But Giles did not go. He rose to his feet and stepped towards the window. In a second he had the blind up and the curtains drawn apart. The light poured into the room to reveal—not Anne Denham, but the girl Portia Franklin.
THE CLUE LEADS TO LONDON
It was indeed Portia. Seeing that she was discovered, she sprang from the bed and faced Giles with a sullen, defiant look on her freckled face. Still standing in the strong light which poured in through the window, Ware looked at the girl satirically.
"You are a very clever mimic, Miss Franklin," said he, "but you rather forgot yourself in that last speech. Anne is of too sensitive a nature to have explained herself with such a wealth of detail."
"You were deceived at first," grumbled Portia, rocking herself.
"Only for a moment," replied Giles. "And now I should like to know the meaning of this masquerade?"
"I also," cried Franklin, in his turn. He was staring at his daughter with a look of profound amazement. "Where is Anne, you wretched girl?"
"She has run away."
"Run away!" exclaimed the men simultaneously.
"Yes. After your finding out last night that she had killed Daisy Kent she was afraid to stop. She knew that you hated her father, and thought you might hand her over to the police. Last night she told me so, and said she would run away. I love Anne, and I let her do as she liked. It was I who let her out," ended Portia, defiantly.
"Anne should not have so mistrusted me," cried Franklin, much perturbed. "Surely I always protected her, and treated her well."
"Ah, but you didn't know till last night that she was guilty."
"No; but for all that——" began Franklin, only to break off. "Where has she gone?" he demanded angrily.
"I don't know. She had some money, and took a small black bag with her. She said when she got settled she would write here and let me know where she was, on condition that I did not tell you."
"She has every reason to. Poor, miserable girl! to be an outcast, and now to leave her only refuge," he sighed and shook his head. Giles all the time had been watching Portia, whose face bore an expression of obstinacy worthy of a mule. "Did this scheme for Anne's departure include the masquerade you have indulged in?"
"It is my own idea," she retorted defiantly. "Anne wished to get away without my father knowing, so I stopped in her room and pretended to be Anne. The servants were deceived, as I knew exactly how to imitate her voice. I pulled down the blind, so that no one should see who I was. Only you could have guessed the truth."
"How is that?"
"Because you love her."
Giles thought this a strange speech for the heavy-looking girl to make. "Is that an original remark on your part?" he asked.
"No," she confessed candidly; "I suggested to Anne that I should pass myself off as her, and so give her a longer time to get away. She said that I might deceive the servants and my father, but that I could never deceive you, because you loved her. But I had a good try," continued Portia, nodding her red head triumphantly. "When my father spoke your name at the door I thought I would try."
"Well, you have done so only to fail," responded Ware coolly. "For the moment I was deceived, but you forgot how to manage your voice, and, moreover, your explanation was too elaborate. But how is it you dare to confess, as Anne, that she killed the girl?"
"Anne did kill Daisy Kent!"
"She did not."
"Yes, she did. She confessed as much to father last night, and to me also. She asked me to tell you so, that you might forget all about her. I was going over to your place this very day to tell, but when father brought you in I thought I would pretend to be Anne and tell you in that way."
"Anne would have written, and——"
"No, she wouldn't," said Portia, eagerly. "She began to write a letter saying that she was guilty, but afterwards she thought it might fall into the hands of the police, and tore it up. She told me to let you know by word of mouth. All she asks of you is that you will forget that she ever existed."
"Let her tell me that with her own lips," said Giles, groaning.
"Yes, Portia, tell Mr. Ware the place Anne has gone to."
Portia eyed her father with some anger. "How can I tell when I don't know? Anne never said where she was going. I let her out by the back door just before dawn, and she went away. I know no more."
"If she writes, you will let Mr. Ware know."
"I shan't," retorted the girl. "Anne wants him to forget her."
"That is impossible," said Giles, whose face was now haggard with the anguish of the moment; "but you must be my friend, Portia, and tell me. Think how I suffer!"
"Think how she suffers, poor darling!" cried Portia, whose sympathies were all with Anne. "Don't ask me any more. I shan't speak."
And speak she would not, although Giles cajoled and Franklin stormed. Whatever could be said of Portia, she was very loyal to the outcast. There was nothing for it but for Ware to depart. And this he did.
What was the best thing to be done Giles did not very well know. Anne was lost again, and he did not know where to look for her. He could not bring himself to believe that she was guilty, in spite of her confession to Portia and Franklin.
"It's that blackguard of a father of hers over again," he thought, as he tramped moodily through the Priory park. "She is afraid lest his brother—her uncle—should denounce him, and has taken the crime on her own shoulders. Even though he is her father, she should not sacrifice so much for him. But it is just noble of her to do so. Oh, my poor love, shall I ever be able to shelter you from the storms of life?"
There did not seem to be much chance of it at the present moment. Mistrusting her uncle, she had vanished, and would let no one but Portia know of her new hiding-place. And Portia, as Giles saw, was too devoted to Anne to confess her whereabouts without permission. And how was such permission to be obtained? Anne allowed her uncle to think her guilty in order to save her unworthy father from his fraternal hatred. She had asserted her innocence to Giles, but had apparently, through Portia, tried to deceive him again, so that he might not follow her. "Poor darling!" cries Giles, full of pity, "she wishes to put me out of her life, and has fled to avoid incriminating her father. If she told me the whole truth her father would be in danger, and she chooses to bear his guilt herself. But why should she think I would betray the man? Bad as he is, I should screen him for her dear sake. Oh"—Giles stopped and looked up appealingly to the hot, blue sky—"if I only knew where she was to be found, if I could only hold her in my arms, never, never would I let her go, again! My poor Quixotic darling, shall I ever be worthy of such nobility?"
It was all very well apostrophizing the sky, but such heroics did not help him in any practical way. He cast about in his own mind to consider in which direction she had gone. The nearest railway station to London was five miles away; but she would not leave the district thus openly, for the stationmaster knew her well. She had frequently travelled from that centre as Miss Denham, and he would be sure to recognize her, even though she wore a veil. Anne, as Giles judged, would not risk such recognition.
Certainly there was another station ten miles distant, which was very little used by the Rickwell people. She might have tramped that distance, and have taken a ticket to London from there. But was it her intention to go to London? Giles thought it highly probable that she would. Anne, as he knew from Portia, had very little money, and it would be necessary for her to seek out some friend. She would probably go to Mrs. Cairns, for Mrs. Cairns believed her to be guiltless, and would shelter her in the meantime. Later on a situation could be procured for her abroad, and she could leave England under a feigned name. Giles felt that this was the course Anne would adopt, and he determined to follow the clue suggested by this theory.
Having made up his mind to this course, Giles hurried home to pack a few things and arrange for his immediate departure. Chance, or rather Providence, led him past "Mrs. Parry's Eye" about five o'clock. Of course, the good lady was behind the window spying on all and sundry, as usual. She caught sight of Giles striding along the road with bent head and a discouraged air. Wondering what was the matter and desperately anxious to know, Mrs. Parry sent out Jane to intercept him and ask him in. Giles declined to enter at first; but then it struck him that since he was in search of information about Anne, Mrs. Parry might know something. Her knowledge was so omniscient that, for all he knew, she might have been aware all the time of Anne's presence at the Priory, but held her tongue—which Mrs. Parry could do sometimes—out of pity for the girl's fate. Giles went in resolved to pump Mrs. Parry without mentioning what he knew of Anne. Supposing she was ignorant, he was not going to be the one to reveal Anne's refuge. And if she did know, Ware was certain that Mrs. Parry would tell him all, since she was aware how deeply he loved the governess. Thus in another five minutes the young man found himself seated in the big armchair opposite the old lady. She was rather grim with him.
"You have not been to see me for ever so long," said she, rubbing her beaky nose. "Your Royal Princesses have taken up too much of your time, I suppose. Oh, I know all about them."
"I am sorry they did not stay for a few days," replied Giles in his most amiable tone. "I wished to introduce them to you."
"You mean present me to them," corrected the old dame, who was a stickler for etiquette. "They are genuine Princesses, are they not?"
"Oh, yes. But they are not royal. Princess Karacsay is the wife of a Magyar noble. She is not an Austrian, however, as she came from Jamaica. The younger, Princess Olga, is——"
"Jamaica," interrupted Mrs. Parry! "Humph! That is where Anne Denham was born. Queer this woman should come from the same island."
"It's certainly odd," replied Giles. "But a mere coincidence."
"Humph!" from Mrs. Parry. "Some folks make their own coincidences."
"What do you mean, Mrs. Parry?"
"Mean? Humph! I don't know if I should tell you."
Giles was now on fire to learn her meaning. Evidently Mrs. Parry did know something, and might be able to help him. But seeing that she was slightly offended with him, it required some tact to get the necessary information out of the old lady. Giles knew the best way to effect his purpose was to feign indifference. Mrs. Parry was bursting to tell her news, and that it would come out the sooner if he pretended that he did not much care to hear it.
"There is no reason why you should tell me," said he coolly. "I know all about the Princess Karacsay. She and her daughter only came down here for a rest."
"Oh, they did, did they, Ware? Humph!" She rubbed her nose again, and eyed him with a malignant pleasure. "Are you sure the elder Princess didn't come down to see Franklin?"
"She doesn't know him," said Giles, trying to be calm. "She took a walk in the Priory woods. I suppose that is how the mistake——"
"I don't make mistakes," retorted Mrs. Parry, with a snort. "I know a new gardener who is employed at the Priory. He told Jane, who told me, that Princess Karacsay, the mother, called on Franklin the other morning and entered the house. She was with him for over an hour. He came to the door to see her off. The gardener was attending to some shrubs near at hand. He could not hear what they said to one another, but declares that Franklin was as pale as a sheet."
"Queer," thought Giles, remembering how the elder lady had denied all knowledge of the man. However, he did not make this remark to Mrs. Parry. "Well, there's nothing in that," said he aloud. "Franklin lived in Italy for many years. He may have met the Princess there."
"True enough." Mrs. Parry was rather discomfited. "There may be nothing in it, and Franklin seems to be decent enough in his life, though a bit of a recluse. I've nothing to say against the man."
Giles thought that this was rather fortunate for Franklin, seeing that Mrs. Parry's tongue was so dangerous. If she ever came to know of his brother Walter, and of the relations between him and George, she would be sure to make mischief. He thought it prudent to say nothing. The less revealed to the good lady the better. However, this attitude did not prevent Ware from trying to learn what Mrs. Parry had discovered with regard to the two Princesses. She told him an interesting detail without being urged.
"Last night about nine I saw one of them out for a walk."
"Princess Olga?" questioned Giles.
Mrs. Parry nodded. "If she is the younger of the two, she is not a bad-looking girl, Ware. She passed my window and went on to look at the church. Rather a strange hour to look at a church."
Giles started. It was about that hour that he had been talking to Anne, and shortly afterwards she had heard the footsteps and had fled. He now believed that Olga must have overheard a portion of the conversation. It was her footsteps which they had heard retreating. At once he remembered Olga's threat, that if he tampered with Anne in the meantime she would have her arrested. This, then, was the reason why Olga had not come to his house again, and why she and her mother had left so suddenly for London. He wondered if the elder Princess knew about Anne, and was assisting her daughter to get the poor girl into the hands of the law. Giles turned pale.
"What's the matter, Ware?" asked Mrs. Parry, sitting up.
"Nothing," he stammered; "but this coincidence——"
"Oh, I simply mean that as Princess Karacsay and Anne both came from Jamaica, it was strange that they should go away to London together. Don't you think so, too? There must be some connection."
Giles started to his feet. "Anne," he said loudly, "do you know that Anne is here?"
"She was here," said Mrs. Parry, with a gratified chuckle; "but where she has been hiding is more than I know. However, I am certain it was Anne I saw this morning on the moor. She was veiled and dressed quietly; but I knew her walk and the turn of her head."
"You must be mistaken," said Giles, perplexed.
"Indeed, I'm not. Trust one woman to know another, however she may disguise herself. I tell you Anne Denham has been here in hiding. I don't believe she left the neighborhood after all. I wonder who took her in," muttered Mrs. Parry, rubbing her nose as usual. "I must find that out."
"But what do you mean by saying Anne went to London with the——"
"I can believe my own eyes and ears, I suppose," snapped the good lady. "I was out at seven o'clock taking a walk. I always do get up early in summer. That is how I keep my health. I have no patience with those who lie in bed, and——"
"But what did you see?"
"Don't you be impatient, Ware. I want you to find Anne, as I believe she is guiltless and has suffered a lot unjustly. While you have been on a wild-goose chase she has been here all the time. If I had only known I should have told you; but I didn't, worse luck."
"I know you are my friend," said Giles, pressing her hand. "And you can help me by saying where Anne has gone to."
"Oh, my good man, you must find that out for yourself! I believe she has gone to London with those Princesses of yours. At least that fool of a Morris said they left his inn this morning early to go to London. They drove to the Westbury Station. That is the one we hardly ever use down here. The Barnham Station is the nearest."
"Yes! yes! The Westbury is ten miles away. You go across the moor——"
"My good Ware, have I lived all these years in this place without knowing it as well as I know my own nose? Hold your tongue, or I'll tell you nothing. The coachman who drove these Princesses of yours"—Mrs. Parry always used this phrase disdainfully—"is a new man. Morris hired him from Chelmsford, and he does not know Anne, luckily for her. If it had been the old coachman she might have been in jail by this time. Well, as I say, I was on the moor and saw the carriage coming along. I didn't know that those Princesses were in it till one of them—the younger—got out and stood by the roadside. I was close at hand, and hidden by a gorse bush. She whistled. I tell you, Ware, she whistled. What manners these foreigners have! Three times she whistled. Then some one rose from behind another bush and walked quickly to the carriage. It was Anne. Oh, don't tell me it wasn't," cried Mrs. Parry, vigorously shaking her head. "I knew her walk and the turn of her head. Trust me for knowing her amongst a thousand. Anne Denham it was and none other."
"What happened then?" asked Giles anxiously.
"Why, this Princess Olga embraced and kissed her. Does she know her?"
"Yes. They have been friends for a long time."
"Humph! and Princess Olga's mother comes from Jamaica, where Anne was born," said Mrs. Parry. "Queer. There is some sort of a connection."
"You are too suspicious, Mrs. Parry."
"All the better. But I can see through a stone wall. Believe me, Ware, that if there isn't some connection between those two, I am a Dutchwoman. However, Anne got into the carriage and it drove away."
Giles caught up his hat. "To London," he cried jubilantly. "I know where Anne is to be found now." And to Mrs. Parry's dismay, he rushed out.
MANY A SLIP 'TWIXT CUP AND LIP
But Giles was not destined to go to London as quickly as he thought. He rushed out of Mrs. Parry's cottage, leaving that good lady in a state of frenzied curiosity, and walked rapidly through the village on the road to his own house. On the way he dropped into "The Merry Dancer" to look at an "A B C." Morris, still swelling with importance over his illustrious guests, although these had now left, conducted him into the deserted salon and gave him the guide. While Giles was looking up the first train, Morley, hot and dusty and short of breath, rushed into the room.
"Upon my word, Ware, I think you must be deaf," he said, wiping his perspiring forehead. "I've been running and calling after you for the last five minutes."
"I was buried in my own thoughts," replied Ware, turning the pages of the guide rapidly, "wait a bit."
"I see you are going to London, Ware. What's up?"
By this time Giles noted the earliest train he could catch from Barnham Station, and found he had over an hour to spare. He was not averse to spending a portion of it in Morley's company, for he had much to tell him of what had happened. And the advice of the ex-detective was certain to be good. "I am following Anne," he said.
"Miss Denham." Morley stared. "Then you know——"
"Yes, I know; I met her last night by accident. And you have known all the time."
"Indeed, I know nothing," said the little man. "I was about to say that you know where she is?"
"Franklin did not tell you that she was with him, then?"
"Miss Denham—with Franklin—at the Priory?" Morley looked stupefied.
"She has been there all the time. I remember now. Franklin did not tell you, because he knew that you would give her up to the police."
"He told me nothing," said Morley slowly, "and if he had I should certainly have given her up to the police. Does he think her innocent?"
Giles shook his head gloomily. "He did, but circumstances have happened which have led him to change his opinion. He believes now that she is guilty. But he would never have told you."
"Well, I suppose that is natural. After all she is his niece, and although he hates his brother Walter, he must have some love for Anne, or he would scarcely have taken her in. So she has gone away. Can you tell me where she is to be found?"
"Is it likely that I should?"
Morley laughed in his cheery manner. "No," he replied bluntly, "for I know she has gone to London, and that you are following her."
"Quite so. But London is a large place. You will not find her."
"I could if I followed you," said Morley promptly.
"I should not let you do that."
"Perhaps not. But if I chose I could circumvent you. All I have to do is to wire your description to Scotland Yard and you would be shadowed by a detective from the moment you left the Liverpool Street Station. But you need not be afraid. I don't want to harm Miss Denham. If she crosses my path I'll have her arrested, but I won't go hunting for her."
"I don't trust you, Morley," said Ware quietly.
"You ought to. I have put you on your guard against myself. If my intentions were bad, I should not have told you. But my detective days are over, and Miss Denham can go scot-free for me. But I'll tell you one thing, Ware. She will never be your wife."
"How can you prophesy that?" asked Giles sharply.
"Because you will never be able to prove her innocence. I believe her to be guilty myself, and if she is not, the task of removing the suspicion is an impossible one. I have had many mysterious cases in my day, but this is one of the most difficult."
"I don't agree with you," said Ware promptly. "The case is perfectly simple. Her blackguard of a father killed Daisy and afterwards intended to kill his brother George and thus get possession of the money. Anne saved him the first time, and to save him now from the hatred of George she has taken his guilt on her own shoulders."
"Who told you all this?"
"It's my theory. And I'll prove the truth of it, Morley, by hunting everywhere for Walter Franklin. When I find him I'll wring a confession out of him."
"I hope you will succeed," said Morley admiringly, "and you ought to for your pluck. So far as I am concerned, I wash my hands of the whole affair. You need not think I'll hunt down Miss Denham. Besides," added Morley, nodding, "I am going away."
"What!" Giles was astonished. "Are you leaving The Elms?"
"In a month's time," replied the little man. "My wife's doing, not mine. She has never got over a certain horror of the house since the murder of that poor girl. I shall sell every stick of furniture and take Mrs. Morley and the children to the United States. She wants to get away from the old life and begin a new one. So do I. Rather a late beginning at my age, eh, Ware?"
"What about your finances?"
"Oh, that's all right," said Morley, jubilantly. "I have settled everything. An old aunt of mine has died and left me a couple of thousand a year. I have paid every debt, and shall leave England without leaving a single creditor behind me. Then Mrs. Morley has her own money. We shall do very well in the States, Ware. I am thinking of living in Washington. A very pleasant city, I hear."
"I've never been there," replied Giles, making for the door, "but I am glad to hear that your affairs are settled. There is no chance of trouble with Asher now."
Morley shook his head with a jolly laugh. "They won't send down another Walter Franklin, if that is what you mean," said he.
"They did not send him down. He came himself."
"Yes. I only spoke generally. Well, I'll be sorry to go, for I have made some pleasant friends in Rickwell—yourself amongst the number. But my wife insists, so I must humor her. There's Franklin. I shall be sorry to leave him."
"Is he not going also?"
Morley looked astonished. "No. Why should he go? He has the Priory on a seven years' lease. Besides, he likes the place."
"He might go to escape his brother."
"I don't think Walter Franklin will dare to trouble George now. He is innocent of actually committing this crime, but he certainly is an accessory after the fact. He'll keep out of the way."
"Let us hope so for the sake of George. Well, Morley, I must be off."
Giles went home at top speed, and Morley remained at the inn to make inquiries about the Hungarian Princesses. Although he was not now a detective, yet Morley still preserved the instinct which made him ask questions. He heard that the foreign ladies had driven to Westbury, and afterwards strolled round to the stables to see the new coachman. He learned from him about the strange lady who entered the carriage on the moor. The man described her face, for it seemed that she had lifted her veil for a moment when alighting at the station. Morley took all this in, and walked home jubilantly. He knew that Anne was with the Princess Karacsay.
"If these were the old days," he said, "I'd wire to London to have the house of those Hungarian women searched. I wonder what they have to do with the matter? Humph! Anne killed Daisy. Is it worth while to try and trace her?"
This speech was made to Mrs. Morley, and the pale woman gave a decided negative. "Let poor Anne go, Oliver," she said beseechingly; "I loved her, and she had much good in her."
"Still, I'm all on fire to follow up the clue," said Morley.
"You promised to leave the detective business alone."
"Quite right; so I did," he answered. "Well, I'll do what you wish, my dear. Anne Denham can go free for me. I said the same thing to Ware, although he won't believe me. But I should like to know what that Princess Karacsay has to do with the matter."
He worried all that evening, and finally went to see Franklin about the matter. But he got scanty satisfaction from him. Franklin denied that Anne had ever been in his house, and told Morley to mind his own business. If the ex-detective's wife had not been present, and if this conversation had not taken place in her presence, Franklin might have been more easy to deal with. But the presence of a third party shut his mouth. So Morley could do nothing, and made no attempt to do anything.
Had Giles known of this it might have set his mind at rest, for he could not get out of his head that he was being followed. At the Liverpool station he alighted about ten o'clock, and looked everywhere in the crowd to see if he was being observed. But his fears were vain, for he could distinguish no one with any inquiring look on his face, or note any person dogging his footsteps. He stepped into a cab and ordered the man to drive to St. John's Wood. But at Baker Street he alighted and dismissed the cab. He had only a hand-bag with him, and, carrying this, he took the underground train to High Street, Kensington. When he arrived there he drove in another cab to his old hotel, "The Guelph," opposite the Park. When alone in his bedroom Giles smoked a complacent pipe. "If any one did try to follow me," he said to himself, "he must have missed me when I took the underground railway."
It was close on half-past eleven when he ended his wanderings, too late to call at the Westminster flat. But Giles thought that Olga would never think he had traced her flight with Anne, and would not do anything till the morrow, probably not before twelve o'clock. He was up early, and went off to New Scotland Yard to see Steel. He did not intend to tell him about Anne, thinking that the detective might arrest her if he knew of her whereabouts. But he desired to know if Steel had discovered anything in connection with the Scarlet Cross. Also, since Steel knew Olga so well, he might be able to explain why she had come down with her mother to Rickwell, and why the elder Princess had called on Franklin. He half thought that Olga, keeping her promise, had brought Anne to London to have her taken in charge by Steel. But on second thoughts he fancied that Olga would keep Anne as a hostage, and not deliver her up if he—Giles—agreed to become her husband. Thus thinking he went to see Steel.
The detective was within, and saw Giles at once. He looked very pleased with himself, and saluted Ware with a triumphant smile.
"Well, sir," he said, "I have found out an astonishing lot of things."
"About the murder?" asked Ware apprehensively.
"No." Steel's face fell. "That is still a mystery, and I expect will be one until that woman—I mean that young lady—is found."
"Do you mean Miss Denham?" demanded Ware stiffly.
"Yes. Do you know where she is?"
Giles shook his head. He was not going to betray Anne to her enemy, as Steel in his detective capacity assuredly was. "I wish I did," he said. "I have been at Rickwell trying to find out things. I'll tell you of my discoveries later. Meantime——"
"You want to hear about mine," cried the detective eagerly and full of his subject. "Well, the murder can wait. I'll get to the bottom of that, Mr. Ware. But I am now quite of your opinion. Miss Denham is innocent. This man Wilson killed the girl."
"I knew that Walter Franklin was guilty," cried Ware.
"I said Wilson," was Steel's reply.
"I forgot; you don't know about Wilson alias Franklin. I'll tell you later. Go on, Steel. I'm all attention."
"Oh! So his real name is Franklin. I never knew that," said Steel, drawing his hand down his chin. "Well, Mr. Ware, I have been to all the ports in the kingdom, and I have learned that wherever that yacht—she's a steam yacht—The Red Cross has been, burglaries have been committed. At last I managed to lay my hand on a member of the gang, and made him speak up."
"A gang of burglars headed by the man I call Wilson and your Franklin—the Scarlet Cross Society. They own that yacht, and steam from port to port committing robberies. A splendid idea, and Wilson's own."
Then he unfolded to the astonished Giles a long career of villany on the part of the said Wilson. The young man shuddered as the vile category of crime was unrolled. It was horrible that such a wretch as Walter Franklin should be the father of Anne. But for all her parent's vices, Giles never swerved from the determination to marry the girl. He was not one of those who think that the sins of the father should be visited on the child.
"What is the name of the man who confessed all this?" asked Giles.
Ware started. That was the name of the man Anne had mentioned as her father's secretary. However, he said nothing, and when Steel requested him to tell all he knew about Wilson, he related everything save that he was Anne's father. Steel listened attentively, chin on hand. When Giles finished he nodded.
"I'll go down and see this brother," he remarked. "If he hates the man whom we think committed the crime so much, he will be anxious to assist us in securing him. I wonder why that governess helped Wilson, or rather Walter Franklin, to escape? Of course, I believe that she is his daughter. Now don't look so angry, Mr. Ware. If you remember, when I talked with you at the Princess Karacsay's I said you could draw your own inferences. That is what I meant." Here the detective stopped and peered into Giles' face. "You don't appear to be so surprised as I thought you would be."
"Are you sure that Miss Denham is Wilson's daughter?"
"No, I am not yet sure. But if I can make this Mark Dane speak further, I'll be certain. He knows all about the matter. Unfortunately he is gone. I caught him at Bournemouth, and after he told me a portion of the truth he managed to get away. It's a long story how he fooled me. I'll tell it to you another time. But the worst of it is," resumed Steel dolefully, "that Dane will warn Wilson and he will get away. All the same, now you have told me Wilson has a brother I may be able to find out something in that quarter. The brother is all right?"
"He is an honest man, if that is what you mean."
"H'm!" said Steel sceptically. "I don't see how there can be any honest member of the Franklin family."
"Do you include Miss Denham?" asked Giles furiously.
"Well, sir, she sails under false colors."
"She can explain that."
"I hope she will be able to when I catch her."
"Steel, I won't stand this!" cried Ware, much agitated.
The detective thought for a moment. "See here, sir," he remarked, "we won't discuss this matter until I have caught Dane."
"How do you hope to catch him?"
"I have laid a trap for him at the Princess Karacsay's flat," said Steel quietly. "Oh, don't look so astonished. This Dane was one of the attendants at some concert where the Princess sang. He fell in love with her, and has been bothering her with letters. I have arranged that he shall call at the flat. I'll be waiting for him."
"It's odd that the Princess should know about this man," said Ware.
Steel looked at him queerly. "It is odd," he said; "and to my mind it is more than a coincidence. Princess Olga is a clever woman. I have to be very careful with her."
"Do you mean to say that she knows anything?" asked Giles.
"I am sure she does. I believe she could explain the whole business; but I can't find out how she came to be connected with it. Well, Mr. Ware, I must be off. When I see Dane and get the truth out of him, I'll see you again. I hope, for your sake, that Miss Denham is not the daughter of this man, but from a few words let drop by Dane I fear she is. At all events, sir, you can set your mind at rest about her being guilty of murder. She is innocent. The father did it."
Giles departed, much comforted by this statement. He knew well enough that Anne was the daughter of Wilson, alias Denham, alias Franklin, and he shuddered again to think of his pure, good Anne being mixed up with a man who was hand and glove with the criminal classes and a criminal himself. However, he put this matter out of his mind for the moment, and drove to the Westminster flat. If Anne was there, he determined to take her away to a place of safety, and defy Steel and Walter Franklin to do their worst.
He went up the stairs, and was told that Mademoiselle Olga was not at home. He was about to inquire after Anne, when the elder Princess, looking pale and anxious, appeared at the door of the drawing-room. She beckoned him in and shut the door.
"Have you seen Olga?" she inquired.
"No, Princess. Is she not with you?"
"She is not," wailed the woman, throwing herself on the couch. "Late last night she went out with Anne. A summons came—some letter—and Anne had to go. Olga insisted on accompanying her. They said they would be back at midnight; but they have not reappeared. I am distracted, Mr. Ware. What shall I do? Where are they?"
"Who was the letter from?"
"I don't know. It was for Anne, and——"
"You call Miss Denham Anne," said Giles abruptly; "and you brought her here. What do you know of her?"
"Everything," said the Princess, sitting up. "In spite of Olga I must tell you the truth. Anne Denham is my daughter!"
A STORY OF THE PAST
This communication was so extraordinary and unexpected that Giles thought the Princess must be out of her mind. But although overcome with emotion, she was sane enough, and seeing his astonishment repeated her statement that Anne Denham was her daughter. The young man sat down to collect his thoughts.
"Do you mean to say that she is Mademoiselle Olga's sister?"
"Her half-sister," corrected the Princess, sobbing. "I never thought I should find her again, and like this. It's too dreadful!" And in strange contrast to her usual indolent demeanor, she wrung her hands.
Giles was still bewildered. "And you—were you the wife of Walter Franklin?" he stammered helplessly.
"There is no Walter Franklin," replied the woman, drying her eyes and sitting up. "George Franklin is Anne's father. He was my husband."
"But you are the wife of Prince Karacsay."
"Certainly. I eloped with him from Kingstown in Jamaica, and George divorced me. I afterwards married the Prince."
"Then the man at the Priory is your first husband?"
"No!" cried she vigorously. "He is not George Franklin."
"He calls himself so," muttered Ware, quite puzzled.
"Only to keep hold of the money left by Mr. Powell," explained the Princess. "He is really Alfred Denham, who caused all the misery of my married life with George."
"No. I tell you he is not Anne's father. George was the father of Anne. He is dead. He died shortly after divorcing me."
Giles felt his heart swell with gratitude to learn that Anne was not connected with——Here he paused, more bewildered than ever. "I don't quite understand, Princess," he said, trying to arrive in his own mind at some solution of this complicated mystery. "Had not your husband a brother called Walter?"
"No. George was an only son."
"Then did Alfred Denham have a brother of that name?"
"No. Don't you understand, Mr. Ware. You have been deceived. Denham, who calls himself by my husband's name pretends to be Anne's father, was the man who went down to Rickwell."
"The man whom Anne helped to escape."
"Yes. Under the belief that he is her father, poor child."
"Then there is no Walter Franklin. He is a myth?" The Princess nodded.
"Invented to throw you off the scent."
"And Denham, who calls himself George Franklin, really killed Daisy?"
"I believe he did," declared the Princess fiercely. "That man is one of the most wicked creatures born. He is capable of any crime."
Ware said nothing. His brain refused to take in the explanation. That he should have been so deceived seemed incredible, yet deceived he had been. All this time he had been following a phantom, while the real person was tricking him with masterly ingenuity. "But Anne told me herself that she had an uncle called Walter," said he suddenly.
"Of course! To save the man she believed to be her father."
"Wait! Wait! I can't grasp it yet." Giles buried his face in his hands and tried to think the matter out.
The Princess went to the window and drew aside the curtain. "I see nothing of Anne and Olga," she murmured. "Where can they have got to. Oh, am I to lose her after all?" She paused and came back to the couch. "Mr. Ware," she said, "I will tell you all my sad story, and then you can judge what is best to be done."
"That is best," said Giles, lifting up his worn face. "I am quite in the dark so far. The thing seems to be incredible."
"Truth is stranger than fiction," said the Princess quietly. "That is a truism, but no other saying can apply to what I am about to tell you."
"One moment, Princess. Who found out that Denham was masquerading as your late husband?"
"Olga found it out. I don't know how. She refuses to tell me."
"And she asked you to come over to identify the man?"
"Yes. That was why I went with her to Rickwell. I called on Denham, and saw that he was not my husband."
"I see!" murmured Giles, remembering what the gardener had told Mrs. Parry about the pallor of the so-called Franklin when he came to the door with his visitor. "I am beginning to gather some information out of all this. But if you will tell me the whole story——"
"At once, Mr. Ware. I want your advice and assistance. First you must have some whiskey."
"Not in the morning, thank you."
"You must have it!" she replied, ringing the bell. "What I have said already has upset you, and you will require all your courage to hear the rest."
"Anne," said Giles anxiously.
"My poor child. I fear for her greatly. No! Don't ask me more. So long as Olga is with her I hope that all will be well. Otherwise——" She made a quick gesture to silence him, for the servant entered to receive orders.
So Giles was provided with some whiskey and water, which the Princess made him drink at once. She had thrown off her languor, and was as quick in her movements as he usually was himself. The discovery of Denham's masquerade, the doubts about Anne's safety had roused her from her indolence, and she had braced herself to act. A more wonderful transformation Giles could scarcely have imagined. Shortly he was ordered to smoke. The Princess lighted a cigarette herself, and began abruptly to tell her tale. It was quite worthy of a melodramatic novelist.
"I was born in Jamaica," she said, speaking slowly and distinctly, so that Giles should fully understand. "My father, Colonel Shaw, had retired from the army. Having been stationed at Kingstown, he had contracted a love for the island, and so stopped there. He went into the interior and bought an estate. Shortly afterwards he married my mother. She was a quadroon."
Giles uttered an ejaculation. He remembered that Anne had stated she had negro blood in her veins, and now saw why Princess Karacsay and her daughter had such a love for barbaric coloring. Also he guessed that Olga's fierce temperament was the outcome of her African blood.
The Princess nodded. She quite understood his interruption.
"You can see the negro in me," she said quietly. "In Jamaica that was considered disgraceful, but in Vienna no one knows about the taint."
"It is not a taint in England, Princess—or in the Old World."
"No! Perhaps not. But then"—she waved her delicate hand impatiently—"there is no need to discuss that, Mr. Ware. Let me proceed with what I have to tell you. When I was eighteen I married George Franklin. He was a young planter of good birth, and very handsome in looks."
"Anything like Denham?" asked Ware quickly.
The Princess blew a contemptuous cloud of smoke. "Not in the least, Mr. Ware. George was good-looking. What Denham is, you can see for yourself. Denham was George's foster-brother," she explained.
"And his evil genius," added Giles. "I am beginning to understand."
The Princess flushed crimson, and her whole body trembled with passion. "He ruined my life," she cried, trying to restrain her emotion. "If I could see him hanged, I should be pleased. But such a death would fall far short of the punishment he deserves."
"Has Denham negro blood in him?"
"Yes. He is a degree nearer the negro than I am. George was a native of Jamaica, and very rich. When his mother died he was quite a baby, and Denham's mother nursed him. Thus he became Denham's foster-brother, and the two boys grew up together. Powell tried all he could to neutralize the bad influence of Denham, but it was useless. George was quite under Denham's thumb."
"Powell! The man who left the money to Daisy? Was he in Jamaica?"
The Princess nodded. "For a time," she said, "George was at an English public school—Rugby, I fancy. He met Powell there, and the two became much attached. There was also another boy called Kent."
"Yes. George, Powell, and Kent were inseparable. They were called the Three Musketeers at school. Afterwards George lost sight of Kent, but Powell came out to Jamaica to stop with George. That was before and after my marriage. Denham was ruining my husband body and soul, and in pocket. Powell tried to remonstrate with George, but it was no use. Denham was the overseer, and George would not dismiss him. Then Powell returned to England. Afterwards when he heard from me that George was completely ruined, he wrote about the money."
"Did he say he would leave the money to George?"
"Not exactly that. He said that Kent was ruined also, and explained that if he could make a fortune he would leave it equally divided between George and Kent, as he did not intend to marry himself."
"But he did not leave his money equally divided," said Giles.
"No. But at that time Kent was not married, and Powell had not gone to Australia to make his money. Whether he liked Kent better than George I don't know, but, as you are aware, he left the money first to Daisy—knowing that Kent was dead—and afterwards, should she die, to George and his descendants."
"Then the money which Denham holds as Franklin is rightfully Anne's?"
"Yes. Now you are beginning to see. But don't be in too much of a hurry. I want to tell you how my elopement came about."
Ware nodded, and composed himself to listen. The Princess resumed.
"I was happy at first with George. I really was in love with him, and for two years we were devoted to one another. Anne was born, and she drew us still closer together. Then Denham chose to fall in love with me. I repelled him with scorn, but did not tell my husband, as I dreaded lest George, who had a fiery temper, should kill the man. I simply kept Denham at his distance. He vowed to be revenged, and gradually ruined George. He made him neglect the plantation, and spend more money than he could afford. He induced him to drink, and then George, who had not a very strong will, began to run after other women. I was furious, and told him about Denham. He was so besotted with the creature that he refused to listen to me. Powell tried to stop George's downward course, but without result. Then he was called back to England, and I was left to battle against my enemy alone. My father and mother were both dead, and I could do nothing. Denham constantly inflamed George against me. Our house was like hell."
Here she stopped to draw a long breath and control her emotion. Giles pitied her profoundly, as he guessed how she had suffered. However, he did not interrupt her, and she continued in a few moments.
"Prince Karacsay came to the island. He was travelling for pleasure, and in his own yacht. He fell in love with me. Seeing how miserable I was, he implored me to fly with him. But I would not. I had lost much of my love for George, who, under the bad influence of Denham, treated me so cruelly. But there was my child—my little Anne—to consider. I declined to fly. Our plantation was not far from the seashore. In a creek the Prince had anchored his yacht. Denham was making my husband jealous, and my life became unbearable. Oh!"—she threw up her arms—"not even the years of peace that I have had can obliterate the memory of that terrible time." And she wept.
Still, Ware did not interrupt, thinking it best that she should not be questioned too much. With a great effort she controlled herself, and resumed her pitiful story.
"One night," she went on in a low voice, "the climax came. The Prince had been to dinner. He had to go, because George was so violent. Denham had got my husband to drink, and his paroxysms of anger became terrible. The Prince wanted to stop to protect me, but I asked him to go. It was a rainy night, a violent thunderstorm was going on. I locked myself in the nursery, to protect myself from the fury of George. He came to the door and broke it down." She paused, and her voice leaped an octave. "George turned me out into the rain."
"Great God! Did he go that far?"
She was on her feet by this time pacing the room.
"He turned me out into the stormy night. I fled from his fury, drenched with rain. At the gates of the gardens round the house I met with the Prince. He had been hanging round the place fearful for my life. He implored me to come on board the yacht and stop the night. I was almost distracted with terror and anger. I went." She paused again. "From that moment I was lost."
"It was not your fault," Giles assured her.
"No; it was not my husband's fault either, but the fault of that wicked wretch Denham. He came the next morning, guessing where I had gone in my distress. He brought a note from George, who bade me go with my lover, the Prince. It was a lie. The Prince was no lover of mine then. I demanded to see my child, but George refused. It was all Denham—Denham. George was under the thumb of the wretch. The Prince behaved like an honorable gentleman, and spoke up for me. But it was all of no use. George was determined to have a divorce."
"You mean Denham was determined to have one," corrected Giles.
"Yes, yes. He was the one who ruined me. Then the Prince said he would make me his wife as soon as the decree was pronounced. I agreed. What else could I do? My child was refused to me. I was blamed by every one, and the whole island was against me. I sailed for Europe in Prince Karacsay's yacht. A few months later the decree was pronounced, and he made me his wife. Since then I have been happy—that is as happy as I could be, knowing that my child was lost."
"Did you make inquiries about her?"
"Some years later I did. Then I learned that George, with the child and Denham, had sailed for Europe. The vessel was wrecked. The report said that George Franklin and his child were saved. Denham's name was given as one who was drowned. I rejoiced when I saw that punishment had overtaken my enemy."
"But Denham was not drowned."
"No; it was George who met with that death. Denham, to get what little money remained, took the name of George Franklin. I do not know how he managed to deceive the people of the ship; but he must have done so in some way, to get the false report put in the paper."
"Did Denham not tell you when you unmasked him at Rickwell?"
"He made some sort of explanation, but I think much of it was very false."
"How did you come to discover him?"
"Olga did so. She knew a part of my story. That was why—as perhaps you saw—she was always uneasy when I touched on Jamaica."
"Yes; I remember that, Princess. Well, I must get Mademoiselle Olga to tell me how she discovered all this. But on what terms did you leave Denham?"
"I told him that I would give him a month to make restitution to my daughter Anne, and then if he did not I would inform the police."
"Did he agree?"
"No; the wretch defied me. He told me that Anne had murdered Daisy Kent out of jealousy, and said that if I moved a finger against him he would have her arrested."
"He could not do that without harming himself."
"I don't know," said the Princess wearily; "he is so clever that he seems to do what he likes. I have taken no steps, because I wished to get some advice as to how I should act under the circumstances. For this reason I tell you."
"I will do my best, Princess. But how was it Anne came with you?"
"Olga managed that. She knew Anne was at the Priory. I don't know how. Olga knows much. I wish she and Anne would come back again. I hope nothing has happened."
Even as she spoke the door opened, and Olga entered the room looking haggard and worn out. "Anne!" cried her mother. "Where is Anne?"
"Lost!" replied Olga, dropping exhausted into a chair, "lost!"
Giles saw in the girl almost as great a change as that which had taken place in her mother. Formerly haughty and self-possessed, she was now quite exhausted and broken down. Her dress was muddy and wet and in disorder. She had a grey face and red eyes. Huddled up in the chair, she looked a pitiable object—the ruin of what was once a beautiful woman.
"Anne lost?" cried the Princess, clutching at a chair to steady herself. "Olga, what do you mean?"
Olga did not answer. She closed her eyes and let her umbrella fall with a crash. Giles saw that the girl was quite worn out. Hastily filling a glass with undiluted whiskey, he held it to her lips, and made her drink the whole of it. Shortly the ardent spirit did its work. She sat up and began to talk in a stronger tone; but the excitement was artificial, and would die away soon. Princess Karacsay saw this, and urged her daughter to tell her story quickly before she collapsed, so that the police might be sent in search of Anne.
"The police will never find her," said Olga, with an effort. "She is with Mark Dane. He has taken her away."
"Dane?" echoed Giles. "Denham's secretary?"
Olga looked at him with an inquiring air. "How much do you know?" she asked, bracing herself up.
"As much as your mother could tell me. I know that Anne is your half-sister, and——"
"Yes." Olga tried to rise, but sank back again. "She is my sister, my dear sister, and I love her with all the strength of my nature."
"Ah," said Ware sadly, "why did you not talk like that when last we met, mademoiselle?"
Olga passed her hand across her forehead. "I was mad, I think. But that is all over. You need have no fear now, Mr. Ware. My passion for you has spent itself."
"Olga!" cried the Princess, scandalized, "you rave!"
"No," answered her daughter; "I did last time Mr. Ware and I were together, but now I talk sense. Did he not tell?"
"I told nothing," interposed Giles quickly; "and you had better relate when and where you left Anne, so that we can find her."
"I'll do all in my power to save her and bring her back to you, Mr. Ware. I was mad to talk and act as I did; but I have been punished by the loss of Anne."
"Olga!" cried the Princess in desperation, "for Heaven's sake speak reasonably! Why did you go out with Anne last night?"
"There was a note for Anne from Mark Dane, asking her to meet him near the Abbey. She wanted to see him, as he vanished after the supposed death of her father."
"Of Alfred Denham," interrupted the Princess angrily; "I will not have that man called Anne's father."
"Of Denham," said Olga obediently. "Anne wished to learn why her father had acted in so peculiar a way. She could not understand his behavior."
"He is a scoundrel and Anne a saint," said the Princess bitterly. "No wonder she could not understand him. She thinks he is a good man."
"But surely she knows that he killed Daisy Kent," said Giles.
"No," interposed Olga; "she denies that he did. I expect Denham has managed to deceive her in some way."
"Why did you not undeceive her, mademoiselle?"
"It was not yet time," responded the girl quietly, "but my mother told her a portion of the truth."
"Yes. I said that she was my child and that Denham had been impersonating her father, George Franklin."
"Then she can't think Denham a good man now," said Giles.
"I don't know," replied the Princess hopelessly. "He has such power over her. He has been her father so-called for so long that she finds it difficult to believe ill of him."
"To learn the truth was why she insisted on seeing Dane," said the girl. "Dane knew all about Denham, and Anne thought she would make him confess what he knew."
"And did he?"
"That I can't say. I went out with Anne and we walked to the appointed spot. Mark Dane was waiting for us."
"Was he not astonished when he saw you?"
"Why should he be astonished?" asked Olga, looking sharply at Ware.
"Because I understand from Steel that he troubled you with letters."
"You mean that Dane was in love with me. Yes. He was and is."
"Olga," cried her mother again, "do behave yourself."
"Oh, this is too serious to be a mere matter of behavior, mother. I have made use of Dane's love to learn all about the society of the Scarlet Cross, to which Franklin and Dane belong."
"You can tell us that later," said the Princess impatiently. "I want to know how you lost Anne."
"Well, mother, Dane was astonished to see me. He was most respectful, and said that he had a message for Anne from her father——"
"Yes. Anne mentioned that Denham was not her father, that she had just heard the truth, and Dane was amazed. He hardly knew what to say, but ultimately stammered out some sort of denial. Anne did not give him time to speak. She said that she would see Denham herself, and get to the bottom of the imposture. Then she asked what message he had sent in the character of her father. Dane refused to give it in my presence, so I walked away for ten minutes and left them together. Oh, I was foolish, I know," she added in reply to Ware's exclamation. "But I thought Mark Dane was devoted to me, and would not play any tricks while I was about. However, I did leave them alone. Anne was not in the least afraid, as she always got on well with Dane and trusted him entirely. When I returned in ten minutes, or it may be more, they were gone."
"Gone!" echoed the Princess, much agitated. "Where?"
"I don't know. I searched everywhere. I went round and round the Abbey. I asked a policeman. They were nowhere to be found. I fancied that they went across to Westminster Bridge, which they could easily do without my seeing them. Anne must have gone of her own accord. She was decoyed by Dane. I don't know why, no more than I know what inducement he held out to lure her away. I searched for hours. Then I asked a policeman about the matter. He told me to go to Scotland Yard. I went and inquired for Steel. He had gone home. I have been walking the streets all night," said Olga, with a haggard look.
"Oh, great heavens!" moaned the Princess, wringing her hands; "what would your father say if he heard?"
"He will never know unless you tell him, mother. I can look after myself easily. No one molested me. I had a cup of coffee at a stall this morning, and went again to see Steel. He has gone out of town."
"To Rickwell?" asked Giles eagerly; then he remembered. "I can't understand. I called to see Steel at midday before I came here, and he was then in his office."
"Well, the official I spoke to about nine o'clock told me that he had gone, leaving a message that he was going out of town, and would not be back for a few days."
"I wonder," began Giles, and then held his peace. It occurred to him that Steel intended to remain until he caught Dane in the trap laid for him in this very flat. The knowledge that the man had decoyed Anne away on the previous night made Giles the more eager that he should be caught. "You will see Anne yet, Princess," he said, for she was crying bitterly.
"Oh, I hope so—I hope so. But where is she?"
"We must ask Dane that."
"How are we to see Dane?" demanded Olga wonderingly.
Ware explained the use made of Olga's name by Steel to trap the man. "I expect Steel will call on you to-day to tell you this," he said cheerfully.
"I am not sorry, and yet I am," said Olga thoughtfully. "I know much about Mark Dane, and want to save him from his bad companions. But I hope Steel won't put him in gaol; that would ruin him entirely. Besides, Steel promised not to have him arrested."
"Promised you?" said Ware, astonished.
"Yes. It was I who told him to look after Dane. I know much about this matter." Then seeing Giles puzzled, she explained, "When I first met Anne I saw that she was like myself in looks. That drew us together. You see it yourself, do you not, Mr. Ware?"
"Yes," replied Giles, "and I often wondered at it. Now, however, that I know you are half-sisters, I wonder no longer."
Princess Karacsay nodded her approval, and Olga continued.
"When I learned that Anne's name was Denham I rather drew back from her. She said that she was born in Jamaica, and, knowing what my mother had said about Denham, I thought Anne was the daughter of my mother's enemy. Afterwards I learned the truth through Dane."
"How did you meet Dane?"
"Well, I knew him by sight long before we spoke. He used to dog Anne and myself. She never saw him. When I described his looks she thought he might be her dead father's secretary—for she then believed her father, Denham, alias Franklin, was dead. She wished to see him, but Dane always kept out of her sight. Then when Anne went to Mrs. Morley he still continued to dog me. He got to know a concert hall where I frequently sang and hired himself there as an attendant. Then he took to sending me love-letters. I was angry at first. Afterwards I wondered if he know anything about Denham, and thought he must if he really was the secretary, as Anne said. I asked him to come here."
"Olga," said the Princess, "you have behaved badly."
"It has all turned out for the best," responded Olga wearily. She was beginning to show signs of fatigue again, but still kept on with her explanation in the most plucky manner. "Dane came. He is a handsome young fellow and was well dressed. I led him on to talk about Anne. He told me more than he should have done."
"Told you what?"
"That Denham had come in for money and was living at Rickwell. As I knew from Anne about the Powell money, I put two and two together and concluded that Denham was pretending to be Anne's father; that she was really my half-sister; and that her pretended father had really murdered Daisy Kent to get the money as Franklin."
"But how did you know about this?" asked Giles.
"Why," replied Olga, much surprised at his density, "I read the case in the papers. I knew that Anne could not have killed Daisy, and having settled in my own mind that she was not Denham's daughter, from her resemblance to me, I decided that Franklin, who lived at the Priory and had the money, was really my mother's enemy. I sent for my mother. She came over, went down to Rickwell, and recognized Denham. That is all."
"Wait a minute," said Giles quickly, "what about your telling Steel to look after Dane?"
"Well, Mr. Ware, it was this way," she answered. "When you came to me and talked about the Scarlet Cross, I remembered that Dane had such a one on his watch-chain."
"The badge of the gang!"
"Of course, but I did not know that until later. Then Steel came in, if you remember, and hinted that the red cross was the symbol of such a gang. Your talk of the cross being found in the church, and that you thought it was dropped by the criminal set me thinking. I sent for Dane again and tried to find out the truth. At first he refused, saying it was as much as his life was worth to talk."
"And I daresay he is right, mademoiselle. Denham would not stick at a second murder. By the way, did you know he was Wilson?"
"Only when Dane confessed. I gradually got him to be confidential to me, promising that he would not get into trouble. He was so deeply in love with me that he spoke out at last."
"My dear Olga!"
"Well, mother, I knew if I could get at the truth I could save Anne."
The Princess nodded, well pleased. "I am glad you thought of your sister." Olga flushed a deep red and her eyes sought those of Giles. "It was not my sister I thought of, but of myself," she said in a low tone. "You see, mother, I fancied that I might get something if I could prove the innocence of Anne, for I——"
"Is any explanation needed, mademoiselle?" said Giles uneasily.
She paused for a moment and looked at him straightly. "No," she said at length; "that is all over. I think no more explanation need be made. But with regard to Dane. He told me that Denham had come to England to see about the money left to Daisy Kent. He disguised himself as Wilson and lodged at a Mrs. Benker's. Then he went down to Rickwell, and——"
"And murdered Daisy," interposed Giles eagerly.
"So I said, Mr. Ware; but Dane, who seems devoted in a way to Denham, denies that he struck the blow."
"Does he know who did?"
"No. He says Denham doesn't know either."
"Denham's a bigger scoundrel than you think," said Giles, recalling his last conversation at the Priory. "He accuses Anne of murdering the girl."
"He'll have to prove it, then," said Olga coolly, while her mother shrieked. "I'll be able to save Anne, never fear. However, Dane told me that the red cross was the badge of a thieves' gang. Denham had a yacht called The Red Cross, which goes from one port to another to take stolen goods on board."
"That's what Steel says."
"Of course. Dane told him when he taxed him with it. The boy, for he is just twenty-five, told me everything."
"And you told Steel," said Ware, rather reproachfully.
"I had to tell Steel, if I wished to save Anne," retorted Olga; "but I asked him to do nothing to imperil the liberty of Mark Dane."
"Did he promise that?"
"Yes. Dane saw him in Bournemouth. I told him to call with a note, which I gave him. Dane did not know why he was sent, and when he discovered that Steel was a detective, he became afraid. I believe he told something, but he afterwards ran away."
"He doesn't trust you any longer perhaps," said the Princess.
"From his attitude last night I think he does, although he was a trifle reproachful. He will come if Steel has written a letter to call him here in my name. Then I daresay he will be able to explain why he took Anne away."
"Will he do so?"
"Ah! that is what we must find out." Olga paused, then continued. "I wanted Steel to learn all he could from Dane about Denham, as I wish to see that man arrested."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," cried the Princess.
"I thought of that. Denham tried to ruin your mother."
"And he did—he did!" she said bitterly.
"He tried, or rather he is trying, to ruin Anne also," said Olga. "For these reasons I wish Steel to find evidence against him, so that he may be arrested and made to confess his wickedness. Dane is the one who can tell most about him, and I think Dane will, for since Denham got the Powell money he had not behaved very well."
While they were thus talking a knock came to the door. The servant entered with a card, which she presented on a salver to her mistress. Olga, who was thoroughly worn out, took it languidly, then suddenly became excited. "He is here!" she said. "Mark Dane is here!"
When Olga announced the name of her visitor, the Princess rose to leave the room. She explained that she did not think it was in keeping with the dignity of her position to meet every shady person who called, and added that her daughter was not behaving in a way worthy of her name and princely family. When she departed Olga looked inquiringly at Ware. He swiftly interpreted her look.
"I shall stop," he said promptly. "I am only too anxious to help you."
Olga came forward and took his hand. "And you forgive me?" she asked.
"There is nothing to forgive," he answered, shaking it heartily. "Let us seek for Anne together. I daresay Dane will be able to tell us where she is. I leave you to manage him."
The girl nodded and touched the bell. Shortly the maid showed in a slim young fellow of a somewhat effeminate type. He was clean-shaven and wonderfully pale, with large dark eyes and curly black hair, worn rather long. He was dressed in a grey suit and wore a red scarf tied loosely in a bow. There was something foreign in his looks and dress. At the first sight one would have taken him for an Italian, but when he spoke it was apparent that he was an Englishman.
"Princess!" he said effusively, when he entered. Then catching sight of Giles in the background, he stopped short with a scared look.
"This is a friend of mine, Mark," said Olga, coming forward. "He knows all that there is to be known."
"Oh! And you promised not to say a word," said Dane reproachfully.
She shook her head. "I promised to save you from being arrested, and I shall fulfil my promise. Why have you come here?"
Dane fumbled in his pocket. "Your letter," he said, handing it to her.
Olga took it, glanced at it, and finally passed it to Ware.
"I did not write that letter," she said quietly. "Steel the detective sent it, so as to bring you here. He wishes to resume the conversation you left unfinished at Bournemouth."
"It's a trap!" cried Dane violently, and swung round to the door. But there was no chance of escape in that direction. He opened it to find Steel standing without. The detective stepped into the room and locked the door.
"Now," he said, "we can have some conversation. Princess, I apologize for having used your name unauthorized, but it was the only way to bring this young man into my net."
"Into a net!" said Dane, letting fall his soft hat. "You intend to have me arrested!" His hand went round to the back of his waist. In a moment Steel had flung himself forward, and after a short struggle disarmed him. The knife that the detective had secured was an ugly-looking weapon.
"You are more Italian than the Italians," he said, slipping the knife into his pocket; "but you are not a gentleman to frighten the lady."
"I am not frightened," said Olga promptly; "but I am very tired. I shall retire and leave you two gentlemen to deal with Mark."
Dane sprang forward and caught her dress. He looked terrified. "Do not leave me," he entreated. "You know that I love you, and that for your sake I have betrayed a man who has done much for me. You promised to help me."
"I shall do so," she answered, returning to her seat. "I shall see that you are not arrested, and——"
"Pardon me, Princess, it may be necessary to——"
"Mr. Steel, this man shall not be arrested," she said, stamping her foot.
"If I am," cried Dane resolutely, "I shall say nothing. Only to save myself will I speak."
Ware addressed a few hurried words to the detective, who nodded reluctantly. It was Giles who spoke. "I promise that you shall not be put in gaol, Dane," he said, "but you must tell the truth."
"If I do so I am in danger of my life."
"Then it is not gratitude that keeps you silent?"
"Gratitude!" said Dane, flinging back his head, "what have I to be grateful for? Mr. Franklin——"
"You mean Denham," interposed Olga quickly.
"Denham!" echoed Steel, "that is the father of the governess."
"No," said Giles, "Anne's father is dead. This man Denham pretended to play the part, and she has only lately been undeceived. Also, Mr. Steel, you must know that there is no Walter Franklin. The man at the Priory is the scoundrel you know as Wilson, the head of the Scarlet Cross Society and the murderer of Miss Kent."
"Not that last," interposed Dane, while Steel dropped into a seat transfixed with astonishment. "Denham did not kill her. He does not know who did. He told me so."
"He would tell you anything to save himself," said Olga.
"No," replied Dane, "he tells me all his secrets. At one time I should have died before I revealed them, but Denham has treated me cruelly. I owe him no gratitude. For years I slaved for him. I did all that a man could do for his sake. What reward have I got? He has beaten me like a dog. He has left me to starve. He has delivered me up to those members of our society who hate me. Since he came in for this money——"
"Wrongfully," put in Giles.
"As you say, sir—wrongfully. But since he became George Franklin and a wealthy man, he told me plainly that he washed his hands of me. He gave me a small sum, and sent me to America, promising an annuity. It was not paid. I wrote—I threatened. He laughed at me. So I have come back from America to punish him." He turned to Olga and continued vehemently, "Do you think that I would have told you what I did, Princess, had I not hated the man? No. Not even for the love I bear you would I have done that. You sent me to Mr. Steel at Bournemouth. I knew that he was a detective, and went prepared to tell all about Denham's wickedness, even although I incriminated myself."
"But you did not do so," said Steel dryly; "you ran away."
"And why? Because you mentioned that you suspected Miss Denham of a crime. I held my tongue until I could see some chance of proving her innocence. Had I told you all I knew then you would have had her arrested, and let her know the shame of the man—her father."
"He is not her father," said Olga again.
"I know nothing about that," replied Dane, sitting down; "he always said that he was her father, and I had no reason to believe otherwise. But I am glad to hear that he is not. She is too good and pure to be the daughter of such a man. I have known her for years. She is an angel. She nursed me through an illness. I would do anything to prove my gratitude for her sake. I held my hand from harming Denham because I thought he was her father, and——"
"You need do so no longer," cried Ware, whose face was bright when he heard this praise of Anne; "she is the daughter of George Franklin, of Jamaica. Denham assumed the name to get the Powell money."
"Then," cried Dane, flinging wide his arms in a most dramatic manner, "all I know you shall know. I turn King's evidence."
"The best way to save your own skin," said Steel dryly; "you are an Irishman, are you not?"
Dane nodded. "Born in New York," said he.
"Humph!" murmured Steel, but so low that only Giles heard him, "all the better. You would betray your own mother if it suited you."
Meanwhile Olga was speaking to the man. "The first thing you have to confess," she said, "is about Miss Denham. Where is she?"
"With Mr. Morley."
Giles uttered an exclamation. "What has he got to do with her?"
"I don't know. He came up to town yesterday evening."
"About nine or ten?" asked Giles quickly. He remembered his feeling of being watched at the Liverpool Street Station.
"Yes," assented Dane, "he came up to see me. He said that he had a message for Miss Denham from her father. Of course I thought then that Denham was really her father. I asked Morley why he did not deliver the message himself, for he knew that Miss Denham had come to town with the Princess Karacsay."
"How the deuce did he know that?" wondered Giles.
"Well, you see, sir, Mr. Morley was a detective at one time, and he always finds out what he desires."
"True enough," put in Steel, "Joe Bart is very clever."
"He appears to have been extremely so in this case," said Giles dryly.
"Morley told me," continued Mark, "that Miss Denham knew he suspected her of the murder, and she would not let him see her. If she knew he had come to look her up that she would run away thinking he came to have her arrested. He asked me to tell her to come to a rendezvous near the Abbey without mentioning his name. I thought this was reasonable enough, and wrote a letter."
"And I went with Anne," said Olga. "Where did you go?"
"When you left us I told her that Morley had a message from her father. She said nothing to me denying the relationship, but she was afraid of Morley. I told her that he had promised not to do her any harm. She was still doubtful. Then Morley appeared. He had been close at hand, and he explained that Denham was very ill. He wished to see Miss Denham and make reparation for his wickedness. There was no time to be lost, Morley said, and he asked her to come at once. She hesitated for a time, and then went with Morley. She told me to wait till the Princess Olga came back and tell her this."
"Why did you not?"
"Because Morley whispered that I was not to do so. I went away in another direction."
"Then why do you tell now?" asked Ware bluntly.
"I wish to be revenged on Denham," said Dane fiercely. "He treated me like a dog, and he shall be bitten by me. Curse him!"
Olga walked to the door. "I shall go now," she said, seeing that Dane was becoming excited and fearing a scene. "You can tell Mr. Steel and Mr. Ware everything, Mark. When Denham is caught and Anne is free, you shall come to Vienna with me. My father shall take you into his service," and with this she held out her hand to him in a regal manner. Dane kissed it as though it had been the hand of a queen, and when she was out of the room, turned to the two men with a shining face.
"I am ready to tell you everything," he said.
"And betray those who have done you a kindness," muttered Steel. "You would not be an Irish-American if you didn't. I know the type."
Quite unaware of this uncomplimentary speech, Dane glanced into a near mirror and ran his slim hand through his hair. He cast such a complacent look at his reflection that Giles could not forbear a smile. The man was a compound of treachery, courage, and vanity. He had some virtues and not a few vices, and was one of those irresponsible creatures who develop into Anarchists. But that the Scarlet Cross Society had attracted his talents in the direction of a kind of coast piracy, he would without doubt have been employed in blowing up kings or public buildings. Giles thought with a grim smile that if Olga took this creature to Austria, Prince Karacsay would have some work to keep him in order. Dane was not the man to settle to a dull, respectable existence or to earn his bread without a little excitement. A dangerous man, and the more dangerous from his enormous vanity and utter want of moral principle.
Having made Steel promise not to arrest him, nor to make any use of his revelations to endanger his own liberty, Dane cheerfully proceeded to betray those he had sworn secrecy to. Wicked as was the gang, and evil as was the purpose of its formation, Giles could not help feeling a contempt for the traitor. There should be honor amongst thieves, thought Ware. But Dane did not believe in the proverb, and explained himself quite complacently.
"I met Denham—as he usually called himself many years ago in Italy—at Milan," said Dane; "he had a house there. His daughter—let us call Miss Anne his daughter, although I am glad to hear she is not—lived with him. She was then about fifteen and was at school at a convent. She and I got on very well. I adored her for her beauty and kindness of heart. I was starving for want of money, as my remittances had not arrived from America. Denham took me in. I made myself useful, so there was no charity about the matter."
"Still, he took you in," suggested Giles, "that was kind."
"A kindness to himself," retorted Dane. "I tell you, sir, Denham wanted what he called a secretary and what I called a tool. He found such a one in me. I don't deny that I did all his dirty work, but I had some feeling of gratitude because he rescued me from starvation."
"You contradict yourself, Dane."
"No, sir, I do not," replied the man, with true Irish obstinacy, "but I'm not here to argue about my conduct but to tell you facts."
"Facts we wish to know," said Steel, taking out his note-book.
"And facts I tell," cried Dane vehemently, then resumed in a calmer tone. "Miss Anne was all day at school. Denham never let her know what a devil he was. He was always kind to her. She thought him a good man. Then thinking she might get to know too much, he sent her to a convent for education and removed to Florence. There he called himself George Franklin. He told me that he expected to get money by taking that name."
"Then he admitted that he was not George Franklin," said Giles.
"He never admitted anything. At one time he would say that his real name was George Franklin, at another declare he was really Alfred Denham. But he had so many names in the course of his career," added Dane, with a shrug, "that one more or less did not matter. Besides, he was such a liar that I never believed anything he said."
"Not even about the Powell money?"
"Oh, yes, I believed that. He was always swearing at some girl who stood between him and the money. He mentioned her name once. I was with him in England at the time, and set to work to find out. I learned all about Miss Kent and her engagement to you, Mr. Ware."
"And you know all about the Powell money?"
"Yes. I got the truth out of Denham at last, but he never told Miss Anne; nor did he ever mention Miss Kent's name in her presence; nor did he ever say to me that Miss Anne was not his child. I never thought for a moment she was Franklin's daughter. And for the matter of that," added Dane carelessly, "I did not know if he was really Denham or Franklin himself."
"But Miss Anne knew nothing of all this?" asked Giles.
"Absolutely nothing. After she went to the Milan convent, Denham would not let her come back to him again. He was afraid lest she should learn what he was and wished to preserve her good opinion. She went out as a governess, and only rarely came home."
"And how did Denham earn his living?"
"Oh, he invented the Scarlet Cross Society. He bought a yacht, and steamed to England from Genoa. For years we put in at different ports, robbed houses and stowed the goods on board. Then we returned to Italy and sold them."
"A clever dodge," murmured Steel. "So that is why the goods were never traced."
"That is why," said Dane, with great coolness. "There was a Jew who took a lot of what we brought. He sold them in the East. But it is too long a story to tell at present. Denham sometimes went to England and sometimes stopped in Florence. When he was away I stayed in his house as George Franklin."
"I see. He wished to prove an alibi."
"That's it," said Dane. "He intended to get that money sometime, and wished that when inquiries were made about George Franklin that it could be proved he was in Florence all the time."
"And then when Powell did die?"
"Denham knew as soon as possible. He had a spy in Australia, and had a cablegram sent to him. Then he arranged a pretended death to get rid of Miss Anne. He did not want her to come into his new life. He treated her well, however, for he left her money, and intended to give her an income when he got the money. Another man was buried in place of Denham and he went to England, where he reappeared as George Franklin to claim the money."
"As Wilson, you mean, to kill the girl who stood between him and the fortune," said Steel, raising his eyes.
Dane shook his head. "I know nothing of that," he said. "From the day Denham left Florence my association with him has severed. I saw Miss Anne, told her about the death of her father, and then went to America. Denham did not pay me my annuity, and I came back to be revenged. I saw him, but he denies having killed the girl. He says he does not know who committed the murder. I have been earning my bread as I best can, waiting for revenge."
"But you had only to threaten to make all this public to make Denham give you what you wished."
"No." Dane looked uneasy. "The fact is he and some one else have a hold over me. I need not tell you what it is, but I had to be silent."
"But now that you speak he has still the hold."
"Yes. But I intend to ruin myself in order to ruin him," cried Dane fiercely, and rose to his feet. "Well, gentlemen, that is all I can tell you at present. I shall go."
To Giles' surprise, Steel made no objection. "You'll come and see me again?" he said, opening the door for Dane.
"Assuredly," replied that young gentleman, and departed.
Giles looked amazed at this permission to depart being given by the detective. "I should have thought it would be to your interest to keep Dane here," he said. "He has not told us everything yet."
"No," replied Steel, closing his book with a snap, "there is one very interesting detail he has not told us. But the next time we meet I'll get it out of him. Here," he touched the book, "there is enough to go on with. I'll go down to the Priory and see the sick Mr. Denham."
"I'll come also and see Anne," said Giles eagerly. "But Dane?"
"He's all right. I have a couple of men waiting outside. He will be followed everywhere. I'll be able to lay hands on him whenever I like. Also I wish to see where he goes. He knows the various hiding-places of this gang, and I want him to be tracked to one of them."
"H'm! Don't you believe his story?"
"Not altogether. He evidently hates Denham with all the virulent hatred of a malicious character. He's a devil, that man Dane. I should not like to incur his enmity. However, we'll make use of him, and then the Princess can take him to Vienna to make trouble there, as he assuredly will."
"What is the especial detail you want to learn?"
"I wish him to explain how he killed Daisy Kent."
"He! Dane! Do you mean to say——?"
"I mean to say that Dane is the murderer," said Steel triumphantly. "That is the reason Denham and this other person (whoever he may be) have a hold over him. If he ruins Denham, he does so at the cost of being hanged."
A RAT IN A CORNER
The next day Giles returned to Rickwell with Steel. The detective could not leave town before, as he had to procure a warrant for the arrest of Alfred Denham, alias Wilson, alias George Franklin, and half a dozen other names. The man was to be arrested for various robberies connected with the gang of thieves, of which he was the head. Search was being made by the police for The Red Cross yacht, but evidently the gang had taken alarm, for she had disappeared. It was Steel's opinion that she was down Plymouth way, sailing round the Devonshire coast, and the police in that county were on the lookout.
"Once I can get that ship," explained Steel to Giles when in the train, "and their claws will be cut. They have escaped for a long time, so ingenious have their methods been. But I have accumulated a mass of evidence, and have several names known to the police. Yes, and several names of people not known. There are about twenty thieves, professional and amateur, connected with this matter. It is a big affair. But I'll get the yacht, and then Denham. That will be the means of laying bare the whole swindle."
"Which? Denham or the yacht?"
"Each! both! If the police can seize the boat unexpectedly, some incriminating papers are sure to be found on board. And if I can arrest Denham, I'll soon get the truth out of him."
"I don't believe he can tell the truth, even if forced to," said Ware grimly. "You have no idea how that man has cheated me, Steel," and then Giles related the eavesdropping of himself and Morley.
"I don't know how Denham got to know," he continued, "but the tale he told about the invented brother was his own history, and quite deceived me and Morley. Also that soliloquy after Mrs. Benker departed was a masterly conception. It would have cheated any one, let alone me. The man was acting for the benefit of myself and Morley, and knew we were listening. What a clever scoundrel!"
"He's been a little too clever this time," replied Steel; then he began to laugh, but refused to explain why he did so, save in a general way.
"This is the queerest case I was ever in," he said, with a chuckle; "you don't know how queer."
"Well, you explain. I think you are keeping something from me."
"I am," answered Steel readily. "Tit for tat, Mr. Ware. You did a little business on your own account, and said nothing to me. I repay the compliment."
"I was afraid you would arrest Miss Denham."
"You mean Miss Franklin. No, I should not have done that. My investigations into this thieving case have shown me that she is perfectly innocent. She knows nothing about Denham's rascalities, and she certainly did not commit the murder."
"Are you so sure that Dane is the culprit?" asked Giles.
"Yes, I am sure. He was at Gravesend on board that yacht, and when the so-called Wilson came by train from London, Dane rode over from Tilbury on a motor-bicycle. They met on that night, and then I expect Denham induced Dane to murder the girl. Afterwards Dane went back to Tilbury as he came, and Denham induced his daughter to rescue him on your motor."
"But why should he get Anne to do that?"
"Because he saw that he had been wrong in forcing Dane to do what he did. Dane was too hasty. He should have waited till Denham was a safe distance away, and then have executed the deed. As it was I believe that Denham came out to find the girl dead, and knowing he might be accused, lost his head. Otherwise he certainly would not have betrayed himself to Miss Anne. She, believing him to be her father, secured the car and saved him. A very clever woman, Mr. Ware. I hope you will ask me to the wedding."