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M. MCDONNEL BODKIN

UNDER HIS OWN HAND

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WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM "PEARSON'S WEEKLY"


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First published in Pearson's Weekly, 6 Mar 1897
in the series "The Adventures of Mr. Juggins"
Reprinted in Short Stories, Aug 1917

Collected in: Paul Beck, The Rule of Thumb Detective,
C. Arthur Pearson, London, 1898

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-10-17

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Cover Image

"Paul Beck, The Rule of Thumb Detective,"
with "Under His Own Hand"


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Illustration

M. McDonnell Bodkin


Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).

Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.

Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."

...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).

Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.



Title


Title


"OH! Mr. Beck, you must take my part now, won't you? He's so headstrong about it; our marriage, I mean. But I have coaxed a promise from him to follow your advice and you must advise him to postpone it."

Marnie Coyle was walking impatiently up and down Mr. Beck's pretty little sitting-room while she spoke, and he was sitting deep back in a huge easy-chair, leaning sideways on one of the arms with his hand under his chin watching her, a kindly, whimsical look on his broad face.

Now she came close up to where he sat, put a little hand caressingly on his shoulder, and smiled down at him with an entreaty in her bright blue eyes hard to withstand.

But Mr. Beck's face remained immovably placid as before, as he leant back and joined his finger-tips.

"Oh! I have no patience with you," she burst out, trying to shake him—she might as well try to shake an elephant. "There you sit and sit, saying nothing and trying your best to look stupid."


Illustration

"There you sit and sit, trying your best to look stupid."


"My dear young lady," he said, with gentle amusement at her vehemence, "it's my business just now to hear, not talk."

"You must promise—you must. I have no one I can trust but you."

"Well, then, trust me."

"Oh! I see. You want to hear the—what you call—the facts before you give your advice, and I suppose I must humour you. Only we haven't much time, as he will be here in half an hour. I came early to have the first word with you. Now where shall I begin?"

"At the beginning."

"Well, that's nearly two years ago. We were all walking—we schoolgirls, I mean—two and two in Kensington, and he came riding slowly by on his bicycle, looking at each girl as he passed with a laugh in his eye. Miss Gurdy—our dragon, you know—was just fit to be tied. Some of the girls tittered, and I was laughing myself at Miss Gurdy's starched face, when his eyes looked straight into mine and sent a little thrill through me that killed the laugh. He raised his hat politely and rode straight away, and Miss Gurdy called me a boldfaced minx because I blushed. It was very wrong of course, but I couldn't keep him out of my head for a week nearly, till one day when we were alone in the dormitory little Flossy Burton—you know little Flossy; she knows you, anyway—you got something, or did something for her; something wonderful, but I forget what it was. It was she first introduced me to you—don't you remember, and you found my diamond bracelet for me, and—where was I?"

"In the school dormitory with Miss Flossy."

"Oh! well, she gave me a letter with poetry in it from him, full of praise and love and all that; and ending up beautifully—


"I will your faithful lover be,
Through time unto eternity.


"He had met Floss at her uncle's, Mr. Warmington's, and asked her all about our school, and he knew me by the little dimple on my chin, only think! so she told him I was her favourite of all the girls, and he sent the letter by her.

"Miss Gurdy would have packed us both out of the school if she only knew—at least, she would have sent me packing, but Flossy, you know, is an heiress, and has a first cousin a lord, and she can do just what she likes with Miss Gurdy.

"I had three letters from him before I wrote one little line. But he said he would kill himself if I didn't, so I had to, of course. After that, I think Miss Gurdy began to suspect something. Flossy wanted to go to the dentist so often, and always insisted on bringing me to hold her hand. One day Miss Gurdy nearly caught us—me and Clive, you know. She came suddenly into the reception-room when we were alone together. But luckily we'd just had a tiff and he was sitting at the far end of the room, reading a newspaper upside down, and I was looking out of the window. So——"

Mamie glanced up at the hands of the clock on Mr. Beck's mantelpiece and broke off breathless and bewildered by her own haste.

"Oh! I have only seven minutes more and I haven't told you one thing yet that I wanted to tell."

"Plenty of time," said Mr. Beck, soothingly, for Mr. Beck loved gossip.

"Well, now, I'll just stick to the point. When I left school and went home to live with mamma, he called to see her one day and told her he loved me, and quite won her heart. So now we are engaged—properly engaged, you know—and we can go to places together and—and—and still he isn't satisfied."

"What more can he possibly desire?" asked Mr. Beck, without a smile.

"He wants me to marry him straight away. He's just twenty-three and a half, and I'll be nineteen my next birthday, and he thinks we are quite old enough to get married, and I agree with him in that, but—oh! it's terrible——"

"What's terrible?"

"The way he goes on. You see he is an only son—that is to say, he was an only son, but his father is dead and his mother too, and I don't trust his Uncle Marmaduke, and I never will, what's more."

"Now where does Marmaduke come in?"

"Clive lives with his uncle in a beautiful house in Park Lane, but the house is Clive's—that is to say, it will be Clive's, and he, that's Clive, has a wonderful property in Kent, with woods and rivers and a great park with deer in it, and oh! such a lovely house. I was all over it last week. But there was a cruel thing put in his father's will—that he was not to get the property until he was twenty-five, unless he married before that with his uncle's consent. But if he married before twenty-five without the consent, the property was all to go to his uncle.

"The uncle, Marmaduke Meredith, is a big, pompous thing, with an ugly smile that I hate, and I'm sure he will never give his consent. But Clive says he will, and that anyway he couldn't wait for two years, even for a million. It isn't two years, you know—only a year and a half—and Clive says he'll get called to the Bar and earn lots for us both. I have a little money of my own that would help us. But it isn't the money I care about, but I'm afraid he'd be sorry afterwards and that would kill me. Still, if I don't consent he may think it's his property I care for, not himself. Oh! please do help me, Mr. Beck, I'm very miserable."

She had been patting Mr. Beck's shoulder nervously while she spoke; now she suddenly buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.


Illustration

She suddenly buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.


MR. BECK'S composure vanished in a moment. He could never bear to see a woman cry. He leapt up from his chair, sat the weeping girl in it, and bent over her, mumbling soothingly in a kindly, awkward attempt to comfort her. It was like a big Newfoundland dog fondling a small child.

Mamie kept on crying bitterly, partly because she wanted to, partly because she knew she was one of the few women who look well in tears, but mainly because she knew it was the most effective method with Mr. Beck. Suddenly Mr. Beck turned his back on her and proceeded to fix a lump of sugar between the bars of his canary's cage, chirping the while.

"A lover's ear," we know on high authority, "will hear the slightest sound." But Mr. Beck's ears were more than human, and it was he—not Mamie—that heard that quick, light step on the thick carpet of the stairs.

The next moment there came an impatient knock at the door.

Mamie leapt from her seat. The sobs ceased suddenly.

"Come in!" cried Mr. Beck, without looking round.

Mr. Beck was more awkward than usual. It was a long minute before he succeeded in fixing the lump of sugar to his liking. When at last he did look round Mamie was radiant, though a tear still trembled on her rounded cheek like a dewdrop on a wild rose-leaf.

A tall, handsome young fellow stood close beside her, looking down upon her smiling face with love and longing in his blue-black eyes.


Illustration

A tall, handsome young fellow stood close beside her.

"Well?" said Mr. Beck, after a pause, for they looked shyly at him without speaking.

"Oh! it's all right," cried Clive Meredith cheerily. "Uncle Marmaduke will do the straight thing, I'm sure. He hinted as much to me to-day. I knew it would be all right when I took Mamie to see him. He fell in love with her, of course, straight away.

"'Clive, my lad,' he said, 'she is a sweet girl, and I congratulate you; I should not like to stand in your way even for a day, if it can be helped. "Gather the rosebuds while you may," says the poet, Tennyson, I think it was, or Walter Scott. Of course I have a solemn duty to perform towards your poor father. Still, if—— God bless you, my boy; God bless you!' and the poor old chap actually broke down and blubbered. So you see there is really nothing to advise about, Mr. Beck."

"I don't trust him," broke out Mamie. "He's a crocodile hypocrite. He has some trick in his head. You know he wants money, Clive—you told me that yourself, and there are ugly stories about him. Tell Mr. Beck what you told me, sir."

"Well," said Clive reluctantly. "It's not his fault, you know, if he is hard up, and of course he is dunned and all that. A fellow came about six months ago—an impudent Jewish chap. I was out at the time, but he forced his way into the study where uncle was and insisted on payment. It was a big thing—over a thousand, I believe—and uncle paid him and got a receipt. But the Jew swore that uncle's cheque was only a blank when he came to present it at the bank. He brought an action and told his story in court. But he had to admit on cross-examination he saw my uncle fill in the cheque and sign it. That settled the case. The judge gave him a dressing down he's not likely to forget, and the jury found a verdict for the defendant, and well, that's the whole story."

"Where does your uncle live, Mr. Meredith?" asked Mr. Beck, propos of nothing.

"In our home—that is in Park Lane, but I don't see what——"

"Of course you can't see," broke in the irrepressible Mamie, "but your uncle sees clearly enough. He has the house, and he has an allowance under the will. It's throwing away both to give his consent to our marriage. Now I ask you, is that likely, Mr. Beck?"

"But I don't mean to get married until I have his consent in writing under his own hand," Clive retorted hotly. "I never thought, Mamie, you were such a prudent little person."

"I'm not prudent. It's for your sake I'm prudent, Clive, dear. You are too confiding. I'm sure he has some dodge in the back of his head."

They were in a fair way for a pretty little lovers' quarrel when Mr. Beck's mild voice fell like oil on the troubled waters.

"Can't you wait just a little longer, Mr. Meredith?" he asked blandly.

"Do you call two years just a little?" cried Clive impatiently.

"Only a year and a half," murmured Mamie under her breath.

"Two weeks will be enough, I think," said Mr. Beck, "if you do what I tell you."

Clive beamed delightedly. "I'm entirely at your service Mr. Beck!"

"In the first place, can you give me the name of the man who swore he saw your uncle sign the cheque that had no signature? I want to have a word with him."

"Will it do to-morrow?"

"Quite."

"All right. I'll send it without fail by to-night's post."

"That's settled. Your uncle has a private study of his own in Park Lane, I suppose?"

"Yes, and a Chubb lock and latchkey for the door."

"So I fancied. I think you said he writes a good deal?"

Clive had not said it. But Mr. Beck knew it. There were few things Mr. Beck did not know.

The young fellow laughed. "Oh! he writes a lot of articles for the magazines and reviews, but they never get in. There was one accepted years ago, and he has written a hundred at least on the strength of that and gives himself airs as a literary man."

"There is gas in his study, I suppose?"

Clive nodded, surprised at the question.

"Do you know where he keeps his cheque-book?"

"No," said Clive, more surprised than ever. "I suppose in his desk in the study."

"Nor who is his gasfitter?"

"Oh! Carver and Picton. But really, Mr. Beck, I don't see what all this has to do with——"

Mr. Beck continued quite placidly, without noticing his protest in the least—"Now I come to my second condition. First, the name of the Jew who got the strange cheque—don't forget that. Secondly, I want you to bore a hole in one of the gaspipes in your uncle's study. Can you do it?"

"I suppose I could if I tried, but in Heaven's name, Mr. Beck, what the——"

Mamie clapped her little hand over his mouth, and shut the word off in the middle, and whispered in his ear, "Now, Clive, you mustn't break out like that. Remember you promised to do what Mr. Beck told you."

"Do you want to blow up the house, Mr. Beck?" asked Clive, when he got his lips free again.

"On the contrary. You must at once call your uncle's attention to the leakage and offer on your way to the club to look in to Messrs. Carver and Picton and have the plumber sent over at once."

"Honestly, I don't see how I am to manage it. I am never in the room without my uncle, and I have nothing to bore lead pipes with."

For answer Mr. Beck opened one of the many doors of a wide mahogany press that almost filled one side of the room. Inside was a miscellaneous collection in pigeon-holes, ticketed like a particularly neatly arranged pawnbroker's shop.

From one of these pigeon-holes he took a round ball of dark wood about the size of a golf-ball. On one side a little cork was stuck. Mr. Beck pulled off the cork for a moment and showed a kind of flat needle about an inch long, very bright and sharp, projecting from the ball. "That will go through lead like butter," he said simply. "They use it in the trade when business isn't brisk enough."

He replaced the cork as he spoke, and Clive took the little instrument gingerly and dropped it into his pocket.

"You will be here to-morrow about one o'clock for your plumber; do you understand that, Mr. Meredith?"

Clive nodded again a little sulkily. He had a vague notion he was being made a fool of.

"All right then," said Mr. Beck, with unabated good-humour. "I'm busy just now, and it's quite possible you two have something to say to each other. Goodbye."

Clive hardly knew whether to be angry or not at this abrupt dismissal. But Mamie kissed her hands beamingly to Mr. Beck at the door.


Illustration

Clive hardly knew whether to be angry or not.


"Isn't he just splendid, Clive?" she whispered as they went out together.

"I don't know about splendid. He seems to me rather a dull chap, and not particularly polite. He wants to make me act just like a mischievous schoolboy."

"But you'll do what he asks, won't you, Clive?" she asked, looking up in his face in a way that allowed of no refusal.

"Oh! I promised, and I'll have to do it right enough. But I don't like the job, Marnie. He's got my back up a bit, I must confess."

But she deftly smoothed the little sulkiness away, and coaxed and petted him back to good-humour. Then they strolled away together through the crowded streets alone amid the bustle and tumult, closed round and isolated by love's rosy cloud—the happiest man and maid in all London.

* * * * *

"THERE'S an awful smell in the room, Clive," said Mr. Marmaduke Meredith next day, looking up from the big open desk where he was writing an article (editor permitting) for the Contemporary.

"I think there is a leakage in the gas somewhere, uncle."

"Egad you're right. It is the smell of gas. Pshew! it's stifling. Luckily it didn't come at night or the house might have been blown up."

The two men nosed about the pipes for a moment, sniffing like pointers on a close scent. Clive found the leakage first.

"Here it is, uncle," he cried, in an awkward, shame-faced kind of way, "and a bad leakage too. I can actually feel the gas blowing out cold on the back of my hand."

"I must have the plumber in at once," said Mr. Meredith. "I have a lot of important writing to do here to-night."

He had his hand on the bell when Clive stopped him. "Don't ring, uncle. I am going down to the club. I'll look in at Carver and Picton's and get them to send in a man right away."

"Good boy! good boy!" The uncle laid his hand gently on the nephew's shoulder, and Clive winced under the kindly pressure, feeling unutterably mean.

A tall, portly man was Marmaduke Meredith, with light blue eyes and drooping eyelids and heavy mouth and chin. He was a clever, genial, unpopular man. For in some way the rumour was vaguely about in the clubs that he was not quite straight. He was a busy man, too, but he spent much money and earned none.

"Thank you very much, Clive," he went on, with unctuous affection, still patting his nephew's shoulder kindly with one hand while he fingered the heavy links of his gold watch-chain with the other. "You have always been a good and obedient nephew to me, and I hope I won't prove a harsh uncle to you when the time comes. You guess what I mean, eh?"

Clive did guess what he meant, and felt meaner than ever. He had not the least notion what was to be the upshot of this trick of Mr. Beck's, but he had some vague idea that his uncle was to be the victim. So he squirmed at this unsuspecting kindness.

"I'm off, sir," he said abruptly, to cut the thing short. "I'll have the man back like winking," and he left his uncle vainly attempting to plug the hole in the gaspipe with a tiny pellet of blotting-paper.

Right opposite Mr. Beck's door a young man was lounging with a workman's kit in his hand.

He crossed over as Clive leaped out of the hansom, and stopped him before he could ring.

"Mr. Clive Meredith?" he said respectfully enough. He was a strong, well-set-up young fellow, dressed like a decent artisan, but with a broad black smudge on his face.


Illustration

"Mr. Clive Meredith?" he said respectfully enough.


"Yes," Clive answered, "that's my name."

"All right, guv'nor," said the other. "I'm your man."

"You know what's to done?"

"I got my orders straight. I'm on to the job."

"You had better drive there."

"Thank ye, sir. The 'bus is good enough for me, and it passes the door. There she goes now. Excuse me, sir," and he sprinted down the street and leaped on to a 'bus as it darted round the corner, leaving Clive standing bewildered opposite Mr. Beck's door.

Mr. Beck was out, he was told when he knocked, and would not be back for two hours: "Would the gentleman leave his name?"

No, the gentleman would not leave his name, but walked away vexed and perplexed to his club, finding it impossible to make head or tail of the business.

"I'm the plumber," said the workman to the footman at the door of the house in Park Lane.

"From Carver and Picton? All right! Mr. Meredith is at his lunch. He left orders you should be shown straight to the study where the gas leakage is. It's to be done without delay: the house is all a-stiflin' with it."


ONCE safe in the study the plumber deliberately bolted the door on the inside, and began to search about the room curiously. The writing materials seemed to have a special attraction for him. He examined the paper and blotting-paper, the pens and the ink, with the minutest care. There were two ink-bottles on the big mahogany writing-table between the windows. He smelt and tested the contents of each in turn and shook his head. Then he crossed over to a smaller table of American pattern with a revolving lid, tried the handles and found it locked. "So I thought," he muttered, fitting to the wards a piece of iron wire with some curious twists and curves at the end of it. Twice he tried the lock with a little gentle pressure, feeling his way, and twice with strong fingers he bent the wire into a new shape. Then all at once, as if it mistook the thing for its own key, the facile lock yielded to the gentle pressure, and the revolving lid slid back from the top of the desk, unlocking all the drawers down the sides by the same motion.

Our plumber-burglar searched the interior with quick eyes and hands. He paused for a moment at a handsome silver inkstand and set it aside. Then suddenly he pounced upon a common penny ink-bottle of round brown delph, set back in one of the pigeon-holes of the desk, with some papers pushed in front of it. He examined his prize eagerly; he even poured a few drops of the ink out on a sheet of notepaper, smelt and tested it, smiling a quiet, self-satisfied smile.

Then he wrote with the same ink a brief memorandum on a sheet of paper, waved it until it was dry without blotting, and put it into his pocket.

In a quarter of an hour more the ink jar was back in its place, the desk locked, the door unlocked, and the puncture in the gaspipe repaired.

None too soon either. As the plumber came out of the study he met Mr. Meredith in the hall, smiling and good-humoured from a particularly substantial lunch.


Illustration

As the plumber came out of the study he met Mr. Meredith in the hall.


"What, done already, my man?" he said pleasantly. "That's quick work. Here's sixpence for yourself."

Mr. Meredith was not, as a rule, generous about tips, and it may be safely said that no sixpence from his pocket was, from his point of view, ever so completely misplaced before.


ALL that afternoon, in defiance of omens, Mr. Marmaduke Meredith was in the very best of good-humour and whistled softly to himself at his writing, like one with whom the world goes smoothly.

After dinner, over his fourth glass of sound old port, finding Clive shy and distrait and more or less ashamed of himself, his good uncle kindly approached the delicate subject of the marriage of his own accord.

"I am anxious only for your happiness, my dear Clive," he said, in the most approved heavy-father stage style. (He had a great taste and talent for theatricals.) "But you are very young. Are you sure of your own heart? Are you quite certain your happiness will be secured by this alliance?"

Of course Clive was desperately, fervently, vehemently certain.

"Then I shall be no bar," said his uncle grandly; "you shall have my consent without the asking."

Clive started from his chair in a quiver of delight. "I cannot tell you, uncle," he cried, with simple sincerity, "how grateful I am. I shall take care you do not suffer from your generosity."

But his uncle only put aside his nephew's protestations and promises. "I need no reward," he said, "but the approval of my own conscience and the feeling that I have made two young people happy without any weary waiting for their happiness. People think I have been improvident, Clive, but they are mistaken. I have, thanks to your poor father, for many years enjoyed a handsome income, and I have put by enough to keep me in comfort, if not in luxury, for the poor remainder of my days. But it is not of myself that I want to speak. Life is for the young, and may your life, Clive, be full of all happiness."

He paused for a moment, apparently overcome by his emotion, and Clive sat silent, deeply impressed.

Presently Mr. Marmaduke Meredith recovered himself a little. "When a good thing is to be done, it cannot be done too soon," he said softly. "Drink your wine, my boy, and come with me to my study."

He unlocked the American desk, spread out a sheet of foolscap before him and clipped a gold pen in the little round brown delph bottle of ink. The bottle was fuller than he expected, and a big drop plopped upon the foolscap. Mr. Meredith tore the blotted paper into small bits, threw the fragments into the waste-paper basket, and took another sheet.

In a fine large flowing hand he wrote his consent to Clive's marriage, dated and signed it with a flourish.


Illustration

In a fine large flowing hand he
wrote his consent to Clive's marriage.


"Will that do?" he asked, as he handed Clive the paper.

"How can I thank you, uncle?"

"Don't try."

"Mamie will be so surprised and delighted. I knew I was right all along, but she thought——"

He broke off embarrassed, not wishing to tell his uncle that Mamie regarded him as a "crocodile hypocrite."

His uncle eyed him keenly for a moment, then smiled kindly, taking pity on his embarrassment. "Poor little Mamie!" he said, in his gentlest way, "I suppose she thinks me a wicked monster; a Babe-in-the-Wood kind of uncle. Well, Clive, we must not blame her. She doesn't know me as you do, and she's very young and believes in fairy-tale monsters. We will give her a little lesson though, if you don't mind."

He took the signed paper from his nephew's hand, folded it up and put it into an envelope which he carefully sealed with a big red seal.

"I want to teach her to trust us," he explained. "Do you mind promising me, Clive, that you won't show her the consent—that you won't even open this envelope till after your marriage? You can bring it to the church and open it in the vestry if you like. But mind, I make no conditions. You have my consent anyhow."

"Of course, uncle, I'll do what you wish," Clive answered gratefully. "Mamie will take my word for anything, or"—after a significant pause—"yours either for that matter."

But Mamie was not satisfied when she heard the whole story, and was allowed to look with eyes vainly inquisitive at the outside only of the sealed envelope. "I trust you of course, dear, but I don't trust him. He's too sweet to be wholesome. I'm sure he means to cheat you."

Then Clive petted and kissed and coaxed her, and she meekly agreed with him in everything, and, woman-like, had her own way in the long run.

For a second time Mr. Beck was appointed umpire, and they went straight to his house.

Mamie was just opening a voluble address for the plaintiff in the case, when Mr. Beck put up his big hand to stop her.

"I think I can guess what has happened," he said to Clive. "Your uncle has signed the consent?"

Clive nodded.

"Perhaps he volunteered to sign it?"

"How did you guess that?"

"Never mind. I have guessed more than that in my time. After signing it he put it in an envelope, sealed it and made you promise you would not open it until after your marriage."

Clive was too surprised to answer.

"There, I told you so," cried Mamie. "Mr. Beck has guessed the trick at the first guess. Of course he changed the paper you saw him sign for a blank sheet."

Clive's face darkened. "Nonsense, Mamie," he began. "I'm quite sure I saw——"

Then Mr. Beck quietly interposed. "It's all right, Mr. Meredith," he said, "you can get married just as soon as you like."

"I'll get the license to-morrow," cried Clive delightedly, and Mamie the Wilful submitted without a word.


IT was to be a very quiet wedding, for neither of them wanted to make a society show of their happiness. They were to start almost straight from the church door for Rome and spend Christmas there. This was the suggestion of Mr. Marmaduke Meredith, who, though he kept a good deal in the background, proved himself most kind and considerate, and was as deeply interested—so he told Clive—in the young people's happiness as if it were his own. Even Mamie was softened by his persistent kindness.

The 10th of December was the happy day. The marriage morning was unclouded as the lovers' joy; the sky clear, the sun bright, and a keen, exhilarating snap of frost in the air that made the blood tingle with intense vitality. The little church was brightly lit and gaily decorated with holly, and the best man was well up to time in orthodox wedding garments, with hand nervously fingering his waistcoat pocket to make sure the wedding-ring was safe. Miss Flossy Burton, the ten-year-old bridesmaid, looked bewitching in a white satin dress and big blue scarf and long golden ringlets down her back, and treated the good-natured best man with such demure disdain that he was tempted to catch her up and kiss her, even in the church. Away in a corner the bride's mother was crying softly for her lost daughter, her grief tempered by admiration for her new son, and beside her was the bride's bachelor uncle ready to give away formally the treasure that did not belong to him. Yonder, under the shadow of a pillar knelt Mr. Beck, on whose presence at the ceremony Mamie had imperiously insisted. Bride and bridegroom were both popular, and the body of the church was filled with spectators, mostly young people of both sexes, for whom the ceremony has the same mysterious attraction that the candle has for the moth.

The vivacious Mamie was very quiet now, her fair face was pale under the wreath of orange blossoms and diaphanous white veil, and her sweet lips quivered a little. But joyous triumph was enthroned on her lover's face.

Never did a handsomer couple kneel together before an altar rail.


"And every woman wished her place,
And every man wished his."


TEN o'clock, the hour appointed, came and passed, then minute after minute went slowly by: still one guest was missing, Mr. Marmaduke Meredith, who had faithfully promised Clive to attend, had not yet put in an appearance.

Clive grew impatient, then as the minutes dragged on a feeling of something like dismay stole over him. But he was comforted by the feeling of the precious envelope safe in the breast pocket of his frock-coat.

He whispered a word or two to the best man who knelt beside him, and who got up quietly and slipped away to the vestry. Presently the vicar came out, white stoled, on the altar steps, and the wedding service began. Clive's responses were clear and firm, as befits a man; Mamie's low and sweet, as befits a woman. So the mystery was accomplished that bound two lives together in soul and body. The maid Mamie Coyle vanished from the world, and the bride Mamie Meredith put a timid, confiding little hand on her husband's arm as they walked together to the vestry where the first kiss of wedded love sanctified the contract.

The place was in a quiver of pleasurable excitement, and high over all the little bridesmaid, in the rumpling arms of the best man, was protesting shrilly against the indignity of being hugged.

Mamie Meredith, with trembling hand, has just written the first half of her new name in the register, when the tramp and whirl of a carriage driven furiously thundered to the door, and Mr. Marmaduke Meredith, big, red, impetuous, burst upon the company and gazed round him from face to face in angry amazement.


Illustration

Mr. Marmaduke Meredith, big, red, impetuous, burst upon the company.


"My God! I'm too late after all!" he shouted.

Mamie fell back in open-eyed dismay at the sight of him, but his nephew came forward smiling, with outstretched hand. "Not too late to give us your blessing, uncle," he said. "We waited for you till the last moment."

His uncle stared at him like one dumfoundered.

"Don't dare to speak to me, sir!" he cried at last. "What is the meaning of this disgraceful proceeding?"

"Disgraceful proceeding! My marriage! Why, you know you gave your consent to it."

"It's a lie," shouted Mr. Meredith more furiously than ever, losing all control of his temper. "A pretty story, truly, that I would marry my nephew to a baby and a pauper."

The hot young blood flushed to Clive's face and his fingers clenched instinctively, but Mr. Beck—who had crept quietly close to him—laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"Keep cool," he whispered. "The paper."

Clive heard, and plucked the sealed envelope from his pocket.

"I have your consent here," he cried, "your written consent under your own hand. See!" he cried to the astonished guests who crowded round them, "this will show who's the liar."

He tore open the envelope, and held up, that all might see, a sheet of foolscap paper—quite blank.

Mr. Marmaduke Meredith laughed out a harsh, jeering laugh. "Is there any more foolery to be gone through?" he asked scornfully.

"Hold the paper to the fire," whispered Mr. Beck in Clive's ear.

The clear, sharp tone of command was in the whisper.

Stunned and bewildered, Clive mechanically obeyed.

Then slowly, in sight of them all, the words came out on the paper in the large, clear handwriting of Mr. Marmaduke Meredith:—


I hereby give my full and free consent to the marriage of my nephew, Clive Worthington Meredith, to Miss Mamie Coyle.

(Signed) Marmaduke Meredith.

21st November, 1893.


A big final flourish flowed from the last letter of his name. Mr. Meredith's heavy mouth fell asunder, and his face grew yellow and mottled like a half-ripe strawberry.

For a moment in his amazement he struggled in vain for words.

Then he broke out. "What d——n trickery is this?" and made a sudden dash for the paper.

But Mr. Beck's big hand was on his breast like an iron bar.

"Quietly, my dear sir," he said, in his very gentlest tones. "Keep as cool as you can, Mr. Meredith. You have played your little game for a big stake—and lost it. You had a strong hand, but we went one better. I had heard before this of vanishing ink, and maybe you have heard of invisible ink, Mr. Meredith. They make a good blend, and I took the liberty of mixing them in the little brown delph ink-bottle when I was doing a plumber's job in your study about three weeks ago; that's all."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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