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First published in The Novel Magazine, #109, Apr 1914

Collected in Paul Beck, Detective, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-14

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"Paul Beck—Detective,"
Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929, with "The Dead Hand"



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.

"AN invitation to a wedding, Paul," said Dora, tossing a small envelope to her husband across the breakfast-table.

The letter was addressed in what may be called an impulsive feminine handwriting, carelessly blotted.

"May I read it?"

"Certainly; you are asked, too."

"'My very dearest Dora'"—the letter ran—"'I want your congratulations. I am going to be married, and put all that wretched business out of my life. You know that he's dead—the other, I mean—for more than a year, so that's all right——'

"That's all right, is it?" said Beck.

"'Charlie is the dearest fellow in the world. He is private secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Just fancy, he is only twenty-six, and they say he will be put into Parliament next year! His name is Howard—isn't it a beautiful name? I told him everything, everything!'

"There seems to have been a lot to tell," murmured Beck.

"'And he is satisfied. He says it wasn't my fault; but, of course, I know it was, and only for you it would have been ruin, disgrace, and misery, and everything. So you must come to the wedding, dear, and bring your husband. It will be in a month's time. I hear that he is most awfully clever and I am longing to meet him. Come as soon as you can. Aunt joins with me in promising to make you comfortable. Come at once. Your loving Lottie.'

"'P.S.—I'm the happiest girl alive.'

"We'll go, of course?" said Dora.

"Well, we have a few days to think it over. We are very cosy where we are. When did the young lady and you become such pals, Dora?"

"About two years ago. You must know to begin that Miss Lottie is a double-barrelled orphan—father and mother both dead—and she is a very considerable heiress. She lives with a stout, good-natured aunt of hers, Miss Susan Graham, at a beautiful old place, Ashburtham Hall, in an out-of-the-way corner of Devonshire.

"About two years ago, Miss Lottie was just back in London from the swell school near Paris where she had finished off her education. She was chock-full of romance at the time, read love poetry by the mile, and was on the look-out for a romantic hero to give her gushing heart to. She found him quick enough."

"Ah!" said Beck.

"Did I tell you that her aunt was a dear, stout, easygoing person, as fit to have care of Miss Lottie as a dormouse to mother a lively kitten? They were staying together in the Savoy, and every other day Miss Lottie went out shopping on her own account, with her bright eyes on the alert for a hero of romance.

"One fine morning he picked her up from under the wheels of a taxi as she stumbled across the Strand. A handsome man he was, with dark eyes and hair and a dark curly beard, here and there a silver hair among the black, with a deep melancholy voice. She fell in love with him on the spot; remember, she was only waiting for the opportunity.

"Before they parted she gave him an appointment for the next day. He was so eager, and at the same time so respectful, that she found it impossible to refuse. There was a mystery about him and a melancholy that were wholly irresistible.

"Don't yawn like that, Paul, it's not polite. I'm coming to the end of the romance. The ingenious hero, Lawrence Colthurst, laid his nets with consummate skill; the infatuated girl was completely entangled. She walked with him, lunched with him, dined with him. They went to the theatre together, when her aunt, good, easy-going woman, believed her charge, like herself, comfortably in bed. The climax was inevitable. One fine morning the hero of romance and the silly schoolgirl were married, first before a registrar and afterwards at the Catholic church in Maiden Lane. Lottie was of an old Catholic family; Lawrence, it seems, was also a Catholic. He would have been a Buddhist if the exigencies of the situation so required. So the reckless and penniless adventurer was married hard and fast to a pretty heiress with an income of ten thousand a year. But his success came too late. The game he played was already lost. Charlotte, in the usual style of romance, left a note on the dressing-table addressed to her aunt to say that she had given her heart to the best and dearest of men, and that they were off to Paris on their honeymoon.

"But on the platform of the Waterloo Railway Station just as the bridegroom was stepping into a reserved first class carriage—he was arrested on a charge of forgery.

"You can imagine, Paul, the condition of the poor, silly little girl at the rude awakening from her romantic dream."

Beck grunted his sympathy.

"This is just where I come in. I had taken a humble part in the landing of Mr. Lawrence, I was on the spot when the arrest was made, and I pitied the frightened, horrified girl from the bottom of my heart.

"By hook or crook I contrived to keep her name out of the scandal that followed. She drove straight back to the Savoy, found that her aunt was not yet out of her room—she always breakfasted in bed—and that the note was undisturbed on the dressing-table. Lottie captured and burnt it, and everything went on just as before.

"Lawrence must have had a clever friend and accomplice. He was defended with devilish ingenuity, and got two years for an exceedingly ingenious forgery. He might have got off altogether, but he insisted on being examined himself and gave himself away in his own evidence. Somehow he never struck me as clever. I always thought he must have had someone at his back both at the forgery and at the courtship, but I was never able to make sure. Anyhow, Lottie's flame was suddenly and completely extinguished.

"As the slow months went by in her quiet home in Devonshire, the reckless marriage must have appeared at last as a bad dream.

"When he was released from prison eighteen months later, he at once wrote to her for money, which she sent—fifty pounds I think it was. Two months later she was startled by the news of his death in a railway accident in San Francisco. There could be no doubt about it, not merely his name and description given, but his portrait, a very good portrait at that. He was identified by his mother and sister. A bundle of papers were sent to Lottie which left no doubt on her mind."

"I suppose so," interrupted Beck suddenly. "Who sent them?"

Dora laughed.

"I knew you would ask that question; I was waiting for it. A lawyer named Fergusson sent them. Lottie's name had been mentioned by the mother at the inquest as her son's wife. The lawyer wanted to know if he could act for her in the recovery of her share of her husband's property. She never answered the letter, and she heard no more about it."

"It's curious," grumbled Paul.

"Don't croak, dear. It's some months ago now; if the man were alive he'd have written for more money."

"He might wait," Paul began, but Dora clapped her hand to his mouth.

"I won't hear another word. Are we going to the wedding or not? Yes or no; nod your head if it's yes."

He nodded his head, and she took her hand away from his lips to make room for a kiss.

"If we are there the day before the wedding it will be quite time enough," Dora said.

But next morning she changed her mind. On the top of the pile of letters on the breakfast table was another envelope addressed in the impulsive hand of Lottie Graham, and Dora gave a little cry of dismay as she read it.

"Oh, Paul," she exclaimed, "you are a raven, a prophet of evil! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, but you are quite right as usual."

"Right about what, my dear?" asked Paul, looking at her over the rim of his tea-cup.

"About poor Lottie. It was all a trick about her husband's death. He was lying low waiting for his chance. After he saw the announcement of her marriage in the Morning Post he wrote to her demanding ten thousand pounds as the price of his silence. Shall I read what the poor thing writes to me? She is simply incoherent with terror.

"'Darling Dora—It is too terrible for words! He is alive, he has never been dead at all, he wrote to me to-day to tell me so. He just pretended to be dead to tempt me to get married, and when he saw the announcement of my engagement he wrote. It was horribly cruel. Now he wants ten thousand to release me, he says. But he cannot, Dora, darling, can he? It would be bigamy, wouldn't it? Oh, Dora, do come to me at once and bring your clever husband, I'm in terrible trouble.—Lottie.

"'He's coming to see me.'"

Beck had a Bradshaw in his hand when Dora looked up from the letter.

"We must go to London to-night," he said quietly. "There is only one service on the little local line that runs to her place, and we must start from London early to-morrow morning to catch it."

"Do you think there is any way out of it, Paul?" his wife asked with a sob in her voice. "She is such an innocent little darling."

"It looks very black, my pet. But everything looks black in the dark. We must wait for more light before we can be sure."

They caught their train in the early morning, and it was past noon when they changed at an out-of-the-way station that was little more than a cottage and a flower garden.

"Going to Ashburtham, maybe?" said the grey-bearded station-master, in the voice of a man who likes gossip and has plenty of time for it.

Beck also liked gossip.

"Yes," he said. "We are going to Ashburtham. Many visitors there?"

"Not many," said the station-master, graciously accepting a cigar from the good-humoured traveller, and smoking it rapturously as they walked together up and down the short platform while Dora sat resignedly on her trunk.

"Yesterday, for example?"

"Yesterday there was none."

"Lottie's visitors have not yet arrived," thought Beck.

"That's a point in the game."

"You see, sir," the station-master went on apologetically, "it's a slow train, and them that have motors use them. It's not thirty miles in all, and it takes the old engine an hour and a half for the journey with only one stop, never less, but often more. She's not particular when she starts, neither. When she comes in she goes out. That's all. She should be here pretty soon now."

Even as he spoke a faint white blotch showed low down in the clear blue sky, which grew as they gazed till at last, round a bend at the end of the strong sharp vista of the rails, an engine showed, and presently came puffing and snorting with manifest effort up to the narrow platform, dragging a short train of two or three carriages.

A porter almost as old as the station-master got their luggage into the van, Beck himself lending a hand, while the old engine strolled off to take water, and then got turned and was hitched on at the other end for the return journey.

There was only one first-class carriage at the very end of the train, with windows at each side and one at the back. Beck and Dora were comfortably seated, and the engine was just snorting into motion, when a dog-cart drove furiously up to the station. Two men jumped out, ran up the platform, passed the window of the last carriage, and tumbled through the door of the next.

"I guess one of those was your man, Dora," Beck said, as the train steamed out of the station. "A tall, dark, handsome fellow, any young girl's fancy."

"And the other?" Dora asked.

"I only saw one," said Beck, "the man nearest the carriage."

The train rolled leisurely through a lovely country of deep grass and broad hedge-rows full of fluttering birds, with sunshine over all, and their dismal errand was half-forgotten in the tranquil beauty of the scene. Dora's hand slid into Beck's strong paw, and she nestled closer beside him.

"It makes me sad, Paul," she whispered. "It makes me think of one little child that I had almost forgotten playing in fields with high hedgerows full of singing birds."

The big paw tightened tenderly on the little hand in his clasp.

"Little girls grow up, Dora," he said, "and become happy wives and——By Jove! what's that?"

From a corner of his eye he caught a glimpse through the back window of a long straight stretch of rails, and on the end of the stretch was an engine on the same line as they were, swiftly closing in on them.

Beck plucked a field-glass from his small travelling bag, and got it on to the engine. Dora stood beside him, her hand tightly on his shoulder.

"She is going two miles for our one; at this rate she will overhaul us in less than ten minutes. What the blazes do they mean by it?"

His face was pale as he turned to her.

"What is it, Paul?" she asked, smiling at him. "Don't be afraid for me, I can stand a lot. What is it?"

"I can see no men on the engine; I'm afraid it is a runaway that got through from the main line."

"What's to be done?"

"If I can get the engine-driver to hear we might have time to pull up and get out. The train is bound to go smash, anyway."

He got his head out of a side window and shouted with all the force of his mighty lungs: "Stop the engine!" A strong wind was behind the train and she was travelling in an almost perfect calm, so his voice caught the ear of the stoker, who leant idly over the rail of the engine. The train at the moment swerved round a sharp curve, and, from the foot-plate, driver and stoker could see the pursuing engine.

But both men lost their heads. The sound of Beck's voice had reached them, but not his words. Instead of stopping they clapped on all steam, the whistle shrieked, and the poor old engine bumped and jolted along the line.

Beck, after one more unavailing effort to make himself heard, opened the door of his carriage and slipped out on the swaying footboard, gripping the handle of the door with his left hand.

"Come, my dear," he said to Dora.

"One second, Paul." She picked up their two travelling bags and flung them past him through the open door. "My jewels," she explained as she slipped out on the rocking ledge.

"Catch hold," he said, "both hands. You can let go when you like."

She gripped with both hands tight round his right wrist and he swung her clear of the footboard, leaning forward with his left hand still holding fast to the door handle. The ground beside the rails was thick grass and very level. Her feet just touched the grass at first, and she was pulled forward with the train, twenty feet at a stride.

Presently she felt the ground under her, and as she sprang forward she let go Beck's supporting hand, rolled over twice on the soft grass, and jumped to her feet unhurt, her eyes fixed on her husband who crouched low on the footboard. Only for a second. Even as she looked he leapt; every muscle loose he fell in a limp heap on the grass, took three complete somersaults, and came to with a jerk, tearing the grass up by the roots with both hands.

"Hurt, Paul?" panted his wife, racing to his side.

"Twisted my ankle a bit, but it's nothing. Just look at those poor devils."

The two passengers in the front carriage had plainly caught the alarm. They stood shivering on the footboard, afraid to jump, afraid to stay, while the engine behind came thundering closer and closer.

"Jump, jump for your lives!" Beck yelled frantically, though they were too far away to hear. The engine was scarcely fifty yards off when, fear giving courage, they jumped. The first got clear away, rolled like a ball down a slight slope, and lay still for a moment. But the second stumbled, his foot seemed to catch, and he fell under the wheels.

"Oh!" cried Dora, and hid her face with her hands. She did not see the pursuing engine catch up on its shrieking prey, but she heard the crash as it burst into the carriage they had just left, smashing it to matchwood, hurled the whole train clear of the line, and went bash on top of it.

Dora ran forward. The traveller who had leapt first had escaped unhurt, the roll down the slope mitigating his fall, and he had drawn his wretched comrade clear of the rails into the soft grass. He was bending over the body as she came running up, but he turned and straightened himself at the sound of her footsteps.

"Keep back," he cried harshly, with a pushing motion of both hands. "This is no sight for a woman."

"Can nothing be done?" questioned Paul, who came limping up behind his wife.

"Nothing," the other retorted in the same harsh voice. "His face is stove in, his right hand is almost cut off at the wrist; he was killed on the spot."

Beck in his turn bent over the body, a ghastly object lying prone on the lush grass under the shade of a great hawthorn that exhaled its perfume to the sunshine. The head and face were crushed out of all semblance of humanity. The right hand hung limp from the wrist by a single tendon. There were no injuries to the body. It was a fine figure of a man dressed in a dark tweed. His comrade looked down on the corpse with a strange expression on his dark, handsome face.

"A friend of yours?" Beck asked. "A relative, perhaps?" for the similarity in the figures of the two men struck him.

"No," the other answered slowly, all the harshness gone out of his voice. "We came to the station together, we travelled in the same carriage, but I never saw him before."

In the smooth melancholy voice, in the dark, handsome face, and the curly black hair streaked with grey, Dora thought she recognised poor Lottie's romantic lover and discreditable husband.

Almost by a miracle the engine of the train had escaped and with it the driver and stoker, shaken and frightened, but unhurt. The coupling had snapped like a rotten thread with the impact, but the engine had kept the line, and the driver now backed it slowly as close as he could get to the group on the grass.

"A bad job, sir," he said, touching his cap to Beck, "but no fault of mine as I'm sure you'll bear witness." He was a big, middle-aged man with a kindly, good-natured face which darkened visibly as he gazed on the ghastly object that lay so still under the white bloom of the hawthorn. "Poor chap," he muttered hoarsely. "He got it pretty bad, didn't he?"

There was silence for a moment in the little group round the corpse. Through the still, sunshiny air a cuckoo boomed startlingly from a thicket close by, and the spell was broken. It was the dark man who spoke first:

"We cannot leave him here," he said.

Without answering, Beck bent over the body and examined the pockets. There was a gold watch, flashy and cheap, in the waistcoat pocket; a sovereign and some loose silver in the trousers; no purse, no card-case, no papers, nothing to hint at identification.

"The engine all right?" Beck asked the driver as he straightened himself. "Can she take the body on to the village?"

"She came back all right, sir, near a quarter of a mile; she ought to be able to go forward.

"Lend a hand, then," Beck said to the stranger as he took the limp body under the arms. "We will get your poor friend in first."

"He was no friend of mine," the other retorted almost testily. "I told you I only met him for the first time an hour ago when we drove to the station together."

"I beg your pardon, I forgot," Beck apologised, without appearing to notice the other's irritation. "Well, it doesn't really matter, does it?"

Beck and the stranger pushing from below, the driver and the stoker pulling from above, they hoisted the body on to the tender. At the last moment Dora remembered the bags she had thrown from the window and ran back for them. Then the engine with its burden of living and dead steamed slowly into the sleepy village, to wake it up to wild excitement.

Even on their short journey together on the engine Beck had got on friendly terms with their new acquaintance. No one could resist his kindly geniality when he laid himself out to please.

"My wife and I," he confided "are going to pay a visit to an old friend of hers who is going to be married."

"Miss Graham?" answered the other, showing a gleam of white teeth under his dark moustache as he smiled. "That's rather curious, isn't it? I am visiting the same young lady myself on important business."

"Will you come on with us in the motor that's waiting for us?" Beck asked when they crossed the platform where a crowd was already gathering, alarmed at the lateness of the train.

The other paused, as if weighing the proposal.

"No," he decided at last. "I will put up at the village for a day or two until the inquest is over. I suppose there must be an inquest?"

"Can I deliver any message?"

Again the other smiled.

"No thanks. What I have to say is for Miss Graham's ear alone."

"It's him!" Dora whispered, regardless of grammar, as the humming motor slid away from the station.

"If 'him' means a man who is trying to blackmail your friend," retorted her husband, drawing her closer to him on the deep-cushioned seat, "I am afraid you are right, my dear."

"It means her husband, stupid!" said Dora. "Poor, poor Lottie! I wish the husband had been killed in the accident instead of the other man. Don't look at me like that—I do!"

"I am looking at you in admiration," said Beck. "So you wish the wretched husband had been killed?"

"Wretched, indeed! I could have slapped his handsome, wicked face the way he smiled when Lottie's name was mentioned. Oh, Paul, is there no way out of this cruel business?"

"We must take our time. I want to see the young lady first, and her intended."

"I don't see what that has to do with it."

"Nor I, at present," agreed Beck, good-humouredly, and there was silence while the car sped over smooth roads bordered with hawthorn.

About three miles or so from the village, they turned through a double gate into an avenue of noble lime trees, and through the green vista they had glimpses now and again of the great mellow, red-brick building.

Down the broad stone steps Lottie ran to meet and welcome them, and clasped Dora in her arms as she stepped out of the motor. When she turned, flushed and excited, her blue eyes shining, her soft brown hair disordered, Beck, who was a connoisseur in such matters, thought he had seldom seen a prettier girl.

"Your husband?" she said to Dora, and gave him her hand. "Dora has told you what trouble I am in?" she added, with a tremulous smile and pleading eyes. "You will help me, won't you?"

"If I can," said Beck.

His voice, his face, the firm grip of his hand, seemed to give her confidence. She turned again to Dora with a hurried whisper:

"He is here!" she confided, and Dora did not need to be told who he was.

A young, good-looking man was standing beside Miss Susan Graham in the marble-paved hall, and at first sight Beck took a dislike to him. He was so particularly natty in his dress, so punctilious in his manner, so manifestly the budding statesman on his best behaviour. That was the first impression. After five minutes' talk it yielded to one wholly opposite. The young man was intensely shy, and his apparent self-sufficiency was the mere mask of a diffident boy.

Moreover, he was desperately, overwhelmingly in love with his sweetheart, who had told him the whole story down to the last blackmailing letter, and he was longing to consult with the famous Beck.

"What's to be done, sir?" he asked when they two were alone with the wine and cigars in the dining-room.

"Whatever happens I won't give her up; I'll marry her if I'm had up for bigamy next morning. I don't care what money she gives this cursed blackguard, I'll make a position and income for us both. Couldn't we go to America and get a divorce or something? There must be some way out of this wretched business."

"Easy does it," said Beck, helping himself to port. "We must wait a bit."

"How long?"

"Not very long. In a couple of days, I fancy, she will have a letter from the cursed blackguard asking for an appointment. He was with us in the train, or I'm greatly mistaken, and escaped by the skin of his teeth when the chap who was with him was smashed up."

"I wish he was smashed up. I'd like to strangle him with my own hands."

"That's what Dora says. You are a bloodthirsty pair. Keep your spirits up; we may find a way out this side of murder."

The inquest was held the next day. There was nothing in the least bit sensational in the evidence. The engine, with full steam up, was waiting to take a special along the main line. Nobody knew how it got started down the branch to Ashburtham, or if anybody knew nobody told. Beck's and Dora's evidence was very brief, and the other traveller, who appeared in court with his right wrist bandaged, and gave his name as Sydney Mortimer, had little to add.

"I overtook the deceased," he said, "as I was driving in a hired dogcart to the station, and he called out to me for a lift. He had no luggage and seemed in a desperate hurry to catch the train. I did not ask his business nor did he tell it. I never saw the man before that day. He was a perfect stranger to me." In reply to the coroner: "I have not the faintest idea of his identity."

The doctor, a bright, intelligent young fellow, deposed to the cause of death, giving several long names to a smashed head, and the jury found a verdict of accidental death to some person unknown.

After the inquest Beck contrived to buttonhole the doctor in a quiet corner, and whispered a request.

"But, my dear sir," the doctor protested, "it would be most irregular."

"Can it do the least harm to anyone? And it may be of the most vital service to Miss Graham."

"I must confess that I don't in the least see how, but I am willing to take your word for that. I have a very sincere regard for Miss Graham."

"Prove it," retorted Beck. "It is a very queer thing I ask, but there is nothing wrong about it."

"Well," said the doctor after a pause, "I'll take your word that it's all right, Mr. Beck, though to my eyes it seems—well, silly."

"You can't see through my eyes," conceded Beck; "you are not standing in the same place. I may be very wrong, of course, but right or wrong it is a sure way to make things clear. You will tie on a little identification label, won't you?"

"Oh, I'll put it through all right, if I say I'll do it," said the doctor. "But I may tell you I don't like the job," and he turned away abruptly, while Beck went out to the only chemist's shop in the village and procured a small wooden box and a quantity of cotton wadding.

That afternoon, just before lunch, Beck got a very queer-shaped parcel, a bottle-shaped parcel tied with white paper and white twine, and dabbed here and there with red sealing-wax. Straight to his bed-room he went with it, broke the seals, untied the twine, and undid the thick white paper, and disclosed a glass jar tightly corked and sealed and full of spirits of wine, with a man's hand neatly severed at the wrist showing large and white through the spirits.

Very carefully he packed the jar in his wooden box with the cotton wadding, parcelled it up with brown paper over the white, and directed it to Scotland Yard with a separate letter to the chief. Parcel and letter he bore at once in the motor to the village, posted and registered them himself, and was back a little late for lunch in a particularly good humour.

Next morning poor Lottie had her dreaded message from the blackmailer.

"Dear Charlotte," he wrote:

"It is about time we should come to some arrangement. I have no wish to reclaim you or to interfere in any way with your liberty, but at the same time I am sure you will acknowledge that I am entitled to something in return. My only desire is to lead an honest life for the future, but this is impossible without some assistance from my wife, as I am in the last stages of poverty.

"If you agree to my terms your secret is safe with me. I will start for Australia by the next boat and never trouble you again. This business is best conducted in a private, personal interview. I am staying at the 'Red Ram,' and if you send me a line here to make an appointment, I will call on you any day or hour that may suit your convenience.

"Your unfortunate husband,

"Lawrence Colthurst.

"P.S.—I have hurt my right hand badly; this is written with my left."

The address and the letter were written in a curious cramped hand, quite unlike the first she had received from her husband. Lottie showed it to Dora and she in turn showed it to her husband, and the three held a council of war in the girl's boudoir. Howard was excluded.

"He is too excitable," Miss Lottie explained; "he would be breaking out in all directions and give us no chance to talk things over quietly."

Poor girl! She was herself on the verge of hysterics, her blue eyes were full of tears, her voice was trembling with terror.

"What am I to do? What am I to do?" she repeated distractedly. "I will pay him anything he likes if he will go away for ever!"

"That won't work," said Beck, putting down the letter after carefully scrutinising it through a magnifying glass, "you could never trust a man of that kind. Besides, bigamy is not a nice thing to get mixed up with—it would put you completely in his power."

"I don't care, I'd risk it," she cried desperately.

"What about Mr. Howard?" asked Beck. "He'd risk it, too, I dare say, but it would be a bit awkward for him if it were found out."

"Well, Paul, what do you suggest?" asked his wife a little impatiently. "I hope you have some plan of your own?"

"In the first place, Miss Graham must see the man. We must make quite sure he is the real Simon Pure."

"There isn't much doubt about that," wailed Lottie. "How could he have known if he wasn't?"

Dora sat silent as if some new thought had struck her.

"My dear Miss Graham," said Beck, "so long as there is the faintest possibility of a doubt we must take advantage of it. The letter is not in his usual handwriting."

"He has hurt his right hand. Didn't you read the postscript?"

"Oh, I read the postscript, but the fact remains, whether the explanation of the fact is true or not. You must send him a line to say you will see him to-morrow morning, and I should like very much to be present at the interview."

"He mightn't consent to that," suggested the girl. "You see he has marked the letter 'Private.'"

"I don't want him to consent; I don't want him to know I am here, he would be more on his guard. You can have a curtain rigged up on brass rods in front of the door. I have seen several of them about the house."

"He might want the door locked," she objected.

"That's what I want, too; leave the key in the lock."

"But how could you——"

"Don't trouble about that, my dear," interrupted Dora.

"If we may consider that settled, Miss Graham," Beck went on placidly, "I would like to coach you a little about what you are to say to him. In the first place you must pretend at least to doubt that he is your husband, no matter how sure you may be, and put him through his facings to prove it. Next you are to be desperately frightened."

"There won't be much trouble about that," she said, with a queer, crooked smile that was more pitiful than tears. "I shall be frightened—frightened to death."

"Let him see it. Give in to everything he suggests, half promise everything he asks for, but at the last moment you must consult your solicitor, that's me. Say if he brings the agreement in a day or so your solicitor will see it's all right before the money is paid. Mind you stick to that whatever arguments or threats he may use to shake you. Let me see, this is Friday; tell him to bring the agreement back on Tuesday."

At twelve o'clock next day, the precise moment mentioned in the letter, a fly drove up to the front door of Ashburtham Hall. A man got out, well-dressed and good-looking, presented his card for Miss Graham, and was shown up at once to her boudoir.

Beck's anticipation was quite right. The man's first act after he passed the threshold was to lock the door on the inside. He then turned with an outstretched hand to the young girl, who stood facing him in the centre of the room.

"Best be sure that we shall be quite private," he said, with an ingratiating smile, "servants are such spies and babblers. Won't you shake hands, Lottie?" for she stood with her hands clasped tight behind her back.

The smile died out of his face as she looked at him straight in the eyes and motioned him to a seat. There was contempt in her glance, contempt in her gesture that stung even through that thick hide.

"As you please," he muttered sulkily. "Then this is to be a purely business transaction?"

She nodded.

"You know what I've come for?"

"In quest of blackmail."

Women are wonderful. Before she came into the room she was paralysed with nervousness; now his very presence, the need for speech and action, gave her courage. She flung the taunt at him with splendid contempt.

"I come," he said doggedly, "as your husband to demand an allowance which you have got to pay."

"Not a penny," she cried. "Not a penny; you have no claim on me. You are an impostor; you are not the Lawrence Colthurst I knew."

There was conviction in her voice. If she believed him to be her husband her acting was superb. But it did not move him in the least.

"It's no use, my dear," he said jeeringly. "I rather expected you would try to play that card, but it is no use. I have got all the proofs here. My baptismal certificate, my marriage certificate." He took out a brown leather letter-case and tapped his knee with it carelessly. "I will let you read them if you promise you won't tear them up."

"You are like him, but you are not him; you are much older than he was."

"I am some years older. A couple of years may change a man a lot, especially such years as I have gone through. But you know I am your husband, there is no use pretending. Do you remember our first kiss in the Green Park, the third day after we knew each other, when you told me I was your ideal? Do you remember I called you my Lotus Flower, and you said you loved the name? Do you remember the letters you wrote me, the verse you wrote me, they are all in this case."

"Oh, how could I ever have been such a fool!" moaned Lottie, overwhelmed by this accumulation of proof.

"That's not the question. You have a chance to be wise this time. Just a reasonable bit of money is all I ask. As your husband I am entitled to it. A sum that you will never miss, and you are quit of me for good and all. The past, so far as you and I are concerned, will be blotted out as completely as if it had never been."

"I would give everything I have in the world to be rid of you."

If she wasn't thoroughly frightened now, she seemed to be. Beck, watching and listening at the door through a slit in the curtain, silently applauded.

"I don't want everything you have in the world. I only want a small fraction of it. You can settle with me for ever with a cheque for ten thousand pounds, and you will never set eyes on me again."

"How can I be sure?"

"I will give you my word of honour."

"Your word of honour!"

Never was more contempt compressed into four words.

"Well, what do you want?" he broke out. "I will give you any security you choose. I will give you a written and signed engagement if you like."

"My solicitor must see it."

"What's the use of that? It only means bringing more people into the secret."

"He knows already and I can trust him. I'll do nothing without his advice. If you bring the written agreement on Tuesday next at this hour I'll have him here to look over it."

"And the money?"

"I'll have the money ready if he approves of the agreement."

On the following Tuesday Beck had a letter from London, and, when he had read it, he winked audaciously across the breakfast-table at his wife.

"A little surprise packet for somebody," he said, in high good humour.

At twelve o'clock sharp the fly drove again up to the door, and the occupant was promptly admitted. But this time Lottie did not receive him alone. A stout, middle-aged gentleman with a very shrewd pair of eyes was seated at a table, with some papers and letters in front of him.

"Mr. Beck," said Lottie very quietly, "will you allow me to introduce you to the person who calls himself Mr. Lawrence Colthurst—and my husband?"

"Sit down," said Beck, in much the same tone as a troublesome dog is told to lie down.

Mr. Colthurst had started when the name "Beck" was mentioned. It is possible he had heard that name before. With his eyes still on Beck's face he dropped into his chair beside the table.

"You have brought the agreement?" Beck asked in the same curt tone.

Mr. Colthurst took a paper out of his pocket.

"It is here," he answered. "I have made it as straight and as strong as I knew, but I'll change the terms if you choose. I think it is all right."

Without answering, Beck read the paper rapidly through.

"Well, is it all right?" asked the other.

"No," said Beck, with the snappiness of a pistol. "It's all wrong. It's a lie from beginning to end. Sit down, you fool, and keep quiet. I'm armed, and if I wasn't I could choke the life out of you with my two naked hands. I've a few words to say to you, and when I'm done you'll be glad if you are let sneak away like a whipped cur.

"You are not Lawrence Colthurst; you are his elder and meaner brother. You are no more this lady's husband than I am. You stole the papers from your brother's pocket when he was killed in the railway accident. You low-down dog, that's all you thought of with his mangled body lying at your feet. You and your brother were coming here together to blackmail this lady, and you thought you could go on with the job alone. I saw you were not strangers when you drove into the station together, and afterwards you were so touchy on the subject I was all the more certain you were lying. When I found the breast pocket of your brother's coat pulled inside out—you were in such a great hurry, you know—I guessed your little game. But I only guessed then. Since then I have made quite sure. The doctor amputated the hand of your dead brother and I sent it to Scotland Yard for identification by the finger marks. I had a letter this morning to say it was the hand of Lawrence Colthurst, who was arrested for forgery on May 17th, over two years ago, on the very day he married Miss Graham. Well, what have you to say for yourself now?"

He had nothing to say for himself. He sat silent on his chair while Beck pieced together this pitiless indictment, and was speechless when it came to a close.

"Get out," said Beck sharply, as if he were turning out a stray cur. "I could get you seven years for blackmailing, but I don't want Miss Graham's name published. You had best get clear, however, before I change my mind, for I am strongly tempted to give you a touch of what you deserve. Carry your precious agreement away with you; I'll take your word of honour you won't trouble this lady again."

Without a word the wretch slunk from the room.

Beck turned to where Lottie sat on the couch motionless, half-stunned by the sudden joy of her unexpected release. She caught his hand in both her own and held it tight.

"How can I ever thank you?" she began. Then her lips trembled and she could say no more.

"Don't cry, my dear," said Beck soothingly. "You really haven't time. I took the liberty of telling Mr. Howard that you would meet him in the garden in half-an-hour, to explain that you are quite free to marry when you choose, and I hope you won't make a liar of me. As your news is likely to take some time in telling, I am off for a walk round the grounds with Dora."

"All right, Paul?" Dora cried as they met in a shady walk where the sunbeams played hide and seek among the leaves, and, before he had time to speak a word, "I can see by your face it is all right. It was his brother, of course."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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