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The Australian authoress Mary Helena Fortune (ca. 1833-1911) was one of the first women to write detective fiction, and probably the first to write it from the viewpoint of the detective. Her opus includes several novels and over 500 stories, many of which feature a detective by the name of Mark Sinclair. She wrote under the pseudonyms "Waif Wander" and "W.W."
IT is years since I dreamt that dream, yet scarcely a Christmas comes and goes that I do not many times recall it. Perhaps it and the events which followed made a deeper impression on my memory because I was at the time barely recovering from the most serious illness I ever had in my life, and was unhinged both in body and mind.
Two doctors had insisted on change of air and scene, and I had got leave from my superiors, but where was I to go? The bustle and noise of a summer seaside haunt would have driven me wild, and I had not a single friend in the country that I could take the liberty of offering a visit to.
One of the unexpected coincidences we so often meet with in life, and which good folk are fond of calling providential, solved the difficulty for me. I met in the street Albert Pemberton, a young University student I had accidentally been able to help in a not over-respectable mess he had got into in one of our Town slums, and his good-looking face beamed with pleasure as he recognised me.
"Good heavens, how bad you look, Sinclair," he cried, "I only heard by the merest accident the other day that you had been seriously ill. I was just going to hunt you up—upon honour I was, to ask you to accompany me home for the holidays."
"Home with you!" I said "why I am a perfect stranger to your people. I couldn't have the cheek to quarter myself on them uninvited, and what a chance there is of them inviting a detective to Werrimona!"
"How proud you are; but you're wrong, for I have an invitation for you in my pocket. I wrote asking leave to take you up with me, telling them, you may be sure, that I was greatly indebted to you, Sinclair, though I daren't enter into particulars, and there—you can read the paragraph if you like."
"Mrs Pemberton is very kind, and I am very grateful," I said as I returned the letter, "but you are going to have a wedding in the family, and I am quite unfit for any festivities "
"You need not even share them unless you wish. Evelyn's wedding is to be the quietest you can imagine, but you need not even see the ceremony unless you choose. I have settled it all in my own mind, old fellow. You shall have my room; it is a regular bachelor's den with an entrance of its own—you can come and go without a soul being the wiser. Now you won't say no!"
I DIDN'T say no. I went with my young friend to his home at Werrimona, and there I dreamed my dream.
Werrimona was and is one of the loveliest spots the sun of Victoria shines on. It is a nest of verdure among the hills that slope in around it, leaving broad openings here and there that the eye may wander to the blue mountain peak in the far distance, or rest on the shimmering, windings of Werrimona Creek. If the whole country had been searched for a peaceful spot in which one might rest and enjoy, with a thankful heart the beauties of God's given earth, none fairer could be found than fair Werrimona.
Mrs Pemberton had been long a widow, and was a sweet-faced, motherly woman, who set me at my ease in a few friendly words; to Evelyn Pemberton, her only daughter and the soon-to-be bride, I must devote a few more words.
I never understood the girl from the first, though sad after events taught me an explanation of much that had puzzled me. She was very beautiful. No one could look in her face and not acknowledge that. She was twenty one, tall, and slenderly built, but of admirable womanly proportions, and she had the most perfect, though slightly peculiar, taste in dress.
Her hair and eyes seemed of almost the same hues—brown with gleams of gold in them. The former was abundant, soft and wavy, the latter large, heavy lidded, and fringed with deep lashes that made a noticeable feature in her face. Her mouth was, I think, the sweetest I ever saw, and in her rare smiles the rich lips afforded a glimpse of teeth regular and white as rows of pearls.
Yes, Evelyn was beautiful in spite of the almost total absence of colour in her face. Her complexion was of a delicate creamy hue, and only in rare moments of excitement a pale rose tint appeared for an instant in her soft cheeks. The very first time Evelyn Pemberton's eyes rested on mine in a deep, and almost solemn gaze, I felt a strange thrill through my whole being—a thrill that had something of a shudder in it, though the warm summer sun was beaming down on my bare head as I bowed before her.
It was not until after I had seen her that I felt interest enough to question Albert as to whom she was about to marry. He had been initiating me into the comforts and peculiarities of his den, which he had, as he promised, resigned to me, and a little fatigued with the journey, I seated myself in a chair near the window to enjoy the wild view of hill and dale it afforded while we indulged in a smoke.
"Well?" he asked, "what do you think of the mater and Evelyn?"
"I think you are a happy fellow to have such a mother," I replied, "and that you ought to try and lead a life worthy of her."
"Don't hit so hard old fellow!" he said with a becoming flush rising to his brown cheek,"I'll try hard for the future."
"My dear Pemberton, I assure you I only spoke in general terms—I had no intention of recurring—"
"No," he interrupted. "I am sure you hadn't, but a bad conscience, you know. But you haven't told me what you think of my sister yet."
"She is very beautiful—very, may I ask who it is she is going to marry, Albert?"
"I should think you may; why you'll meet him at dinner to-night—that is if you don't prefer dining here—I promised you perfect liberty, you know."
"Thanks, but I must not be too exacting or selfish. I must make the acquaintance of Miss Pemberton's intended at all events. I have gathered that he is a neighbour?"
"Yes, his station is only two miles away, and he is one of the nicest young fellows in the world. If there is any fault to be found with him it is his youth, he is the same age as Evelyn—but that you know, will mend. She is a lucky girl to hook such a husband as Kingsley—Charley is amiable and wealthy."
"And is devoted of course?"
"Oh, of course, that goes without saying but I don't mind telling you, Sinclair, that he's far easier satisfied than I should be in his place."
"Because Evelyn is so cold—if I was going to be married to a girl I'd expect her to seem happy at all events."
"And don't you think your sister is happy?"
"She says she is. But, oh heavens, Sinclair, what's the use of trying to understand women?" added the nineteen-year-old cynic. "I don't suppose they're ever of the same mind two months together."
"I hope you have no reason to include Miss Pemberton in that sweeping accusation," I said.
"I have then," was the short answer, and the young fellow bent his brows gloomily and pulled hard at his cigar ere he spoke again.
"I know that you're a safe card to talk to, Sinclair, I can trust you to hold your tongue if I say to you what I wouldn't to another. You see the mater and Evelyn look upon me as a boy, and I'm out of the running in family consultations, but I spoke up about Ned Corwyn before things had gone too far, and I got snubbed for it."
"Oh, you don't know him, he's another neighbour, a school-mate of mine, and of Evelyn's too, for that matter, though he is years older than either of us. Well, if ever a girl was spooney on a fellow Evelyn was on him, and by Jove it was mutual, he worshipped the ground she walked on."
"Is he dead?" I asked, thinking I had found a solution of the mysterious sadness is Evelyn Pemberton's eyes.
"Dead? not he! the poor fellow's taken it like a sheep, and is the mater's right hand man. You will see him at dinner to-night too."
"Am I to understand that your sister was engaged to this Mr. Corwyn, and that it was broken off in favour of Mr. Kingsley?"
"That's how I take it, but as a matter of fact I know nothing positively. I tell you I am only the boy in this establishment, and am not trusted with the family secrets. I know that I used to chaff Ned about being my brother, and he liked it, and all at once it was as much as my life was worth to venture a hint at such a thing."
I felt rather curious to see these young men who were to meet on friendly terms under such peculiar circumstances. The low sun was shining in the drawing-room window at Werrimona when Mrs Pemberton introduced me to them, and my first idea in connection with either was that I was disappointed in Kingsley as a husband for the queenly Evelyn. He was simply a fair haired and empty-headed boy, full of chatter and vanity, good tempered, doubtless, and proud of his beautiful fiancée but no more suited as guide, guardian, and companion to such a woman than a school-boy of twelve.
Edward Corwyn was a totally different stamp of man. I daresay he was twenty seven. He was tall and strongly-built, yet gentlemanly—nay, distinguished-looking. I have seen such a man in a cavalry regiment, with a sword in his hand, and the air of one born to do great deeds. What could be the secret influence that forced Evelyn Pemberton to discard such a man for a commonplace boy such as Charlie Kingsley?
And yet when I had engaged in conversation with him, and been some time in his company, I began to think that the grave gentleness of Edward Corwyn might hide a terrible will and fierce passions. Not that he revealed this in words, but I once or twice saw a flash in his eyes, as they turned towards Miss Pemberton, that haunted me. In his immediate attentions to her he was only the smiling and attentive old school-fellow, and he treated Kingsley as a man would a favoured brother, lightly and half mockingly: it was only when he momentarily forgot his role that I saw the dark grey eyes flash with an ominous fire.
I watched Evelyn closely, but saw nothing to guide me as to her feelings in the dignified calm of her beautiful face. She accepted the attentions of her intended in a queenly way that seemed natural to her. Her grand eyes were turned on him, on Corwyn, or on myself with the same quiet smile. She was like a beautiful piece of mechanism wound up to play a certain part, in which it was impossible she should fail
Once or twice I saw the mother's eye glance anxiously towards her, and once I saw that Evelyn's eyes met those of her mother, and answered the anxiety in them with a smile. It was a tame evening altogether, in spite of the young people's music, and I was glad when I got back to Albert's room, and was once more seated by the open window looking out at the moonlight lying in patches on the mountains, and silvering the nearest foliage with gleams among the shades. I was contrasting the solemn quiet of this night scene at Werrimona with the glaring gas and noisy streets of Melbourne at that hour, when the door opened and my young friend Albert entered.
"I guessed you would not be sleepy Sinclair," he said as he dropped into a chair opposite me, "this is an early hour for fellows used to town life. I won't be in the way, eh?"
"Not at all," I replied. "On the contrary, I am glad of your companionship. This—" and I pointed to the gloomy shadows among the silent hills "is depressing to me—it is like a land of ghosts."
"Aye, after town it is quiet. But, Sinclair, I've got news for you—our wedding is to come off sooner than we expected."
"Yes, you know it was settled for the 29th, but it seems that Charlie has business pressing in Sydney, and he's coaxed the mater to let the marriage take place on Christmas eve."
"And your sister has consented? "
"It seems so. I didn't know it until to-night, but it seems everything has been put forward. By Jove its a good job I brought my war-paint up with me after all!"
"You are to be best man, of course?"
"Yes, and Miss Emerson is to be bridesmaid. It's not Charlie's fault that it's to be such a quiet affair—he, poor fellow, would willingly have spent no end of money on it, but its one of Evelyn's fads that she's to be married like—like a machine girl, by Jove!"
I heard a good deal about the arrangements before Albert left me, and I sat there thinking over them and enjoying the quiet long after the household had retired. The rustling of the lonely branches on the darkening hillside had a weird attraction for my unaccustomed ears—the voiceless air breathing on my face seemed to bring new life into my veins, yet withal even my hardened soul felt, as I had told Albert, a solemn depression that was half fear in the lonely night scene among the Werrimona Hills.
I had risen and was about to close the window, when I saw a woman's form gliding among the bushes a little distance from the back of the house where my room was, and I naturally stood still to watch. I had no light, for I had put out the lamp on my first entrance, so as to enjoy the full beauty of the calm moonlight. The woman did not go far, had stopped under a tree a little way up the ride of the hill, and was quickly joined by a man. The latter was tall, that was all I could be certain of, though my eyes were keen from years of detective duty; but the woman I had a near view of before she disappeared.
The interview was a short one, and the female hastened back towards the house. Once she turned to look back and satisfy herself that her companion had gone—it was as she turned again and moved that her face and figure crossed a ray of moonlight and I saw them both. It was a short, active girl of twenty-three or four, apparently one of the maids, and, disgusted with myself for watching a servant's interview with some rustic lover, I closed the window and went to bed.
I SLEPT well and was out in the garden before any of the family had made their appearance. Shortly after, however, I was joined in my stroll by Mrs. Pemberton, who in her tasteful morning dress of pale blue looked young enough and happy enough to have been the prospective bride herself. She was evidently in a happy mood, and soon the conversation drifted to the subject that was doubtless nearest to her heart that summer morning.
"You have heard of our change of plan, dear Mr. Sinclair, as soon as I am to lose my Evelyn!"
"Yes, Mrs. Pemberton, Albert told me last night. Fortunately it won't be for long. I understand that Mr. Kingsley's place is only a couple of miles away."
"Yes indeed, it is most fortunate for me. And to be the mistress of such a house as Kingsland is a position that any mother might be proud to see her child fill."
"Miss Pemberton would adorn the highest position, my dear madam."
"Thank you, and I do not think I need fear your words are intended as flattery. Evelyn's a beautiful woman and a devoted daughter."
The poor mother's voice broke as she uttered the last low words, but the recovered herself and went on.
"I do not mind saying to you, who are such a valued friend of my boy's, that Evelyn's choice has relieved my mind of a great weight. There was a time when I feared that early associations might have biased her affections in a less favourable direction, and it is a great relief to me that it has not proved to be so. A widow left with but poor provision for her children has a great responsibility to contend with; but, thank heaven, my troubles are nearly over. Kingsley is not only a wealthy young man, but the soul of generosity!"
Her troubles nearly over—many and many a time after did those words of the unhappy mother recur to my memory.
It was the 22nd of December. Only one day intervened between us and Evelyn Pemberton's wedding morn. At breakfast that morning there was only the quartet, Mrs. Pemberton, Evelyn, Albert and myself; but both young Kingsley and Corwyn put in an early appearance, and plans were formed to visit Kingsland and inspect the improvements the young fellow had effected in honour of his bride. I excused myself from being of the party on the score of my recent illness, and when I had seen them off strolled up the hill at the back (the same which faced the window of my room) and, throwing myself on the warm grass under a tree, prepared to enjoy a dolce far niente which a hard-worked D must of all men appreciate.
I was wondering if Evelyn Pemberton had been influenced by her mother to discard Edward Corwyn for that shallow-pated lad Kingsley, when I happened to see, shining amongst the green near the elbow on which I was leaning, a stud set in onyx. My eyes are, as I said before, professionally sharp, and I recognised it at once as one of a set worn by Corwyn on the previous evening. All at once it flashed upon me that I was under the very tree where I had witnessed the moonlight meeting, and that Corwyn's must have been the tall male figure that had formed one at the appointment.
Who could have been his companion, and for what purpose had a midnight interview taken place? If for a moment I doubted the honour of Miss Pemberton and believed it possible that she had accorded a clandestine meeting to her discarded lover. I remembered in the next that the woman I had seen return to the house was short of figure and vulgar of face and could not possibly have been her. I was going to put the stud in my pocket determined to say nothing about it, but let my discovery concerning it be the result of chance, when I saw the very girl who had had the midnight appointment coming from the house in the direction of the hill..
An idea that Corwyn might have managed an opportunity to inform the girl of his loss made me drop the stud in the grass again and rise from the spot before she saw me. I did not go far—I only dropped on the grass behind a shady cluster of young she-oaks and watched the girl.
There was no doubt of it—she was searching for something, and at last found what she sought, and went back to her housework with a light step and, as she fancied, unobserved. My knowledge now of the fact that Corwyn was capable of a low intrigue with the servant of the woman he had once loved damned him at once in my estimation. The man that could do so was a low villain no matter how noble or gentlemanly the appearance with which he deceived a shallow world. When some hours after he sat opposite to me at dinner, with the unbroken set of onyx studs on his person, it would not have been prudent for me to have expressed aloud my sentiments in connection with him.
The following day—the twenty-third—I had almost entirely to myself. The prospective bridegroom had been forbidden to put in an appearance again at Werrimona until the marriage ceremony had been performed.
Evelyn herself was, of course, invisible, and Mrs. Pemberton full of business in preparing for the wedding breakfast and supervising hospitalities. I rambled about the hills most of the day, with Albert's gun in my possession, though I was not guilty of much bloodshed in consequence of carrying it, and I shared a scramble dinner with Pemberton and his mother as evening fell.
Mrs. Pemberton was in high spirits, and so naturally was my friend Albert.
"I'm dead tired!" the latter cried, "and I'll have to turn in early if I'm to face the terrible ceremony to-morrow morning in my best bib and tucker "
"We'll all have to turn in, as you call it, early; there is plenty to be done in the morning, and we must be up betimes."
"I wonder what Evelyn means to allow me for this lot? By Jove she has fine times of it hiding away in her own room while we are slaving to death! Whatever is she doing, mater?"
"My dear, a young lady on the eve of her marriage has many things to do. She has to pack for her trip to Sydney, and to arrange her wardrobe generally. And you know Evelyn has no maid, but Milly Werner has been helping her all day."
Milly Werner? Was that the young dame that met Corwyn at midnight on the bill? If so, a pretty treacherous maid had Evelyn Pemberton; or, after all, was it a faithful confidant?
I FELT very unlike sleep that night, and knowing what the result of tumbling and tossing about on a sleepless bed for hours was likely to be, I determined not to go to bed at all until I had worn myself out sitting up. It was about eleven o'clock when I came to this conclusion, and all the house was in the most perfect stillness.
I had taken a book in which I was interested into the drawing- room early in the day, and the idea that I should like to finish it took possession of me. Believing that every soul in the house had retired, I took up my lamp, and making as little noise as I could, sought the drawing-room.
The door was ajar, and the room in darkness, save near the window, through which a flood of moonlight was falling. I had taken possession of my book and was retreating, before I noticed a female figure standing in a window-recess with one of the drooping lace curtains caught and held back in her hand.
At the first glance I knew it was Evelyn, there was no mistaking that graceful yet majestic form.
She must have heard my movements even at the moment I saw her, for she turned her face towards me quickly with a frightened air. Never can I forget that beautiful face with the whiteness of death on it, and almost the shadows of death beneath the heavy eyes.
LET me try and describe her as I saw her then, before the terrible after-events made a horror of the memory. She wore a half-fitting wrapper of white cashmere, with a heavy silken cord and tassels tied round her slender waist and in loops at her left side. Her golden brown hair was gathered back in wavy and glossy masses, and fastened with a large comb behind, beneath which loops and long tresses fell down carelessly on her shoulders. Her small slender foot, as it peeped from under the cashmere skirt, showed a white silken stocking and shoe of black satin; and that was all—there was not a bit of lace at her fair neck or wrists, or a ring of gold on the perfect fingers.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Pemberton," I apologised, "I am afraid I have startled you. Indeed I should not have ventured from my room if I had not believed every soul in the house abed, I came for this book."
"Do not apologise," she replied gently, "I have no business here indeed, and mamma would be very angry if she knew, but I wanted a—a last look."
"Oh no, Miss Pemberton; though you leave home tomorrow it is only for so short a time that you will not miss it out of your life at Werrimona."
"I do not know," she returned as she shook her head sadly, "I feel a presentiment that when I leave my mother's home it will be never to return to it again."
"You are nervous, my dear Miss Pemberton, and unsettled. When the sun shines on your wedding morning you will forget all this depression."
"I hope so."
Somehow I felt like lingering, though I was quite aware that good taste would have dedicated my immediate retirement; but I had some excuse while those grand eyes lingered on me with a sad solemnity that stirred me to the soul. Impulsively I advanced towards her and put some of my feelings into words.
"Miss Pemberton, do not be angry with me. I ask you to trust me a little. I feel as if there was something troubling you greatly—is there anything in the whole world I can do for you?"
"There is no one without trouble, not even a young girl like me," she answered steadily, "but my trouble, if I have one, is one of my own making, and no one can help me. Thank you all the same, dear Mr. Sinclair; some day perhaps"
"Some day,"I repeated as she paused.
"I hardly know what I was going to express. Ever since I looked first into your face I have felt as if there was some strange, solemn tie between us, as if one day my life, my honour or my good name would lie in your hands. A queer feeling, is it not? But I was always a strange, dreamy girl, and never thought I would be a long liver."
"God forbid that there should be any foundation for such fears!" I cried earnestly, "but if ever you place a trust in my hands I will redeem it faithfully or die"
"Thank you truly. And now let it be farewell—I shall not have a moment to speak to you again."
She put her hand in mine as I murmured a "God bless and make yon happy." and she left there while she repeated the "Farewell" that rang in my ears for many a long day after; and so I went back to my chamber leaving her, still by the window, with the moonlight streaming on her pale face and white-robed figure.
MY book was after all of no value on that night—the last that should fall on peaceful Werrimona with a shadow of content. It was far on in the small hours ere I undressed, and then it was to lie and wonder at the sorrow of the beautiful daughter of the house, the bride of tomorrow.
I slept heavily at last, to be aroused by someone trying the handle of my door as if to gain entrance without knocking. Seeing that the sun was shining brightly, I bounded from my bed, threw on some garment and unlocked the door. The first glance of Mrs. Pemberton's white, frightened face was enough to show me that something had happened.
"Oh, for the love of God, come and help me, Mr. Sinclair" she whispered tremblingly, "Evelyn has gone! Oh tell me, tell me what I am to do!"
"Gone; what do you mean?"
"Let me in, I don't want to let anyone know—yet. I went to her room early, so as to get Evelyn up and ready in time, and I found that her bed had never been slept in. I have searched in the house and garden—everywhere—but I cannot find her. Oh God what shall I do?"
"Has she taken anything with her? Made any preparations for a journey I mean?"
"Not that I can see—her wraps at all events are in her wardrobe."
"Let s go to the room, and be as calm as you can my dear lady—if Miss Pemberton is lost we will find her, be assured."
The poor woman led me almost blindly to the chamber of the lost bride, tears of terror and agony rolling over her blanched cheeks.
It was a new experience to me, and a pitiful one, this entrance to a girl's chamber where all preparations had been made for her happy bridal morn.
There were two beds in the apartment, and both were hung in pure white lace looped with pale blue silk. On the snowy counterpane of one of these the bridal garments were spread daintily—a trailing robe of white silk almost covered with rich lace, the bridal wreath, the bridal veil. All the little accessories to a perfect toilet lay in order—the silken hose, the white satin boots, the long white gloves, the golden and jewelled bouquet-holder that had been a gift from the bridegroom. The ghostly attire had, under the circumstances, a weird look—it was as if a dead bride had slipped from her wedding garments and left them to lie there in her form. I saw the mother's hands clasped in pitiful woe as she glanced at them, while I made my own observations on the state of things.
It was as poor Mrs. Pemberton had said, not an article of outdoor attire was missing from Evelyn's wardrobe, and the bed was smooth and undisturbed from the hands of the chambermaid. From what I saw I came to the conclusion that Evelyn had not visited her room after my meeting with her the previous night—I was almost certain of this, seeing that her little watch hung on its stand upon her dainty toilet, and that it had stopped at twelve o'clock—if the girl had returned after that hour she would have wound it.
I said nothing of the meeting I had had in the drawing-room, but I asked the mother if she had any reason to suppose that Miss Pemberton did not intend to fulfil her engagement to Mr. Kingsley.
"Oh no!" she cried, "on the contrary, she gave me her sacred word that night ere I left her here that she would not fail."
"Was a sacred promise necessary then?" I asked sharply." Has it been necessary to remind your daughter of a vow on the eve of an unwelcome alliance? Mrs. Pemberton, you know I am a detective. If you wish me to help you in this matter it is necessary for you to put your entire confidence in me—to tell me the whole truth."
"There is nothing to tell!" she almost shrieked. "My child! My child!"
I began to feel angry with the woman, who it seemed to me must have coerced her daughter into a wealthy engagement; I felt less inclined to spare her, and related what had passed between Evelyn and myself.
"There was some weight on her heart," I said, "and some terrible presentiment oppressing her—can you explain it Mrs. Pemberton?"
"No!" she cried wildly, "I can explain nothing, only that my child has left me for ever—my Evelyn! my Evelyn!"
Her shrieks had aroused the household, and Albert was in the room with the servant Milly Werner. I glanced into the girl's face sharply and saw that she quailed under my eye. I drew her aside while Albert heard the sad truth from his distracted mother, and questioned her.
"Were you aware that Miss Pemberton had left the house?"
"Me sir? How should I know of such a thing? I am not even Miss Pemberton's maid?"
"You have not answered my question. Did you know that Miss Pemberton had left the house, or had any intention of leaving it last night?"
"No!" she answered brazenly. "I know nothing about it!"
"I might find a way to refresh your memory," I said sharply. "Have you been carrying any messages between Mr. Corwyn and your young mistress lately?"
"No, I haven't," she cried as her face burned crimson.
"Your communications with that gentleman were entirely on your own account then."
She grew pale as suddenly as she had flushed but answered after a moment's hesitation, "Yes, entirely on my own account."
"Take care—I may make you prove that before you are many hours older."
I heard some ejaculation like "impudence!" as I turned and took Albert from the room, leaving the hysterical mother in the hands of the servants.
Together the anxious young fellow and I searched everywhere in hope of discovering any traces of his sister. There was no use in trying to hide from the household what had happened in the face of Mrs. Pemberton's outcries, and every servant save Milly Werner was helping in a search that proved to be in vain. When I saw how useless it was, it was nearly nine o'clock.
"We may decide that there will be no wedding to-day. I'm afraid Albert," I said, while we partook of a hasty meal. "It will be better for you to ride over for Kingsley, and send messengers to all the invited guests that the wedding is postponed—your mother's sudden illness will be a sufficient excuse."
"Sinclair " he returned, looking at me with a great seriousness in his young face, "this matter will be the ruin of poor Evelyn—do you think it possible that she has run away with Corwyn?"
"I don't think it at all likely, since she has gone apparently in her wrapper and slippers, but I am going over to ask him the question now."
"I myself—you seem to have forgotten that I am a detective, Pemberton, more fitting to inquire into such a question than you."
"Oh heavens, and what awful thing do you suspect that should recur to your profession now?"
"Be a man Pemberton. Remember how much is on your shoulders since you are the representative of a helpless mother. Go, and do as I said—I will see you on my return."
I WENT to the stables and after having saddled a horse for myself, rode to the house of Edward Corwyn. I knew where to go, for the chimneys of the farmhouse were visible from some of the way down from Werrimona and had been pointed out to me.
I rode rapidly, and soon reached the snug-looking homestead amongst the trees that was called Corwyndale. It looked like house of a thriving man, but had around it none of the elegancies of wealth. It was a plain shingled veranda I rode up to, and the door, without knocker or bell, stood wide open to the morning sun.
I knocked loudly with my whip, and soon a comfortable-looking dame, who looked like an upper servant made her appearance. In replying to my wish to see her master, she told me he was dressing for Miss Pemberton's wedding, but on my sending a message that my business was urgent, I was shown into an unpretending parlour, where in a few moments I was joined by Edward Corwyn. He was most perfectly dressed, with the exception of the glossy frock coat he carried in his hand, and no man could deny that a finer looking fellow it would be harder to produce in any land.
"Mr. Sinclair!" he cried as he extended his hand, "You are not the less welcome, that I was far from expecting you. I pray you excuse my incomplete toilet—the wedding, you know; but, had it not been for a lost stud, believe I should have been half way to Werrimona by this."
A lost stud! I looked at the broad, glossy, immaculate shirt, and saw indeed that there was one stud missing, and from the same set too.
I did not take the hand which he doubtless fancied I did not see, and he went on smilingly, "I'm not rich enough to have a second set, Sinclair, and I'm very unlucky with this one. Only yesterday I recovered one of the studs I had lost the previous day, and now it is gone again—something is the matter with the catch. Well, Mrs. Kingsley to be will not observe its absence."
"No," I repeated, "she will not observe its absence."
Something in my tone perhaps, or in my eyes that were steadily fixed upon him, seemed to affect him—he grew pale down to the lips under his military-looking moustache.
"You look strange. Mr. Sinclair," he said; "is anything wrong?"
"I came to ask you that question, Mr. Corwyn. Miss Pemberton has disappeared from Werrimona, and no trace of her can be discovered. Can you tell me where she is?"
"I? Do you mean to insult me sir? What should I know of Miss Pemberton's disappearance?"
"I understand that at one time you would have been the most likely of all persons to know of Miss Pemberton's movements."
"Aye, at one time!" he said with bitter emphasis, "The time when Evelyn Pemberton was my betrothed wife, and had not been tempted by a weak mother, and another man's gold. But that time has passed, sir, and thank God I have forgotten it!"
He did not look as if he had forgotten it. Standing there with his hands clenched and his eyes blazing—he did not look as if he would ever forget it should his term of life extend a hundred years!
"I don't know who has been kind enough to tell you of my folly," he went on, "but he has not told it well, or you could better have judged the man you come to ask for tidings of Miss Pemberton. Edward Corwyn is not the weak-minded fool to be discarded and lured back to his allegiance by a soft look. If there was not another woman in the whole world and Evelyn Pemberton knelt to me to make her my wife I would spurn her as I do that hound! "
It was impossible to doubt the man's feelings as he stood there, his dark handsome face distorted with terrible passion. As he spurned with his foot the dog that had came into the room with a morning welcome for his master in his faithful eyes, the passion of a fiend was clenched in Corwyn's hands and flashing red in his awful gaze.
I turned towards the door, but he placed himself before me and spoke in a mean tone.
"Stop, if you please. I may surely expect to be told by what right you take it upon yourself to search for Miss Evelyn Pemberton? Are you, then, without my being aware of it, some close connection of the family? Surely you will favour me with a little information on the, to me, at present dubious point?"
"My name is Mark Sinclair," I said, as I looked him steadily in the face, "and I am Senior Detective in the Metropolitan Force of Detectives. Is there any other information you would like me to supply you with?"
His face grew pale as I answered him, but he laughed mockingly and bowed.
"I was not aware that I had a visitor of such importance. Au revoir, Mr. Sinclair. As soon as I can change my dress I will ride over to Werrimona and see if I can be of any service to Mrs. Pemberton."
AS fully convinced that Corwyn knew something of the girl's disappearance as that I breathed, I returned to Werrimona. I was at a loss what to do, as there was not a magistrate within many miles, and I could do nothing against Corwyn that would excuse my arresting him without a warrant. Something I could however do—I could try to frighten Milly Werner into a confession of complicity since I had myself seen her in consultation with the man I suspected.
One may imagine the state of the household on my return. Mrs. Pemberton had broken down utterly, and a medical man had been sent for. Young Kingsley had arrived and was roaming about the house in a helpless, limp way, looking, I suppose, for his lost bride in corners that had been searched a dozen times before. The men who had been despatched to make enquiries in the neighbourhood had returned with young Pemberton, and no discovery had been made.
My first inquiry was for the girl Werner. She was in her own room. I walked straight to it when it had been pointed out to me—it was a little attic chamber—and knocked sharply at the door. There was some shuffling inside, and then the girl opened the door. I pushed her back, went in, and locked the door behind me.
At first she attempted a little shrieking; but she had not time to indulge in much ere I had my handcuffs clasped on her wrist. It is wonderful what an effect the touch of that kind of cold steel has on a coward. She was instantly silent, though with her white lips in a determined rigidity over her set sharp teeth.
"Now," I said, "will you tell me what you and Corwyn have done with Miss Pemberton?"
"No I won't!" she hissed, "who are you to dare?"
"Oh there is no daring about it my dear! I am simply a detective in pursuit of my duty. You won't tell me, eh? It isn't you can't then?"
"It is I can't: I know nothing about it. How can I tell you what I don't know? Take off these things! Take them off, I say, or I'll screech and alarm the house!"
"Screech away my beauty—I've a gag about me somewhere. Oh! you were packing up when I interrupted you, eh? You were going to make a bolt of it were you?"
"I was going to leave—yes, I told Mrs. Pemberton I was, and why shouldn't I if I like?"
"Because I don't like, my dear. Now, are you going to tell me where Miss Pemberton is?"
"I don't know! I declare to God I don't know!"
"Not where she is now, perhaps, but you can tell a good bit that will help us to find her. What had Corwyn to say to you that night you met him on the hill, and what did he give when you returned him the stud he had lost? Come now, it will be better for you to make a clean breast of it."
"I won't! See that now! You may kill me and I won't! Since you know so much, go and ask Mr. Corwyn himself—you'll know nothing from me!"
"Very well, until you change your mind you will remain a prisoner in this room. If you have not come to your senses by tomorrow morning I'll cart you in to Werrimona lock-up."
WHILE I had been speaking I had been examining the little window—it was impossible to escape from it. I took the key out of the door and she made a rush to try and escape as I opened it.
"Let me hear one bit of noise and I'll gag you," I said as I pushed her back. "I'll bring you some prison rations towards evening, and if you have come to your senses I'll hear what you have to say."
But she said nothing. When I returned at night she was sitting on her bed with a sullen, determined look on her dark face, and would not even reply to me when I addressed her.
"You have been well bribed my lady," I thought, "but the sight of the policemen I'll give you in charge to tomorrow will maybe loosen your tongue."
I WAS wearied out of body and mind, and was asleep almost as soon as I was in bed, and I must have dreamed almost as soon as I slept. It seemed to me that I saw Evelyn again, as I saw her on the previous night, in her trailing white dress; but the hair among which the moonbeams had rested was hanging down almost to her waist, tangled and dishevelled. In the great eyes, too, there seemed an awful glassy stare, and the white hands seemed stretched out entreatingly towards me!
I struggled myself awake as if from a nightmare, and for a second of time after I opened my eyes I seemed to see the shadowy outline of a form between me and the window. I sat up in bed to satisfy myself that there was nothing but space where I had imagined that shape.
"I shall have a relapse if my brain does not get a rest," I thought, as I resolutely turned my face to the wall and shut my eyes. Just then I heard the clock in the hall strike twelve—it was Christmas morning, almost the same hour in which last night Evelyn had said to me her last "Farewell."
In a few moments I slept again, and again I dreamed, but this time my dream had some new features, and was peculiarly vivid. I saw Evelyn gazing at me reproachfully, and I recalled my promise as though she had then repeated it with her shadowy lips. "If ever you place a trust in me I will redeem it faithfully or die." That was my promise—had she come to claim it?
In my dream I gazed at the misty form and met the awful and glassy eyes. She seemed to stand near a window as she had done last night in the drawing room, but this window was smaller, had broken panes and tangled foliage waving long sprays outside it. Inside, too, the woodwork looked old and broken and out of the perpendicular, and the floor upon which she seemed to stand was broken and discoloured.
This time when I awoke in a shudder I bounded from my bed and dressed myself—I could no more have lain still after that repeated dream than if I had seen Evelyn in the flesh and she had called me to avenge her. That she had met with foul play I was convinced, and I went softly to Albert's room and awoke him. It was not hard to do. He started up, fearing some fresh trouble awaiting him.
"Albert," I asked, "is there anywhere in this neighbourhood an old, uninhabited house, with broken windows and wild creeping plants growing around them?"
"Yes, Colonel Hussey's old house," he answered. "Why do you ask?"
"How far is it from this?"
"Under a mile."
"Get up and dress yourself my friend. You I and I must go to that old house within the hour." And as he was dressing I told the poor fellow of my dream and all I feared that Corwyn had done.
"You must be brave to meet the worst, lad," I said, "it would kill your mother to tell her the truth if it is as bad as I fear."
WE had provided ourselves with candles and matches, and easily made our way into the fast-decaying timber house. I went straight toward the room that had the broken panes, the white-faced trembling youth following me closely. A single look at the window showed me the counterpart of what I had seen in my dream, only that there was not even the shadow of lost Evelyn to remind me of my promise. Holding a candle in my hand I looked round the room, and then low on the broken floor for traces of feet or marks to prove my fears not unfounded. I discovered them; on the very spot where Evelyn had seemed to stand Corwyn's for the second time lost stud was lying, and there were spots of blood where it lay!
Without a single hope now we searched the house vainly, until I discovered some loose boards in the flooring of a small back apartment in which the roof had given way and partially fallen in. The boards were lifted, and there lay the form of Evelyn Pemberton, with some folds of her stained robe covering her dead face!
When the first burst of the poor bother's horrified sorrow was past we lifted the fair form, carried it into the best of the rooms, and laid it decently on a table that happened to be there. We could do no more until we procured means and assistance.
WE were returning in awful silence, leaving the victim of revenge alone in the ruined house behind us, when the loud neighing of a horse in the bush not far away attracted my attention. It was a strange neigh, half squeal, as if the animal was in pain, and we turned our horses in the direction of the sound. We found a bay horse entangled by the bridle in some scrub, with a broken saddle beside him near a log.
"This is Corwyn's horse?" cried Albert, as he dismounted and released the horse, who took advantage of his liberty to scour through the brush homeward; nor did we trouble to follow him, for his master was lying against the log in a crushed heap, evidently breathing his last.
I stooped and raised his heavy head to my face, and as I did so he opened his eyes, fixed them on my face and knew me.
"I've had my revenge you see, and all is well," he murmured, "she will play no man false again!" and he was dead—almost with a smile on his murderous lips!
THE story of my dream is told—let the faithless maid Werner drop out of it like the worthless thing she was. I suppose I must do her the justice to believe that when she persuaded Evelyn to grant Corwyn that last meeting, she never dreamed of murder. We had unfortunately no hold on her, so she went free and out of my sight for ever.
My friend Albert is master of Werrimona now, and has a family of fair children growing up around him. The eldest he has named "Evelyn," in memory of his lost sister, and sometimes I fancy the girl has a look in her great dreamy eyes of the murdered bride. Charley Kingsley did not break his heart, though he grieved long for Evelyn's terrible loss; now there are happy children also at Kingsland that bear his name.
Mrs. Pemberton is dead. If she felt remorse for influencing her daughter to deceive the man she loved, and accept one she could not love for the sake of his wealth, she never said so, but carried the secret of her sin with her to the grave.
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