Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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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.
"WERE you ever a stamp collector, Paul?"
"Good gracious, no! What put such a notion into your head? I think it is about the silliest craze going. I don't mind children doing it before they come to the use of reason; but the full-grown—what do they call themselves?—who worry their souls about those little squares of inky paper are the silliest of God's creatures. Why did you ask me, Dora?"
"Because I have just discovered your stamp collection," replied his wife severely, holding out a little silver box about two inches square with the word "Stamps" enamelled on the lid. "It's not much of a collection; I expected to find a dozen blue Mauritius, worth a thousand pounds apiece, and I found those."
She tossed out contemptuously two ordinary penny stamps cut from their respective envelopes with a selvedge of white paper round the edges and the obliterating date-stamp of the post office black on their faces.
"Oh," said Mr. Beck, fingering them reminiscently, "I was wrong. I confess I did collect those two."
Having made this qualified confession to the charge of stamp collecting, he was slipping quietly out of the room with a trout rod in his hand and a fishing-basket over his shoulder, when his wife captured him.
"There's a story; you must tell it.'
"Some time," said Mr. Beck evasively, trying to wriggle from her grasp as ineffectually as a fish on the hook. "Don't be cruel, Dora; as you are strong, be merciful. Such a day for fly-fishing never came out of the heavens, the wind playing bo-peep behind those big white clouds and the south wind as soft as a baby's kiss. If I'm to catch the giant of the pool beside the big oak now's my chance."
"I'll go with you," she said.
"Now, that's really nice. We'll have a picnic by the riverside; you know, the little green cosy corner under the oak. And I say, Dora, let's have a real good lunch."
"And you'll tell me the story of the two stamps? Promise!"
"It's hardly worth telling, no blood or murder in it, mind you; if you are out for horrors you'll be disappointed, though love and jealousy—that I can promise you."
"The two stamps are part of the story?"
"Very much part of it—the whole of it, I might almost say. The life and happiness of four young people depended on those two penny stamps. But I dare say, Dora, fishing and talking are dry work; if I'm to catch my trout and tell my story you might slip a bottle of champagne in the lunch basket; we'll make a day of it."
Half-an-hour later saw them on the river in a light punt, Dora pulling gently, her husband trolling with a minnow over the side. He had a solitary bite and missed it before they reached the pool by the big oak, half a mile from the house.
The great tree grew close to the bank, but it leant back from the water over a stretch of mossy sod which it sprinkled with acorns in the season. But on this bright May day its leaves were still of the tender green of early spring, and its stretching boughs were alive with chirruping birds.
Beck fished in the shadow of the oak, which hid him from the eyes of the sophisticated trout. Dora set the lunch out enticingly on the green cloth, then from a mossy hummock at the foot of the big tree she watched her husband.
A small, light-coloured fly flew out of the shadow and dropped as light as thistledown on the dark swirl of the water twenty yards away, and went floating down the current, a bright point in the darkness.
By turns Dora read and watched, but the warm air, the monotonous swish-swish of the rod and the movement and dazzle of the water made her sleepy. Just as she opened her eyes from a doze she caught sight of a sharp snout breaking the surface of the stream, and the curved body of a big fish turn over with a plop in the water. The small, bright-coloured fly had vanished, and at the same time the angler gave a quick turn which drove the hook into the horn of the fish's snout.
The reel screamed and the line flew as the big trout raced up stream. There was no more dozing after that, while she watched the exciting struggle between the keen angler and the game fish.
Gently but firmly Beck kept the strain of the bent rod and taut line on the struggling fish, never relaxing for a moment till its strength was exhausted from the hopeless struggle. Then with his rod bent almost double he drew it slowly from mid-stream into the shallow water. A sudden plunge, a quick turn of the wrist, the sharp prong of the gaff pierced the gills, and he drew out his prize from the water, splashing, writhing, and gleaming like polished metal in the sunlight, a nine-pound trout, the veteran of the stream.
When the speckled beauty was lying safe on the grass, Beck put his rod aside, disdaining to cast fly for commonplace trout after his triumph, and climbed out of the punt on to the bank.
The lunch eaten, the wine half drunk, the big meerschaum lit, the blue smoke curling skywards through the leaves from between his teeth, Paul Beck leant his broad back against the trunk of the tree, at peace with the world. But Dora broke in on his contentment with a sharp command.
He knew what that "Now!" meant, and surrendered without a struggle.
"Let me finish my pipe," he pleaded. "I can't talk and smoke in comfort." A few minutes later he knocked the ashes from the bowl against the rough bark, put his pipe aside, and began:
"Twenty golden years ago—you were a toddler in short clothes then, my dear—Ned Revel came blustering into my rooms in London. Did I ever happen to mention Ned Revel to you, Dora?"
"Of course you did. The big man who rowed stroke for Cambridge, and got his blue for football in the same year?"
"The same. A big, lank, loose-jointed chap, six feet in his stockings, and the jolliest soul alive. Just a month previously I had met him in the Park and he had introduced me to Miss Nelly Perry, the girl he was engaged to, a bright little fairy of a girl, whose brown curly head reached barely to his elbow, but who ordered him about as a driver orders an elephant. Seldom, if ever, have I seen anyone look so happy as Ned looked that day; the sight of his jolly face did me good for a week afterwards.
"But he did not look happy when he blundered into my room and dropped into the biggest chair.
"'Put that down, like a decent chap,' he grumbled. I was in the middle of an important case. 'I want to talk to you.'
"'All right,' I answered, putting the papers aside and spinning round on my office chair to face him.
"'I want you to help me,' he said, 'though I don't believe you can.'
"'I don't believe anyone can.'
"'That's better; you can tell me what's the matter anyway.'
"'Nelly has broken it off.'
"'Hang it, man, you mustn't say that!' he cried angrily. 'She had every right to do what she did. I ran away with another girl—with the girl that my best friend, Ernest Markham was engaged to; his engagement is broken off, too.'
"'By Jove, you have been going it, young man!'
"'It wasn't my fault, not a bit.'
"'Chaps always say that it was all the girl's fault, of course. The woman offered me the apple and I did eat.'
"'It wasn't the girl's fault either, clever as you think yourself. Perhaps I had better tell you the story right out.'
"'Perhaps you had, if you want me to know it.'
"'Well, we were stopping down at Banfields, Markham, myself, and his girl, Priscilla Arden; a very nice little girl she is, too, though I wish I had never laid eyes on her.'
"'What did she do to you?'
"'To me? Why, nothing. You know Lady Colloran and her daughter Jane?'
"'They are cousins of Markham.'
"'At one time I thought he was spoons on Jane before Miss Priscilla came along and cut her out. But Jane took it like a good 'un; she was specially nice to Priscilla, don't you know.'
"'We were all getting along together like a house on fire; though, of course, I missed my own girl, who was in Switzerland with her mother—a preliminary canter to the honeymoon, I called it.'
"'If there is any point to your story I wish you'd come to it; I've work to do.'
"'Beg pardon, old chap, I've been completely bowled over, and I'm not the better of it yet. If I can't tell the story my own way I can't tell it at all.'
"'Oh, go on, go on!'
"'We were getting on famously when Markham was called away on business; a horribly rich chap like Markham has irons in every fire, of course. I did my best to keep up Miss Priscilla's spirits after he left.'
"'No you don't see. I didn't care twopence for the girl; she is not bad in her own way, but she is not in the same street with Nelly; she and I were just pals and nothing more. So one day when she was going to do some shopping in Banfields, the market town, having nothing else to do I went with her in Markham's motor; he had brought it down and left it after him.
"'Don't fidget, Beck, I'm nearly through. Miss Priscilla did her shopping, and I lazed round till lunch, we had a nice little lunch together, and about four o'clock we had started on our four mile drive home.
"'Just outside the town Markham's man, Roger Bronk is his name, took the wrong turning, and just as I called out to him he was wrong, the cursed motor bolted like a runaway horse that has got the bit between his teeth. Runaway horse, indeed; an express train was a snail to it! We just jumped along, the hedgerows were green lines, and the white road slid back under the wheels like greased lightning. There wasn't a breath of wind when we started, but after a little while we were rushing through a hurricane which lashed our faces and blew our breaths down our throats.
"'Fortunately, the road was clear, or we must have come to an eternal smash. In the loneliest place we broke through a police ambush. There was a bobby in the middle of the road, but the car took no more notice of him than if he were a stray dog, and he had just time to jump for his life as we whizzed by. Before he could turn round to take our number we were a mile away.
"'For an hour and a half we raced along at the same breakneck speed. Then the cursed affair began to slow down and stopped dead short outside a small village, panting as if it were out of breath, and no wonder. I lifted Miss Priscilla out; she could hardly stand. Then I turned like a tiger on the chauffeur.
"'"What the devil did you mean by it?" I said. I was so angry I could have wrung his neck for him.
"'"It worn't my fault, sir," he whined, "the brakes got jammed and the high-pressure on the top-speed gear broke loose," or some jargon of that sort. I suppose it was all right, for I don't understand the least little thing about motors.
"'"When will you be ready to start again?" I asked.
"'"Can't say, sir; perhaps five minutes, perhaps two hours," he answered.
"'But here Miss Priscilla broke in that nothing would induce her to trust herself to that infernal machine again. We were seventy miles at least from Banfields—what the devil was I to do?
"'I inquired at the village and found that there was a wayside station about a quarter of a mile off, and that a train to London was due in less than half-an-hour. That seemed to me a bit of all right; Miss Priscilla thought so, too; how were we to guess? But I had a queer feeling all the time that there was trouble ahead; presentiment some chaps call it; and when I saw through the window of the carriage the motor sweeping back to Banfields apparently under perfect control, I was jolly sorry we were not back in it.
"'We got to London all right; the girl put up at the Metropole, and I at the Grand, and the next morning the row began.
"'Quite unexpectedly and unaccountably Markham came back that very evening from Paris, and now comes the strangest thing of all. He found a letter there from Priscilla posted at Banfields saying that she had never loved him, that she was tempted to marry him for the sake of his money, that she couldn't do it, and so she had run off with me in the motor-car and we were to be married next morning by special licence.'
"'Why did she write a letter like that?'
"'She didn't write it, of course.'
"'But you said——'
"'Never mind what I said. The letter was as like her handwriting as two eggs laid by the same hen. Markham came up to town in a towering rage—you know what pals we were—and wanted to fight me for marrying his girl. When I said I didn't want to marry her that only made him worse.
"'He showed me the letter, called me a low-down cad, a betrayer of innocence, every nasty name he could put his tongue to, till I was sorely tempted to knock his head off. But I pitied the poor devil, he was so terribly in earnest and believed every word he said. All the time he insisted that I should marry Priscilla whether I liked it or not.
"'"Why should you want her to marry a low-down cad?" I demanded.
"'"Because she loves you," he said, "God help the poor girl, she loves you."
"'"God help you for a looney," I said. "It's you she loves, you blithering idiot—more fool you."
"'But he stopped my mouth with her letter. I swore it was a forgery on the off-chance; but I hadn't the least notion who might, could, or would forge it, so I didn't make much of that. At length he burst out of the room, and banged the door after him.
"'When I was dressed I crossed over to the Metropole to Priscilla. Perhaps it was a foolish thing to do—I think now it was. People saw me and put two and two together, the two in this case being Priscilla and myself.
"'She was in a big chair in the lounge facing the door, but she jumped up when she saw me and beckoned me like a woman on the stage to follow her. I could see with half an eye she was in the devil of a temper, her cheeks were red and her eyes were blazing.
"'Sit down," she said, when we came to the far end of the big room—we had it all to ourselves. "Sit down," she pointed to a chair. It was just like the bit of a play, but the girl was terribly in earnest. "Will you kindly explain that?"
"'She handed me a letter she had received from our friend Markham, quite a nice letter, I thought. He took a very different tone with her from what he had taken with me. He was all sorrow and pity for her, glad she had found out her mistake before it was too late; he quite saw that their engagement must be considered at an end, and hoped she would be happy with the man of her choice.
"'Well," said the girl, "what have you to say to that?"
"I had nothing to say.
"'"What does he mean by it? Why does he write such things to me?"
"'"Didn't you write to him that—I don't know how to put it—that you didn't love him any more?"
"'"Of course not, why should I write such nonsense?"
"'"Well, half-an-hour ago Markham showed me a letter of yours, I mean a letter in your handwriting—well, like your handwriting, in which you wrote—oh, well, in which it was written that you didn't love him and that you had intended marrying him for his money, and that you had run away with me in the motor?"
"'"With you from him!" No words could describe the contempt in her voice.
"'"Well, there your are, it's all as right as the mail; you have only to tell him you never wrote the letter and ask him——"
"'"To take me back, I suppose. I'd die first. He had no right to believe such a thing."
"'"Well, you see, he had some grounds to go on. The forged letter and our going off the way we did. And——"
"'"That was all your fault."
"'"Did I say I wanted to go to London?"
"'"Did I for that matter?"
"'"What do I care whether you did or not? It doesn't matter in the least. He never could have loved me or he wouldn't have written such a cold, heartless letter. I wouldn't mind if he were angry."
"'"He was angry enough, I can tell you."
"'"What does it matter? He's glad to get rid of me. It's just as well this thing happened. I'm glad, too." And to show how glad she was she burst out crying as if her heart would break, and when I tried to comfort her she ordered me out of the room.
"'But that's not the worst of the business. Nelly got to hear of it, too. I don't know who told her. Markham is a prime favourite of hers, and when she heard I ran away with Markham's girl she threw me over on the spot. Of course I tried to get round her; I showed her I wasn't to blame; but you might as well try to persuade a football referee that he was wrong.
"'"It's all very well to talk," she said, "but I'll never marry you till Ernest Markham marries Priscilla, and that settles it."
"'Why do you come to me?' I asked him.
"'Because I want help, old man, and you are the one to help me if anyone can. You might go down to Banfields and try and talk over that confounded jackass Markham. There is no use trying to make anything of the girls; you might as well try to reason with an irritated wasp on the window pane.'
"'When did all this happen?'
"'Nearly a month ago. Markham still hangs on at Banfields, but, of course, I couldn't go back to the place.'
"'And how am I to go? I don't know Lady Colloran from Adam.'
"'Oh, they'll be delighted to see you—any friend of Markham's, don't you know. And Jane Colloran is a sweet little girl.'
"When I promised to think it over he was as profuse in his thanks as if I had promised to do it. I guessed it was a little trick of his to force my hand, but I didn't like the notion of quartering myself on people I didn't know.
"However, as luck would have it, next morning a letter from Markham lifted me out of that difficulty, though it made matters worse all round.
"'My dear Beck,' he wrote, 'I want you to do me a great favour. You may have heard that my engagement with Miss Arden was broken off more than a month ago—you will, I know, excuse me going into details which are very painful to me—and you will probably be much surprised to hear that I have contracted a new engagement with Miss Jane Colloran, whom I have known for many years, and who is the sweetest and truest girl in the world. The marriage is to take place almost immediately, and I want you to be best man. Don't say no. If you could run down here for a few days you would add enormously to the favour, as I am most anxious to introduce you to my wife that is to be. Her mother, Lady Colloran, with whom I am staying, adds her very cordial invitation. Ever your sincere friend, Ernest Markham.'
"There was my chance, and I went down at once. Lady Colloran, I thought, was not too pleased to see me, but I got the cordial welcome I was promised from Miss Jane. Markham was right; she was a sweet little girl, with eyes that seemed to beg you to like her, an invitation hard to resist.
"'Oh, Mr. Beck, I am so glad to meet you,' she said. 'I just love every friend of Ernest's, and I hope they will like me for his sake, and a little for my own later on when they come to know me.'
"Her manner to Markham was perfect, more the sympathetic sister than the sweetheart; all she asked was to be let love and pet him. Nothing could be nicer either than his manner to her. He played the lover perfectly, paid her a thousand little attentions, but all the same I could see at a glance that he was not in love with her.
"It might have been fancy, but it struck me from the first that Lady Colloran did not want Markham and myself to be much alone together. She was a big, stately woman, whose figure, here and there, bulged beyond the lines of beauty, and one wondered how she came to be the mother of a shy, slim slip of a girl like Jane. Strangest of all, she seemed to be rather afraid of the same slim slip of a girl, and more than once I thought I caught a glance between them in which the mother appeared to take directions from the daughter.
"I was three days at Banfields before I got a chance to talk alone with Markham. I slipped quietly into his room at midnight and found him smoking in a little balcony that jutted out from his window into the still, empty night. Not a breeze stirred the trees, the black sky was spangled all over with stars, and poor Markham's face matched the melancholy of the midnight.
"He offered me a cigar without speaking, and without speaking I took a seat opposite him on the balcony, and we smoked for five minutes silently. Then, as I knocked the ash off my cigar, I said:
"'So you are off with the old love and on with the new. You didn't take long about it, my friend.'
"'Don't talk like that, Beck,' he snapped back irritably. 'You know nothing about it. Miss Arden threw me over. I don't blame her in the least, but it was a stunner, all the same, I can tell you. Jane was awfully good to me in my trouble. It hardly seems the right thing to say, but I found she was fond of me all the time. By the merest accident I surprised her secret. She is as innocent as a child, she almost died of shame when she found she had given herself away. What could I do, I ask you? What would you have done under the circumstances?'
"'Never mind what I would have done, but just tell me why you say that Miss Arden threw you over?'
"'Why?' In a burst of irritation he flung the half-smoked cigar like a comet trailing sparks into the darkness. 'Why? Because she ran away with Ned Revel, because she wrote with her own hand that she was going to marry him.'
"'Ned says the motor bolted with them.'
"'Just the kind of cowardly lie he would tell. Who ever heard of a motor bolting like a runaway horse? He wants to get out of marrying the girl.'
"'Have you spoken to the chauffeur—what's his name—Bronk, about it?'
"'No, why should I? It's not the kind of thing I would like to discuss with a servant.'
"'All the same, it might be worth your while. Now, will you answer another question? What brought you back unexpectedly from Paris the very day when, as you say, they bolted?'
"'This is a queer kind of catechism, Beck,' he said, staring at me as if trying to find out what was at the back of the questions. 'Have you any special reason for asking?'
"'Perhaps. Did you get a letter from Miss Colloran?'
"'I did, if you must know, a sweet, innocent friendly little letter, full of praise of Priscilla. Ned Revel was only mentioned once in it, but I read between the lines more than she meant to write, and came back as quick as boat and train could carry me, only to find they had bolted.'
"'One more question and I'm done. Are you quite sure the other letter you got was from Miss Arden?'
"'Quite; I wish I wasn't. I know her handwriting. I've compared it with——' He broke off abruptly.
"For answer he got up from his chair on the balcony and went back into the room. I could gee he was much troubled, and found it hard to say what he wanted to say.
"'There's her letter,' he said. 'You can read it if you want to.'
"The letter was just what Revel told me. I was more interested in the writing than in the purport. The paper was very thin, the writing a clear, delicate hand, very hard to copy, I should think. Under the strong electric light I examined it closely with a magnifying glass and found nothing suspicious.
"'You said you compared it,' I said. 'With what?'
"At this question the man suddenly and unaccountably broke down. He had held himself together up to that; now he leant his arms on the table and sobbed.
"'I'm the most miserable man alive!' he moaned. 'I love her still, God help me, I seem to love her more every day. It's not treating the other little girl fairly, it's behaving like a cad. I ought to send Priscilla's letters back to her and I can't; every day I make up my mind to send them, and then put it off till the next.'
"'You've compared the letters?' I asked.
"'There could be no possible mistake. I don't think there was a word in her last letter that wasn't in some one of the others, and they were all absolutely identical.'
"'Didn't that strike you as curious?'
"'Curious? I don't know what you are driving at. I can't show you the letters, of course.'
"'No, but you might show me the envelopes.'
"'I suppose there can be no harm in that.'
"He took a bundle of letters, about a dozen in all, from his writing-case and put them in my hand. Most of the envelopes were addressed to him at Banfields. I shuffled them over carefully till I came to one which was the facsimile of the good-bye letter. My pocket microscope could detect no shade of difference; in size, line, shape of letter, or distance of one letter from another; the two addresses were absolutely identical.
"'That should convince you,' said Markham, looking over my shoulder.
"'It does, completely. Did it ever strike you that no one ever wrote three words together twice exactly the same way? Where did you keep those letters?'
"'In this writing-case.'
"'You left it behind you when you were called away?"
Markham nodded. 'Did you find anything wrong with the lock when you came back?'
"'Now that you mention it I found it a little stiff and troublesome to open. I thought nothing of it at the time.'
"'You wouldn't. Still, it is another curious little coincidence, isn't it? Could you let me see the letter you had from Miss Colloran, the envelope, I mean, of course.'
"'Do you mean to insinuate——' he began stormily.
"'Never mind what I mean to insinuate; it can do no one any harm to let me have a peep at the envelope.'
"'There it is.' He tossed it on the table. 'The writing is not in the least similar, if that is what you are driving at.'
"But that was not what I was driving at. I never so much as looked at the letter. I was intent on comparing the penny stamp with the stamp on the letter that purported to come from his sweetheart. A good look through the microscope made suspicion certainty. I saw my way clear at last.
"'Have you a pair of scissors?' I asked.
"'Scissors! What's up now?'
"'I want to cut those stamps off the envelopes.'
"'Well, of all the mad freaks! Oh, cut away if it pleases you.'
"These are the two stamps, Dora, that I cut off and put in my pocket in Markham's bedroom at midnight nearly twenty years ago."
"Lend me the microscope, Paul."
She scrutinised the stamps close together in the strong sunlight for a moment, then she laughed delightedly.
"Oh, I see, I see; but it was a clever plan of hers all the same; she could never have guessed that the stamps would give her away like that. Go on, I want to hear how you proved it?"
"Markham stared at me like a boiled owl, while I cut off the stamps and put them by.
"''Pon my soul, Beck,' he cried irritably, 'I believe you are trying to make a fool of me. No one but Priscilla could have written the letter, no one in Banfields could have seen her letters and forged her handwriting even if they wanted to play such a purposeless joke. Besides, she and Revel went off together in the motor. A runaway motor is all tommy-rot.'
"'Quite so, if Revel had known anything about motors he would not have talked such nonsense or believed it.'
"'I don't know what to make of you to-night, Beck, you seem to have got some extraordinary bee in your bonnet.'
"'Perhaps Roger Bronk might be able to tell you something about that runaway motor.'
"'I will have a word with him to-morrow if you like, but I confess I don't see the use of it. The thing is plain. Do you fancy for a moment that I'd have proposed to Jane if I had the faintest hope of Priscilla? But I have proposed and I can't back off now whatever happens, it would break the little girl's heart; she loves me and trusts me, and by heavens, I'll try and make her as good a husband as she deserves.'
"There was a curious uneasiness in his voice, as if he were afraid of some discovery.
"'I am sure you will make her as good a husband as she deserves,' I said curtly. 'That is to say, if you marry her.'
"'If I marry her! Of course I'll marry her. Do you think I'd be such a cad as to throw her over just because I had a hankering for another girl who doesn't care three straws about me?'
"I could see he was getting more riled every moment. I laid my hand on his shoulder to quiet him down. 'My dear boy,' I said, 'I would be the last man in the world to suggest the least injustice to charming Miss Colloran. Don't forget your promise to have a word with the chauffeur in the morning.'
"It happened I was present when Markham had his talk next morning with Bronk, a dark, cadaverous chap, with thin lips and a rather whiney way of talking.
"I had hinted at breakfast that I might want to take the motor back to London next day. Miss Jane cried: 'What a shame!' and looked at me regretfully with plaintive blue eyes as if I were her nearest and dearest, but her stout and stately mother could not conceal her satisfaction at my departure.
"Markham and I started out after breakfast to interview the chauffeur. 'No fear of the motor running away with me, Bronk?' I said.
"He laughed an uneasy laugh; he knew I knew something about cars.
"'You are having your joke, Mr. Beck; motors don't run away like horses.'
"'Why did you tell Mr. Revel it ran away?' I shot the question at him.
"'Well, you see, sir,' he blurted out hastily, 'the brakes were jammed, and—I didn't tell him nothing of the kind; leastways, he ordered me to drive him to London.'
"'You said next day it was Miss Arden ordered you,' broke in Markham. 'Now which was it?'
"'One or the other,' said the man sulkily and confused. 'I don't see the use of such cross-questions.'
"'You don't see the use?' echoed Markham angrily.
"'No, I don't,' retorted the other—those sleek men always have vicious tempers when they let themselves go. 'It ain't my fault that your young lady ran away with another chap.'
"Markham was very white and quiet, dangerously quiet.
"'Bronk,' he said, 'I never tolerate insolence.' He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a couple of crisp Bank of England notes. 'You may consider yourself discharged. Here is a week's wages in lieu of notice, but you need not come to me for a character.'
"'I beg your pardon, sir,' the man began—he had got back his whining manner again—'if I spoke hastily, I'm sorry for it.'
"But Markham turned on his heel without a word, and we walked away together.
"I thought it would pay to keep an eye on my friend Bronk for the rest of the day, and it did. Half-an-hour later I saw him saunter with elaborate carelessness in the direction of the garden where Miss Jane spent a good deal of her time. By a curious coincidence it occurred to me that I would like to have a stroll in the garden myself just then.
"Happily it needs much money to keep a garden trim, and money was very scarce at Banfields, so the garden was just let run wild—an exquisite wilderness. The flowers grew as they pleased, and where they pleased; the fruit trees overtopped the walls, the untrimmed box borders were the height of a man's shoulders, and the ruined summer-houses were held together by flowering creepers. A wonderful place for a game of hide-and-seek, and it was a game of hide-and-seek that I wanted to play at the moment.
"As I came into the garden I saw two people go quickly between the high box borders towards the summer-house. Though their backs were towards me, I had no difficulty in recognising Miss Jane Colloran and the dismissed chauffeur, Bronk. Do you approve of eavesdropping, Dora?"
"Precisely. There are times when eavesdropping is a Christian virtue. I made up my mind to eavesdrop just then, so when the pair had entered the summer-house I crept round the side, behind a Virginian creeper, whose trunk was half a foot thick.
"The girl's was the first voice I heard, but I hardly recognised it for my gentle Jane's, it was so sharp and decisive.
"'Don't talk nonsense, it was all your own fault; why were you so stupid?'
"'The other chap with the master took me by surprise.'
"'Oh, I hate that pimping, prying, Mr. Beck,' broke in Jane spitefully. 'I was sure he was down here for no good.'
"'He was no good to me anyways,' growled the man. 'He caught me clean out with his talk about a runaway motor, and then the two of them kept on badgering till I lost my temper and gave them back as good as they brought.'
"'Well, what have I to say to that?" asked Jane contemptuously.
"'You have just about everything to say to it'—there was a distinct threat in his surly voice—'I'm not going to get myself into trouble for nobody. A hundred quid would be blooming little use to me without a place or character. You've got to coax me off with the governor or I'll know the reason why.'
"'Don't talk nonsense, man; I gave a hundred pounds, what you asked, and if you got yourself into trouble with your bad temper it isn't my fault. Threats won't help you. Nobody would believe your stories, and even if they did it would only make it worse for yourself.'
"'And for you, too, my lady—you mustn't forget that.'
"'Oh, I'll do what I can for you, but it is the last time, remember.'
"After lunch, Miss Jane was as good as her word. While Lady Colloran was having forty winks in her room her daughter tackled her job. She tried hard to get rid of me, but I stuck like a burr. I'm very slow at taking a hint sometimes. It was just lovely the way she kept her temper when she found I was a fixture. With a winning smile, a flash of white teeth, and a gleam of blue eyes, she claimed me as her friend and ally in a mission of mercy.
"'I know you will help, Mr. Beck, you have such a kind heart. Ernest, I want you to give that poor man Bronk another chance. I hate to ask you, but he came to me with tears in his eyes and I couldn't refuse him. He said that you were always so kind that he was mad with himself for vexing you. Now, won't you forgive him, just once, for my sake.'
"'Of course I will if you want me to,' said Markham. 'That's a very small thing to do for you.'
"'Oh, you darling, you are too good to me, you spoil me. I really must kiss you for that.'
"In the exuberance of her innocent heart, I thought she would kiss me, too. I found it hard to remember that she hated the prying Mr. Beck.
"'Don't forget, Ernest,' she said gaily, 'you promised to take me for a ride to-day. Will you come, Mr. Beck?' She certainly carried things splendidly. There was just the hint of a mocking smile on those sweet lips of hers as she asked the question. I played up to her lead.
"'So sorry,' I said. 'I'm sure you will miss me awfully, but I have got an important engagement. Might I venture to delay you ten minutes. There is a letter I want to show Markham before I post it, and it's not written yet.
"'Oh, there is no hurry; we would not start for half-an-hour in any case.' It was Markham said that. Jane smiled entrancingly. I wonder would she have smiled so pleasantly if she had read over my shoulder the letter I wrote. It was very short, and when it was finished I asked her if she could lend me a stamp.
"'Why, certainly,' she said. Markham's hand went to his pocket at the same moment, but the lady's purse was out first, and she took out a little sheet of six stamps, tore off one, and handed it to me.
"'I will show you a curious thing,' I said. 'Will you let me have that sheet of stamps for a moment?' I put the stamp she had torn off back in its place. 'Now,' I went on, 'look at them carefully through this microscope, and tell me do you notice any peculiarity?'
"'They look very thick and clumsy, that's all. They have edges like a saw.'
"'It's the edges I want you to look at. The edges that are next each other. Do you notice anything?'
"'Oh, yes, of course; the edges fit; one can see plainly through the microscope that one of the stamps was torn off on the other.'
"'Are you sure?'
"'Oh, don't be silly, Mr. Beck, it is perfectly plain. Look, Ernest.'
"I think it was just then that Markham began to have a glimmering notion of what it all meant.
"'Yes,' he said, 'it is quite plain, the jagged edges match each other perfectly.'
"'How interesting!' exclaimed Miss Jane; again there was that hint of mockery in her smile. 'You must be awfully clever, Mr. Beck!'
"'It is even more interesting than you imagine, Miss Colloran. Here are two envelopes from which the stamps have been cut, and here are the stamps. One is from the envelope of the letter you wrote Mr. Markham to Paris, the other from the letter, the forged letter, that came to him from Banfields. You see the stamps match perfectly. The same hand stamped those two letters, the same hand wrote them.'
"It seemed as if she did not quite grasp my meaning at first. Then she stood like one stunned by a heavy blow, swaying on her feet, her face gone ghastly pale.
"'My God, Beck, do you mean it? Is it possible?' he cried.
"The girl found her tongue.
"'Oh, you devil!' she cried. 'You devil!' Sobs choked her and she fell half-fainting into a chair.
"There was no need to ask if the charge were true.
"'Listen, Markham,' I said. 'This is the letter I have just written. Am I to send it?'
"'My dear Revel,—Markham asks me to write to apologise to you most sincerely and to tell you that he and I will motor up to London to-morrow. He has discovered that his chauffeur was bribed with a hundred pounds to post the forged letter at Banfields and run you and Miss Arden on in the motor to Parkside.'
("'How do you know that?'
"'Never mind, I know it.')
"'He asked me to add that if Miss Arden will forgive him for his unjust suspicion he will be the happiest man in the world. Could you get her and Miss Perry to lunch with us to- morrow at the Carlton? I promise not to be in the way. Yours as ever, Paul Beck.'
"The girl's sobs ceased as I read. She looked up at Markham, her beautiful blue eyes full of tears. After the first glance she no more noticed me than if I were a dog.
"'So you are going away, Ernest,' she said softly. 'Good-bye. I suppose you hate me for what I have done.'
"'It was a bit hard on Priscilla, wasn't it?' stammered Markham.
"'It was horrible, mean, contemptible, no word is too hard for it. Nothing that anyone can say is too bad for me.'
"'No one shall ever know except our three selves,' he promised.
"'That's right,' I said.
"Still I might have been a dog for all the heed she gave me.
"'As if I cared if the whole world knew when you know,' she cried passionately. 'You may think it was your money I wanted if you like, but it wasn't. It was just you. Oh, it's shameless, of course, but what do I care now? I have loved you almost as long as I can remember, and you would have loved me if that stuck-up minx hadn't come between us. Good-bye, my darling, good-bye for ever.'
"Suddenly she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him passionately. Then before either of us could speak or move she rushed from the room.
"As for me, I had done a righteous act, no one could deny that. I had detected a fraud and reunited two pairs of lovers. I had every reason to be proud of myself, and yet I felt as mean as a pickpocket caught in the act."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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