman. Fred Dorman, however, was the stronger of the two, both physically and, in a sense, mentally—at least, since a visit they paid to Italy some two years ago. There they met with an unhappy adventure, which so affected Mr. Gainsford that he had brain fever, since which he has been in a very weak state of health, and, as I have heard, has been somewhat given to strange, superstitious fancies."
"Mr. Gainsford is engaged to my daughter—my only child, who has come here with me to-day; you can understand, therefore, how this tragic affair has affected her. We live at the address in the Bayswater-road. Dr. Mellor, who was friendly with these two young gentlemen, came to us this morning to break the sad news, and to urge us to see you without delay. He said he was sure that, if any man in London could help us, you were that man; but he also warned us not to be too sanguine of persuading you to aid us, for he knew that you were now refusing people every day."
And Mrs. Carlton handed Huntly a slip of paper on which she had written her address.
Andrew Huntly glanced at the paper, nodded his head, and then looked compassionately at Evelyn.
"I will do what I can," he said, waving his hand to stop Evelyn from jumping up to come and thank him, which he saw she was about to do, "but I fear there is little to be done. So far as appears, the case is terribly against your friend Mr. Gainsford. Still, I see two or three doubtful, or rather, curious points; and, I may tell you, I had already thought of looking into the matter on my own account, because it interested me, and also because my friend, Dr. Mellor, is mixed up in it. Indeed, I live near him, and he called me in there early this morning, so that I was early on the scene, and made a careful investigation with him, before the detective from Scotland Yard arrived. No thanks, therefore, are due to me from you for taking the matter in hand; indeed, I shall feel greater interest in it now that I have seen you and heard how you are situated. If there is any possible way to aid your friend, Mr. Gainsford, you may rely upon me it shall be found, if pains, and patience, and thought can arrive at it; but—and it is a cruel—but I see no light ahead at present. The theory is that Gainsford killed his friend, either while in a fit of homicidal mania, or, possibly, walking in his sleep. As you say he had fancies, and it seems that the story he told about the lay figure made up to represent a brigand chief, was but a further development of an old-standing phantasy he had got into his head about that same figure or model. It really does look as though he had allowed it to work upon his mind until he dreamed of it night after night; and, finally, in his sleep, or in a fit of hallucination, himself carried out to its fearful end the fancy his own brain had evolved."
Both mother and daughter remained silent for a while—the latter with her face buried in her handkerchief. While Huntly had been speaking, her moods and looks had been a reflection of the words he uttered. First, thankfulness and gratitude, then interest, and, finally, a hopeless despair that caused her to lean her head on the back of her chair and hide her tear-stained face from view.
Presently Mrs. Carlton spoke—
"If," she asked, "it should be proved so—or if it should be ultimately believed that that is the real truth of the matter—what would they do to Mr. Gainsford?"
"He would be confined in a lunatic asylum."
"For how long?"
"Ah, that I cannot tell you, my dear madam. 'During His Majesty's Pleasure' is the usual phrase. It may mean anything—a lifetime, or less. But, in any case, it must mean a long-time."
"And in any case, it must mean death to him, poor boy, sensitive and high-spirited as he is, and especially in his weak state of health. And that would mean, alas! I fear, for my poor child here, little better either;" and the mother sighed mournfully.
Andrew Huntly sighed too. He was not given to showing emotion, but to-day, somehow for once, he was touched to the heart. The despairing "hunted' look he had seen on the sweet face of the young girl haunted him, and he could not put it from him.
"It would be cruel," he said, "to raise hopes where I see none myself, so I cannot say more than I have already said. Certainly there are a few particulars I mean to look into; very slight—nebulous—at present; everything depends upon whether they lead one further, or stop dead where they are. They may be the entrances to a path that shall lead us where we wish, or they may be simply culs-de-sac—where you see 'no thoroughfare' clearly written up when you get a little further. One never can tell. One can only try—try everything, and neglect no point, however slight and unimportant it may at first sight appear. But all this demands time, and, for that reason, it is well that you have come to me at once."
"Thank you, sir," said Mrs. Carlton. "And since, as you say, such work requires time, it requires also money. As I said before, money must not stand in the way. If you will but tell me—"
Huntly held up his hand. "I will take nothing, unless I succeed, in your case," he declared. "Then—if happily it be so—you could give what you pleased to cover any expenses incurred. That's all. Now I must be setting about it; for time is precious in such cases, I will let you know from time to time how matters progress, and—do your best, madam, to help your daughter to bear up."
As they were going out, the young girl suddenly seized Huntly's hand and pressed her lips upon it.
"God bless you, sir, for the slight hope you have put into my heart, and for your kind feeling for us. I will try to do my part—to keep brave for Harold's sake—while you are doing yours."
"Ah, that is better talk, far," was Andrews response. "Keep to that, my dear young lady—keep up a brave heart, and feel sure I am fighting your battle for you! They say a battle is never lost till it is won, you know—and there is time yet for either."
After the departure of the mother and daughter, Huntly remained awhile staring hard into the fire. Then he turned round to the papers on his desk, with a sigh.
"Poor girl! poor child!" he said to him himself, "I wish, for her sake, I could see more chance of success in this miserable business. I've seen many grief-stricken faces my time—ah! how many! but I never saw one that affected me like hers. Gad! I'd give something, instead of being paid, to be able to carry good news to her, to relieve her distress and see her poor face brighten up. What a treat to see that, if I should succeed! Now Andrew, my boy, if ever you bent your brains and your whole energies to a task, do it here. Brains and thought shall tell if they're pitted against cunning plotters in this case, as they have so many times before, my boy! It does not look cheerful at present, but I've seen many turn out that looked no better. Come in!"
This last exclamation was in I response to a knock at the door. Sankey entered, saying—
"Mr. Vardon wants to see you, sir."
"Ask him in," said Huntly, and a few minutes later Mr. Richard Vardon, a well-known member of the detective department of Scotland Yard, entered, and shook Andrew by the hand.
RICHARD VARDON entered with rather a pompous mien. As a member of "the Force," he affected to look down upon all "private" detectives. Still, he knew Huntly to be not only a respectable but an unusually astute member of the class. He had, in fact, been indebted to Andrew, in times past, for more than one shrewd hint in different cases that had been the means of enabling him to achieve success and earn praise, when he would not otherwise have succeed. Therefore the two were on friendly terms—though often rivals in certain instances.
"I am much obliged to you for coming in response to my message," began Huntly, "and at the same time, glad you did not come sooner, for two persons have only, just left me who are interested in the matter I wanted to see you about. It is the Dorman affair of yesterday, you know."
Vardon nodded and fixed his eyes, apparently, upon the ceiling. It was a habit of his when talking. He never seemed to look at the person who was speaking to him. But some people said he could see better and "take in" more when he looked away from anything than others could by looking straight at it. He was a contrast to Andrew in many ways. Thus, he was stout, of florid complexion, and had reddish-ginger hair and whiskers. He was neither so well educated nor so well spoken as Huntly—but he was straightforward, and, when he once gave his word, Andrew knew he could be relied upon to keep it to the letter.
"When I sent to you," continued Huntly, "I was going to ask you to let me help you in that business. But, since then, something has occurred to induce me to ask you to help me, and, in addition, I can offer you the chance of making a bit, if we succeed."
"How so?" asked Vardon, shortly his eyes still apparently staring at the ceiling.
"In this way. Certain clients offer to pay liberally, if anything can be done to get Gainsford out of the trouble he is in—that is, if we're successful. I want to help them, and I won't touch the money myself, but, if we can work together and effect anything, I'll hand all I get over to you, and that will make it worth your while. What do you say?"
"I say that I am willing to help and halve it with you—on our usual terms, you know—but I see no chance of success. Not a shadow of a chance."
The "usual terms" between these two, when they did strike a bargain of the kind, were that the Scotland Yard man was to have all the credit of the success of their mutual plans, and Andrew only to share the money reward—though in the majority of such cases it was Andrew's head that planned, and was really responsible for success. However, that was between the two; and if Huntly chose to make such terms on occasion, doubtless he had reasons of his own for doing so.
He now urged on the other to accept his offer of all instead of half, but Vardon stolidly refused. If a bit vain and pompous, the man was honest, and had his own notions of what was fair, and "he liked to stick to them," he said.
Finding it useless to argue the point, Andrew gave in, and the matter was arranged in the way Vardon desired.
Andrew then told him what had taken place at the interview with Mrs. Carlton and her daughter.
"Still," said the Scotland Yard man, "I don't see that anything can be done. I don't see the doubtful points you minted at."
"The knife or dagger, or whatever weapon was used, has not been found." said Huntly. "If someone else did it and tried to father it on Gainsford, he would naturally carry away the weapon with him, lest it should afford a clue."
"Well," said the other doubtfully, "maybe."
"Then, when Gainsford was searched, Dorman's pocket-book with some notes in it was found upon him. Now, though it is thought possible that he may have killed his friend in a homicidal fit, it is not suggested that he would steal his pocket-book and money."
Vardon shrugged his shoulders. "In a fit like that a man is a lunatic, of course, for the time being," he observed, "and might do any foolish or unlikely thing. I don't see much in that."
"Well, never mind anything else for the moment. What I really want just now is to know whether you can got me leave to see the prisoner. I want to hear his account of the matter now he is cool."
"All right," Vardon replied, "I'll manage so much for you." And after a little more talk they separated; Vardon mentioning that the inquest was fixed for twelve o'clock next day. "Though they will be sure to take only just formal evidence and then adjourn—probably for a week," he added.
After he had gone, Andrew summed up the state of affairs thus—
"As usual, no prospect of help there—at present—save to get me an interview with the accused. Now, if Gainsford did not do it, who was there in the house who might have done it? There is another artist tenant, but he is away. We'll leave outsiders out of the calculation for the moment. Thus we arrive at four possible persons, besides Gainsford; Manton and his friend Ranger, Robert Dennett, and Henri, the servant. And these all declare they were out of the place all the evening and did not return till after twelve. Obviously, the first thing is to test the truth of their statements. That's what I'll set to work at now, while the tracks are likely to be fresh."
Accordingly, an hour later saw him at the scene of the tragedy interviewing the four above-named. Of them all he was least satisfied with the answers of Robert Dennett. This man, as he learned from Manton and Ranger, was far from being steady. He was always more or less hard up, and frequently intoxicated. On the day of the murder he had had a violent quarrel with Dorman, and had bounced out of the place uttering all sorts of threats against him. "And all," said Manton, "because Dorman refused to lend him some money. Like his cheek! Fancy a man having the impudence to quarrel with you and threaten you simply because you refused to lend him money to go and squander, probably, in drink."
"How do you know this?" asked Huntly.
"Dorman told us so himself," was the reply. "Poor Dorman was an awfully good-natured fellow, and had often let Dennett have money before; indeed, this was the first time he had refused, it seems, and that, if you please, was the cause of Dennett's getting into such a rage!"
Turning over some photographs while talking, Huntly saw one of Dennett.
"Is not this a photo of him?" he enquired.
"Yes—that's Bob Dennett," Manton returned.
"Will you lend it to me for a day or two?" said Andrew.
"Oh, yes! Take it altogether, if you like. I don't want it. The fellow's a cad—a pig—and, so far as I am concerned, I never wish to speak to him again."
Thanking him, the detective took it and walked away. "If he's a boozer," he reflected, "he's pretty sure to be known at some of the public-houses round about. We'll have a look round and see what may turn up."
Stopping at the first he came to after leaving the square—the "Black Bull"—he went in, and, ordering a glass of something hot, remarking that on such a day people wanted something to warm them, he soon got into a chat with the barmaid. Presently she left him to serve another customer, and, when she returned, she found him gazing with much interest at a photo he had taken out of his pocket.
"Why," she exclaimed, "that's Mr. Dennett, as lives at that house where that dreadful murder was last night!"
"Ah!" said Andrew, replacing it in his pocket, "you've just about hit it. Do you know him well?"
"I should think so! He's in here every day, more or less. To- day I offended him, and he was very nasty to me, and I shan't forgive him in a hurry. He'd no right to be, for I was only chaffin', and I have been a good friend to him sometimes."
"Why, he's often been short, you know, and has run up a score here several times. He always paid 'em off sooner or later, but many's the time, when the guv'nor wouldn't let him have any more. I've managed it for him, pretendin' I didn't know, and so got into a row myself over it."
"I see. But what was the matter today?"
"Why," said the girl in an aggrieved tone, "I chaffed him, and said perhaps he'd done the murder hisself, and that might be how it was he was so flush of money last night all of a sudden. And he turned first pale and then red, and abused me, and then took hisself off in a temper, and I ain't seen him since."
"But what made you say such a thing?"
"Oh, it was only chaff, you know. His score had got rather high, and the guv'nor and he had words about it yesterday morning, 'cos the guv'nor had lent him a bit besides. And he'd promised to pay it back faithfully yesterday. Instead of that, he came in in a great rage, mutterin' to hisself, and wantin' more drink on tick, an' the guv'nor refused, and they had more words. Well, last night he came in, very excited like, and orders brandy hot, and pulls a bank note out of his pocket, and says to the guv'nor in a uppish way, 'Here you are. I told you you should have it to-day, and you see I've kept my promise after all, for all yer was so nasty to-day!' And he had several drinks then, and stood the guv'nor and me some, and treated some others he knew who was in there."
"What time did he come in?"
"'Just before twelve,' I says to him, when I saw him, 'You are late to-night. What's the matter?' And he says, 'I've been sittin' writin' without a fire, and I'm very cold. Hurry up with that brandy!' and, before I could give him the hot drink, he takes up the brandy and swallows it down without putting a drop of cold water to it."
Evidently the girl was offended, or she would scarcely have chattered thus with a stranger; but Andrew knew how to draw people out, and had ingratiated himself with her by some aptly- turned little flatteries that had made her feel at least two inches taller.
"So!" he muttered to himself, when he walked away. "Dennett has told a lie to one of us. He tells me he went out about seven and did not return till after 12.30; and he comes into this public-house suddenly flush of money, and tells this girl he's just come out and has been sitting writing in the cold till nearly twelve. It looks fishy, Mr. Dennett—very fishy." And, shaking his head gravely, he set off to keep his appointment with Vardon, who was to go with him to Brixton to see Gainsford.
On their way, after meeting him, he told Vardon what he had been about.
"Looks very fishy," Huntly commented again. "Here's a man has a row with Dorman because he won't lend him some money. Goes out uttering threats against him, and goes into a pub when he has not enough to stand himself a drink. Yet the same night he turns up—just after the time the murder must have been committed, you observe—greatly excited, and with bank-notes in his pocket. Then he tells lies—one way or the other—that's clear. What d'you make of that? Looks fishy, doesn't it?"
"Well, yes, I must confess it does—only—"
"I don't see that such a man would be likely to have put the pocket-book with other notes into Gainsford's pocket; as you thought to-day might be the case."
"N—no. It seems a bit cloudy," Huntly admitted. "Still—perhaps he didn't look into the pocket-book to see what was there, having found the others loose. Or, he may have purposely left them as a blind, you know."
"Well, perhaps we shall hear something this evening that may throw a little more light on it," concluded Vardon.
When, after some delay, they got to see Gainsford, they found him sitting despondently on the side of his little bedstead, staring straight before him, the picture of abject misery and despair. He had a frank, honest look when he turned his glance towards the two strangers, but showed no interest in their arrival, and looked away again with an indifferent air when the door closed behind him.
It was some time before Huntly could succeed in rousing his interest, or apparently gain his confidence; but, at last, the name of Evelyn Carlton acted like a charm, and, once convinced that his visitors had come with really friendly intentions, he talked freely.
"Do not be afraid, Mr. Gainsford," said Huntly, kindly. "We are not here to 'pump' you or to use what you tell us against you. It is absolutely necessary, if we are to help you, that you should tell us everything—everything, mind. Conceal nothing—and omit nothing, so far as you can remember. What may, seem trifling to you, will, possibly, turn out to be of vital importance. One moment, before you begin. Can you tell us what money poor Mr. Dorman had in his possession last night?"
"Nearly a hundred pounds," replied Gainsford.
"Nearly a hundred pounds! What, in notes? Are you sure?"
"Quite. He showed them to me before I left him."
"Then where are they now?" said Huntly, looking first at Gainsford and then at Vardon.
"God knows." replied Gainsford. "Did you not find them on him? He had not taken his clothes off, you know."
Huntly looked at Vardon, who gave a long whistle.
"Looks fishy, as you said awhile back," he exclaimed to Andrew.
"Fishier and fishier. I reckon," was Huntly's comment; "The scent begins to get warmer. I think."
HAROLD GAINSFORD looked haggard and worn as he faced the two detectives and gave them his account of what had happened, and it was not to be wondered at, for, apart from the terrible position in which he found himself, he had had no sleep the previous night, and had been unable to eat the food that had been offered to him.
Then he had been at the Police Court in the morning, where he had had to wait about in the cold till his case was called, when after a brief formal examination, he had had to wait again some time before a cab was brought to take him to Brixton.
Huntly asked him what he had done about a solicitor.
"Dr. Mellor has telegraphed to my uncle, Sir Paul Marsdale," he replied. "I expect he will send his solicitor, Mr. Gilham, of Gray's Inn, to me as soon as possible, and probably he will come up himself, for I am his heir. This terrible affair will upset the poor old gentleman sadly—almost be the death of him, I fear."
Huntly glanced at Vardon on hearing this, while Gainsford went on:
"To make you understand how all this came about I must go back to our unfortunate visit to Italy some years ago. Fred Dorman and I were there for nearly a year, and, after staying six months in Florence, went on to Rome and Naples, and finally to Sicily. There, out sketching one day, in company with some people we had scraped an acquaintance with—a small landowner of the country and his daughter—we were captured by brigands, and carried off to the mountains. The chief of these wretches was a scoundrel named Faronda, well known for his cold-blooded cruelty and the many murders he had committed.
"For some reason or other—what it was I never exactly understood—refused to hold to ransom the old man and his daughter, and they were butchered before our eyes in the most horrible and shocking manner. We were absolutely compelled to look on; I suppose to intimidate us, and help to make the letters we had to write to our friends more forcible.
"It made an awful impression on me, so much so, that when, in due course, we were ransomed and got back to our friends, I had brain fever, and have never been the same man since. I have fainting fits at times, and over and over again have I seen the frightful tragedy of those two murders re-enacted in my sleep.
"After we had been freed, Dorman, who somehow had managed to take note of the route—I don't know how, since we were both blindfolded, and I never cared afterwards to talk to him about it—himself led the soldiers to Faronda's retreat. The chief and some of his followers were captured, several killed, and the band of bloodthirsty miscreants was broken up and dispersed.
"Dorman was a fine fellow! Bold, strong, and intrepid as a lion; and, when he saw those two poor creatures butchered before our eyes, he swore he would not leave Sicily till he had revenged the hellish deed—and he kept his word. Afterwards, when Faronda was executed—for this was before the abolition of the death penalty in Italy—he went calmly to look on. Then he had a wax mask taken of the dead villain's face, and bought his clothes and arms of the executioner, whose perquisites they were. These gruesome mementoes he brought back to England to use as realistic accessories for painting a picture of the capture of the gang.
"That is how it came about that that hateful figure of the robber-chief, with its almost life like face, was made up. To me it has always been horribly repulsive. It brings back and keeps green not only the recollections of the cold-blooded atrocity I was compelled to witness, but the memories of the torturing dreams and nightmares I had during the fever.
"It was the only thing poor Fred and I disagreed about. He could not realise the horror the sight of the figure always inspired me with, and used to try to laugh me out of it. After he had painted one picture, and sold it, he started another—this time choosing the scene where Faronda condemned the two to their terrible deaths."
Here Gainsford paused, and passed his hand over his eyes, as if to shut out the haunting memory; then, wiping his face with his handkerchief, he proceeded:
"This second one was finished a week, ago, and old Solomon, the picture dealer who had bought the other, agreed to buy it also, and to give the same price. He sent for it suddenly two days ago, saying he had a buyer he wished to show it to, but he did not send the money yesterday, as he had promised, and Dorman sent Henri down to him with a note about it. Henri brought a verbal message to the effect that if Dorman would go down himself in the afternoon or evening, before seven o'clock, Mr. Solomon would pay him. Dorman went, and returned to the studio, where I found him, about eight, when he said that old Solomon, as usual had paid him in notes instead of by cheque."
"What is Solomon's address?" asked Huntly, producing his note- book.
"14 Stanley-street—just off Buckingham Palace-road."
The detective made a note, and Gainsford continued:
"During the last three or four weeks I have had strange and horrible dreams, in each of which that hatred effigy of the brigand chief was somehow mixed up. The first was vague, the second more distinct, and the last—two nights ago—still more clear; and these dreams had intensified the horror with which had always regarded the lay figure. I hated to go to the studio, and when there I would not on any account sit with my back to it. I used to draw the curtain across it, so that I should not see it; and during the last few days I have begged Dorman again and again to let me destroy it. Last night when he came back with the money and showed me the notes, I said, 'There! now you have sold the picture and been paid for it, you don't want that affair any longer. Now let me smash it up and put an end to it. It haunts me, and I can't stand it.' I took down the broadsword to slash it to pieces, when he sprang up and took the sword from me, and drew the curtain across to hide the figure. 'There,' he said, 'don't be a fool, I'll have it sent away to- morrow, but don't spoil it. It's too good for that.' Ah, heavens, how I wish I had been quicker; but the fact is that I hesitated a moment, and that gave Fred time to stop me. And no wonder I hesitated!"
Here he again passed his hand over his face in dreamy fashion.
"Why?" asked Huntly.
The answer was startling.
"Because I saw it move! I could, have sworn that, as I stepped towards it, it winced! I told Dorman so, but he would not listen to me."
Huntly started, and Vardon glanced at him, and touched his own forehead, unseen by Gainsford.
"But," said Andrew, "what are you talking about, Mr. Gainsford? Do you seriously mean what you say?"
"I am sure of it as I am sitting here," was the reply, given with great earnestness.
Huntly was silent. He could think of nothing to say in the face of such an assertion. Everything else that Gainsford had related had been told clearly, and in a manner that had conveyed the impression of its truth to both hearers, but this last extraordinary statement naturally taxed their belief to the breaking point. In the pause that ensued Huntly asked:
"What about Dennett?"
"Oh," replied Gainsford, he came in the morning and asked Dorman to lend him £20. Dorman simply said that he hadn't got it, and Dennett had the impertinence to say that that was a shabby excuse, for he must have money because the second picture was gone as well as the first. Of course, that set Dorman's back up, and they had a deuce of a row. If I'd been Dorman and had had his physical strength, I'd have kicked the fellow downstairs. Yet, he was so good-natured that in the evening, when he referred to it, and I spoke rather hotly about it, he only said. "Oh, never mind! Poor beggar! I suspect he was hard pushed. I am sorry now I spoke to him as I did!"
"He must have been an uncommonly good fellow," observed Huntly. "He had more patience than I should have had."
"He was a good fellow," returned Gainsford. "Yet, all the same, he was firm and stern enough in punishing those cut throats."
"Makes him all the better in my eyes," was Huntly's response. Then he added, with a sigh, "It makes it all the more sad to think of his death."
"You may say that," Gainsford answered. "I cannot even yet seem to realise it. It's too cruel—too shameful!"
Huntly eyed him narrowly, as indeed he had throughout, and could not find it in his heart to doubt his sincerity. Vardon's eyes were directed, as usual, to the ceiling.
Gainsford went on:
"Dorman used to have the studio only before I joined him, and he slept there, having shut off the bed with curtains, as you now see it; and when I came, and we took the rest of the floor, and had a spare room which he could have had as a bed-room, he still preferred to sleep in the studio, saying it was warmer in winter—when there was a fire—and more airy in summer. Why he should have gone to sleep there last night with his clothes on I cannot tell you, but I think, perhaps, he intended to stop up to do something (for he was going away early to-day), and just lay down to have a few minutes' rest and watch the fire—it was a habit of his, that—and that he must have dropped off to sleep unintentionally And now comes the terrible part. I went to bed, but could not sleep—"
"What time was it when you went to bed?" Huntly interposed.
"About ten, or a little after. As I was saying, I could not sleep; I dozed off a little, then woke up with a start; in those dozes I was haunted by that figure in the studio, and when I woke I was oppressed by fear and presentiments of some impending evil. At last I felt I could bear it no longer, so I got up, lighted a candle, partly dressed, and determined to go into the studio and see whether all was right. Not to disturb Dorman, if he was in bed and asleep. I got to the door opened it quietly that it made no sound. The lamp that hung from the ceiling was still alight, and in spite of myself, I glanced towards the other end of the room, and the figure of the brigand was gone!"
"Gone?" exclaimed Huntly.
"Yes," said Gainsford slowly and with evident effort. "Then gazing slowly round my eyes fell on the bed, and there I saw—"
For a while Gainsford could not go on. He buried his face in his hands, and rocked himself to and fro, while great sobs broke from his chest and shook him from head to foot. Presently he continued:
"I saw it standing beside the bed, and I saw Dorman laying there asleep with his clothes on and on his back. It had its arm raised, and, even before I could cry out—so stricken was with horror—the arm came down. I saw the gleam of a blade and heard an awful groan. I must have fallen down in one of my fainting fits, for I remember no more for what seemed a long—a very long time!"
Again Gainsford paused and wiped his face. Then went on once more.
"When I came to myself the curtains were drawn across the space around the bed, and I was almost in the dark. For a minute or two I lay still and tried to think, Then the whole horrible scene came back to me, and I know I must have fainted, again, for when I seemed to wake up the next time the curtains were drawn back, and the first thing I saw was that devilish thing sitting motionless in its usual place, as though it had never moved. Then the sight that met my eyes when I turned them to the bed, made me think of nothing but poor Dorman, and I went to find out whether he was dead, for I could see the blood, and felt instinctively he had been murdered. I know that I cried out more than once for help, but no one came for what seemed a very long time. I spoke to Fred, called to him, and implored him to speak; I rubbed his chest and arms, thinking to rouse him, and was just on the point of going for assistance when Henri came bursting in. He rushed out again, and brought the others—and—you know the rest, I suppose. I made an end to that fiendish figure—but it was too late! Never, never, never shall I forgive myself for not having done it earlier that evening! Had only I done so Fred would have been alive now!"
When Gainsford had finished his weird and fantastic story he buried his face in his hands again, and rocked to and fro in his agony of convulsive throbs. As to his two listeners, they made no comment, being divided between feelings of amazement at the wild improbability, not to say sheer impossibility, of the account he had just given, and surprise at the lucid, connected, almost convincing manner in which it had been told. For some time no one spoke; and only the sobbing gasps that burst every now and then from Gainsford broke the silence.
Suddenly he looked up, and, controlling himself with an effort, said:
"There is one thing I almost forgot, indeed, I hardly recollect it properly now, but you wished me to mention every little thing. When I got to Dorman's side one arm was in the air with the fingers closed. I opened them with much difficulty, and took out a small piece of something—I don't know what, and I can't think now what I did with it. But I have an idea I placed it rather carefully somewhere, thinking even then it might be as you say, a clue. But I cannot think now where I put it."
BOTH Huntly and Vardon remained silent for some time after Gainsford had finished speaking. Evidently his account afforded them both food for thought, for in many respects it had come as surprise to them—it was so circumstantial, so entirely free from the incoherences and inconsistencies that they had looked for as evidence of a disordered brain. Andrew Huntly in particular felt fairly puzzled; though never for a moment did it occur to him to place any belief in the main point of the story—that which alleged that the murder had been committed by the figure representing the defunct brigand.
Finally, Vardon asked Gainsford whether he could give them any idea of what it was he had taken out of the dead man's hand.
"Was it a piece of cloth?"
"No," was the reply, given decidedly. "Nothing soft I am sure."
"A button?" suggested Huntly.
"No—no," Gainsford answered, but with more hesitation. "Yet it felt smooth, as smooth as a button might be."
"Then it wasn't metal?"
"Oh no; much lighter."
"What size was it?"
"Larger than a shilling, but, scarcely so large, perhaps, as a two-shilling piece, I should say. There were vases and pots here and there, I may have dropped it into one of them."
This seemed all that could be arrived at on this point, and Huntly turned to another.
"Are you certain you fainted twice, and that the first time you came to yourself the curtains were drawn round you, but that on the second occasion they had been pulled back?"
"I feel positive it was so."
"H'm!" was Huntly's expressions of puzzlement. After a few further questions the two took their leave, and walked away together.
When they had gone some distance on their way, and were in a quiet road, Huntly asked his companion his opinion of the extraordinary story they had heard.
"Cracked," was Vardon's curt statement of belief.
"H'm—well—yes, sounds wild enough, in all consequence. Yet you know—suppose—"
"Oh, it's no use supposing anything," was the other's blunt reply. "He dreamed it all, every bit except the stabbing. That's only too real."
"Yes," Huntly agreed with a sigh. "But it's a strange affair, and gets stranger the further you go into it. But what about Dennett? All this about ghostly lay figures that walk about and stab people in their sleep almost put him out of my head for the time. It's quite possible that someone else did the stabbing after all, and our friend here may have dreamed all he says he saw just the same."
"Yes, that's possible, quite possible, and would fit in with the rest, especially since the notes have disappeared," assented Vardon. "Or—here is another theory: someone comes and finds Dorman dead and Gainsford in a swoon, and he sees the pocket- book, takes out most of the notes, but leaves two or three on the chance that in the confusion it might never be known that the dead man had so large sum in the place."
"Yes," replied Huntly, "that, too, is just possible. One thing is clear, this affair is not going to turn out so simple and easy as it looked at first. Gad! I should like it to come out all right for Gainsford! I like him somehow; he seems so boyish in his talk and feelings. Well, I'm off now down to Mr. Solomon's to get the number of those notes, and give notice about them."
And shaking hands with the other he left him, and boarded a 'bus bound for Victoria Station.
In Buckingham Palace-road he got down at the corner of Stanley-street, and a minute later was knocking at the door of No. 14. He found that it was a private house not a shop.
He was fortunate enough to hear from the servant that Mr. Solomon was at home, and, sending up his card, was ushered upstairs into a large room, where, for a short space, he was left to himself.
It was a room that was typical of the class to which its proprietor belonged. It was a stuffy heavy smell; there were thick curtains and much gilding; old-looking pictures, in ancient gilt frames, hung on the walls, and old-fashioned, glazed cabinets, filled with antique china and other curios, were placed about here and there in odd corners. The place had a sombre, over-crowded air. There were too many pictures, too many cabinets, too many tables. Finally, there was an easel, upon which, in a brand new gold frame, reposed a freshly-painted picture in striking contrast to those hanging on the walls.
The detective went up to inspect this work more closely, and almost started as he drew nearer. The subject was a mountain scene, with a band of brigands gathered together outside a cave. In the midst of them, on an upturned log, sat their chief, with a group of prisoners, shackled with cords, in front of him.
Prominent amongst this forlorn-looking group was an old grey- haired man, a maiden, a girl of striking beauty, evidently his daughter, on her knees beside him, her shackled hands held out in supplication to the bandit chief.
Huntly did not need to be told that this was one of the pictures painted by the murdered artist, and that it represented a scene from actual life; a dramatic incident in the artist's own adventures among those Sicilian brigands of whom Gainsford had spoken.
It was a powerfully-painted composition; one that appealed strongly to the spectator by its inherent attraction, apart from what he knew of its strange history.
But that which impressed him most of all—that which had startled him, was the central figure—the robber chief himself. This, truly, was a masterly piece of work; one that instantly drew the observer's attention to itself, and held it fascinated.
There, before him, Huntly saw again the lay figure of the artist's studio. There it was, exact, with every detail of dress perfect, down to the murderous-looking dagger, which, in the picture, the ruffian had half drawn from its sheath. But it was the face which held the gaze. The likeness to the wax mask was evident; but the face on the canvass seemed almost alive with the fires of passion and hatred. Never, Huntly thought, had he seen a face at once so repellent, so revolting, and yet so fascinating by reason of the devilish, ferocious nature which looked out of its terrible eyes.
"Horrible! Horrible, yet splendid!!" he muttered. "Truly a wonderful piece of work!! One can realise what a fiend in human form that miscreant must have been! I can truly sympathise with Gainsford's horror and detestation of even the made-up effigy of such a being. One can even almost understand his superstitious terror of it—his belief that the demoniacal spirit of the dead brigand had returned to animate its effigy, and enable it to revenge itself, in true Sicilian fashion upon his enemy who had brought about his capture and death of the original!"
Then, the detective shook his head impatiently.
"Tut, tut," he exclaimed. "I was actually almost for the moment half believing his wild uncanny fancies! Yet," here he gazed again hard at the picture, and drew a long breath. "I can excuse a man for having weird fancies after looking upon a face such as that!"
"Aha!" said a voice behind him. "You admire that work, eh? You are right, my good friend—it is a masterpiece! And to think that the poor fellow that painted it is dead! Vell, vell!"
Huntly wheeled sharply round, and found himself confronting a short, fat person with an unmistakably Jewish cast of face, shod in slippers, with which he had shuffled in so quietly that the detective had not been aware of his presence. The man wore a skull cap, and from beneath it there peeped out some stray grey hair in ringlets.
"Yes, it is a fine piece of work, Mr. Solomon, and it is indeed sad that so promising an artist should have had his career cut short in such a terrible manner. It is about him I have come to see you."
"About Mr. Dorman. Poor poy, poor poy! Yesh, yesh! He was here only the other day, you know."
"Yes. You paid him some money—in notes—did you not?"
"Yesh, yesh. I paid him. Ah, the pity of it!"
"How so? Why?"
"Because, my goot sir, don't you see the monish ish of no goot to him now? Think of it! I might just as well have had the monish in my pocket ash some wicked thief. I am told a thief hash stolen it. Mr. Gainsford is a weak-minded young shentleman, but he is no thief. It ish not Mr. Gainsford who took the monish. Therefore I say it had better haf staved with me!"
"But would have had to pay it later, just the same, to—well, to his relatives," Huntly pointed out.
"Yesh, yesh. But I should haf had the monish so much the longer!"
"Humph! That seems a funny idea," thought the detective to himself. He did not express the opinion aloud, but contended himself with looking the Jew up and down, as though wondering what he was made of.
The dealer, in return, glanced back at him with an unctuous smile and a shake of his head which set the long grey ringlets swaying and swerving. His dark eyes were bright, and had a crafty leer in them as he went on.
"Yesh, yesh! Fanshy, my tear sir! Fanshy all that monish now in the hands of some rascal, of a thief! What will he do with it, eh? Waste it, my tear sir, waste it in riotous living, or in some gambling den. An' it might haf been in my pocket all this time! Ah me, ah me!"
"Well," said Huntly shortly, "all I've come about is to ask whether you can give me the numbers of the notes you paid to Mr. Dorman. As you say, some rascally thief probably has them now; and if you can give me the numbers it may help me to trace him."
"Yesh, yesh. A goot thing, too. The rascal—to take the monish that I had but just paid away! Ah me! I haf the numbers. I am always very careful in monish matters. I vill look them out."
He went to a small escritoire, unlocked it, and taking out a book, proceeded to turn over the leaves.
"Let me see!" he mumbled. "There was two of them wanted monish. Mr. Dorman and Mr. Sydney Vilder. Funny that—"
"Eh? What is that?" exclaimed Huntly, pricking up his ears. "Mr. Sydney Wilder—why is that the gentleman who has a studio in the same house—the house in which Mr. Dorman was murdered?"
"Yesh, yesh. Quite so. He called on me about the same time. Two artists—neighbors—both wanting monish—but fery different shentlemans! Aha! One wanted to be paid—the other wanted to borrow."
"But—I understand that Mr. Wilder was out of town—has been away some weeks?"
"He vas here, I tell you, same time as Mr. Dorman."
"Oh! Did they come together?"
"No, no; I say about the same time—about tea-time."
"H'm. Did they see each other, then?"
"I cannot say. Not here; but they might haf met outside—either before or after."
"H'm! That's queer. Now, Mr. Solomon, can you tell me anything more about this Mr. Wilder. Where did he come from, and where did he go to? I mean, did he say he was going to his studio, for instance?"
"He tell me he haf come by train to Victoria Station. He was fery hard pressed for monish, and came to try to borrow some from me."
"Did he get it?"
"Not vhat he vanted," returned the Jew, with a chuckling laugh. "I certainly did let him haf something—but not vhat he vanted. He was much disappointed, and declared he must get more somevhere else. He could not do vithout it, he said. But they all say that ven they come to borrow," added Mr. Solomon, with a significant shrug of the shoulders.
"Humph! And you don't know whether he intended to return at once to the country, or stay the night in town?"
"No; he said nothing as to that."
"Did he call on you before or after Mr. Dorman?"
The dealer reflected, and then chuckled again.
"It vas after. I remember now, because I said to him, 'Ah, you should spend your time enjoying yourself in the country; and should work, like your neighbor, Mr. Dorman; then I could pay you monish like I did just now to him, instead of you borrowing it.' An' he asked me vhat I mean, an' I told him 'I haf just paid Mr. Dorman three hundred pounsh.' An' that made Mr. Vilder cross. He did not like vhat I say. But it vas true—too—true—I had paid the monish; an' now some rascal of a thief haf got it. Ah me!"
"Well, can you give me the numbers of those notes, Mr. Solomon. If you can I need not keep you any longer—unless," he added, as an afterthought, "you can give me Mr. Wilder's address in the country."
"No; I do not know his address. I always write to his studio. Here are the numbers you vant."
Huntly took them down; and after a little further talk went his way.
"This is becoming a queer jumble," he pondered. "This Wilder—who was supposed to be far away—was actually in London on the day of the murder! What's more, he was hard up; and was told that Dorman had just gone away from old Solomon's with three hundred pounds. Now, where did Wilder go after he left old Solomon? Where did he pass the night? Did he go back to the country without the money he so urgently wanted—or did he stay in town in the hope of getting it? If so, did he go to his studio? If he went there how is it no one seems to be aware of it? And in that case did those two—the one who wanted money and the one who had it—meet? These are questions which it seems to me I shall have to get answered!"
WHEN the inquest was opened next day there was a large crowd of the general public present to listen to the proceedings.
Both the chief actors in the tragedy—the murdered man and the accused—had a large circle of acquaintances. Apart from this strange rumours had got about vaguely hinting at all sorts of mysterious revelations.
The statement of the accused man about the murder having been committed by the lay figure which the victim had used as a model, had been seized upon, altered, twisted, contorted, and varied, in seemingly every possible way, until the general curiosity had been whetted to the utmost.
Among the various versions there were several which declared that the artist had been killed by a ghostly visitant, though no two accounts agreed as to the exact kind of spectre or phantom responsible; or whether it had been, as Ingoldsby would have put it, "white, black, or grey." To judge, however by the excited talk of some of the crowd, it might have been thought they expected at least to see some kind of ghost brought up, handcuffed, in broad daylight, and openly accused of the murder.
Harold Gainsford did not attend. He was represented by his solicitor, Mr. Gilham, of Gray's Inn, who announced that it was by his advice that his client was absent. He (Mr. Gilham) did not consider that Mr. Gainsford was in a fit state of health to attend.
This statement caused a buzz of low talk among the spectators, and was seized upon at once as foreshadowing the line the defence would take. It seemed to indicate that the solicitor did not consider his client to be in his right mind.
The dead man's French servant, usually known as Henri, was the first witness. Dark, good-looking, smooth and silvery in voice, and graceful in gesture, he told how he had been out for the evening, and had returned just about midnight. He had overtaken Mr. Manton and Mr. Ranger, two other artists who lived in the same house on the ground-floor, and had entered the hall with them. He bade them "good night," and went straight up the stairs, intending to go to his bedroom. On his way he fancied he heard a cry, and thinking that perhaps his master had called him, he opened the door leading to Mr. Dorman's flat and went along the passage.
The door of the studio was ajar; and pushing it farther open, he had seen Mr. Gainsford bending over the bed. A second glance showed him that there was blood on the bedclothes. Finally, he had found that his master was lying on the bed quite dead. He asked Mr. Gainsford what was the matter, and who had done it, but the young gentleman seemed dazed, and unable to answer clearly. He only pointed to a dressed-up model at the other end of the studio, and talked incoherently about the figure having murdered Mr. Dorman.
Such was the substance of the servant's statement put into clear English. It was not nearly so clear, told as it was, in the man's mixture of broken English and French; but the Coroner, who conducted the examination, interpreted the more obscure expressions for the benefit of those present generally.
The solicitor representing the Crown was named Radstone, a tall, bony, sour-looking man with sandy hair and whiskers. He asked a few questions, chiefly with a view to make it clear that it would have been difficult for any person to have gained access to the studio and gone away again without being seen or heard by Gainsford, whose bedroom opened into the passage outside the studio.
Mr. Gilham then rose and asked the witness some questions:—
"Had you been out all the evening?"
"Mais certainement. It was vat you call ze day of birth of my fiancée, and M'sieur Dorman had given me permission to take her out."
"What is her name?"
"Clarice Daudier. She is a lady's maid."
"A lady's maid! And where, did you take her?"
"We went to ze Alhambra. After zat I see her in to ze bus, and zen I walk straight home."
"You say that as you went up the stairs you hear a cry—"
"I fancied so, sare."
"Well, fancied it. What sort of a cry?"
The witness paused. Then went on—
"I cannot say exact. But it was as if M'sieur had heard my entry, and heard me come up ze stairs, and had called to me to attend him."
"Not a cry of pain or fear?"
Again the witness hesitated. "C'est possible. I could not say."
"Was the outer door leading to the studio shut, and, if so, was it locked?"
"Mais oui. It vas shut, but not locked."
"But when you found that your master was dead, you could see that he had been dead some time."
"I not know zen."
"At least it could not have been he you heard call out. Was it not Mr. Gainsford who had called to you to come to him?"
"C'est possible. I have said I not sure I heard anyone call."
"Now, I want you to be very particular in answering my next question. Did not Mr. Gainsford say he had just woke up and come into the studio and found his friend lying dead?"
"No, sare; vat he say vas zat he come into ze studio, and see ze modèle—zat is, ze made-up figure—stand over M'sieur Dorman as he vas asleep, and stab him. Zen Mr. Gainsford say he fainted, and know no more till he wake up again just before I come to him." (Sensation in court.)
"You are quite sure he said that?"
"Parfaitement. And afterwards he take ze sword and go to ze modèle and brise it. He smash it up because he zay it had killed M'sieur."
"Who was in the house—besides Mr. Dorman and Mr. Gainsford—while you were out? You say that you overtook Mr. Manton and Mr. Ranger on their way home. So we know they were out. Was there anyone else in the house?"
"Perhaps M'sieur Dennett. He have apartments on ze deuxième."
"Is there no one else living in the house—no other tenant?"
"M'sieur Wilder—mais he has been away for long time."
"As a matter of fact, then, there was no one known to be in the house all the evening but these two, and possibly Mr. Dennett, who lived above them?"
Mr. Gilham said he had nothing more to ask just then; and the witness gave place to the two artists, Messrs. Manton and Ranger, They stated that they had both been out all the evening, having gone to the Empire in Leicester Square together—and as to the rest, their testimony confirmed that of the French servant.
Then followed Dr. Mellor, who had been called in to see the deceased. He could only say that the cause of death was a deep stab in the breast.
Mr. Gilham asked how long the doctor reckoned the man had been dead.
"I should say an hour to an hour and a half."
"No; certainly not less."
"Might it have been longer?"
"What time was it when you were called in?"
"Between a quarter and half-past twelve."
"Then the murder probably took place about eleven or a little before?"
"I should say about that time."
"I believe you knew both the murdered man and the accused quite well?"
"Very well indeed."
"You know that they were the best of friends?"
"Do you think it reasonable or possible that Mr. Gainsford should have killed his friend?"
"I should say certainly not—so long, that is, as he was in his right mind."
"You know that Mr. Gainsford had a long and severe illness, and that since then he has been subject to fainting fits?"
"I know that."
"Might it not be that any shock—such as seeing his friend lying dead on his bed—might bring on a fit, and cause him to imagine he had seen things which he had not really seen?"
"I should say such a thing is quite possible."
After the doctor came some police witnesses, whose evidence was of a more or less formal character. One of them was the detective Vardon.
Mr. Gilham asked him some questions which caused another flutter amongst the spectators.
"Was it by your orders that Mr. Gainsford was arrested?"
"No, sir. I came in the scene afterwards."
"Why were you sent, then?"
"To make inquiries."
"Have you made them?"
"As far as I could."
"Have you found out anything that would lead you to suppose, for one moment, that Mr. Gainsford would be guilty of killing his friend?"
"I am bound to say I have no—unless—"
"Never mind the 'unless.' You say you have not been able to discover any reason. You know—we all know—that they were perfectly good friends. So far as we know there had been no quarrel between these two. Now have you, in the course of your inquiries, learned of some one of whom the same could not be said? Some one who had had a violent quarrel with Mr. Dorman that day, and who had gone out from his presence uttering all sorts of threats against him?"
Mr. Vardon fixed his eyes on the ceiling, and paused before answering. Then slowly, "I believe something of the kind took place." (Sensation.)
"Oh, you have discovered that much! Can you also tell me whether that person—at present I will mention no names—lives in the same house as the murdered man?"
"He does." (Sensation.)
"Is he here to-day?"
"I've not seen him here to-day. He told me he would be here—but I have not seen him."
"Told you he would be here!" repeated the lawyer sarcastically. "Why did you not take steps to make sure that he should attend?"
"I did not think it necessary to-day. I did not expect there would be anything more than a formal opening of the inquest. In any case I knew it would be adjourned. I shall certainly see that he is here at the adjourned inquiry."
"I hope you will keep that promise. I have some questions I wish to ask that gentleman."
At a later stage, before the adjournment, Mr. Gilham made an eloquent and powerful protest on behalf of his client.
"I am, of course, aware, Mr. Coroner," he said, "that anything I may say at this stage will be useless, so far as any immediate practical result is concerned. But I cannot leave here without making a very strong protest against the unfair manner, as I consider it, in which this young man, Mr. Gainsford, has been treated.
"What are the facts? Mr. Gainsford's friend has been murdered; of that there can be no sort of doubt. My client has been arrested and thrown into prison—of that also there is (unfortunately) no sort of doubt. But why was he arrested? Because there was any prima facie evidence that he committed the atrocious deed? Not at all! All the evidence there is points the other way—points clearly enough to the conclusion that he is the very last man in the whole world likely to do such a deed! Why, then, was he arrested? Merely because he had the misfortune to be the first to discover the crime! If this, is to be held to be evidence justifying arrest, then it will be a bad thing for any of us, in the future, if we happen to be the first to chance upon the dead body of a murdered man!
"My client tells me that he and his late friend parted early—at ten o'clock—because they intended rising betimes next morning, when Mr. Dorman was to start for a holiday in the south of France. Mr. Gainsford went into his bedroom, got into bed, and fell asleep it once. Very well. Now, from that time till the discovery of the murder, there was an interval of two hours, during which Mr. Gainsford was fast asleep. During that time the outer door of their flat was unlocked—the French servant told us so—and I say that any person who was evilly disposed might easily have entered the studio and committed the murder, without disturbing Mr. Gainsford, and have left again without anyone knowing that he had been in the house.
"Certainly, it would have been easy enough for such a person, once in, to have got away unseen—for there was no one at home to see—save, indeed, one—to whom I will refer again directly. But it may be said, 'How could such a person have got in?' There are two answers to that question—one, is that he might have concealed himself on the premises during the daytime, for then the front door is always open, and there are empty rooms in the house. But apart from that, there are several other tenants who all carry keys—and one at least of these had quarrelled with the murdered man that very same day. He—this person whom I do not at present name—was free to come and go that night as he pleased. Yet, when Mr. Dorman is found dead, the police arrest, not the most likely person, who had quarrelled with him and might be reasonably held to have a grudge against him—but the victim's own friend and chum just because he happened to be the first to discover the crime, and gabbled some incoherent talk on recovering from the fit into which the horrible discovery had thrown him! I say, sir, that this is a most absurd and unjustifiable thing on the part of the police! It is monstrous! And I shall have a great deal more to say about it at another time, when this matter comes to be threshed out in another court! That Mr Coroner, is all I have to say now; and I beg to tender you my thanks for your indulgence in allowing me to make the protest here on behalf of my unfortunate client!"
There was a buzz of sympathy and some applause as the lawyer sat down; and shortly afterwards the Coroner adjourned the inquiry, and the crowd dispersed.
Mr. Gilham remained for a few minutes in conversation with Huntly.
"You gave the police a smart rap or two," replied the detective.
"Not half such smart raps as they deserve," the lawyer declared, shaking his head, as he walked away.
A minute or two later, as he finally left the court, the detective was touched on the arm by Dr. Mellor, and, turning round, saw that he had with him an elderly man, whom he introduced as Sir Paul Marsdale. He was a fine-looking specimen of an English gentleman, tall, upright, courteous in speech and manner, and usually brisk and cheerful, but to-day he looked subdued and troubled.
"Can you come round to my house and have a talk with Sir Paul?" asked the doctor. "He is very anxious to have a conference with you." And, upon Huntly's assenting, the three walked to Dr. Mellor's residence, which was in the square not far from the studios.
After they were seated in the doctor's study Sir Paul turned to Huntly, and asked him his opinion of the strength of the case against his nephew.
Huntly shook his head.
"I don't know what to say," he answered. "I fear the poor fellow's in a tight place—a very tight place. I feel bound to say that he seems to have brought unnecessary trouble upon himself by the wildly fantastic tale he has told—about the real murderer being the dressed-up figure, you know."
"But," observed Sir Paul, "if he believes it to be so, what else was he to say?"
"Ah, yes. But you see it only confirms the theory of the police—that he is not responsible for his actions. Now, if he had simply said that he went in and found his friend dead and had tried to revive him, and so on, no one, I fully believe, would ever have doubted his story. No one would have thought it likely he would kill his friend. He has given himself away. His impossible story, and his insane attack upon the lay figure, showed at once that he was not in his right senses, and—well, there you have it all!"
Sir Paul stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"I see what you mean," he replied. "Yet our friend the doctor here, who knows Gainsford well, will tell you there is no trace of insanity about him."
"None, so far as I have over seen," responded Dr. Mellor slowly; "but, of course, my opinion does not help matters, situated as he is now. Huntly, tell us frankly what you think, and what you are hoping to do."
Huntly again shook his head.
"I can see only too clearly," he declared, "better to-day than I did before, how disastrously he has given himself away by this absurd story of his. I am trying to find out what has become of a lot of bank-notes that Dorman, it seems, had in his possession; but, you see, even if I succeed it does not help us as it might, but for that unfortunate story about the figure!"
"Why?" asked Sir Paul. "If you should find a man who has stolen them, surely the presumption would be that that man must be the murderer?"
"Not necessarily. He might have come upon the scene accidentally, and at first even innocently, after Dorman had been killed, and while Gainsford was asleep in bed or lying in one of his swoons. Then the temptation to rob the dead man might have proved too strong, especially as the blame would be thrown (so the thief might argue) upon the murderer; or the notes might never be missed at all in the confusion that, he would know, must ensue upon the discovery of the murder. Do you follow me?"
"But," said Sir Paul, in a despairing tone, "that is as much as to say, sir, that nothing can save him. That, even if you find the thief and bring the robbery home to him, my poor nephew will still have to bear the brunt of the murder! Surely, sir, that cannot be? It is too horrible—too horrible!"
"There is only one chance, sir, and that is, I confess, a poor one," was Huntly's answer. "If I can spot the thief, and have reason to believe he is the actual murderer as well, I may be able, by some scheme, some stratagem, to induce him to confess. I may possibly frighten him into it. Candidly that is my only hope, so far as I can see at present. Of course, at any moment things may take a turn, and everything assume a different complexion. In these cases one never knows. If it had not been for what I have referred to, I should have said confidently, 'When I find the thief I will show you the murderer;' but now I can say no more than I have just explained."
Sir Paul sighed heavily.
"He is my nephew, and has been like a son to me," he said. "Always affectionate and dutiful, and considerate. This is a terrible blow! It is too cruel! I cannot even yet realise it or believe it. Can you make no suggestion to aid us, doctor?"
Dr. Mellor shook his head sorrowfully.
"My trust, so far as earthly aid goes, is in our friend here," he replied, indicating Huntly. "I see the force of his argument, and fear he is only too near the truth. Still, if any man in London can find 'a way out' that man, I feel sure, is Andrew Huntly. When he sits down to bring his brains to bear upon a case it is very seldom indeed that in the end he has to confess himself beaten."
Later in the day Andrew Huntly was comparing notes with Vardon.
"Gilham pitched into the police pretty smartly," he observed. "I expect it will put up their backs a bit, eh?"
Vardon shrugged his shoulders and smiled in a superior manner.
"Oh! We don't mind. Lawyers are licensed in that respect; they have to do something, as you know, to earn their fees. You've heard of their old rule—'When you have no case abuse the other side!'"
"But," said Andrew reflectively, "there was some truth in what he said—especially that with regard to Dennett. I could see, too, that some of the public were with him there. There is no doubt there was a very bad quarrel between him and Dorman—and about money matters, too. The lawyer had reason on his side when he asked what you had done about the only man who was known to have any ill-feeling against the murdered man, and why he had not been looked after."
"What could we do?" Vardon grumbled. "He told me distinctly that he intended to be present at the inquest; and I took it for granted that he meant it. I could not compel him to attend unless I had applied for a subpoena, and I did not see my way to do that. So far as we know he has no evidence whatever to give."
"What did he say about it when you interviewed him?"
"He simply said what I have told you—that he could not give any evidence whatever since he knew nothing about it. He had not seen Dorman—he declared—since the meeting in the day time when there had been the row."
"The next stage will be the police court proceedings, when Gainsford will be brought up on remand. You will have him there then, I suppose?"
"I shall not fail to remind him," was the answer. "But again I say I have no ground for putting pressure upon him. If he simply says he knows nothing about it—and I have no reason to suppose that he does—what am I to do?"
"Why not ask Mr. Gilham?" said Huntly, with a laugh.
But Vardon only scowled. Evidently the old lawyer's shrewd remarks had bitten deeper than the Scotland Yard man cared to acknowledge.
HUNTLY'S thoughts, as he walked briskly along after his talk with Vardon, were evidently not of a wholly satisfactory character. He shook his head repeatedly and frowned—a thing he was very seldom seen to do.
"Oh, these hide-bound police gentry!" he muttered. "How they will persist in running in grooves! Thank goodness I was not brought up in the 'Force;' if I had been I don't believe I should ever afterwards have done any good 'on my own.' Once a policeman, always a policeman. They never can break away from their rules, and their regulations, and their formulas. Here, for instance, just because 'somebody' has been arrested, everything must give place to following up the case against him. For the time being nothing else is thought of; and other clues—even the most obvious—which might lead elsewhere are neglected. Then, if it happens that they have to be taken up again later on, the scent, of course, has grown cold."
He shook his head again as he walked; and his thoughts ran on thus:
"Now, in regard to this man Dennett, it was I who found out the pub that he haunts, and pumped the barmaid. It was I who found out that whereas he was hard up a few hours before the murder, yet scarcely an hour after it he was flashing banknotes about, and swilling down brandy faster than some people can drink water. Vardon himself admitted that all this looked 'fishy;' yet what more has he done to follow up the line of investigation I started for him? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Even now—when I have given him the numbers of the notes—it does not seem to occur to him to find out whether the notes his fellow was flourishing were or were not any of those paid to Dorman.
"Of course," he added, "I don't suppose they are. No thief—and murderer to boot—would go into the nearest pub, where he was well known, and change a note he had but just taken from the body of his victim. I admit it is not likely—it is so unlikely that Vardon would laugh the idea to scorn if he knew I was going to make quite sure. But I go, not because I expect to find out anything of the kind, but simply because I believe in the famous saying that 'genius is but a transcendent capacity for taking an infinite amount of trouble!'"
Thus did Andrew Huntly soliloquise as he wended his way once more to the Black Bull. It was characteristic of the man that he had not the least expectation of finding out anything further. But he had promised to leave no stone unturned—and this, figuratively speaking, was one of the "stones,' and 'a rolling stone, too, which turns itself,'" he laughed to himself. So he was going to give that stone one more turn—one last, precautionary twist of his own. The same barmaid was presiding at the bar when he reached the hostelry, and she recognised him at once, and hastened forward to speak to him.
"Have you any more news?" she asked. "What about the inquest? How did it go off?"
"Adjourned—nothing much done," he returned briefly. "Seen anything of Mr. Dennett?"
"He was here this morning for a pick-me-up. Said he was going to the inquest. I suppose you saw him there?"
"No; he never turned up. By the way is your guv'nor in?"
"Mr. Martin? Yes, you'll find him in the billiard-room."
"I wish you would send him a message to say I would like to speak to him privately in his parlor."
"I'll go myself."
"Well, if you do, tell him quietly. Don't blurt it out before all the people in the room."
"I understand," and with a meaning look she left the bar.
A minute or so later Mr. Martin, the landlord, bustled in. He was in his shirt-sleeves—some landlords seem to pass all their time indoors in shirt-sleeves, whether it be winter or summer. He was fat, but cheery. A heavy large-patterned watch- chain hung across his waistcoat, a diamond glittered in his tie, and others on his hands.
"Come in, sir," he said and raised a flap, giving Huntly access to the interior. Thence he was ushered into the parlor beyond.
"Miss Stevens whispered to me that you are a 'tee,'" said the host, when he had closed the door. "Nothing wrong—I mean no complaint, against the house—I hope."
"Oh, no. This is quite an independent matter."
"That's all right," was the reply, in a tone of evident relief. "What will you take?"
"Nothing just now, Mr. Martin; thanks all the same. Now about my business. You have a customer named Dennett—?"
"Oh lor, yes; I should think I have! I wish I hadn't. I wish he'd take his custom somewhere else. He's a nuisance. I like to keep my 'ouse quiet an' respectable. But this bounder—"
"Well, never mind that, Mr. Martin. All I want to know is this. The other night you changed a banknote for him. I know that much from your barmaid. Now have you that note by you? Can you let me look at it?"
"What! You don't mean to say that it's a wrong 'un?" Martin asked, startled.
"I have no reason to think so. I only want to see the number."
"Oh! Well, I daresay I can manage that. As it happens, I 'aven't parted with it. I daresay I can rout it out."
He went to a small safe, unlocked and opened it, and took from it a cash-box.
"It ought to be reposin' quietly here somewhere." he said. "Ah, here it is. It's the only £10 note I've got so it must be the one."
Huntly took it and looked at the number, comparing it with the entry in his notebook. He could scarcely repress a start as he did so. The note was undoubtedly one of those paid to the ill- fated Dorman by old Solomon!
Scarcely could the detective believe his eyes! He had come there quite expecting to find he had wasted his time. Instead, he had happened upon a most important—what, indeed, appeared to be a most damning—clue.
What should he do next? That was the question of the moment. Where was Dennett? He had not been seen since the morning. He had not attended the inquest, as he had declared he intended doing. Was it possible that he had absconded?
Huntly quickly made up his mind.
"Mr. Martin, it is very important that this note should be kept. I do not belong to the 'Force,' so have no authority to ask you, therefore, not to part with it till you see or hear from me again?"
"Oh, I'll do that. I'll keep it for the present—but, I say, you're not goin' to drag me into any law court business, are you? I don't want to let in for no witnessin' an' that sort o' thing!" Mr. Martin seemed to have a horror of law courts.
"I can't say—but I won't unless it should be absolutely necessary. Meantime, I rely on your promise not to part with that note. Now I want very much to see Mr. Dennett. I must ask him to tell me where he obtained that note—and I daresay he won't mind telling me."
Martin looked at his visitor doubtfully. He was probably asking himself whether he ought to "give away' one of his own customers, even though it were one whose custom he did not value very highly.
"Well." he said slowly, "I suppose you know where his studio is; so I needn't mention that. If he's not there, the most likely place to find him, if you want him now, would be the Golden Horseshoe. You know where that is? I know that he calls in there, most days, in the afternoon for a game of billiards."
Huntly nodded, and putting away his notebook, left the house.
First, he decided, he would go to the studio on the chance of Dennett being at home, Then, if he was not there, he would go on to the house Martin had named.
His thoughts were still working swiftly. He had come to make this inquiry, as has been explained, without the slightest idea of anything coming of it. Now he felt like one who had suddenly drawn a prize in a lottery as to which he had never supposed he stood any possible change. But though he believed he had gained a prize of some sort, he was still very uncertain as to its exact value.
"Seems impossible," he muttered. "It can't surely, be! Yet, there is the note! Where—how else could the man have come by it? But supposing—supposing—he had done this thing—then, surely, never was man so mad as to go and change one of the notes so close at hand, and so openly—unless—ah! unless he has bolted! If he has bolted, then that tells its own tale, and my task is practically ended. But if not—then the thing becomes more of a puzzle than ever!"
At the studio he was told by the constable who was still in charge of the murdered man's flat, that Mr. Dennett was out.
"He went out early this mornin', Mr. Huntly, and aint bin back since," he said. Then, as a step sounded on the stairs, he looked out of the doorway, and added. "There's the landlord goin' upstairs. P'r'aps 'e's goin' to 'is rooms to see if 'e's in."
"The landlord—oh, you mean Mr. Jones?"
"That's 'im, sir."
Huntly had heard that Mr. Jones was the over-landlord of the place, and that all the artists there were his tenants. He had, in fact, seen him at the inquest that morning, but had not spoken to him. He now followed him up the next flight of stairs, and introduced himself.
Mr. Jones was a dapper little Welshman, evidently a sharp man of business, and he complained bitterly of the harm the tragedy would do to his property.
"It always ruins a house in the end," he lamented. "People do not care to stay in a place where there has been a murder. So, indeet to cootness, yes!"
Huntly condoled with him, and then asked if he had come to see Mr. Dennett.
"No, not to-day. I haf nothing to see him about whateffer. He only paid me his rent yesterday. I am going to Mr. Wilder's rooms to get his letters."
"Oh! Then I suppose you know where Mr. Wilder is in the country."
"Yes, yes. He always keeps me informed when he is away, and I call in once or twice a week for his letters, and send them on."
They had come by this time, to an outer door shutting off another small suite. Mr. Jones opened this with his key, and stooped to pick up two or three letters and circulars which were lying on the floor of the lobby.
"H'm! not many to-day," said the little man, as he turned them over and scanned the postmarks. "Generally there are more than this. All dated to-day and yesterday. I see—and I haf not been here for nearly a week. No indeet."
"Looks as though Mr. Wilder, had been up and got them himself," commented the detective.
Mr. Jones darted a keen glance at him.
"Why do you say that whateffer?" he asked.
Huntly laughed. "It was only an idea," he answered. "It seems a natural one, if, as you say, there are generally more letters than we see here. If, for instance, he had been up to London, and called here, just to see what letters there were and take them—?"
The Welshman's brow clouded. "I hope that is not the case," he exclaimed angrily. "Indeet to cootness no!"
"For a fery goot reason, sir. He has kept me waiting a long time now for my rent; and keeps saying that he will be coming back soon, and then he will pay me. And only the day before yesterday he wrote me a letter to put me off once more. In it he declared he was so fery sorry he could not come up for another week; just one week more. Now, if I found that that letter was not true, and that he had been here, I would not believe him any more. Inteet to cootness no!"
"Well," said Huntly coolly, "let us look round and see if we can find anything else bearing upon the point."
Without waiting for permission, he walked along the lobby and opened a door at the end, when he found himself in a large, well- lighted studio, fairly well furnished, but looking dusty from disuse. The suite consisted of two rooms besides the lobby; the inner one, as could be seen through the half-open door, being the bedroom.
The detective glanced round, looked at the fireplace, went up to it, stooped down, and picked up some half-burnt pieces of paper.
"Here you are, Mr. Jones," he said. "That point is very quickly and simply settled. Here are some pieces of envelope—and—there, you can see the date for yourself. Three days ago, is it not? To me the matter is clear enough! Mr. Wilder—or some one else—was here three days since, opened some letters that were lying here, and intended to burn the envelopes—but was in too great a hurry or too careless to burn them thoroughly."
Mr. Jones's brow clouded again, and he was evidently both surprised and annoyed. But he kept his thoughts to himself this time, only uttering his favorite expression, "Indeet to cootness yes. It must be so." And then he stood silent and thoughtful, as though trying to think out what it might mean. Huntly took advantage of his pre-occupation to have a brief but comprehensive look round, and he saw many other little evidences that some one had been in the place very recently. Dust was disturbed here and there. Someone had washed his hands in the bedroom. Drawers had been opened, as though in haste, and only partially closed, and garments inside looked as though they had been thrust in hurriedly. These points became clear to him by reason of the variations and differences in the dust marks.
He did not, however, think it worth while to tell Mr. Jones of these further signs. He persuaded the little Welshman to give him Mr. Wilder's address in the country; and after a short chat with him upon other matters, took his leave.
He was very serious and thoughtful indeed as he walked away from the place.
"Now, what on earth does this mean?" he asked himself. "This business seems to grow more mysterious, more complicated, at every turn! Solomon gave me the information that he had seen this Mr. Wilder—so I know he was in town—and here I have discovered signs that he visited his studio!
"What time, then, did he go there. Not during the day—that seems certain—or he would have been seen by some of the other inmates. So it must have been in the evening or at night! Here, then, is proof positive that another person was in and out of the place on the night of the murder! And that person has, so far, remained silent, and said nothing. Why? Where, I wonder, will this fresh trail lead us?"
Speculations such as these came and went in his mind, keeping his thoughts busy till he reached the Golden Horseshoe. There he interviewed the marker, but without result.
"I have not seen Mr. Dennett to-day, sir," was the answer. "But if you want particularly to find him you might run against him, at the restaurant where he generally gets his dinner of an evening. This is about his time for dinner."
"And where may his restaurant be?" Huntly asked.
"He generally goes to Lorano's," was the reply.
Once more the detective resumed his task of trying to trace the elusive Dennett, and a quarter of an hour later was closeted with the manager of the well-known Lorano's restaurant in his private office.
He had not seen Mr. Dennett either, he said. Had not set eyes on him for two or three days, and then he had only been there one evening.
"I had not seen him before that—or at least had not noticed him—for more than a week," declared the manager. "But I remember very well seeing him that one night, because he wanted change for a ten pound note."
Huntly almost started, well schooled as he was. But he made no show of interest beyond asking if any record of the note had been kept.
"Certainly," was the answer. "We are very particular as to that; for many attempts are made at times, to pass spurious notes on us—both English and foreign—and we have to be very wide awake in such matters. The note itself has been paid into the bank by this time, but I can show you the number and full particulars entered, in our book."
He sent for the book, and, after opening it and running his finger down two or three pages, stopped at one of the entries.
"Here you are, sir," he said. "Here is the name, Dennett, and here is the number."
The detective took out his notebook, and then glanced at the entry, and compared the two. This note also was one of those which had been paid by Solomon, the picture dealer, to the murdered man!
THE following day Andrew Huntly was seated again in his private office, when Sankey announced Sir Paul Marsdale and Mrs. Carlton. They both on entering shook him warmly by the hand, but there was that in their manner that told Huntly at once they brought bad news; and upon his inquiring after Miss Carlton, they informed him very gravely that she was seriously ill.
"I am staying at Mrs. Carlton's," explained Sir Paul, "while this sad business is about, and I am sorry to say it is a house of grief at present in every way; and amongst minor troubles there have been mysterious disappearances of jewellery of late. But we do not purpose to trouble about that while there are such far more pressing things to be thought of. Have you any news?"
"Nothing of moment. May I ask what is the matter with Miss Carlton? Though, of course, I cannot profess to be surprised that she should show signs of suffering under the great strain she must be enduring."
"Ah, yes," the mother replied; "but this, I am sorry to say, is something more than that. Something we do not understand, and we are in very great anxiety about her. I did so hope you might have been able to give us some little piece of reassuring news—something that I could take back to her and that might cheer the poor child a little."
"And I wanted to say, Mr. Huntly," said Sir Paul, "that I hope you are doing everything that money can do, that is, that you are not sparing money in this matter. If you will let me know what I can do in that way, I will supply whatever is required."
"I will tell you when I want any, Sir Paul," Huntly answered; "and that reminds me—I am glad you called—I have a suggestion to make. The man Henri, who was Mr. Dorman's servant is making a fuss about having been told he must not leave the country. He says he wishes to go to Paris to get employment, now that he has lost his situation here with Mr. Dorman. It's rather an awkward point of course, we cannot legally detain him, had we not better keep him on and pay him for the present—even for doing nothing. That would take away his excuse for going. I assure you I think it very important, that we should not lose sight of this man just now."
"Certainly, sir, certainly. A very good idea. I will pay him the same wages he was having," Sir Paul declared.
"Very good. Then I will so arrange it. May I ask whether you know anything of Mr. Dorman's people?"
"Why, yes, of course; but, though yesterday they were at the inquest, as you know, they cut me dead—his father and brother. This sister Ellen, was not there. I suppose they feel bitter against poor Harold. But I think it was bad taste to show it in public like that. It was assuming his guilt, sir, it seems to be, before he is tried."
"Yes, sir, I agree with you it is to be regretted," Andrew responded. "Do you know when the funeral is to be, sir?"
"Yes! to-morrow I heard. At Highgate Cemetery, I am told."
"Can you give me their address? I may have occasion to go to see them."
"'Moray Lodge,' Norton-road. It is not far from Highgate."
Arnold noted the address down, and his visitors rose to leave.
"Can you give me no hopeful message to take back to my daughter?" Mrs. Carlton asked.
Huntly looked troubled. "It is too soon to speak yet. I can say no more than that, I am sorry to say," he returned.
Mrs. Carlton hesitated, then, appearing to make up her mind, she said:
"I have a message to you from my poor child, Mr. Huntly, though I hardly like to give it to you. I do not know that I would only that she is so ill—for she is very ill. It is that she begged you would come to see her. I must tell you this illness has come on suddenly; she was taken ill last night. Yesterday we had an interview with poor Harold—Mr. Gainsford; I suppose it must have upset her."
"Of course I will come, Mrs. Carlton, if you think it best," was Huntly's ready response; "I shall be only too pleased to do anything I can to comfort her. Perhaps a chat with me, and an assurance that I am working hard in Mr. Gainsford's behalf may cheer her, and do her good."
"Oh, thank you so much," the widow gratefully replied. "When will you come?"
After his visitors had left Huntly proceeded to the address that had been given to him—that of the Dormans'—and arrived there in the afternoon. It was a large, rather grand- looking house, in somewhat extensive grounds of its own. Looking from window to window, he saw that the blinds were all down, for poor Fred Dorman had been carried there before being taken to his last resting-place.
The detective had some difficulty at first in gaining admission, but an explanation that he was engaged in the case eventually effected what he desired; and he was shown into the drawing-room, where he seated himself, and waited patiently for a while before anyone appeared. After a time, however, an elderly lady came in, followed by a younger one, the daughter Ellen, as Andrew surmised, of whom Sir Paul had spoken.
The elder lady, Mrs. Dorman, was austere and distant, but the younger one, though she said little, and had evidently been crying, seemed, he thought, a pleasant-looking girl.
"You are a detective engaged in this case?" said Mrs. Dorman, eyeing him haughtily.
"Yes—that is, one of them, he answered.
"There can't be much for more than one to do, or for one alone, for the matter of that, I should have thought," she said, ungraciously. "From all I hear the thing is clear enough. The wretched murderer—"
"Mamma!" interrupted the daughter.
"Be quiet, Ellen! I know what I am talking about. He has brought trouble enough upon us—too much for me to waste any pity or sentiment upon him."
"But, mamma, it is not proved yet that he did it; and, if he did, poor fellow, he did not know what he was about. Really, mamma, you ought to—"
"No more, Ellen! What is it you want, sir?" turning to Huntly.
"Simply this, madam; Sir Paul Marsdale and Mrs. Carlton called—"
"How is Mrs. Carlton?" interrupted Ellen.
"She was well, Miss Dorman, but Miss Carlton is very ill."
"Oh, I am sorry. Mother, can't I go to see her?"
"No; certainly not. Will you keep quiet, and let me hear what it is this—er—gentleman wants?"
Huntly gave a half smile, and said—
"It has been arranged to keep on Mr. Fred Dorman's servant, Henri, for a time; and I called to explain to Mr. Dorman that everything will be taken care of; I will see to that. But, as he is already aware, the police take charge for the moment. I speak of the time after they have gone. I suggest that, in the interests of justice, it may be desirable to leave things on the footing I speak of for a while till matters are more settled. I will be responsible for all the things here. Here is my card, in case Mr. Dorman should like to call on me to make inquiries, or in case he should wish to write to me." And he rose to go.
"Very well, sir; I will give your card to Mr. Dorman, and tell him what you say. Good-day!"
She went to the bell as Andrew moved towards the door, when the daughter said, "I will see the gentleman out, mamma," and hastened into the hall before her mother could stop her. When Andrew got to the door she whispered, "Will you see Evelyn—Miss Carlton?"
"Yes," he answered. "To-morrow morning."
"Give her my love," she said, "and say I will come to see her in a day or two—the moment I can, whether mamma likes it or not."
"A nice, kind-hearted, affectionate girl," was Huntly's comment while going down the steps. "But the mother! Ugh!" And he shivered as though someone had poured iced water down his back.
When he called at Mrs. Carlton's the next morning that lady received him with a friendly but anxious greeting. The house was a large one facing Kensington Gardens, and from the bow window of the room on the first floor into which he had been shown there was an extensive view of the water in the gardens, now crowded with skaters.
"You will have to see my daughter in her room, Mr. Huntly," said Mrs. Carlton. "She is too ill, poor child, to be up." And she led the way upstairs to the bedroom where Evelyn lay.
Huntly had been prepared to see her looking ill, but was surprised and shocked at the sight that met his eyes. She had grown fearfully thin in the time, her eyes were large and unnaturally bright, and a feverish spot glowed in each cheek. She was sitting up in bed supported on pillows, and smiled faintly at Huntly's approach, raising her hand, and extending it to him.
"It is so kind of you to come, Mr. Huntly," she said in a weak voice. "I wanted to see you so much. I could not rest till I had told you what I wish to say."
"You shall tell me, Miss Carlton," he replied. "But first tell me how you feel to-day, and how it comes about that I see you like this. I fear you have scarcely been acting up to the promise you made to me to keep up a brave heart, you know, eh?"
She smiled again, rather sadly. "I tried my best," she declared, "and truly I cannot understand how or why it is I have broken down. But now I wish to talk to you—I have ever so much to say, and hardly know where to begin. First, have you any news?"
"Nothing of moment."
"Well, now, I want you to be very very kind and indulgent to me, and not be offended at what I am going to say. I am only a girl, you must remember—and it is not as though a man said it."
"Nothing you can say can offend me in any way, my dear young lady," Huntly said kindly. "Be sure of that. I shall know that it is only dictated by the great anxiety you feel, and the desire to suggest something, or give some hint that may be of use."
"Exactly, Mr Huntly. That's just what I wanted to say, only I could not think of the proper words. Now, what I fear is that you may be wrong here, and lose precious time, because you do not believe Harold's story."
Huntly, in spite of himself, gave a slight start.
"How do you know that?" he asked. "What makes you think so?"
"Oh, I know! I feel it! He told me so himself, for one thing. Of course it is a strange story, but"—and here she gazed at him very seriously with large, solemn-looking eyes—"you must believe it, for I feel it is true—every word of it."
"But it can't be!" exclaimed Huntly, surprised into argument. "How can a made-up figure go stalking about killing people, my dear young lady?"
"That is just what you must try to find out," she answered, quite calmly. "That is the problem that has to be solved. But, if you do not believe in it all you will never set to work to think it out. Do you see what I mean, dear Mr. Huntly?"
Huntly smiled pleasantly. "I see that you are giving me quite a little lecture in my own business," he said. "But I'm not prepared to say you're wrong. You've hit one fundamental point, anyhow—a detective should never start with the idea that anything is impossible. And, so far as that goes, I may have made a mistake, perhaps."
"Well, you see," she went on. "I know Harold so well; and when he declares solemnly that he saw the figure stab poor Fred Dorman, you may be sure it was so. It was no dream. And, besides, who pulled the curtains backward and forward?"
"Go on, Miss Carlton; I am listening."
"Mr. Huntly," she said, taking his hand and looking at him very earnestly, "I believe it must have been true what he says. I want you to believe it, too! If you give your mind to it you can find out how it might be; but, of course, I am not clever enough to think it out."
"Do you believe it was the ghost of the dead brigand animating his clothes, and doing all this to revenge himself, and to steal two or three hundred pounds in banknotes to take away with him to the other world," Huntly asked, smiling.
She looked at him dreamily.
"No," she replied, "I scarcely think that. I did not know about the notes."
"Oh, yes; there is a large sum missing."
"Harold wouldn't steal!" she exclaimed, indignantly.
"Of course not; we know that."
"Have you found the knife yet?" she asked.
"Would not the figure, if it killed anyone, use its own dagger?" she asked again. "Have you looked to see?"
And Huntly sprang up exclaiming, "No one seems to have thought of that!"
HUNTLY paced up and down the room for a brief space before saying anything further. The suggestion thus made had evidently started a train of thought in his mind that seemed to him worth consideration. Soon, however, he sat down again by the bedside saying—
"When I say that no one appears to have thought of what you suggested, I can only speak of what I know. It is just possible the police may have looked at the dagger fastened in the belt round the figure made up like the dead brigand; but, if so, I think I should have heard of it. I rather fancy, however, that we have all passed this over, looking upon the weapon as only a harmless bit of 'stage property; forgetting, or not knowing, that it is the actual dagger that belonged to the wretch. In any case, I will make sure about it, and am much obliged to you for reminding me. And, to show you I mean what I say, and also to try to relieve your anxiety in some measure, I will promise to do what you have asked me. I will examine the whole business from a fresh standpoint."
Evelyn, who had half-raised herself while he had been speaking, leaned back upon her pillows when he finished with a satisfied sigh and an air of relief.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Huntly," she said. "I hope you will soon find it all out now. I listened so carefully to all Harold told me, and I seemed to feel it was all true. There is still something more. The piece, or whatever it was, that he took out of poor Mr. Arnold's hand. Might it not have been a button, or something torn from the dress of the model? You see that becomes possible if you once admit that he actually saw what he says he did. Will you not look carefully, and see whether anything is missing?"
"Certainly, certainly. As you say, Miss Carlton, one thing leads to another when once you start on a new line. Gad! You ought to have been a detective yourself!"
She smiled, and shook her head.
"No; it would never have suited me, such an occupation. I don't like the idea of hunting people down. Only here, for Harold's sake, it is different."
Seeing she looked fatigued from the talking, Huntly prepared to take his leave. After giving her renewed assurance, he spoke of his visit to Mrs. Dorman, and the message Ellen Dorman had sent.
"Ah, yes; I knew she would want to come so soon as she heard I was ill," she declared, a sweet, pleased smile lighting up her face. "It is very sad that they should feel bitter against poor Harold, especially when he never did it. But I hope you will be able to convince them soon, Mr. Huntly."
As Andrew walked downstairs he shook his head in a dissatisfied way.
"I don't like her looks at all," he said to Mrs. Carlton at parting. "I wish you would let Dr. Mellor see her."
"He lives so far away, you see," was the reply, "otherwise I should have called him in. The doctor we have is close at hand."
At his office Huntly found Vardon waiting for him, and he proceeded to inform the Scotland Yard man what he had discovered with regard to Dennett.
"What do you think of it?" he asked when he had finished.
"I can't understand it at all," Vardon confessed. "Only I can tell you that the man has not disappeared. I saw him myself at the studio to-day, and he said he should be there all day. What do you think yourself about it, Huntly?"
"Humph! I don't see it matters much what I think. Let me ask you another question. What do you, suppose Mr. Gilham would think about it—what would he say if he knew?"
Vardon winced. "Are you going to tell him?" he asked.
"It will have to come out; so it does not much matter whether I tell him or you."
"Now, here here, Huntly, what are you driving at? Speak out! Do you mean to say you believe that we've got the wrong man, and that, after all, it was Dennett who killed Fred Dorman and stole the notes?"
But the astute detective was too cautious to be drawn into any such declaration.
"At present," he answered slowly, "I will not say more than that it seems clear to me there must be some further mystery here. Suppose we go and question Dennett together. That is if we can find him. I want to go to the studio again to look at something."
Accordingly the two made their way once more to the quiet square, and to the house that had been the scene of the tragedy, and, after ascertaining that Mr. Dennett was in, proceeded to interview that gentleman—apparently much to his discomfort.
Huntly opened the conversation.
"Mr. Dennett," he said, somewhat sternly, "we have reason to believe that you have not spoken the truth concerning the death of Mr. Dorman and your relations with him. Now, of course, you need not answer any questions unless you like; but, if you decline, we shall feel bound to conclude that you have something to conceal; while, on the other hand, if you are innocent in the matter, and wish to assist the ends of justice, you may speak to us freely. You will be ill-advised in concealing the truth from us; already you have only brought suspicion on yourself."
Dennett turned pale, pulled out his handkerchief, and mopped his face as thought it were a sweltering hot day in summer. Seeing that he hesitated, Huntly went on—
"We know that you have changed two notes which must have belonged to Mr. Dorman."
At this Dennett looked still more confused. Presently he said doggedly—
"He gave the money to me—or rather, lent it to me. I don't expect you'll believe me, but it's the truth."
"How much did he lend you, and when?" asked Huntly.
"Twenty pounds. I met him outside about eight or half-past. I gave him an I.O.U. for it. I scribbled it in pencil under the lamp-post on a slip of paper, he tore off a letter he took out of his pocket."
"But even accepting your statement for the moment," Huntly persisted, sternly, "there must be something else—something you have not spoken of. Why will you not speak out?"
Dennett drew a long breath, hesitated and then said in a low tone—
"There is something else. But if I were to tell it no one would believe me, any more than they have believed Gainsford."
"Why don't you speak the truth?" he asked. "You are only bringing serious suspicion on yourself."
Once more Dennett hesitated; then, suddenly making up his mind, he sat up in his chair with a determined air, and blurted out—
"I will tell you. And, if you laugh at me, or don't believe me, well, I can't help it. As I have just told you, I met Dorman that evening outside, accidentally. I was going to pass him without speaking, when he stopped me. 'I say, Dennett, old man,' he said, 'don't be upset with me about this morning. I assure you it was true—what I told you—that I had not then got the money. Now I have; and to prove to you that I do not mean to be unfriendly, I can let you have what you want now, if you like, on condition, of course, that you return it as usual.'"
"What did that mean?" Vardon inquired.
"Oh, I have an income paid to me quarterly. I had often borrowed of Dorman before, and always paid him back as soon as I got my payment in. There had never been any delay on my part, or a word between us. That was what upset me when he said he could not do it this time. I quite thought he had had the money for his picture, and that he was telling me an untruth as an excuse."
"Not very nice on your part," observed Huntly bluntly, "towards one who had been a friend to you before."
"N—no; and I'm very sorry now for it; indeed, I was before I had been out of the house half an hour after the row. That was why I felt too ashamed to speak, and should have passed him without noticing him in the evening, if he had not stopped me. I think I must have been excited by some brandy I had had on an empty stomach that morning."
"H'm! Well, I'm glad to hear you see it in the right light now, anyway," Huntly remarked. "However, go on."
"You cannot speak more strongly about it than I feel myself, I assure you," Dennett returned. "Indeed, I felt very small and very much ashamed, as I have said; so much so, that, when I came in about eleven o'clock, I determined to go and speak to him again, if he were still up, and tell him I had not said nearly so much as I thought I ought by way of apology. I found all so quiet that I walked almost on tip-toe along the passage; the outer door was not fastened, and the inside passage, as you know, is covered with coconut matting. I thought if he had gone to bed I would not disturb him. When I got to the door of the studio it was ajar; I pushed it open quietly and looked in, and there I saw—"
Here Dennett stopped, and wiped his face again.
"Well?" said Huntly, impatiently. "What did you see?"
"You'll never believe it," Dennett went on in an agitated tone, "but I swear it to be true. I saw the figure of the robber chief standing down on the floor with its back to me! And I saw that it seemed to be looking down as though at something held in its hands. I saw it move stealthily back towards the platform, and then—then—I was seized with a mortal terror. I drew the door lightly to, and crept away softly upstairs to my room and threw myself on the couch. I really believe I must have fainted or something with sheer fright, for I seemed to wake up to find myself very cold. My idea then was that I had been asleep and dreamed it all and I went out to get something hot to warm me up. I shall never forget the turn it gave me."
And again Dennett mopped his face.
Huntly and Vardon glanced at each other, and neither spoke for nearly a minute. Then Huntly said—
"You must have known, Mr Dennett, of the statement made by Mr. Gainsford, of how it has been ridiculed and disbelieved, and that it has only gone to strengthen the theory that he dreamed it all, and killed his friend in his sleep. You must have known of what inestimable service this statement of yours would have been as tending to corroborate his extraordinary account; yet you say nothing about it till we come here and almost drag it out of you!"
"I know, I know," Dennett responded, in a weak, querulous manner. "What you say is true, only I was afraid about those notes. In a moment of foolishness I had said I had not seen Dorman again since the morning. The reason was that I saw he had a lot more notes in his pocket, and when I first heard of the murder I thought it was a case of robbery; and I feared that I might be suspected after the row we had had in the morning, and that people might doubt the story of our having met and been friends again. I had no idea then that Gainsford had made the statement he did. Afterwards I felt afraid to say anything for fear of getting myself into a worse hobble; and all the time I was really half in doubt whether what I had fancied I saw could be real or—or—"
"Or a fit of the D.T.'s," suggested Vardon grimly.
Dennett looked at him with a helpless sort of expression, and then said with a sigh—
"Well, altogether, there is no doubt I lost my head; and very sorry indeed have felt about it all. It is a relief to me to tell at last all I know."
"If you saw Mr. Dorman between eight and half-past," asked Huntly, "and went back about eleven, where were you meantime?"
"I went down to Lorano's restaurant, and had dinner; then to the Savoy Hotel, and I had two or three games of billiards. You can inquire at those places; they know me well enough at both, and will remember my coming in, because it was the first evening I had gone to either for more than a week."
"You changed a note to pay for your dinner?"
"Yes; I had two £10 notes. The other I changed later with Martin at the 'Black Bull.'"
"Why did you do that, having the change of the other in your pocket?"
"Oh, I don't know. Just to impress him, I suppose. We'd had a difference in the morning because I owed a score there, and I thought perhaps it might make him more civil if I showed him a £10 note instead of a sovereign or so."
"I see. Well; now can you fix the time when you returned and looked into the studio?"
"I had heard eleven strike while I was crossing the square. It was very quiet, the streets being covered with snow, and I remember thinking what a lot of clocks seemed to be striking all at the same time."
"Did you notice whether Mr. Dorman was lying on his bed then?"
"I did just glance, but could not see, the curtains being drawn round it."
After this Vardon asked a number of questions and cross- examined Dennett at great length. Nothing further, however, was elicited of any moment; and shortly afterwards the two detectives left him.
WHEN the two detectives left Dennett they went downstairs and once more entered the flat where the murder had taken place. The constable who had been left in charge had gone, and the suite was locked up. Vardon, however, had the keys and opened the outer door.
"We sent one man away this morning," he observed. "There's nothing to keep him here any longer. We shall be quite undisturbed in here; and can talk things over a bit. And certainly," he added, "this affair wants some talkin'—and thinkin'—over, too!"
"Aye, aye. And I want to have another look round, if you don't mind, Vardon."
"You're welcome; but we've overhauled everything pretty, careful. I doubt whether ye'll find anything fresh," and he laughed a little cynically.
Huntly made no reply, but going straight across the platform at the end, whereon was the made-up scene of the brigand's cave, with its realistically-painted canvas—rocks and accessories—he began to examine the figure of the brigand chief.
The head had been knocked off, with its wax mask, by Gainsford in his frenzied outburst, and now rested on a chair, with the trunk lying near. Huntly took from the latter the dagger which hung from the belt, and drew forth a deadly-looking blade.
"Why," exclaimed Vardon, who had been quietly watching him. "I never knew that that thing was _real!_ I thought it was only a sham affair—what you might call a bit of stage property, such as they have in theatres—like all these rocks and things!"
Huntly laughed; it was now his turn to be a bit cynical.
"You're a pretty lot of dunderheads not to have found that much out before," he muttered. "But there—we all are! I have been no better! I took it for granted that you had examined this thing, and that it was, as you say, not real, since you left it here unnoticed."
"And I thought that Inspector Connell, who came here before me, had done the same," Vardon growled, almost savagely. He did not like being found out in a bit of carelessness such as this.
"Well, I admit I have no right to crow," Huntly said, "for it was reserved for a girl—Miss Carlton I should say—to put me on the right track. It seems that not only is this pretty plaything not a sham, but it happens to be a weapon which actually belonged to Faronda, the dastardly, murdering bandit leader himself. In fact, it is the very dagger with which he committed the atrocious murders which so roused poor Dorman's indignant anger. And now it has achieved one more murder; for it is clearly the dagger with which Dorman was killed. Man, look at it! There is dried blood on the blade now; and more inside the scabbard!"
"Great Scott!" cried Vardon in amaze. "Then that's the weapon we've been wondering about and hunting for?"
"That's just it! You had better take it to Dr. Mellor that he may examine it and report upon it."
Vardon took it, looked at it for a while with a vacant, puzzled air, then burst out—
"Ah, ah! I see! Gainsford used this and replaced it in its sheath—and then goes and smashes up the figure, and so puts us off the scent! Artful! artful! Talk about method in madness, eh? Mad people are as clever as sane ones when they like—and a jolly sight more cunning!"
Andrew turned testily away, and picked up the wax mask. Then he went carefully over the clothing of the figure.
"It's a pity he interfered with it," he commented. "Makes matters all the more difficult. Still, one can see that there; are no buttons missing, only a slash or two in the tunic, and a chip out of the mask. Now I wonder where that chip went to?" And he began searching about on the floor.
"Are you sure," he asked Vardon, "that no one's been here since? No dusting, or sweeping, or anything been going on, eh?"
"Quite sure. I've given the strictest orders. No one has been admitted."
"You have not seen or heard anything of a piece of wax that would fit this place here?"
Vardon shook his head.
"We were very particular," he declared, "in looking round for pieces of chips of any kind, that might be about. What was picked up we put into this bowl here. You see there's nothing there like what you want."
Huntly spent some time in further search; but eventually had to give it up without discovering what he sought.
"Well, now," he said, as he walked thoughtfully up and down the studio. "I want to know your opinion—your real, honest opinion—of Dennett's story."
Vardon' s eyes were fixed on the ceiling, and he did not alter their direction as he replied—
"I think he may have got the notes in the way he says he did. As to the rest—well, when he had them he went out and got drunk, and—there you are!"
"But he says distinctly that he came here—to this studio—found the door ajar—looked in—and saw this model—or lay figure, or whatever it is, not in its usual place, but—standing near the bed. What do you make of that?"
"Bosh! Rubbish! The fellow had a fit of the D.T.'s! He went to bed fuddled, and had bad dreams. Afterwards he heard Gainsford' s story, and he's mixed it up, somehow, in his muddled brain, with his own drunken dreams."
"Then you don't believe his account—about coming into the studio at all? Is that it?"
"Why, of course, I don't. How can anyone believe such nonsense? Besides—if I did believe it—of course I should—"
"You would arrest him and charge him with the murder?"
"How could I do that when they've charged another man with it?" Vardon protested.
"Just so, just so. That's the logic of the Yard, isn't it?"
"Logic or no logic, it's common sense," Vardon grunted.
"From the point of view of the 'Force' I suppose—yes. Well, I must be off. Ta ta, Vardon."
"Where are you going to now?" Vardon asked uneasily.
"I'm going to call on Mr. Gilham—Mr. Gainsford's solicitor."
"And—you're going to—tell him—all about Dennett?" Vardon asked in some concern.
Huntly—who had already got as far as the door—turned round and faced the Scotland Yard man suddenly, staring at him in surprise.
"Certainly I'm going to tell him."
"But why? What's the good of talking, to him about all this?"
"Now, look here, Vardon," returned Huntly. "You know quite well that I am employed by Mr. Gainsford's friends on his behalf, with the object of clearing him if I find it possible to do so. Mr. Gilham is Sir Paul Marsdale's solicitor. Sir Paul has formally engaged my services; and I am bound to report from time to time either to him direct or to his lawyer, as the case may be. And I thought you were going to help me?"
"So I am—I'm quite willing to—directly, that is, we find any evidence to go upon. I don't see, though, any use in going to this lawyer chap with an account of every little thing that happens at every swing of the see-saw. You know that there are always ups and downs in these cases before you arrive at indisputable proof—and—"
"I don't agree with you, Vardon—at any rate in the present instance," rejoined Huntly. "The fact is you Yard people are a bit afraid of Gilham; he's had a hit at you already over this business, and you are afraid of his sharp tongue. I can't help that. I'll smooth over the little slips you've made and all that; but I'm not going to keep him in ignorance of what Dennett has said. I'll look you up afterwards, and tell you what he says about it—if that will be any comfort to you."
And with that Huntly went off, leaving Vardon staring after him a little blankly. He knew Huntly too well to attempt to dissuade him. He knew that once he made up his mind to a certain course nothing would turn him from it. But similar difficulties had arisen between these two before, without leading to anything more than a passing difference of opinion.
Huntly went his way utterly indifferent to his friend's thoughts or wishes. As he said, he was employed by the accused man's friends—not by Scotland Yard—and he had a right to take his own course.
"Aye," he thought to himself, "and I have a right to take any steps I think proper in regard to the extraordinary story of this Mr. Dennett. It was I who followed him up and forced him into a corner—and I have the right to make what use I please of the information. And the best use I can make of it, it seems to me, is to consult Mr. Gilham about it."
Half an hour later he was seated in the lawyer's office, and had made his report as to what he had learned that morning at the studio.
Mr. Gilham was a little man with a thin, sharp, but not unkindly face, and keen, searching eyes that always looked straight at the person he addressed. Round about his mouth there lurked a somewhat curious expression, which turned, at times, to a humorous smile, at others to a sort of grim sternness which had in it more than a suggestion of biting sarcasm. It was this latter expression, and a shrewd sharpness of tongue at times, which caused those who knew him to prefer to be on his side rather than in opposition. Nevertheless, even those who had suffered from his sarcasm respected him. He had the reputation of being honest and very zealous on behalf of those whose cause he espoused.
"And what, Mr. Huntly," he asked, at the end of Huntly's account, "does Vardon say to all this?"
The detective told him what the Scotland Yard man had said.
"All the same I do not assert that that is what he thinks," he added cautiously. "You see, sir, he is in an awkward position. An arrest having been made, he can't arrest another man for the same thing."
"Humph! My unfortunate client is in a still more awkward position," commented the lawyer. "I have known Harold Gainsford ever since he was a boy," he added indignantly. "I knew his mother and father before that, and I know—I feel convinced—that this accusation is absurd, impossible! There has been no trace of lunacy either in him or in his family before him. As I said at the inquest yesterday, it is monstrous that he should have been arrested on such evidence—perfectly monstrous! Why on this Dennett's own showing—his own admissions—there is much more evidence against him than against Gainsford!"
"Well—there is—and there isn't, Mr. Gilham. You see the very openness of Mr. Dennett's actions—the absence of all concealment, the way in which he went at once and changed these notes at places near at hand, places where he was well known—argues strongly in favour of the truth of his statement."
"I see all that," returned the lawyer dubiously.
"If we assume that he had the notes given to him by Mr. Dorman, as he declares, his changing them openly becomes natural enough. This, you perceive, is the way in which it presents itself to Vardon. So I think we may assume that for the present at any rate they will decline to take any open step against Dennett. Doubtless they will keep him under observation—and that will be all."
"WELL now," said Mr. Gilham, "leaving that for the moment, and assuming, for the sake of argument, that the doubts of those sapient police about Dennett having done the deed are correct—in spite of his own damaging admissions—who else is there whom one could possibly suspect? What steps, may I ask, have you taken to inquire into the doings of the other people connected with the place? There are Mr. Ranger and Mr. Manton, for instance?"
"They are both entirely above suspicion, Mr. Gilham. I have followed all their movements throughout the entire evening. There is no doubt that they dined together at a small restaurant in Soho, and then went to the Empire in Leicester Square. On their way back they encountered Henri, the French servant, and they all three entered the house together."
"That seems definite enough. And what about the man Henri?"
"That is not so clear—so far, that is, as concerns tracing his movements during the evening. He says he took his sweetheart to the Alhambra; but I am bound to say up to now I have not obtained any independent corroboration of that statement. He states, as you know, that his sweetheart is a lady's maid, and he now tells me that she has gone to Paris to look for a situation there—so I cannot get at her to question her. The chief point with regard to him seems to be that he returned to the house, as I said just now, in the company of the other two. They ran against him, as you heard at the inquest, just outside the entrance to the square. He came up behind them; so they cannot say from what direction he came. But the man himself says that if this sweetheart does not succeed in obtaining the situation she has gone about she will return to London, and I can then see her; and if she does get it, he will give me the name and address of the people who engage her."
"Humph! Well, I suppose there is no ground for suspecting him?"
"I can see none—so far as I know at present. Of course I shall keep my eyes open; and if anything should crop up concerning him I will let you know."
"Good! Well, there is no-one else, I believe. The other tenant, Mr. Wilder, is away—has been away for some time—I understand. So he is out of the question."
"No, sir; that's the queer part of it. I have just discovered that he is not altogether out of the question. At least, not so much so as we have all been led to believe."
The lawyer gave a slight start, and fixed his sharp, shrewd glance on the detective, as the latter drew from his pocket a partly burnt envelope.
"This envelope," he said slowly, "seems to make it pretty clear—looked at in the light of other information in my possession—that Mr. Wilder visited his studio—which is on the floor above Mr. Dorman' s flat—some time during the evening or night of the murder!"
This announcement was so entirely unexpected that for once even the experienced lawyer was surprised out of his usual calm.
"How do you know of this?" he asked, leaning forward eagerly to look at the remains of the envelope.
Huntly told him of his encounter with Mr. Jones, the landlord of the house, and of what he had learned from Mr. Solomon.
"And did you discover all this yourself, may I ask? Or were you put up to it by the police?"
"They know nothing about it at present. I have not even told Vardon. I am undecided whether to go down and find this Mr. Wilder and question him. I am in some doubt whether it would be wise to leave London just now and turn my back, so to speak, upon all these others. And that is one reason for my calling on you now. I wanted to consult you on the matter."
Mr. Gilham drummed upon his table with his fingers. "It seems to me, Mr. Huntly," he presently said, "that you, unaided, have discovered already more than the police themselves, notwithstanding that they have the 'Yard,' and unlimited resources to back them up!"
"Humph! That's not saying very much, Mr. Gilham, after all. As I always say—and as you yourself know well enough—they are too apt to be hide-bound—and to get into grooves—and once they do that all initiative seems to be at an end."
The lawyer nodded and smiled queerly. "I know—yes, I know," he muttered. "But they can make a great display of acumen when everything is plain sailing, and talk big about 'information received.' They would shine splendidly, and come off with flying colors, in such a case, say, as the historic death of poor Cock Robin. However, to go back to your question; I think it might be worth while to go down and interview Mr. Wilder, if you think well, and you know where he is to be found."
"I have his address—Mr. Jones gave it to me."
"Good. I think you would be justified in going. If you do let me know—and also where I can communicate with you if necessary. I shall be seeing Sir Paul tonight, and I will report to him all that you have told me."
"Thank you. How is Miss Carlton?"
The lawyer shook his head and looked grave.
"I hear she is much the same—no better, I am sorry to say. Mr. Huntly, I wish, for her sake—if for nothing else—that we could get to the bottom of this mystery, and put an end to her anxiety. I fear she will never stand the strain, poor girl!"
"You cannot wish it more than I do, Mr. Gilham. And I can truly say I am leaving no stone unturned."
"I am sure of that; indeed I can see it. But now this discovery of yours about the weapon being the one that was attached to the made-up effigy—how does that affect matters? It seems to me to complicate them rather than otherwise; don't you think so?"
"How so, sir?"
"Why—don't you see? You say that poor Dorman was stabbed with that dagger?"
"I fear certain it must have been so."
"But you—a—don't believe the figure did it?"
"Of course not."
"Then someone went into the studio, some one who must have seen Mr. Dorman lying on the bed asleep. That some one wished to kill him. Why? For mere robbery? That seems doubtful, because I don't see who could know that he had all that money on him. For some other motive? If so what. At any rate this person, let us say, was determined to murder the poor fellow in his sleep, and for that purpose went over to the made-up model and drew the dagger from its sheath. Now does not that argue that the murderer must have been some one well acquainted with the studio. How else would he know that the dagger was real—and not a mere imitation, as most people seem to have thought?"
"I see your point, Mr. Gilham, and I may tell you that I am thinking deeply over it. But at present I can give you no satisfactory explanation."
"Of course, you can't. If you could, you could point out the murderer. But don't you think what I have said makes the accusation against Mr. Gainsford seem more absurd than ever? It is suggested that he committed the deed in a kind of frenzy; half asleep, half awake. Now there was a sword hanging up close at hand within reach, which he might have made use of—the same one which he afterwards used to smash up the figure—and if he had employed that, one could have understood the accusation better. But is it likely that a man half asleep and half awake would go out of his way to get this weapon from a made-up figure? It sounds to me preposterous!"
Huntly agreed. "All that is quite reasonable; or would be if only he had not made that unlucky assertion about seeing the figure commit the crime," he once more pointed out, "That is what has done all the mischief."
"Yes; and that only brings us back to our starting place," said Mr. Gilham with a sigh. "Well, we must wait with such patience as we can till you find out the real murderer. May God grant that you may do it soon, Mr. Huntly!"
"Amen to that, sir," returned Huntly heartily. "By the way, there is one other point; can you give me any information as to who and what this Mr. Wilder is, and whether he was a friend of Mr. Dorman or otherwise?"
Mr. Gilham paused and hesitated.
"It is a difficult question to answer," he said slowly. "Whatever I can tell you is but second-hand, so to speak, and you must not treat it as absolutely reliable. I have reason to believe, however, that these two were not very good friends."
Huntly uttered a low whistle. "That is a very important statement, sir, in the circumstances," he pointed out.
"I know it; and it is for that reason that I have not mentioned it before. I do not wish it to be said of me, or for you, or for anyone else to think, for one moment, that I am ready to insinuate things recklessly against other friends of Mr. Dorman in order to get my own client off at their expense. You can understand the difficulty of my position?"
"No doubt it is a position of great delicacy in regard to anything of that kind."
"Precisely. Well, now, as I have intimated, I have reason to believe that though they had studios in the same building, associated together to some extent, and appeared outwardly to be on good terms, yet in reality there was an undercurrent of constraint. I do not say more than that. I never hear of any actual quarrel—but I fancy Fred Dorman did not care much for Mr. Wilder's society. Certainly, Mr. Wilder is a much younger man—and is said to be a bit flighty. There! That is all I can say with certainty. Perhaps Mr. Gainsford could enlighten you better than I can. I would rather you questioned him than me, if you wish to know more."
"I understand, Mr. Gilham. Probably I shall take an early opportunity of asking him. Is there anything further before I go?"
"I cannot think of anything more now, except to ask you to be sure to let me hear from you or see you directly you have anything to report. Sir Paul will be most anxious to know everything that transpires. He would have liked to attend poor Fred Dorman's funeral to-morrow; but that is impossible on account of the feeling of his people against Gainsford. I suppose you know that it is to be tomorrow?"
"Yes," answered Huntly, "and I shall probably be there as an uninvited looker-on; so that I cannot go away to hunt up Mr. Wilder till the beginning of next week."
THE detective had much to ponder over as he left the lawyer's office in Gray's Inn. Mr. Gilham's hinted suggestion that there might possibly be an undercurrent of bad blood between the murdered man and Wilder, added to the facts which he (Huntly) had already pieced together, shifted the immediate interest once more from Dennett to the other artist.
"It's getting more and more complicated," Huntly mused. "And certainly what the lawyer told me makes it more necessary than ever that I should find out all I can about this Mr. Wilder. I wish though that Mr. Gilham had been a little clearer in what he stated. It's my opinion that he knows a bit more than he cares to tell. I suppose he is right, from his point of view, to be careful in what he says; but all the same I wish he could have brought himself to be a little more explicit.
"However—if he won't, he won't; and I must 'furrage' matters out for myself. Now before I go any further, there's one point I want to settle if I can. What did Dorman do with himself between the time he left old Solomon and the time Gainsford saw him at the studio? Solomon says he was at his place about tea- time—that might be anything from four to six. Then Gainsford got to the studio between eight and nine and found Dorman there. How long had he been in? Say that he arrived there about eight, that would leave two hours—if not more—to account for. What was he doing during that time? Having tea? Dining? Shopping? Buying one or two little things he may have wanted to take away with him? In either case he may have changed another note to give payment. I must make further inquiry about those notes. But it seems to me that if he dined on his way from Solomon's he may have met some one he knew, and had a chat. I'll interview one of the others—Manton or Ranger—first, and see what further hints I can pick up."
Up Gray's Inn-road, therefore, late in the afternoon, the persistent detective once more tramped into Guildford-street, and back to the now familiar square, with its big, old-fashioned house in the corner.
The snow had thawed, and in place of the crisp air and the white, clean-looking covering on the open space in front, the house loomed through a dark mist, whilst the ground had become covered with a sloshy, muddy deposit.
The house to-day looked more sombre and sullen than over—a fit abode, Huntly could not help thinking, for a sinister secret to hide itself in. He wondered what those staring windows would reveal if they could speak. They had stared out just as impassively when—as, if Gainsford were innocent, had probably been the case—the real murderer had let himself out of the house on that fatal night, and stolen noiselessly away across the soft snow.
"Pshaw!" muttered the detective, rousing himself suddenly from a dreamy reverie. "My talk with Mr. Gainsford's lawyer has made me, for the moment, take his view. I'm forgetting that so far there has been practically nothing done to prove that his client is innocent in fact, as well as in intention!"
Just within the open doorway someone lurched against him, and there followed a rattle of something falling on the floor. It was rather dark in the wide, spacious, old-fashioned hall, panelled, as it was, with dark oak, and at first it was difficult to distinguish things. Then Huntly perceived that he had collided with the French servant Henri, who had just descended the stairs laden with sundry parcels and some small articles loose in a basket. Huntly had already obtained for him the permission of Sir Paul—in whose service the man now really was, since the baronet had agreed to pay him his usual wages for a time—to move into other lodgings a short distance away.
The Frenchman apologised for the collision, with his usual easy grace.
"Hullo! So you're moving?" Huntly observed, as he stooped good-naturedly to help to pick up some of the things which had been dropped.
"Mais oui, M'sieur, as you gave me ze kind permission, I move myself to my new apartment."
"All right, Henri. I've got your new address, so shall know where to find you." And without saying more the detective strode across the hall to a door and knocked. A few seconds later he was seated in an armchair before the fire in the studio, while Mr. William Ranger, pipe in mouth, lounged on a couch covered with a bearskin rug.
"I'm glad you've come in, Mr. Huntly," said Ranger. "We—that is Manton and myself—both wished to see you. We heard you were here this morning; but not until after you had gone. Manton is out just now; but I can speak for him. We want very much to know how things are going. We've questioned Mr. Vardon; but we can get nothing out of him except the most vague sort of talk."
William Ranger was a man of perhaps thirty-five, very gentlemanly in appearance, with black hair, beard, and moustache. He was an artist of some standing, and his pictures sold well. The present upset, he went on to tell Huntly, was causing considerable annoyance to both himself and his friend Manton, who shared the ground-floor flat with him.
"We shall have to move," he declared. "We shall be compelled to find a studio somewhere else. We can't stand this sort of thing. Police here, police there; in and out of the place at all sorts of inconvenient times—it's getting intolerable. Yesterday, for instance, they came bursting in when I had Lord Hardmere here with his daughter, Lady Constance. I am painting her portrait, I should tell you—they are important clients—and I could see that he was greatly annoyed."
"It's very awkward," Huntly agreed, "What did they want? The police, I mean."
"Oh! Only to ask fussy questions. But that is not all. We have other clients and patrons—and they say the place is getting into too much notoriety. Every day there are long accounts in the papers giving the latest developments—as they choose to imagine them—and so keeping the address constantly before the public."
"It's very annoying, Mr. Ranger—but it will die down."
"Oh, that's all very fine. Not before it has done us a lot of harm. We shall certainly lose some wealthy clients if we stay on. So there is nothing for it but to go."
"H'm! I was talking yesterday to your landlord, Mr. Jones; and that is exactly what he was fearing. It will be a bad thing for him, he says."
"I am sorry; but what can we do. Besides—it is not as though we can do any good by remaining. It's bad enough to have to attend the inquest and police court to give evidence. Still we don't mind—anything we can do to help Gainsford we will do—but that does not necessarily mean staying on here."
"Of course not, if you think it better to move. But if you are anxious to help Mr. Gainsford, perhaps you will not mind answering a few questions."
"Jupiter! More questions?" grumbled the artist, discontentedly. "All right, fire away."
"Can you tell me where Mr. Fred Dorman usually went to dine?"
"Well, if he wished to have a meal near here, he used to patronise a little restaurant across Tottenham Court-road in Fitzroy-street. It is a place much frequented by artists. But if he was down west, he had a bit of a weakness for the Cafe Royal. He was known at both places."
"Thank you. You have no idea where he may have gone on that night?"
"Not the slightest."
"H'm!" Huntly took out his notebook, and the artist gave him the exact address in Fitzroy-street.
"And now I am coming to an entirely different matter. Can you tell me anything about Mr. Wilder, and how he stood in relation to Mr. Fred Dorman?"
Mr. Ranger paused, and his mouth seemed to harden. His whole expression, indeed, altered—and he glanced doubtfully at his questioner.
"I—don't—think—you ought—to—ask me about—matters of that sort," he said very slowly, and hesitating between some of the words.
"Why, Mr. Ranger?"
"Because—well—it was rather a sort of private matter between those two. Moreover, Mr. Huntly, it affects a third patty—a lady."
"A lady!" repeated the detective in surprise.
"Yes, sir. I doubt if I ought to say any more without her permission."
"May I ask who the lady is?"
"No; I don't think I ought to tell you—unless, as I intimated just now, I first have her permission."
"Can you obtain it? Will you try? This is very important, Mr. Ranger. I am not asking out of idle curiosity. The matter may have a serious interest for Mr. Gainsford."
"I don't see how it can."
"But how can you judge?" urged Huntly impatiently. "You do not know what I know!"
"Then tell me what you know—and put me in a position to judge," was the cautions reply.
It was Huntly's turn to hesitate now. He did not care to talk too freely, and perhaps have his statements repeated and gossiped about. Yet if he did not give some sufficient reason he would not be likely to get anything more out of the artist; he could see that. As a gentleman, Mr. Ranger would evidently feel himself unable to speak freely where a lady's name might be involved.
But who then was the lady? The detective's fertile brain was busy at once with all sorts of theories, possible and impossible. Had the murdered man and Wilder been rivals for the favor of some fair maid? Was it that which had bred bad blood between the two. If so here was something important indeed!
Mr. Gilham's suggestions came back to him—"Some one went into the studio.... who must have seen Mr. Dorman lying asleep... some one who wished to kill him... not, probably, for robbery... Some one... well acquainted with the studio..."
Now all these suppositions might apply to Wilder, since he was certainly in London that evening.
Then Huntly made up his mind that it would be better to take the man before him into his confidence.
"Mr. Ranger," he began, "you are a gentleman, and I feel sure that if I ask you to treat what I say to you in the interest of strict justice, I need have no fear of you speaking of it to others?"
"I do not invite your confidence, Mr. Huntly," Ranger pointed out coldly. "I must judge for myself whether what you choose to say to me shall or shall not be kept secret."
"But, my clear sir—you said just now you were ready and anxious to help Mr. Gainsford?"
Ranger inclined his head. "Certainly. And I meant it. It is in his interest—and in the interest of another party—that I can make no promise till I know what it is you have to say."
"Is the other party Mr. Wilder?"
Ranger stared. "Of course not," he said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "I have no particular reason to shield Mr. Sydney Wilder—if that be your idea. I was thinking of some one else."
"Well, then," said Huntly desperately, "I see I must trust myself to some extent in your hands. The fact is I have discovered, beyond a doubt, that Mr. Wilder, who is supposed to have been away from town for some time, was in London on Tuesday last—the day of the murder. Nay, more than that, I have reason to believe that he came here—to his studio upstairs—on that day—probably during the evening. Now do you, or do you not see anything important in that?"
Ranger had started slightly at the detective's words, and now remained silent. Evidently he was considering them; and his manner showed his surprise.
"I must confess," he presently observed, "that your statement surprises me. If I understand you aright you consider it very serious—that is to say suspicious?"
"What do you think yourself? No one appears to have seen him here. You did not, or you would not be surprised; your friend Mr. Manton, I presume, did not, or you would know; so he must have come secretly. Why?"
"How do you know he came?"
Huntly told him of what he had learned from Solomon, and the evidence of the half-burnt envelope.
Again Ranger sat considering. He gazed at the fire and puffed slowly at his pipe. Then seeming to make up his mind, he turned and faced the detective—
"Confidence for confidence, Mr. Huntly," he said brusquely. "You were going to interview Mr. Sydney Wilder. I can save you some trouble. What if I tell you that he has disappeared?"
It was Huntly's turn now to repress a start.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "I have his address in the country. He is at Deal."
"Was," returned Ranger tersely. "He was there last week; but on Monday he announced that he was going to run over to Canterbury next day—that would be Tuesday. According to what you say, instead of going to Canterbury he must have come up to town. At any rate, wherever he went to he did not go back to Deal; for though he had said that he intended to return the same night, he has not been seen, or heard of since."
"How do you know this?" exclaimed Huntly.
"Well—never mind just now how I know it. I give you the information—but I am not at liberty to say how I came by it."
"Why this further mystery, Mr. Ranger?"
"I have already told you there is a lady in the case."
Ranger then rose and paced thoughtfully to and fro. In order to have a free path he moved an easel—there were three or four in the large, roomy studio—out of his way. As he did so a piece of millboard which had been placed behind a canvas felt to the ground. The artist picked it up and replaced it, putting it hurriedly back out of sight, but not quickly enough to prevent Huntly seeing that there was a half-finished sketch upon it. It was a clever sketch of a girl's face.
WHILE the artist was engaged in replacing the sketch, and putting the easel into a safe place, the door opened and his chum, Mr. Manton, entered.
Ranger was evidently relieved at his arrival and took advantage of it to put an end to his talk with the detective.
"I'm glad you've come, back, Ted," he said, "for I want to go out for an hour. Our friend here has looked in to ask some more questions—this time they are about Sydney Wilder. You can answer them better than I can; so I'll leave you two together."
He gave a meaning look at his friend, which the latter seemed to understand, and going out into the lobby, began putting on his coat.
Manton turned to greet Huntly, but had scarcely got further than "Good afternoon" when Ranger's voice was heard calling to him. With a word of apology he went out into the lobby, closing the door behind him.
"So Ranger's called him out to give him his orders as to what he is to say, and what he's not to say," muttered Huntly to himself. "There's a lot of mystery in all this. I shall have to set myself to get to the bottom of it. Now I wonder whether Ranger spoke the truth when he said that Wilder had disappeared; or was it a blind to put me off going down to Deal to find him. Yet, why should he do that? He decidedly does not seem to like the fellow. But even that may be a blind, too," Andrew reflected. "And who can the lady be whose name he keeps to himself so obstinately? I expect he's cautioning his churn against letting her name out. Or may all that, too, be a piece of bluff? Dear, dear! The longer one lives, and the more one sees—especially of detective work—the more suspicious and sceptical one grows!"
Manton came back into the studio looking thoughtful and a bit puzzled. A good-looking young fellow, Andrew decided, much younger than his friend, with honest grey eyes, and a brisk, cheerful manner. His hair and moustache were fair; in figure he was of medium height, neither thin nor stout. Like his friend Ranger he carried about him the vague, yet unmistakable air of a gentleman.
"Well, now, Mr. Detective—he began, smiling.
"I'm not a detective, Mr. Manton. At least I do not belong to the police. I thought you knew that."
"Well, well, say Mr. Private Inquirer, if you prefer that title—"
His look was so frankly quizzical, yet good-natured, that Huntly, instead of taking offence—as some might have done—only laughed.
"I merely wanted to remind you," he said, "that I do not come here as one of those officious, fussy police people your friend was grumbling about just now. I am employed by Mr. Gainsford's uncle, Sir. Paul Marsdale, and I am acting on his behalf, and on that of Mrs. Carlton and her daughter."
"Yes, I understand. Well, now to come to the point, Ranger says you want to find out something about Sydney Wilder. What is it you wish to know?"
"Why, everything I can find out, of course," returned Huntly with another smile.
"H'm. Well, if—to start with—you could find out where he is, you would discover something that his friends would be very glad to know. I can tell you that much."
"Who are the friends who wish to know? Yourself, for instance—or Mr. Ranger?"
"Not a bit of it. So far as we—ahem!—so far as I am concerned, at any rate, the young gentleman may go to the deuce his own way for all I care. And Ranger has no more love for him than I have. Only there are private reasons why, as a gentleman, he prefers to remain silent when Sydney Wilder is mentioned."
"Oh! I think I begin to understand. Then neither you nor your friend, nor Mr. Fred Dorman, cared for his society. Is that it?"
"That's the ticket. For one thing, he's not exactly our style, you understand—he's a bit of a bounder. But in Dorman's case—and Ranger's—there has been something beyond that—something I would rather not go into just now. Ask me anything else, and I will answer to the best of my ability."
"Well, that's all fair and square," Andrew returned. "Now you spoke of friends who would like to know where he is. Who are they?"
"Why, his mother and sister, to be sure. They live out Dorking way. They are very much upset, for he wrote to say he was going to see them, and hasn't turned up. As far as that goes, it's nothing new for him to say he's going home and then not go. He treats his mother very badly; and she, poor soul, treats him a great deal too indulgently. Always has, since her husband died—and before that, I've no doubt. She is fairly well off—or would be but for his extravagance. I fancy he has bled her pretty cruelly since his father's death. Shouldn't wonder if he hasn't half ruined her—more than half, perhaps. Yet though she has let him have a lot of money—to my knowledge—he is very much in debt, and seems always hard up. He owes three quarters' rent at the present time for his studio upstairs. Mr. Jones told me that Jones would have turned him out long ago, if it wasn't that he's got his mother's guarantee for the rent."
"Then you consider he's a wastrel—a ne'er-do-well?"
"I don't say so. I merely mentioned the facts. You are at liberty to draw your own conclusions."
"Can you tell me anything else?"
"Y—yes. I may as well add that there was another reason why Fred Dorman did not like him. Wilder went abroad some years ago and led a very fast life there. Nominally he was supposed to be studying art, sometimes in Paris, and sometimes in Rome; but in reality he was always a harum-scarum, and got into several bad scrapes. Finally he picked up with a very doubtful lot—Italian anarchists or something of that sort—so we heard; and his wild talk at times thoroughly confirmed it."
"You think he is an anarchist?"
"I don't exactly say that. Perhaps his bark is worse than his bite, if you understand. What is certain is that he is given to talking a lot of rot which of itself would get him into serious trouble, if he were living, for instance, just now, in Russia."
Huntly nodded. "I see. Yes; I can understand that there would not be much in common between such a man and a character like that which I understand Mr. Fred Dorman to have been. But all this foolish young gentleman's vaporous talk would be against 'the powers that be'—monarchs, and statesmen, and so on generally, I imagine? There would be nothing in it to create bad blood between him and Mr. Fred Dorman in particular?"
Manton grew grave at once. "Now," he said, "you are treading on forbidden ground again. There was a special cause of trouble between those two. Fred had private reasons of his own for disliking Wilder apart from what I have told you—and Wilder undoubtedly resented it, and was very bitter against him in consequence. But I agree with Ranger that this is a private matter we have no right to touch upon."
Andrew saw from Manton's manner that this was final. So once more it was a case of what he was wont to call "no thoroughfare." He turned to another point:
"Have you any photograph or portrait of this young gentleman? Or can you describe him? If he is really missing, I may have to search for him; and a portrait—or at least a description—becomes necessary. What makes you feel so certain about it?"
"Oh! he's missing right enough—or wrong enough, whichever way you look at it. Ranger heard it through—well, through someone who had it direct from Deal. Further, his mother and sister sent me a line to say they were coming up today for a few days, and asked me to call on them. I have just been there now and they told me what I have now told you. Ranger did not know that when he was talking to you. He knew that Wilder left Deal saying, that he was only going to Canterbury, and intended to be back at Deal the same night. But to his mother he wrote that he was coming up to town, and would afterwards come straight on home to sleep. He expressly asked to have his bedroom got ready for him, as he did not intend to stay in the studio here. So there is something queer somewhere. He told an untruth one way or the other, anyway."
"As to what you ask about his appearance, he is fair—thin and wiry—slight moustache—about my height—pale complexion, with light blue eyes which have a curiously eager, wild sort of look in them. Usually he walks with a slight limp—but not noticeably so; sometimes it is so slight as to be scarcely perceptible. But I tell you what; if you're going to seek for him, and want to see a portrait, you might get a look at one by calling on Mrs. Wilder. She is pretty sure to have one—and would be quite willing to assist you to that extent; for she is very anxious as to what has become of him. Knowing what I have told you, she is afraid that some of the anarchist people he got mixed up with have turned against him and murdered him, or something of that sort."
"Where is she staying?"
"At the Stirling Hotel, Adelphi Terrace; just off the Strand, you know."
"Now, see here, Mr. Manton; I may take it that you feel certain he has not gone back to Deal? Because, I may tell you, Mr. Jones, your landlord, was here yesterday collecting Mr. Wilder's letters; and I know for certain that he was going to send them on to him at Deal. I was going down there myself to interview him at the beginning of next week."
"Well, you would have had your journey there for nothing; for undoubtedly he had not returned there up to this morning. That is what Mrs. Wilder has just told me. She wired this morning to the manager of the hotel he has been staying at there, and received a reply. It says that they've neither seen nor heard anything of him. If you are going to call on Mrs. Wilder you had better take my card."
Huntly took the card and rose to his feet.
"Well, now, have you any good news; to give us, Mr. Huntly, before you go?" Manton finally asked.
"As to Mr. Gainsford?"
"Why, to be sure. We want to see him cleared."
"You don't believe the police theory, then?"
"Hardly; do you?"
"Then—who could have committed the deed?"
"I thought that is what you are finding out. I was in hope you had almost cleared it up by this time."
Andrew Huntly looked grave. "It appears to get more entangled, more inexplicable, the more one inquires into it," he said. "There seems such an entire absence of motive—unless we assume that robbery was the object. But then again, who could have known that Mr. Dorman had so much money on him?"
"Well—old Solomon did for one. He is so keen after money that perhaps he was sorry for having paid the cash over, and made up his mind to get it back again. He's an awful old Jew! So close-fisted and cunning! He never gives half of which a picture is worth. I've had transactions with him, and I know. I owe him one—and I should rather like to see him taken up and clapped into quod for a week or two. 'Twould serve him right—and do him a power of good."
"Your opinion of Mr. Solomon I see, is not an enthusiastically flattering one, Mr. Manton. Perhaps you are right as to that; you may be a good judge of his character. But I am afraid that in the detective line you would be a dismal failure—that is, if you have no more brilliant suggestion than this to offer."
"Oh. I don't know! Old Solomon's such a rascal that I shouldn't be at all surprised if it should turn out that he is mixed up in it after all."
To this Huntly made no reply. He only shook his head, and took his leave.
THE next day, which was a Saturday, was that which had been chosen for the funeral of the murdered man at Highgate Cemetery; and thither Andrew Huntly repaired as it drew towards the time fixed for the ceremony.
There is an old tradition which declares that a murderer is frequently drawn by some mysterious fascination to the funeral of his victim.
Whether Huntly believed in this supposed occult attraction is doubtful, but all the same he deemed it a part of his duty to be present. As has been already stated, he was one of those who believe that the one and only sure road to success in any undertaking is to be prepared to take any amount of pains and trouble; and herein he was merely following out that principle.
"You never can tell what is trivial and what is important," was one of his maxims. "The most insignificant details—or what appears to be so—often turn out to be valuable clues. Men have been hanged before now by such seemingly innocent trifles as a bit of string, a shred of cloth, or a piece of waste paper wrapped round a cake of soap."
It was a wet morning—not merely wet, but something much worse. The wind came from the north-east, and was bitterly cold, bringing with it rain and sleet. The recent snowfall had not yet completely melted, and the result underfoot was that uninteresting, dirty-worn compound which one usually expects to meet with in London under such circumstances. And the further the detective went from the principal streets and roads, the worse were the conditions which prevailed.
He had taken care to inform himself beforehand as to the exact time and locality of the ceremony; but it was no part of his intention to attend as an uninvited mourner. He preferred to take up a position from which he could observe all that went on while remaining himself—as far as might be—unseen.
Most of those who have visited the extensive burying ground at Highgate will probably be aware that amongst the white stone forest, as it may be called, of modest gravestones mingled with costly, aspiring monuments, are certain vacant enclosures, dismal, cavernous rooms or cells which have been constructed ready for conversion, when required, into above-ground vaults or mausoleums. In some parts there are narrow streets or lanes, so to speak, of such places, where they stand side by side like houses in a row, with open doors, awaiting the inspection of would-be purchasers.
Though they are not the resting-places of the dead—but only of the dead to come—there is an eerie, uncanny air about them which causes them to be shunned, rather than sought out, by the ordinary visitor not bent on buying the sole right of one for himself or his relations.
It is as though some mysterious shadow had been "cast before"—as though some influence which one cannot name or define had already crept in there; something which cannot be seen, yet which makes its presence vaguely felt by the curious wanderer who intrudes upon its abode.
Certainly they are not exactly inviting retreats in which to take refuge, even from such weather as prevailed in this most dismal of mornings. The blustering wind howled, and moaned, and whistled, and growled in and out amongst the tombstones and "whited sepulchres," what time the sleety rain splashed into the puddles below. But most visitors there that day would doubtless have preferred to face it boldly outside rather than seek the shelter of those uninviting retreats.
Yet it was in one of them that Andrew Huntly took his stand in order to await unseen till the time appointed for the funeral. He had arrived upon the scene well beforehand; and did not wish to attract the attention of casual observers by standing about where he was likely to be noticed.
The particular place he had entered at random stood in a by- lane, flanked on either side by others of its kind. Not all of them were empty. Some had grim iron doors fast shut, which told that death had already entered there, and desired to remain undisturbed. But many were still untenanted; they belonged, as has been said, to the future's dead; and the doors stood wide open to receive them.
Huntly, however, probably thought little of such things. His brain was busy with the difficulties of the problem he was trying to solve, with speculations upon the meaning and bearing of the information he had already picked up, and curiosity as to what that particular day might bring forth.
The sound of voices made him withdraw a little further from the open doorway, and a few seconds later two men passed, walking close together, under a dripping umbrella, and talking earnestly. The roaring of the wind caused them to raise their voices, and Huntly caught a word here and there as they passed. It was not much that he caught—and even that was disjointed—but he heard a name mentioned which caused him to prick up his ears and step to the entrance to peer out cautiously after them. That name had certainly been Dorman.
Their umbrella, tilted to one side against the wind, had prevented their seeing him as they passed; and it now, in like manner screened them from his view, at least as regards their heads. All he could distinguish was that they were both tall and stoutly built, and were dressed in long ulsters reaching almost to their heels.
"Not a voice known to me," muttered the detective, "nor are their figures those of anyone I know. I wonder who they are, and what brings them here?"
He decided that it was not necessary to follow them just then. If they were going to the funeral he would see them again presently; so he resolved to wait on where he was.
After a short while he again heard voices, and the same two passed, coming from the same direction. Evidently they have turned into some parallel road, and so round into the by-way again.
This time they were walking more slowly, but the tilted umbrella still hid their faces; and at the same time prevented them from seeing the detective.
He was just peeping out after them, when he saw that they were turning round, so hastily retreated.
"They must have seen me, after all, and are coming back to investigate, and find out who I am," he cogitated.
But this surmise was incorrect; for the two halted, and he heard them talking just outside. Then the idea probably occurred to them that they could talk better in the comparative shelter of one of the cells beyond, and they entered the one next to Huntly.
Although there are roofs in most of these places, the dividing walls are not always carried up to the top; and so it was here. At once the listener's detective instinct took in the possibilities of the situation. Might he not manage to hear something of the conversation of these two by climbing up the brick partition?
Quickly he put the idea into practice. Regardless of the dust and dirt, he was soon hanging with his hands upon the top of the rough surface of the dividing wall, pulling himself up till he got a view of a streaming umbrella upon the other side.
But the two kept the umbrella up, and talked in such low tones, and the wind whistled and howled so shrilly past the doorway, that very little could at first be heard. Again and again he had to drop back; for it was but a precarious hold he could get upon the coarse bricks—and his fingers soon became numbed as well as scratched.
From time to time he had to drop down for a short rest, and to rub the warm blood hack into his hands. Then he would take a jump, catch hold, and draw himself up as before.
In the end his perseverance was partially rewarded; for the voices on the other side became more animated, and he heard, amongst the scraps of talk which came to him, references to people and places that were familiar.
"Dorman," "Wilder," for instance, were names he distinguished, uttered more than once. Other names, too, were spoken which were not familiar; and these he carefully stored away in his memory for future use.
Finally the strangers went their way in the same direction as they had at first taken; so that they saw nothing of the detective. He remained for a short time trying his best to remove both from his hands and clothes all traces of his late acrobatic feats. Then he slowly followed in their wake, pondering perplexedly upon what he had managed to pick up.
"There's more in all this than I had any thought of," he muttered. "Though at present, I must confess it, it is all a Chinese puzzle to me. I am inclined to think that the affair is not ended yet. There is something more afoot. Oh, that I could have heard all those two beauties were plotting! For plotting it was—aye, though I could hear so little, there is some further plot afoot—or my name is not Andrew Huntly."
By the time he turned out of the narrow by-lane the funeral procession had appeared in the distance. With his umbrella now up—it served partly to hide his identity—he strolled slowly as though to meet it—but, as he knew would be the case, it turned off across the grass towards a newly-made grave two or three hundred yards from the gravelled path.
Huntly also walked across the grass in a parallel line, and then ascended a knoll; from which he was able to look down upon the scene.
He was not in the least surprised to see that there was quite a large crowd of people. That is almost invariably the case at the funeral of any person—be he or she rich or poor—who has been murdered. It is a fact well known to all observers—a fact of which we, as a community, have no reason to feel particularly proud; but there it is. In the present instance special care had been taken to keep the day and time of the ceremony a secret, so far as might be possible, from the general public. And the weather, as has been seen, was such as, one would have thought, would have kept away every soul who did not feel compelled, by feelings of affection for the dead or by a sense of duty, to be out.
Yet there they were. They had lined the route—so Huntly afterwards heard—in their thousands, heedless of cutting wind, or blinding rain, of the cold slush under their feet, or the colds which might be expected to follow those who had waited about for hours exposed to such conditions.
That craving after the morbid and the sensational which prompts a certain class of persons to visit the morgue in Paris, for instance, and gaze upon its horrors, had here been more powerful than all other considerations. So they had poured forth into the streets and waited, and all who could gain admission to the cemetery upon any sort of pretext, or, if need be, upon no pretext at all—such as by climbing the walls—were now standing in the driving rain and wind, as near to the grave as the cemetery officials would allow them to go.
Huntly directed his attention first to the chief mourners and their friends. He saw Mr. Dorman, senior, the murdered man's father, whom he had got to know by sight. He had with him two or three other gentlemen, and behind them he saw Dr. Mellor and the two artists, Ranger and Manton, Mrs. Carlton and her daughter had evidently remained at home.
Then the detective's eyes scrutinised the waiting crowd, and noted several faces he knew. There was the Frenchman Henri, and there, too, was the Jew picture-dealer, old Solomon; while not far from him Huntly recognised the flushed features of Robert Dennett.
Just then someone spoke at his elbow, and the detective turned sharply to find Sir Paul Marsdale standing by his side.
"I SEE you are here like myself, Mr. Huntly," said the baronet. "One of the uninvited."
"Yes, Sir Paul. I came to have a look round entirely 'on my own.'"
"I could not resist the natural wish to pay a last tribute of respect to poor Fred Dorman, whom I have known, as a friend and chum of my nephew, for several years," Sir Paul went on, speaking in sad, subdued tones. "It is not nice, however, to be compelled, as it were, to attend surreptitiously, like this."
"I can understand your feelings, sir. As far as my own opinion goes, I think it a mistake on Mr. Dorman's part not to have invited you. Had he done so it would have been as good as to say, 'I do not wish to believe that your nephew has been intentionally guilty of any crime.' His not inviting you, on the other hand is as much as to declare publicly his belief that Mr. Gainsford murdered his friend knowingly, and of malice aforethought, as the law styles it, which is prejudging the whole matter and condemning him beforehand."
"So it is, Huntly. That's just how it struck me. Well, now—since we have unexpectedly met—tell me, have you any fresh news?"
"You have probably seen Mr. Gilham, Sir Paul?"
"Yes, yes; he gave me quite a long report."
"Then I have very little more to add, except to say it appears that Mr. Wilder has disappeared."
"Yes, Sir Paul. Did you know him at all?"
"Chiefly by repute—or disrepute, if you like to put it so."
"Hah! I hear he's rather a wild blade."
"Very wild—half crazy, I should say, would be a better expression. I only saw him once. That happened to be at poor Fred Dorman's studio."
"At Mr. Dorman's studio? When would that be Sir Paul? I have been given to understand that the two were not good friends."
"Quire right; they were not. But having studios in the same building they were obliged to be conventionally polite to one another, you see."
"Can you tell me what there was between them, Sir Paul? Or do you think Mr. Gainsford can tell me if I ask him?"
"Oh; Harold would know, I should say. Pretty sure to. But they never talked to me about it," was the disappointing reply.
So once again it was a case of "no thoroughfare," and the detective bit his lip. To get an interview with Harold Gainsford it would be necessary to seek out Vardon; and even then it would be a matter of some days. And meantime no one else seemed able to tell what he wanted to know—or rather some could not, and those who could would not.
"But what do you mean about Mr. Wilder disappearing?" the baronet asked.
Huntly related all that he had learned from Ranger and Manton.
"Do you attach any importance to it?" Sir Paul asked, at the end of the relation.
"Difficult to say, sir. But, of course, it is one of the things I must follow up and get to know more about. I can't leave it where it is."
The baronet nodded, and relapsed into gloomy silence, while he watched what was going forward at the graveside.
"Mr. Ranger and Mr. Manton are over yonder among the mourners," he presently observed. "They are both my nephew's friends. They are still loyal to him, I hope?"
"Perfectly, Sir Paul. I can assure you as to that."
"I'm glad to hear it. By the way, I see Mr. Solomon, the picture-dealer, over there. Can you see two men beside him whom he is talking to?"
Huntly glanced in the direction indicated and noted that old Solomon seemed to be, as the baronet had said, engaged in conversation with a couple of men. They were both of them taller and bigger than himself, and were undoubtedly foreigners, and their talk appeared to be earnest and confidential. Even as the detective looked they parted, and the two strangers moved off and were lost in the crowd behind.
"A couple of aliens," was Huntly's comment. "Fellow-countrymen of Mr. Solomon's, I should guess."
"Would you know them again, do you think?" Sir Paul asked.
"Certainly, sir. I have taken careful stock of them. May I ask why, Sir Paul? Do you know them?"
"I do not; but they appear to know me. I seemed to have interested them greatly during the last day or two—judging by the number of times I have seen them. It may be coincidence, of course, or it may be imagination on my part; but I have almost had the idea that they had been purposely following me about."
Huntly uttered a low whistle—but it was so soft that the baronet failed to hear it. "If that is the case, it may be as well if I follow them in turn, Sir Paul, and keep an eye upon them."
"Just as you please," returned the baronet, with a short laugh. "As they have shown an interest in me, it would interest me, in turn, to know who they are. By the way, in case you should wish to see me again before going away, I shall leave by the south entrance in the lane yonder. I have a cab waiting for me there."
Very little more was said. Sir Paul was evidently in a thoughtful, sombre mood, and disinclined for conversation. Huntly took the hint, and with a word or two of inquiry after Mrs. Carlton and her daughter, wished him good-day and strolled away.
But he did not go very far. He contented himself with a short walk, after which he took up another post of observation amongst a small detached crowd on a slope. From this place he could still see Sir Paul standing where he had left him; and also could keep an eye on the larger crowd of which Solomon was one.
But the time passed on, and the ceremony came to an end, without anything further occurring to attract his attention.
The crowd began to melt away in the wake of the mourners as they returned to the main entrance. Sir Paul also went his way, walking slowly and meditatively, following a path which the detective saw would take him in the direction of the side entrance he had spoken of. Huntly at once started, off in a seemingly opposite direction, and was quickly lost to view amongst the tombs. But he circled round in such a way that he reached the south gate before the baronet, and glanced keenly up and down outside.
There was one four-wheeled cab standing a little way off, with the back towards him, and that was all. Otherwise the lane was quite deserted—as indeed one might expect to be the case in such weather.
The driver of the cab sat stolidly on his seat, wrapped up in a dripping mackintosh cape, muffler; and sou'wester hat; and Huntly, after noting the number of the back of the vehicle, stepped back into the cemetery grounds. There he took up a position behind a large monument near at hand, where he had a good view both of the entrance and of the winding path leading down into it, without himself being seen.
Scarcely had he concealed himself when Sir Paul appeared round a bend, still walking abstractedly, and holding his umbrella so absently that, the rain dripped off it on to one shoulder. Without looking to right or left, he passed through the entrance, and called to the waiting cab. The driver woke up with a start, as though he had been fast asleep, and turned his horse to drive up.
Huntly heard the call, and the noise of the wheels, and leaving his place of concealment, went once more to the gate. The cab had overshot the mark and pulled up a little further on, and the baronet had followed and was just opening the door.
Suddenly he uttered a cry. From within a pair of arms shot forth and clutched at him, trying to pull him into the cab by main force. The baronet resisted as well as he could, but his assailant had got his head down and now struck him a brutal blow.
Another moment and he would have been dragged bodily in had not Huntly darted forward and seized him from behind. With a sudden jerk, which was evidently unexpected by those inside the cab, the detective pulled the baronet free, at the same time blowing a police whistle which he had put to his lips while running to the rescue.
As he pulled Sir Paul clear, he caught sight of two faces inside the cab, and heard two voices muttering curses both loud and deep in a foreign tongue, and he recognised both faces and voices. Then there was a flash and a report; a bullet whizzed past his ears, the cab door was slammed to, and the horse, which had already started off, was galloping furiously down the lane.
Sir Paul was stunned and sank, with a moan, into the roadway, so that Huntly had to choose between leaving him to chase the cab and remaining to tend him. He felt bound to choose the latter course, and taking the unconscious man in his arms, he moved him to the cemetery wall, and placed him with his back against it.
Two or three people, including the policeman, attracted by the sound of the whistle and the pistol shot, came running down the lane from the direction of the main entrance. Just then the baronet roused himself, and, assisted by the detective, struggled to his feet.
Huntly looked after the cab, but it had already disappeared round the bend of the road.
"Wh—what is it all about?" asked Sir Paul in a dazed way. "What does it mean? I—I—don't understand."
"It means, mischiefs—a plot—evidently against you, Sir Paul," returned the detective between his teeth. "And to think that though you had forewarned me they almost outwitted me!"
The baronet put up his hand and rubbed his head.
"A nasty crack that," he muttered. "Lucky you happened to be near, Huntly."
Huntly, made no reply. The policeman had come up, and with him one of the cemetery men. The baronet was evidently known to the latter, for the man addressed him by name; and in a minute or so Sir Paul had so far recovered as to ask the man to fetch him another cab.
Huntly meantime made himself known to the policeman and told him what had occurred. It was, however, clear that nothing could then be done in the way of following up the cab.
The cemetery official returned in course of a few minutes with the only cab he could find. It had been waiting at the principal entrance; and when asked if he was engaged the driver answered, "Yes, I am waiting for Sir Paul Marsdale."
The baronet was somewhat bewildered when the cab drew up and he saw that it was the one he had ordered to wait for him.
"What does this mean?" he exclaimed. "I thought—that is—where have you come from? I told you to wait here."
"I beg pardon, Sir Paul," said the driver, touching his hat respectfully, "but a man came to me an' said as you'd sent 'im with a message ter say I was t' go to t'other gate an' wait there. So a' course I went, an' I've bin there all the time since."
"I think, Huntly," said Sir Paul, "if you can spare the time I should like you to come with me."
"Just what I was going to suggest, Sir Paul," was the answer. And a minute or two later they were driving away together.
"WHAT on earth is the meaning of this extraordinary outrage, Huntly?" asked Sir Paul in a bewildered tone.
He was still weak and dazed from the effects of the cowardly attack that had been made upon him.
Huntly, on his side, was also a bit bewildered. He was deeply angry, too; angry with himself, as well as with the authors of the outrage.
"It's a mercy you happened to be there," the baronet went on. "What would have happened if you had not been at hand? I shall owe you a good turn for this!"
"Don't talk like that, Sir Paul! I feel too utterly disgusted with myself! I feel I have failed in my duty!"
"How can you say that when you saved me from—from—ah! Goodness only knows from what!"
But Huntly shook his head. "I don't deserve your good opinion, Sir Paul," he declared moodily. "You warned me that those two men were following you about; and I said I would watch them. I ought to have done so. Instead, I watched you; thinking if I did so it would be the same thing. But it wasn't, you see. They had something deeper on to-day than merely following you about. They had arranged it all beforehand—and their little plot very nearly succeeded, too, thanks to my stupidity!"
"A plot? What plot? I don't understand," said Sir Paul helplessly.
"Why—don't you see, sir? They got your cab away by a ruse, and replaced it by another driven by one of their confederates. Thanks to the pouring rain and high wind, he had every excuse for muffling himself up, so that you would not notice the difference. He was waiting, too, a little way off, thinking you would go to him. As you called him, however, he took care to drive past you, in a seemingly clumsy way, so that you should not get a good look at his face. Was it not so?"
"Yes, yes! Bless me! I never suspected—"
"Of course not; nor did I—though I feel inclined to kick myself for not suspecting when I first looked out of the gate, and saw where the fellow was waiting But I went back and hid, thinking that if they were following you, I should see them behind you after you had passed. Instead of that they had got ahead of me, and were already waiting for you inside their precious cab—fool that I was!"
The angry detective almost groaned aloud in vexation of spirit. Evidently he could not forgive himself.
"You've nothing to blame yourself for, Huntly," Sir Paul responded good-naturedly. "Neither you nor I had the least reason to suspect a—a—plot—as you call it—such as this. And—putting that aside—even now I can't in the least understand it. Why should these people wish to attack me? Who on earth are they? Do they think I am in the habit of carrying a lot of ready money about with me?"
"Ah! That's what we've got to find out, Sir Paul. Of course there must be some reason. That I shall discover later. As to who they are—well, I know at least this much: They are the two you pointed out to me; the same two I heard talking in the empty vault—I recognised their voices in the cab when they swore at me—and the same two old Solomon was talking to. So he must know something about them."
"It all sounds like an impossible melodrama at the theatre," sighed Sir Paul.
"But the attempt to murder you by firing at you was very real. It was only the horse starting on unexpectedly that saved one—perhaps both of us—from being shot."
"Eh? What? What's that? Attempt to murder?" exclaimed, the baronet. "Firing at me? What on earth are you talking about?"
Huntly stared at him, and the baronet stared back in helpless amaze. Then the detective remembered that being half-stunned at the time Sir Paul had probably not heard the pistol shot, and knew nothing about it. So he explained.
"Great Heavens!" cried Sir Paul, sitting bolt upright, and staring at his companion harder than ever. "I can scarcely believe my ears! Shooting—attempt at murder—in the open day—in a public place? It sounds impossible! Why should anybody want to murder me? I had been thinking that it was a mere impudent attempt at robbery. That would be audacious enough! But murder!"
The worthy old gentleman's consternation had in it something that would have been almost comical had the matter not been so serious.
"Murder it would have been, if the horse hadn't started off just when it did," said Huntly, gravely shaking his head.
"Their object was not mere robbery, Sir Paul. That is certain."
"What then? Not murder in the open street?"
"Perhaps not—but they meant at least to kidnap you," Huntly declared. "With what ulterior motive we need not trouble to discuss just now. The first thing I've got to do is to trace the miscreants. We can speculate about what they intended to do later on."
"True, true," Sir Paul agreed. "But—this only shows that I am more indebted to you even than I had any idea of when I thanked you just now—"
"Yes, sir; and please don't thank me again, or I shall kick myself in real earnest," exclaimed Huntly remorsefully. "I shall never forgive myself for this—at any rate until I get on even terms with your enemies."
"My enemies! There you amaze me again! Great Heavens! man, I wasn't aware I had an enemy in the wide world! If you're going to find me any I'm sure I can't think where you're going to look for 'em. Perhaps"—with a sudden air of relief—"it's a case of mistaken identity. Yes. They must have mistaken me for some one else!"
Huntly smiled sourly. This simple explanation did not commend itself to his reason. But he would not openly oppose it, since he saw that the baronet was still very much upset, and the idea might relieve his natural anxiety a little.
"Well, sir, we shall see," he answered in a non-committal tone. "Of course, if that turned out to be the true cause—I only say 'if'—it would put another face on it. But it would requires lot of explaining even then."
"So it would. You're right, so it would, Huntly," said Sir Paul; and he fell into a train of thought which lasted till they arrived at Mr. Carlton's, with whom the baronet was staying.
Having seen him safely home, the detective crossed over the road into Kensington Gardens. The rain had left off, and there, pipe in mouth, he sauntered about for a while aimlessly beneath the still dripping trees. And the way he shook his head from time to time indicated that he felt he had a very hard nut to crack indeed.
"At each step," he soliloquised, "I have said that this business seems to grow more complicated and more mysterious. But where are we now? Who are these people whose enmity to this seemingly harmless old gentleman is so deadly that it does not stop short even of murder?"
"Now, let me see! Those two men whose talk—some of it—I overheard. Yes; I heard some of it—but the names I heard were 'Dorman' and 'Wilder.' That at least is certain. I thought then that they were plotting something—but if so, it seemed as though their schemes, whatever they were, concerned those others. Yet, less than an hour afterwards, I find those same two engaged in a plot against Sir Paul!"
Huntly started slightly as a thought passed through his mind. "Great Scott! It cannot surely be that Mr. Dorman is mixed up in it? He is evidently very bitter against young Gainsford—and his dislike just as evidently extends to Sir Paul; as was shown by his not asking him to the funeral. But his feelings surely would never carry him to the extent of hiring bravoes to attack him?"
"Well, then, there is Solomon. Where does he come in? Young Manton warned me that he wouldn't be surprised if this crafty old Jew were mixed up in the murder in the studio. At the time, I thought it was mere idle talk on his part. But now—I'm not so sure. Solomon knew these two scoundrels. Yet—again—where could he come in? How could there possibly be any connection between the picture-dealer, and Fred Dorman's murder?"
"Certainly there seems to be here a strange chain! Here are a number of people who appeared to be, at first, in a sense, all separate and independent; yet as one goes on, one finds they are curiously connected. Wilder, for instance! He was at the studio some time in the day—probably on the evening of the murder. He also—like Dennett—was on bad terms with the murdered man. Then, on the other side, he also had transactions with Solomon; as the murdered man had. Solomon, in turn, has for friends—or at least acquaintances—two men who talk about Dorman and Wilder, and end by attacking Sir Paul!
"It's all getting mixed up in a most tantalising fashion; and for the life of me I can't get hold of a clue to the endless tangle. Well, I must interview Solomon, that's certain. Query: Will it be wise to let him know that we saw him talking to these two? No! If there's a gang—as I almost begin to suspect—it would only put them on their guard!"
He looked at his watch. If was just on four o'clock. Not a hopeful time to hunt up people on a Saturday afternoon; not much use returning to his own office. Solomon probably would be the most likely one to find—if he had returned straight home from Highgate, which, however, was doubtful. And in any case Huntly did not wish to see him just yet. So he concluded to go to Scotland Yard on the chance that he might run against Vardon. Then he could arrange, perhaps, to interview Mr. Gainsford early in the week.
And, as it happened he was successful in finding Vardon, and the two sat down to compare notes.
"First of all," said the Scotland Yard man, "I have some rather curious news. Three notes, bearing numbers given to you by Solomon, have come back to the Bank of England, and they notified us."
"Ah! Now then we shall get on the right track at last! Where have they come from?"
"From Deal!" repeated Huntly blankly. "Have you any details?"
"None at present, save that they must have been paid into a local bank there."
"No name on them or anything?"
"None. Just the local bank's stamp".
Here was a fresh puzzle for Huntly. A day or two ago such a thing would have caused him no surprise. He would have guessed at once that they had been changed down there by Wilder. But if what he had since heard was true, this was now scarcely possible. And if it were some one else, who could it be?
Or had he been purposely misled about Wilder?
A moment's further thought drove that suspicion from his mind. He could not imagine Ranger and Manton entering knowingly into a conspiracy to mislead him in order to shield Wilder, whom they evidently did not like. Nor could he see how Wilder could have returned to Deal—where he was certainly fairly well known—surreptitiously. Besides, if he had returned there since Mrs. Wilder's telegram, there would not have been time for the notes to have been returned to the Bunk of England.
Huntly proceeded to relate to Vardon all that he had learned about Wilder, and also what had occurred that day at Highgate. He gave the Yard man as minute a description as possible of the two men who had attacked Sir Paul, and also the number of the strange cab; and Vardon promised that the description should be circulated, and the cab traced.
"And when we trace them—what then?" he asked. "Shall we arrest them?"
"No, I think not. Just keep them under observation for a little while, and find out who their associates are."
"Right, ho! It shall be done. And what about these notes?"
"I will go down to Deal myself, I want to clear up this mystery about Wilder if I can."
"Have you acted on the tip you say Manton gave you about seeing his mother at the hotel?"
"Ah, yes. I forgot to mention that I called; but she was out."
"Well, now, I've something else to tell you. We've found, amongst the dead man's papers, an I.O.U. of Dennett's for twenty pounds. That confirms his statement."
"So it does—as to the borrowing. I suppose it was not an old one?"
"No. If you remember, Dennett said he wrote it on a sheet of paper which Dorman took from his pocket. That sheet was torn off a letter; and we have the letter itself, with a date on it. As a matter of fact the date's only two days before."
"That seems conclusive. So he is free from suspicion so far as the money is concerned. I am glad that part of it is settled," Huntly summed up. "But," dubiously, "what of his account of seeing the model walking—or standing—about in the studio?"
"Ah! That is another matter," Vardon responded, with his eyes on the ceiling. "All these various 'clues' and suspicions, pointing to, now Dennett, now Wilder, or to, say, even Solomon—and so on— all leave us just where we were as regards that one point. All the same, you'll never get me to believe that that wax model murdered Mr. Fred Dorman!"
"IT is very kind of you, Mr. Huntly, to come so promptly in answer to my note. And you such a busy man, too!"
It was Evelyn Carlton who spoke. She was lying on a sofa—for she had insisted that morning upon getting up to receive the detective.
"Not at all, Miss Carlton," returned Andrew Huntly heartily. "It is a great pleasure to me—especially to see that you are better—well enough, that is, to be up."
He added these last words a little doubtfully; for truth to tell, though the young lady before him was up and dressed, he could not detect any improvement in her looks. He felt in his own mind pretty well convinced that her appearance out of her bedroom was due to an effort of will, rather than to better health.
"But in any case I was coming to call here," he went on "I am going to see Mr. Gainsford as soon as I can get a special order; and I had intended to come here first, to ask if you had any message for him."
A pink flush tinted the pale cheeks, and the eyes lighted up, with the girl's pallid lips broke into a sweet and captivating smile.
"Now that was very, very kind and thoughtful of you, Mr. Huntly!" she exclaimed. "I, on my side, heard that you were going to see him, and that was why I wrote."
"Ah," thought Huntly, "and it was also that then, which gave you the seeming strength to get up in order to see me—that I might take to Mr. Gainsford a cheering account of your health. Poor, brave little girl!"
Aloud he said, "Indeed! Pray, how did you know?"
"Through Mr. Gilham."
"Ah, yes; I see. Of course, I had informed him."
"Yes; and he also told me that you were going down to Deal yesterday. How did you get on?"
The detective shook his head. "Not very well; wasted my time—in one sense," was his answer.
"Tell me about it. I have heard from Mr. Gilham something that you told him about Mr. Wilder, and I have something myself to tell you by and by."
"Oh, oh! Are you going to put me on the right track again, Miss Carlton, as you did in the case of the dagger?"
A shade passed over the fair face, and she shuddered.
"You found it as I said?" she queried, in a tone so low that it was almost a whisper.
"We did; and I told Mr. Vardon, the Scotland Yard man, how that it was you who put me on the right track."
"But it hasn't done much good," said Evelyn, sadly. "You do not seem to be much nearer finding out the real murderer."
As Huntly remained silent, not knowing exactly how to meet this, she went on, hastily—
"Not that I am blaming you; do not think that. I quite understand that these things take time. We must be patient. I try to be—but— oh! it is very difficult at times!"
Her eyes filled with tears; but by an effort she roused herself and continued—"But about Deal? You say you did not accomplish much?"
"Not as much as I had hoped. You see, three bank notes had been returned from there through a local bank to the Bank of England. Those notes undoubtedly came from Mr. Wilder; I ascertained that much, but no more. I had hoped to find that he had returned there, or that I should be able to trace him. But once again it was a case of 'no thoroughfare.'"
"How so? Tell me whom you saw?"
"I saw the gentleman—a Mr. Gray—who paid the notes into the bank. He was quite frank about it, and the matter was simple enough. He had lent Wilder this money some weeks before; and as that young gentleman failed to return it at the time promised, some coolness arose between the two. It seems that Gray is a member of a local club; and on his introduction Wilder had been made an honorary member for so long as he stayed in the town. Wilder was very proud of this, and in order to put pressure on him, Gray—who—he tells me—wanted his money back badly just then—threatened that if it was not repaid by a certain date, he would raise such trouble about it as would make it practically impossible for Wilder to use the club again. So Wilder, seeing that Gray meant to carry out his threat, said he knew a man in Canterbury who would let him have the amount, and that he would go over there and get it and bring it back so that Gray should have it by the day he particularly wanted it—which was last Wednesday.
"On the Tuesday, accordingly, Wilder, started off. But, as we knew before, he came to town, and called on old Solomon, where he tried to borrow money. I understand that the old Jew lent him some, but not as much as he was in urgent need of.
"What then happened or where he went to, no one seems to know. But that same night a letter containing bank notes sufficient to pay Gray was posted in London; with a few lines enclosed merely saying that the writer—Wilder—was sending the amount as he had promised, and would write or see Gray again in a day or two. But Gray has neither seen nor heard anything further. He paid the notes into the bank—and that is how they were returned to the Bank of England."
"And that is all?"
"We'll, no, not quite. It seems that—curiously enough—Gray is an acquaintance of Mr. Ranger, and had written to him, a short time ago, asking some questions about Wilder. When he received his money he wrote again, saying that he had been paid. He also mentioned that Wilder had said he was going to Canterbury and back, and had not returned. And that, I take it, explains how it came about that Mr. Ranger was able to tell me, last Friday, about Wilder not having returned to Deal. I do not see, however, why he was so reticent as to his source of information."
"Mr. Ranger," said Evelyn warmly, "is a most honourable man, and extremely punctilious in such matters. The very fact that there was this money unpleasantness between his friend Gray and Mr. Wilder, would be reason enough, to his mind, for not telling you how he came to know."
"Oh, ah! H'm! Yes; I see. But—you know—he doesn't like Mr. Wilder!"
"Just so. More reason why he would be the last man in the world to say anything against him. But now, Mr. Huntly, I do not clearly understand—What is all this about Mr. Wilder? I know that he has disappeared—or something of the kind—but what then. Why are you specially interested in him?"
"Because, Miss Carlton," returned the detective gravely, "the matter is of importance to Mr. Gainsford. According to Mr. Solomon he paid Mr. Fred Dorman three hundred pounds in bank notes a few hours before his death. He (Mr. Solomon) gave me numbers of these notes, and according to him the notes which Wilder sent to Gray are part of that three hundred pounds."
Evelyn started and stared. Evidently she had not heard this clearly stated before.
"Now I have reason to believe that Mr. Wilder went to his studio that night—if he had gone by day someone would have seen him so it must have been at night. If he was there at night that suggests that he got the notes there—indeed, I cannot see how else he could have come by them. The same night—very late—after, that is, the last postal collection—he posted some of them to Mr. Gray. The envelope is marked as collected at 3 a.m. in the W.C. district. Finally, Mr. Wilder disappears; and though, wherever he is, he must have heard by this time what has happened, he does not come forward, or write, or telegraph, or do anything to account for his absence. Now do you understand why I am looking for Mr. Wilder?"
Evelyn remained silent for a while. She gazed thoughtfully out of the window; and her brow, usually so placid, took unto itself a slight but not altogether unbecoming pucker.
Andrew Huntly sat silent too, willing to give her time to think out what was evidently to her a new development. Presently she spoke—
"I suppose," she said slowly, "that I ought to be glad of anything that tends to divert suspicion into another channel; it ought to be a gain for Harold. But—somehow"—she continued dreamily—"you will think me fanciful, and all that, Mr. Huntly, no doubt—but somehow I do not feel glad or pleased. And the reason is that something tells me—I don't pretend to know whether it may be instinct or mere foolish fancy—but it seems to whisper to me that you are not yet on the right road to find out what we want to discover."
"But, why, Miss Carlton?" Andrew asked, with an indulgent smile.
"That I cannot say; would that I could! I should rejoice indeed for Harold's sake! No! I do not think that Mr. Wilder could have killed poor Fred Dorman. I do not like Mr. Wilder—indeed I have very good reasons of my own for disliking him—but all the same, I do not think you will find he is the guilty one."
"Nobody seems to like him—that's obvious," commented, Huntly, a little crossly. "Yet, when I have routed out certain evidence clearly pointing in his direction, no one will lend me willingly a helping hand. Both Mr. Ranger and Mr. Manton—though they avow, as you do, that they dislike this elusive young gentleman—both ostentatiously refuse to tell me all they know. Mr. Gilham was no better—and even you, Miss Carlton, it seems to me, have no more sympathy or encouragement to offer."
"There—now I have offended you," said Evelyn with a sigh. "Dear Mr. Huntly, do not look at it that way. You have been so kind—have shown yourself such a considerate friend—that I should never forgive myself if I did or said anything to lead you to look upon me as ungrateful."
"My dear young lady," answered Huntly smiling, "there is no fear of that. I confess to a feeling of momentary irritation; and I will tell you why. There was something between Mr. Fred Dorman and this Mr. Wilder which I cannot get at. There was some ground of enmity, on coolness, or suspicion—I don't know what; and I can't get to find out. Everybody I speak to says. 'Oh, don't ask me; ask someone else.' Mr. Gilham said, 'Ask Mr. Gainsford.' Mr. Ranger said 'Ask my friend Ted Manton.' Mr. Ted Manton said, 'Ask Mrs. Wilder'—or something of that sort.
"All this is making my task so much the more difficult; and it is wasting my time. Why am I sent about from pillar to post to find out what all seem to know, and what no one will speak out? It is for this purpose, chiefly, I am going to see Mr. Gainsford this afternoon. Even Sir Paul said, 'Ask my nephew.' And so it goes on. Now what, I wonder, will Mr. Gainsford do? Will he, in like manner, say, 'Ask someone else?'"
Evelyn smiled wanly—a curious, quiet smile. Then, looking straight at Huntly, she said:—
"If that is all you are going to see Harold about I can save you the trouble—though, all the same, I want you to go on my account."
"Ah. Miss Carlton, if you can do that you will be giving me a little real help, for at present I am working in the dark And as for the rest—why I can have my interview with Mr. Gainsford just the same, and I will take him as many messages as ever you like to send!"
"WHAT I am going to tell you, Mr. Huntly," Evelyn began, "is a strictly confidential matter. I must ask you, therefore, for a promise to keep it secret, and to use extreme discretion in regard to any steps you may think proper to take in consequence."
Andrew bowed. "You may depend or me implicitly, my dear young lady," he said.
"I am in hopes," Evelyn continued, with a tender look in her eyes, "that in confiding in you I may be doing a kindness to a very dear friend of mine—to two people I should say. If it turns out as I hope and trust, then I am sure it will be for their happiness."
This introduction struck Huntly as rather curious, not to say unpromising. He had expected something very different. But he did not interrupt—only his eyes, opened ever so little wider than usual, indicated that he was surprised. At the same time his opinion of the girl before him went up so to speak, a notch higher, if that were possible. He could not but admire the unselfish nature, which, with such a load of its own to bear, could still give thought to kindly efforts to benefit others.
"You asked me why poor Fred Dorman was not good friends with Mr. Wilder," Evelyn went on. "It arose in this way. Two years ago both went to Rome for the winter for purposes of study. They were not intimate friends while there, but saw each other occasionally, frequenting the same places, as two Englishmen living in a foreign city might be expected to do.
"Then, that same winter, Fred Dorman's father and mother and his sister Ellen paid a visit to Rome, and remained there some little time. Mr. Wilder, who had only known them very slightly before, visited them, and professed himself desperately in love with Ellen. Ellen, on her side, was rather taken with Mr. Wilder, and (I fear there is no doubt) gave him a good deal of encouragement. Before leaving England however, she had been almost as good as engaged to another friend of her brother's—Mr. Ranger."
Huntley gave a long whistle. Then stopped suddenly and apologised.
"Pray forgive me, my dear young lady." he said. "I was really so interested in what you were telling me that I forgot. So that is where trouble is! Miss Dorman is the mysterious lady I've been trying to find!"
"I do not know as to that," Evelyn returned. "But to continue; Ellen, as I was saying, entered into a somewhat desperate flirtation with Sydney Wilder, to the great annoyance of her brother Fred, indeed, was more than annoyed. He had opportunities which she had not of knowing what kind of life Mr. Wilder was leading. Fred knew enough to satisfy him that he was not at all the sort of young fellow he would care to have as a brother-in- law; also, he was angry with his sister on Mr. Ranger's account; he had looked forward to the two being married. In these circumstances he was, as I have said, more than annoyed; he was very angry. Mr. Wilder knew—for Fred had taken good care to tell him—how matters stood with regard to Mr. Ranger, and Fred considered that if the young fellow had had any sense of what was right, he would never have made up to Ellen at all. Moreover, Fred knew about certain scrapes Mr. Wilder had got into, and was even aware that at the very time he was paying such attention to Ellen he was carrying on with at least one—if not two—other girls in Rome.
"Altogether Fred Dorman was gravely upset at the state of things that had arisen, and was determined to take any and every means in his power to put a stop to it. First he tried mild remonstrances, and appealed to Wilder, as a gentleman, to cease his attentions. Finding it was of no use to appeal to his better feelings, he took other steps. He told him plainly that under no circumstances whatever would his sister be allowed to marry him. But Mr. Wilder only laughed at him, and boasted that Ellen was so in love with him that she would come to him whenever he chose to call her.
"Then Fred was determined to disillusion the foolish girl. Under pretence of taking her to a fancy dress ball, he took her, in disguise, and masked, to a place where she saw Mr. Wilder and some of his dissolute companions under circumstances which completely cured her once and for all. Ellen begged to be taken home, and Mr. and Mrs. Dorman left Rome at once. Fred went with them part of the way, and did not return to Rome for a month or so.
"During that interval it happened, most unfortunately, that Mr. Ranger arrived in Rome, expecting to find the Dormans there. Instead, he only found Wilder and some others, who regaled him with what, I expect, were exaggerated accounts of all that had occurred. At any rate, what he heard caused a complete estrangement between him and Ellen, and they have been estranged ever since. The friendship between him and Fred underwent no change; and as he and Ellen had never been actually or openly engaged, he, in deference to Fred's wishes, and to avoid any sort of scandal, remained on nominally the same terms as regards Mr. and Mrs. Dorman.
"This was two years ago, and the two have never come together since. Ellen came to see me yesterday, as she said she would, and she confessed again—she has often done before—that she really loves Mr. Ranger, and did so all the time. She never ceases to reproach herself for her folly—it was really nothing more, Mr. Huntly, I feel quite sure of that—and she would give all she has in the world if she could recover his affection. But time has gone on, and he has made no sign, no advance; and she fears she has lost his love for ever. She feels it the more now that her only brother is dead. She cannot help the reflection how different it would have been if she and Mr. Ranger had been married, or even formally engaged—what a comfort it would have been to them all at a time like this!
"Now you can understand the strained relations between Mr. Wilder on the one side and Fred Dorman and Mr. Ranger on the other. Fred never forgave Sydney Wilder for the mischief he had done and the unhappiness he had caused in separating those two. Mr. Ranger has a very proud nature, and he was not likely to increase the conceited young fellow's vanity by showing any anger against him. Never do you hear him say a word to show how deep the wound is—but I have my own ideas, about it all the same. My opinion is that he is as much in love with Ellen as ever, and that it only requires some lucky accident to bring them together again."
"I dare say you are right, Miss Carlton," said Huntly, nodding his head. He thought of the sketch which had fallen from Ranger's easel. He had recognised it at the time as an unfinished portrait of Ellen Dorman; and in the light of Evelyn's statement it told its own tale.
"Well," he went on after a thoughtful pause, "I am glad to have these points cleared up. But I'm afraid the explanation doesn't help me much. I quite sympathise with your good-hearted ideas in wishing to heal the breach between these two, but I'm afraid I can't be of any assistance there. It wouldn't do for the detective to leave his business to turn matchmaker, you know."
Evelyn smiled again slightly—the same sweet, pathetic, half-smile, and shook her head.
"I quite understand that, dear Mr. Huntly; but there is something more. I have told you all this that you may know exactly the nature of the trouble between poor Fred Dorman and Mr. Wilder. You can see for yourself that there was not enough in it to render it likely Mr. Wilder would murder him. If such a dreadful thing had been going to happen at all it would have been at the time, or soon after. Not at the end of a couple of years."
"H'm! Well, I admit there is something in what you say. Still—there is his possession of those notes to be accounted for. And after that his suspicious disappearance."
"There is one thing more. Mr. Wilder has become imbued with some very extreme ideas. I have heard that he is looked upon in some quarters as little better than a half-crazy anarchist. Fred Dorman had a horror of that sort of thing; and that made him dislike Mr. Wilder all the more."
"I have heard that also. He may be only a young fool, or there may be something deeper, of course. But I fail to see what that has to do with what has happened to Mr. Fred Dorman."
"Well," said Evelyn, lowering her voice, and looking very serious, "now I am coming to something which may be very grave—or, on the other hand, it may be as unimportant as poor Fred Dorman himself deemed it. During the last year—or at any rate during the last few months—he has received several threatening letters."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Huntly, starting. "Why—this is most important! Grave? I should think it is grave! How in the world is it that I never knew of it before? The police have had no knowledge of it—no one had, so far as I have heard."
"No; because Fred kept it to himself. Or rather he confided it only to his sister Ellen. And she told me of it for the first time yesterday."
Andrew rose and paced to and fro up and down the room. For him, he was quite excited.
"Why—dear me!—my dear young lady—this puts an entirely different complexion on the whole case! Don't you see? Can't you understand how it will affect everything? How it alters matters all round?"
"Yes; if the threatening letters were genuine."
"That is the question. Fred Dorman never believed that they were genuine. If he had he would not have told his sister. You can see that?"
"Why—if he had regarded them as foreshadowing any real danger to himself, do you suppose he would have allowed his sister to be frightened by telling her about them?"
"I understand now. I did not see it in that light. He thought they were mere silly practical jokes—so silly and so harmless that he even showed them to his sister, and they laughed at them together."
"No; not quite that either."
"He attributed them to Mr. Wilder."
"Yes; he thought they were a stupid, silly means of annoying him which had suggested itself to Mr. Wilder as a consequence of the talk he was so fond of indulging in. This naturally made Fred still more annoyed with him; and if he could have proved that Mr. Wilder had sent them no doubt he would have taken some open steps against him. But he had no proof, you see, to go upon. At the same time, he was so firmly convinced in his own mind that he told Ellen about them in order to show her still further the sort of man she had thought herself in love with."
"Oh, oh! Now then I begin to understand. This rather flighty young lady—"
"Mr. Huntly," Evelyn interrupted, gently but firmly, "Miss Dorman is my very dear friend. I assure you she is far from being flighty. If she were I would not own her for a friend. I assure you she is one of the most genuine, good-hearted girls in the world. How she ever came to be led away by one like Mr. Wilder I confess I do not understand. But it is the only thing I have ever known her to do worthy of blame."
"I beg your pardon most humbly, Miss Carlton," Huntly responded soberly. "I spoke hastily. I have seen the young lady herself, and I confess that my first impressions confirmed in every respect your good opinion. The way she spoke of you struck me as particularly nice."
"She is all that. But now, what do you think of all this? Do you think Mr. Wilder could really be so silly—there is no other word for it—as to send what one may call bogus letters containing threats? That was Fred's idea; it was Ellen's, too, till this dreadful affair happened. Now she does not know what to think; and is frightened, because—"
"Because what, Miss Carlton?" Huntly queried, as Evelyn paused.
"Because, Mr. Huntly, she has had another—this time addressed to herself!"
EVELYN'S last announcement caused the detective a shock of surprise which he did not make any attempt to conceal. He was surprised at the apparent calmness which the girl displayed.
"But—my dear young lady—h'm—you take this pretty coolly. I don't wish to alarm you—but don't you see that this is—ahem! most important? I ought to have known of it at once."
"I only heard of it yesterday," Evelyn reminded him, "and I knew that you had gone down to Deal. I wrote and asked you to call and see me as soon as you could."
"So you did! So you did! But really this is surprising information. It seems to me that Mr. Fred Dorman acted with great recklessness in this matter."
"In what way, Mr. Huntly?"
"In treating such serious communications so lightly. He seems to have quite decided that there was no real meaning in them. But how did he know? Why did he take that for granted?"
"He thought—as I have explained—that they came from Mr. Sydney Wilder. He held Mr. Wilder in contempt, as a frothy, silly, extremely foolish person. He was not one to allow himself to be frightened by threats from one he despised."
"But he had no proof that they came from him?"
"N—no; not exact proof. But for one thing, Ellen told me, they displayed a remarkably intimate acquaintance with his movements and doings, such as only someone living in the same house, Fred thought could have displayed. That made him feel certain it was Mr. Wilder, you see. There was no one else in the house he could reasonably suspect. I cannot say what he might have done if he had not felt so convinced of this, but most certainly I do not believe he would have shown them to his sister."
"No;" I should say not, Miss Carlton. "Can you show me any of these precious communications? Has Miss Dorman left them with you?"
"One; the one I spoke of which was addressed to her. Fred himself destroyed all the others, he said. It came, she told me, on Saturday morning."
"Has she spoken to anyone else about it—to her mother or father?"
"No; to no one, so she said. At first thinking it came from Mr. Wilder, she was most intensely indignant. Then, for the first time, a doubt arose as to whether even he would be likely to do such a thing at such a time. She began to feel a bit frightened; and, as she was coming to see me, she determined to confide in me, and brought it with her. Here it is."
With that Evelyn drew a letter from a writing-case close at hand, and passed it to the detective.
Huntly took the missive and glanced first at the outside. This was type-written, and there was nothing unusual about it. Then he took out a paper, unfolded it and looked at it.
"The Red Hand!" he exclaimed.
"Yes; that seems to me to be the silly part of it—the outline of a hand in red ink—I thought that letters of this sort always had a skull and crossbones, or a coffin—or something of that kind on them to frighten you. But a hand—that seems to me to prove that the thing is a sort of practical joke, though one, of course, in very bad taste. It suggests a smack, you know. It is as much as to say that you may expect a smack in the face, or some such silly nonsense by way of punishment for having dared to offend the writer. It seems very paltry. Don't you think so?"
But Huntly made no reply. He read what was written—or rather, typed—on the sheet of paper in silence. Then he folded in up, replaced it in the envelope, and put it carefully away in his pocketbook.
"I will take charge of this, Miss Carlton," he said quietly. "You have no objection, I suppose?"
"None at all, Mr. Huntly—but—you do not really think that it—a—means—any—real mischief, do you?" She had become anxious for the first time, taking alarm from the cloud she had seen upon the detective's face.
"Impossible to say off-hand, my dear young lady," he said lightly. "I should like to consult a friend before I express any decided opinion."
Evelyn's face showed relief. "Well, I hope you will find out who sent it. I think that kind of thing ought to be stopped. It is very cowardly to send such threats to a young girl—even by way of a stupid joke."
"So it is, so it is. Miss Carlton. By the way, does Mr. Gainsford know anything about these precious epistles?"
Evelyn shook her head. "I am quite sure he has not heard anything," she answered. "If he had he would have spoken to me about them."
"And yet he and Mr. Fred Dorman shared the same studio, and were such intimate chums!"
The girl flushed. "I think I can explain that. Ever since Harold had brain fever Fred Dorman treated him very much as though he was a child. He looked after him in every way—and was always most kind and considerate. And knowing that Harold was given at times to strange fancies—you know what I mean—his dislike to the wax model and all that—I should say that Fred would be almost certain to keep the knowledge of these letters to himself. He would think they would only excite Harold and worry him. He was awfully considerate, poor fellow. More like a dear, affectionate brother than an ordinary friend to both of us."
Tears came to her eyes, and, perceiving that she was on the verge of a breakdown, Huntly suddenly changed the subject, and asked what message she wished him to take to Mr. Gainsford when he should see him.
Here she had much to say, and the detective took out his notebook and made elaborate and most careful notes, chief amongst which were the words "undying love" and "affection" many times repeated.
Before he had got it all down Mrs. Carlton came bustling in; She had left the two alone together, because she thought that Evelyn would prefer to have her say to the detective in her own way.
Mrs. Carlton now came to ask him if he would go and see Sir Paul in another room.
"He has only just come downstairs," she explained. "Says he overslept himself, and does not feel well—so that he is only now taking his breakfast. That is, if he is well enough to eat any, which I almost doubt. He certainly does not look at all well."
"I will go to him at once, Madam."
"Do, sir; he will be pleased to see you. He has been reading his morning's letters; and I fancy he has had one he wants to see you about."
Evelyn looked up quickly.
"Letters?" she said. "Wants to see Mr. Huntly about a letter?"
"Law bless me, no child! Not so far as I know! It was only a chance guess."
Huntly took his leave of Evelyn, and followed Mrs. Carlton upstairs into another sitting-room. A bright fire was burning in the grate, and gay sunbeams were glinting in at the window, which looked out over Kensington Gardens. The sunlight fell upon polished silver standing upon a tablecloth of immaculate whiteness. Altogether the room was bright, warm, comfortable- looking, and should have been cheerful. And yet the detective, glancing at the baronet, who was seated at the other side of the table, was somehow suddenly conscious of a sense of chill. Even before either had spoken a word Huntly knew that he was about to hear bad news.
Mrs. Carlton went out and left them alone.
"You are not well, Sir Paul?" said the detective.
"I'm not, Huntly; I'm not. But it isn't that I am thinking about just now. Look at this, and tell me what you make of it."
And with that he handed to the detective a sheet of paper, which was in many respects similar to the letter Huntly had in his pocket, save that the contents were couched in stronger terms.
It had—like the other—the outline of a hand in red ink as a heading—but the baronet knew better than the innocent-minded Evelyn the true significance of that seemingly meaningless hieroglyphic.
"What do you think of that, Huntly?" Sir Paul queried.
"This is one of this morning's letters, Sir Paul?"
"Why, yes—that is to say, it has only just reached me. But if you look at the envelope you will see that the postmark is dated last week. It was sent down to my house in the country, d'ye see; from there it was sent to my club. I wrote a note to the club yesterday morning, as I could not call myself, asking them to send on any letters which might be waiting for me. And this," he added grimly, "is one of 'em!"
Huntly meantime had perused the letter; and this is what he read:—
"This is to make you know that the Brotherhood of the Red Hand, who never without warning strike, have you condemned, and it will be carried out in very quick time. The penalty is death. Think not it any use to try to make escape. The police, nor guards of soldiers, nor flight, can save you from your penalty. If you fly we shall follow. Be sure your doom shall find you.
"Signed for the chief council with the seal of the Brotherhood."
At the bottom was a red seal, the design upon it being again a small hand in the red wax.
"What in the name of all that is reasonable—or unreasonable—can be the meaning of this farrago of nonsense, Huntly? Who on earth are these preposterous people of the Red Hand? And what have they to do with me? What the deuce can I have done to offend them?"
"I cannot say, Sir Paul. You have no idea yourself? It would appear by the wording that they are foreigners. If it is genuine, and not a hoax, then I should say probably Italians. You have never, I suppose, to your knowledge, when travelling abroad, for instance, done anything to incur the enmity of the Italian Mafia? For this reads as if it comes from a branch of that society—always supposing it to be genuine. Of course, it may be some foolish practical joke."
"I should think it must be—unless again it is a case of mistaken—Good Heavens, Huntly! This is dated last week—before that affair on Saturday! Do you think it possible that that had anything to do with this?"
"It is possible, of course, Sir Paul."
"But I know nothing whatever about any rascally society—and as for offending them why, I've never been in Italy, and never even heard of them, except what one reads in the newspapers!"
"I think, Sir Paul, if you would allow me to advise you, that you would do well not to go about alone for a day or two, while I am taking steps to trace out the senders of this letter. And what occurred on Saturday you can understand the wisdom of being careful."
"Tush, tush! I'm not going to allow myself to be frightened! But as regards to-day, I'm not going out at all. I don't feel well enough. I can make no promise, however, about to-morrow. By the way, they know nothing here about what occurred on Saturday, you understand; I have said nothing to either Mrs. Carlton or Evelyn. It would only needlessly alarm them."
"Quite right, Sir Paul. I quite agree with you as to that. That reminds me; I heard this morning that the police have found that cab, but they cannot find the driver. He is a stranger who had hired it for the day—probably with a bogus badge—and he left the cab derelict, and ran off. They have not yet been able to trace the two men."
"No! of course they haven't. I never supposed they would," cried the old gentleman testily. "They never find out things like that. Give 'em a case to deal with of some poor devil stealing a loaf of bread, or a mutton chop, and they'll be down on him like a weasel on a rabbit. But in a case involving real difficulties they're mere fools!"
MORE grave and thoughtful than ever was the detective as he left Mrs. Carlton's residence. As on the previous Saturday, he crossed the road and entered Kensington Gardens. But he did not to-day saunter aimlessly about. Certainly the sunlight; wintry though it was, was bright enough and even warm enough, to have tempted him to linger if he had been able to spare the time. As it was he had too much to do and to think about to be able to give his mind to anything of the kind. So he walked briskly along, only intent on getting across the park as quickly as possible.
But his mind was at work, and by the time he reached the other side he had discussed with himself all the phases of the problem in hand, as they now appeared in the light of what he had just heard.
The thing that puzzled him most was the disappearance of Wilder, and his possible connection with the threatening letter headed with the ominous Red Hand.
"Wilder," he mused, "has been in Rome and there became mixed up with people who have been vaguely described as anarchists. That term may mean anything. It might, of course, mean that he had become associated with members of the dreaded Mafia—but somehow it does not strike me as likely. It is probably enough that his eccentricities in that direction never carried him beyond some small frothy clique whose bark is usually worse than their bite as Mr. Ted Manton expressed it. Of course, that clique or gang might choose to masquerade over here as a branch of the real Red Hand society—which is itself what one may term 'a blood relation' of the Mafia"—he sourly at the grim jest—"that is if the connection is a real and not a bogus one. That is the question that bothers me. Here are certain threatening letters, supposedly issued by a secret society whom no one in his senses would treat lightly. But is that the case? Or are they the work merely of some weak-headed 'lambs' who are trying to pose as wolves?"
It was a pretty suggestion, and Huntly frankly confessed himself puzzled. Here were certain traits in the two letters he had now in his possession which suggested to him that they were not issued by the real Brotherhood of the Red Hand. Rather they appeared to him to be somewhat clumsy imitations. The difference was highly important, because the writers, it was probable, were much more to be feared in the one case than in the other. Also, this doubt affected the question of the quarter in which he ought to look for the authors. If genuine the writers of the letters would undoubtedly be Italians; but in the other case they might be of any country, Russian, German, American, Spanish, or even, possibly, English.
To Scotland Yard Huntly went, only to be told that Vardon was out, and not expected in for some time. So he went on to his own office, and there found Mr. Gilham waiting for him.
"To-morrow," the lawyer reminded him, "my client, Mr. Gainsford, is to be brought up on remand, and I have to decide what course I shall take. So I have come to see if you have discovered anything that may guide me."
"I have much to tell you, Mr. Gilham," Huntly replied, "and when you have heard it I feel assured, you will see the wisdom of acting upon a suggestion I wish to offer.
"And that is—?"
"To leave matters entirely in my hands for the present. I want you to do nothing to complicate things just now. I want you just to submit to a further remand—make some show of protest, if you like, of course—without asking any questions of the witnesses. Otherwise you may upset the plan which I am forming by scaring away the game I hope to capture. Do you see?"
"Humph! No, honestly, I don't see—at present. But perhaps I shall after you have explained further, if you will condescend to do so," returned Mr. Gilham drily.
Huntly did explain; and in the end won the lawyer over to his views.
"Then the proceedings will have to be a mere formality, so far as I am concerned," he said finally, with obvious reluctance.
"Yes, Mr. Gilham. You must please trust me till the next remand. Try and get for it a little more than a week this time. Say, the day after to-morrow week."
"And what is to happen then?" grumbled the lawyer.
"I hope I shall have sufficient evidence to apply for a warrant for the arrest of someone else. And, if it is granted, of course Mr. Gainsford must be set free. As you are aware, they can't have two separate men in custody for the same crime in a case where—as here—there can be no suggestion of collusion or conspiracy between the two."
"And what about Sir Paul? How about protecting him against further attempts such as that of last Saturday?"
"He has promised me not to go out today. To-morrow I shall see him again, and I will arrange whatever may seem to me to be necessary."
Mr. Gilham went away shaking his head, and evidently only half satisfied. Where his clients were concerned he had the fighting spirit strongly developed, and did not regard with favor the meek part he had promised, for the time being, to play.
Before he left a slip of paper had been brought in by Sankey, the clerk, on which was written the name of Mr. Robert Dennett, and he was ushered in a minute or two later.
As Huntly glanced at him he was surprised at the change in the artist's appearance. In place of the full, rather puffy, red cheeks he saw a pale, haggard face and, indeed, the man looked thinner and different altogether.
His manner was altered, too. It was subdued and hesitating; and he looked doubtfully at the detective, as though dubious as to how he would be received.
"Well, Mr. Dennett, what may be the object of this visit?" Huntly began.
"I want to help you to get Mr. Gainsford free, Mr. Huntly;" said Dennett.
"Humph! Have you come to confess that you did it yourself then?" the detective asked bluntly.
"Ah! There it is again, you see!"
"What do you mean?"
"Why—you suspect me still. Now, Mr. Huntly," this very earnestly, "I cannot put up with it much longer."
"Put up with what?"
"Being suspected in this way. I know—I don't deny it—that I've partly brought it on myself. But there's a very great deal of difference between a man's taking a drop too much at times and being a cold-blooded, rascally murderer—isn't there?"
"Humph! The difference is not necessarily a great one. I've known cases where it has meant but one step. However, what's the matter?"
He had watched his visitor keenly, and noted the signs of mental stress and trouble, and now he said to himself—"Unless I am mistaken we have here a changed man. It may be that he has had a lesson which will alter his whole life for the better. Let us hope it may be so!" And, being a kind-hearted man, as we know, although his detective experience had been such as would have turned many other men into cynics, he was willing enough to meet the repentant Dennett half way. So, altering his tone, he said:—
"Tell me what you want. If I can help you in any way I will do my best."
"Well—as I said just now—I want to help you, Mr. Huntly. I want this business cleared up. I want to see the right man in the dock—for, whoever he is, he is not Mr. Gainsford—and see him convicted. Then people will know for certain that I am not guilty; and I shall be able to hold up my head again. And," he added, firmly and earnestly, "Mr. Huntly, believe me, I am going to hold it up in a different manner. These days of misery—days during which everybody regards me with suspicion—have taught me a lesson I shall never forget. Never would I have believed I should ever come to be looked upon by people as a murderer!"
He shuddered, and drew out a handkerchief and wiped his face. Then he resumed—
"It's this way—Miss Robins, one of the barmaids at the Black Bull, has told me something that I think may help you. As you know, the house faces the entrance to our square, and the night of the murder was her early night, so that she left the bar a good hour or more before closing time and went up to her bedroom. The blind had not been pulled down, and she paused to look out at the snow on the ground and on the trees in the square. You are aware that it was bright moonlight, and the scene struck here as quite pretty. So while she was gazing across the white trees opposite she saw a man come out of the square and look about. Then he went away some little distance and hid in the shadow of a doorway. She watched him because she thought there was something furtive and suspicious in his manner; and the longer he stayed there the more suspicious she grew. She had an idea, that he was trying to break into the house where he was standing—possibly by means of a skeleton key. After a while, however, she thinks nearly half an hour—two men came along in Inverness capes—she could see, too, that they were in evening dress—and they went into the square. And just as they did so the first man came out of the doorway and stepped out briskly after them. He had nearly caught them up when they all three turned the corner and went out of sight."
"Ah! And what time was this?"
"She says she heard all the docks roundabout striking twelve just before they went into the square."
"Does she know who these men were? Did she recognise any of them?"
"As to that she says that she believes the two in capes were Mr. Ranger and Mr. Manton."
"Does she know them?"
"She has seen them at times, and knows them by sight. But at that time she did not know their names; she has not been at the Black Bull more than a month, you see. She has seen them once or twice with me, possibly, and had a general idea that they were artists like myself, and lived somewhere near."
"Were they in the habit of going into the Black Bull?"
"No, of course not, or else she would have known them better. Still they might look in once in a way."
"And the third man? The one she first saw. Does she know him?"
"No; but she declares she would recognise him if she saw him again."
"Humph! I think I had better see her."
"I wish you would, Mr. Huntly. Do you think this information may help you?"
"It may; it depends upon—upon many things. For one thing it depends upon whether we can find the right man for her to identify."
"Of course. I saw that. There is something else, Mr. Huntly."
"What is it?"
"Why, it seems that Wilder was in the Black Bull that same afternoon."
"That surprises you?" asked Dennett, who knew nothing of what the detective had found out.
"Not so very much. What does surprise me is how it comes about that no one has spoken of these things before. I have myself been to the Black Bull twice, and questioned the people there, and they never said a word of all this."
Dennett gave a short laugh. "That is easy to understand," he declared. "The second time they knew that you were a detective, and at once they were up in arms and in a fluster. A publican's first thought, when an inspector or a detective calls, is for the safety of his license. He is suspicious of traps, and is wary, and on the defensive. He says as little as possible, being afraid lest he may say the wrong thing and get his house a bad name, or get some of his customers into trouble. And his people do the same."
"Yes; but in this case—"
"In this case they merely answered your questions—which were chiefly or entirely, I have heard, about myself. Now, I set to work differently. I begged them to try to help me by recalling everything that had occurred that night, and every person who had come into the bar. And so, by degrees, I've fished out what I've told you."
"What about Wilder? Who saw him? And at what time?"
"George, the barman, served him, because he came into the small side private bar instead of the usual one. George was surprised at that, for one thing; and, for another, he wondered at his saying nothing. Considering that he had been away for some time, George thought it odd that he didn't ask after myself, or the landlord, or other people he knew. And he said nothing to George either, but seemed intent on reading a letter which he'd got in his hand. He read it over and over again, till George got quite curious and wondered if it might be a writ or something."
"What time was this?" Huntly asked sharply.
"Some time between eleven and half-past; that is as far as the man can remember. Finally Wilder disappeared while the barman had his back turned serving another customer without so much as saying good night."
Just then Sankey entered with another slip of paper. On it was written "Mr. William Ranger."
Then the detective dismissed Dennett, and directed the clerk to bring in the newcomer.
"YOU wired asking me to call here at once, Mr. Huntly," said Mr. Ranger.
His air was cold and distant, and at first he did not sit down, but remained standing. He intended this, no doubt, as a hint that he hoped the interview would be a short one.
"Yes; I took that liberty—if you so regard it, Mr. Ranger—and by your looks I almost fancy you do—because there is something very important that I wished to see you about."
Andrew Huntly on his side, had assumed his most friendly and persuasive manner; and he beamed on his visitor as though he were about to announce that he had come into a big legacy.
But Mr. Ranger was not to be soothed into a better temper that way.
"I supposed it must be something important," he observed stiffly, "or I should not have put my work aside and hurried here at a moment's notice. Perhaps, now that I am here you will tell me your business."
"Won't you sit down?"
The artist threw himself into a chair, and stared at the fireplace. His mouth hardened yet more, and he looked like an unwilling witness who was determined to say as little as possible.
"Mr. Ranger," said Andrew, "I want you to do me a favor."
The artist looked up from the fire in surprise, but scarcely m assent. No one could have looked less like doing the detective a favor than he did at that moment. But Andrew affected not to notice it.
"I saw you at the funeral of your poor friend, Mr. Fred Dorman, on Saturday," Huntly went on. "It was a terribly bad day for the ceremony."
"If that is all you have to tell me, Mr. Huntly," explained the artist, brusquely, as he rose from his chair, "I—"
But the amiable detective only waved his hand and smiled, and there was something in his look which caused his visitor to sit down again.
"Mr. Ranger," said Huntly, suddenly changing his manner and becoming very grave and earnest, "there were worse things about on Saturday than bad weather. I want you to listen carefully for a minute or two to what I am going to tell you; and then I will name the favor I wish to ask."
And with that he plunged into a brief account of what had happened to Sir Paul and himself at the ceremony. He told Ranger, too, about the letter which had been sent to Sir Paul beforehand, though it had only come into his hands that morning. And he showed the artist the letter itself.
Ranger was obviously astonished, and from being astonished he became both interested and indignant. He expressed his indignation in no measured terms, and only wished he could catch the scoundrels and punish them himself, he said.
"Well, now, I come to the other matter, Mr. Ranger," Andrew continued. "I have learned only this morning that on Saturday another letter, similar to this, was received by a lady."
"A lady! Worse and worse! The cowardly, despicable miscreants!" exclaimed Ranger. "Who is she?"
"That lady," Huntly went on, disregarding the question, "may be in very serious danger, and some steps ought to be taken to guard her. But I am in this difficulty, that I have Sir Paul to look after—to say nothing of the work I have in hand—and I cannot give personal attention to her. Otherwise, I feel so strongly interested in that lady's safety, that I would see to it myself. I do not wish to entrust this difficult and delicate task to an ordinary agent, nor do I wish to call in the aid of the police. I wish I could meet with some friend who would volunteer his services—someone whom I knew I could trust as a gentleman. For, Mr. Ranger, I may tell you that this young lady, who may be standing in this grave danger, has neither brother nor sister whom she can take into her confidence. She has only an austere father, and an unsympathetic mother—and to crown all, her brother is only just dead—"
"Mr. Huntly!" cried Ranger, starting up, "for Heaven's sake tell me what you mean!" The artist stood staring at the detective with flashing eyes and breath that labored. "Are you insulting— fooling—me—or—?"
"Neither one nor the other, Mr. Ranger," was the quiet reply. "The lady is Miss Dorman, and here is the letter she received. I thought, perhaps, that, as the intimate friend of the brother she has lost under such terrible circumstances—"
But there was no need for Andrew to say more. The artist was shaking him by the hand, and asking impatiently for instructions and advice.
Then the two had a short conference, at the end of which Mr. Ranger took up his hat, and was hurrying off, when Huntly said he had a further favor to ask.
"I noticed," he said, "in the hall of Mr. Dorman's house a marble bust of your friend."
"Yes, there is one. It was done by Sattelli, the well-known sculptor, for Mr. Dorman as a present."
"I want to borrow it for a week. You know Mr. Dorman well enough to be able to ask the favor, and may be able to get the loan of it more easily than I could."
Ranger looked puzzled; "What on earth do you want that for?" he asked.
"For the likeness. Will you get it for me?"
"Oh! All right. I've no doubt I can manage it. I'll send it down to you." And in another moment Mr. Ranger had gone.
Huntly rubbed his hands and looked well pleased with himself.
"I think I managed that jolly well," he murmured. "I'll bet he'll guard her better than two or three policemen or half a dozen bulldogs! I needn't trouble further about that! I saw it in his eyes! When Miss Carlton spoke to me this morning as she did, little thought just then I should find a way so soon of carrying out her good-hearted wishes. Andrew Huntly, my boy! you've turned matchmaker after all! For if this little plan doesn't end in a reconciliation between those two foolish lovers—I'll—I'll—by Jove! I'll join the 'Force' and turn policeman!"
During the days that followed Andrew Huntly was busy indeed. He was here, there, and everywhere, and seemed scarcely to require rest or sleep. He was like a clever sleuth-hound that had at last picked up the scent it had been casting about for.
Only, unlike that gallant animal, he did not "give tongue." So far from anything like that, it was noticeable that the more he discovered the less he said; and for a certain period no one seemed to know where he was or even whether he was still as determined as ever to solve the mystery of the studio murder.
As a matter of fact, however, he himself never wavered for a moment in prosecuting the task he had undertaken. But whatever discoveries he made, whatever new clues he might be following, he kept his own counsel, and revealed nothing as to the progress he was making, even to Mr. Gilham or Sir Paul.
Nor was it all plain sailing. He met with many checks and disappointments; and to make matters worse he was working feverishly against time.
For Evelyn Carlton's health seemed to be giving way, and she was daily growing worse and worse. Not only that, but the two elder people in the house—Mrs. Carlton and Sir Paul—were attacked by the same complaint—a mysterious, wasting disease which their doctor was entirely unable to diagnose or fight successfully.
One disconcerting check took the form of the sudden reappearance of the truant Wilder, who called on Huntly and angrily inquired why he was being searched for. When reminded of the episode of the suspected bank notes, he indignantly demanded to be confronted with Mr. Solomon. And when Huntly obliged him, it was discovered that the Jew had made a mistake. In giving the numbers of the notes to Huntly, he had confused some of those paid to the murdered man with the others which he had handed to Mr. Wilder.
So the erratic artist was, triumphantly exonerated, so far as the very suspicious matter of the notes was concerned. He then condescended to give a confidential explanation of his disappearance, which quite satisfied the detective. It turned out, after all, to be only because he had feared he was about to be arrested for a debt. He had since paid it, and was free to come and go once more; and he went off to Deal to resume his interrupted rounds of the golf links there, and his enjoyment of the honorary membership of the club.
Against Solomon himself, too, Huntly could find nothing. He denied all knowledge of the two men with whom he had been seen talking at the cemetery. They were strangers to him, he declared, who had asked him some questions; and as they were—as Huntly had surmised—fellow-countrymen of his, he had remained for a few minutes chatting with them.
Mr. Ranger kept his premise of mounting guard over Ellen Dorman. Wherever she went, he was never far away, and no gaoler ever looked after a prisoner more closely. It was said by some that he haunted the grounds of Mr. Dorman's residence all night long, heavily armed; and that he had been mistaken, more than once, by zealous policemen, for a burglar. But that may have been exaggeration.
The end of the week came, and on the Saturday—a week from the day of the funeral—Huntly and Vardon went to the prison for another interview with Harold Gainsford. Huntly had not been able to get to see him before, save for a few minutes when he had been brought up at the police court, where he had been sent back on further remand.
Vardon called for Huntly at the latter's office before starting for the prison; and when he came in his face showed at once that he had some news.
"Traced one of the notes!" he cried. "Whom do you think to?"
Huntly reflected; then said, "If I am to give a guess I should say Henri."
Vardon's face fell. "Hang it! I thought to give you a surprise," he exclaimed.
"I have been expecting it; and if it had not happened so, was going to propose a little plan to you to trap him. However, it's better as it is. Saves trouble and time, my friend. Tell me how it came to pass."
"Henri, it seems, frequents a low German club of a sort in Soho, and goes in pretty heavily for cards and gambling. Lately he has been particularly reckless, and has lost a good deal. Hearing that, I set one of my fellows on to play with him—as sharp a lad as the 'cutest' sharper he is—he won some money, and to pay him Henri wanted to get change of a note at the bar. But my lad chipped in and offered the change for it, and to get the note."
"Good," said Huntly. "I may say that I knew about the club. One day, when he was moving from the studio, he happened to run against me, and dropped some parcels and papers. I helped to pick them up, and saw a letter addressed to him there."
"Well," Vardon went on, "here's a curious thing; Henri, it appears, has been well known at this club for a long time, and has, at times, lost a lot of money there, I wonder where he got it?"
"Quite so," he observed meditatively; "I expected something of that, too."
Vardon looked displeased.
"If you had any such ideas, you didn't let me know of 'em," he grumbled.
"No harm in that," retorted Andrew, "any more than there was in your instructing your man to lead Henri on at play without telling me."
"Well, that's true," said he. "Now, let's be off."
They found Harold Gainsford looking even more dejected than before. Sir Paul's solicitor, Mr. Gilham, had but just left him, and had informed him of Evelyn's illness. He scanned Huntly's face keenly when he came in, but could gather nothing from the impassive features.
After some preliminary talk and inquiries, Huntly came to the object of his visit.
"Where," he asked, "did Mr. Dorman pick up the man Henri?"
"I scarcely know," Harold answered. "He came, I fancy, and offered himself as a model first. Brought his sister as a model, too!"
"Yes—so he said. After a while, he used to do odd jobs about the place for us. He said he was a waiter at a restaurant in Soho, part of his time. One day he told us he had lost his waiter's place, and asked Fred to engage him altogether, and he did so."
"Well, no, not exactly; I believe he gave a reference to the place at which he had been employed as waiter; but whether Fred ever troubled to go there, or write, I really do not know. By that time we had got about pretty well used to his being about the place, and so were not so particular as we might otherwise have been."
"Really, then, you know nothing about him?"
"It amounts to that."
"What countryman is he? Mr. Manton says he speaks Italian as fluently as French."
Gainsford shook his head.
"I can't say as to that," he replied. "But he always said he was French."
"Now," continued Huntly, "about that piece of something that you say you took out of your dead friend's hand. Can you recollect any further about it?"
"I have been trying to recall it," said Gainsford, passing his hand over his forehead with the old dreamy look; "but somehow it evades me. Sometimes I seem to have it on the tip of my tongue, as we say, but then it slips from me again. No; I cannot tell you more about it than I told you before."
"Was it anything like a button, or a—er—er—What is it, Vardon?"
Mr. Vardon had taken out his pocket-book, and from it had withdrawn a small piece of paper, which he carefully unfolded.
"Was it anything like this?" he asked triumphantly.
Gainsford took what he offered to him, felt it, turned it over in his hand, and started up, exclaiming—
"Yes, I am nearly sure that is it!"
And looking at it, Huntly saw that it was a piece of hard wax, such as might fit the place they had previously noticed in the wax mask.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, in a reproachful tone.
"I had a hunt last evening in Mr. Gainsford's pockets," the other explained. "You must know at the time of the murder he was wearing an old jacket, and he changed it for other clothes before coming away. I took possession of the jacket and of what was in the pockets, which was not much. I thought I had gone over it carefully, but on a more careful examination last evening, I felt something hard down inside the lining. I found the pocket had a hole in it, and, after some trouble, I fished out this and a piece of pencil."
Huntly looked hurt. "You might have told me this morning," said he.
"Thought I'd wait till we saw our friend here to make sure," replied the other with a chuckle.
"Well I am only too pleased to see it." Huntly said. "This is a great corroboration of your story, Mr. Gainsford, wildly improbable as it looked at first sight; and it is not by any means all the confirmation we have obtained. Altogether, I may say, for the first time, I begin to hope we shall clear the mystery up."
"I'm with you there," said Vardon heartily; "I begin to think so, too."
Just then the door opened, and Gainsford was informed that Mr. Gilham wished to see him again.
"We'd better go, then," Huntly observed; and the two went out, leaving Harold Gainsford in far better hopes and spirits than when they had come.
While they walked away together, Andrew observed to the other—
"You begin to believe there is something in Mr. Gainsford's story then, at last?"
"Yes. But you needn't crow! You were only a day or two ahead of me, and you were put on the right road by a young girl. Only shows," remarked Vardon sententiously, "how the females are crowding out the men in every walk of life. They'll be having female policemen soon."
Suddenly Andrew stopped short.
"I never asked him further about that girl," he exclaimed, "and whether he knows where she is now. Your springing that wax business on me, and Mr. Gilham's coming back, put it out of my head. Gainsford says she was supposed to be his sister; but I'll bet she is the same one he spoke of as his sweetheart. Now why, at twelve o'clock on that fatal Tuesday night, did he think it safe to speak the truth about her, and own up that she was his sweetheart—or wife, maybe?"
"Ah, why indeed!" echoed Mr. Vardon.
THE curtains were partly drawn across the window, and the blind was lowered in Evelyn Carlton's room, to keep out the light. For she was much worse, and could not bear the bright sunlight that came into the windows in front of the house.
The invalid glanced up expectantly at the door, when some one entered, then looked away again with a disappointed air. It was only Clarice, her French maid.
"I was almost in hopes it was Miss Dorman," she said wearily. "I do hope she will be able to come again to-day."
"It is scarcely time as yet, Miss Evelyn," answered the maid. "Yes; it is better she come, and come soon. Sir Paul ill now, too. Nobody seems to keep well. I shall be next perhaps."
"It is dreadful, Clarice! I cannot understand it! So much trouble all at one time, seems terribly cruel."
"Ah, it is ze influenza, la grippe, c'est ça. It is very, what you call, catching."
"The doctor says he does not think it is influenza, Clarice. But there, influenza takes so many forms nowadays. Even the doctors seem to know nothing about it. Hark! There is a knock. Perhaps it is Ellen."
"Perhaps it is ze other doctare. Sir Paul sent a message for him."
"Dr. Mellor? I am glad of that, I like him best. Though Dr. Tanner is very kind, too. No, it is Ellen. I hear her voice."
Ellen Dorman came in quietly, but with a face full of eager anxiety. She was dressed in deep mourning, and looked pale and thin.
"Oh, my darling, my darling!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms round Evelyn. "Oh; dear, what bad news! Three of you ill! And you—oh! I did not think you were so bad. I had such trouble to get away; but, now I am here, and see how ill you are, and how bad things are all round, I shall stay and nurse you. There!" And she proceeded to take off her hat and cloak.
"Permit that I help you, mademoiselle," said Clarice.
"Ah, Clarice! Is that you? How is it that you are not nursing Miss Evelyn better, so as to have made her well before this?"
"Truly, I do not know, Miss. I do all that the doctare say. But it is la grippe, you, see."
"Indeed, Ellen," said Evelyn, "Clarice has been most kind and attentive. I don't know how we should have got on without her. She is in and out of the sick rooms one after the other all day long, and all night, too, almost, giving us each our medicine at the right times, and seeing to everything. She is as good as three nurses, I do believe."
Then Ellen went away for a little while to see Mrs. Carlton, and by the time she came back Dr. Mellor had arrived.
Very grave he looked, as, after interviewing the patients, he sat alone in the library downstairs, sipping a glass of sherry that had been brought to him by the butler. He shook his head dubiously while he wrote out three telegrams; then he left the house to send them personally.
"This is a bad business; I'll trust no one," he said to himself. One telegram was to his assistant; another to a nurses' institute, asking for two nurses; and the third to Andrew Huntly, at his office, begging him to come up at once. When he returned to the house, he announced his intention of staying until the nurses arrived.
Then he went in to Sir Paul, and sat chatting to him; but every now and then, he would go to see his two other patients, to give them with his own hands the medicine he had sent for.
Towards the afternoon the two nurses arrived, and were installed in charge, Clarice now being relieved of her arduous duties, and told she was to go and lie down and try to get some sleep.
But Huntly did not arrive, and the doctor declared he should wait for him. He sent off another telegram to the detective's private address, urging him to come the first moment he could, no matter if it were late at night. He had a long consultation with Dr. Tanner, who had been attending the patients previously, and must have satisfied that gentleman that he, Dr. Mellor, was acting for the best; for the other showed no signs of objection.
Ellen sat by Evelyn's beside, outwardly cheerful, but inwardly with a terrible heart-sinking. Evelyn's appearance had startled and shocked her and made her feel more anxious than she dared to say; and now the doctor's proceedings had confirmed her fears. She, too, had sent a telegram. It was to her mother, saying she should stay all night to help to nurse her friend.
"Let them come and fetch me if they like," she said stoutly; "I shan't go, even if they do."
And Evelyn smiled a weak, wan smile of grateful thanks.
"Ellen, dear," she said to her suddenly, after lying a long time almost in an unconscious state, "If I should die—"
"Oh, darling, darling, don't talk like that!" Ellen exclaimed passionately, seizing Evelyn's hand and kissing it.
"Perhaps I may not, dear. But I feel so weak, and I have an idea I must be very ill, from Dr. Mellor's staying here all day. I was going to say, if I should die, I want you to be a friend to that poor girl Clarice. She has no one to take care of her except her brother, and he can't do much for her. She is here in a strange country almost alone. She was trying to earn money as a model, you know, when she came to us. And you cannot think how kind she has been. I know mamma would look after her; but mamma might die, too, you know. I want you to promise you will not forget her, for my sake."
Ellen, who had burst into tears, and was sobbing softly to herself, pressed her friend's hand and kissed it.
"You might take her for your own maid," continued Evelyn, "if you could get your mother to allow you. You would never find a better one. She has been so attentive to me all the time I have been ill. All the time! Think of it! It is not really very long; yet it seems months, years, almost!"
Huntly did not come until the evening. He had been out all day on very particular business connected with Mr. Gainsford's case, he told Dr. Mellor, and had not received his telegram until late in the afternoon.
He listened to what the doctor had to say, and then put some queries, in reply to which Dr. Mellor did not hesitate to state to him his own opinion—
"Poison," he said curtly.
"What do you think I can do?" Andrew asked.
"I want you to send someone you can rely upon at once. A 'third nurse' let her be supposed to be. There are three patients. We want one for each really. You understand?"
"I will send Mrs. Huntly," said he, with a significant look at the doctor. "She has a nurse's dress, I know, and you may trust her to keep an eye on everybody all round."
"Go at once to fetch her," Dr. Mellor urged.
"I'll telegraph. That will be quicker still," returned Andrew. "And I can stop here then and help you. I know my wife's at home."
"Good. You will find me here when you get back."
Huntly went out on his way to the post office, which was a few streets off. Walking quickly, in turning a corner, he brushed against a woman, who was also walking quickly in the opposite direction. In passing he just caught a glance at her face, and in a moment, he stopped short, to see her disappear round the corner. Turning back, he peered cautiously round and watched her; then finding she did not look hack, he followed her, keeping on the other side of the road.
Two or three minutes later, he rang the bell and was re- admitted to Mrs. Carlton's house, much to the doctor's surprise.
"You have been quick," he observed.
"I haven't been there," returned Andrew. "Came back unexpectedly. The fact is, I ran against a woman whose face I recognised, though I only got a glimpse of it under a lamp-post; but that glance was sufficient to induce me to follow her. She came to this house, and was admitted downstairs. Just inquire who she is, will you, doctor, and what she is doing here?"
Dr. Mellor rang the bell, and when the butler appeared, inquired whether he knew who it was that had just come in downstairs.
"Only mademoiselle, sir," was the answer.
"Who is she?" inquired Huntly.
"Clarice; Miss Evelyn's maid, sir. She has been kept indoors very close at nursing, and, when the other nurses came, she was told she could take a rest; but she said she was not tired and would rather go out for a walk."
"I see. And where is she now?"
"Gone up to her room to lie down, sir."
"Very good. That will do, thank you."
Andrew remained a minute or two deep in thought after the servant's departure. He walked to the fire and held out his hands to the blaze in an absent way, nodding his head gravely at nothing in particular.
"Doctor," he said, presently, "how far have matters gone in this devil's work? Are you in time?"
"I am in hopes so," was the reply, given somewhat hesitatingly. "That is, as regards Mrs. Carlton and Sir Paul. Miss Carlton's case is the one I am most anxious about. She is very weak."
"Now," said Andrew, "I can put my hand on the she-devil who has caused, all this. She is upstairs now, you understand. But it does not suit my purpose that she should be alarmed just yet. Of direct evidence we have none; and if she thinks she is suspected she will be off and give the alarm to another bird I am hoping to lime to-morrow. Do you see? Can we keep her here, with safety to our patients, till the morning of the day after to-morrow?"
"I should say so. Especially with the help of Mrs. Huntly," Dr. Mellor answered.
"Very well, then. I see my way now, and will go and send that telegram."
THE night following Dr. Mellor's timely discovery of the state of affairs at Mrs. Carlton's, Huntly and Vardon sat talking in the studio that had been the scene of Fred Dorman's tragic death.
The place had been "swept and garnished;" a bright, cheerful fire blazed in the grate; the lamp that hung from the ceiling threw down a warm, ruddy glow in a circle underneath its crimson shade, the rest of the room being in semi-shadow lighted up at intervals by transient gleams from the firelight.
Everything around was in neat order and primly arranged, save, perhaps, the bed, which, being now no longer in use, was heaped up with rugs, and the curtains that had formerly enclosed it. These had been taken down and thrown carelessly on the bed.
The figure of the dead brigand sat in its old position; but its head, with the wax mask, was off, and was resting by its side. In other respects it had been renovated; and now reminded one somewhat of the appearance the original might have presented after the execution.
Huntly sat poking at the fire with a bit of stick, in thoughtful and somewhat gloomy mood; while Vardon smoked stolidly at a cigar, and seemed to be intent upon nothing beyond gazing up at the ceiling above him.
Just when the clock at the large building in the square chimed out a quarter to ten, Huntly looked round at his companion.
"Nearly time he was here," he said. "I hope he's coming."
"Time enough yet," answered the other.
"Ten, or a few minutes before, I said."
"What's the place like where he is living now—you've been there, of course?"
"Oh, yes. You bet. Searched it, too, but no go! Too cunning for that! It's near that club he goes to, that I told you of."
"I only hope this will come off to-night," he continued, after a pause.
"Yes; we shall look rather foolish, if it doesn't, shan't we?"
"Ah, it isn't only that! It's a question of life or death, as I do truly believe. That poor girl, Miss Carlton, is in the most critical state! Dr. Mellor declares her life hangs by a thread. If I could take her good news to-night, who knows but it might be the means of saving her life? I should be glad to be able to go up there to-night and say she need have no further anxiety."
"Aye; I can understand. But what a diabolical wretch that woman must be! Hanging would be too good for her!"
"Too good? I should think so! You don't know how kindly, almost affectionately that poor girl spoke of her! It almost brought the tears to my eyes, and that's no easy thing, as you know. Ugh! It makes me sick to think there are such wretches on the face of the earth! If I had my way, I would sentence her to imprisonment for life and to be publicly whipped through the streets twice a week. Ah! And I would do the whipping myself, too, if no one else would!"
Then they were both silent again for awhile, till a knock at the front door was heard.
"I'll go down and let him in," said Huntly. He went out and soon returned accompanied by Henri, who advanced towards Vardon with two or three deferential bows, and then remained standing near the door with his back to the bed.
He was smiling and serene apparently, but his color came and went, and his eyes wandered uneasily round the apartment, taking in everything—the lamp, the dressed-up figure, the old- fashioned clock on the mantelpiece which, as he noted, had been set going. Nothing escaped his restless eyes.
Andrew Huntly stood with his back to the fire, and his hands behind him, and regarded Henri with a look that was rather benignant than otherwise.
"Henri," said he, "we all know how faithfully you served your poor master, and how devoted you were to him," here Henri bowed appreciatively, "and thus it comes about that I have prevailed on our friend here," indicating Mr. Vardon, "to let me have an interview with you here instead of—at the police station."
At this ominous reference Henri's face looked much less appreciative.
"The fact is," Huntly went on, "a Bank of England note has been traced to you that, it is known, was, in the possession of your late master, Mr. Dorman."
Henri's face cleared some what. He had expected this, and had a plausible story ready; only he was not aware of the system of numbering by which particular notes could be traced.
"Certainement," he replied readily. "Monsieur Dorman was going away. He owe me my wages, an' he give me ze money, in what you call, nots."
Huntly smiled pleasantly and turned to Vardon, lifting his hands as much as to say, "There, I told you so!"
"However," put in Vardon, "other notes are missing, and you are suspected. Now we could take you up on suspicion—seeing that there was reason to suspect you about this other note—and have you searched at the police station; and while you were detained there, we could go to the lodgings you have moved into since you left here, and make a search there. But my friend here has wished me to save you this indignity—at least till we see further cause. Therefore, if you like to submit to be searched here, now, by us, and consent to our going to search also at your lodgings, and we find nothing further, you can go away and no one will know anything about it."
Henri's face did not express approval at this friendly arrangement. On the contrary, a black scowl gathered there for a moment; but he quickly recovered himself, and forced a smile. Turning to Huntly, and extending his hands in a deprecating way, he exclaimed—
"Mais, m's'u. C'est mauvais ça. I like not such things. And I assure you I have no more of ze nots."
"Then why object to what our friend has so kindly suggested?" Andrew asked.
"Oh, Monsieur! Considare!"
"Well, I've considered long enough," said Vardon roughly and rising, "Come on, Huntly. You meant well, I dare say, but I can't waste time here any longer! Call a policeman, and we will take him to the station and search him there."
Huntly moved towards the door, but Henri stepped forward and laid a hand on his arm.
"Stay," he said, "I will do what you wish. You will find I have told ze truth."
They searched him accordingly, and found no notes, but discovered a revolver and stiletto.
"Hulloa!" Vardon exclaimed. "What are you carrying these about for, eh?"
"Ah, m's'u, can you wonder? After what took place here, I not feel myself safe any longer."
"H'm. Well, I shall take care of these for the present, anyway. Now we are going to your lodgings."
"Certainement, m's'u. But give me, please, my case of cigarettes."
"Oh, yes; you can have that," returned Vardon, who had been carefully examining the case for concealed pockets. "Now you will wait here till we come back; and mind you are here when we come back. No hanky-panky, mind! Don't try to bolt off, because we shall leave a policeman at the door!"
"Wait hyare, sare!" exclaimed the astonished Henri. "I come with you to show you—"
"No! You will wait here till we return. We prefer to go alone."
Then Henri begged, entreated, not to be left alone, "in zat murdering house." It was of no use, and he had at last to submit.
"It is now twenty past ten," observed Vardon; "we ought to be back here before eleven, for we shall take a cab; but if we are a little longer, don't upset yourself on our account. We'll get back as soon as we can. You can smoke your cigarettes to help pass the time if you like." And they went out, closing the door behind them.
Henri listened to their footsteps as they walked noisily along the passage, banged the door at the end, and then went down the stairs. He heard the front door slam, and then all was still.
He glanced round the studio, a frightened, despairing glance, and then seated himself before the fire, and taking out a cigarette, tried to smoke. But this lips and mouth were parched and dry, and he threw away the cigarette. Then he took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead, muttering broken expressions to himself. He feared to look round, yet felt compelled to glance this way and that, till he wished he could take in all sides at once.
Of all the things he had thought of as possible or probable, the idea of having to pass an hour alone in this place was the most repellant to him, and the last that had entered his head. Yet here he was; and he shivered when he cast his eyes furtively towards the bed.
The figure of the bandit chief, too, tonight inspired him with horror. Sitting grim and motionless, without a head which was beside it, the suggestiveness of the death that had befallen the man whose effigy it was, was too obvious not to impress itself upon the mind of Henri. Presently he turned his chair round so that he should be able to see both the figure and the bed at the same time. For he feared to take his eyes off one to look at the other.
The ticking of the clock worried him, too. And, when the chimes rang out for half-past ten, he started up, and seemed as though he intended to make a dash for the door; but sat down again, helplessly.
Thus the time passed. The clock ticked, the minutes passed, till a quarter to eleven chimed, and again he started up, and glanced in the direction of the door. Too well he remembered that that day, two weeks ago, at about that hour, his late master had been foully murdered in that room. He could not get his thoughts off that, do what he would. He wiped his face, he tried to whistle, but it was a vain attempt; and now he only watched the clock with one eye while he tried to keep the other on the two ends of the room.
"If only," he thought to himself, "if only it gets past—Santa Maria! What was that?"
These last words he uttered almost aloud, when what seemed like a heavy sigh echoed through the room.
A few seconds of silence—dead silence, save for the ticking of the clocks then another heavy sigh, followed by a deep blood-curdling groan, as of one in mortal agony.
With a cry, Henri jumped up and rushed to the door. It was locked, and after trying it in vain, and hearing no further sounds, he went back and dropped, rather than sat, down upon the chair again.
Another groan and sigh, and then the things on the bed rustled, moved, and slowly a form rose up and sat on the side of the bed; and there, in the shadow, Henri saw, plainly enough, the face and form of Fred Dorman, with pale, bloodless countenance, and dressed as he had been murdered; with the Norfolk jacket he had worn unfastened, and showing the white shirt front beneath stained with blood!
WITH eyes almost starting from his head, and shivering with horror, Henri beheld the figure place one hand to its breast, as though to cover the wound, while the other arm rose slowly, slowly, and pointed at him!
His name was called in a choking, gurgling, self-suffocated voice that echoed through the room, and still Henri sat still, unable to move. But when he saw the figure slowly rising to come across to him, he could bear it no longer, but rushed to the door, beating frantically on it with his fists, and shrieking for help.
The door opened, and he rushed out to be caught by the two detectives in the passage.
"Mercy, mercy," he screamed, putting his hands before his eyes and panting with fear. "Sauvez-moi, oh, messieurs, save me from le revenant!"
Then he looked round, and saw the figure in the studio slowly following him.
"Have mercy! Save me! I will confess, I will confess, if you will but save me from him!"
"Confess what?" said Huntly, sternly shaking him by the shoulders. "Did you kill him? Speak!"
"Yes, yes! I confess it. Only save me!"
Then the figure retired, and they dragged the half-conscious man into the studio. When he looked round the figure had gone.
Shivering with horror and fright, the wretched murderer confessed everything, while Vardon found paper and ink and wrote it down as he told his tale. When he had finished, the statement was read over to him, and he signed it, after which Vardon, and Huntly signed as witnesses. Then he was taken away, still more dead than alive, and lodged in a police cell.
When the two detectives left the police station, it was nearly twelve o'clock. Halting on the pavement, at the first quiet spot they came to, Andrew took off his hat, wiped his face, drew a long breath, and gave utterance to a prolonged "pheugh!"
"I say!" he said, "it's a relief to think it has come off all right, isn't it? It worked beautifully, and we've got him, safe enough, at last!"
"Yes; thanks to your planning, old man I don't forget that. I felt rather doubtful about it when you first suggested it; but, as you say 'it worked.'"
"Well, now," said Andrew, "I'm off to Bayswater as fast as a taxi can take me, to carry the news to that poor girl. I pray Heaven I may be in time, and that it may help to do her good. To- morrow morning, first thing, I shall be at the prison to relieve Mr. Gainsford from his anxiety. Then I must see Mr. Gilham, and explain matters to him."
When he arrived at Mrs. Carlton's, he found Dr. Mellor and Mrs. Huntly awaiting him. They both looked at him eagerly when he entered the room, and his face answered them.
"Succeeded, Jane!" he exclaimed, and turning to the doctor, he added, "Got him, doctor; confessed everything!"
"Heaven be thanked," Dr. Mellor fervently answered. "This will mean much to my patients, to Miss Carlton most of all. She is in a very critical state."
But when Evelyn heard the glad news, its soothing effects were quickly exhibited, for she sank into a quiet sleep—the first natural sleep since her illness began.
* * * * *
It was some three weeks after the arrest of the man who had been known as Henri that Andrew Huntly was again seated in the house in the Bayswater-road. Evelyn Carlton had but just come down, from her sick room, to listen to the particulars of all that had occurred.
Outside, the weather was again beautifully fine; and from the window one could see crowds disporting themselves in the gardens in the bright sunlight.
Looking out from the seat they had placed for her near the window, the young girl thought of the horror that had possessed her the last time she had gazed upon the scene from that window. And the tears came to her eyes—tears of thankfulness and gratitude—as sitting there, she mused upon all that had passed. Sitting there, one hand held tenderly by Harold Gainsford, and the other lying in Ellen Dorman's loving clasp. All that had gone seemed now only like a hideous nightmare, and she could hardly realise that it had not been one of the fevered dreams of her illness.
Mrs. Carlton was well enough to be able to look after her household duties, and bustled in and out of the room, at intervals.
Another source of pleasure to Evelyn—and it was a great one—lay in the fact which Ellen had only that morning confided to her—that she and Mr. Ranger were now formally engaged, with her father and mother's glad approval.
"So, then, dearest, you forgave him his long spell of coldness, after all?" said Evelyn.
"I couldn't help it," was the blushing reply. "He was here, there, and everywhere! I couldn't get rid of him! He followed me about all day long—always, however, at a respectful distance—and at night, I do believe, he slept on a branch of one of the trees near my window! So, at last, I had to give in. He asked me once, and I said, No; twice I said No; but the next time I said, Yes!"
"I am more pleased than I can tell you, darling; and I must not forget to express my approval to Mr. Huntly. I strongly suspect he had something to do with it." But she did not tell Ellen that she herself had urged the detective to try his hand at amateur matchmaking.
Andrew Huntly had but just come in. He looked somewhat disturbed; the fact being that he had come to bring them the news that Henri had committed suicide by strangling himself in his cell—a method of evading his earthly judges that did not meet with Andrew's approval. Clarice, too, had been discharged for want of direct evidence, and the two men who had made the attack upon Sir Paul had got clear away, it was believed, to America. There, therefore, was an end of the case.
"There is not much that you do not know, Miss Carlton, I think," Andrew had said, in reply to a request from her for information.
"Ah, but I wish to hear it from you yourself," she answered, looking at him admiringly. "You managed it all so beautifully, I think."
"After you had put me on the right road," he said, a little discontentedly. "However, if you wish it, I will just run over what you have not heard direct from me; and I can also tell you some things I have only learned myself within the last day or two."
"Then there is something fresh, eh?" queried Sir Paul, who was sitting by the fireplace, reading the "Times."
"Well, yes, I've picked up some further items concerning this precious couple. They were man and wife; Henri's name is really Luigi Faronda—"
Here the speaker was interrupted by expressions of surprise, and, from one of his hearers—Harold Gainsford—of horror.
"Yes. So it is. He was the brother of the notorious Faronda whom Mr. Fred Dorman had hunted to his death in Sicily. His band was a branch of the dreaded Mafia, and you know how it was said of them that 'they have a long arm,' and never fail to try to revenge an injury done to one of their number, where they think they can do. The Faronda family were Italians by race, but had gone to France, and lived there for many years; then finally had gone back in their native place, where these two brothers, getting into trouble with the authorities, took to the mountains and joined the Mafia. Thus they, the two brothers, were almost as much French as Italian. There is no doubt that, after the break- up of the band, Luigi, or Henri, and his precious wife came over to this country expressly to be revenged on Mr. Fred Dorman and his friend Mr. Gainsford. He himself told me so. The Mafia found the money—it was a vendetta, and they took it up—besides which he had some means himself, ill-gotten gains I need not say. They wormed themselves into Mr. Fred Dorman's confidence, and through, him and Mr. Gainsford, Clarice, his wife, as she is really known, was taken by you as a maid, as we know."
"It's astounding!" said Sir Paul. "Talk of nursing a viper—"
"And I thought so much of her!" said the gentle Evelyn, with a sigh.
"Well," continued Huntly, "Mr. Fred Dorman would have been murdered long ago, and I have no doubt Mr. Gainsford, and you, and others, too, if it had not been for Luigi's insane passion for gambling. He staked and lost, not only his own money, but that given him by the Mafia—all this I got out of him a day or two ago—and, therefore, delayed his vengeance until a chance might offer of gaining some money as well. He got into trouble with the Mafia, for the delay. They sent emissaries to warn him; and they are the two who joined him and arranged the attack upon Sir Paul. Clarice robbed you of jewellery, the proceeds of which, doubtless, for the most part, went in gambling. Luigi had planned to carry out his infamous design two or three times previously, but deferred it because of some difficulty or other, or because he could not see how to get any money by it. Then, again, he was anxious about his own safety; and could not see a way to carry out his purpose with reasonable chance of escaping suspicion, till Mr. Gainsford put it into his head."
"I?" exclaimed Gainsford, in astonishment.
"Yes, sir. He heard you prophesying that harm would come through that figure of his brother. Heard you say you had had dreams about it, and so on. And he conceived the idea of dressing himself up in the figure's clothes and mask, and so seeming—if you or anyone else should come upon the scene—to carry out your idea. He looked for it that that would frighten any witness away, or so terrorise him that he would be an easy victim to deal with; while such a person's story, if he escaped or survived, would never be credited.
"The opportunity he was waiting for came when he heard that Mr Fred Dorman would be paid for his picture that night, and it seems that old Solomon had incautiously shown him the notes in response to Mr. Dorman's message, which, I suppose, he took in a rather hostile spirit. 'Tell Mr. Dorman,' he said, 'not to be afraid I shall not pay him. See! I have the money ready! And if he comes for it this afternoon he shall have it.' Luigi took back this message, and resolved at once upon action; and when he was alone in the studio while Mr. Fred Dorman had gone, he dressed himself in the clothes of his dead brother, hid the dummy figure away behind the canvas rocky and things, covered it up out of sight, in case anyone happened to look there, and then coolly sat down and waited patiently till his opportunity should come. Meanwhile he had obtained leave to be out for the evening; and when Mr. Gainsford and Fred Dorman came in he was supposed to have gone. Instead of that he was sitting there before their eyes, listening to all that was said, and looking at the notes in Mr. Dorman's hands."
"Ah!" exclaimed Harold, "did I not say I saw the figure wince when walked towards it with the sword?"
"You did, sir; and no doubt, as we all can see now, you were right. And a terrible fright the scoundrel must have been in at that moment. How he waited till, everything was quiet, and Mr. Fred Dorman had gone to sleep, you can all understand; what, perhaps, you do not know is that he intended killing Mr. Gainsford, too. But when Mr. Gainsford came on the scene and fell down in a swoon, a devilish thought came into his head; of trying to throw the murder on to him. He therefore took out Mr. Dorman's pocket-book, and placed it in Mr. Gainsford's pocket, after taking all the notes except two, which I suppose he left for appearance sake. But when he found Mr. Gainsford did not come to, he concluded at first that he, too, was dead; so drawing the curtains round the bed, he proceeded calmly to resume his own clothes, putting the others back on the dummy figure and setting it again in its place. He had no idea but that the outer door was closed and locked; and that he had the place to himself. Mr. Dennett, however, had found it open, and had caught a glimpse of the murderer's back, probably when he was standing counting over the notes before changing back to his own clothes. When, finally, the villain was about to leave, he heard a slight noise behind the curtains, and, peering cautiously between them, saw that Mr. Gainsford was moving; but even while he looked at him, and finally deciding to leave him as he was, he hurried off, crept down the stairs, and stole stealthily out into the square, meeting no one on the way. There he hid himself in a door-way till he should find someone returning to the house, and there being but one way of getting into the square, this part, as you know, would not be difficult to manage. When he saw Mr. Ranger and Mr. Manton coming, he remained hidden till they passed, and then followed them, thus securing useful evidence that he had been out and returned late. But these manoeuvres had been witnessed from a bedroom, at the Black Bull, by one of the barmaids and she afterwards identified him without his being aware of it."
"Speaking of Clarice," observed Ellen, "poor Fred at first asked us to take her home; but mother did not want anyone at the time, and so it fell through. Then he spoke to Mrs. Carlton about her."
"It seems a shocking thing," said Sir Paul, "that people should plan such atrocities; that they should nurse revenge not only against those who have crossed them, but even against their relatives, who are innocent of all offence."
"You are right, sir," replied Huntly, "but I suppose it is the Italian notion of carrying a vendetta to its bitter end."
"Now, I am anxious to know, Mr. Huntly," Evelyn asked, "what put into your head that idea by which you frightened him into confessing?"
"Why, I admit, there I took a leaf out of the scoundrel's own book. I determined to try on him a similar dodge to the one he had played off so successfully on us all. I know, too, that most people of his class and nationality are intensely superstitious, and it has often happened before that the very persons who are fond of playing 'ghost' on other people, are themselves the most easily frightened if they see what they think a real ghost. Putting these things together I formed a plan."
"There was no doubt, I reflected, that a great deal of the feeling with which our friend here Mr. Gainsford, regarded the lay figure of the brigand, arose from the cleverness of the 'make-up,' and its startling resemblance to life."
"Ah," observed Gainsford, "Fred took a lot of trouble about that! He went to Messrs. Tussaud, and interested them in the work. They devoted much pains to it, especially to rendering the wax mask life-like, and the same with every detail."
"Just so; I heard of that. Now, the first time I visited Mr. Dorman's house I noticed a marble bust of Mr. Fred in the hall."
"It was done for him by a sculptor who was a great friend of Fred's," Ellen explained.
"Yes; and a wonderfully good likeness it must be, too, if I may venture an opinion. Mr. Ranger induced Mr. Dorman to lend me the bust, and I took it to Messrs. Tussaud, and explained to them what I wanted. They took the idea up with much kind interest, and aided by photographs that I had also borrowed, there came out a wonderfully clever likeness of Mr. Fred's face. Indeed, I marvel now how they managed it. I decided to try to increase the effect of the trick I was going to play on Henri (or Luigi) by arranging it for the same night of the week (Tuesday) as that on which the murder had been committed. I also so arranged matters as to make the critical appearance of the supposed spectre coincide with the time when the deed must have been actually committed."
"Ah! How could you do that? And who was it played the ghost?" Evelyn inquired.
"I got an actor, a friend of mine, to take the part of the ghost, and, to settle the right time, I had set the clock going in the studio. I knew that, sitting there alone in that place, the rascal would have a decidedly unpleasant time of it; that he would watch the clock anxiously, and show increased excitement as the critical moment drew near. My friend was watching him all the time from under the curtains and things we had piled over him on the bed, and he could pretty well tell, from the fellow's manner when the proper time had arrived. He had taken good care to remove from the place everything in the shape of a weapon that could have been used—even to the fire-irons—and we had taken the precaution to search Luigi before leaving him. It was well we did so, for he had a pistol—to say nothing of a murderous-looking stiletto. Of course, Mr. Vardon and I never went out of the house, but crept quietly back and listened at the studio till the right moment came to open it."
"It was very cleverly planned and carried out," said Sir Paul. "Be sure both you and Mr. Vardon shall have no cause to complain of my liberality in settling up. But how did you get the villain to talk so freely afterwards, and tell you what he did?"
"He was very sulky, at first, Sir Paul, but he grew anxious about his wife. Begged me at last to try to get her sent back to her own country. I, on my part, quite agreed with him that (since we could not punish her) that was the best place for her; so, on my promising to do what I could, he became more communicative."
"I think you have managed it all splendidly, Mr Huntly!" exclaimed Evelyn "As for myself, I can never, never thank you or feel grateful enough."
Andrew shook his head with a dissatisfied air—
"There is one point—one mistake I made," said he, "as to which I feel as if I shall never forgive myself. That is about Clarice. Had I but asked Mr Gainsford about her, as I ought to have done, much of the danger and suffering you and your friend have undergone would have been avoided."
"Never mind that now, 'All's well that ends well,' Mr. Huntly," said the baronet cheerily. "And now come and have some lunch with us."
Harold Gainsford and Evelyn are married, and so are Ellen Dorman and Mr Ranger, the former living in the county with Sir Paul. He could not make up his mind to let them live away from him; and Harold had no desire to go back to the studio that had such painful memories for him. Indeed, he only now paints a little occasionally for amusement's sake, his position, as Sir Paul's heir, making him independent of his former profession. They sometimes have visitors in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. Huntly, with whom Sir Paul is always ready to talk, over again, all the incidents and events of the anxious time they had, when trying to solve the Mystery of an Artist's Model.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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