During the week that followed I sought to learn all I could regarding the new people at the castle.
"They are taken up everywhere," declared my aunt when I questioned her. "Of course, we knew very little of them, except that they had a shoot up near Fort William two years ago, and that they have a town house in Green Street. They are evidently rather smart folks. Don't you think so?"
"Judging from their house-party, yes," I responded. "They are about as gay a crowd as one could find north of Carlisle just at present."
"Exactly. There are some well-known people among them, too," said my aunt. "I've asked them over to-morrow afternoon, and they've accepted."
"Excellent!" I exclaimed, for I wanted an opportunity for another chat with the dark-eyed girl who was engaged to the man whose alias was Hornby. I particularly desired to ascertain the reason of her fear when I had mentioned the Lola, and whether she possessed any knowledge of Hylton Chater.
The opportunity came to me in due course, for next afternoon the Rannoch party drove over in two large brakes, and with other people from the neighborhood and a band from Dumfries, my aunt's grounds presented a gay and animated scene. There was the usual tennis and croquet, while some of the men enjoyed a little putting on the excellent course my uncle, a golf enthusiast, had recently laid down.
As I expected, Woodroffe did not accompany the party. Mrs. Leithcourt, a slightly fussy little woman, apologized for his absence, explaining that he had been recalled to London suddenly a few days before, but was returning to Rannoch again at the end of the week.
"We couldn't afford to lose him," she declared to my aunt. "He is so awfully humorous—his droll sayings and antics keep us in a perfect roar each night at dinner. He's such a perfect mimic."
I turned away and strolled with Muriel, pleading an excuse to show her my uncle's beautiful grounds, not a whit less picturesque than those of the castle, and perhaps rather better kept.
"I only heard yesterday of your engagement, Miss Leithcourt," I remarked presently when we were alone. "Allow me to offer my best congratulations. When you introduced me to Mr. Woodroffe the other day I had no idea that he was to be your husband."
She glanced at me quickly, and I saw in her dark eyes a look of suspicion. Then she flushed slightly, and laughing uneasily said, in a blank, hard voice—
"It's very good of you, Mr. Gregg, to wish me all sorts of such pleasant things."
"And when is the happy event to take place?"
"The date is not exactly fixed—early next year, I believe," and I thought she sighed.
"And you will probably spend a good deal of time yachting?" I suggested, my eyes fixed upon her in order to watch the result of my pointed remark. But she controlled herself perfectly.
"I love the sea," she responded briefly, and her eyes were set straight before her.
"Mr. Woodroffe has gone up to town, your mother says."
"Yes. He received a wire, and had to leave immediately. It was an awful bore, for we had arranged to go for a picnic to Dundrennan Abbey yesterday."
"But he'll be back here again, won't he?"
"I really don't know. It seems quite uncertain. I had a letter this morning which said he might have to go over to Hamburg on business, instead of coming up to us again."
There was disappointment in her voice, and yet at the same time I could not fail to recognize how the man to whom she was engaged had fled from Scotland because of my presence.
How I longed to ask her point-blank what she really knew of the yachtsman who was shrouded in so much mystery. Yet by betraying any undue anxiety I should certainly negative all my efforts to solve the puzzling enigma, therefore I was compelled to remain content with asking ingeniously disguised questions and drawing my own conclusions from her answers.
As we passed along those graveled walks it somehow became vividly impressed upon me that her marriage was being forced upon her by her parents. Her manner was that of one who was concealing some strange and terrible secret which she feared might be revealed. There was a distant look of unutterable terror in those dark eyes as though she existed in some constant and ever-present dread. Of course she told me nothing of her own feelings or affections, yet I recognized in both her words and her bearing a curious apathy—a want of the real enthusiasm of affection. Woodroffe, much her senior, was her father's friend, and it therefore seemed to me more than likely that Leithcourt was pressing a matrimonial alliance upon his daughter for some ulterior motive. In the mad hurry for place, power, and wealth, men relentlessly sell their daughters in the matrimonial market, and ambitious mothers scheme and intrigue for their own aggrandizement at sacrifice of their daughter's happiness more often than the public ever dream. Tragedy is, alas! written upon the face of many a bride whose portrait appears in the fashion-papers and whose toilette is so faithfully chronicled in the paragraph beneath. Indeed, the girl in Society who is allowed her own free choice in the matter of a husband is, alas! nowadays the exception, for parents who want to "get on" up the social scale have found that pretty daughters are a marketable commodity, and many a man has been placed "on his legs," both financially and socially, by his son-in-law. Hence the marriage of convenience is fast becoming common, while in the same ratio the divorce petitions are unfortunately on the increase.
I read tragedy in the dark luminous eyes of Muriel Leithcourt. I knew that her young heart was over-burdened by some secret sorrow or guilty knowledge that she would reveal to me if she dared. Her own words told me that she was perplexed; that she longed to confide and seek advice of someone, yet by reason of some hidden and untoward circumstance her lips were sealed.
I tried to question her further regarding Woodroffe, of what profession he followed and of his past.
But she evidently suspected me, for I had unfortunately mentioned the Lola.
She wanted to speak to me in confidence, and yet she would reveal to me nothing—absolutely nothing.
Martin Woodroffe did not rejoin the house-party at Rannoch.
Although I remained the guest of my uncle much longer than I intended, indeed right through the shooting season, in order to watch the Leithcourts, yet as far as we could judge they were extremely well-bred people and very hospitable.
We exchanged a good many visits and dinners, and while my uncle several times invited Leithcourt and his friends to his shoot with al fresco luncheon, which the ladies joined, the tenant of Rannoch always invited us back in return.
Thus I gained many opportunities of talking with Muriel, and of watching her closely. I had the reputation of being a confirmed bachelor, and on account of that it seemed that she was in no way averse to my companionship. She could handle a rook-rifle as well as any woman, and was really a very fair shot. Therefore we often found ourselves alone tramping across the wide open moorland, or along those delightful glens of the Nithsdale, glorious in the autumn tints of their luxurious foliage.
Her father, on the other hand, seemed to view me with considerable suspicion, and I could easily discern that I was only asked to Rannoch because it was impossible to invite my uncle without including myself.
Leithcourt, who perhaps thought I was courting his daughter, was ever endeavoring to avoid me, and would never allow me to walk with him alone. Why? I wondered. Did he fear me? Had Woodroffe told him of our strange encounter in Leghorn?
His pronounced antipathy towards me caused me to watch him surreptitiously, and more closely than perhaps I should otherwise have done. He was a man of gloomy mood, and often he would leave his guests and take walks alone, musing and brooding. On several occasions I followed him in secret, and found to my surprise that although he made long detours in various directions, yet he always arrived at the same spot at the same hour—five o'clock.
The place where he halted was on the edge of a dark wood on the brow of a hill about three miles from Rannoch—a good place to get woodpigeon, as they came to roost. It was fully two miles across the hills from the high road to Moniaive, and from the break the gray wall where he was in the habit of sitting to rest and smoke, there stretched the beautiful panorama of Loch Urr and the heatherclad hills beyond.
Leithcourt never went direct to the place, but always so timed his walks that he arrived just at five, and remained there smoking cigarettes until half-past, as though awaiting the arrival of some person he expected. Once or twice his guests suggested shooting pigeons at sundown, but he always had some excuse for opposing the proposal, and thus the party, unsuspecting the reason, were kept away from that particular lonely spot.
In my youth I had sat many a quiet hour there in the darkening gloom and shot many a pigeon, therefore I knew the wood well, and was able to watch the tenant of Rannoch from points where he least suspected the presence of another.
Once, when I was alone with Muriel, I mentioned her father's capacity for walking alone, whereupon she said—
"Oh, yes, he was always fond of walking. He used to take me with him when we first came here, but he always went so far that I refused to go any more."
She never once mentioned Woodroffe. I allowed her plenty of opportunity for doing so, chaffing her about her forthcoming marriage in order that she might again refer to him. But never did his name pass her lips. I understood that he had gone abroad—that was all.
Often when alone I reflected upon my curious adventure on that night when I met Olinto, and of my narrow escape from the hands of my unknown enemies. I wondered if that ingenious and dastardly attempt upon my life had really any connection with that strange incident at Leghorn. As day succeeded day, my mind became filled by increasing suspicion. Mystery surrounded me on every hand.
Indeed, by one curious fact alone it was increased a hundredfold.
Late one afternoon, when I had been out shooting all day with the Rannoch party, I drove back to the castle in the Perth-cart with three other men, and found the ladies assembled in the great hall with tea ready. A welcome log-fire was blazing in the huge old grate, for in October it is chilly and damp in Scotland and a fire is pleasant at evening.
Muriel was seated upon the high padded fender—like those one has at clubs—which always formed a cosy spot for the ladies, especially after dinner. When I entered, she rose quickly and handed me my cup, exclaiming as she looked at me—
"Oh, Mr. Gregg! what a state you are in!"
"Yes, I was after snipe, and slipped into a bog," I laughed. "But it was early this morning, and the mud has dried."
"Come with me, and I'll get you a brush," she urged. And I followed her through the long corridors and upstairs to a small sitting-room which was her own little sanctum, where she worked and read—a cosy little place with two queer old windows in the colossal wall, and a floor of polished oak, and great black beams above. When the owner had occupied the house that room had been disused, but it had, I found, been now completely transformed, and was a most tasteful little nest of luxury with its bright chintzes, its Turkey rugs and its cheerful fire on the old stone hearth.
She laughed when I expressed admiration of her little den, and said—
"I believe it was the armory in the old days. But it makes quite a comfy little boudoir. I can lock myself in and be quite quiet when the party are too noisy," she added merrily.
But as my eyes wandered around they suddenly fell upon an object which caused me to start with profound wonder—a cabinet photograph in a frame of crimson leather.
The picture was that of a young girl—a duplicate of the portrait I had found torn across and flung aside on board the Lola!
The merry eyes laughed out at me as I stood staring at it in sheer bewilderment.
"What a pretty girl!" I exclaimed quickly, concealing my surprise. "Who is she?"
My companion was silent a moment, her dark eyes meeting mine with a strange look of inquiry.
"Yes," she laughed, "everyone admires her. She was a schoolfellow of mine—Elma Heath."
"Heath!" I echoed. "Where was she at school with you?"
"A little over two years."
"She's very beautiful!" I declared, taking up the photograph and discovering that it bore the name of the same well-known photographer in New Bond Street as that I had found on the carpet of the Lola in the Mediterranean.
"Yes. She's really prettier than her photograph. It hardly does her justice."
"And where is she now?"
"Why are you so very inquisitive, Mr. Gregg?" laughed the handsome girl. "Have you actually fallen in love with her from her picture?"
"I'm hardly given to that kind of thing, Miss Leithcourt," I answered with mock severity. "I don't think even my worst enemy could call me a flirt, could she?"
"No. I will give you your due," she declared. "You never do flirt. That is why I like you."
"Thanks for your candor, Miss Leithcourt," I said.
"Only," she added, "you seem smitten with Elma's charms."
"I think she's extremely pretty," I remarked, with the photograph still in my hand. "Do you ever see her now?"
"Never," she replied. "Since the day I left school we have never met. She was several years younger than myself, and I heard that a week after I left Chichester her people came and took her away. Where she is now I have no idea. Her people lived somewhere in Durham. Her father was a doctor."
Her reply disappointed me. Yet I had, at least, retained knowledge of the name of the original of the picture, and from the photographer I might perhaps discover her address, for to me it seemed that she was somehow intimately connected with those mysterious yachtsmen.
What Muriel told me concerning her, I did not doubt for a single instant. Yet it was certainly more than a coincidence that a copy of the picture which had created such a deep impression upon me should be preserved in her own little boudoir as a souvenir of a devoted school-friend.
"Then you have heard absolutely nothing as to her present position or whereabouts—whether she is married, for instance?"
"Ah!" she cried mischievously. "You betray yourself by your own words. You have fallen in love with her, I really believe, Mr. Gregg. If she knew, she'd be most gratified—or at least, she ought to be."
At which I smiled, preferring that she should adopt that theory in preference to any other.
She spoke frankly, as a pure honest girl would speak. She was not jealous, but she nevertheless resented—as women do resent such things—that I should fall in love with a friend's photograph.
There was a mystery surrounding that torn picture; of that I was absolutely certain. The remembrance of that memorable evening when I had dined on board the Lola arose vividly before me. Why had the girl's portrait been so ruthlessly destroyed and the frame turned with its face to the wall? There was some reason—some distinct and serious motive in it. Had Muriel told me the truth, I wondered, or was she merely seeking to shield the suspected man who was her lover?
Hour by hour the mystery surrounding the Leithcourts became more inscrutable, more intensely absorbing. I had searched a copy of the London Directory at the Station Hotel at Carlisle, and found that no house in Green Street was registered as occupied by the tenant of Rannoch; and, further, when I came to examine the list of guests at the castle, I found that they were really persons unknown in society. They were merely of that class of witty, well-dressed parasites who always cling on to the wealthy and make believe that they are smart and of the grande monde. Rannoch was an expensive place to keep up, with all that big retinue of servants and gamekeepers, and with those nightly dinners cooked by a French chef; yet Leithcourt seemed to possess a long pocket and smiled upon those parasites, officers of doubtful commission and younger sprigs of the pseudo-aristocracy who surrounded him, while his wife, keen-eyed and of superb bearing, was punctilious concerning all points of etiquette, and at the same time indefatigable that her mixed set of guests should enjoy a really good time.
But I was not the only person who could not make them out. My uncle was the first to open my eyes regarding the true character of certain of the men staying at Rannoch.
"I think, Gordon, that one or two of those fellows with Leithcourt are rank outsiders," he said confidentially to me one night after we had had a hard day's shooting, and were playing a hundred up at billiards before retiring. "One man, who arrived yesterday, I know too well. He was struck off the list at Boodle's three years ago for card-sharping—that thin-faced, fair-mustached man named Cadby. I suppose Leithcourt doesn't know it, or he wouldn't have him up here among respectable folk." And my uncle, chewing the end of his cigar, sniffed angrily, seeming half inclined to give his friend a gentle hint that the name Cadby was placed beyond the pale of good society.
"Better not say anything about it," I urged. "It's Leithcourt's own affair, uncle—not ours."
"Yes, but if a man sets up a position in the country he mustn't be allowed to ask us to meet such fellows. It's coming it a little too thick, Gordon. We men can stand the women of the party, but the men—well, I tell you candidly, I shan't accept his invites to shoot again."
"No, no, uncle," I protested. "Probably it's owing to ignorance. You'll be able, a little later on, to give him valuable tips. He's a good fellow, and only wants experience in Scotland to get along all right."
"Yes. But I don't like it, my boy, I don't like it! It isn't playing a fair game," declared the rigid old gentleman, coloring resentfully. "I'm not going to return the invitation and ask that sharper, Cadby, to my house—and I tell you that plainly."
Next day I shot with the Carmichaels of Crossburn, and about four o'clock, after a good day, took leave of the party in the Black Glen, and started off alone to walk home, a distance of about six miles. It was already growing dusk, and would be quite dark, I knew, before I reached my uncle's house. My most direct way was to follow the river for about two miles and then strike straight across the large dense wood, and afterwards over a wide moor full of treacherous bogs and pitfalls for the unwary.
My gun over my shoulder, I had walked on for about three-quarters of an hour, and had nearly traversed the wood, at that hour so dark that I had considerable difficulty in finding my way, when—of a sudden—I fancied I distinguished voices.
I halted. Yes. Men were talking in low tones of confidence, and in that calm stillness of evening they appeared nearer to me than they actually were.
I listened, trying to distinguish the words uttered, but could make out nothing. They were moving slowly together, in close vicinity to myself, for their feet stirred the dry leaves, and I could hear the boughs cracking as they forced their way through them.
Of a sudden, while standing there not daring to breathe lest I should betray my presence, a strange sound fell upon my eager ears.
Next moment I realized that I was at that place where Leithcourt so persistently kept his disappointed tryst, having approached it from within the wood.
The sound alarmed me, and yet it was neither an explosion of fire-arms nor a startling cry for help.
One word reached me in the darkness—one single word of bitter and withering reproach.
Heedless of the risk I ran and the peril to which I exposed myself, I dashed forward with a resolve to penetrate the mystery, until I came to the gap in the rough stone wall where Leithcourt's habit was to halt each day at sundown.
There, in the falling darkness, the sight that met my eyes at the spot held me rigid, appalled, stupefied.
In that instant I realized the truth—a truth that was surely the strangest ever revealed to any man.
CONTAINS CERTAIN CONFIDENCES
As I dashed forward to the gap in the boundary wall of the wood, I nearly stumbled over a form lying across the narrow path.
So dark was it beneath the trees that at first I could not plainly make out what it was until I bent and my hands touched the garments of a woman. Her hat had fallen off, for I felt it beneath my feet, while the cloak was a thick woolen one.
Was she dead, I wondered? That cry—that single word of reproach—sounded in my ears, and it seemed plain that she had been struck down ruthlessly after an exchange of angry words.
I felt in my pocket for my vestas, but unfortunately my box was empty. Yet just at that moment my strained ears caught a sound—the sound of someone moving stealthily among the fallen leaves. Seizing my gun, I demanded who was there.
There was, however, no response. The instant I spoke the movement ceased.
As far as I could judge, the person in concealment was within the wood about ten yards from me, separated by an impenetrable thicket. As, however, I stood out against the sky, my silhouette was, I knew, a well-defined mark for anyone with fire-arms.
It seemed evident that a tragedy had occurred, and that the victim at my feet was a woman. But whom?
Of a sudden, while I stood hesitating, blaming myself for being without matches, I heard the movement repeated. Someone was quickly receding—escaping from the spot. I listened again. The sound was not of the rustling of leaves or the crackling of dried sticks, but the low thuds of a man's feet racing over softer ground. He had scaled the rough stone dyke and was out in the turnip-field adjacent.
I sprang through the gap, straining my eyes into the gloom, and as I did so could just distinguish a dark figure receding quickly beneath the wall of the wood.
In an instant I dashed after it. But the agility of whoever the fugitive was, man or woman, was marvelous. I considered myself a fairly good runner, but racing across those rough turnips and heavy, newly-plowed land in the darkness and carrying my gun soon caused me to pant and blow. Yet the figure I was pursuing was so fleet of foot and so nimble in climbing the high rough walls that from the very first I was outrun.
Down the steep hill to the Scarwater I followed the fugitive, crossing the old footbridge near Penpont, and then up a wild winding glen towards the Cairnsmore of Deugh. For a couple of miles or more I was close behind, until, at a turn in the dark wooded glen where it branched in two directions, I lost all trace of the person who flew from me. Whoever it was they had very cleverly gone into hiding in the undergrowth of one or other of the two glens—which I could not decide.
I stood out of breath, the perspiration pouring from me, undecided how to act.
Was it Leithcourt himself whom I had surprised?
That idea somehow became impressed upon me and I suddenly resolved to go boldly across to Rannoch and ascertain for myself. Therefore, with the excuse that I was belated on my walk home, I turned back down the glen, and half an hour afterward entered the great well-lighted hall of the castle where the guests, ready dressed, were assembling prior to dinner.
I was welcomed warmly, as I was always by the men of the party, who seeing my muddy plight at once offered me a glass of the sportsman's drink in Scotland, and while I was adding soda to it Leithcourt himself joined his guests, ready dressed in his dinner jacket, having just descended from his room.
"Hulloa, Gregg!" he exclaimed heartily, holding out his hand. "Had a long day of it, evidently. Good sport with Carmichael—eh?"
"Very fair," I said. "I remained longer with him than I ought to have done, and have got belated on my way home, so looked in for a refresher."
"Quite right," he laughed merrily. "You're always welcome, you know. I'd have been annoyed if I knew you had passed without coming in."
And Muriel, a pretty figure in a low-cut gown of turquoise chiffon, standing behind her father, smiled secretly at me. I smiled at her in return, but it was a strange smile, I fear, for with the knowledge of that additional mystery within me—the mystery of the woman lying unconscious or perhaps dead, up in the wood—held me stupefied.
I had suspected Leithcourt because of his constant trysts at that spot, but I had at least proved that my suspicions were entirely without foundation. He could not have got home and dressed in the time, for I had taken the nearest route to the castle while the fugitive would be compelled to make a wide detour.
I only remained a few minutes, then went forth into the darkness again, utterly undecided how to act. My first impulse was to return to the woman's aid, for she might not be dead after all.
And yet when I recollected that hoarse cry that rang out in the darkness, I knew too well that she had been struck fatally. It was this latter conviction that prevented me from turning back to the wood. You will perhaps blame me, but the fact is I feared that if I went there suspicion might fall upon me, now that the real culprit had so ingeniously escaped.
If the victim were dead, what aid could I render? A knife had, I believed, been used, for my foot caught against it when I had started off after the fugitive. The only doubt in my own mind was whether the unfortunate woman was actually dead, for if she were not then my disinclination to return to the scene of the tragedy was culpable.
Whether or not I acted rightly in remaining away from the place, I leave it to you to judge in the light of the amazing truth which afterwards transpired.
I decided to walk straight back to my uncle's, and dinner was over before I had had my tub and dressed. I therefore ate my meal alone, Davis, the grave old butler, serving me with that stateliness which always amused me. I usually chatted with him when others were not present, but that night I remained silent, my mind full of that strange and startling affair of which I alone held secret knowledge.
Next day the body would surely be found; then the whole countryside would be filled with horror and surprise. Was it possible that Leithcourt, that calm, well-groomed, distinguished-looking man, held any knowledge of the ghastly truth? No. His manner as he stood in the hall chatting gayly with me was surely not that of a man with a guilty secret. I became firmly convinced that although the tragedy affected him very closely, and that it had occurred at the spot which he had each day visited for some mysterious purpose, yet up to the present he was in ignorance of what had transpired.
But who was the woman? Was she young or old?
A thousand times I regretted bitterly that I had no matches with me so that I might examine her features.
One sudden thought that struck me as I sat there at table caused me to lay down my fork and pause in breathless bewilderment. Was the victim that sweet-faced young girl whose photograph had been so ruthlessly cast from its frame and destroyed? The theory was a weird one, but was it the truth?
I longed for the coming of the dawn when the Rannoch keepers would most certainly discover her. Then at least I should know the truth, for I might go and see the body out of curiosity without arousing any suspicion.
I tried to play my usual game of billiards with my uncle, but my hand was so unsteady that the old gentleman began to chaff me.
"It's the gun, I suppose," I remarked. "I've been carrying it all day, and am tired out. I walked all the way home from Crossburn."
"The Carmichaels are very thick with the Leithcourts, I hear," my uncle remarked. "Strange they didn't ask Leithcourt to their shoot."
"They did, but he'd got another engagement—over at Kenmure Castle, I think."
I retired to my room that night full of fevered apprehension. Had I acted rightly in not returning to that lonely spot on the brow of the hill? Had I done as a man should do in keeping the tragic secret to myself?
I opened my window and gazed away across the dark Nithsdale, where, in the distant gloom, the black line of wood loomed up against the stormy sky. The stars were no longer shining and the rain clouds had gathered. I stood with my face turned to the dark indistinct spot that held the secret, lost in wonderment.
At last I closed the window and turned in, but no sleep came to my eyes, so full was my mind of the startling events of those past few months and of that gruesome discovery I had made.
Had the fugitive actually recognized me? Probably my voice when I had called out had betrayed me. Hour after hour I lay puzzling, trying to arrive at some solution of that intricate problem which now presented itself. Muriel could tell me what I wished to know. Of that I was certain. Yet she dared not speak. Some inexpressible terror held her dumb—she was affianced to the man Martin Woodroffe.
Again I rose, lit the gas, and tried to read a novel. But I could not concentrate my thoughts, which were ever wandering to that strange mystery of the wood. At six I shaved, descended, and went out with the dogs for a short walk; but on returning I heard of nothing unusual, and was compelled to remain inactive until near mid-day.
I was crossing the stable-yard where I had gone to order the carriage for my aunt, when an English groom, suddenly emerging from the harness-room, touched his cap, saying—
"Have you 'eard, sir, of the awful affair up yonder?"
"Of what?" I asked quickly.
"Well, sir, there seems to have been a murder last night up in Rannoch Wood," said the man quickly. "Holden, the gardener, has just come back from that village and says that Mr. Leithcourt's under-gamekeeper as he was going home at five this morning came upon a dead body."
"A dead body!" I exclaimed, feigning great surprise.
"Yes, sir—a youngish man. He'd been stabbed to the heart."
"Yes, sir—so Holden says."
"Call Holden. I'd like to know all he's heard," I said. And presently, when the gardener emerged from the grape-house, I sought of him all the particulars he had gathered.
"I don't know very much, sir," was the man's reply. "I went into the inn for a glass of beer at eleven, as I always do, and heard them talking about it. A young man was murdered last night up in Rannoch Wood. The gamekeeper thought at first there'd been a fight among poachers, but from the dead man's clothes they say he isn't a poacher at all, but a stranger in this district."
"The body was that of a man, then?" I asked, trying to conceal my utter bewilderment.
"Yes—about thirty, they say. The police have taken him to the mortuary at Dumfries, and the detectives are up there now looking at the spot, they say."
A man! And yet the body I found was that of a woman—that I could swear.
After lunch I took the dog-cart and drove alone into Dumfries.
When I inquired of the police-constable on duty at the town mortuary to be allowed to view the body of the murdered man, he regarded me, I thought, with considerable suspicion. My request was an unusual one. Nevertheless, he took me up a narrow alley, unlocked a door, and I found myself in the cold, gloomy chamber of death. From a small dingy window above the light fell upon an object lying upon a large slab of gray stone and covered with a soiled sheet.
The sight was ghastly and gruesome; the body lay there awaiting the official inquiry into the cause of death. The silence of the tomb was unbroken, save for the heavy tread of the policeman, who having removed his helmet in the presence of the dead, lifted the end of the sheet, revealing to me a white, hard-set face, with closed eyes and dropped jaw.
I started back as my eyes fell upon the dead countenance. I was entirely unprepared for such a revelation. The truth staggered me.
The victim was the man who had acted as my friend—the Italian waiter, Olinto.
I advanced and peered into the thin inanimate features, scarce able to realize the actual fact. But my eyes had not deceived me. Though death distorts the facial expression of every man, I had no difficulty in identifying him.
"You recognize him, sir?" remarked the officer. "Who is he? Our people are very anxious to know, for up to the present moment they haven't succeeded in establishing his identity."
I bit my lips. I had been an arrant fool to betray myself before that man. Yet having done so, I saw that any attempt to conceal my knowledge must of necessity reflect upon me.
"I will see your inspector," I answered with as much calmness as I could muster. "Where has the poor fellow been wounded?"
"Through the heart," responded the constable, as turning the sheet further down he showed me the small knife wound which had penetrated the victim's jacket and vest full in the chest.
"This is the weapon," he added, taking from a shelf close by a long, thin poignard with an ivory handle, which he handed to me.
In an instant I recognized what it was, and how deadly. It was an old Florentine misericordia, a long thin, triangular blade, a quarter of an inch wide at its greatest width, tapering to a needle-point, with a hilt of yellow ivory, the most deadly and fatal of all the daggers and poignards of the Middle Ages. The blade being sharp on three angles produced a wound that caused internal hemorrhage and which never healed—hence the name given to it by the Florentines.
It was still blood-stained, but as I took the deadly thing in my hand I saw that its blade was beautifully damascened, a most elegant specimen of a medieval arm. Yet surely none but an Italian would use such a weapon, or would aim so truly as to penetrate the heart.
And yet the person struck down was a woman, and not a man!
A wound from a misericordia always proves fatal, because the shape of the blade cuts the flesh into little flaps which, on withdrawing the knife, close up and prevent the blood from issuing forth. At the same time, however, no power can make them heal again. A blow from such a weapon is as surely fatal as the poisoned poignard of the Borgia or the Medici.
I handed the stiletto back to the man without comment. My resolve was to say as little as possible, for I had no desire to figure publicly at the inquiry, and consequently negative all my own efforts to solve the mystery of the Leithcourts and of Martin Woodroffe.
I returned to where the figure was lying so ghastly and motionless, and looked again for the last time upon the dead face of the man who had served me so well, and yet who had enticed me so nearly to my death. In the latter incident there was a deep mystery. He had relented at the last moment, just in time to save me from my secret enemies.
Could it be that my enemies were his? Had he fallen a victim by the same hand that had attempted so ingeniously to kill me?
Why had Leithcourt gone so regularly up to Rannoch Wood? Was it in order to meet the man who was to be entrapped and killed? What was Olinto Santini doing so far from London, if he had not come expressly to meet someone in secret?
As I glanced down at the cold, inanimate countenance upon which mystery was written, I became seized by regret. He had been a faithful and honest servant, and even though he had enticed me to that fatal house in Lambeth, yet I recollected his words, how he had done so under compulsion. I remembered, too, how he had implored me not to prejudge him before I became aware of the full facts.
With my own hand I re-covered the face with the sheet, and inwardly resolved to avenge the dastardly crime.
I regretted that I was compelled to reveal the dead man's name to the police, yet I saw that to make some statement was now inevitable, and therefore I accompanied the constable to the inspector's office some distance across the town.
Having been introduced to the big, fair-haired man in a rough tweed suit, who was apparently directing the inquiries into the affair, he took me eagerly into a small back room and began to question me. I was, however, wary not to commit myself to anything further than the identification of the body.
"The fact is," I said confidentially, "you must omit me from the witnesses at the inquest."
"Why?" asked the detective suspiciously.
"Because if it were known that I have identified him, all chance of getting at the truth will at once vanish," I answered. "I have come here to tell you in strictest confidence who the poor fellow really is."
"Then you know something of the affair?" he said, with a strong Highland accent.
"I know nothing," I declared. "Nothing except his name."
"H'm. And you say he's a foreigner—an Italian—eh?"
"He was in my service in Leghorn for several years, and on leaving me he came to London and obtained an engagement as waiter in a restaurant. His father lived in Leghorn; he was doorkeeper at the Prefecture."
"But why was he here, in Scotland?"
"How can I tell?"
"You know something of the affair. I mean that you suspect somebody, or you would have no objection to giving evidence at the inquiry."
"I have no suspicions. To me the affair is just as much of an enigma as to you," I hastened at once to explain. "My only fear is that if the assassin knew that I had identified him he would take care not to betray himself."
"You therefore think he will betray himself?"
"I hope so."
"By the fact that the man was attacked with an Italian stiletto, it would seem that his assailant was a fellow-countryman," suggested the detective.
"The evidence certainly points to that," I replied.
"You don't happen to be aware of anyone—any foreigner, I mean—who was, or might be his enemy?"
I responded in the negative.
"Ah," he went on, "these foreigners are always fighting among themselves and using knives. I did ten years' service in Edinburgh and made lots of arrests for stabbing affrays. Italians, like Greeks, are a dangerous lot when their blood is up." Then he added: "Personally, it seems to me that the murdered man was enticed from London to that spot and coolly done away with—from some motive of revenge, most probably."
"Most probably," I said. "A vendetta, perhaps. I live in Italy, and therefore know the Italians well," I added.
I had given him my card, and told him with whom I was staying.
"Where were you yesterday, sir?" he inquired presently.
"I was shooting—on the other side of the Nithsdale," I answered, and then went on to explain my movements, without, however, mentioning my visit to Rannoch.
"And although you know the murdered man so intimately, you have no suspicion of anyone in this district who was acquainted with him?"
"I know no one who knew him. When he left my service he had never been in England."
"You say he was engaged in service in London?"
"Yes, at a restaurant in Oxford Street, I believe. I met him accidentally in Pall Mall one evening, and he told me so."
"You don't know the name of the restaurant?"
"He did tell me, but unfortunately I have forgotten."
The detective drew a deep breath of regret.
"Someone who waited for him on the edge of that wood stepped out and killed him—that's evident," he said.
"Without a doubt."
"And my belief is that it was an Italian. There were two foreigners who slept at a common lodging-house two nights ago and went on tramp towards Glasgow. We have telegraphed after them, and hope we shall find them. Scotsmen or Englishmen never use a knife of that pattern."
With his latter remark I entirely coincided. In my own mind that was the strongest argument in favor of Leithcourt's innocence. That the tenant of Rannoch had kept that secret tryst in daily patience I knew from my own observations, yet to me it scarcely seemed feasible that he would use a weapon so peculiarly Italian and yet so terribly deadly.
And then when I reflected further, recollecting that the body I had discovered was that of a woman and not a man, I stood staggered and bewildered by the utterly inexplicable enigma.
I promised the burly detective that in exchange for his secrecy regarding my statement that I would assist him in every manner possible in the solution of the problem.
"The real name of the murdered man must be at all costs withheld," I urged. "It must not appear in the papers, for I feel confident that only by the pretense that he is unknown can we arrive at the truth. If his name is given at the inquiry, then the assassin will certainly know that I have identified him."
"And what then?"
"Well," I said with some hesitation, "while I am believed to be in ignorance we shall have opportunity for obtaining the truth."
"Then you do really suspect?" he said, again looking at me with those cold, blue eyes.
"I know not whom to suspect," I declared. "It is a mystery why the man who was once my faithful servant should be enticed to that wood and stabbed to the heart."
"There is no one in the vicinity who knew him?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"We might obtain his address in London through his father in Leghorn," suggested the officer.
"I will write to-day if you so desire," I said readily. "Indeed, I will get my friend the British Consul to go round and see the old man and telegraph the address if he obtains it."
"Capital!" he declared. "If you will do us this favor we shall be greatly indebted to you. It is fortunate that we have established the victim's identity—otherwise we might be entirely in the dark. A murdered foreigner is always more or less of a mystery."
Therefore, then and there, I took a sheet of paper and wrote to my old friend Hutcheson at Leghorn, asking him to make immediate inquiry of Olinto's father as to his son's address in London.
I said nothing to the police of that strange adventure of mine over in Lambeth, or of how the man now dead had saved my life. That his enemies were my own he had most distinctly told me, therefore I felt some apprehension that I myself was not safe. Yet in my hip pocket I always carried my revolver—just as I did in Italy—and I rather prided myself on my ability to shoot straight.
We sat for a long time discussing the strange affair. In order to betray no eagerness to get away, I offered the big Highlander a cigar from my case, and we smoked together. The inquiry would be held on the morrow, he told me, but as far as the public was concerned the body would remain as that of some person "unknown."
"And you had better not come to my uncle's house, or send anyone," I said. "If you desire to see me, send me a line and I will meet you here in Dumfries. It will be safer."
The officer looked at me with those keen eyes of his, and said:
"Really, Mr. Gregg, I can't quite make you out, I confess. You seem to be apprehensive of your own safety. Why?"
"Italians are a very curious people," I responded quickly. "Their vendetta extends widely sometimes."
"Then you have reason to believe that the enemy of this poor fellow Santini may be your enemy also?"
"One never knows whom one offends when living in Italy," I laughed, as lightly as I could, endeavoring to allay his suspicion. "He may have fallen beneath the assassin's knife by giving quite a small and possibly innocent offense to somebody. Italian methods are not English, you know."
"By Jove, sir, and I'm jolly glad they're not!" he said. "I shouldn't think a police officer's life is a very safe one among all those secret murder societies I've read about."
"Ah! what you read about them is often very much exaggerated," I assured him. "It is the vendetta which is such a stain upon the character of the modern Italian; and depend upon it this affair in Rannoch Wood is the outcome of some revenge or other—probably over a love affair."
"But you will assist us, sir?" he urged. "You know the Italian language, which will be of great advantage; besides, the victim was your servant."
"Be discreet," I said. "And in return I will do my very utmost to assist you in hunting down the assassin."
And thus we made our compact. Half-an-hour after I was driving in the dog-cart through the pouring rain up the hill out of gray old Dumfries to my uncle's house.
As I descended from the cart and gave it over to a groom, old Davis, the butler, came forward, saying in a low voice:
"There's Miss Leithcourt waiting to see you, Mr. Gordon. She's in the morning-room, and been there an hour. She asked me not to tell anyone else she's here, sir."
"Then my aunt has not seen her?" I exclaimed, scenting mystery in this unexpected visit.
"No, sir. She wishes to see you alone, sir."
I walked across the big hall and along the corridor to the room the old man had indicated.
And as I opened the door and Muriel Leithcourt in plain black rose to meet me, I plainly saw from her white, haggard countenance that something had happened—that she had been forced by circumstances to come to me in strictest confidence.
Was she, I wondered, about to reveal to me the truth?
THE GATHERING OF THE CLOUDS
"Mr. Gregg," exclaimed the girl with agitation, as she put forth her black-gloved hand, "I—I suppose you know—you've heard all about the discovery to-day up at the wood? I need not tell you anything about it"
"Yes, Miss Leithcourt, I only wish you would tell me about it," I said gravely, inviting her to a chair and seating myself. "I've heard some extraordinary story about a man being found dead, but I've been in Dumfries nearly all day. Who is the man?"
"Ah! that we don't know," she replied, pale-faced and anxious. Her attitude was as though she wished to confide in me and yet still hesitated to do so.
"You've been waiting for me quite a long time, Davis tells me. I regret that you should have done this. If you had left word that you wished to see me, I would have come over to you at once."
"No. I wanted to see you alone—that's the reason I am here. They must not know at home that I've been over here, so I purposely asked the man not to announce me to your aunt."
"You want to see me privately," I said in a low, earnest voice. "Why? Is there any service I can render you?"
"Yes. A very great one," she responded with quick eagerness, "I—well—the fact is, I have summoned courage to come to you and beg of you to help me. I am in great distress—and I have not a single friend whom I can trust—in whom I can confide."
"I shall esteem it the highest honor if you will trust me," I said in deep earnestness. "I can only assure you that I will remain loyal to your interests and to yourself."
"Ah! I believe you will, Mr. Gregg!" she declared with enthusiasm, her large, dark eyes turned upon me—the eyes of a woman in sheer and bitter despair. Her face was perfect, one of the most handsome I had ever gazed upon. The more I saw of her the greater was the fascination she held over me.
A silence fell between us as she sat with her gloved hands lying idly in her lap. Her lips moved nervously, but no sound came from them, so agitated was she, so eager to tell me something; and yet at the same time reluctant to take me into her confidence.
"Well?" I asked at last in a low voice. "I am quite ready to render you any service, if you will only command me."
"Ah! But I fear what I require will strike you as so unusual—you will hesitate to act when I explain what service I require of you," she said doubtfully.
"I cannot tell you until I hear your wishes," I said, smiling, and yet puzzled at her attitude.
"It concerns the terrible discovery made up in Rannoch Wood," she said in a hoarse, nervous voice at last. "That unknown man was murdered—stabbed to the heart."
"Well," she said, scarcely above a whisper, "I have suspicions."
"Of the murdered man's identity?"
"No. Of the assassin."
I glanced at her sharply and saw the intense look in her dark, wide-open eyes.
"You believe you know who dealt the blow?"
"I have a suspicion—that is all. Only I want you to help me, if you will."
"Most certainly," I responded. "But if you believe you know the assassin you probably know something of the victim?"
"Only that he looked like a foreigner."
"Then you have seen him?" I exclaimed, much surprised.
My remark caused her to hold her breath for an instant. Then she answered, rather lamely, it seemed to me:
"I saw him when the keepers brought the body to the castle."
Now, according to the account I had heard, the police had conveyed the dead man direct from the wood into Dumfries. Was it possible, therefore, that she had seen Olinto before he met with his sudden end?
I feared to press her for an explanation at that moment, but, nevertheless, the admission that she had seen him struck me as a very peculiar fact.
"You judge him to be a foreigner?" I remarked as casually as I could.
"From his features and complexion I guessed him to be Italian," she responded quickly, at which I pretended to express surprise. "I saw him after the keepers had found him."
"Besides," she went on, "the stiletto was evidently an Italian one, which would almost make it appear that a foreigner was the assassin."
"Is that your own suspicion?"
She hesitated a moment, then in a low, eager voice she said:
"Because I have already seen that three-edged knife in another person's possession."
"That's pretty strong evidence," I declared. "The person in question will have to prove that he was not in Rannoch Wood last evening at nightfall."
"How do you know it was done at nightfall?" she asked quickly with some surprise, half-rising from her chair.
"I merely surmised that it was," I responded, inwardly blaming myself for my ill-timed admission.
"Ah!" she said with a slight sigh, "there is more mystery in this affair than we have yet discovered, Mr. Gregg. What, I wonder, brought the unfortunate young man up into our wood?"
"An appointment, without a doubt. But with whom?"
She shook her head, saying:
"My father often goes to that spot to shoot pigeon in the evening. He told us so at luncheon to-day. How fortunate he was not there last night, or he might be suspected."
"Yes," I said. "It is a very fortunate circumstance, for it cannot be a pleasant experience to be under suspicion of being an assassin. He was at home last night, was he?" I added casually.
"Of course. Don't you recollect that when you called he chatted with you? I did some typewriting for him in the study, and we were together all the afternoon—or at least till nearly five o'clock, when we went out into the hall to tea."
"Then what is your theory regarding the affair?" I inquired, rather puzzled why she should so decisively prove an alibi for her father.
"It seems certain that the poor fellow went to the wood by appointment, and was killed. But have you been up to the spot since the finding of the body?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yes. The affair interested me, and as soon as I recognized the old Italian knife in the hand of the keeper, I went up there and looked about. I am glad I did so, for I found something which seems to have escaped the notice of the detectives."
"And what's that?" I asked eagerly.
"Why, about three yards from the pool of blood where the unfortunate foreigner was found is another small pool of blood where the grass and ferns around are all crushed down as though there had been a struggle there."
"There may have been a struggle at that spot, and the man may have staggered some distance before he fell dead."
"Not if he had been struck in the heart, as they say. He would fall, would he not?" she suggested. "No. The police seem very dense, and this plain fact has not yet occurred to them. Their theory is the same as what you suggest, but my own is something quite different, Mr. Gregg. I believe that a second person also fell a victim," she added in a low, distinct tone.
I gazed at her open-mouthed. Did she, I wondered, know the actual truth? Was she aware that the woman who had fallen there had disappeared?
"A second person!" I echoed, as though in surprise. "Then do you believe that a double murder was committed?"
"I draw my conclusion from the fact that the young man, on being struck in the heart, could not have gone such a distance as that which separates the one mark from the other."
"But he might have been slightly wounded—on the hand, or in the face—at first, and then at the spot where he was found struck fatally," I suggested.
She shook her head dubiously, but made no reply to my argument. Her confidence in her own surmises made it quite apparent that by some unknown means she was aware of the second victim. Indeed, a few moments later she said to me:
"It is for this reason, Mr. Gregg, that I have sought you in confidence. Nobody must know that I have come here to you, or they would suspect; and if suspicion fell upon me it would bring upon me a fate worse than death. Remember, therefore, that my future is entirely in your hands."
"I don't quite understand," I said, rising and standing before her in the fading twilight, while the rain drove upon the old diamond window panes. "But I can only assure you that whatever confidence you repose in me, I shall never abuse, Miss Leithcourt."
"I know, I know!" she said quickly. "I trust you in this matter implicitly. I have come to you for many reasons, chief of them being that if a second victim has fallen beneath the hand of the assassin, it is, I know, a woman."
"A woman! Whom?"
"At present I cannot tell you. I must first establish the true facts. If this woman were really stricken down, then her body lies concealed somewhere in the vicinity. We must find it and bring home the crime to the guilty one."
"But if we succeed in finding it, could we place our hand upon the assassin?" I asked, looking straight at her.
"If we find it, the crime would then tell its own tale—it would convict the person in whose hand I have seen that fatal weapon," was her clear, bold answer.
"Then you wish me to assist you in this search, Miss Leithcourt?" I said, wondering if her suspicions rested upon that mysterious yachtsman, Philip Hornby, the man to whom she was engaged.
"Yes, I would beg of you to do your utmost in secret to endeavor to discover the body of the second victim. It is a woman—of that I am certain. Find her, and we shall then be able to bring the crime home to the assassin."
"But my search may bring suspicion upon me," I remarked. "It will be difficult to examine the whole wood without arousing the curiosity of somebody—the keeper or the police."
"I have already thought of that," she said. "I will pretend to-morrow to lose this watch-bracelet in the wood," and she held up her slim wrist to show me the little enameled watch set in her bracelet. "Then you and I will search for it diligently, and the police will never suspect the real reason of our investigation. To-morrow I shall write to you telling you about my loss, and you will come over to Rannoch and offer to help me."
I was silent for a moment.
"Is Mr. Woodroffe back at the castle? I heard he was to return to-day."
"No. I had a letter from him from Bordeaux a week ago. He is still on the Continent. I believe, indeed, he has gone to Russia, where he sometimes has business."
"I asked you the question, Miss Muriel, because I thought if Mr. Woodroffe were here, he might object to our searching in company," I explained, smiling.
Her cheeks flushed slightly, as though confused at my reference to her engagement, and she said mischievously:
"I don't see why he should object in the least. If you are good enough to assist me to search for my bracelet, he surely ought to be much obliged to you."
It was on the tip of my tongue to explain to that dark-eyed, handsome girl the circumstances in which I had met her lover on the sunny Mediterranean shore, yet prudence forbade me to refer to the matter, and I at once gladly accepted her invitation to investigate the curious disappearance of the body of poor Olinto's fellow-victim.
What secret knowledge could be possessed by that smart, handsome girl before me? That her suspicions were in the right direction I felt confident, yet if the dead woman had been removed and hidden by the assassin it must have been after the discovery made by me. The fellow must have actually dared to return to the spot and carry off the victim. Yet if he had actually done that, why did he allow the corpse of the Italian to remain and await discovery? He might perhaps have been disturbed and compelled to make good his escape.
"If the woman was really removed the assassin must surely have had some assistance," I pointed out. "He could not have carried the body very far unaided."
She agreed with me, but expressed a belief that the double crime had been committed alone and unaided.
"Have you any idea as to the motive?" I asked her, eager to hear her reply.
"Well," she answered hesitatingly, "if the woman has fallen a victim, the motive will become plain; but if not, then the matter must remain a complete mystery."
"You tell me, Miss Muriel, that you suspect the truth, and yet you deny all knowledge of the murdered man!" I exclaimed in a tone of slight reproach.
"Until we have cleared up the mystery of the woman I can say nothing," was her answer. "I can only tell you, Mr. Gregg, that if what I suspect is true, then the affair will be found to be one of the strangest, most startling and most ingenious plots ever devised by one man against the life of another."
"Then a man is the assassin, you think?" I exclaimed quickly.
"I believe so. But even of that I am not at all sure. We must first find the woman."
She seemed so positive that a woman had also fallen beneath that deadly misericordia that I fell to wondering whether she, like myself, had discovered the body, and was therefore certain that a second crime had been committed. But I did not seek to question her further, lest her own suspicions might become aroused. My own policy was to remain silent and to wait. The woman sitting before me was herself a mystery.
Then, when the rain had abated, I told Davis to send her trap a little way up the high-road, so that my aunt and uncle should not see her departing; and after helping her on with her loose driving-coat, we left by one of the servants' entrances, and I saw her into her high dog-cart and stood bareheaded in the muddy high-road as she drove away into the gloom.
* * * * *
Rannoch Wood was already in its gold-brown glory of autumn, and as I stood with Muriel Leithcourt on the edge of it, near the spot where Olinto Santini had fallen, the morning sun was shining in a cloudless sky.
True to her promise, she had sent me a note by one of the grooms asking me to help search for her bracelet, and I had driven over at once to Rannoch and found her alone awaiting me. The shooting party had gone over to a distant part of the estate, therefore we were able to stroll together up the hill and commence our investigations without let or hindrance. She was sensibly dressed in a short tweed skirt, high shooting-boots and a tam-o'-shanter hat, while I also had on an old shooting-suit and carried a thick serviceable stick with which I could prod likely spots.
On arrival at the wood I asked her opinion which was the most likely corner, but she replied:
"I know so little of this place, Mr. Gregg. You have known it for years, while this is only my first season here."
"Very well," I answered. "Let us place ourselves in the position of the murderer, who probably knew the wood and wished to conceal a body in the vicinity without risk of conveying it far. On this, the left side, the wood has been thinned out for nearly half a mile, and therefore affords but little cover, while here, to the right, it slopes down gently to the valley and is very thick and partly impenetrable. There can therefore have been no two courses open to him. He would look for a likely place to the right. Let us start here, and first take a small circle, examining every bush carefully. The body may have easily been pushed in beneath a thicket and well escape observation."
And so together, after taking our bearings, we started off, working our way into the thick undergrowth, beating with our sticks, and making minute examination of every bush or heap of dead leaves. In parts, the great spreading trees shut out the light, rendering our investigations very difficult; but we kept on, my companion advancing with an eagerness which showed that the fact of the woman's body being there was no mere surmise.
All through the morning we walked on, our hands badly torn by brambles. Even Muriel's thick gloves did not wholly protect her, and once when she received a nasty scratch across the cheek, she stopped and laughingly exclaimed:
"Now what untruth must I invent to account for that?"
My own coat was badly torn, and more than once I was compelled to scramble through almost impassable thickets; yet we found no trace of any previous intruder, and having completed our circle were compelled to admit that the gruesome evidence of the second crime did not exist at that spot.
More than once I felt half inclined to tell her how I had actually discovered the body of the woman, yet on reflection I foresaw that in such circumstances silence was best. If I desired to solve the strange complicated enigma which had thus culminated in a double crime, it would be necessary for me to keep my own counsel and remain patient and watchful.
When Hutcheson replied from Leghorn, and when I discovered where Olinto was employed, I might perhaps follow up the clues from that end. I might find his wife Armida and learn something of importance from her. So I was hopeful, and by reason of that hope remained silent.
Muriel was untiring in her activity. Hither and thither she went, beating down the high bracken and tangles of weeds, poking with her stick into every hole and corner, and going further and further into the wood in the certainty that the body was therein concealed.
For my own part, however, I was not too sanguine of success. The portion of the wood which we had already exhausted seemed to be the most likely point. To carry the body far would require assistance, and in my own mind I believed the crime to have been the work of one person. There was no path in the wood in that direction, but soon we came to a deep wooded ravine of the existence of which I was in ignorance. It was a kind of small glen through which a rivulet flowed, but the banks were covered with a thick impenetrable undergrowth out of which sprang many fine old trees, a place that had apparently existed for centuries undisturbed, for here and there a giant trunk that had decayed and fallen lay across the bank, or had rolled into the rocky bed far below.
"This is a most likely place," declared my dainty little companion as we approached it. "Anything could easily be concealed in that high bracken down there. Let us search the whole glen from end to end," she cried with enthusiasm.
Acting upon her suggestion and without thought of luncheon, we made a descent of the steep bank until we reached the rocky bed of the stream, and then by springing from stone to stone—sometimes slipping into the water, be it said—we commenced to beat the bracken and carefully examine every bush. Progress was not swift. Once the girl, lithe and athletic as she was, slipped off a mossy stone into a hole where the water was up to her knees. But she only laughed gayly at the accident, and wringing out her wet skirt, said:
"It doesn't matter in the least, if we only find what we're in search of."
And then, undaunted, she went on, springing from stone to stone and steadying herself with her stick. If we could only discover the body of the dead woman, then the rest would be clear, she declared. She would openly denounce the assassin.
As we went on I revolved within my mind all the curious circumstances in connection with the amazing affair, and recollected my old friend Jack Durnford's words when we stood upon the quarter-deck of the Bulwark and I had related to him the visit of the mysterious yacht. I too had left one effort untried, and I blamed myself for overlooking it. I had not sought of that Bond Street photographer the name and address of the original of the photograph that had been mutilated and destroyed—that girl with the magnificent eyes that had so attracted me.
The afternoon passed, and yet we were not successful. I was faint with hunger and thirst, yet my companion did not once complain. Her energy was marvelous—and yet was she not hunting down a criminal? was she not determined to obtain such evidence as would enable her to speak the truth fearlessly, and with confidence that it would have the effect of convicting the guilty one?
Slowly we toiled on up the picturesque little glen for nearly a mile and a half. Its beauties were extraordinary, and the silence was unbroken save for the musical ripple of the water over the stones. Hidden there in the center of that great wood, no one had visited it perhaps for years, not even the keepers, for no path led there, and by reason of the tangle of briars and bush it was utterly ungetatable. Indeed, it had ruined our clothes to search there, and as we went on with so many windings and turns we became utterly out of our bearings. We knew ourselves to be in the center of the wood, but that was all.
The sun had set, and the sky above showed the crimson of the distant afterglow, warning us that it was time we began to think of how to make our exit. We were passing around a sharp bend in the glen where the boulders were so thickly moss-grown that our feet fell noiselessly, when I thought I heard a voice, and raising my hand we both halted suddenly.
"Someone is there," I whispered quickly. "Behind that rock." She nodded in the affirmative, for she, too, had heard the voice.
We listened, but the sound was not repeated. That someone was on the other side of the rock I knew, for in a tree in the vicinity a thrush was hopping from twig to twig, sounding its alarm-cry and objecting to being disturbed.
Therefore we crept silently forward together to ascertain who were the intruders. The only manner, however, in which to get a view beyond the huge rock that, having fallen across the stream centuries ago, had diverted its channel, was to clamber up its mossy sides to the summit. This we did eagerly and breathlessly, without betraying our presence by the utterance of a single word.
To reach the side of the boulder we were compelled to walk through the shallow water, but Muriel, quite undaunted, sprang lithely along at my side, and with one accord we swarmed up the steep rock, gripping its slippery face with our hands and laying ourselves flat as we came to its summit.
Then together we peered over, just, however, in time to see two dark figures of men disappearing into the thicket on the opposite side of the glen.
"Who are they, I wonder?" I asked. "Do you recognize them?"
"No. They are entire strangers to me," was her answer. "But they seem fairly well dressed. Perhaps two sportsmen from some shooting-party in the neighborhood. They've lost their way most probably."
"But I don't think they carried guns," I said. "One of them had something over his shoulder?"
"Wasn't it a gun? I thought it was."
"No, he wasn't carrying it like he'd carry a gun. It was short—and seemed more like a spade."
"A spade!" she gasped quickly in a low voice. "A spade! Are you certain of that?"
"No, not at all certain. We only had an instantaneous glance of them. We were unfortunately too late to see them face to face."
"The back of one of the men, the tall fellow in the brown suit, was broad and square—the back of someone who is familiar to me, only for the moment I can't recollect whose it resembles." She only spoke in a whisper, fearing lest we should be discovered.
I longed to scramble down and rush after the intruders, only the belief that one of them carried a spade and the other an iron bar struck me as curious, while at the same moment my eye caught sight of a portion of the ground below us at the base of the rock which had evidently been recently disturbed.
"It is a spade the man is carrying!" I cried excitedly. "Look down there! They've just been burying something!"
Her quick eyes followed the direction I indicated, and she answered:
"I really believe they have concealed something!"
Then when we had allowed the men to get beyond hearing, we both slipped down to the other side of the boulder and there discovered many signs that the earth had been hurriedly excavated and only just replaced.
Quicker than it takes to describe the exciting incident which followed, we broke down the branch of a tree and with it commenced moving the freshly disturbed earth, which was still soft and easily removed.
Muriel found a dead branch in the vicinity, and both of us set to work with a will, eager to ascertain what was hidden there. That something had certainly been concealed was, to us, quite evident, but what it really was we could not surmise. The hole they had dug did not seem large enough to admit a human body, yet leaves had been carefully strewn over the place which, if approached from any other point than the high-up one whence we had seen it, would arouse no suspicion that the ground had ever been interfered with.
Digging with a piece of wood was hard and laborious work and it was a long time before we removed sufficient earth to make a hole of any size. But Muriel exerted all her energy, and both of us worked on in dogged silence full of wonder and anticipation. With a spade we should have soon been able to investigate, but the earth having apparently been stamped down hard prior to the last covering being put upon it, our progress was very slow and difficult.
At last, a quarter of an hour or so after we had commenced, Muriel, standing in the hole and having dug her stake deeply into the ground, suddenly cried:
"Look! Look, Mr. Gregg! Why—whatever is that?"
I bent forward as she indicated, and my eyes met an object so unexpected that I was held dumb and motionless.
By what we had succeeded in discovering, the mystery was increased rather than diminished.
I gave vent to an ejaculation of complete bewilderment, and looked blankly into my companion's face.
The amazing enigma was surely complete!
CONTAINS A SURPRISE
The first object brought to light, about two feet beneath the surface, was a piece of dark gray woolen stuff which, when the mold was removed, proved to be part of a woman's skirt.
With frantic eagerness I got into the hole we had made and removed the soil with my hands, until I suddenly touched something hard.
A body lay there, doubled up and crushed into the well-like hole the men had dug.
Together we pulled it out, when, to my surprise, on wiping away the dirt from the hard waxen features, I recognized it as the body of Armida, the woman who had been my servant in Leghorn and who had afterwards married Olinto. Both had been assassinated!
When Muriel gazed upon the dead woman's face she gave vent to an expression of surprise. The body was evidently not that of the person she had expected to find.
"Who is she, I wonder?" my companion ejaculated. "Not a lady, evidently, by her dress and hands."
"Evidently not," was my response, for I still deemed it best to keep my own counsel. I recollected the story Olinto had told me about his wife; of her illness and her longing to return to Italy. Yet the dead woman's countenance must have been healthy enough in life, although her hands were rough and hard, showing that she had been doing manual labor.
Armida had been a particularly good housemaid, a black-haired, black-eyed Tuscan, quick, cleanly, and full of a keen sense of humor. It was a great shock to me to find her lying there dead. The breast of her dress was stained with dried blood, which, on examination, I found had issued from a deep and fatal wound beneath the ear where she had been struck an unerring blow that had severed the artery.
"Those men—those men who buried her! I wonder who they were?" my companion exclaimed in a hushed voice. "We must follow them and ascertain. They are certainly the murderers who have returned in secret and concealed the evidence of this second crime."
"Yes," I said. "Let us go after them. They must not escape us."
Then, leaving the exhumed body beneath a tree, I caught Muriel by the waist and waded across the deep channel worn by the stream at that point, after which we both ascended the steep bank where the pair had disappeared in the darkness of the wood.
I blamed myself a thousand times for not following them, yet my suspicions had not been aroused until after they had disappeared. The back of the man in a snuff-colored suit was, she felt confident, familiar to her. She repeated what she had already told me, yet she could not remember where she had seen a similar figure before.
We went on through the gloomy forest, for the light had faded and evening was now creeping on. From time to time we halted and listened. But there was a dead silence, broken only by the shrill cry of a night bird and the low rustling of the leaves in the autumn wind. The men knew their way, it seemed, even though the wood was trackless. Yet they had nearly twenty minutes start of us, and in that time they might be already out in the open country. Would they succeed in evading us? Yet even if they did, I could describe the dress of one of them, while that of his companion was, as far as I made out, dark blue, of a somewhat nautical cut. He wore also a flat cap, with a peak.
We went on, striking straight for the open moorland which we knew bounded the woods in that direction, and before the light had entirely faded we found ourselves out amongst the heather with the distant hills looming dark against the horizon. But we saw no sign of the men who had so secretly concealed the body of their victim.
"I will take you back to the castle, Miss Leithcourt," I said. "And then I'll drive on into Dumfries and see the police. These men must be arrested."
"Yes, do," she urged. "I will get into the house by the stable-yard, for they must not see me in this terrible plight."
It was rough walking, therefore at my invitation she took my arm, and as she did so I felt that she was shivering.
"You are very wet," I remarked. "I hope you won't take cold."
"Oh! I'm used to getting wet. I drive and cycle a lot, you know, and very often get drenched," was her reply. Then after a pause she said: "We must discover who that woman was. She seems, from her complexion and her hair, to be a foreigner, like the man."
"Yes, I think so," was my reply. "I will tell the police all that we have found out, and they will go there presently and recover the body."
"If they can only find those two men, then we should know the truth," she declared. "One of them—the one in brown—was unusually broad-shouldered, and seemed to walk with a slight stoop."
"You expected to discover another woman, did you not, Miss Leithcourt?" I asked presently, as we walked across the moor.
"Yes," she answered. "I expected to find an entirely different person."
"And if you had found her it would have proved the guilt of someone with whom you are acquainted?"
She nodded in the affirmative.
"Then what we have found this evening does not convey to you the identity of the assassins?"
"No, unfortunately it does not. We must for the present leave the matter in the hands of the police."
"But if the identity of the dead woman is established?" I asked.
"It might furnish me with a clue," she exclaimed quickly. "Yes, try and discover who she is."
"Who was the woman you expected to find?"
"A friend—a very dear friend."
"Will you not tell me her name?" I inquired.
"No, it would be unfair to her," she responded decisively, an answer which to me was particularly tantalizing.
On we plodded in silence, our thoughts too full for words. Was it not strange that the mysterious yachtsman should be her lover, and stranger still that on recognizing me he should have escaped, not only from Scotland, but away to the Continent?
Was not that, in itself, evidence of guilt and fear?
It was quite dark when I took leave of my bright little companion, who, tired out and yet uncomplaining, pressed my hand and wished me good fortune in my investigations.
"I shall await you to-morrow afternoon. Call and tell me everything, won't you?"
I promised, and then she disappeared into the great stable-yard behind the castle, while I went on down the dark road and then struck across the open fields to my uncle's house.
At half-past nine that night I pulled up the dog-cart before the chief police-station in Dumfries, and alighting at once sought the big fair Highlander, Mackenzie, with whom I had had the consultation on the previous day.
When we were seated in his room beneath the hissing gas-jet, I related my adventure and the result of my investigation.
"What?" he cried, jumping up. "You've unearthed another body—a woman's?"
"I have. And what is more, I can identify her," I replied. "Her name is Armida, and she was wife of the murdered man Olinto Santini."
"Then both husband and wife were killed?"
"Without a doubt—a double tragedy."
"But the two men who concealed the body! Will you describe them?"
I did so, and he wrote at my dictation, afterwards remarking—
"We must find them." And calling in one of his sub-inspectors, he gave him instructions for the immediate circulation of the description to all the police-stations in the county, saying the two men were wanted on a charge of willful murder.
When the official had gone out again and we were alone, Mackenzie turned to me and asked—
"What induced you to search the wood? Why did you suspect a second crime?"
His question nonplused me for the moment.
"Well, you see, I had identified the young man Olinto, and knowing him to be married and devoted to his wife, I suspected that she had accompanied him here. It was entirely a vague surmise. I wondered whether, if the poor fellow had fallen a victim to his enemies, she had not also been struck down."
His lips were pressed together in distinct dissatisfaction. I knew my explanation to be a very lame one, but at all hazards I could not import Muriel's name into the affair. I had given her my promise, and I intended to keep it.
"Then the body is still in the glen, where you left it?"
"Yes. If you wish, I will take you to the spot. I can drive you and your assistant up there."
"Certainly. Let us go," he exclaimed, rising at once and ringing his bell.
"Get three good lanterns and some matches, and put them in this gentleman's trap outside," he said to the constable who answered his summons. "And tell Gilbert Campbell that I want him to go with me up to Rannoch Wood."
"Yes, sir," answered the man; and the door again closed.
"It's a pity—a thousand pities, Mr. Gregg, that you didn't stop those two men who buried the body."
"They were already across the stream, and disappearing into the thicket before I mounted the rock," I explained. "Besides, at the moment I had no suspicion of what they'd been doing. I believed them to be stragglers from a neighboring shooting-party who had lost their way."
"Ah, most unfortunate!" he said. "I hope they don't escape us. If they're foreigners, they are not likely to get away. But if they're English or Scots, then I fear there's but little chance of us coming up with them. Yesterday at the inquest the identity of the murdered man was strictly preserved, and the inquiry was adjourned for a fortnight."
"Of course my name was not mentioned?" I said.
"Of course not," was the detective's reply. Then he asked: "When do you expect to get a telegram from your friend, the Consul at Leghorn? I am anxious for that, in order that we may commence inquiries in London."
"The day after to-morrow, I hope. He will certainly reply at once, providing the dead man's father can still be found."
And at that moment a tall, thin man, who proved to be Detective Campbell, entered, and five minutes later we were all three driving over the uneven cobbles of Dumfries and out in the darkness towards Rannoch.
It was cloudy and starless, with a chill mist hanging over the valley; but my uncle's cob was a swift one, and we soon began to ascend the hill up past the castle, and then, turning to the left, drove along a steep, rough by-road which led to the south of the wood and out across the moor. When we reached the latter we all descended, and I led the horse, for owing to the many treacherous bogs it was unsafe to drive further. So, with Mackenzie and Campbell carrying lanterns, we walked on carefully, skirting the wood for nearly a mile until we came to the rough wall over which I had clambered with Muriel.
I recognized the spot, and having tied up the cob we all three plunged into the pitch-darkness of the wood, keeping straight on in the direction of the glen, and halting every now and then to listen for the rippling of the stream.
At last, after some difficulty, we discovered it, and searching along the bank with our three powerful lights, I presently detected the huge moss-grown boulder whereon I had stood when the pair of fugitives had disappeared.
"Look!" I cried. "There's the spot!" And quickly we clambered down the steep bank, lowering ourselves by the branches of the trees until we came to the water into which I waded, being followed closely by my two companions.
On gaining the opposite side I clambered up to the base of the boulder and lowered my lantern to reveal to them the gruesome evidence of the second crime, but the next instant I cried—
"Why! It's gone!"
"Gone!" gasped the two men.
"Yes. It was here. Look! this is the hole where they buried it! But they evidently returned, and finding it exhumed, they've retaken possession of it and carried it away!"
The two detectives gazed down to where I indicated, and then looked at each other without exchanging a word.
As we stood there dumbfounded at the disappearance of the body, the Highlander's quick glance caught something, and stooping he picked it up and examined the little object by the aid of his lantern.
Within his palm I saw lying a tiny little gold cross, about an inch long, enameled in red, while in the center was a circular miniature of a kneeling saint, an elegant and beautifully executed little trinket which might have adorned a lady's bracelet.
"This is a pretty little thing!" remarked the detective. "It may possibly lead us to something. But, Mr. Gregg," he added, turning to me, "are you quite certain you left the body here?"
"Certain?" I echoed. "Why, look at the hole I made. You don't think I have any interest in leading you here on a fool's errand, do you?"
"Not at all," he said apologetically. "Only the whole affair seems so very inconceivable—I mean that the men, having once got rid of the evidence of their crime, would hardly return to the spot and re-obtain possession of it."
"Unless they watched me exhume it, and feared the consequences if it fell into your hands," I suggested.
"Of course they might have watched you from behind the trees, and when you had gone they came and carried it away somewhere else," he remarked dubiously; "but even if they did, it must be in this wood. They would never risk carrying a body very far, and here is surely the best place of concealment in the whole country."
"The only thing remaining is to search the wood at daylight," I suggested. "If the two men came back here during my absence they may still be on the watch in the vicinity."
"Most probably they are. We must take every precaution," he said decisively. And then, with our lanterns lowered, we made an examination of the vicinity, without, however, discovering anything else to furnish us with a clew. While I had been absent the body of the unfortunate Armida had disappeared—a fact which, knowing all that I did, was doubly mysterious.
The pair had, without doubt, watched Muriel and myself, and as soon as we had gone they had returned and carried off the ghastly remains of the poor woman who had been so foully done to death.
But who were the men—the fellow with the broad shoulders whom Muriel recognized, and the slim seafarer in his pilot-coat and peaked cap? The enigma each hour became more and more inscrutable.
At dawn Mackenzie, with four of his men, made a thorough examination of the wood, but although they continued until dusk they discovered nothing, neither was anything heard of the mysterious seafarer and his companion in brown tweeds.
I called on Muriel as arranged, and explained how the body had so suddenly disappeared, whereupon she stared at me pale-faced, saying—
"The assassins must have watched us! They are aware, then, that we have knowledge of their crime?"
"Of course," I said.
"Ah!" she cried hoarsely. "Then we are both in deadly peril—peril of our own lives! These people will hesitate at nothing. Both you and I are marked down by them, without a doubt. We must both be wary not to fall into any trap they may lay for us."
Her very words seemed an admission that she was aware of the identity of the conspirators, and yet she would give me no clue to them.
We went out and up the drive together to the kennels, where her father, a tall, imposing figure in his shooting-kit, was giving orders to the keepers.
"Hulloa, Gregg!" he cried merrily, extending his hand. "You'll make one of a party to Glenlea to-morrow, won't you? Paton and Phillips are coming. Ten sharp here, and the ladies are coming out to lunch with us."
"Thanks," I said, accepting with pleasure, for by so doing I saw that I might be afforded an opportunity of being near Muriel. The fact that the assassins were aware of our knowledge seemed to have caused her the greatest apprehension lest evil should befall us. Then, as we turned away to go back to the house, Leithcourt said to me—
"You know all about the discovery up at the wood the other day! Horrible affair—a young foreigner found murdered."
"Yes. I've heard about it," I responded.
"And the police are worse than useless," he declared with disgust. "They haven't discovered who the fellow is yet. Why, if it had happened anywhere else but in Scotland, they'd have arrested the assassin before this."
"He's an entire stranger, I hear," I remarked. And then added: "You often go up to the wood of an evening after pigeons. It's fortunate you were not there that evening, eh?"
He glanced at me quickly with his brows slightly contracted, as though he did not exactly comprehend me. In an instant I saw that my remark had caused him quick apprehension.
"Yes," he answered with a sickly smile which he intended should convey to me utter unconcern. "They might have suspected me."
"It certainly is a disagreeable affair to happen on one's property." I said, still watching him narrowly. And then Muriel at his side managed with her feminine ingenuity to divert the conversation into a different channel.
Next day I accompanied the party over to Glenlea, about five miles distant, and at noon at a spot previously arranged, we found the ladies awaiting us with luncheon spread under the trees. As soon as we approached Muriel came forward quickly, handing me a telegram, saying that it had been sent over by one of my uncle's grooms at the moment they were leaving the castle.
I tore it open eagerly, and read its contents. Then, turning to my companions, said in as quiet a voice as I could command—
"I must go up to London to-night," whereat the men, one and all, expressed hope that I should soon return. Leithcourt's party were a friendly set, and at heart I was sorry to leave Scotland. Yet the telegram made it imperative, for it was from Frank Hutcheson in Leghorn, and read—
"Made inquiries. Olinto Santini married your servant Armida at Italian Consulate-General in London about a year ago. They live 64B, Albany Road, Camberwell: he is employed waiter Ferrari's Restaurant, Westbourne Grove.—British Consulate, Leghorn"
The lunch was a merry one, as shooting luncheons usually are, and while we ate the keepers packed our morning bag—a considerable one—into the Perth-cart in waiting. Then, when we could wander away alone together, I explained to Muriel that the reason of my sudden journey to London was in order to continue my investigations regarding the mysterious affair.
This puzzled her, for I had not, of course, revealed to her that I had identified Olinto. Yet I managed to make such excuses and promises to return that I think allayed all her suspicions, and that night, after calling upon the detective Mackenzie, I took the sleeping-car express to Euston.
The restaurant which Hutcheson had indicated was, I found, situated about half-way up Westbourne Grove, nearly opposite Whiteley's, a small place where confectionery and sweets were displayed in the window, together with long-necked flasks of Italian chianti, chump-chops, small joints and tomatoes. It was soon after nine o'clock when I entered the long shop with its rows of marble-topped tables and greasy lounges of red plush. An unhealthy-looking lad was sweeping out the place with wet saw-dust, and a big, dark-bearded, flabby-faced man in shirt-sleeves stood behind the small counter polishing some forks.
"I wish to see Signor Ferrari," I said, addressing him.
"There is no Ferrari, he is dead," responded the man in broken English. "My name is Odinzoff. I bought the place from madame."
"You are Russian, I presume?"
"Polish, m'sieur—from Varsovie."
I had seen from the first moment we had met that he was no Italian. He was too bulky, and his face too broad and flat.
"I have come to inquire after a waiter you have in your service, an Italian named Santini. He was my servant for some years, and I naturally take an interest in him."
"Santini?" he repeated. "Oh I you mean Olinto? He is not here yet. He comes at ten o'clock."
This reply surprised me. I had expected the restaurant-keeper to express regret at his disappearance, yet he spoke as though he had been at work as usual on the previous day.
"May I have a liqueur brandy?" I asked, seeing that I would be compelled to take something. "Perhaps you will have one with me?"
"Ach no! But a kuemmel—yes, I will have a kuemmel!" And he filled our glasses, and tossed off his own at a single gulp, smacking his lips after it, for the average Russian dearly loves his national decoction of caraway seeds.
"You find Olinto a good servant, I suppose?" I said, for want of something else to say.
"Excellent. The Italians are the best waiters in the world. I am Russian, but dare not employ a Russian waiter. These English would not come to my shop if I did."
I looked around, and it struck me that the trade of the place mainly consisted in chops and steaks for chance customers at mid-day, and tea and cake for those swarms of women who each afternoon buzz around that long line of windows of the "world's provider." I could see that his was a cheap trade, as revealed by the printed notice stuck upon one of the long fly-blown mirrors: "Ices 4d and 6d."
"How long has Olinto been with you?" I inquired.
"About a year—perhaps a little more. I trust him implicitly, and I leave him in charge when I go away for holidays. He does not get along very well with the cook—who is Milanese. These Italians from different provinces always quarrel," he added, laughing. "If you live in Italy you know that, no doubt."
I laughed in chorus, and then glancing at my watch, said: "I'll wait for him, if he will be here at ten. I'd much like to see him again."
The Russian was by no means nonplused, but merely remarked—
"He is late sometimes, but not often. He lives on the other side of London—over at Camberwell." His confidence that the waiter would return struck me as extremely curious; nevertheless I possessed myself in patience, strolled up and down the restaurant, and then stood watching the traffic in the Grove outside.
The man Odinzoff seemed a quick, hard-working fellow with a keen eye to business, for he fell to polishing the top of the marble tables with a pail and brush, at the same time directing the work of the pallid-looking youth. Suddenly a side door opened, and the cook put his head in to speak with his master in French. He was a typical Italian, about forty, with dark mustaches turned upwards, and an easy-going, careless manner. Seeing me, however, and believing me to be a customer, he turned and closed the door quickly. In that instant I noticed the high broadness of his shoulders, and his back struck me as strangely similar to that of the man in brown whom we had seen disappearing in Rannoch Wood.
The suspicion held me breathless.
Was this Russian endeavoring to deceive me when he declared that Olinto would arrive in a few minutes? It seemed curious, for the man now dead must, I reflected, have been away at least four days. Surely his absence from work had caused the proprietor considerable inconvenience?
"That was your cook, wasn't it? The Milanese who is quarrelsome?" I laughed, when the side door had closed.
"Yes, m'sieur. But Emilio is a very good workman—and very honest, even though I had constantly to complain that he uses too much oil in his cooking. These English do not like the oil."
I stood in the doorway again watching the busy throng passing outside towards Royal Oak. Ten o'clock struck from a neighboring church, and I still waited, knowing only too well that I waited in vain for a man whose body had already been committed to the grave outside that far-away old Scotch town. But I waited in order to ascertain the motive of the bearded Russian in leading me to believe that the young fellow would really return.