Constance muses; she is thinking of various other depredations committed in and about W——; and, as once before she recounted them to Doctor Heath, she enumerates them now, and closes by saying:
"Your burglars keep a sharp eye on us, at all events, Mr. Bathurst."
"Naturally," assents the detective; "W—— is a capital field for that sort of chap. It's a little mine of itself, and will always receive due attention from the law breakers. By the by, Miss Wardour, these facts you mention are worth noting; after considering, I think I will remain in W—— during to-morrow. I want to explore about the river, and about this place, a little more. If I may see you to-morrow I would like your version of these other older robberies. I keep a record of every crime reported, and, no doubt, have each of these upon my register, but not as I would receive them from you. I do not wish to be seen or known, as acting in this matter; your friend will be here to-morrow, or Monday, and the officer he has chosen should be on the ground before to-morrow morning. No doubt he will be all that you wish for, and my duties will call me elsewhere very soon."
Then they all rise, and standing in a group begin talking. They so much regret that they can not retain his services, and they are very grateful to him for so much light as he has thrown upon the subject of the robbery.
"But wait," he says, "you are to bear in mind that you have no light; you are in total darkness and ignorance; to-morrow you will have a new officer, he may evolve a totally different theory. Then discard mine, or not, as you think fit; in any case, let it be kept exclusively to your three selves, for I am very likely to make a second appearance here. I think that these burglars of yours are the chaps I am wanting. And, Miss Wardour, this reminds me," drawing from his pocket the chloroform vial wrapped in its accompanying linen bit, "may I keep this until morning? I will return it to you by Doctor Heath, and, if your officer is not too much in the way, will try and see you in person, if you will kindly give me what facts you can recall concerning those robberies."
Constance expresses a hope that the officer will not be in the way, and after they have talked a little more, the detective repeating his cautions, Constance repeating her regret that he is not to take the case, as her case; and Mrs. Aliston repeating everything that comes into her head, they separate, and the two men, looking so oddly unlike, go out into the night.
Mrs. Aliston is ready to talk, but Constance is in no mood to listen. She cuts short her aunt's elocution, and goes with listless weariness to her own apartments.
Since the appearance of the detective, a shade of perplexity rested on her face, and over and again her thoughts have repeated the question which now falls from her lips.
"What does it mean? I am not mistaken; he said, 'here, I am Doctor Heath from nowhere.' I begin to think that life is a mystery."
For Miss Wardour, hesitating a moment as she passed in from the balcony, had caught the words uttered for the ears of the detective only.
DOCTOR HEATH AT HOME.
Doctor Heath and the detective went in silence down the wide shrub-bordered walk, to the spot where the doctor's horse awaited him. Here the detective paused suddenly and listened a moment.
"We should not be seen together," he said in a low tone. "Do you mount your horse and ride on slowly, I will follow."
"No buts; I can follow you, never fear; that's my business; do you go straight home and prepare to admit me on the quiet. Stay—have you any gelatine?"
"Any plaster of Paris?"
"Only a small quantity."
"Too bad; I must have some. There will be a drug store open?"
"At this hour? oh, yes."
"Then get me some, half a pound at least. Now move on, I hear a horse coming down the road."
"Some farmer going home. Well, I'm off, then."
"And so am I."
Half an hour later Doctor Heath was standing in his open doorway, wondering what had become of the detective, when a light touch upon his shoulder caused him to start suddenly, and turning, he saw the man for whom he watched, standing behind him, and within the dimly-lighted hall.
"Are we alone?" whispered the detective; "is the coast clear?"
"Quite clear; but how the mischief did you get in there, man?"
"Through the door," replied Bathurst, as he followed his host into a cozy parlor, where a shaded lamp burned. "You are not a good sentinel; why, I all but brushed you; have you no sense of feeling, then; why, man, I can recognize a near presence in the darkest room."
"Now that I think of it," retorts the doctor, maliciously, "I did feel a queer sensation in the ends of my thumbs. Make yourself at home now; take that chair," rolling a comfortable-looking monster close to the round table; "there are segars and—why—I say man, have you eaten any thing since you started on this chase?"
"Now you mention it, I distinctly recollect, that I have not."
"Of course not; I will wake up Mrs. Gray."
"Pray don't; I couldn't think of eating Mrs. Gray."
"Nonsense!" laughs his host; "Mrs. Gray is my housekeeper, and she is deaf as a post."
"Well, that's a comfort, the deafness. Is she dumb, too?"
"Unfortunately, no; but as I have not been home to dine, she will think she is preparing my supper, and I will tell her you are a patient come to be treated, and that I am going to give you a bed; here," tossing something which he finds upon a bookcase, across to his guest, "tie your face up in that rag, before she comes in. She will not give you a second glance; she never troubles her head about my patients."
So saying, he goes out, and the detective proceeds to spread out the "rag," to prepare his bandage. Suddenly he starts; scrutinizes closer, turns it about, and looks again, then——
"Ah!" says Mr. Bathurst; "Oh! really!"
And he folds up his bandage, and puts it in one pocket, whips a clean pocket handkerchief from another, and substituting it for the "rag," awaits the coming of his host.
"Very comfortable quarters," he muttered, looking about him, "Luxurious too; quite so. Our doctor has not forgotten how people ought to live."
The doctor's "quarters" were all that he described them. Luxurious, comfortable; and luxury and comfort do not always go hand in hand; tasteful, too. Nothing too much; nothing lacking—just the beau-ideal of a bachelor's parlor. Warm browns brightening here and there into bronze. Books, a great many and of the best. Pictures, a very few, and all rare and beautiful. Bronzes and statuettes in plenty. Bric-a-bric, not any, for no fair and foolish woman has trailed her skirts through these apartments, leaving traces of her presence in the shape of those small and costly abominations, yclept "ceramics."
Presently Doctor Heath reappears, and not long after, Mrs. Gray bears in a heaped-up tray of edibles. Then Doctor Heath sets forth brandy and wine, and informs Mrs. Gray, through the medium of his ten fingers, that she is dismissed for the night.
When she has retired the detective unties his face, and falls upon the food spread before him, as a hungry man will. While he eats he talks a little, just a random remark now and then, and his host sits opposite him, answering his infrequent questions and observations, and thinking.
In past days, and under very different circumstances, these two men have met and known each other, and Doctor Clifford Heath is wondering how much of his story it will be necessary to tell, in order to explain his present position, which, he knows, must seem a most strange one to his former acquaintance; for Doctor Clifford Heath, like most of us who have not passed a vegetable existence, has a history, and a past.
Of that fact, however, Mr. Bathurst seems quite oblivious, as he washes down his repast with a glass of brandy and water, and pushes back his chair from the table.
"Now, then," he begins, with his usual brisk business manner, "I'm rested and refreshed, and all ready for that white wax, if you please, Doctor Heath."
"I'm quite curious about that wax," says the doctor, rising. "Just let me draw away this table and bring up another, it's the easiest way of disposing of the dinner things, and will furnish Mrs. Gray with food for comfortable comment; she takes all such opportunities to disparage 'men's ways,' and as she seems to enjoy them, I make it a point to afford her as many as possible," making the proposed change as he talks. "Now, then, there's a table and there's your wax."
"Now something to melt it in and over; I'm going to take an impression."
There is a little difficulty about getting the necessary articles together, but after a while they are all there, and the wax is simmering in the melting cup. Then the detective takes from his pocket the borrowed bottle of chloroform, and asks for an empty vial. This being given him he pours out the chloroform carefully, and wipes the emptied bottle.
"It's a pity I can't keep this bottle just as it is," he says, eyeing the cut-glass stopper regretfully, "but it must be returned, of course; and I must do the next best. What's your notion of the original use of that little gimcrack?"
He reaches out the bottle and the doctor takes it in his hand saying: "Why, it's from one of those dainty toilet cases used by ladies principally; there will be a set, uniform in size, that are filled with perfumes of various sorts, and larger bottles, of the same pattern, for goodness knows what use. I have seen the kind, but not the pattern."
"Well," says the detective, slowly, "I think that I have seen the pattern; but where? However," dipping a stick into the melting wax, "I shall find out, and before very long."
"I wonder," says Doctor Heath, stretching out his hand for a fresh segar, "at the fellows leaving such a testimonial as that behind them. What's your theory?"
"I have expected that question from both yourself and Miss Wardour. I am glad she did not ask me."
The detective takes a spoon and dips up his wax, letting it drip from the spoon, drop by drop. It is ready for use, and, without seeming aware of the doctor's presence, he busies himself with his impression taking—seeing which, Doctor Heath smokes on, and is silent.
Finally, his mould is set to cool, and the detective resumes his seat; and, quite ignoring that long neglected monosyllable of inquiry, uttered by his host, begins:
"When the burglars, for, no doubt, there were two of them, entered Miss Wardour's dressing room, they carried one dark lantern. This, one of them took, and crept with it into the sleeping room; here, he was, for a moment, troubled. He had prepared himself with the chloroform, but must use his own handkerchief, and that is marked."
"Oh! a burglar with marked linen!"
"Even so. It's nothing unusual. You reason like a reader of too many novels. Burglars are not all escaped convicts, blear eyed and hideous; nor do they all go about in fustian. It's the burglar in broadcloth that makes us the trouble. Fustian starves, and steals, and is soon found out; runs away with its booty, as a dog runs away with its bone. Broadcloth is wiser, just as a skilled workman is wiser than a hod carrier. It brings to its service tact, study,—who knows what, of scientific skill? It looks before it leaps; it plans before it executes; and it covers up all traces of its progress, or else leaves a network of false clues and misleading evidences. Bah! if we had only fustian to deal with, it would not be worth while to be a detective."
"Granted," says the doctor, drumming impatiently upon the table, with the fingers of his strong, white, right hand. "We have to deal with a broadcloth burglar, who marks his linen, and, perhaps, perfumes it. Was it perfumed? I forgot."
"It was not perfumed. I wish it had been. Yes, ours is a broadcloth burglar. When he approached Miss Wardour's bedside, he produced from a convenient pocket, his stupefying drug; and then he looked about for something with which to apply it, and at the same time, no doubt, he berates himself for omitting to provide himself with a plain, small napkin, or piece of linen. There was nothing at hand that was not too large for his purpose, and too coarse, for he understood the delicacy of his undertaking. So, he produced his pocket handkerchief, which, as I said before, was marked; he tears off the half bearing the name, but, in his haste, does not observe that he has left evidence that the name was there. He then saturated the linen, and set the bottle upon the night stand, leaving his two hands free to apply his drug with utmost care. Then he pauses for a moment, to note the effect of his application, or to gaze upon the fair sleeper. And then comes a sound from the outer room, an impatient call, the click of steel implements, no matter what,—he snatches up the dark lantern and, forgetting the bottle, goes out to his comrade."
"You believe there were two?"
"Yes; there were two. These affairs are seldom operated by one man."
"You said this evening that they had blundered. It seems to me that they made a very neat job of the affair."
"They did blunder. It does look like a neat job to a non-professional, but they have left several flaws in their work. They felt very confident of future safety, I am sure, for they were shrewd fellows; that's established in my mind. There's a something about this case that puzzles me, and some queer ideas are drifting through my head, but for the present I shall keep them there. About those blunders now. That boat business was the first. There's plain proof; then look at the manner in which they stirred up the library. Why, man, didn't you reflect that those heavy chairs never could have been overturned by a hasty careless hand, without coming down with a loud bang? and there are three of them, all thrown down in different positions; every one of them was lowered slowly, carefully. Why, look at that pile of books upon the floor! do you imagine they were ever tossed down from their shelves, as they appear to have been, without striking upon the floor or each other, with a thud? I can see the whole operation; one man held the lantern while the other disarranged the room. But they did not do it well. That much of the business looks like the work of an amateur. Perhaps you wonder why I did not speak of this to Miss Wardour. I said enough to convince her that I had studied the matter; I did not wish to exhaust the subject, that is the business of the man who is to come. And now I think I will remove my cast, and then, my dear fellow, I am quite ready to retire, for I feel the need of all the sleep I can get between now and sunrise."
"Shocking confession," laughs the doctor, lazily. "Let me tell you it's highly improper for a detective to get sleepy, or hungry, or tired; they never do it in print."
"Which should convince you that they always do out of it. Detectives, my dear sir, are like doctors, their success depends upon the people's faith in them, not on their own merits. Now I know that you can't see through the anatomy of old Mrs. Grundy, and tell what she had for dinner, unless, to be sure, she had been eating onions; but if Mrs. Grundy doubted for a moment your ability to don your professional spectacles and peer into the innermost depths of her disordered old being, she would write another name than yours on her books, as favorite physician."
"Guide, philosopher and friend," quotes the doctor, composedly. "Let Mrs. Grundy alone, will you, she is one of my best customers."
"She is not one of my worst, but the world is not quite filled up with Mrs. Grundys, else our fortunes were soon made; for instance, up at Wardour Place to-night, that seraphic old lady was prepared to receive all my statements, as Mrs. G—— takes your pills, on faith. But the young lady; oh, no! she has too much head for a woman."
"Why, for a woman?"
"Not got scope enough. 'Woman's kingdom' too small for her; too much top to her head; brow too broad; eyes too full; won't believe a thing is true, because you say it is true; got to convince her reason. Such people make chaps like you and me lots of bother; won't take us for granted."
"Granted we wish them to."
"Bah! Of course we wish them to! everybody wants to be taken on trust; but there, we can waive this discussion; Miss Wardour will find occupation for that head of hers for a time at least. My head must rest."
"I should think so; you are as full of whimsies as ever, when off duty, and since to-night I accept you as a detective, a la 'Mrs. Grundy,' just follow me now, Sir Tramp. By the way, how will you get out of here in the morning?"
"Leave that to me. By the way, don't disturb my wax work. I will leave the bottle and linen; do you restore them to Miss Wardour to-morrow at the earliest hour possible to a caller. I shall present myself in my own time and way, governed, of course, by circumstances, and it is probable that you will not see me again for some time. Therefore let me say, thanks for your hospitality. Call on me when you want a service, and good night."
So saying he vanishes into an inner room, the door of which the doctor has just now thrown invitingly open. As the door closes quickly, and in his very face, Clifford Heath stares blankly at it, and for a moment stands so, looking half bewildered.
Finally a look of amusement crosses his face, and he returns slowly to his seat beside the table, slowly selects a segar, and slowly lights it.
"There's a queer customer," muses he, as he settles himself for a comfortable meditation. "He can go to sleep in the very teeth of mystery, and wake up, clear headed, in a fog. Now I can't sleep, and I've been awake longer than my allotted time, too. Shades of my ancestors! What a day! And, oh, my prophetic soul, what will it bring forth? Well, Doctor Clifford Heath, as Doctor Clifford Heath, what is it to you? You have been honored by the confidence of Constance Wardour, what then? There was no one else in whom she could confide; may she not honor your judgment without coveting your adoration. Bah! the very fact that she confides in you proves that she cares nothing for you. However, she has a heart for somebody; that is proved by her agitation upon hearing the story, and reading the letter telling of poor Sybil Lamotte's misery. For undoubtedly in some manner she has been made a victim; can it be that wretched Evan? His agitation to-day bore the look of remorse, and God knows where dissipation will not lead a man. I know something of that, too." Here he frowns darkly, and sits for a long time looking the incarnation of resentment and defiance.
"Bah!" he mutters presently, "what a blot upon the record of a proud family! A father who is a philanthropist and public benefactor; a mother who is 'une dame sans reproche;' a brother against whom I can bring no charge save that he is my rival; a sister, beautiful and good and accomplished, but that beauty, goodness, culture, are all shipwrecked; how could either live in the same atmosphere with John Burrill, as I have heard him described. Evan Lamotte is a black sheep; I should take it Burrill must be a black dog, or worse, and sheep and dog are owned by the same family. After all, what is race? a fig for pedigree. It's the deed that tells. Here in the next room I have a man who claims to be nobody. Nothing is said or known about his blood; a great deal is said and known about his brain, favorably said, too, and honorably known. He is a detective, and as such, dead to the blue book; it's his business to hunt men down, to pry into secret places, to unmask villainies, and drag to light shameful family secrets; and, for the second time, he has stumbled upon a secret of mine, and treated it most generously.
"To-night I say to him, 'know me only as Doctor Heath, from nowhere.' Another man would have asked for an explanation, when the opportunity came; but not he. He sits with me, sups with me, sleeps under my roof, and makes no sign that he ever knew me save as I now am. He treats me as a man worthy his confidence, yet asks none of mine. That's what I call splendid behavior; that's a man worthy to be called a gentleman. I wonder;" here his countenance darkens, and his eyes look gloomy. "I wonder what this honorable officer would say if he knew what I did to-night? if he knew, say I! does he not know? how can I tell? he is sharp, a lynx; and heaven only knows what mad impulse prompted me to do a mean thing. Bah!" rising and stretching himself; "we are all fools or knaves, or both; when a beautiful woman has dethroned reason and common sense, and sways us body and soul. I wonder what Constance Wardour would say if she knew? A keen witted detective takes me on trust; will she do the same?"
There is little of the look of a despairing swain on his face, as he concludes his soliloquy, and goes out to see that the outer door is secure, before retiring. A trifle pale, a trifle bored, a trifle cynical, and a trifle sleepy he looks. He also looks, for a man who has just been indulging in a fit of severe self-depreciation, exceedingly confident and full of faith in himself. And why not? Let that man despair who has lost confidence in his own ability to wrest favors from the fingers of Fate or Fortune. Despair is not for the brave.
A FALLING OUT.
Constance Wardour arose early on Sunday morning. In spite of youth, health, and her splendid self-poise, she had slept but little; and such slumber as had visited her eyelids, had been haunted by hideous dreams, in which detectives and burglars mixed their identity in the most remarkable manner; and through all, more vivid than all, shone the face of Sybil Lamotte, always agonized, always appealing, always surrounded by dark shadows, and always seeming menaced, terrified, helpless. Such nights of tormented slumber, and uneasy wakefulness, were new to the mistress of Wardour; and now, while the dew was yet on the grass and flowers, she was promenading her pretty rose garden, where the sun shone full, looking a trifle paler than was usual to her, and somewhat dissatisfied.
Mrs. Aliston was still snugly ensconced in her bed, for she never rose early, and always retired late, her motto being, "Mrs. Aliston first, the world afterward." That lady of portly dimensions had her peculiar theory of life. To eat the best food obtainable, and a great deal of it; to wear the heaviest silks, and the softest cashmeres; and to sleep in the downiest of beds; these were to her the necessities of life. That the food was provided from the larder of her niece; that the silks and cashmeres were gracious gifts, and that the downy couch cost her nothing, mattered little; her niece needed her, she needed her niece; ergo, her niece sought in every way possible to render her happy and comfortable; and she, in return for her comfort and happiness, was a model duenna; never questioning, never criticising, humoring all that young lady's whims, yet retaining that free, hearty out-spokenness, that made her seem not in the least a dependent, and which was, as Mrs. Aliston well knew, most pleasing to the heiress.
Altogether, they were a pair of very sensible women. Mrs. Aliston ate when she liked, and slept when she liked; Miss Wardour did what she liked, and both were satisfied.
While Miss Wardour was promenading her garden, and Mrs. Aliston was comfortably sleeping, two men were approaching each other on the sandy road that ran from the town past Wardour Place.
The one coming from townward was our detective tramp, looking all that a tramp should be.
The other, approaching from the opposite direction, was a sleek, respectable looking, middle aged man, who might have been some small farmer dressed in his Sunday clothes, which fitted him none too well.
Almost opposite the gates of Wardour Place they met and passed each other, the tramp saluting respectfully, the other responding with a stolid stare.
A little further on the tramp turned slowly and looked back. The farmer-looking individual had entered the grounds of Wardour Place, and was hurrying straight on toward the entrance, looking neither to the right nor left.
"So!" muttered the tramp, with the air of a man who would have been astonished then, but for the fact that he never allowed anything to astonish him. "So he is mixing himself up in this affair! I wonder in what capacity? Can it be that by some means he has been selected to work up this case? Oh! oh! Bless my soul! What a coincidence that would be!"
Evidently he had grasped at a new idea, and one that was somewhat startling. He quickened his pace until, unconsciously, it became almost a trot. The mask of studied vacancy dropped from his face, leaving it alert, keen, analytical. His mind had grasped at a problem, and he was studying it with knitted brow and compressed mouth, as he hurried on countryward, not heeding anything save the thought which possessed him.
It was Sunday morning, too early for church goers, and too late for cow boys. So he met no one on his hurried march, and when at last he began to moderate his pace, he was a full mile from Wardour Place. As his walk grew slower his face relaxed, and gradually resumed its mask of careless stupidity.
Finally he paused, looked about him, laughed a short half laugh, and crossing the road, vaulted a high-wired fence, with the ease of a harlequin, and took his way across a meadow toward the river.
"Tra-la, tra-la-la-la-la," chirped he, softly and contentedly. "What a pretty kettle of fish. How I should love to sit down right beside it and see it boil, stir it occasionally; instead, I must go far away, and meantime, who knows, the kettle may boil over. But I hope not,—I trust not. I will try and prevent it; and, to do that, I must drop a little shell before I go. I must bind Miss Wardour over to my aid. I must show her that it is wise to trust me. I must have a confidante here, and there are only two to choose from. Doctor Heath, 'from nowhere,' and this clear-eyed lady. I choose her; for, with all due regard for my friend, the doctor, and all due faith in the propriety of his motives, I must know why he throws that bit of circumstantial evidence in my way, before I show him any part of my hand. Why Doctor Heath is here, is none of my business, strange as his presence and present occupation seem to me. Why he is mixing himself up in the affair of Miss Wardour's diamonds, however, is my business, just now. But, first of all, to know how much or little Jerry Belknap knows of this affair, and of these people, and whether he is at his old crookedness once more. Now, here is the river; here the footpath. I must see the mistress of Wardour Place, and at once; so, en avant."
And he struck into the river footpath, and strode rapidly along toward Wardour Place, whistling softly as he went. Meantime, Constance Wardour, pacing the walks of her garden, with her brows wrinkled into a frown, was interrupted by her housemaid.
"If you please, miss, there's a man in the front hall, that's wanting to see you, and says I am to tell you it's important that his business is."
Constance made a slight gesture of impatience; she had been thinking of Sybil Lamotte, to the exclusion of all other subjects, and this message brought her suddenly back to her own affairs.
"Important!" she muttered to herself. "Then it must be—the other one. Nelly," raising her voice, "what is this man like?"
"Like, miss?" inquiringly.
"Yes. How does he look?"
"Oh! Well, it's very ugly he looks, to my notion."
"Does he look like a gentleman, Nelly?"
"Oh, murther! no."
"Like a tramp, then?"
"No; his clothes is too new."
"Well, Nelly, I will go and see him," said Constance, beginning to despair of finding out whether this visitor were the tramp of the night previous, or the new actor expected on the scene. "You know I never allow you to turn a tramp away hungry, and if one comes who seems worthy of help, I wish you always to let me know it."
This she said, thinking of the manner in which it was probable the detective tramp would seek access to her presence.
"By the way, Nelly," pausing with one foot on the steps of the dining-room terrace. "You may wake Mrs. Aliston and tell her that if I wish her to join me in the little parlor I will send you to her," then sotto voce, as she entered the house and went carelessly toward the drawing-room: "If this visitor proves a bore I will turn him over to Aunt Honor; I can't have two days of constant boredom."
Coming forward from the lower entrance, Constance encountered the gaze of the strange man, whom, arriving at the front door, Nelly had not ventured to set down as a tramp, and whose clothes made her doubt the propriety of showing him the drawing-room. Being of Hibernian extraction, and not to be nonplussed, Nelly had adapted a happy medium, and seated the visitor in the largest hall chair, where he now awaited the approach of Constance.
"I think you wished to see me," said Constance, in the unaffected kindly tone usual to her when addressing strangers or inferiors, "I am Miss Wardour."
The stranger arose, making a stiff salute, and saying in a low, guarded tone:
"Yes, Miss Wardour, I have a message for you;" at the same moment he presented her a card, and glanced in a suggestive manner toward Nelly, who was traveling up the stairs in a very leisurely manner, en route for Mrs. Aliston's rooms.
Constance glanced at the card which bore the inscription,
"JERRY BELKNAP, Private Detective."
"Come this way," she said, throwing open the drawing-room door and preceding him into that apartment.
Jerry Belknap, private detective, followed close behind her, and himself closed the door carefully. Constance crossed the room, drew back the curtains, and pushed open the shutters of the terrace windows, thus letting in a flood of light. Then turning, she seated herself upon a fauteuil, and, motioning the detective to a chair opposite, said:
"Now, sir, I am ready to receive your message."
"It's a verbal one," returned the detective, in a voice soft and smooth, not at all in keeping with his disguise, "and from Mr. Lamotte. I am the officer chosen by him to investigate for you, Miss Wardour, and as much time has been lost, I only wait your sanction and acceptance to begin the work."
The soft voice and polished accent were in very marked contrast to his dress and facial appearance. His manner of boorish discomfort had been dropped when the door closed upon outside observation.
Mentally contrasting the ease and suavity of this new comer with the cat-like movements and brusqueness of his predecessor, Constance, who began to realize the ludicrousness of the situation, in fact seemed to have some special private reason for finding it exceedingly absurd, replied that Mr. Lamotte's chosen officer must of course be acceptable to her, and that she only awaited his commands, if she could be of any service to him.
"Then," said Detective Belknap, "I may as well look over the premises, unless," turning upon her a searching look, "there are particulars concerning the robbery which Mr. Lamotte was not in possession of."
Constance lowered her eyes, in seeming effort to remember if Mr. Lamotte knew absolutely all; she thought of the chloroform, but the bottle had not yet been returned to her. What should she do? Before telling this part of the story she must have the bottle. Suddenly her woman's wit came to her aid. Looking up with sweetest candor into the detective's face, she said,
"I am the only one who possesses any information that was not known to Mr. Lamotte. It is a mere trifle, but as it will take some time in the telling, I will, if you please, order breakfast. You can scarcely have breakfasted at this hour. I will show you the library now. Will you look over that and the other rooms, and kindly excuse me for a short time? Then join me at breakfast, and I will give you my version of the story."
She arose as if considering the matter decided beyond question, and moved toward the door, and with a bow and a murmur of assent, Mr. Jerry Belknap fell into his assumed shamble, and followed her to the library. Leaving him there, Constance went out to order breakfast served in half an hour, and to send Nelly with the key to her dressing room.
"Nelly must be taken into my confidence," mused she, as she went in search of that damsel. "I can trust Nelly in spite of her Irishries, and if Doctor Heath does not appear soon she must help me out in some way."
Nelly was not at her post, having been dispatched kitchenward by Mrs. Aliston, and Constance went up to her own rooms, thinking, as she went, how best to defer a further interview with Mr. Belknap.
"I must take him the key myself," she muttered, as she moved about the dressing room, and then a sudden thought came, and she moved quickly to an open wardrobe, pulled down the dress she had worn on the previous afternoon, and searched hurriedly in the pockets.
All at once a look of dismay overspread her features; again and again she shook out the silken folds, again thrust her hands in the dainty pockets, and fluttered her fingers among the intricacies of the trimming. The thing she searched for was gone. Sybil Lamotte's strange letter, the letter that was a trust not to be violated, was not to be found.
Thoroughly distressed now, Constance renewed her search—about the room—everywhere—in the most impossible places; but no letter.
Down stairs she went; and hopeless as was the chance of finding it there, hunted in the drawing room and on the terrace.
She distinctly remembered placing it in her pocket, after receiving it back from the hands of Doctor Heath; of bestowing it very carefully, too.
Who had been in the drawing room since Doctor Heath? Mrs. Aliston; the two detectives; herself. Who had seen her put the letter in her pocket? Only Doctor Heath. Could it have dropped from her pocket? That seemed impossible. Could he have removed it? That seemed impossible, too, and very absurd. But what could she think, else? Then, she remembered what he had said to the detective the night before, and all the mystery surrounding his past. Hitherto, she had scoffed at the prying ones, and advocated his perfect right to his own past and future, too. Now, she felt her ignorance of aught concerning the life of Doctor Clifford Heath, to be a deep personal injury. Hitherto, she had reasoned that his past was something very simple, a commonplace of study, perhaps, and self-building; for she, being an admirer of self-made men, had chosen to believe him one of them. Now, she bounded straight to the conclusion that Doctor Heath had a past—to conceal; and then she found herself growing very angry, with him first, and herself afterward.
Why had he not presented his passports before seeking her favor? How had he dared to make himself so much at home in her drawing room, with his impertinent insouciance and his Sultan airs? How had he gone about, indifferent, independent, ignoring when he pleased, courting no one's favor, and yet, be—nobody knew who.
And what a fool she had been, trusting him with her personal secrets; putting her private letters into his hands. How he must be laughing at her in his sleeve! Exasperating thought. Worse than all else, to be laughed at. What worse calamity can befall poor, arrogant human nature?
Constance was now thoroughly angry, and, "by the same token," thoroughly unreasonable. It is highly objectionable in a heroine; but Constance, as we have said before, is a very human heroine. And, dear reader, however sensible you be, if you have ever been in just the state of mind in which Constance Wardour found herself that morning, and most of us have, I promise you, you were not one whit more reasonable; not one whit less capable of being aggressive, unreasonable, and generally disagreeable.
And now, the perverse imp who goes about, concocting horrible practical jokes, and stirring up contretemps, seemed to take possession of the field; for, just at the moment when he should have been at least five miles away, Doctor Heath, unannounced, appeared at the drawing-room door,—smiling, too, looking provokingly sure of a welcome, and handsomer than usual.
Miss Wardour's self-possession was as instant as her indignation.
"Good morning, Doctor Heath," frigidly. "I am sorry you found it necessary to admit yourself in this manner. I suppose my servants are neglectful."
"Not at all," replied he, discovering that she was out of humor, but not divining the cause. "Your housemaid admitted me, and thinking you in your own room, was about to usher me in here, and go to announce me, when I saved her the trouble, telling her that my time was limited, and admitting myself; had I known you were here, I should not have intruded without permission;" then perceiving that her face retained its frigidity, his voice took on a shade of haughtiness as he laid a packet upon the table, saying: "I have brought back your 'proofs;' Mr. Bathurst wished me to say, if I chanced to see you first, that is," hesitating.
"I have not seen Mr. Bathurst."
"No!" Doctor Heath seemed to be somewhat affected by the chill of the atmosphere. "Then I am to say that he has something for your private ear, and that when he comes, he begs that you will contrive in some way to see him, whether your other officer is here or no."
A grave bow from Lapland. Then,
"Officer Belknap is here, and in the library. I presume," consulting her watch, "he is waiting for me at this moment."
Doctor Heath had been standing a few feet from her, hat in hand; now, and in spite of this implied dismissal, he coolly deposited his hat upon the table beside Miss Wardour's package, and advanced nearer to that young lady, speaking calmly, gently even, but without the slightest touch of entreaty, penitence, or humility of any sort in his manner or voice.
"Miss Wardour, pardon me for alluding to it, but I would be blind indeed not to see that something has annoyed you exceedingly. Indeed, I could almost fancy that, in some way, I have become the cause of your displeasure; if this is so, tell me how I have been so unfortunate as to offend?"
Now this was a very pacific and proper speech, and uttered in the right spirit. But had its effect been salutary, then Doctor Heath would stand alone, the first, last, and only man who ever yet attempted to argue with, reason with, or pacify an angry woman without blundering egregiously in the beginning, and coming out worsted at the end. There are a few things in this world that mortal man can't compass, and to attempt to pour oil on the waves of a woman's wrath when they are just at the boiling point, and ready to overflow their confines, is like sitting down on a bunch of fire-crackers to prevent their going off. Let the water boil over, and there will still be enough left to brew you a cup of tea. Let the crackers explode, and you may sit down on them with impunity.
Dear brethren, the moral is homely.
How had he offended? That he should ask the question, was the acme of his offense. As if she could tell how he had offended. Was there ever so impertinent a question and questioner? "How had he been so unfortunate as to offend?" Any other man would have said "unhappy," whether he meant it or not, but this man, oh! he would not even look a culprit.
She raised her haughty head a trifle higher, as high as it could be; she drew back as many steps as he had advanced; the room had become a refrigerator.
"Doctor Heath flatters himself; in what manner could he offend me?"
Still he retains his composure, not guessing at the truth.
"I have never presumed Miss Wardour, therefore can not have flattered myself. I may have offended by coming one moment too late with this packet. Miss Wardour is accustomed to unqualified obedience. If I fail in that it is not from lack of inclination, but—because I am just learning submission." He uttered the last words in a lower, softer tone, and fell back as he uttered them, laying his hand upon his hat.
Anger, self-shame, and a strange thrilling emotion, she could not, or would not recognize or define, urged her out of herself, beyond herself, and beyond the bounds of propriety or courtesy. Sweeping toward him with one swift movement, she extended one hand with downward turned palm, in a quick, meaning gesture, and said,
"Doctor Heath, I have lost Sybil Lamotte's letter."
"Lost it! How?"
"That I should be glad to know; since I showed it to you last night and replaced it in my pocket, I have not seen it, and, Doctor Heath, as I do not wish without your knowledge, to be in possession of any secret of yours, I may as well tell you now that I overheard your warning to the detective last night."
"My warning!" he repeated, parrot-like.
"Your reminder that you must be to him, Doctor Heath from nowhere!"
Doctor Heath from nowhere, gazed at her for a moment as if petrified, his mind seeming reluctant or unable to grasp at once her full meaning; then he came close to her, straight and tall, and paler than her own pale robe; the blood of all the Howards flashing from his eye, and speaking in his bearing. Thus, for a moment, they faced each other, pale, passionate, mute; then a voice, soft and suave, broke the spell.
"I trust you will pardon me."
They turned swiftly, neither had faced the door; both had been too preoccupied to observe or hear. How long he had been a listener he alone could tell; but there stood Mr. Jerry Belknap, private detective, one hand resting on the handle of the closed door, the other holding an open note book.
Doctor Heath vouchsafed him one dark glance, then bending above the uplifted hand of Constance Wardour, he looked straight down into her eyes, and said in a low, tense voice,
"Miss Wardour, your words have been not an accusation, but an insult; as such, I can only accept them—in silence; good morning."
Then he turned, waved the private detective haughtily from before the door, and strode out, his heels ringing firm upon the hall marble as he went.
"I fear I intruded," said Mr. Belknap, innocently. "I have just finished making some notes in the library, and am ready to proceed to the upper floor."
"Breakfast." It was Nelly who appeared with this announcement, which was welcome, at least to Mr. Belknap, and pale, silent, subdued, Constance motioned him to precede her to the dining room.
"I'm sure to be in a situation," mused the girl with a rueful grimace. "If it's only a tete-a-tete breakfast with a detective."
ONE DETECTIVE TOO MANY.
"Aunt Honor," said Miss Wardour, sweeping unceremoniously into her aunt's dressing room, "you really must come to my relief."
Mrs. Aliston seated in a big dressing chair, with a tempting breakfast tray drawn close beside her, looked up serene and comfortable, and said, after setting down her porcelain chocolate cup with great care.
"Yes!" with the rising inflection.
"I'm exhausted, bothered, bored," continued the young lady, flinging herself down upon the nearest ottoman. "I wish my old diamonds had never had an existence. I wish Grandmama Wardour had had better sense."
"Have a cup of chocolate," suggested Mrs. Aliston.
"I won't," snapped Constance, belligerently. "I have breakfasted if you please; auntie," lowering her voice to a tone of mock mystery, "we have got another detective in the house."
"So Nelly tells me," reaching out for another roll.
"And, he has breakfasted with me."
Mrs. Aliston laid down the roll, turned for a moment to gaze at her niece; and, reading in that fair upturned face, the fact that its owner was in a state of mutiny against the proprieties and all things else that might come in opposition to her will, she took up her roll and buttered it carefully as she said:
"Well! that's quite like you. What sort of a man is he?"
"Splendid," with a shrug of the shoulders, "smooth as oil, polished as ivory; a Chesterfield in ill fitting clothes."
"And, a detective?"
"Well, why not? Somehow he has picked up all the arts and graces of a gentleman."
"Really! Not much like the other one then."
"Not in the least. The other is eccentric, explosive, amusing. This one is like a lawyer; very non-committal, not at all inclined to tell all he knows."
"Oh! have you told him about the chloroform?"
"Yes; he has the bottle."
"Well, what did he say?"
"Not a word."
"Goodness gracious! and you breakfasted with him?"
"Yes; and he has spent half an hour or more in the drawing room. I have told him all I had to tell, and he is now prowling about my dressing room."
"But what does he think about this affair?"
"I don't know;" indifferently.
"Why, it didn't take you all breakfast time to tell your story?"
"Oh, no; I told my story and Mr. Belknap listened very attentively; made some entries in his note book, remarked that he would have a report ready for me in the course of the day, and then turned his back upon the subject."
"He discussed the new opera, asked me if I had seen Neilson in Twelfth Night, gave a brilliant description of a young French drama by a young French author, gave me his opinion of Dickens, and looked his opinion of myself."
"What a remarkable person."
"Exceedingly so. His remarks have quite exhausted me."
"Now, Con.;" reproachfully.
"Now, auntie, don't plead, my heart is adamant. If you don't go and interview that man for the remainder of his stay I shall order William to throw him out of my dressing-room window; not that I have a rooted antipathy for him, he is certainly a clever man, and no doubt a good officer. But I am worn out, unfit for duty, and—I have another matter to attend to."
"Oh!" ejaculates Mrs. Aliston arising, "then, my child, I am ready, or almost ready, to go and inspect your new detective."
Accordingly Mrs. Aliston goes to her mirror, touches up her dressing-cap, gives a pat here, a shake there, and then ruffling her plumage like some huge old bird, follows her niece.
Across the hall they find the detective inspecting the little safe, and hurriedly introducing Mrs. Aliston, and making her own excuses, Constance hastens away and down stairs.
Down the stairs and out of the house, first because she felt oppressed and needed the soothing effects of fresh air and exercise, and, second, because she expected the tramp detective to be somewhere in the vicinity, and, for some reason, she wanted to see him. In spite of the fact that she had just declared herself bored, and desperate, and anxious to be alone; in spite of the fact that she had fled from detective number two, she wanted to see number one for a woman's reason. Having quarrelled desperately with Clifford Heath, she was immediately possessed by an insane desire to hear some one speak of him, and speak well of him. This man had treated Doctor Heath from the first with the utmost respect. He was undoubtedly pleased at their chance meeting; after all might not this secret which lay between the two be a perfectly honorable one?
In fact, Miss Wardour wanted to see Detective Bathurst, not as Detective Bathurst, but as the man who knew Doctor Clifford Heath better than she herself knew him. Of her diamonds, she never thought at all.
She felt depressed, dissatisfied, yet not quite prepared to blame herself in any way. She was possessed by more uncomfortable feelings than she could have analyzed or described, yet was too consistent a woman to be so soon ready to admit, even to herself, that she had wronged Doctor Heath. Indeed, she was more angry than ever with that unfortunate man. Had he not capped the climax of his iniquities by flying off at a tangent, and leaving her in a most uncomfortable position?
The grounds about Wardour Place were large, well shaded, and laid out with a network of walks. With a view to the avoiding of those paths overlooked by the windows of her dressing room, or other rooms where her aunt and the detective were likely to be, Constance kept to the north and east walks, thus coming near the river, which ran north and south, and toward which the eastern, or near, portion of the grounds sloped down.
Walking thus, and gazing riverward, Constance saw a form approaching, which she soon recognized as that of the detective tramp.
Glancing quickly about to see if any of the servants were in the grounds, and assuring herself that the way was clear, she went forward to where he could see her, before approaching too near.
Gazing fixedly at him, a slight movement of his hand told her that he had seen, and was alert; and then she made a gesture northward, and, turning that way herself, disappeared from his sight among the shrubbery.
On the north, the grounds were bounded by the orchard wall, over which drooped the branches of huge old apple trees, and down close to the eastern boundary of this same orchard, a small iron gate opened into it. Toward this gate Constance walked, avoiding any appearance of unseemly haste, and toward the eastern wall, hard by, went the tramp detective, looking innocent of any thought or purpose, save to intercept the lady, and beg for a dinner, a dollar, or a dime.
Reaching the gate, Constance passed through it into the orchard, and, almost at the same moment, the tramp bounded over the wall, and stood bowing beside her.
"Come into the grounds," said Constance, waiving all ceremony. "If we are seen talking there, it will look less suspicious. My servants are quite accustomed to see me interviewing tramps."
She led the way back into the grounds, closed the wicket, and walked along the orchard wall to a rustic bench close under the bending boughs of a great tree. Here she seated herself, and the tramp, leaning against a tree a few paces from her, turned upon her a look of proper supplication, and said:
"Now I think we are ready for observers."
"Quite. None of my servants saw you last night, and they are not likely to come here in any case. We shall hardly be disturbed."
"You think so? May I ask how long you have been absent from the house?"
"About fifteen minutes, I should think."
"Well, in fifteen minutes more Mr. Belknap will be out looking at the grounds, and for you."
Constance uttered a low exclamation of surprise.
"Ah!" said she, "you know that already. Pray tell me how? you are more puzzling than a Chinese juggler."
"No jugglery about this, however," he replied, looking somewhat amused. "I met Mr. Belknap, face to face at your very gate; I have seen him wear that farmer disguise before, hence I recognized him."
"Did not recognize me."
"Yet you know each other."
"Slightly, yes;" with a droll look in his eyes, of which Constance took note.
"Now tell me, Mr. Bathurst, is Mr. Belknap a good detective?"
"Mr. Belknap is a smart man, Miss Wardour; he understands his business thoroughly."
"He equivocates," thought Constance; aloud she said,
"And I need not fear to trust my business in his hands?"
"You need not fear," he replied, with odd emphasis. "And now," he continued, "time presses; you received your package, Miss Wardour?"
Constance felt uneasy, this man seemed to find out everything; did he know of what she had accused Doctor Heath?
"I received it an hour ago," she replied.
"Miss Wardour," asked he, fixing his eyes upon her face, "have you any suspicion as to who these robbers were?"
For a moment Constance seemed half paralyzed with fright; then she answered firmly,
"No, sir; not the shadow of a suspicion; but—you have."
"If I have, it is not more than a shadow—at present. Now, may I ask you some questions, not just to the point but which, for my own reasons, I wish answered."
She nodded assent.
"Can you tell me how many medical men you have in W——?"
Constance reflected; finally she said,
"I think there are seven, in all."
"Ah! all in practice?"
"Not all; two are retired, one is an invalid, doing but little."
"Thank you; and how many of them have assistants or students?"
"Only two, to my knowledge, Doctor Benoit and—Doctor Heath."
"And who are these young men—I suppose they are young men? Can you give me any information concerning them?"
"The young man with Doctor Benoit is a stranger to me, he comes, I believe, from one of the neighboring towns; the one with Doctor Heath," here, in spite of herself, Constance colored slightly, "is the son of one of our wealthiest citizens. He had, I believe, been reading a little in the city during the winter before Doctor Heath established himself here; since when he has remained in W——, and read in Doctor Heath's office, when it has suited him to do so; he is like many young men of great expectations."
"And his name?"
"His name," hesitating a little, "is Francis Lamotte."
"Thank you; and now, Miss Wardour, I want to ask at least three favors of you, in return for which you may command me to any extent."
"Ask them," replied Constance, feeling inwardly that she was outgrowing surprise.
"First, will you promise me—I know that you keep your promises—not to repeat one word of this conversation to Doctor Heath."
"Doctor Heath is not my father confessor," she said coldly; and then remembering the sort of man she was addressing, she added as best she could. "Although from what you saw last night, you might almost have fancied him such. I promise in any case to keep secret this interview."
"Will you promise, above all, to keep it from Mr. Belknap; to keep everything concerning me from his knowledge?"
"So far as I can," she replied. "Mr. Belknap is a detective; let him find out things as you seem to do."
"I don't find out everything, more's the pity," he replied; then hesitating slightly over the question. "May I rely on your aunt?"
"I promise for my aunt," replied Constance, laughing again; "she is very loyal."
"Thank you. Now there is one thing more I very much wish, for reasons which no doubt you will know in good time, to see or hear the report of Mr. Jerry Belknap, private detective. This I know, is asking much, but you will have no cause to regret it if you enable me to obtain this knowledge."
Constance looked perplexed, and hesitated in her answer.
"You distrust Mr. Belknap," she said finally. "I thought—"
He throws up his hand somewhat impatiently.
"You jump at conclusions," he interrupted; "a detective's motives must be taken for granted. It is not distrust that causes me to ask this favor; I could not tell you my reason without unraveling a long web, and it is not time to begin the process; I am still in the realm of conjecture. So you won't help me to the result of Mr. Belknap's investigation, Miss Wardour? I am sorry; it would save time for me, for I fully intend to find it out in some way."
Constance smiled in spite of herself; she admired this man's cool way of mastering the situation; she felt that it would be policy to let him have his way, since he would take it whether she would or no. But the imp of caprice had not quite deserted her, and now he goaded her on to her own downfall. Looking up suddenly, she asked:
"Mr. Bathurst, why did you ask me if I suspected who stole my diamonds?"
"I didn't," smiling oddly.
"I asked if you guessed who the robbers were."
"But—," began she; but the detective drawing a step nearer, and speaking in a guarded tone, interrupts her.
"I am satisfied that you were robbed on Saturday night, Miss Wardour; I am sure that you have no clue to the burglars; no suspicion as to their identity; but, I am not so sure that you do not know precisely where to look for the Wardour diamonds at this moment?"
Constance flushed, and then turned pale. She had found her match; she was cornered, mastered, but she must give one last scratch.
"Having divined so much," she said bitterly. "I suppose you intend to find them too?"
He drew himself up haughtily. "I am a detective, madam, not a spy; so long as your diamonds give you no uneasiness they have no interest for me. When you need my services they are yours. I do not investigate mysteries from mere curiosity."
Constance felt a twinge of self-reproach. "I am behaving like a fool," she thought, in severe condemnation. "I am losing my own identity; this man is a friend to rely on, an enemy to fear. He will not bow to my whims and caprices. What has come over me? Let me try and redeem myself."
She had been musing with downcast eyes; now she looked up, straight into her companion's face. It had undergone a sudden change; the eyes, a moment since so full of fire and subtlety, were dull and expressionless. The face was vague to apathy, the mouth looked the incarnation of meekness or imbecility; even his hands had taken on a helpless feebleness in the clutch in which he held his worn-out hat. Before she could withdraw her gaze or open her lips in speech, he said in a low guarded tone:
"Some one is approaching. Look behind me, Miss Wardour, and carefully, not to excite suspicion."
She turned her gaze cautiously in the direction indicated, and saw coming slowly toward them, Mr. Belknap and Mrs. Aliston.
"It is Mr. Belknap," she said, nodding easily at the new comers as she spoke, "and my aunt. Have no fears, sir tramp, everything shall be as you wish. I will engage you, I think."
Constance was herself again.
"Aunt Honor," she said, as the two came within hearing distance, "you find me at my old tricks."
"Old tricks indeed!" replied her aunt, with more subtlety of meaning than she often employed.
Constance arose and swept past the supposed tramp, without bestowing a glance upon him.
"What would you do aunt?" she said, with an air of honest anxiety that would have done credit to an actress, "here is this man again. You know I promised to try and help him when he was here before. Simon needs an assistant, he tells me; would you try him as under gardener?"
Thoroughly drilled in the art of aiding and abetting her niece, Mrs. Aliston proved equal to the emergency.
"It couldn't do any harm," she said surveying the gentleman tramp somewhat superciliously. "He looks quite respectable, for that sort of a person."
Constance stifled an inclination to laugh as she said, briskly:
"Then we will try him, and I'll just take him to the kitchen, and tell cook what to do with him until Simon comes."
"Now just let me do that Con.," remonstrated Mrs. Aliston, "Mr. Belknap wishes to talk with you about the servants; remain here, and I will attend to this person."
"Very well," responded Constance, indifferently, at the same time realizing the expediency of allowing the detective an instant opportunity for dropping a word of warning in the ear of her relative. "Tell the cook to give him something to eat, and now Mr. Belknap, you and I may walk on."
"Just follow me, my man," called Mrs. Aliston, in a tone of loftiest patronage, and the newly appointed under gardener, beaming with gratitude, passed by Miss Wardour and Mr. Belknap, and followed the portly figure kitchenward with eager alacrity.
Meantime, Constance, eager to engross Mr. Belknap's attention, turned toward him a smiling face, and said:
"Now, Mr. Belknap, I am at your disposal for a short time; fate seems against my obtaining the rest I came out here to seek, but your business is in my interest, and I am not ungrateful; you wished to say something about my servants."
"I wish to question your servants separately, Miss Wardour."
Constance opened her eyes in quick surprise, then she answered quietly:
"To question my servants! Oh, certainly, Mr. Belknap; when, and where?"
"This evening would suit me; I am going to look about the surrounding country during the day."
"This evening then, after dinner; will that suit you?"
"Admirably, say at half past eight;" and having completed his arrangements in this business-like manner, Mr. Belknap asked permission to pass through the orchard, received it, and, bowing gravely, went through the wicket, and walked swiftly between the rows of apple trees straight northward.
At six o'clock that evening, Miss Wardour sent for the gardener.
"Simon," she said sweetly to the cross looking old man, "I engaged a new man to-day, perhaps you have seen him. I don't expect he can be very useful to you just at first, and I want you to give him very light tasks, and treat him kindly; he is a very unfortunate man. If we find that we can't make him useful after a few days' trial, we will pay him a month's wages and let him go. That will help him a little."
Then she sent for the new man.
"I thought you might wish to hear the latest report from Mr. Belknap," she said graciously. "If I am to be your ally, I intend to keep nothing back; but I can't help fearing that he may suspect your identity."
"You need not," he replied with confident ease. "He has every reason for supposing me in California at this moment; besides, he does not know me well enough to be able to recognize me under a good disguise; our acquaintance," he added dryly, "has been somewhat one sided, with the advantage so far on my side. When I told you that I knew Mr. Belknap well, I did not intend to imply that he knew me equally well."
"Then I will trouble myself no more about the matter," said she lightly. "Mr. Belknap wishes to examine the servants, that is what I wished to tell you."
"Very proper in Mr. Belknap."
"Oh! is it? I thought it very absurd. My servants are honesty itself."
"So much the better; Mr. Belknap knows how to go to work, Miss Wardour, pray feel no prejudice."
"Oh, not at all," ironically. "Now about the report. Be within easy call to-morrow morning, please, I think we will have it then."
"I suppose it will be best to have you present, that is, within hearing. I will arrange that the interview will take place in the dining room, and can easily get you into the butler's room adjoining, where William sleeps; this room was arranged with a view to the overlooking of the dining room, and plate closet, as you discovered for yourself; from there you can both hear and see."
"So much the better." Then admiringly, he added, "Miss Wardour you are a splendid ally; you have thought of everything."
She laughed; then answered with artful frankness: "I am trying to get back into my normal condition. I have been out of balance somehow, ever since this business commenced; have been as testy as an old woman of eighty. It is time I began to redeem myself. But I must not detain you. I see you begin to look uneasy. Until to-morrow, I commend you to the tender mercies of Simon and the cook."
"I wonder how that man looks, devoid of all disguise," mused she, after he had withdrawn. "I don't believe he is tow-haired and freckled by nature. I wonder what has become of poor Sybil's letter; and if I had better ask his aid in finding it. But he is going away so soon. Now that I reflect, soberly, what motive could Doctor Heath possibly have for taking that letter? I think I must have been mad, or in hysteria. The man may be an imposter, a man of mystery, and all that; but why must I accuse him of taking a letter that could be of no possible use to him. I had worked myself into a rage. Well, it's done; I can't recall it. Doctor Heath will think me a vixen, and why not? What is Doctor Heath's opinion to me?"
DEDUCTIONS OF DETECTIVE NUMBER TWO.
The fates seemed propitious on Monday morning. The day dawned fair and balmy, and Constance arose, feeling refreshed and like her own serene self once more.
The events of the two previous days no longer seemed to her imagination a chaotic disturbing mass of tribulations; they had arranged themselves in their proper order, been reviewed sensibly, and assigned their rightful places, as things to be overcome, or overlooked, as the case might be.
Mrs. Aliston, too, at once discreet and talkative, was in fine spirits, and the two, having ascertained the precise time when Private Detective Belknap might be expected to make his report, had breakfasted comfortably, stowed away Mr. Bathurst, according to previous arrangement, and were now calmly awaiting the coming man.
They had not long to wait. Mr. Belknap, ushered in by Nelly, found the ladies seated near the breakfast tray, as if just about completing a repast, which had in reality been finished some time before.
"Good-morning, ladies," said he, laying down his hat, and at once drawing a chair to the table, with the air of a man whose time is money. "Having completed my investigations here,—that is, in this immediate neighborhood,—I am prepared with my written report, which I submit to you, Miss Wardour. Will you please read it, and then give me further instructions?" and he proffered her a neatly-folded paper, of goodly proportions.
Constance glanced at it dubiously, but did not take it from his hand.
"Please read it, Mr. Belknap," she said, appealingly. "I am sure I shall comprehend it better, and my aunt shares my anxiety to hear and understand its contents."
"As you please," assented he, opening the manuscript. "I have made it as brief as possible; of course, it was necessary to be statistical."
The report began with the usual form, day and date, circumstances under which his services were retained, etc., a statement of the case as it was made to him, then came the following:
"Arrived in W—— early on Sunday morning, walking from the first station northward. Found Wardour Place easily from Mr. Lamotte's description. Gained admittance, and was at once permitted to inspect the room where the robbers found an entrance; found that it had been previously examined, and could not feel quite sure that some clue had not been effaced or something disturbed that might have evolved a clue. Miss Wardour assures me that nothing of value was taken from this room, and I am inclined to think that the robbers had hoped to find themselves in the dining room, and gain access to the plate closet.
"Finding themselves instead in the library, a room where, there being no man of the house, it could hardly be supposed valuables were kept, or money or papers of worth locked away; they, after a vigorous search, opened the door of the hall; here they found themselves at once at the foot of the stairs and, naturally, one ascends to explore. The first door that he tries is the door of Miss Wardour's dressing room; and, having examined that door, I am compelled to think that Miss Wardour, for once, forgot to lock it. Had it been locked the explorer would naturally have passed on, trying the other doors and some of these other doors were certainly not locked.
"The burglary was effected with the utmost quiet, and there are no indications that any thing was disturbed on the second floor, save in Miss Wardour's rooms, therefore (I cite this presumptive evidence), Miss Wardour's door was not locked as she supposed it to be; finding this to be the case the man signaled to his confederate to come up, and then, having a dark lantern, they entered, and surveyed the room. The rest is evident; one of them, skilled in his profession, and in the exigencies that must arise in the practice of it, administered to Miss Wardour the chloroform. Now the operation must have been a delicate one, and the length of time necessary to open the safe and get possession of its contents covered some minutes; having heard Miss Wardour's statement in regard to the effect a powerful dose of chloroform has on her physical system, I incline to the opinion that the drug was administered to her in minute doses, not once, but two or three times at least; this accounts for the bottle and the linen being left in the sleeping room. Probably, just at the moment when they had stowed away the last of their booty, some slight sound alarmed them and they made a hurried escape, forgetting the bottle entirely.
"The robbers left behind them no clues beyond the established fact that they were professional burglars. This is proved by the manner in which they did their work, and by the tools they must have carried.
"I see plainly here the work of city-bred burglars, and the remainder of the work of finding them is to be done in the city, where they will eventually try to dispose of some of the jewels, no doubt.
"In order to satisfy myself that there has been no accomplice here, who may have been acquainted with the premises, I have searched most thoroughly. I have examined the servants closely, and I find nothing to indicate that there has been any one concerned in this affair, who is an inhabitant, or habitual visitor in the town.
"In a field to the northward, I have found what may be, I think is, a trace of the robbers. Two or more men have leaped a ditch, running across the field from east to west; and the footmarks in the first instance are coming southward, or toward Wardour. These footmarks are within a few rods of the road, as if the parties had suddenly abandoned that highway, fearing observation from travelers. My supposition is, that they approached Wardour Place, keeping to the field, after having leaped the ditch, until the northern boundary of the orchard was reached; here they must have kept close under the wall, until they came to the roadside fence, which they climbed. The fence bears freshly scraped marks, as if made by boot heels in climbing over, and some tall weeds, growing by the roadside, give evidence of having been hastily and heavily trampled. The thieves probably returned after the robbery, in the same way; for, one crossing of the fence would not have left so many marks visible, either on the boards or among the weeds; and in the darkness they fell a little eastward of their first course; for I find, at the ditch again, but nearer to the river, the same footprints where the ditch has been leaped, this time the footsteps going northward.
"It is probable that the thieves tramped northward under cover of the darkness, until they struck the railroad at some previously selected point, and from thence took the first train cityward."
The reading came thus abruptly to an end, and the reader looked up to note the effect upon his hearers. They both sat in most attentive attitudes, and each face wore an expression of puzzled astonishment. Not being able to reach their "inner consciousness," and read the mental comparisons there being drawn between this report and the very dissimilar summing up of the tramp detective, Mr. Belknap drew his inferences, as do we all, poor mortals that we are, seeing only the outside of the cup and platter. He saw the surprise, the puzzled look, that might denote a partial inability to grasp his thoughts and theories at once, and a feeling of satisfaction took possession of the breast of the astute detective.
Pausing for a comment, and receiving none, he said, with dignified gravity:
"I trust that I have made my report sufficiently plain to you, ladies, and that you find no flaw in it."
Constance, who with her keen sense of the ridiculous, had been fancying the effect this report would have upon the detective in ambush, and struggling hard with her own risibilities, mastered herself finally, and preserving her gravity of expression, replied with a wicked undercurrent of meaning:
"It is quite plain to me, sir; I am a poor critic of such matters, but I should think it a masterpiece for directness and comprehensiveness."
"And you see nothing in the theory to object to? You think that working from these findings, there will be a hope of success?" he queried.
Constance hesitated once more to consider her answer and collect herself generally.
"Why, you know, Mr. Belknap," she said at last, and with charming ingenuousness, "this is not a matter for my judgment; I rely upon you entirely; pray do not hesitate, but continue your investigations in whatever direction your judgment leads you. I wish Mr. Lamotte was here to confer with you; but, if he were here," and her face became sad as she thought of his home coming; "he would hardly be in spirits for such a consultation. Mr. Lamotte has bad news awaiting him. We must venture this matter without his aid for the present."
The detective's face showed grave concern.
"Bad news for Mr. Lamotte," he murmurs; "I deeply deplore that. He seems such a genial, kindly gentleman, so much above the average business man. It is not too serious, I hope."
"It is something you would have heard from the first gossip, if you had mingled with the town people at all," replied Constance sadly. "I may as well tell you what every one knows. Mr. Lamotte's only daughter has eloped during his absence, with a very worthless man."
"His only daughter!" repeated the detective in a hushed sympathetic voice; "what a blow! what a bitter blow to a father's heart. Ah, madam," turning to Mrs. Aliston, "these things are common, especially so to men in my profession, but we can never adjust ourselves to them for all that; each one comes to some one with the shock of a never before experienced horror. Death is common, the commonest thing of all, but, it is the 'king of terrors' still."
His voice, low, splendidly modulated, sadly cadenced, seemed thrilling with sympathy, and he sighed as he lowered his eyes to the floor, and relapsed into meditation, seemingly forgetful of the business in hand.
Suddenly he started, seeming to recover himself with an effort.
"Pardon my abstraction," he said, a shade of pensiveness still lingering in his voice. "In contemplating another's sorrow, I am forgetting your business. I can only hope that this matter is not so bad as it might be, as such things sometimes are."
"It's as bad as it can be," responded Constance, gloomily. "It won't bear discussion; I mentioned it to you, Mr. Belknap, in order to show you how entirely absorbed Mr. Lamotte will of necessity be in his own affairs when he reaches home, and that we will be obliged to move in this matter without him."
"Perhaps there is some one else you may desire to consult, in Mr. Lamotte's absence?" hazarded the private detective.
"No," replied Constance; "my lawyer is out of town, and there is no one else upon whom I can rely. You must act alone, Mr. Belknap."
"Authorized by you I shall not hesitate to do so," he replied, bowing courteously. "The case looks very clear to me. It will be a matter of time of course, these old birds are sly; but eventually they will try to market their wares, and then we shall have them. You can give me an accurate description of all the stolen jewels, Miss Wardour?"
"Then the sooner that is done the better."
At this moment a soft rap sounded on the door. Constance crossed the room and admitted Nelly, who said in a low tone:
"Mr. Francis Lamotte wishes to see you, Miss. I told him you were particular engaged, just as you told me; but he said to tell you he had just come from his search, and would only detain you for a moment."
Constance paled slightly, and after a moment's thought, said:
"Wait a moment, Nelly." Then she went back and addressed the detective and her aunt.
"It is Francis Lamotte," she said, adding, by way of explanation, to the detective, "the eldest son of Mr. Lamotte, and brother of the young lady who has brought trouble to herself and family. He, Francis, went on Saturday, on a self-imposed search through the surrounding country, in the hopes of finding some trace of these robbers. If he is but now returned he cannot yet have heard of his sister's flight. We cannot let him go away in ignorance, and yet," turning a look of swift appeal upon her aunt, "Aunt Honor, will you lay aside old prejudices and tell him of this sad misfortune?"
Mrs. Aliston looked doubtful for a moment, then a look of satisfied commiseration came into her face as she thought:
"She can't be very much infatuated with him or she would herself undertake this delicate task, and I can afford to pity the poor fellow, since she does not pity him overmuch," hence the strange mingling of pleasure and pity in her face as she said aloud:
"Certainly I will break the news to him, my dear, and as gently as is in my power."
Constance was turning to give her answer to Nelly when the voice of the detective interposed.
"Pardon me," he said, "you tell me this young man has been scouring the country in search of information. Would it not be well to hear what report he brings? To allow me to see him here in your presence, and then let Mrs. Aliston tell him her story. Ill news you know," smiling slightly, "come soon enough, at latest."
"Your suggestion is good," replied Constance, whose face continued to look anxious and troubled. "We will receive him here, then, and after hearing his story, you and I can withdraw."
In the hurry and embarrassment of the moment, and the situation, Constance had entirely forgotten the proximity of the concealed detective, as also had Mrs. Aliston; and that invisible gentleman began to scent the prospect of a long imprisonment.
Obedient to a nod from Constance, Nelly vanished, and soon re-appeared, ushering in Francis Lamotte, looking somewhat jaded and travel-worn, but quite confident and smiling.
In a few words, Constance made him acquainted with the detective, and gave him an outline of the doings at Wardour, including Mr. Belknap's discoveries, since he was last there; and the subdued kindness of her manner, caused him to wonder not a little and rejoice greatly, within himself.
"And so you have been bringing things down to a fine point," said Francis, after the greetings were over, and he had listened to Constance's explanation of the present state of affairs.
"It appears then that I come just in time; and perhaps you sir," bowing to Mr. Belknap, "may conclude that my amateur work has not been quite thrown away, or misapplied."
"Pray give me details," said the detective, consulting his watch, which was a huge silver affair, quite in keeping with the disguise he still wore. "I must economize my time, as much as may be, and shall be glad to hear all you have to tell—at once. Miss Wardour instructs me to act in this matter, according to my best judgment, and that tells me to shorten my stay here, and commence a search in the city."
"All I know is soon told," said young Lamotte, with a light laugh. "I rode a great many miles, and asked a great many useless questions. Yesterday, however, I learned that two men had boarded a freight train bound cityward, at daybreak, Sunday morning, at Blair, a little watering station, some fifteen miles from here. I could not get a very accurate description of them. They were below the medium size, I should judge, wearing loose-fitting dark gray garments, and soft hats, pulled well down over their faces. The man at the tank tells me, he noticed distinctly that one of them wore very large and heavy boots, and that they were daubed here and there with red clay. Acting upon this hint, I rode some four miles south-east from Blair, knowing that there is a piece of marsh field, which the highway crosses, that has a reddish, clayey soil. Here, after asking a good many wrong persons, I found at last the right one, in the person of a farmer who, hearing some unusual noise among his cattle, arose before daybreak, and, going toward his barn, noticed two shadowy forms crossing the field just beyond. They were coming from the south, he said, and he watched them until they climbed the fence and struck into the road leading toward Blair. It was too dark for him to see them distinctly, but as they were then crossing a red loam field, we are safe to conclude that they were the two who, a little later, took to the freight cars at the water station."
Mr. Belknap had been for some moments writing rapidly in a small memorandum book, and as Francis ceased speaking, Constance, after a moment's silence, said, more to relieve the stillness than with a desire for any further intelligence:
"And is that all, Frank?"
"That is enough," interposed the detective, before the young man could reply. "Mr. Lamotte, let me congratulate you; you have done well. This confirms my theory, and gives me something to start from when I reach the city. I shall go now with a light heart, and a more than moderate hope of success."
"Then your business here is about accomplished?" asked Francis.
"It is accomplished, thanks to you. I would like," glancing as he spoke, into his note book, "to talk this matter over with you further. It is possible I might see you again before leaving for the city. At present," he broke off abruptly, and glanced at Constance.
"I understand," laughed she nervously; "at present you require my assistance about that list of jewels. Frank, you will remain here with Aunt Honor for a short time; she has, I think, something to say to you. We will go to the library, Mr. Belknap," and she turned toward the door.
"Don't hurry matters so, please," expostulated Francis. "Let me say a little word to Mr. Belknap before you carry him off. His business here being so nearly done, the necessity for extra caution ceases, does it not? At least, it would not injure the cause if I carry him over to Mapleton to luncheon; will it, think you? You won't leave for the city before night, Mr. Belknap, I hope?"
"You are very good," said the detective, with some hesitation. "But, if you please, we will renew this subject a little later; now, just excuse me," and before the bewildered young man could raise his voice to intercept them, Constance and Mr. Belknap had passed from the room, and he found himself alone with Mrs. Aliston. Turning toward that lady, he was surprised at the look of intent pity she was bending on him, and, remembering the words of Constance, he came close beside her, saying:
"You had something to say to me, madam?"
"Yes Frank," he almost started upon hearing his name falling so gently from her lips. She was not used to familiarity in addressing him. "Prepare yourself to receive a shock, a terrible shock." A look of uneasiness, but not of alarm, came over his countenance.
"What is it?" he asked hastily. "Has Evan—done something worse than usual?"
"Not to my knowledge. It is not Evan."
"Not Evan, what then; tell me Mrs. Aliston," his face becoming paler and paler.
"Frank, your sister has eloped!"
He fell into the nearest chair, white and limp.
"Go on," he whispered hoarsely, lifting a haggard face towards her; "tell me—the worst, Mrs. Aliston."
"She has eloped with John Burrill," went on Mrs. Aliston, a shade of coldness in her voice. "They ran away on Saturday afternoon."
His head dropped forward and fell upon the table before him. Thus for a moment he remained motionless, then his voice broke the stillness, sounding faint and hollow.
"Is that—all—you can tell me?"
"All! Yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Aliston in a burst of nervousness. "I wish I had not told you so much. Frank don't take it so hard."
He lifted his head, showing her a ghastly face and pale trembling lips.
"Did Constance see Sybil? Does she know—" he broke off abruptly and half rising from his chair, stretched out to her an imploring hand.
"Mrs. Aliston," he said hoarsely. "I must see Constance. I must. For God's sake send her to me, just for one moment."
"But—" began Mrs. Aliston.
"I tell you I must see her," he cried, with sudden fierceness. "I shall go to her if there is no other way."
Great drops of sweat stood out on his forehead; once more he looked as he had two days before, when he stood alone under the trees of Wardour Place, after his parting with Constance.
Seeing that look upon his face, Mrs. Aliston went slowly towards the door.
"I will send Constance to you," she said gently and went out, closing the door softly.
When he was alone the look upon Francis Lamotte's face became fierce and set. Springing to his feet he paced the floor like a mad man.
"That letter," he hissed, "that accursed letter, what has it told? I must know! I must know the worst! blind fool that I was to let my own hand bring this about. Oh! this is horrible! Am I lost or—"