"Yes. And I showed it to Mrs. Parry."
"To that meddlesome old woman. Why?"
"It's too long a matter to go into. But it was just as well I did. She gave me this little ornament."
Morley turned over the enamelled cross and examined it carefully. "Humph! It is the kind of thing Miss Denham said was worn by her dead father."
"Exactly. Well, Mr. Morley, either the father is dead as she told you and that cross was worn by a stranger, or the man who called to see you here was the father."
"How do you make that out? What do you mean?" said Morley, and his face exhibited genuine amazement.
For answer Steel related what Mrs. Parry had told him about the discovery of the cross, and how she had put two and two together.
"And now, sir, you must see that in some way this stranger is connected with the crime. He called to see you. May I ask what you know of him?"
"Absolutely nothing," replied the other emphatically. "Wait! I must show you something." He rose and went to his desk. "Of course, I am telling you my private business," he added, opening a drawer, "so don't please speak about it."
"If it has nothing to do with the murder I won't; but if——"
"Pshaw! that is all right, I know as much about these things as you do. However, we can talk of that later. Meantime cast your eye over that," and he placed a document on the table.
"A judgment summons for five hundred pounds," said Steel, with a whistle. "Did he serve this?"
"Yes," replied Morley, returning to his seat with a gloomy face. "You will see that it is dated three days before he came to me. I have outrun the constable, and have the greatest difficulty in keeping my head above water. This man—I don't know his name—said that he came from those solicitors——"
"'Asher, Son, and Asher,'" read out the detective.
Morley nodded. "Of twenty-two, St. Audrey's Inn. A firm of sharpers I call them. The money has certainly been owing a long time, but I offered to pay off the sum by degrees. They refused, and insist upon immediate payment. If they would only wait until the war is over, my South African shares would go up and there would be a chance of settling the matter. But they will not wait. I expect a bankruptcy notice next."
"I am very sorry for you, Mr. Morley, and of course, I shall not betray the confidence you have placed in me; but the point is, what is the name of the man who served this?"
"I don't know; I never asked him his name. He entered by the front door and served this here. I sent him out by the window, so that the servants should not see him again. He had the look of a sheriff's officer, and one can't be too careful here. I believe Mrs. Parry pays my servants to tell her what goes on in my house. I didn't want her to learn about this summons."
"I can easily understand that," replied the detective; "and I see now why you let the man out by the window. You left the room with him?"
"Yes. I didn't say anything much at the inquest beyond that he was a visitor, and I was relieved when I found that no questions were asked. But I walked with him to the end of the terrace and saw him go down the avenue. Then I returned to this room, and found Miss Denham waiting by the desk. I asked her what she wanted. She asked for her wages, as she was leaving the next day. I had no ready money, and promised to see to it before she departed. Then she went out, and shortly afterwards Miss Kent came in to say she had seen the man go down the avenue. She asked me who he was, and I was rather short with her, poor creature!" and Morley sighed.
"I wonder why the man went to church."
"I can't say that; but I can guess that when he knew who Daisy was he wanted to speak to her."
"What about?" asked Steel eagerly.
"About me and the summons. You see, Steel, there is a half-uncle of Daisy Kent's who went to Australia. He said that if he made his fortune he would leave the money to her. Whether he is dead or alive I don't know, but certainly she did not get any money left to her. Powell's solicitors are Asher, Son, and Asher——"
"Powell? I thought the uncle would be called Kent, unless, of course, he was uncle by the mother's side."
"I said half-uncle," said Morley dryly. "Powell is his name—William Powell—and his solicitors are those who issued that judgment summons. I expect the clerk wanted to tell Daisy about my position and warn her against lending me money. As though I should have asked the girl for sixpence!"
"I don't see why this clerk should warn Miss Kent."
"Well, you see, Daisy had a hundred a year, and they pay it to her. As she might one day be an heiress, I suppose they think it as well to keep an eye on her. This man could not have known that Daisy was in church, and may have just gone there to kill time. But when he saw her and knew who she was, I daresay he wrote that note asking her to come outside and be told all about me."
"It might be so. Was the note found?"
"Not to my knowledge. But you should know, being a detective."
"I'm not omniscient," replied Steel good-humoredly; "it is only in novels that you get the perfect person who never makes a mistake. Well, to resume. I don't see why the clerk should have killed Miss Kent."
"He did not kill her," insisted Morley. "I was in the room with him from the time he entered by the door to the time he left by that middle window. He had no chance of stealing the stiletto. Now Miss Denham had, for she was in the room alone for a few moments."
"But why should she have taken the clerk with her on the car? If she killed the girl her object must have been to escape herself?"
"I can't explain. Perhaps this clerk saw the crime and hoped to make money out of it. Had he given the alarm he wouldn't have gained any reward. So I suppose he mounted the car with her, so that she should not escape him."
"A wild theory."
"It's the only one I can think of," responded Morley; "but if you want to know more of this man go up to Asher, Son, and Asher. I daresay they will be able to give you his history."
"And the Scarlet Cross?"
"I know nothing about that. I did not even notice if the man had such a cross on his chain. In fact," added Morley frankly, "he was too shabby and poverty-stricken to have a chain. I think Anne Denham killed Daisy; you think this man did, and——"
"Pardon," protested Steel. "I have not yet made up my mind. But the two fled together, and there must be some reason for that."
"If so, it will be found in the past history of both, or either. You know where to look for the man. I can get from my wife the address of the Governesses' Institute where she engaged Miss Denham. That is all I can do, unless I take up the case myself."
Steel looked up with a laugh. He was copying the address of the solicitors from the summons, but could not help pausing to reply to this egotistical remark. "Why, Mr. Morley, what do you know of such work?" he asked, bantering.
"Much more than you would give me credit for. Did you ever hear of—by the way, this is another of my secrets I am telling you, so please don't repeat it."
"Are you going to say that you were in the profession?"
"I am. You may have heard of Joe Bart."
"I should think so," said Steel quickly. "He had a splendid reputation, and was much thought of. But he retired before I came to London. I was in the country police for a long time. But"—he started up—"you don't mean to say that——"
"That I am Joe Bart?" interrupted Morley, not ill-pleased. "Yes, I do. I retired over ten years ago, more fool I. You see, Steel, I grew wearied of thief-catching, and as I had a chance of marrying a widow with money, I took the offer and retired. But"—he looked at the summons—"the game wasn't worth the candle. I have had nothing but trouble. Still, I am devoted to my wife and her children."
"And you have forgotten your former glory," said Steel enthusiastically; "surely not. That Hatton Garden jewel robbery, the man with the red coat who committed the Lichfield murder, and——"
"I remember them all," said Morley, with gentle melancholy. "I have a full report of all the cases I was engaged in yonder"—he nodded to a distant shelf. "Sometimes I take those volumes down and think what an ass I was to retire."
"But see here, Mr. Morley. You are hard up; you want money. I am sure they would be glad to have you back at the Yard. Why not recommence your detective life with searching out this case?"
Morley, late Joe Bart, shook his head. "There is no difficulty about this case to tempt me," he said. "Anne Denham killed the girl. But I must say I should like to find out about this clerk, and why he went off with her. Still, it is useless for me to become a detective again. In the first place my wife would not like it, and in the second I have lost my keen scent. I am rusty—I am laid on the shelf. No, no, Steel, you look after this matter yourself. Any advice I can give you I shall, but don't tempt the old dog out of his kennel."
Steel looked admiringly at his host. Bart had been a celebrated detective in his day, although not one of the best. Still, he had made a reputation on two or three cases, which entitled him to respect. "I should be proud to work with you, Mr. Morley."
"Well, well," said Morley, rather pleased, "we'll see. At present I must put my wits to work to get money to prevent my being made a bankrupt. Now don't give me away, Steel."
"I'll say nothing. I suppose your wife knows that you were——"
"Of course. But she made me promise to give it up. Therefore you see I can't take up the life again. But my advice to you—if you care to take it—is to look after the governess, and leave the clerk alone. She is guilty; he is not."
"I'll look after both," said Steel firmly, "after both Mr.—Bart."
Morley laughed. "Report to me all you do," he said, and this Steel willingly promised.
THE IRONY OF FATE
Giles was slowly recovering from his illness, but as yet was unable to leave his room. It was now over a month since the death of Daisy, and during that time all matters connected therewith had been reported to the invalid. Thus he knew of the funeral, of the verdict of the jury, and of the search that was being made for Anne. Trim, who nursed his young master—and he would not allow any one else to do so—day by day, related all that was taking place. The man himself quite believed that Miss Denham was guilty, but he did not offer this opinion to Ware, knowing how keenly Giles felt the untoward tragedy.
The young squire could not bring himself to believe that Anne was guilty. Appearances were against her, and he could not conceive what excuse she could make for her flight with the lawyer's clerk. If she were innocent, she had gone the best way to work up a feasible case against her. But Giles was so deeply in love with her that the blacker became her character in the mouths of the general public, the more persistently he held to the belief that it was whiter than snow. Had he been able he would have followed her, in order to persuade her to return and face the worst with a frank story of the events of that terrible night. But he was chained to his bed, and even had he been sufficiently well, he could not have traced her whereabouts. Steel had called to explain his doings, but not even he could guess where Anne was to be found. And Giles rejoiced that this should be so.
"What's the news this morning, Trim?" he asked languidly.
"Mr. Morley has come to see you, sir. He is waiting below."
"I thought he had gone to Brighton with his wife and family?"
"He did go some days back," assented Trim, "but he returned, sir—so he says—especially to see you."
"How very good of him! Ask him to come up."
"Are you strong enough, Master Giles?"
"Yes, you old tyrant. I hope to be up and about in a week."
Trim shook his grey head. He was rather a pessimist, and did not believe in too sudden recoveries, insisting that such did not last.
"You'll have a relapse, sir, and be worse than ever."
Ware laughed, knowing Trim's ways, and motioned him out of the room. When the old servant left, grumbling that his master should be disturbed, Giles began to wonder what had brought Morley back from Brighton. Perhaps he had come to speak of Daisy and her untimely end; but he had already, on a previous occasion, said all that was to be said about that matter. Ware sincerely mourned Daisy, for in a way he had been fond of her. Still, he could not but confess that a marriage between them would have been a mistake, and that drastic as was the cutting of the Gordian knot, it relieved him from an impossible position. His love for Anne would always have stood between himself and the unfortunate girl, and her jealousy would have ruined both their lives. Certainly he saw no chance of making Anne his wife, seeing that she was a fugitive and accused of a terrible crime. Nevertheless, since he had not to marry Daisy, the situation was less difficult. But Ware, his heart aching for the woman he loved, found cold comfort in this reasoning.
Morley entered, looking ruddy and cheerful, quite his old self, in fact. Evidently the sea air and the change had assuaged his grief to a considerable extent, and Giles could not help remarking cynically on his quick recovery. "I thought you were fond of Daisy," he said reproachfully.
"I was, and so was my wife," answered Morley, taking a seat beside the bed. "But what's done can't be undone, and I have been trying to get over my sorrow. But in spite of my looks, Ware, I have my bad moments. And you?"
"I sincerely mourn for the poor girl. It is terrible that she should be cut off so suddenly. But I am just as sorry for Miss Denham, if not more sorry. It is those who are left behind that suffer most, Morley."
"Humph!" said the little man thoughtfully, "then you did love Miss Denham?"
"Morley"—Giles started up on his elbow—"what do you mean?"
"I am simply repeating what Daisy said."
"She had a monomania on the subject," said Ware uneasily. "I never gave her any cause for jealousy."
"Would you have married her had she lived?"
"Certainly," said Ware coldly. "I promised my father that the daughter of his old friend should be my wife."
"I am sure you would have acted honorably," said Morley gravely, "but it is just as well that you did not marry the girl. I think she had some reason to be jealous of Miss Denham."
Ware groaned. "I tried my best to——" He broke off with a frown. "This is my private business, Morley. You have no right to pry into these things."
Morley shrugged his shoulders. "As you please. I shall say no more. But I don't expect you'll see Miss Denham again."
"I don't expect I shall. Please leave her name out of this conversation."
"For the moment I am agreeable to do so. But as I believe her to be guilty, I must ask you a question or two."
"I shall answer no questions," responded Giles violently. "Miss Denham is innocent."
"Then why did she fly?"
"I don't know. If I can only find her, I shall ask her to come back and face the worst. She can explain."
"She will have to when she is caught. How do you propose to find her, Ware?"
"I don't know. Wait till I am on my feet again."
"Well," said Morley cheerfully, "I'll give you a clue—the Scarlet Cross."
"Rubbish! There's nothing in that in spite of the anonymous letter. What do you know about the matter?"
"Only what Steel told me. He found a boatman at Gravesend who declared that on the day of the crime—Steel gave him the date—a small steam yacht was lying in the river off the town. It was called The Red Cross. The next morning it was gone. The night was foggy, and no one saw it leave its moorings. It simply vanished. What do you make of that, Ware?"
"Nothing at all. What has this yacht to do with Miss Denham?"
"Can't you see? The anonymous letter referred to a Scarlet Cross. Such an ornament was picked up in the church, and the boat was called——"
"The Red Cross—not The Scarlet Cross," interrupted Ware.
"Only a difference of shade," said Morley ironically. "But I am certain that Miss Denham with her companion went on board that yacht. I can't think how else they escaped."
"Why should this lawyer's clerk have gone on board?"
"That's what Steel is trying to find out. I expect he will make inquiries of Asher, Son, and Asher's office. But the name of the yacht, the fact that Miss Denham made for Gravesend, where it was lying, and its appearance and disappearance within twenty-four hours during which the crime was committed shows me that she fled and that she is guilty."
Ware restrained himself with a violent effort. "Oh," he said ironically, "then you believe that Miss Denham arranged that the yacht should be at Gravesend, ready for her flight, after the death of Daisy."
"It looks like that," assented Morley. "I believe myself that the crime was premeditated."
"And was the fact of my car being at the church gate premeditated?" asked Ware angrily.
"Why not? Miss Denham knew that your car was coming for you after the service."
"Morley, I admit that things look black, but she is not guilty."
"Humph! You love her."
"That has nothing to do with it."
"As you will. Let us say no more on the subject. I wish to tell you why I came."
"It is sure to be a more disagreeable subject," retorted Giles; then felt compunction for the rude speech. "I beg your pardon, Morley, I am a perfect bear. But this illness has made me peevish, and the events of the last few weeks have rendered my brain irritable. Forgive my bad temper."
"Oh, that's all right, Ware," replied his visitor heartily. "I can always make allowances for invalids. You'll be your old self again shortly."
"I shall never be myself again," replied Giles gloomily.
It was on the tip of Morley's tongue to make some fresh reference to Anne. But he knew that such a remark would only exasperate the invalid; and, moreover, Giles looked so ill and worried that Morley generously refrained from adding to his troubles. "Let us come to business," he said, taking some papers out of his breast coat-pocket. "Since you were engaged to Daisy I thought it right that you should be made aware of a communication I have received from Asher, Son, and Asher."
"About the summons you told me of?" asked Ware wearily. He did not take much interest in Morley's affairs.
"No. I have managed to compromise that. The solicitors have accepted payment in instalments. In this instance they write to me officially as Daisy's guardian. She has come into five thousand a year, Ware."
Giles opened his eyes and sat up in bed excitedly.
"Do you mean to say that her half-uncle Powell is dead?"
Morley nodded. "Very ironical, isn't it?" he said. "She was always talking and hoping for the money, and now when it comes she is unable to enjoy it. What tricks Fate plays us to be sure!"
"Poor girl!" sighed Giles; "how often have we discussed the prospect of her being an heiress! I always told her that I had enough for both, but she hankered after having money in her own right."
"Look at the papers," said Morley, handing them to the young man, "and you will see that Powell died over four months ago in Sydney. His solicitors arranged about the estate in the colony of New South Wales, and then communicated with Asher as Powell had advised them before he died. There is a copy of the will there."
"So I see. But tell me the chief points in it. I feel too tired to wade through all this legal matter."
"Well, the money was left to Daisy, and failing her it goes to a man called George Franklin."
"H'm! He has come in for his kingdom very speedily, thanks to the death of poor Daisy. Who is he?"
Morley glanced at a letter. "He was the brother-in-law of Mr. Powell—married Powell's sister who is dead. I don't know if there is any family. Asher's firm doesn't know the whereabouts of Franklin, but they are advertising for him. The five thousand a year goes to him without reservation."
"Why did they tell you all this?"
"I really can't say, unless it is because I was Daisy's legal guardian. I wish she had come in for this money, Ware, for I do not say but what I shouldn't have been glad of a trifle. And if Daisy had lived she would have paid me something. Certainly as I did what I did do out of sheer friendship with her father, I have no right to demand anything, but when Franklin hears of my circumstances I hope he will lend me some money to get me out of my difficulties."
"It all depends upon the kind of man he turns out to be. But I always thought, Morley, that it was your wife to whom Kent left his daughter. She was an old friend of his."
"Quite so; but Kent appointed me guardian, as Mrs. Morley refused to be legally bound. I am sure I did my duty," added the little man, with sudden heat.
"I am sure you did. You behaved like a father to her, and I am sorry she did not live to repay you." Giles thought for a moment or so, then added, "I was engaged to Daisy, and I am rich. Let me help you, Morley."
"No, thanks. It is good of you to suggest such a thing, but I am a very independent man. If this Franklin will do anything, I don't mind accepting a thousand from him; otherwise—no, Ware."
Giles admired the bluff way in which Morley said this. He knew well that for a long time Morley and his wife had done all they could for Daisy Kent, and that both of them deserved great praise. He suggested that Mrs. Morley might be induced——
"No," interrupted his visitor, "my wife wants nothing. She has her own money, and ample means."
"Then why don't you ask for her help?"
"My dear Ware, I married Mrs. Morley because I loved her, and not for her money. All her property is settled on herself, and I have not touched one shilling of it. She would willingly help me, but I have refused."
"Isn't that rather quixotic on your part?"
"Perhaps," responded Morley, with some dryness; "but it is my nature. However, I see that I am tiring you. I only came to tell you of this irony of fate, whereby Daisy inherited a fortune too late to benefit by it. I must go now. My wife expects me back in Brighton to-morrow."
"When do you return to The Elms?"
"In a month. And what are your movements?"
Ware thought for a few minutes before he answered. At length he spoke seriously.
"Morley, I know you are prejudiced against Miss Denham."
"I think she is guilty, if that is what you mean, Ware."
"And I say that she is innocent. I intend to devote myself to finding her and to clearing up this mystery."
"Well, I wish you good luck," said Morley, moving towards the door; "but don't tell me when you find Miss Denham. If I come across her I'll have her arrested."
"That's plain enough. Well, since you are her declared enemy, I shall keep my own counsel." He raised himself on his elbow. "But I tell you, Morley, that I shall find her. I shall prove her innocence, and I shall make her my wife."
Morley opened the door.
"The age of miracles is past," he said. "When you are more yourself, you will be wiser. Good-bye, and a speedy recovery."
As the visitor departed Trim entered with the letters. He was not at all pleased to find Giles so flushed, and refused to hand over the correspondence. Only when Ware began to grow seriously angry did Trim give way. He went grumbling out of the room as Giles opened his letters. The first two were from friends in town asking after his health; the third had a French stamp and the Paris postmark. Ware opened it listlessly. He then uttered an exclamation. On a sheet of thin foreign paper was the drawing in pencil of a half-sovereign of Edward VII., and thereon three circles placed in a triangle, marked respectively "A," "D," and "P." Below, in a handwriting he knew only too well, was written the one word "Innocent."
"Anne, Anne!" cried Ware, passionately kissing the letter, "as though I needed you to tell me that!"
And it was not till an hour later that he suddenly remembered what a narrow escape he had had from putting Morley on the track of Anne Denham. Had Morley seen that letter——?
"Paris," murmured Giles, "I'll go there."
A STRANGE DISCOVERY
The offices of Asher, Son, and Asher were situated in a dark, narrow street in the City, which led down to the river. In former days the place might have been respectable, and then the original Asher had set up his official tent in the neighborhood; but civilization had moved westward, and Terry Street was looked on askance by fashionable solicitors. Nevertheless the firm of Asher continued to dwell in the dingy office, where their progenitors had slaved for close on a hundred years. It was quite good enough, thought the present head of the firm, for such well-known lawyers.
The firm did a good old-fashioned business, eminently respectable and safe. None of the three partners was a sharper, as Morley asserted; but as the firm had issued a judgment summons against the master of The Elms, he could scarcely be expected to think well of them. Old Mr. Asher rarely came to the office, preferring his country house and melon beds, and the business was conducted by the son and the other Asher, who was a cousin. Both these gentlemen were over forty, and in spite of a modern education were decidedly old-fashioned. There was something in the musty air of the Terry Street office that petrified them into old men before their due time. The three clerks who sat in the outer rooms were also elderly, and the sole youthful creature about the place was the office boy, a red-haired imp who answered to the name of Alexander. His surname was Benker, but was not thought sufficiently dignified for use in so sedate a place of business.
With some difficulty Steel found this musty haunt of the legal Muse, and sent up his name to the senior partner with a request for an interview. Alexander, whistling between his teeth, led him into a frowzy apartment lined with books and tin boxes, and furnished with a green baize-covered table heaped with legal papers, three chairs, and a mahogany sofa of the Early Victorian period. Mr. Asher, the son, might have belonged to the same epoch, in spite of his age, so rusty and smug did he look. His face was clean-shaven with the exception of side-whiskers; his hair was thin on the top and sparse on the sides, and he was dressed in a suit of solemn black, with a satin tie to match. In fact, he was the typical lawyer of melodrama, and Steel was surprised to find so ancient a survival in these modern days. But when they began to talk Asher proved to be quite able to hold his own, and was not at all fossilized in brain, whatever he might be in appearance. He knew not only the name of Steel, but all about the case and Steel's connection therewith. He referred in feeling terms to Daisy's death.
"A very charming girl, Mr. Steel," said the young-old lawyer. "On several occasions she has been here to draw her little income. It is sad that she should have met with her death at the hands of a jealous woman at the very time she was about to enjoy a legacy of five thousand a year."
"You don't say so!" cried Steel, who had heard nothing of this.
"Ah! Mr. Morley never informed you of the fact."
"Well, no, he didn't; but then, I have not seen him for over a week. I believe he is at Brighton with his wife. Who left this money to the late Miss Kent?"
"A relative of hers who died lately in Australia."
"And failing her who inherits?"
Mr. Asher reflected. "I don't know that you have any right to ask that question," he said, after a pause.
"Pardon me," replied the detective. "Miss Kent was murdered. I fancied that the money might have something to do with the commission of the crime."
"No, Mr. Steel. I read the evidence given at the inquest. Jealousy was the motive of the crime, and Miss Denham is guilty."
"I am somewhat of that way of thinking myself, Mr. Asher. And on the face of it there is no other way of accounting for the murder. Nevertheless it is just as well to look at the matter from all sides. The crime may be connected with the question of this fortune. You may as well tell me what I wish to know. I'll keep my mouth closed."
"Are you going to accuse our client of the crime?" asked Asher dryly. "I fear you will waste your time if you do. Since you look at the matter in this way, I don't mind speaking about what after all is not your business."
"That is as it may be," returned Steel enigmatically.
Asher passed this remark over. "Failing Miss Kent, the five thousand a year goes to George Franklin, a brother-in-law of the testator. We lately received a letter from him, informing us that he intended to claim the money."
"How did he know that he would inherit?"
"We advertised for him. He is quite unaware of the death of Miss Kent, and I daresay thinks Mr. Powell left the fortune to him direct."
"You can't be certain of his ignorance. However, let us give him the benefit of the doubt. Where did he write from?"
"From Florence, in Italy, where he has lived for four years. He will be in London next week, and if you want to see him——"
"I'll think of it," interrupted Steel. "There may be no need to trouble Mr. Franklin. At present I am searching for this clerk of yours, who went off with Miss Denham."
The lawyer raised his eyebrows with manifest surprise. "A clerk of ours, Mr. Steel? I don't quite follow you."
"I refer to the man who served a judgment summons on Mr. Morley."
"A boy served that," explained Asher. "The boy who showed you in."
Steel stared hard at the solicitor, trying to understand why he had made such a statement. "But that is absurd," he remarked. "I know that nothing was said at the inquest about the matter, as Mr. Morley did not wish it to be known that he was in such difficulties. But a tall man, with a reddish beard, dressed in a great-coat, with a white scarf, served the summons. Afterwards he went to the midnight service in the parish church, and lured Miss Kent outside by means of a note, which we cannot find. From what I have gathered this man went with Miss Denham in Mr. Ware's motor-car. He fled with her, and I fancy he must be either the assassin or an accessory after the fact."
Asher heard all this with extreme surprise. When Steel concluded he touched the bell. Alexander responded with his usual cheerful and impudent air. His master addressed him with some severity. "What about that summons which was served by you on Mr. Morley, of Rickwell?" he demanded.
The lad grew crimson to his ears, and looked at the floor much embarrassed. "I served it all right, sir," he mumbled.
"You served it," struck in Steel, with emphasis. "That is quite untrue. A tall man with a red beard served it."
"Alexander, tell the truth. What does this mean?"
The boy began to sob, and drew his coat-sleeve across his eye with a snuffle. "I thought it was all right," he said, "or I should not have given it to him."
"The summons! You gave it to someone to serve?"
"Yes, sir. To Mr. Wilson, mother's lodger."
"Is he tall? Has he a pale face and a red beard?" asked Steel.
"He has, sir. He's been with mother six months, and was always kind. When I got the summons he said that he was going into the country, and would serve it on Mr. Morley."
"Alexander," said Asher in an awful tone, "I gave you money for your railway fare to go to Rickwell. What have you done with that money, wretched boy?"
"I went to the Hippodrome with another boy," wept Alexander. "I thought as I'd take the holiday, as you'd think I was in the country. Please, sir, I'm very sorry, but I thought Mr. Wilson was all right."
"Did Mr. Wilson come back to say that all was right?" demanded Steel sharply.
"No, sir, he didn't. Mother and I ain't set eyes on him since he went away to serve the summons. I was afraid to tell you, sir," he added to his master, "'cause I knew I'd done wrong. But I hope you won't be hard on me, sir."
"Alexander," said Mr. Asher, "you have disgraced a most respectable office, and can no longer continue in it. You have spent money, you have wasted time, both given to you for a certain purpose. For the sake of your mother, who is a hard-working woman, I shall not take any legal steps. But from this day you cease to be in our employment. Your wages for the week shall be confiscated, since you have made free with my money. At five to-day, Alexander, you leave this place forever."
"Oh, sir—please, sir—I didn't——"
"Alexander, I have spoken. You can depart."
With a howl the boy went out of the room, and sat weeping in the outer office for at least ten minutes. He was wondering what he should say to his mother, for she was a terrible woman, with a short temper and a hard hand. His fellow-clerks demanded what was the matter, but Alexander had sense enough to keep his own counsel. All he said was that the governor had discharged him, and then he wept afresh.
While thus employed Steel made his appearance. He had been discussing the matter with Asher, and had proposed a course of action in connection with the delinquent to which Asher agreed. He advanced to the weeping Alexander and lifted him from his seat by the collar.
"Come, young man," said he, "take me home to your mother at once."
"Oh, Lor'," cried Alexander, "she'll give me beans!"
"You deserve the worst beating she can give you," said Steel severely, while the clerks grinned. "However, you must come with me. Where do you live?"
"Warder Street, Lambeth," snuffled Alexander, and urged by the hand on his collar, went out of the office with the detective.
"We'll take a hansom," said Steel, and shortly was ensconced in one with the miserable Alexander.
As a rule a ride in a hansom would have been a joy to Master Benker, but he was too much afraid of the meeting with his mother to take any pleasure in the treat. However, he relied on the promise of the detective that he would sooth the maternal ire, and managed to reply fairly well to the questions Steel asked. These referred to Mr. Wilson.
"Who is he?" demanded the detective.
"Mother's lodger," replied Alexander; "he's been with her six months, and mother thought a deal of him. He was kind to me."
"Ah! Was he well off?"
"I don't know. He paid his rent regular, but he wore shabby clothes, and was always out. I only saw him at night when I came home from the office."
"Did he ask you many questions about the office?"
"Oh, yes. He said he wished me to get on—that I was a smart boy, and a credit to my mother."
"So you are," answered Steel genially. "I'm sure she'll give you a proof of her approval to-day. Now don't cry, boy." Steel shook Alexander, and then demanded suddenly, "You copy all the letters, do you not?"
"Yes, I do," answered Master Benker, wondering why this was asked.
"And you read them sometimes?"
"Nearly always. I like to know what's going on. Mr. Wilson said I should make myself acquainted with everything."
"I'm sure he did," muttered Steel ironically. "Did you read any letter saying that Miss Kent had inherited a fortune? Miss Daisy Kent, who lived with Mr. Morley at Rickwell?"
Alexander thought for a moment. "Yes, I did. It was a letter to some lawyers in Sydney."
"Did you tell Mr. Wilson about it?"
"Yes, sir. He was always talking about people coming in for money, and I said that a girl called Miss Kent had come in for five thousand a year."
"I thought so. When did you tell Mr. Wilson this?"
"Three days after Christmas."
"Before he offered to serve the summons?"
"Why, I hadn't got the summons then," said Alexander. "Mr. Asher gave it to me the day before New Year. I said I was going into the country to Rickwell, for Mr. Wilson asked me what I was making myself smart for. He said he'd take the summons, and that I could go to the Hippodrome with Jim Tyler."
"Which you did on your employer's money. You are a smart lad, Alexander. What did your mother say?"
"Mother was out when I came home with the summons, and after Mr. Wilson said he'd take it I didn't say anything to her."
"Then she thought that on the day before the New Year you were at the office as usual?"
"Yes," snuffled Master Benker, "she did. Oh, Lor'!" as the cab stopped before a tidy house in a quiet street, "here we are."
"And there is your mother," said the detective cheerfully, as a severe face appeared at the white-curtained window.
Alexander wept afresh as Steel paid the cabman, and positively howled when the door opened and his mother—a lean woman in a black dress, with a widow's cap—appeared. He would have run away but that Steel again had a hand on his collar.
"Alexander," cried his mother harshly, "what have you been doing?"
"Nothing very dreadful, ma'am," interposed Steel. "It will be all right. Let me in, and I'll speak for my young friend."
"And who may you be, sir?" demanded Mrs. Benker, bristling.
"A personal friend of Mr. Asher's."
On hearing this dreaded name Mrs. Benker softened, and welcomed Steel into a neat parlor, where he seated himself in a horsehair mahogany chair of the most slippery description and related what had happened. Alexander stood by and wept all the time. He wept more when his mother spoke.
"I expected it," she said in quiet despair; "that boy is the bane of my life. I'll speak to you shortly, Alexander. Go to your room and retire to bed."
"Oh, mother! mother!" cried Master Benker, writhing at the prospect of a thorough whipping.
"Go to your room, Alexander, and make ready," repeated the widow, with a glare, and the boy retired slowly, wriggling and snuffling. When his sobs died away and an upstairs door was heard to close with a bang, Mrs. Benker addressed herself to Steel.
"I hope you will induce Mr. Asher to overlook this," she said, clasping a pair of lean, mittened hands; "I am so poor."
"I'll do my best," responded Steel; "that is, if you will give me some information about your late lodger, Mr. Wilson."
"Why should I do that?" asked Mrs. Benker suspiciously.
"Because Mr. Asher wishes to know all about him. You see, your son allowed Mr. Wilson to serve this summons, and it is necessary that Mr. Asher should learn where he is."
"That's only fair; but I don't know. Mr. Wilson has not returned here since he left on the day before New Year."
"Did he leave any luggage behind him?"
"No, sir, he didn't." Mrs. Benker paused, then continued, "I'll tell you exactly how it occurred, if Mr. Asher will make some allowance for the wickedness of that wretched boy of mine."
"I'll see what can be done, and use my influence with Mr. Asher."
"Thank you, sir," said the widow gratefully. "Well, sir, I was absent all the last day of the year, as I was seeing a married daughter of mine in Marylebone. Mr. Wilson was in the house when I left at ten in the morning, but said nothing about going away. When I returned at six in the evening I found that he was gone bag and baggage, and that he had left his rent on the table. Also a note saying that he was suddenly called away and would not return."
"Have you the note?" asked Steel, thinking it just as well to have some specimen of Wilson's handwriting.
Mrs. Benker shook her head. "I burnt it," she replied; "it was only written in pencil and not worth keeping. I must say that Mr. Wilson always behaved like a gentleman, although I saw little of him. He was queer in his habits."
"How do you mean—'queer'?"
"Well, sir, I hardly ever saw him in the daytime, and when I did he usually kept his blinds down in his room, as he suffered from weak eyes. Even when he saw Alexander in the evening he would hardly have any light. Then sometimes he would lie in bed all the day, and be out all the night. At other times he would stay at home the whole of the twenty-four hours. But he always paid his rent regularly, and gave little trouble over his food. Yes," added Mrs. Benker, smoothing her apron, "Mr. Wilson was always a gentleman. I will say that."
"Humph!" thought Steel, taking all this in eagerly. "A queer kind of gentleman," he added aloud. "Did you know anything else about him, Mrs. Benker?"
"No, sir." She drew herself up primly. "I never pry—never."
"Did any one call to see Mr. Wilson?"
"No one. All the time he was here not one person called."
"Did he receive any letters?"
"No. Not one letter arrived."
"Queer," murmured Steel. "What newspaper did he take?"
"The Morning Post. Also he took the World, Truth, Modern Society, and M. A. P. He was fond of the fashionable intelligence."
"Oh, he was, was he? Would you have called him a gentleman?"
"He always paid his rent duly," hesitated Mrs. Benker, "so far he was a perfect gentleman. But I have lived as a lady's maid in the best families, sir, and I don't think Mr. Wilson was what you or I would call an aristocrat."
"I see. So you were a lady's maid once. In what families?"
Mrs. Benker was not at all averse to relating her better days, and did so with pride. "I was with the Countess of Flint, with Mrs. Harwitch, and with Lady Susan Summersdale."
"Ha!" said Steel, starting. He remembered that Morley had been concerned with Lady Summersdale about the robbery of her jewels. "Did you tell Mr. Wilson this?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. We had long talks about aristocratic families."
She repeated several tales she had told Wilson, and Steel asked her many questions. When he took his leave he asked a leading one: "Did Mr. Wilson wear a red cross as an ornament?"
"On his watch-chain he did," said Mrs. Benker, and Steel departed very satisfied with his day's work.
ON A FRESH TRAIL
If Giles Ware had not been desperately in love and desperately anxious to find Anne Denham, he would scarcely have gone to Paris on such a wild-goose chase. The postmark on the letter showed that she was, or she had been, in the French capital; but to find her in that immense city was like looking for a haystack in a league-long desert. However, Ware had an idea—foolish enough—that some instinct would guide him to her side, and, therefore, as soon as he recovered sufficiently to travel he crossed the Channel with Trim. He left Rickwell about three weeks after his interview with Morley. Time enough, as he well knew, for Anne to change her place of residence. But he trusted to luck.
For quite a fortnight he explored the city, accompanied by the faithful old servant. Trim had sharp eyes, and would be certain to recognize Anne if she came within eyesight. But in spite of their vigilance and observation, the two saw no one even distantly resembling Anne. Certainly if Giles had gone to the authorities, who take note of all who come and go, he might have been more successful. But knowing that Anne was wanted by the English police, he did not dare to adopt this method. He was forced to rely entirely on himself, and his search resulted in nothing.
"It ain't no good, Master Giles," said Trim for at least the tenth time; "we've lost the scent somehow. Better go back to London. I don't want you to be ill over here, sir, with nothing but foreign doctors to look after you."
"I shan't leave Paris until I am certain that she is not in the place," declared Ware resolutely.
"Well, sir, I don't know how much more certain you wants to be. We've tramped them bullyvardes and Chamy Elizas till our feet are near dropping off. You're looking a shadow, Master Giles, if you'll excuse an old man as nursed you when you were a baby. She ain't here. Now I shouldn't be surprised if she were in London," said Trim wisely.
"What, in the very jaws of the lion? Nonsense!"
"Oh, but is it, sir? I always heard it said by them as knows that the jaws of the lion is the very last place any one expects to find them." Trim did not state what "them" he meant. "If she went back to Rickwell she would be safe, especially if she laid up in some cottage and called herself a widder."
"Trim, you've been reading detective novels!"
"Not me, sir; I ain't got no time. But about this going back——"
"We'll go back to-morrow, Trim," said Ware, with sudden resolution. And Trim joyfully departed to pack.
It just struck Giles that after all Trim might be right, and that having thrown the police off the scent by going abroad in the yacht, Anne might return to London. She might be there now, living in some quiet suburb, while the police were wasting their time corresponding with the French authorities. Moreover, Ware thought it would be just as well to learn what Steel was doing. He had charge of the case and might have struck the trail. In that case Giles wanted to know, for he could then avert any possible danger from Anne. And finally he reflected that he might learn something about Anne's friends from the people at the Governesses' Institute where Mrs. Morley had engaged her. If she returned to London it was not impossible that she might have gone to hide in the house of some friend. Any one who knew Anne could be certain that she was not guilty of the crime she was accused of, and would assuredly aid her to escape the unjust law. So thought Giles in his ardor; but he quite forgot that every one was not in love with Anne, and would scarcely help her unless they were fully convinced of her innocence, and perhaps not even then. Most people have a holy horror of the law, and are not anxious to help those in danger of the long arm of justice.
However, Giles reasoned as above and forthwith left Paris for London. He took up his quarters in the Guelph Hotel, opposite the Park, and began his search for Anne again. Luckily he had obtained from Mrs. Morley the number of the Institute, which was in South Kensington, and the day after his arrival walked there to make inquiries. It was a very forlorn hope, but Ware saw no other chance of achieving his desire.
The Institute was a tall red-brick house, with green blinds and a prim, tidy look. He was shown into a prim parlor and interviewed by a prim old lady, who wore spectacles and had a pencil stuffed in the bosom of her black gown. However, she was less prim than she looked, and had a cheerful old ruddy face with a twinkling pair of kindly eyes. In her heart Mrs. Cairns admired this handsome young man who spoke so politely, and was more willing to afford him the desired information than if he had been elderly and ugly. Old as she was, the good lady was a true daughter of Eve, and her natural liking for the opposite sex had not been crushed out of her by years of education. Nevertheless when she heard the name of Anne she threw up her hands in dismay.
"Why do you come here to ask about that unfortunate girl?" she demanded, and looked severely at Giles. Before he could reply she glanced again at his card, which she held in her fingers, and started. "Giles Ware," she read, drawing a quick breath. "Are you——"
"I was engaged to the young lady who was killed," said Ware, surprised.
Mrs. Cairns' rosy face became a deep red. "And you doubtless wish to avenge her death by finding Miss Denham?"
"On the contrary, I wish to save Miss Denham."
"What! do you not believe her guilty?"
"No, Mrs. Cairns, I do not. Every one says she killed the girl, but I am certain that she is an innocent woman. I come to ask you if you can tell me where she is."
"Why do you come to me?" Mrs. Cairns went to see that the door was closed before she asked this question.
"I thought you might know of her whereabouts."
"Why should I?"
"Well, I admit that there is no reason why you should—at least, I thought so before I came here."
"And now?" She bent forward eagerly.
"Now I think that if she had come to you for refuge she would get help from you. I can see that you also believe her guiltless."
"I do," said Mrs. Cairns in a low voice. "I have known Anne for years and I am certain that she is not the woman to do a thing like this. She would not harm a fly."
"Then you can help me. You know where she is?"
Mrs. Cairns looked at his flushed face, at the light in his eyes. In her shrewd way she guessed the secret of this eagerness. "Then you love her," she said under her breath. "You love Anne."
"Why do you say that?" asked Giles, taken aback. He was not prepared to find that she could read him so easily.
"I remember," said Mrs. Cairns to herself, but loud enough for him to hear, "there was a Society paper said something about jealousy being the motive of the crime, and——"
"Do you mean to say that such a statement was in the papers?" asked Ware angrily, and with a flash of his blue eyes.
"It was in none of the big daily papers, Mr. Ware. They offered no explanation. But some Society reporter went down to Rickwell; to gather scandal from the servants, I suppose."
"Off from Mrs. Parry," muttered Giles; then aloud, "Yes?"
"Well, this man or woman—most probably it was a woman—made up a very pretty tale, which was printed in The Firefly."
"A scandalous paper," said Ware, annoyed. "What did it say?"
"That you were in love with Anne, that you were engaged to Miss Kent, and that to gain you as her husband Anne killed the girl."
"It's a foul lie. I'll horsewhip the editor and make him put in an apology."
"I shouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Ware," said the old lady dryly. "Better let sleeping dogs lie. I don't believe the whole story myself—only part of it."
"What part, Mrs. Cairns?"
"That part which says you love Anne. I can see it in your face."
"If I can trust you——"
"Certainly you can. Anne is like my own child. I believe her guiltless of this terrible crime, and I would do anything to see her righted. She did not kill the girl."
"No, I believe the girl was killed by a nameless man who came to Rickwell from some firm of solicitors. I don't know why he murdered the poor child, no more than I can understand why Anne should have helped him to escape."
"You call her Anne," said Mrs. Cairns softly.
Giles flushed through the tan of his strong face.
"I have no right to do so," he said. "She never gave me permission. Mrs. Cairns, I assure you that there was no understanding between Miss Denham and myself. I was engaged by my father to Miss Kent, and we were to be married. I fell in love with Miss Denham, and I have reason to believe that she returned my love."
"She told you so?"
"No, no! She and I never said words like that to one another. We were friends; nothing more. Miss Kent chose to be jealous of a trifling gift I gave Miss Denham at Christmas, and there was trouble. Then came an anonymous letter, saying that Anne wished to kill Daisy."
"A letter, and said that?" exclaimed Mrs. Cairns in surprise. "But I can't understand it at all. Anne had no enemies, so far as I know. No one could hate so sweet a girl. Her father——"
"Did you know her father?" asked Ware quickly.
"No; but she often spoke of him. She was fond of her father, although he seems to have been a wandering Bohemian. He died at Florence."
"I wonder if he really did die."
"Of course. He—but it's a long story, Mr. Ware, and I have not the time to tell it to you. Besides, there is one who can tell you all about Anne and her father much better than I can. The Princess Karacsay. Do you know her?"
"I have seen the name somewhere."
"Probably on a programme," said Mrs. Cairns composedly. "Oh, don't look so astonished. The Princess is really a Hungarian aristocrat. She quarrelled with her people, and came to England with very little money. To keep herself alive she tried to become a governess. Afterwards, having a beautiful voice, she became a concert singer. I hear she is very popular."
"How should she know about Anne—I mean Miss Denham?"
"Because if there is any woman to whom Anne would go in her distress, it would be the Princess. She met Anne here while she was a governess, and the two became great friends. They were always together. I do not know where Anne is, Mr. Ware. She did not come to me, nor has she written; but if she is in England the Princess will know."
"Do you think she would tell me?" asked Giles eagerly.
"I really don't know. She is romantic, and if she learned that you loved Anne she might be inclined to help you. But that would depend upon Anne herself. How is she disposed towards you?"
For answer Giles related the episode of the foreign letter, with the drawing of the coin and the one word "Innocent." Mrs. Cairns listened quietly, and nodded.
"Evidently Anne values your good opinion. I think you had better tell all this to the Princess." She hastily wrote a few lines. "This is her address."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!"
"And, Mr. Ware," added the old lady, laying a kind hand on his arm, "if you hear about Anne, come and tell me. I hope with all my soul that you will be able to save the poor child."
"If human aid can prove her innocence, you can depend upon me," was Ware's reply. And taking leave of Mrs. Cairns, he left the Institute with his heart beating and his head in the air.
Giles was glad that his good fortune had led him to meet this true friend of the woman he loved. He was also glad that he had been so open with her about his passion, else she might not have sent him to the Princess Karacsay. As the name came into his mind he glanced down at the paper, which he still held. The address of Anne's friend was "42, Gilbert Mansions, Westminster." Giles resolved to lose no time in looking her up. She would be able to tell him where Anne was, and also might be able to explain the mystery of Anne's life in general, and her conduct at Rickwell in particular.
For there was some mystery about Miss Denham. Ware was quite certain on that point. She had said that her father was dead, and circumstances pointed to the fact that her father was alive and was the nameless man who had appeared and disappeared so suddenly. Then there was the strange episode of the anonymous letter, and the queer reference therein to the Scarlet Cross. Also the fact that the yacht in which Anne had fled was called The Red Cross. All these things hinted at a mystery, and such might in some indirect way be connected with the death of Daisy Kent. Anne had not killed her; but since she had aided the murderer to escape she must have condoned the crime in some way. Ware shuddered as he looked at the matter in this light. What if Anne knew something about the matter after all? The next moment he put the thought from him with anger. Anne was good and pure, and her hands were clean from the stain of blood. Such a woman would not—could not commit a crime either directly or indirectly. When he saw her he would ask for an explanation, and once she opened her mouth all would be made plain.
Arguing thus with himself, Giles wrote a letter to the Princess Karacsay and asked for an interview. He mentioned that he had seen Mrs. Cairns and that the old lady had furnished him with the address. Also, he said that his wish in seeing the Princess was to ask for the whereabouts of Miss Denham. Having despatched this note, Giles felt that he could do no more until he received a reply.
But he was too restless to remain quiet. It occurred to him that he might look up Steel and learn what fresh discoveries had been made in connection with the Rickwell crime. He went to New Scotland Yard and asked for the detective, but learned to his surprise and vexation that the man was out of town and was not expected back for a week. No one could say where he had gone, so Giles had to satisfy himself with leaving a card and promising to call again.
The next day he received a note from the Princess Karacsay asking him to come the next evening at nine o'clock. She said nothing about Anne, nor did she volunteer any information. She simply appointed an hour and a place for the interview and signed herself Olga Karacsay. Giles felt that she had been intentionally curt, and wondered if she intended to give him a civil reception. After some thought he decided that she meant to be kind, although the note read so coldly. He would go, and perhaps during the interview she might be persuaded to help him. After all, she must know that he had been engaged to marry the dead girl, and fancied—as Mrs. Cairns had done—that he wished to have Anne arrested.
The following evening he arrayed himself with particular care and drove in a hansom to Westminster. The cab stopped before a great pile of brick buildings near the Abbey, and when Giles had dismissed it he entered a large and well-lighted hall with a tesselated pavement. Here a porter volunteered, on ascertaining his business, to conduct him to the door of the Princess Karacsay's flat, which was on the first floor.
Giles was admitted by a neat maid-servant, who showed him into a picturesque drawing-room. A tall woman in evening dress was standing beside the window in the twilight. Giles thought her figure was familiar and recognized the turn of her head. He uttered a cry.
"Anne," he said, stretching his arms. "Anne, my dearest!"
Even as he spoke the room was flooded with the light of the electric lamps. The woman by the window turned and came forward smiling. With a feeling of bitter disappointment Giles recoiled. It was not Anne. He had been deceived by a chance resemblance.
"I can quite understand your mistake," said the Princess Karacsay. "It is not the first time that I have been taken for my friend."
Indeed, she was very like Anne, both in figure and face. She had the same dark hair and dark eyes, the same oval face and rich coloring. But her expression was different. She was more haughty than Miss Denham, and there was less simplicity in her manner. Even as Ware looked at her the likeness seemed to vanish, and he wondered that he should have made such a mistake. But for the twilight, the turn of her head, and her height, together with the way in which she carried herself, he would not have been deceived.
"One would take you for Miss Denham's sister," he said when seated.
The Princess smiled oddly. "We are alike in many ways," she replied quietly. "I look upon Miss Denham as my second self. You called me Anne when you mistook me for her," she added, with a keen glance.
"I have no right to do so, Princess, but——" He hesitated, not knowing how to choose his words. She saw his perplexity and smiled.
"I quite understand, Mr. Ware."
"Anne—I mean Miss Denham—has told you about me?"
"I have not seen her for months, Mr. Ware, not since that terrible event which has made a fugitive of her."
Giles was bitterly disappointed, and his face showed his feelings. From what Mrs. Cairns had said he was certain that the Princess would be able to help him, and here she confessed an ignorance of Anne's whereabouts. Nevertheless Ware still hoped. He thought that not knowing his real errand, she was feigning ignorance for the sake of her friend's safety. "I am sorry she has not spoken to you about me," he remarked, "for then you would know that I wish her well."
"Oh, I know that. Anne—I may as well call her Anne to you, Mr. Ware—wrote to me from Rickwell several times. She told me all about you. But I have not seen her since the death of your fiancee. I have no idea where she is now."
"I thought—and Mrs. Cairns thought—that she would come to you in her distress, or at least communicate her whereabouts."
"She has done neither, and I do not know where to address a letter."
"What is to be done?" said Giles half to himself and much distressed.
Princess Karacsay rose and glanced at the clock with a laugh. "Oh, if we talk, something may come of our putting our heads together," she said. "Meantime we can make ourselves comfortable. Here are coffee and cigarettes, Mr. Ware. Would you prefer a cigar?"
"No, thank you, Princess. These look very good."
"Both coffee and cigarettes are Turkish," said she, handing him a cup and afterwards a cigarette. "I get them from a cousin of mine who is an attache at Constantinople. Come now." She lighted a cigarette for herself and sat down on an amber divan near Ware's chair. "Let us talk before my friend arrives."
"I beg your pardon, Princess, I hope my coming——"
"No, no," she explained hurriedly. "I asked my friend to meet you."
"Indeed." Giles was much surprised. "I did not know we had a mutual friend."
The Princess nodded and blew a cloud of smoke. "At ten o'clock you shall see him. I won't tell you who he is. A little surprise, Mr. Ware."
Ware looked at her sharply, but could make nothing of the enigmatic smile on her face. She was undeniably a very beautiful woman as she lounged amongst the amber-tinted cushions, but in her dress and general looks there was something barbaric. She wore a dinner dress of mingled scarlet and black, and many chains of sequins which jingled with her every movement. As Ware's eyes met her own she flashed a languorous look at him, and a slow smile wreathed her full red lips. Giles could not help admiring her, but he had a feeling that she was not altogether to be trusted. It behove him to be wary in dealing with this superb tigress. Yet, as another thought crossed his mind, he smiled involuntarily.
"Why do you smile, Mr. Ware?" asked the Princess. She spoke the English language admirably, and with but a little foreign accent.
"Pardon," replied Giles, still smiling, "but Mrs. Cairns told me that at one time you aspired to become a governess. I can't imagine you teaching children."
"Ah, you have no imagination—no Englishman has. Children are fond of me—very fond." She cast another look at his handsome face, and added with emphasis, "I can make any one I choose fond of me."
"I quite believe it, Princess. You have woman's imperial sceptre—beauty."
"A charming compliment," responded she, her mood changing, "but we are not here to exchange compliments. So you love Anne?"
"With all my heart and soul," he replied fervently.
His hostess appeared rather disconcerted by this reply. "You are a miracle of chivalry, my dear Mr. Ware," she said dryly. "But is it not rather a large heart you have to love two women at the same time?"
"I understand what you mean," answered Ware quietly, "but my engagement to Miss Kent was purely a family arrangement. I loved Anne—I still love her. All the same, I would have married Miss Kent had she not been murdered."
"You are very obedient, Mr. Ware."
"And you very satirical, Princess. I could explain, but there is no need for me to do so. I want to find Anne. Can you help me?"
"Not at present, but I may be able to do so. Of course, you don't believe that she killed your fiancee?"
"Certainly not. I think the crime was committed by the man with whom she fled."
"A tall man with a red beard and hair and black eyes?"
"Yes, yes. Do you know him? Who is he?"
"I have had him described to me," responded the Princess calmly, "but I know nothing about him."
"Is he a friend of Anne's?"
"That I don't know."
She quietly selected another cigarette, lighted it, and looked with a serene smile at her visitor. Giles was annoyed. "We don't seem to be getting on with our business, Princess," he said roughly.
"What is our business?" she demanded, looking at him through half-closed eyes. Her scrutiny made Giles uncomfortable, and he shifted his seat as he answered.
"Mrs. Cairns said you could tell me about Anne."
"So I can. What do you want to know, Mr. Ware?"
"Who is she? Who was her father? Is he dead or alive? What do you know about the Scarlet Cross, and——" He stopped, for the Princess had opened her eyes to their fullest extent.
"The Scarlet Cross. You know about that also?" she asked.
"Of course I do. There was an anonymous letter——"
"I have seen the letter, or at least a copy."
"Indeed," said Ware, much astonished, "and an enamelled cross——"
"I have seen the cross also."
"It appears to me, Princess, that you know everything about the case."
She glanced again at the clock, and smiled as she replied, "I am a friend of Anne's, Mr. Ware. I daresay you would like to know who told me all these things. Well, you shall be enlightened at ten o'clock. Meantime I can tell you all I do know about Anne and her father."
"You will speak freely?" he asked mistrustfully.
"Absolutely. You—you—" she hesitated—"you love Anne." She gave him a searching look. "Yes, I see you do. I can speak openly. Will you have another cup of coffee? No! Another cigarette. Ah, there is the box. A match. Now."
"Now," said Giles eagerly, "what about Anne?"
"What about myself first of all, Mr. Ware. I am a Hungarian. I quarrelled with my people and ran away. Finding myself stranded in London with very little money, I tried to get a post as a governess. I went to Mrs. Cairns, and thus became acquainted with Anne. We became great friends. She told me everything about herself. When I knew her history we became greater friends than ever. I was a governess only for a year. Then someone heard me sing, and——"—she shrugged her beautiful shoulders—"but that is quite another story, Mr. Ware. I am a concert-singer now, and it pays me excellently."
"I am very pleased with your success, Princess. But Anne?"
She flashed a rather annoyed look at him. "You are scarcely so chivalrous as I thought, Mr. Ware," she said coldly. "No, say nothing; I quite understand. Let us talk of Anne. I will tell you her history." She re-lighted her cigarette, which had gone out, and continued, "Her father was a gambler and a wanderer. He lived mostly on the Continent—Monte Carlo for choice. Anne's mother"—here the Princess paused, and then went on with an obvious effort—"I know nothing of Anne's mother, Mr. Ware. She died when Anne was a child. Mr. Denham brought up his daughter in a haphazard way."
"Was his name really Denham?"
"So Anne told me. I had no reason to think that it was otherwise. He was a gentleman of good family, but an outcast from his people by reason of his reckless folly. I also am an outcast," said she pleasantly, "but merely because I am strong-minded. I am not foolish."
"No, Princess," said Giles, looking keenly at her, "I should certainly not call you foolish."
"But I can be foolish on occasions," said she quickly, and flushed as she glanced at him, "like all women. But Anne—I see we must get back to Anne. Well, she, having better moral principles than her father, grew wearied of their wandering life. She decided to become a governess. Mr. Denham put her to school at Hampstead—a sister of Mrs. Cairns keeps the school, and that is why Anne is so intimate with Mrs. Cairns—and when her education was finished she took a situation in Italy. There she remained some years. Afterwards she rejoined her father for a time. He died at Florence—typhoid fever, I believe—and Anne found herself alone. She returned to England, and assisted by Mrs. Cairns, took various situations. She always returned to Mrs. Cairns when out of an engagement. It was on one of these occasions that I met her. We have been friends for a long time, Mr. Ware. Then Anne was engaged by Mrs. Morley, and—and the rest you know. There is no more to be said."
"Is that all?" said Giles, disappointed by this bald narrative.
The Princess shrugged her shoulders, and throwing aside her cigarette, leaned back with her hands behind her head. "What would you, Mr. Ware? Anne is a good woman. Good women never have any history."
"Can you tell me anything about the Scarlet Cross?"
"Anne never spoke of such a thing to me. But my friend may be able to tell you. Ah!"—the Princess raised her head as a ring came to the door—"there is my friend. Before his time, too. But we have finished our conversation, Mr. Ware."
"For the present, yes."
She looked at him suddenly. "But certainly," she said in her vivacious way, "you must come and see me again. We will have much to talk of. You love music. I will sing to you, and——" Here she broke off to greet a new-comer, much to the relief of Giles, who was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "How do you do, Mr. Steel?"
With an exclamation Ware rose. It was indeed Steel who stood before him looking as round and rosy and cheerful as ever. "You are surprised to see me, sir," he said, with a twinkle.
"I am very much surprised. I went to see you yesterday——"
"And found that I was out of town. So I was, so I am supposed to be, but the telegram of the Princess here told me that she expected you this evening, so I left my country business and came up."
"You see," said the Princess, sitting down again amongst her cushions, "you see, Mr. Ware, I told you we had a mutual friend. Now you know how I am so well acquainted with the case," and she laughed.
"The Princess," explained Steel, seeing Giles' astonishment, "read all about the case. Being a friend of Miss Denham's and seeing that I had charge of the matter, she sent for me. We have talked over the case, and I have received much assistance from Miss—I mean from this very clever lady, the Princess Karacsay," and Steel bowed.
"But," stammered Ware, still puzzled, "you believe Miss Denham to be guilty. Surely the Princess will not——"
"No, no!" came from the divan in the deep-toned voice of the woman. "Anne is my friend. I would not help him to arrest her."
"The fact is," said Steel easily, "I have changed my opinion, Mr. Ware, and I think Miss Denham is innocent. The man who killed Miss Kent is called Wilson."
"Wilson. And who is Wilson, and why did he kill her?"
"I don't know who Wilson is," replied Steel. "I am trying to find out. I am not quite certain why he killed her, but I am beginning to suspect that it was on account of this inherited money. I told you that, Princess," he added, turning to the divan.
"Yes, Mr. Steel. And I said then, I say now, I do not agree."
"If you would be more explicit," said Ware, feeling helpless.
Steel took no notice of him for the moment. "Then if it's not the money I don't know what the motive can be." He turned to Ware. "See here, sir. This Wilson, whomsoever he may be, lived with the mother of Asher's office-boy—he was her lodger. The boy told him about the money coming to Miss Kent. Afterwards the lad had a summons given him to serve on Morley. Wilson offered to take it, and did so. He removed his effects from Mrs. Benker's house—she's the mother of the lad—and went down to Rickwell. You know what happened there. Now if he didn't kill Miss Kent on account of the money, why did he ask the office-boy about the matter?"
Giles shook his head. "I can't say," he said, "no more than I can explain why Miss Denham helped him to escape."
"Well,"—Steel scratched his chin—"I have an idea about that. But you must not be offended if I speak plainly, Mr. Ware."
"I shall be offended if you speak evil of my friend Miss Denham." This was from the Princess, who raised herself up with her eyes flashing angrily. "I will not have it," she said.
"Then am I to say nothing?" asked Steel ironically.
"Nothing against Miss Denham," put in Giles.
"You are both rather difficult to deal with," remarked Steel, with a shrug. "However, I'll explain, and you can draw your own inferences. It seems from what Mrs. Benker said that Mr. Wilson was mostly out all night and in all day. Also he was frequently absent for a long time. He likewise took much interest in Society newspapers and in the movements of the aristocracy. He also wore on his chain an ornament—a red-enamelled cross, in fact."
"What!" cried Giles, with a start, and he noted that the Princess started likewise, and that her face grew pale.
"He wore a red-enamelled cross," repeated Steel imperturbably, "on his watch-chain. Mrs. Benker had been in the service of the late Lady Summersdale when the diamonds of that lady were stolen. She remembered that a red-enamelled cross had been found in the safe whence the jewels were taken. Wilson was amused at this. He said that the cross was the emblem of a charitable society from which he received a weekly sum. Well"—he hesitated and looked at his listeners—"that clue came to an end. I lost sight of Wilson. I then went to look for The Red Cross—the yacht, I mean!"
"What has the yacht to do with Wilson?" asked Ware angrily.
"If you remember, sir, I told you that Wilson was the man who served the summons on Mr. Morley, and who, as I believed, killed Miss Kent. He afterwards fled with Miss Denham and went on board the yacht. Is not that the case, sir?"
"So far as I can judge, it is," muttered Giles reluctantly.
"Well, then," went on Steel triumphantly, while the Princess—as Giles observed—listened intently, "I looked after that yacht. I could not find her, but I am looking for her now. That is why I am in the country. I came up this morning from Deal, and I go back there to-morrow. I find, sir, that this yacht puts in at various places every now and then."
"Most yachts do."
"Yes, sir. But while most yachts are at anchor in a place does a burglary invariably occur? No, sir, wait," for Giles had sprung to his feet. "Lady Summersdale's place was on the seashore. Her diamonds were stolen. At the time this yacht was at anchor in the bay. A red cross was found in the safe. The boat is called by that name. Several times I find that when the yacht has been at a certain place a burglary has occurred. This man Wilson wears a red cross on his watch-chain. Now, sir, I believe that he is one of a gang of burglars—that the cross is a sign. This explains his interest in the Society papers. He wants to find out where the best swag is to be found, and——"
"But what has all this to do with my friend Anne?" cried the Princess.
Steel shrugged his shoulders. "I say nothing," he replied. "You can draw your own inferences."
"Do you mean to say that Miss Denham——"
"I say nothing," interrupted Steel, catching up his hat. "Mr. Ware, I am at your service when you want me. Princess!" He bowed and went out.
As the outer door closed Giles and his hostess looked at one another. "The man's a foul liar," burst out Giles furiously.
"Yes." The woman was very pale. "Still, my friend Anne once told me——"
"Told you what?"
"What I will tell you if you come again," she said under her breath, and suddenly left the room. She did not return.
MRS. PARRY'S TEA
Six months had passed away since the death of Daisy. The grass was now green above her grave. Where she had fallen there had she been buried beside her father, and the villagers often talked of the tragedy, and pointed out to strangers the spot where it had taken place. But she who had killed the girl—they still considered Anne guilty—had never been brought to justice. From the day she had fled on Ware's motor-car nothing had been heard of her.
No one troubled about the dead girl. Daisy had not been very popular during her life, and now that she was gone her name was scarcely mentioned. For a time Mrs. Morley had placed flowers on the green mound, but after her return from Brighton had desisted. The grass grew long, and the path beside the grave green. A tombstone of white marble had been erected by Giles, and already that was becoming discolored. Daisy and her resting-place were forgotten. The poor child might have been dead a hundred years instead of six months. Only the tale of her death remained as a fireside legend, to be amplified and improved upon as the years went by.
After that one sensation life went on in Rickwell very much as it had always done. Morley and his wife returned to The Elms, and instead of having a new governess the triplets went to school. Mrs. Morley never spoke of Anne or Daisy, and seemed to grow no more cheerful than before even in the perfect summer weather. She still looked pale and subdued, and her eyes still had in their watery depths an anxious expression. Everyone said that she was regretting the death of Daisy and the wickedness of Anne; but others remarked that she had looked just as haggard and worn before as after the tragedy. Mrs. Parry gave it as her opinion that the poor lady had a secret sorrow, and tried by skilful questioning to learn what it was. But either Mrs. Parry was not clever enough or Mrs. Morley had no secret to reveal, for the scandal-monger learned nothing. The only thing that Mrs. Morley said was that she missed her girls. Whereupon Mrs. Parry told her that she ought to be ashamed of herself, seeing that the three were getting a good education. However, this did not seem to console Mrs. Morley much, for she wept copiously in her usual fashion.
The good old lady returned to her cottage very much disgusted. It was rather a dull time for her, as she had heard no news for a long time. Everyone was so well-behaved that there was no scandal going, and Mrs. Parry began to think that she ought to pay a visit to town. Her cousin, Mrs. McKail, had already gone back to New Zealand with a fearful opinion of English Society, for Mrs. Parry had blackened the country just as though she had been a pro-Boer.
Then one day her little maid, who was called Jane, and had the sharpest ears of any one in the village, brought in breakfast with the remark that Mr. Ware had returned. Mrs. Parry sat up in bed, where she always partook of the first meal of the day, and looked excited.
"When did he arrive, Jane? How does he look? What does he say?"
Jane, being experienced, answered these questions categorically.
"He came last night, mum, with Trim, and looks a shadder of hisself, but said as he was glad to be home again, and what was the news."
"Ho!" said Mrs. Parry, rubbing her nose with a teaspoon, "wants to hear the news, does he? I'll ask him to tea to-morrow—no, to-day. You can take a note up to his place, Jane."
"Yes, mum," replied Jane, who was friendly with Giles' housekeeper.
"And don't let me hear that you've been gossiping with the servants, Jane," snapped Mrs. Parry, who was unusually cross in the morning, and looked an ogress without her wig. "I hate gossip. You have two ears and one mouth, Jane; that means you should listen twice as much as you speak."
"Yes, mum," replied Jane, who had long since taken the measure of her mistress's foot. Then she went to the door, and was recalled to be told that the cook was to make a cake. She was going again, and had to return for instructions about some particular tea. Then there was the silver to be especially polished, and various other matters to be gone into, until Jane's head was whirling and her feet ached. She went down to the kitchen and told the cook that the old vinegar bottle was more fractious than usual. If only Mrs. Parry had heard her! But she thought Jane was afraid of her, whereas Jane was meek to her face and saucy behind her back. The old lady heard all the gossip in the neighborhood, but she never knew the remarks that were made in her own kitchen.
However, it thus came about that Giles received a civil note from Mrs. Parry, asking him to come to afternoon tea. His first thought was to refuse, but he then reflected that if he wanted to learn all that had taken place during his absence, Mrs. Parry was the very person who could tell him. He knew she was an old cat, and had a dangerous tongue. Still, she was much better than a newspaper, being, as her enemies said, more spicy. He therefore accepted the invitation, and appeared in the little parlor about five. He had been for a ride, and having put his horse up at the inn, asked the old lady to excuse his dress. Mrs. Parry did so with pleasure.
Giles was a splendid figure of a man, and looked a picture in his trim riding-dress. The old dame had an eye for a fine man, and cast an approving glance at his shapely legs and slim figure. But she frowned when her eyes rose to his face. It was thinner than she liked to see; there was not the old brave light in his eyes, and his fair moustache had lost the jaunty curl, which, to her romantic mind, had made him such a gallant lover.
Giles was one of the few persons Mrs. Parry did not abuse, for his good looks and many courtesies had long since won her foolish old heart, although she would never confess to it. But then, Mrs. Parry was softer than she looked.
"Who had been taking the heart out of you, Ware?" she asked in her gentlemanly way, which Giles knew and had often laughed at.
"No one," he answered gloomily, "unless you call Fate some one."
"I call Anne Denham some one," she replied coolly, "so you haven't found her yet, poor soul!"
"No; I have looked everywhere. She has vanished like a bubble."
"It is just as well. You couldn't possibly marry her and bring her back to Rickwell as your wife."
"Why not? She is innocent. You said yourself that she was."
"And I believe it. I have stood up for her all through. All the same, Ware, there would be a scandal if she came back as Mrs. Ware."
"I don't care two straws for that," said Giles, flinging back his head.
"No," she replied dryly, "I know that. You're an obstinate man, as any one can see with half an eye. Well, I'm glad to see you again. Sit down in the armchair yonder and tell me what you have been doing all these months. No good, if your face is the index of your mind."
Ware laughed, and sitting down managed to stow his long legs out of the way—no easy matter in the little room. Then he accepted a cup of excellent tea from Mrs. Parry and some of her celebrated cake.
He did not reply immediately, as he did not want to tell her the truth. She had too long a tongue to be told anything which it was necessary to keep secret. He put her off as he best could with a general answer.
"I have just been going to and fro."
"Like Satan," sniffed Mrs. Parry. "He's your model, is he? So you have been searching for Anne. Where?"
"In Paris and in London. But I can't find her."
"She doesn't want you to find her," replied the old lady. "If she did, you would stand face to face with her soon enough."
"That goes without the speaking," retorted Ware. "However, my adventures would not amuse you, Mrs. Parry. Suppose you tell me what has been going on in these parts?"
"As if I knew anything of what was going on," said Mrs. Parry.
It was a fiction with Mrs. Parry that she never interfered with other people's business, whereas there was not a pie within miles into which she had not thrust her finger. But he knew how to start her tongue.
"The Morleys, what about them?"
"No change, Ware. The Tricolor has gone to school—I mean the three children—although I can't get out of the habit of calling them by that ridiculous name. Mrs. Morley is as dismal as ever, and seems to miss Anne very much."
"As well she might. Anne was a good friend to her. And Morley?"
"He has found a new friend," said Mrs. Parry triumphantly, "a man called Franklin."
"George Franklin!" cried Ware, startled, for he had heard all about the fortune from Steel. "He is the man who inherited the five thousand a year that Powell left to Daisy. Steel, the detective, told me, and, now I think of it, Morley told me himself when I was ill."
"It's the same man, Ware. He has been here two months, and has taken the Priory."
"That's a cheerful place," said Giles. "Why, it has been standing empty for three years."
"I know. The last tenants left because they said it was haunted."
"Rubbish! And by what?"
"By a white lady. She wanders up and down the park, wringing her hands. But this Franklin evidently does not believe in ghosts, for he has been there these two months, and never a word from him."
"What kind of a man is he?"
"A tall man, with very black eyes, and a black beard. No," added Mrs. Parry, correcting herself, "I am wrong. He had a beard when he first came, and now has shaved it off."
"Have you seen much of him?"
"Hardly anything. Morley is the only person with whom he is intimate in any degree. He hardly ever comes out, and when people call he is not at home. Why the man should have five thousand a year I can't make out. He does no good with it."
"Any family? a wife?"
"There is a daughter, I understand, but she is an invalid, and keeps to her room or to the grounds. Weak in the head I should say, seeing how secluded her father keeps her."
"Have you seen her?"
"Yes, I came on her unexpectedly one day—or rather one evening. A short girl, with red hair and a freckled face. She looks a fool, and was dressed in all the colors of the rainbow. I don't wonder he—I mean Franklin—keeps her out of sight."
"Humph!" said Ware, rather astonished by the extent of Mrs. Parry's information, "did the servants tell you all this?"
"There are no servants," retorted Mrs. Parry, with scorn. "The man is a mean creature. You may not believe me, Ware, but he has only three people to do the work of that huge house."
"Then there are three servants?"
"Some people might call them so," retorted Mrs. Parry, determined not to give up her point, "but they are a queer lot—not at all like the domestic I have been used to. An old man, who acts as a kind of butler; a woman, his wife, who is the cook; and a brat of fifteen, the daughter I expect, who does the general work. Oh, it's quite a family affair."
"A queer household. Does this man intend to stop long?"
"He has taken the Priory on a seven years' lease."
"And Morley visits him?"
"Yes, and he visits Morley. They are as thick as thieves. Perhaps they may be thieves for all I know."
"Does this man Franklin go about much?"
"Not a great deal, but he occasionally takes a walk into the village. Sometimes he comes to church, and I believe the rector has called. I wish any one but him had taken the Priory. We want company in this dull place. Will you call and see him?"
"I ought to," replied Ware slowly, "seeing that I was engaged to Daisy, who should have had the money. But from what you say I should not think Franklin would care to see me, and certainly he does not seem to be a desirable neighbor."
"He's quite a mistake," snorted Mrs. Parry. "I tried to be friendly, but he gave me to understand that he preferred his books to my company. He's a great reader, I understand."
Evidently the good lady was somewhat sore on the subject, for she shortly changed it for another. First she began to talk of Daisy; secondly, wonder who had killed her, and why; and thirdly, she made mention of the grave. "There's something queer about that," she remarked, rubbing her nose, a sure sign of perplexity.
"How do you mean, queer?"
"Well——" Mrs. Parry looked thoughtfully at her guest. Then, before replying, she gave him permission to smoke. "I like the scent of a cigar about the place," she said; "it reminds me of the Colonel. He was an awful man to smoke. The one habit I could not break him of."
Giles lighted a cigarette willingly enough, and repeated his question. This time he got an answer that surprised him. "It's this way," said the old lady, taking up her knitting, "for some time the grave was quite neglected."
"No, I gave orders that it should be looked after. I told Drake and my gardener. He's a friend of the sexton's, and I thought there would be no trouble."
"There has been, then," said Mrs. Parry triumphantly. "The sexton and your gardener quarrelled, and have not been on speaking terms for months. Thomas, the sexton, won't let Williams do anything to the grave, and out of spite won't touch it himself, so it went to rack and ruin. The grass is long—or rather was long—and the flowers all gone to seed. A sore wreck, Ware."
"I am most annoyed. I'll see about it to-morrow."
"There is no need. The grave is now as neat as a new pin. The grass is clipped, and fresh flowers were planted a month ago. I never saw a grave better kept. Quite a labor of love."
"And who has done this? Mrs. Morley?"
"Pish!" said the old dame pettishly. "As though that woman had the gumption to do anything. Humph! No one knows who has done it."
"What do you mean?" Ware looked puzzled.
"What I say; I usually do. The grave has been put to rights. At first few people noticed it, because few go into that corner; but one day some imp of a choir boy saw the improvement, and told old Thomas. He came and looked at it, and others came. No one knew who had put it to rights. Then," continued Mrs. Parry impressively, "it was discovered that it was done at night."
"Yes; but no one seems to know by whom or at what time. Every morning some fresh improvement was noted. Some people watched, but saw no one coming. Yet when the watching was dropped there was something fresh done. It may be a brownie," added Mrs. Parry, with a sniff, "but it's a mystery. Even I can't find out the truth."