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The Opal Serpent
by Fergus Hume
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Meanwhile, their attention was taken up by the odd behavior of Aaron. The old man suddenly announced that he was about to sell the shop and retire, and displayed a feverish haste in getting rid of his stock, even at a low price. Whether he sold the jewels so cheap as the books no one ever knew; but certainly the pundit caste did well out of the sale. Within the week the shop below was denuded, and there were nothing but bare shelves, much to the disgust of Bart, who, like Othello, found his occupation gone. The next day the furniture was to be sold, and when Deborah was comforting Sylvia at the week's end the fiat had already gone forth. Whither he intended to transfer his household the old man did not say, and this, in particular, was the cause of Sylvia's grief. She dreaded lest she should see her lover no more. This she said to Deborah.

"See him you shall, and this very day," cried the maiden, cheerfully. "Why, there's that dress. I can't make up my mind whether to have magenter or liliac, both being suited to my complexion. Not that it's cream of the valley smother in rosebuds as yours is, my angel, but a dress I must have, and your pa can't deny my taking you to choose."

"But, Debby, it seems wrong to deceive father in this way."

"It do," admitted Debby, "and it is. We'll speak this very night—you and me in duets, as you might say, my pretty. He sha'n't say as we've gone to hide behind a hedge."

"But we have, Debby, for six months," said Sylvia.

"Because I'm a hardened and bold creature," said Deborah, fiercely, "so don't say it's you as held your tongue, for that you didn't, my honeycomb. Many and many a time have you said to me, ses you, 'Oh, do tell my par,' and many a time have I said to you, ses I, 'No, my precious, not for Joseph,' whoever he may be, drat him!"

"Now, Debby, you're taking all the blame on yourself!"

"And who have the broader shoulders, you or me, my flower?" asked Debby, fondly. "I'm as wicked as Bart, and that's saying much, for the way he bolts his food is dreadful to think of. Never will I have a corkidile for a husband. But here," cried Deborah, beginning to bustle, "it's the dress I'm thinking of. Magenter or lilacs in full boom. What do you think, my honey-pot?"

So the end of Deborah's shameless diplomacy was, that the two went, not to the inferior draper's where Debby bought her extraordinary garments—though they went there later in a Jesuitical manner—but to the hospital, where to her joy Sylvia was allowed to see Paul. He looked thin and pale, but was quite himself and very cheerful. "My darling," he said, kissing Sylvia's hand, while Debby sat bolt upright near the bed, with a large handbag, and played propriety by glaring. "Now I shall get well quickly. The sight of you is better than all medicine."

"I should think so," sniffed Debby, graciously. "Where's your orchards, with sich a color."

"You mean orchids, Debby," laughed Sylvia, who blushed a rosy red.

"It's them things with lady slippers a size too large for your foot I'm a-thinking of, pet, and small it is enough for glarse boots as the fairy story do tell. But I'm a-taking up the precious time of billing and cooing, so I'll shut my mouth and my ears while you let loose your affections, my sweet ones, if you'll excuse the liberty, sir, me being as fond of my lovey there as you is your own self."

"No, I can't admit that," said Paul, kissing Sylvia's hand again and holding it while he talked. "Darling, how good of you to come and see me."

"It may be for the last time, Paul," said Sylvia, trying to keep back her tears, "but you'll give me your address, and I'll write."

"Oh, Sylvia, what is it?"

"My father has sold the books and is selling the house. We are going away. Where to I don't know."

"Tumbucktook would suit him," snapped Debby, suddenly; "he's trying to get into some rabbit-hole. Why, I don't know."

"I do," said Paul, lying back thoughtfully. He guessed that Aaron was moving because of the brooch, though why he should do so was a mystery. "Sylvia," he asked, "did your father see my accident?"

"No, Paul. He was busy in the shop. Bart saw it, but Debby said he wasn't to tell father."

"Because of the fainting," explained Debby; "the man ain't strong, though Sampson he may think himself—ah, and Goliath, too, for all I care. But why ask, Mr. Beecot?"

Paul did not reply to her, but asked Sylvia another question. "Do you remember that opal brooch I showed you?"

"The serpent. Yes?"

"Well, it's lost."

"Lost, Paul?"

The young man nodded mournfully. "I'm very vexed about it," he said in a low tone; "my mother wanted it back. I was going to send it that very day, but when I met with the accident it got lost somehow. It wasn't in my pocket when my clothes were examined, though I asked for it as soon as I became conscious. My friend also couldn't tell me."

"Him as caused the smashes," said Deborah, with several sniffs. "A nice pretty friend, I do say, sir."

"It wasn't his fault, Deborah. Mr. Hay stumbled on a piece of orange peel and jostled against me. I was taken by surprise, and fell into the middle of the road just as the motor came along. Mr. Hay was more than sorry and has come to see me every day with books and fruit and all manner of things."

"The least he could do," snapped the servant, "knocking folks into orspitals with his fine gent airs. I sawr him out of the winder while you was in the shop, and there he spoke law-de-daw to a brat of a boy as ought to be in gaol, seeing he smoked a cigar stump an' him but a ten-year-old guttersnipe. Ses I, oh, a painted maypole you is, I ses, with a face as hard as bath bricks. A bad un you are, ses I."

"No, Deborah, you are wrong. Mr. Hay is my friend."

"Never shall he be my pretty's friend," declared Debby, obstinately, "for if all the wickedness in him 'ud come out in his face, pimples would be as thick as smuts in a London fog. No, Mr. Beecot, call him not what you do call him, meaning friend, for Judas and Julius Cezar ain't in it with his Belzebubness."

Beecot saw it was vain to stop this chatterer, so he turned to talk in whispers to Sylvia, while Debby murmured on like a brook, only she spoke loud enough at times to drown the whispering of the lovers.

"Sylvia," said Paul, softly, "I want you to send your father to me."

"Yes, Paul. Why do you wish to see him?"

"Because he must be told of our love. I don't think he will be so hard as you think, and I am ashamed of not having told him before. I like to act honorably, and I fear, Sylvia darling, we have not been quite fair to your father."

"I think so, too, Paul, and I intended to speak when we went home. But give me your address, so that if we go away unexpectedly I'll be able to write to you."

Beecot gave her his Bloomsbury address, and also that of his old home at Wargrove in Essex. "Write care of my mother," he said, "and then my father won't get the letter."

"Would he be angry if he knew?" asked the girl, timidly.

Paul laughed to himself at the thought of the turkey-cock's rage. "I think he would, dearest," said he, "but that does not matter. Be true to me and I'll be true to you."

Here the nurse came to turn the visitors away on the plea that Paul had talked quite enough. Debby flared up, but became meek when Sylvia lifted a reproving finger. Then Paul asked Debby to seek his Bloomsbury lodgings and bring to him any letters that might be waiting for him. "I expect to hear from my mother, and must write and tell her of my accident," said he. "I don't want to trouble Mr. Hay, but you, Debby—"

"Bless you, Mr. Beecot, it ain't no trouble," said the servant, cheerfully, "and better me nor that 'aughty peacock, as ain't to be trusted, say what you will, seeing criminals is a-looking out of his eyes, hide one though he may with a piece of glarse, and I ses—"

"You must go now, please," interposed the nurse.

"Oh, thank you, ma'am, but my own mistress, as is a lady, do I obey only."

"Debby, Debby," murmured Sylvia, and after kissing Paul, a farewell which Debby strove to hide from the nurse by getting in front of her and blocking the view, the two departed. The nurse laughed as she arranged Paul's pillows.

"What a strange woman, Mr. Beecot."

"Very," assented Paul, "quite a character, and as true as the needle of the compass."

Meanwhile, Debby, ignorant of this flattering description, conducted Sylvia to the draper's shop, and finally fixed on a hideous magenta gown, which she ordered to be made quite plain. "With none of your fal-de-lals," commanded Miss Junk, snorting. "Plain sewing and good stuff is all I arsk for. And if there's any left over you can send home a 'at of the same, which I can brighten with a cockes feather as my mar wore at her wedding. There, my own," added Debby, as they emerged from the shop and took a 'bus to Gwynne Street, "that's as you'll allways see me dressed—plain and 'omely, with no more trimmings than you'll see on a washing-day jint, as I know to my cost from my mar's ecomicals."

"Economy, Debby."

"It ain't fur me to be using fine words, Miss Sylvia; cockatoos' feathers on a goose they'd be in my mouth. The 'ole dixionary kin do for you my flower, but pothooks and 'angers never was my loves, me having been at the wash-tub when rising eight, and stout at that."

In this way Debby discoursed all the way home. On arriving in the room over the shop they found themselves confronted by Aaron, who looked less timid than usual, and glowered at the pair angrily. "Where have you been, Sylvia?" he asked.

The girl could not tell a direct lie, and looked at Debby. That handmaiden, less scrupulous, was about to blurt forth a garbled account, when Sylvia stopped her with a resolute expression on her pretty face. "No, Debby," she commanded, "let me speak. Father, I have been to see Mr. Beecot at the Charing Cross Hospital."

"And you couldn't have my flower do less as a good Smart 'un," put in Debby, anxiously, so as to avert the storm. "Girls is girls whatever you may think, sir, of them being dolls and dummies and—"

"Hold your tongue, woman," cried Norman, fiercely, "let me talk. Why is Mr. Beecot in the hospital?"

"He was knocked down," said Sylvia, quietly, "and his arm is broken. A motor car ran over him in Gwynne Street. He wants to see you, to tell you that he lost something."

Norman turned even whiter than he was by nature, and the perspiration suddenly beaded his bald forehead. "The opal serpent!" he cried.

"Yes—the brooch he showed me."

"He showed you!" cried Aaron, with a groan. "And what did he tell you about it?—what—what—what—the truth or—" He became passionate.

Debby grasped Aaron's arm and whirled him into the middle of the room like a feather. Then she planted herself before Sylvia, with her arms akimbo, and glared like a lioness. "You can pinch me, sir, or gives me black eyes and red noses if you like, but no finger on my precious, if I die for it."

Aaron was staggered by this defiance, and looked fierce for the moment. Then he became timid again and cast the odd, anxious look over his shoulder. "Leave the room, Deborah," he said in a mild voice.

The faithful maid replied by sitting down and folding her arms. "Get your wild horses, sir," she said, breathing heavily, "for only by them will I be tugged away." And she snorted so loudly that the room shook.

"Pshaw," said Norman, crossly, "Sylvia, don't be afraid of me." He wiped his face nervously. "I only want to know of the brooch. I like the opals—I wanted to buy it from Mr. Beecot. He is poor—he wants money. I can give it to him, for—the—the brooch."

He brought out the last word with a gasp, and again glanced over his shoulder. Sylvia, not at all afraid, approached and took the old man's hand. The watchful Deborah moved her chair an inch nearer, so as to be ready for any emergency. "Dear father," said the girl, "Mr. Beecot doesn't know where the brooch is. It was stolen from him when the accident happened. If you will see him he can tell you—"

"Not where the brooch is," interrupted Aaron, trying to appear calm. "Well, well, it doesn't matter." He glanced anxiously at Sylvia. "You believe me, child, when I say it doesn't matter."

A snort from Deborah plainly said that she had her doubts. Sylvia cast a reproving glance in her direction, whereupon she rose and committed perjury. "Of course it don't matter, sir," she said in a loud, hearty voice which made Aaron wince. "My precious believes you, though lie it might be. But folk so good as you, sir, who go to church when there ain't anyone to see, wouldn't tell lies without them a-choking of them in their blessed throats."

"How do you know I go to church?" asked Norman, with the snarl of a trapped animal.

"Bless you, sir, I don't need glarses at my age, though not so young as I might be. Church you enjiy, say what you may, you being as regular as the taxes, which is saying much. Lor' save us all!"

Deborah might well exclaim this. Her master flung himself forward with outstretched hands clawing the air, and with his lips lifted like those of an enraged dog. "You she-cat," he said in a painfully hissing voice, "you're a spy, are you? They've set you to watch—to drag me to the gallows—" he broke off with a shiver. His rage cooled as suddenly as it had heated, and staggering to the sofa he sat down with his face hidden. "Not that—not that—oh, the years of pain and terror! To come to this—to this—Deborah—don't sell me. Don't. I'll give you money—I am rich. But if the opal serpent—if the opal—" He rose and began to beat the air with his hands.

Sylvia, who had never seen her father like this, shrank back in terror, but Deborah, with all her wits about her, though she was wildly astonished, seized a carafe of water from the table and dashed the contents in his face. The old man gasped, shuddered, and, dripping wet, sank again on the sofa. But the approaching fit was past, and when he looked up after a moment or so, his voice was as calm as his face. "What's all this?" he asked, feebly.

"Nothing, father," said Sylvia, kneeling beside him; "you must not doubt Debby, who is as true as steel."

"Are you, Deborah?" asked Aaron, weakly.

"I should think so," she declared, putting her arms round Sylvia, "so long, sir, as you don't hurt my flower."

"I don't want to hurt her ..."

"There's feelings as well as bones," said Deborah, hugging Sylvia so as to keep her from speaking, "and love you can't squash, try as you may, though, bless you, I'm not given to keeping company myself."

"Love," said Aaron, vacantly. He seemed to think more of his troubles than of Sylvia going to visit a young man.

"Love and Mr. Beecot," said Deborah. "She wants to marry him."

"Why, then," said Aaron, calmly, "she shall marry him."

Sylvia fell at his feet. "Oh, father—father, and I have kept it from you all these months. Forgive me—forgive me," and she wept.

"My dear," he said, gently raising her, "there is nothing to forgive."



CHAPTER VI

A NOISE IN THE NIGHT

Both Deborah and Sylvia were astonished that Aaron should be so indifferent about their long concealment. They had expected and dreaded a storm, yet when the secret was told Mr. Norman appeared to take it as calmly as though he had known about the matter from the first. Indeed, he seemed perfectly indifferent, and when he raised Sylvia and made her sit beside him on the sofa he reverted to the brooch.

"I shall certainly see Mr. Beecot," he said in a dreamy way. "Charing Cross Hospital—of course. I'll go to-morrow. I had intended to see about selling the furniture then, but I'll wait till the next day. I want the brooch first—yes—yes," and he opened and shut his hand in a strangely restless manner.

The girl and the servant looked at one another in a perplexed way, for it was odd Norman should take the secret wooing of his daughter so quietly. He had never evinced much interest in Sylvia, who had been left mainly to the rough attentions of Miss Junk, but sometimes he had mentioned that Sylvia would be an heiress and fit to marry a poor peer. The love of Paul Beecot overthrew this scheme, if the man intended to carry it out, yet he did not seem to mind. Sylvia, thinking entirely of Paul, was glad, and the tense expression of her face relaxed; but Deborah sniffed, which was always an intimation that she intended to unburden her mind on an unpleasant subject.

"Well, sir," she said, folding her arms and scratching her elbow, "I do think as offspring ain't lumps of dirt to be trod on in this way. I arsk"—she flung out her hand towards Sylvia—"Is she your own or is she not?"

"She is my daughter," said Aaron, mildly. "Why do you ask?"

"'Cause you don't take interest you should take in her marriage, which is made in heaven if ever marriage was."

Norman raised his head like a war-horse at the sound of a trumpet-call. "Who talks of marriage?" he asked sharply.

"Dear father," said Sylvia, gently, "did you not hear? I love Paul, and I want to marry him."

Aaron stared at her. "He is not a good match for you," was his reply.

"He is the man I love," cried Sylvia, tapping with her pretty foot.

"Love," said Norman, with a melancholy smile, "there is no such thing, child. Talk of hate—for that exists," he clenched his hands again, "hate that is as cruel as the grave."

"Well I'm sure, sir, and what 'ave hates to do with my beauty there? As to love, exist it do, for Bart's bin talked into filling his 'eart with the same, by me. I got it out of a Family Herald," explained Deborah, incoherently, "where gentry throw themselves on their knees to arsk 'ands in marriage. Bart was down on his hunkers every night for two weeks before he proposed proper, and I ses, ses I—"

"Will you hold your tongue?" interrupted Aaron, angrily; "you gabble gabble till you make my head ache. You confuse me."

"I want to clear your 'ead," retorted Miss Junk, "seeing you take no interest in my pretty's livings."

Norman placed his fingers under Sylvia's chin, and tipped it up so that he could gaze into her eyes. "Child, do you love him?" he asked gravely.

"Oh, father!" whispered Sylvia, and said no more. The expression of her eyes was enough for Aaron, and he turned away with a sigh.

"You know nothing about him," he said at length.

"Begging pardon, sir, for being a gabbler," said Deborah, witheringly, "but know what he is we do—a fine young gent with long descents and stone figgers in churches, as Bart knows. Beecot's his par's name, as is fighting with Mr. Paul by reason of contrariness and 'igh living, him being as stout as stout."

"Perhaps you will explain, Sylvia," said Aaron, turning impatiently from the handmaiden.

"I should have explained before," said the girl, quietly and very distinctly. "I loved Paul from the moment I saw him enter the shop six months ago. He came again and again, and we often talked. Then he told me of his love, and I confessed mine. Deborah wanted to know who he was, and if he was a good man. From what I learned of Paul's people he seemed to be all that was good and generous and high-minded and loving. Deborah sent Bart one holiday to Wargrove in Essex, where Paul's parents live, and Bart found that Paul had left home because he wanted to be an author. Paul is very popular in Wargrove, and everyone speaks well of him. So Deborah thought we might be engaged, and—"

"And have you a word to say against it, sir?" demanded Deborah, bristling.

"No," said Aaron, after a pause, "but you should have told me."

"We should," admitted Sylvia, quickly, "but Paul and I feared lest you should say 'No.'"

"My child," said the old man, gravely, "so long as you wed a kind and good man I have nothing to say. Sylvia, I have worked hard these many years and have made much money, which, by will, I have left to you. When I die you will be rich. He is poor."

"Paul—yes, he is poor. But what of that?"

"Many fathers might think that an objection," went on Aaron without noticing her remark. "But I do not. You shall marry Paul before I go to America."

"Lor'!" cried Deborah, "whatever are you a-goin' there for, sir?"

"That's my business," said Aaron, dryly, "but I go as soon as I can. I have sold the books; and the furniture of these rooms shall be disposed of before the end of the week. My gems I take to Amsterdam for sale, and I go abroad next week. When I return in a fortnight you can marry Mr. Beecot. He is a good young man. I quite approve of him."

Deborah snorted. "Seems to me as though you was glad to get quit of my pretty," she murmured, but too low to be overheard.

"Oh, father," cried Sylvia, putting her arms round Norman's neck, "how good you are! I do love him so."

"I hope the love will continue," said her father, cynically, and removing the girl's arms, to the secret indignation of Deborah. "I shall call on Mr. Beecot to-morrow and speak to him myself about the matter. If we come to an arrangement, for I have a condition to make before I give my entire consent, I shall allow you a certain sum to live on. Then I shall go to America, and when I die you will inherit all my money—when I die," he added, casting the usual look over his shoulders. "But I won't die for many a long day," he said, with a determined air. "At least, I hope not."

"You are healthy enough, father."

"Yes! Yes—but healthy people die in queer ways."

Deborah intervened impatiently. "I'm glad you wish to make my lily-queen happy, sir," said she, nodding, "but change your mind you may if Mr. Beecot don't fall in."

"Fall in?" queried Aaron.

"With this arrangements—what is they?"

Aaron looked undecided, then spoke impulsively, walking towards the door as he did so. "Let Mr. Beecot give me that opal serpent," he said, "and he shall have Sylvia and enough to live on."

"But, father, it is lost," cried Sylvia, in dismay.

She spoke to the empty air. Norman had hastily passed through the door and was descending the stairs quicker than usual. Sylvia, in her eagerness to explain, would have followed, but Deborah drew her back with rough gentleness. "Let him go, lily-queen," she said; "let sleeping dogs lie if you love me."

"Deborah, what do you mean?" asked Sylvia, breathlessly.

"I don't mean anything that have a meaning," said Miss Junk, enigmatically, "but your par's willing to sell you for that dratted brooch, whatever he wants it for. And you to be put against a brooch my honey-pot. I'm biling—yes, biling hard," and Deborah snorted in proof of the extremity of her rage.

"Never mind, Debby. Father consents that I shall marry Paul, and will give us enough to live on. Then Paul will write great books, and his father will ask him home again. Oh—oh!" Sylvia danced round the room gaily, "how happy I am."

"And happy you shall be if I die for it," shouted Deborah, screwing up her face, for she was not altogether satisfied, "though mysteries I don't hold with, are about. America—what's he going to America for? and with that brooch, and him locking us up every night to sleep in cellars. Police-courts and Old Baileys," said Miss Junk, frowning. "I don't like it, Sunbeam, and when you're married to Mr. Beecot I'll be that happy as never was."

Sylvia opened her grey eyes in wide surprise and a little alarm. "Oh, Debby, you don't think there's anything wrong with father?"

Miss Junk privately thought there was a good deal wrong, but she folded Sylvia in her stout arms and dismissed the question with a snort. "No, lovey, my own, there ain't. It's just my silly way of going on. Orange buds and brides the sun shines on, is your fortunes, Miss Sylvia, though how I'm going to call you Mrs. Beecot beats me," and Deborah rubbed her nose.

"I shall always be Sylvia to you."

"Bless you, lady-bird, but don't ask me to live with Mr. Beecot's frantic par, else there'll be scratchings if he don't do proper what he should do and don't. So there." Deborah swung her arms like a windmill. "My mind's easy and dinner's waiting, for, love or no love, eat you must, to keep your insides' clockwork."

When Bart heard the joyful news he was glad, but expressed regret that Norman should go to America. He did not wish to lose his situation, and never thought the old man would take him to the States also. Deborah vowed that if Aaron did want to transport Bart—so she put it—she would object. Then she unfolded a scheme by which, with Bart's savings and her own, they could start a laundry. "And I knows a drying ground," said Deborah, while talking at supper to her proposed husband, "as is lovely and cheap. One of them suburbs on the line to Essex, where my pretty will live when her husband's frantic par makes it up. Jubileetown's the place, and Victoria Avenue the street. The sweetest cottage at twenty pun' a year as I ever set eyes on. And m'sister as is married to a bricklayer is near to help with the family."

"The family?" echoed Bart, looking scared.

"In course—they will come, though it's early to be thinking of names for 'em. I'll do the washing, Bart, and you'll take round the cart, so don't you think things 'ull be otherwise."

"I don't want 'em to," said Bart, affectionately. "I always loved you, Debby darling."

"Ah," said Miss Junk, luxuriously, "I've taught you to, in quite a genteel way. What a scrubby little brat you were, Bart!"

"Yuss," said Mr. Tawsey, eating rapidly. "I saw myself to-day."

"In a looking-glarse?"

"Lor', Debby—no. But there wos a brat all rags and dirty face and sauce as I was when you saw me fust. He come into the shop as bold as brass and arsked fur a book. I ses, 'What do you want with a book?' and he ses, looking at the shelves so empty, 'I sees your sellin' off,' he ses, so I jumped up to clip him over the 'ead, when he cut. Tray's his name, Debby, and he's the kid as talked to that cold gent Mr. Beecot brought along with him when he got smashed."

"Tray—that's a dog's name," said Deborah, "old dog Tray, and quite good enough for guttersnipes. As to Mr. Hay, don't arsk me to say he's good, for that he ain't. What's he want talking with gutter Trays?"

"And what do gutter Trays want with books?" asked Bart, "though to be sure 'twas impertinence maybe."

Deborah nodded. "That it was, and what you'd have done when you was a scrubby thing. Don't bolt your food, but make every bit 'elp you to 'ealth and long living. You won't 'ave gormandising when we've got the laundry, I can tell you."

Next day Aaron went off in the afternoon to Charing Cross Hospital, after holding a conversation with a broker who had agreed to buy the derelict furniture. The shop, being empty, was supposed to be closed, but from force of habit Bart took down the shutters and lurked disconsolately behind the bare counter. Several old customers who had not heard of the sale entered, and were disappointed when they learned that Aaron was leaving. Their lamentations made Bart quite low-spirited. However, he was polite to all, but his manners broke down when a Hindoo entered to sell boot-laces. "I ain't got nothing to sell, and don't want to buy nohow," said Bart, violently.

The man did not move, but stood impassively in the doorway like a bronze statue. He wore a dirty red turban carelessly wound round his small head, an unclean blouse which had once been white, circled by a yellow handkerchief of some coarse stuff, dark blue trousers and slippers with curled-up toes on naked feet. His eyes were black and sparkling and he had a well-trimmed moustache which contrasted oddly with his shabby attire. "Hokar is poor: Hokar need money," he whined in a monotone, but with his eyes glancing restlessly round the shop. "Give Hokar—give," and he held out the laces.

"Don't want any, I tell you," shouted Bart, tartly. "I'll call a peeler if you don't git."

"Ho! ho! who stole the donkey?" cried a shrill voice at the door, and from behind the hawker was poked a touzelled curly head, and a grinning face which sadly needed washing. "You leave this cove alone, won't y? He's a pal o' mine. D'y see?"

"You git along with your pal then," cried Bart, indignantly. "If he don't understand King's English, you do, Tray."

Tray darted into the middle of the shop and made a face at the indignant shopman by putting his fingers in his mouth to widen it, and pulling down his eyes. Hokar never smiled, but showed no disposition to move. Bart, angered at this blocking up the doorway, and by Tray's war dance, jumped the counter. He aimed a blow at the guttersnipe's head, but missed it and fell full length. The next moment Tray was dancing on his body with his tongue out derisively. Then Hokar gave a weird smile. "Kalee!" he said to himself. "Kalee!"

How the scene would have ended it is impossible to say, but while Bart strove to rise and overturn Tray, Aaron walked in past the Indian. "What's this?" he asked sharply. Tray stopped his dancing on Bart's prostrate body and gave a shrill whistle by placing two dirty fingers in his mouth. Then he darted between Norman's legs and made off. Hokar stood staring at the bookseller, and after a pause pointed with his finger. "One—eye," he said calmly, "no good!"

Aaron was about to inquire what he meant by this insult, when the Indian walked to the counter and placed something thereon, after which he moved away, and his voice was heard dying away down the street. "Hokar is poor—Hokar need money. Hokar, Christian."

"What's this?" demanded Norman, again assisting Bart roughly to his feet.

"Blest if I know," replied Tawsey, staring; "they're mad, I think," and he related the incoming of the Indian and the street arab. "As for that Tray," said he, growling, "I'll punch his blooming 'ead when I meets him agin, dancing on me—yah. Allays meddlin' that brat, jus' as he wos when Mr. Beecot was smashed."

"You saw that accident?" asked his master, fixing his one eye on him.

"Yuss," said Bart, slowly, "I did, but Deborah she told me to say nothink. Mr. Beecot was smashed, and his friend, the cold eye-glarsed gent, pulled him from under the wheels of that there machine with Tray to help him, and between 'em they carried him to the pavement."

"Humph!" said Aaron, resting his chin on his hand and speaking more to himself than to his assistant, "so Tray was on the spot. Humph!" Bart, having brushed himself, moved behind the counter and took up what Hokar had left. "Why, it's brown sugar!" he exclaimed, touching it with his tongue, "coarse brown sugar—a handful." He stretched out his palm heaped with the sugar to his master. "What do that furrein pusson mean by leaving dirt about?"

"I don't know, nor do I care," snapped Aaron, who appeared to be out of temper. "Throw it away!" which Bart did, after grumbling again at the impudence of the street hawker.

Norman did not go upstairs, but descended to the cellar, where he busied himself in looking over the contents of the three safes. In these, were many small boxes filled with gems of all kind, cut and uncut: also articles of jewellery consisting of necklaces, bracelets, stars for the hair, brooches, and tiaras. The jewels glittered in the flaring gaslight, and Aaron fondled them as though they were living things. "You beauties," he whispered to himself, with his one eye gloating over his hoard. "I'll sell you, though it goes to my heart to part with lovely things. But I must—I must—and then I'll go—not to America—oh, dear no! but to the South Seas. They won't find me there—no—no! I'll be rich, and happy, and free. Sylvia can marry and live happy. But the serpent," he said in a harsh tone, "oh, the opal serpent! The pawnbroker's shop. Stowley—yes—I know it. I know it. Stowley. They want it back; but they sha'n't. I'll buy it from Beecot by giving him Sylvia. It's lost—lost." He looked over his shoulder as he spoke in a terrified whisper. "Perhaps they have it, and then—then," he leaped up and flung the armful of baubles he held on to the deal table, "and then—I must get away—away."

He pulled out three or four coarse sacks of a small size and filled these with the jewellery. Then he tied a cord round the neck of each sack and sealed it. Afterwards, with a sigh, he closed the safe and turned down the gas. He did not leave by the trap, which led through the shop, but opened and locked the back door of the cellar, ascended the steps and went out into the street through the side passage. "If they come," he thought as he walked into the gathering night, "they won't find these. No! no!" and he hugged the bags closely.

Sylvia upstairs waited anxiously for the return of her father from the hospital, as she both wanted to hear how her lover was progressing and what he said about the permission to marry being given. But Aaron did not come to supper, as was his usual custom. Bart said, when inquiries were made, that the master had gone down into the cellar and was probably there. Meanwhile, according to his usual habit, he put up the shutters and departed. Sylvia and Deborah ate their frugal meal and retired to bed, the girl much disturbed at the absence of her father. Outside, in the street, the passers-by diminished in number, and as the night grew darker and the lamps were lighted hardly a person remained in Gwynne Street. It was not a fashionable thoroughfare, and after nightfall few people came that way. By eleven o'clock there was not a soul about. Even the one policeman who usually perambulated the street was conspicuous by his absence.

Sylvia, in her bed, had fallen into a troubled sleep, and was dreaming of Paul, but not happily. She seemed to see him in trouble. Then she woke suddenly, with all her senses alert, and sat up. Faintly she heard a wild cry, and then came the twelve strokes of the church bells announcing midnight. Breathlessly she waited, but the cry was not repeated. In the darkness she sat up listening until the quarter chimed. Then the measured footsteps of a policeman were heard passing down the street and dying away. Sylvia was terrified. Why, she hardly knew: but she sprang from her bed and hurried into Deborah's room. "Wake up," she said, "there's something wrong."

Deborah was awake in a moment and lighted the lamp. On hearing Sylvia's story she went down the stairs followed by the girl. The door at the bottom, strange to say, was not locked. Deborah opened this, and peering into the shop gave a cry of alarm and horror.

Lying on the floor was Aaron, bound hand and foot.



CHAPTER VII

A TERRIBLE NIGHT

"Go back!—go back, my precious!" cried Deborah, her first thought being how to spare Sylvia the sight.

But the girl, remembering that agonized cry which had awakened her, faint and far away as it sounded, pushed past the servant and ran into the middle of the shop. The lamp, held high by Deborah over her head, cast a bright circle of light on the floor, and in the middle of this Sylvia saw her father breathing heavily. His hands were bound behind his back in a painful way, his feet were tightly fastened, and his head seemed to be attached to the floor. At least, when the body (as it seemed from its stillness) suddenly writhed, it rolled to one side, but the head remained almost motionless. The two women hung back, clutching each other's hands, and were almost too horrified to move at the sight. "Look! Look!" cried Sylvia, gasping, "the mouth!" Deborah looked and gave a moan. Aaron's mouth was rigidly closed under a glittering jewel. Deborah bent down, still moaning, so great did the horror of the thing paralyse her speech, and saw the lights flash back from many diamonds: she saw bluish gleams and then a red sparkle like the ray of the setting sun. It was the opal serpent brooch, and Aaron's lips were fastened together with the stout pin. On his mouth and across his agonised face in which the one eye gleamed with terrific meaning the jewelled serpent seemed to writhe.

"Oh, poor soul!" cried Deborah, falling on her knees with the lamp still held above her head. "Sylvia see—"

The girl gasped again, and impulsively knelt also, trying with nerveless fingers to unfasten the cruel pin which sealed the man's lips. He still lived, for they heard him breathing and saw the gleaming eye: but even as they looked the face grew black: the eye opened and closed convulsively. Deborah set down the lamp and tried to raise the head. She could not lift it from the floor. Then the bound feet swung in the air and fell again with a dull thud. The eye remained wide open, staring in a glassy, manner: the breathing had stopped: and the body was motionless. "He's dead," said Deborah, leaping to her feet and catching away the girl. "Help! Help!"

Her loud voice rang fiercely through the empty shop and echoed round and round. But there came no answering cry. Not a sound could be heard in the street. On the bare floor was the lamp shining on that dreadful sight: the body with sealed lips, and the glittering jewel, and leaning against the wall were the two women, Deborah staring at her dead master, but with Sylvia's eyes pressed against her bosom so that she might not witness the horror. And the stillness deepened weirdly every moment.

Sylvia tried to move her head, but Deborah pressed it closer to her breast. "Don't, my pretty—don't," she whispered harshly.

"I must—I—ah!" the girl freed her head from those kind arms with a wrench, and looked at the gruesome sight. She staggered forward a few steps, and then fell back. Deborah received her in her arms, and, thankful that Sylvia had fainted, carried her up the stairs to lay the unconscious girl on her own bed. Then she descended rapidly, locked the door leading from the shop to the stairs, and again looked at the body. The time she had been away was about seven or eight minutes, and the body still remained with the one open eye staring meaninglessly at the ceiling. Deborah, drawn by fascination like a bird by a serpent, crept forward and touched the head. It moved, and she again tried to lift it. This time she found she could do so. The head she lifted against her breast, and then laid it down with horror when she found the bosom of her nightgown was stained with blood. Pulling her wits together, for she felt that she needed them every one, she examined the head and neck. To her horror she found round the throat a strong thin copper wire, which disappeared through a hole in the floor. Apparently this had been pulled so tightly as to keep the head down and to choke the old man, and so cruelly as to cut deeply into the flesh. With a moan of horror Deborah dropped the head and ran to the trap-door in the corner. If anywhere, those who had murdered Aaron Norman were lurking in the cellar. But the trap-door would not open, and then she remembered that it was closed by a bolt underneath. She could not reach the midnight assassin that way.

"The front door," she gasped, and ran to unbolt it. The bolts were easily removed, but the door was also locked, and Aaron usually had the key deposited nightly in the cellar by Bart. Repugnant as it was for her to approach the dead body, Deborah again went forward and felt in the pockets and loose clothing. The man was completely dressed, even to an overcoat which he wore. But she could not find the key and wondered what she was to do. Probably the key had been hung up in the cellar as usual. Necessity being the mother of invention, she remembered that the window-glass was fragile, and ran up in the hope of breaking through. But the stout shutters were up, so Deborah found that she was sealed in the house. Almost in a state of distraction, for by this time her nerve had given way, she unlocked the door to the stairs and ran up three steps at a time to the sitting-room. Here she opened the window and scrambled out on to the ledge among Sylvia's flower-pots. Just as she was wondering how she could get down, the measured tread of a policeman was heard, and by craning her neck Deborah saw him coming leisurely along the street, swinging his dark lantern on the windows and doors. It was a moonlight night and the street was extraordinarily well lighted as the moon shone straightly between the houses. Gathering her strength for a last effort, Deborah yelled as only she could yell, and saw the startled officer spinning round, looking up and down and sideways to see where the shrieks came from. "Up—up—oh, look up, you fool!" screamed Deborah. "Murder—oh, murder! Burst in the door, call the police, drat you! Help!—help!"

By this time she was the centre of a circle of bright light, for the policeman had located her, and his lantern was flashing on her white nightgown as she clung to the window-sill.

"What are you making that noise for?" called up the officer, gruffly.

"Murder, you fool!" screamed Deborah. "Master's murdered. Number forty-five—the door's locked—break it open. Police!—police!"

Before she finished the sentence the officer blew his whistle shrilly and ran to the door of the shop, against which he placed his shoulder. Deborah climbed in again by the window, and ran down again, but even then, in her excitement and horror, she did not forget to lock the door leading to the stairs, so that Sylvia might not be disturbed. As she descended she flung a thick shawl over her shoulders, which she had caught up when leaving her room, though for the rest she had nothing on but a nightgown. But the poor woman was too terrified to be troubled by any scruples at the moment, and reached the shop to hear heavy blows on the door. Between the thuds Deborah could hear footsteps running inward from every quarter. "I ain't got the key!" she shrieked through the keyhole; "break in the door, drat you! Murder!—murder!"

From the noise she made those without concluded that some terrible crime was taking place within, and redoubled their efforts. Deborah had just time to leap back after a final scream when the door fell flat on the floor, and three policemen sprang into the room with drawn batons and their lights flashing like stars. The lamp was still on the floor shedding its heavy yellow light on the corpse. "Master!" gasped Deborah, pointing a shaking finger. "Dead—the—the cellar—the—" and here she made as to drop. A policeman caught her in his arms, but the woman shook herself free. "I sha'n't faint—no—I sha'n't faint," she gasped, "the cellar—look—look—" She ran forward and raised the head of the dead man. When the officers saw the dangling slack wire disappearing through a hole in the floor they grasped the situation. "The passage outside!" cried Deborah, directing operations; "the trap-door," she ran to it, "fast bolted below, and them murdering people are there."

"How many are there?" asked a policeman, while several officers ran round the back through the side passage.

"Oh, you dratted fool, how should I know!" cried Deborah, fiercely; "there may be one and there may be twenty. Go and catch them—you're paid for it. Send to number twenty Park Street, Bloomsbury, for Bart."

"Who is Bart?"

"Go and fetch him," cried Deborah, furious at this delay; "number twenty Park Street, Bloomsbury. Oh, what a night this is! I'm a-goin' to see Miss Sylvia, who has fainted, and small blame," and she made for the locked door. An officer came after her. "Go away," shrieked Deborah, pushing him back. "I've got next to nothink on, and my pretty is ill. Go away and do your business."

Seeing she was distracted and hardly knew what she was saying, the man drew back, and Deborah ran up the stairs to Sylvia's room, where she found the poor girl still unconscious.

Meanwhile, an Inspector had arrived, and one of the policemen was detailing all that had occurred from the time Deborah had given the alarm at the window. The Inspector listened quietly to everything, and then examined the body. "Strangled with a copper wire," he said, looking up. "Go for a doctor one of you. It goes through the floor," he added, touching the wire which still circled the throat, "and must have been pulled from below. Examine the cellar."

Even as he spoke, and while one zealous officer ran off for a medical man, there was a grating sound and the trap-door was thrown open. A policeman leaped into the shop and saluted when he saw his superior. By this time the gas had been lighted. "We've broken down the back door, sir," said he, "the cellar door—it was locked but not bolted. Nothing in the cellar, everything in order, but that wire," he pointed to the means used for strangling, "dangled from the ceiling and a cross piece of wood is bound to the lower end."

"Who does the shop belong to?"

"Aaron Norman," said the policeman whose beat it was; "he's a second-hand bookseller, a quiet, harmless, timid sort of man."

"Anyone about?"

"No, sir. I passed down Gwynne Street at about a quarter past twelve and all seemed safe. When I come back later—it might have been twenty minutes and more—say twenty-five—I saw the woman who was down here clinging to a window on the first floor, and shouting murder. I gave the summons, sir, and we broke open the door."

Inspector Prince laid down the dead man's head and rose to his feet with a nod. "I'll go upstairs and see the woman," he said; "tell me when the doctor comes."

Upstairs he examined the sitting-room, and lighted the gas therein; then he mounted another storey after looking through the kitchen and dining-room. In a bedroom he found an empty bed, but heard someone talking in a room near at hand. Flinging open the door he heard a shriek, and found himself confronted by Deborah, who had hastily flung on some clothes. "Don't come in," she cried, extending her arm, "for I'm just getting Miss Sylvia round."

"Nonsense," said the Inspector, and pushing her roughly aside he stepped into the room. On the bed lay Sylvia, apparently still unconscious, but as the man looked at her she opened her eyes with a long sigh. Deborah put her arms round the girl and began to talk to her in an endearing way. Shortly Sylvia sat up, bewildered. "What is it?" she asked. Then her eyes fell on the policeman. "Oh, where is my father?"

"He's dead, pretty," said Deborah, fondling her. "Don't take on so."

"Yes—I remember—the body on the floor—the serpent across the mouth—oh—oh!" and she fainted again.

"There!" cried Deborah, with bitter triumph, "see what you've done."

"Come—come," said Inspector Prince, though as gently as possible. "I am in charge of this case. Tell me what has happened."

"If you'd use your blessed eyes you'd see murder has happened," said Miss Junk, savagely. "Let me attend to my pretty."

Just at this moment a tall young man entered the room. It was the doctor. "The policemen said you were up here," he said in a pleasant voice. "I've examined the body, Inspector. The man is quite dead—he has been strangled—and in a cruel manner with that copper wire, which has cut into the throat, to say nothing of this," and the doctor held out the brooch.

"That, drat it!" cried Deborah, vigorously, "it's the cause of it all, I do believe, if I died in saying so," and she began to rub Sylvia's hands vigorously.

"Who is this young lady?" asked the doctor; "another patient?"

"And well she may be," said Miss Junk. "Call yourself a doctor, and don't help me to bring her to."

"Do what you can," said Prince, "and you," he added to Deborah, "come down with me. I wish to ask you a few questions."

Deborah was no fool and saw that the Inspector was determined to make her do what he wanted. Besides, Sylvia was in the hands of the doctor, and Deborah felt that he could do more than she, to bring the poor girl to her senses. After a few parting injunctions she left the room and went downstairs with the Inspector. The police had made no further discovery.

Prince questioned not only the Gwynne Street policeman, who had given his report, but all others who had been in the vicinity. But they could tell him nothing. No one suspicious had been seen leaving Gwynne Street north or south, so, finding he could learn nothing in this direction, Prince turned his attention to the servant. "Now, then, what do you know?" he asked. "Don't say anything likely to incriminate yourself."

"Me!" shouted Deborah, bouncing up with a fiery face. "Don't you be taking away my character. Why, I know no more who have done it than a babe unborn, and that's stupid enough, I 'opes, Mr. Policeman. Ho! indeed, and we pays our taxes to be insulted by you, Mr. Policeman." She was very aggravating, and many a man would have lost his temper. But Inspector Prince was a quiet and self-controlled officer, and knew how to deal with this violent class of women. He simply waited till Deborah had exhausted herself, and then gently asked her a few questions. Finding he was reasonable, Deborah became reasonable on her part, and replied with great intelligence. In a few minutes the Inspector, by handling her deftly, learned all that had taken place on that terrible night, from the time Sylvia had started up in bed at the sound of that far-distant cry of a soul in agony. "And that, from what Miss Sylvia says," ended Deborah, "was just before the church clock struck the hour of twelve."

"You came down a quarter of an hour later?"

"I did, when Miss Sylvia woke me," said Deborah; "she was frightened out of her seven senses, and couldn't get up at once. Yes—it was about twenty minutes after the hour we come down to see—It," and the woman, strong nerved as she was, shuddered.

"Humph," said the Inspector, "the assassin had time to escape."

"Begging your pardon, sir, them, or him, or her, or it as murdered master was below in the cellar when we saw the corp—not that it was what you'd call a corp then."

"Will you say precisely what you mean?"

Deborah did so, and with such wealth of detail that even the hardened Inspector felt the creeps down his official back. There was something terribly merciless about this crime. The man had been bound like a sheep for the slaughter; his mouth had been sealed with the brooch so that he could not cry out, and then in the sight of his child and servant he had been slowly strangled by means of the copper wire which communicated with the cellar. One of the policemen brought up an auger which evidently had been used to bore the hole for the wire to pass through, for the fresh sawdust was still in its whorls. "Who does this belong to?" Prince asked Deborah.

"It's Bart's," said Deborah, staring; "he was using it along with other tools to make some deal boxes for master, who was going away. I expect it was found in the cellar in the tool-box, for Bart allays brought it in tidy-like after he'd done his work in the yard, weather being fine, of course," ended Deborah, sniffing.

"Where is this Bart?"

"In bed like a decent man if he's to be my husband, which he is," said Miss Junk, tartly. "I told one of them idle bobbies to go and fetch him from Bloomsbury."

"One has gone," said another policeman. "Bart Tawsey isn't he?"

"Mr. Bartholemew Tawsey, if you please," said the servant, grandly. "I only hope he'll be here soon to protect me."

"You're quite safe," said Prince, dryly, whereat there was a smile on the faces of his underlings, for Deborah in her disordered dress and with her swollen, flushed, excited face was not comely. "But what about this brooch you say is the cause of it all?"

Deborah dropped with an air of fatigue. "If you kill me I can't talk of it now," she protested. "The brooch belonged to Mr. Paul Beecot."

"And where is he?"

"In the Charing Cross Hospital if you want to know, and as he's engaged to my pretty you needn't think he done it—so there."

"I am accusing no one," said the Inspector, grimly, "but we must get to the bottom of this horrible crime."

"Ah, well you may call it that," wailed Deborah, "with that serping on his poor mouth and him wriggling like an eel to get free. But 'ark, there's my pretty a-calling," and Miss Junk dashed headlong from the shop shouting comfort to Sylvia as she went.

Prince looked at the dead man and at the opal serpent which he held in his hand. "This at one end of the matter, and that at the other. What is the connecting link between this brooch and that corpse?"



CHAPTER VIII

THE VERDICT OF THE JURY

As may be guessed, the murder of Aaron Norman caused a tremendous sensation. One day the name was unknown, the next and it was in the mouths of the millions. The strange circumstances of the crime, the mystery which shrouded it, the abominable cruelty of the serpent brooch having been used to seal the man's lips while he was being slowly strangled, deepened the interest immensely. Here, at last was a murder worthy of Wilkie Collins's or Gaboriau's handling; such a crime as one expected to read of in a novel, but never could hope to hear of in real life. Fact had for once poached on the domains of fiction.

But notwithstanding all the inquiries which were made, and all the vigilance of the police, and all the newspaper articles, and all the theories sent by people who knew nothing whatever of the matter, nothing tangible was discovered likely to lead to a discovery of the assassins or assassin. It was conjectured that two people at least had been concerned in the committal of the crime, as, weak physically though he was, the deceased would surely not have allowed himself to be bound by one person, however strong that person might be. In such a case there would certainly have been a scuffle, and as the daughter of the murdered man heard his cry for help—which was what Sylvia did hear—she would certainly have heard the noise of a rough-and-tumble struggle such as Norman would have made when fighting for his life. But that single muffled cry was all that had been heard, and then probably the brooch had been pinned on the mouth to seal it for ever. Later the man had been slowly strangled, and in the sight of his horrified daughter.

Poor Sylvia received a severe shock after witnessing that awful sight, and was ill for some days. The faithful Deborah attended to her like a slave, and would allow no one, save the doctor, to enter the sick-room. Bart Tawsey, who had been summoned to Gwynne Street from his bed, remained in the empty shop and attended to any domestic duties which Miss Junk required to be performed. She made him cook viands for Sylvia and for herself, and, as he had been trained by her before, to act as an emergency cook, he did credit to her tuition. Also Bart ran messages, saw that the house was well locked and bolted at night, and slept on a hastily-improvised bed under the counter. Even Deborah's strong nerves were shaken by the horrors she had witnessed, and she insisted that Bart should remain to protect her and Sylvia. Bart was not over-strong, but he was wiry, and, moreover, had the courage of a cock sparrow, so while he was guarding the house Deborah had no fears, and could attend altogether to her sick mistress.

One of the first people to call on Miss Norman was a dry, wizen monkey of a man, who announced himself as Jabez Pash, the solicitor of the deceased. He had, so he said, executed Aaron's legal business for years, and knew all his secrets. Yet, when questioned by the police, he could throw no light on the murder. But he knew of something strange connected with the matter, and this he related to the detective who was now in charge of the case.

This officer was a chatty, agreeable, pleasant-faced man, with brown eyes, brown hair and brown skin. Also, to match his face, no doubt, he wore brown clothes, brown boots, a brown hat and a brown tie—in fact, in body, face and hands and dress he was all brown, and this prevalent color produced rather a strange effect. "He must ha' bin dyed," said Miss Junk when she set eyes on him. "But brown is better nor black, Miss Sylvia, though black you'll have to wear for your poor par, as is gone to a better land, let us hope, though there's no knowing."

The brown man, who answered to the name of Hurd, or, as he genially described himself, "Billy" Hurd, saw Mr. Pash, the lawyer, after he had examined everyone he could lay hold of in the hopes of learning something likely to elucidate the mystery. "What do you know of this matter, sir?" asked the brown man, pleasantly.

Pash screwed up his face in a manner worthy of his monkey looks. He would have been an absolute image of one with a few nuts in his cheek, and as he talked in a chattering sort of way, very fast and a trifle incoherent, the resemblance was complete. "I know nothing why my esteemed client should meet with such a death," he said, "but I may mention that on the evening of his death he called round to see me and deposited in my charge four bags of jewels. At least he said they were jewels, for the bags are sealed, and of course I never opened them."

"Can I see those bags?" asked Hurd, amiably.

The legal monkey hopped into the next room and beckoned Hurd to follow. Shortly the two were looking into the interior of a safe wherein reposed four bags of coarse white canvas sealed and tied with stout cords. "The odd thing is," said Mr. Pash, chewing his words, and looking so absurdly like a monkey that the detective felt inclined to call him "Jacko," "that on the morning of the murder, and before I heard anything about it, a stranger came with a note from my esteemed client asking that the bags should be handed over."

"What sort of a man?"

"Well," said Pash, fiddling with his sharp chin, "what you might call a seafaring man. A sailor, maybe, would be the best term. He was stout and red-faced, but with drink rather than with weather, I should think, and he rolled on his bow-legs in a somewhat nautical way."

"What name did he give?" asked Hurd, writing this description rapidly in his note-book.

"None. I asked him who he was, and he told me—with many oaths I regret to say—to mind my own business. He insisted on having the bags to take back to Mr. Norman, but I doubted him—oh, yes," added the lawyer, shrewdly, "I doubted him. Mr. Norman always did his own business, and never, in my experience of him, employed a deputy. I replied to the unknown nautical man—a sailor—as you might say; he certainly smelt of rum, which, as we know, is a nautical drink—well, Mr. Hurd, I replied that I would take the bags round to Mr. Norman myself and at once. This office is in Chancery Lane, as you see, and not far from Gwynne Street, so I started with the bags."

"And with the nautical gentleman?"

"No. He said he would remain behind until I returned, so as to receive my apology when I had seen my esteemed client and become convinced of the nautical gentleman's rectitude. When I reached Gwynne Street I found that Mr. Norman was dead, and at once took the bags back to replace them in this safe, where you now behold them."

"And this sailor?" asked Hurd, eyeing Mr. Pash keenly.

The lawyer sucked in his cheeks and put his feet on the rungs of his chair. "Oh, my clerk tells me he left within five minutes of my departure, saying he could not wait."

"Have you seen him since?"

"I have not seen him since. But I am glad that I saved the property of my client."

"Was Norman rich?"

"Very well off indeed, but he did not make his money out of his book-selling business. In fact," said Pash, putting the tips of his fingers delicately together, "he was rather a good judge of jewels."

"And a pawnbroker," interrupted Hurd, dryly. "I have heard all about that from Bart Tawsey, his shopman. Skip it and go on."

"I can only go on so far as to say that Miss Norman will probably inherit a fortune of five thousand a year, beside the jewels contained in those bags. That is," said Mr. Pash, wisely, "if the jewels be not redeemed by those who pawned them."

"Is there a will?" asked Hurd, rising to take his leave.

Pash screwed up his eyes and inflated his cheeks, and wriggled so much that the detective expected an acrobatic performance, and was disappointed when it did not come off. "I really can't be sure on that point," he said softly. "I have not yet examined the papers contained in the safe of my deceased and esteemed client. He would never allow me to make his will. Leases—yes—he has some house-property—mortgages—yes—investments—yes—he entrusted me with all his business save the important one of making a will. But a great many other people act in the same strange way, though you might not think so, Mr. Hurd. They would never make a lease, or let a house, or buy property, without consulting their legal adviser, yet in the case of wills (most important documents) many prefer to draw them up themselves. Consequently, there is much litigation over wrongly-drawn documents of that nature."

"All the better for you lawyers. Well, I'm off to look for your nautical gentleman."

"Do you think he is guilty?"

"I can't say," said Hurd, smiling, "and I never speak unless I am quite sure of the truth."

"It will be hard to come at, in this case," said the lawyer.

Billy the detective smiled pleasantly and shrugged his brown shoulders. "So hard that it may never be discovered," he said. "You know many mysteries are never solved. I suspect this Gwynne Street crime will be one of them."

Hurd had learned a great deal about the opal brooch from Sylvia and Deborah, and what they told him resulted in his visiting the Charing Cross Hospital to see Paul Beecot. The young man was much worried. His arm was getting better, and the doctors assured him he would be able to leave the hospital in a few days. But he had received a letter from his mother, whom he had informed of his accident. She bewailed his danger, and wrote with many tears—as Paul saw from the blotted state of the letter—that her domestic tyrant would not allow her to come to London to see her wounded darling. This in itself was annoying enough, but Paul was still more irritated and excited by the report of Aaron's terrible death, which he saw in a newspaper. So much had this moved him that he was thrown into a high state of fever, and the doctor refused to allow him to read the papers. Luckily, Paul, for his own sake, had somewhat calmed down when Hurd arrived, so the detective was permitted to see him. He sat by the bedside and told the patient who he was. Beecot looked at him sharply, and then recognized him.

"You are the workman," he said astonished.

"Yes, Mr. Beecot, I am. I hear that you have not taken my warning regarding your friend, Mr. Grexon Hay."

"Ah! Then you knew his name all the time!"

"Of course I did. I merely spoke to you to set you on your guard against him. He'll do you no good."

"But he was at school with me," said Beecot, angrily.

"That doesn't make him any the better companion," replied Hurd; "see here, Mr. Beecot, we can talk of this matter another time. At present, as I am allowed to converse with you only for a short time, I wish to ask you about the opal serpent."

Paul sat up, although Hurd tried to keep him down. "What do you know of that?—why do you come to me?"

"I know very little and want to know more. As I told you, my name is Billy Hurd, and, as I did not tell you, I am the detective whom the Treasury has placed in charge of this case."

"Norman's murder?"

"Yes! Have you read the papers?"

"A few, but not enough. The doctors took them from me and—"

"Gently, Mr. Beecot. Let us talk as little as possible. Where did you get that brooch?"

"Why do you want to know? You don't suspect me, I hope?"

Hurd laughed. "No. You have been in this ward all the time. But as the brooch was used cruelly to seal the dead man's mouth, it seems to me, and to Inspector Prince, that the whole secret of the murder lies in tracing it to its original possessor. Now tell me all about it," said Billy, and spread out his note-book.

"I will if you'll tell me about Miss Norman. I'm engaged to marry her and I hear she is ill."

"Oh, she is much better," said Hurd, pausing pencil in hand, "don't distress yourself. That young lady is all right; and when you marry her you'll marry an heiress, as I learn from the lawyer who does the business of the deceased."

"I don't care about her being the heiress. Will you take a message to her from me?"

"Certainly. What is it?" Hurd spoke quite sympathetically, for even though he was a detective he was a human being with a kindly heart.

"Tell her how sorry I am, and that I'll come and see her as soon as I can leave this confounded hospital. Thanks for your kindness, Mr. Hurd. Now, what do you wish to know? Oh, yes—about the opal serpent, which, as you say, and as I think, seems to be at the bottom of all the trouble. Listen," and Paul detailed all he knew, taking the story up to the time of his accident.

Hurd listened attentively. "Oh," said he, with a world of meaning, "so Mr. Grexon Hay was with you? Hum! Do you suppose he pushed you into the road on purpose?"

"No," said Paul, staring, "I'm sure he didn't. What had he to gain by acting in such a way?"

"Money, you may be sure," said Hurd. "That gentleman never does anything without the hope of a substantial reward. Hush! We'll talk of this when you're better, Mr. Beecot. You say the brooch was lost."

"Yes. It must have slipped out of my pocket when I fell under the wheels of that machine. I believe there were a number of loafers and ragged creatures about, so it is just possible I may hear it has been picked up. I've sent an advertisement to the papers."

Hurd shook his head. "You won't hear," he said. "How can you expect to when you know the brooch was used to seal the dead man's lips?"

"I forgot that," said Paul, faintly. "My memory—"

"Is not so good as it was." Hurd rose. "I'll go, as I see you are exhausted. Good-bye."

"Wait! You'll keep me advised of how the case goes?"

"Certainly, if the doctors will allow me to. Good-bye," and Hurd went away very well satisfied with the information he had obtained.

The clue, as he thought it was, led him to Wargrove, where he obtained useful information from Mr. Beecot, who gave it with a very bad grace, and offered remarks about his son's being mixed up in the case, which made Hurd, who had taken a fancy to the young fellow, protest. From Wargrove, Hurd went to Stowley, in Buckinghamshire, and interviewed the pawnbroker whose assistant had wrongfully sold the brooch to Beecot many years before. There he learned a fact which sent him back to Mr. Jabez Pash in London.

"I says, sir," said Hurd, when again in the lawyer's private room, "that nautical gentleman of yours pawned that opal serpent twenty years ago more or less."

"Never," said the monkey, screwing up his face and chewing.

"Yes, indeed. The pawnbroker is an old man, but he remembers the customer quite well, and his description, allowing for the time that has elapsed, answers to the man who tried to get the jewels from you."

Mr. Pash chewed meditatively, and then inflated his cheeks. "Pooh," he said, "twenty years is a long time. A man then, and a man now, would be quite different."

"Some people never change," said Hurd, quietly. "You have not changed much, I suspect."

"No," cackled the lawyer, rather amused. "I grew old young, and have never altered my looks."

"Well, this nautical gentleman may be the same. He pawned the article under the name of David Green—a feigned one, I suspect."

"Then you think he is guilty?"

"I have to prove that the brooch came into his possession again before I can do that," said Hurd, grimly. "And, as the brooch was lost in the street by Mr. Beecot, I don't see what I can do. However, it is strange that a man connected with the pawning of the brooch so many years ago should suddenly start up again when the brooch is used in connection with a terrible crime."

"It is strange. I congratulate you on having this case, Mr. Hurd. It is an interesting one to look into."

"And a mighty difficult one," said Hurd, rather depressed. "I really don't see my way. I have got together all the evidence I can, but I fear the verdict at the inquest will be wilful murder against some person or persons unknown."

Hurd, who was not blind to his own limitations like some detectives, proved to be a true prophet. The inquest was attended by a crowd of people, who might as well have stayed away for all they learned concerning the identity of the assassin. It was proved by the evidence of Sylvia and Deborah how the murder had taken place, but it was impossible to show who had strangled the man. It was presumed that the assassin or assassins had escaped when Deborah went upstairs to shout murder out of the first-floor window. By that time the policeman on the Gwynne Street beat was not in sight, and it would have been easy for those concerned in the crime—if more than one—to escape by the cellar door, through the passage and up the street to mingle with the people in the Strand, which, even at that late hour, would not be deserted. Or else the assassin or assassins might have got into Drury Lane and have proceeded towards Oxford Street. But in whatever direction they went, none of the numerous policemen around the neighborhood on that fatal night had "spotted" any suspicious persons. It was generally assumed, from the peculiar circumstances of the crime, that more than one person was inculpated, and these had come out of the night, had committed the cruel deed, and then had vanished into the night, leaving no trace behind. The appearance of the fellow whom Mr. Pash called the nautical gentleman certainly was strange, and led many people to believe that robbery was the motive for the commission of the crime. "This man, who was powerful and could easily have overpowered a little creature like Norman, came to rob," said these wiseacres. "Finding that the jewels were gone, and probably from a memorandum finding that they were in the possession of the lawyer, he attempted the next morning to get them—" and so on. But against this was placed by other people the cruel circumstances of the crime. No mere robbery would justify the brooch being used to pin the dead man's lips together. Then, again, the man being strangled before his daughter's eyes was a refinement of cruelty which removed the case from a mere desire on the part of the murdered to get money. Finally, one man, as the police thought, could not have carried out the abominable details alone.

So after questions had been asked and evidence obtained, and details shifted, and theories raised, and pros and cons discussed, the jury was obliged to bring in the verdict predicted by Mr. Hurd. "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown," said the jury, and everyone agreed that this was the only conclusion that could be arrived at.

Of course the papers took up the matter and asked what the police were doing to permit so brutal a murder to take place in a crowded neighborhood and in the metropolis of the world. "What was civilisation coming to and—" etc., etc. All the same the public was satisfied that the police and jury had done their duty. So the inquest was held, the verdict was given, and then the remains of Aaron Norman were committed to the grave; and from the journals everyone knew that the daughter left behind was a great heiress. "A million of money," said the Press, and lied as usual.



CHAPTER IX

CASTLES IN THE AIR

So Aaron Norman, the second-hand bookseller of Gwynne Street, was dead and buried, and, it may be said, forgotten. Sylvia and those connected with her remembered the old man and his unhappy end, but the public managed to forget all about the matter in a wonderfully short space of time. Other events took place, which interested the readers of the newspapers more, and few recalled the strange Gwynne Street crime. Many people, when they did think, said that the assassins would never be discovered, but in this they were wrong. If money could hunt down the person or persons who had so cruelly murdered Aaron Norman, his daughter and heiress was determined that money could not be better spent. And Billy Hurd, knowing all about the case and taking a profound interest in it by reason of the mystery which environed it, was selected to follow up what clues there were.

But while London was still seething with the tragedy and strangeness of the crime, Mr. Jabez Pash came to the heterogeneously-furnished sitting-room in Gwynne Street to read the will. For there was a will after all. Deborah, and Bart, who had witnessed it at the request of their master, told Mr. Pash of its existence, and he found it in one of the three safes in the cellar. It proved to be a short, curt document, such as no man in his senses would think of making when disposing of five thousand a year. Aaron was a clever business man, and Pash was professionally disgusted that he had left behind him such a loose testament.

"Why didn't he come to me and have it properly drawn up?" he asked as he stood in the cellar before the open safe with the scrap of paper in his hand.

Deborah, standing near, with her hands on her haunches, laughed heartily. "I think master believed he's spent enough money with you, sir. Lor' bless you, Mr. Pash, so long as the will's tight and fair what do it matter? Don't tell me as there's anything wrong and that my pretty won't come into her forting?"

"Oh, the will's right enough," said Pash, screwing up his cheeks; "let us go up to the sitting-room. Is Miss Sylvia there?"

"That she are, sir, and a-getting back her pretty color with Mr. Paul."

Pash looked suspiciously at the handmaiden. "Who is he?"

"Nobody to be spoke of in that lump of dirt way," retorted Deborah. "He's a gentleman who's going to marry my pretty."

"Oh, the one who had the accident! I met him, but forgot his name."

Miss Junk nodded vigorously. "And a mercy it was that he wasn't smashed to splinters, with spiled looks and half his limbses orf," she said. "Why, bless you, Mr. Pash, could I let my sunbeam marry a man as wasn't all there, 'eart of gold though he may have? But the blessing of Providence kept him together," shouted Deborah in a burst of gratitude, "and there he sits upstairs with arms to put about my lily-queen for the drying of her dear eyes."

Mr. Pash was not at all pleased at this news and rubbed his nose hard. "If a proper will had only been made," he said aggressively, "a proper guardian might have been appointed, and this young lady would not have been permitted to throw herself away."

"Beggin' your parding, Mr. Pash," said Deborah, in an offended tone, "but this marriage is of my making, to say nothing of Heaven, which brought him and my pretty together. Mr. Beecot ain't got money, but his looks is takin', and his 'eart is all that an angel can want. My pretty's chice," added the maiden, shaking an admonitory finger, "and my pretty's happiness, so don't you go a-spilin' of it."

"I have nothing to say, save to regret that a young lady in possession of five thousand a year should make a hasty contract like this," said Mr. Pash, dryly, and hopping up the cellar stairs.

"It wasn't hasty," cried Deborah, following and talking all the time; "six months have them dears billed and cooed lovely, and if my queen wants to buy a husband, why not? Just you go up and read the will proper and without castin' cold water on my beauty's warm 'eart, or trouble will come of your talkin'. I'm mild," said Deborah, chasing the little lawyer up the stairs leading to the first floor, "mild as flat beer if not roused: but if you make me red, my 'and flies like a windmill, and—"

Mr. Jabez Pash heard no more. He stopped his legal ears and fled into the sitting-room, where he found the lovers seated on a sofa near the window. Sylvia was in Paul's embrace, and her head was on his shoulder. Beecot had his arm in a sling, and looked pale, but his eyes were as bright as ever, and his face shone with happiness. Sylvia also looked happy. To know that she was rich, that Paul was to be her husband, filled the cup of her desires to the brim. Moreover, she was beginning to recover from the shock of her father's death, and was feverishly anxious to escape from Gwynne Street, and from the house where the tragedy had taken place.

"Well," said Mr. Pash, drawing a long breath and sucking in his cheeks, "you lose no time, young gentleman."

Paul laughed, but did not change his position. Sylvia indeed blushed and raised her head, but Paul still held her with his uninjured arm, defying Mr. Pash and all the world. "I am gathering rosebuds while I may, Mr. Pash," said he, misquoting Herrick's charming line.

"You have plucked a very pretty one," grinned the monkey; "but may I request the rosebud's attention?"

Sylvia extricated herself from her lover's arm with a heightened color, and nodded gravely. Seeing it was business, she had to descend from heaven to earth, but she secretly hoped that this dull little lawyer, who was a bachelor and had never loved in his dry little life, would soon go away and leave her alone with Prince Charming. Deborah guessed these thoughts with the instinct of fidelity, and swooped down on her young mistress.

"It's the will, poppet," she whispered loudly, "but if it do make your dear head ache Mr. Beecot will listen."

"I wish Mr. Beecot to listen in any case," said Pash, dryly, "if he is to marry my young and esteemed client."

"We are engaged with the consent of my poor father," said Sylvia, taking Paul's hand. "I shall marry no one but Paul."

"And Paul will marry an angel," said that young man, with a tender squeeze, "although he can't keep her in bread-and-butter."

"Oh, I think there will be plenty of bread-and-butter," said the lawyer. "Miss Norman, we have found the will if," added Mr. Pash, disdainfully, "this," he held out the document with a look of contempt, "can be called a will."

"It's all right, isn't it?" asked Sylvia, anxiously.

"I mean the form and the writing and the paper, young lady. It is a good will in law, and duly signed and witnessed."

"Me and Bart having written our names, lovey," put in Deborah.

Pash frowned her into silence. "The will," he said, looking at the writing, "consists of a few lines. It leaves all the property of the testator to 'my daughter.'"

"Your daughter!" screamed Deborah. "Why, you ain't married."

"I am reading from the will," snapped Pash, coloring, and read again: "I leave all the real and personal property of which I may die possessed of to my daughter."

"Sylvia Norman!" cried Deborah, hugging her darling.

"There you are wrong," corrected Pash, folding up the so-called will, "the name of Sylvia isn't mentioned."

"Does that make any difference?" asked Paul, quietly.

"No. Miss Norman is an only daughter, I believe."

"And an only child," said Deborah, "so that's all right. My pretty, you will have them jewels and five thousand a year."

"Oh, Paul, what a lot of money!" cried Sylvia, appalled. "Whatever will we do with it all?"

"Why, marry and be happy, of course," said Paul, rejoicing not so much on account of the money, although that was acceptable, but because this delightful girl was all his very—very own.

"The question is," said Mr. Pash, who had been reflecting, and now reproduced the will from his pocket, "as to the name?"

"What name?" asked Sylvia, and Deborah echoed the question.

"Your name." Pash addressed the girl direct. "Your father's real name was Krill—Lemuel Krill."

Sylvia looked amazed, Deborah uttered her usual ejaculation, "Lor'!" but Paul's expression did not change. He considered that this was all of a piece with the murder and the mystery of the opal brooch. Undoubtedly Mr. Lemuel Krill, alias Aaron Norman, must have had good reason to change his name and to exhibit terror at the sight of the brooch. And the reason he dreaded, whatever it might be, had been the cause of his mysterious and tragic death. But Paul said nothing of these thoughts and there was silence for a few minutes.

"Lor,'" said Deborah again, "and I never knew. Do he put that name to that, mister?" she asked, pointing to the will.

"Yes! It is signed Lemuel Krill," said Pash. "I wonder you didn't notice it at the moment."

"Why, bless you, Mr. Pash, there weren't no moment," said Deborah, her hands on her hips as usual. "Master made that there will only a short time before he was killed."

Pash nodded. "I note the date," said he, "all in order—quite."

"Master," went on Deborah, looking at Paul, "never got over that there fainting fit you gave him with the serping brooch. And he writes out that will, and tells Bart and me to put our names to it. But he covered up his own name with a bit of red blotting-paper. I never thought but that he hadn't put Aaron Norman, which was his name."

"It was not his name," said Pash. "His real name I have told you, and for years I have known the truth."

"Do you know why he changed his name?" asked Beecot, quickly.

"No, sir, I don't. And if I did, I don't know if it would be legal etiquette to reveal the reason to a stranger."

"He's not a stranger," cried Sylvia, annoyed.

"Well, then, to a young gentleman whom I have only seen twice. Why do you ask, Mr. Beecot?"

"I was wondering if the change of name had anything to do with the murder," said Paul, hesitating.

"How could it," said Pash, testily, "when the man never expected to be murdered?"

"Beggin' your parding, Mr. Pash, but you're all out," said Deborah. "Master did expect to have his throat cut, or his 'ead knocked orf, or his inside removed—"

"Deborah," cried Paul, hastily, "you are making Sylvia nervous."

"Don't you worrit, pretty," said the maiden, "it's only silly old Debby's way. But master, your par as was, my pretty, went to church and prayed awful against folk as he never named, to say nothin' of lookin' over the left shoulder blade and sleepin' in the cellar bolted and barred, and always with his eye on the ground sad like. Old Baileys and police-courts was in his mind, say what you like."

"I say nothing," rejoined Pash, putting on his hat and hopping to the door. "Mr. Lemuel Krill did not honor me with his confidence so far. He came here, over twenty years ago and began business. I was then younger than I am, and he gave me his business because my charges were moderate. I know all about him as Aaron Norman," added Pash, with emphasis, "but as Lemuel Krill I, knowing nothing but the name, can say nothing. Nor do I want to. Young people," ended the lawyer, impressively, "let sleeping dogs lie."

"What do you mean?" asked Sylvia, looking startled.

"Nothing—he means nothing," interposed Paul hastily, for the girl had undergone quite enough torments. "What about the change of name?"

"Ah yes!" said the lawyer, inquiringly. "Will you call yourself Krill or Norman, Miss Sylvia?"

"Seein' her name's to be changed to Beecot in a jiffy," cried Deborah, "it don't matter, and it sha'n't matter. You leave Krill and its old Baileys, if old Baileys there are in it, alone, my lovey, and be Miss Norman till the passon and the clark, and the bells and the ringers, and the lawr and the prophets turn you into the loveliest bride as ever was," and Deborah nodded vigorously.

"I wish father had mentioned my name in his will," said Sylvia, in a low voice, "and then I should know what to call myself."

Paul addressed the lawyer. "I know little about the legal aspect of this will"—

"This amateur will," said Pash, slightingly.

"But I should like to know if there will be any difficulty in proving it?"

"I don't think so. I have not gone through all the safes below, and may come across the marriage certificate of Miss Krill's—I beg pardon, Miss Norman's—mother and father. Then there's the birth certificate. We must prove that Miss Sylvia is the daughter of my late esteemed client."

"What's that?" shouted Deborah. "Why, I knowed her mother as died. She's the daughter right enough, and—"

"There's no need to shout," chattered Pash, angrily. "I know that as well as you do; I must act, however, as reason dictates. I'll prove the will and see that all is right." Then, dreading Deborah's tongue he hastily added "Good-day," and left the room. But he was not to escape so easily. Deborah plunged after him and made scathing remarks about legal manners all the way down to the door.

Paul and Sylvia left alone looked and smiled and fell into one another's arms. The will had been read and the money left to the girl, thereby the future was all right, so they thought that Pash's visit demanded no further attention. "He'll do all that is to be done," said Paul. "I don't see the use of keeping a dog and having to bark yourself."

"And I'm really a rich woman, Paul," said Sylvia, gladly.

"Really and truly, as I am a pauper. I think perhaps," said Beecot, sadly, "that you might make a better match than—"

Sylvia put her pretty hand over his moustache. "I won't hear it, Paul," she cried vehemently, with a stamp of her foot. "How dare you? As if you weren't all I have to love in the world now poor father—is—is de-a-d," and she began to weep. "I did not love him as I ought to have done, Paul."

"My own, he would not let you love him very much."

"N-o-o," said Sylvia, drying her eyes on Paul's handkerchief, which he produced. "I don't know why. Sometimes he was nice, and sometimes he wasn't. I never could understand him, and you know, Paul, we didn't treat him nicely."

"No," admitted Beecot, frankly, "but he forgave us."

"Oh, yes, poor dear, he did! He was quite nice when he said we could marry and he would allow us money. You saw him?"

"I did. He came to the hospital. Didn't he tell you when he returned, Sylvia?"

"I never saw him," she wept. "He never came upstairs, but went out, and I went to bed. He left the door leading to the stairs open, too, on that night, a thing he never did before. And then the key of the shop. Bart used to hang it on a nail in the cellar and father would put it into his pocket after supper. Deborah couldn't find it in his clothes, and when she went afterwards to the cellar it was on the nail. On that night, Paul, father did everything different to what he usually did."

"He seems to have had some mental trouble," said Paul, gently, "and I believe it was connected with that brooch. When he spoke to me at the hospital he said he would let you marry me, and would allow us an income, if I gave him the serpent brooch to take to America."

"But why did he want the brooch?" asked Sylvia, puzzled.

"Ah!" said Beecot, with great significance, "if we could find out his reason we would learn who killed him and why he was killed."

Sylvia wept afresh on this reference to the tragedy which was yet fresh in her memory: but as weeping would not bring back the dead, and Paul was much distressed at the sight of her tears, she dried her eyes for the hundredth time within the last few days and sat again on the sofa by her lover. There they built castles in the air.

"I tell you what, Sylvia," said Paul, reflectively; "after this will business is settled and a few weeks have elapsed, we can marry."

"Oh, Paul, not for a year! Think of poor father's memory."

"I do think of it, my darling, and I believe I am saying what your father himself would have said. The circumstances of the case are strange, as you are left with a lot of money and without a protector. You know I love you for yourself, and would take you without a penny, but unless we marry soon, and you give me a husband's right, you will be pestered by people wanting to marry you." Paul thought of Grexon Hay when he made this last remark.

"But I wouldn't listen to them," cried Sylvia, with a flush, "and Debby would soon send them away. I love you dearest, dear."

"Then marry me next month," said Paul, promptly. "You can't stop here in this dull house, and it will be awkward for you to go about with Deborah, faithful though she is. No, darling, let us marry, and then we shall go abroad for a year or two until all this sad business is forgotten. Then I hope by that time to become reconciled to my father, and we can visit Wargrove."

Sylvia reflected. She saw that Paul was right, as her position was really very difficult. She knew of no lady who would chaperon her, and she had no relative to act as such. Certainly Deborah could be a chaperon, but she was not a lady, and Pash could be a guardian, but he was not a relative. Paul as her husband would be able to protect her, and to look after the property which Sylvia did not think she could do herself. These thoughts made her consent to an early marriage. "And I really don't think father would have minded."

"I am quite sure we are acting as he would wish," said Beecot, decisively. "I am so thankful, Sylvia sweetest, that I met you and loved you before you became an heiress. No one can say that I marry you for anything save your own sweet self. And I am doubly glad that I am to marry you and save you from all the disagreeable things which might have occurred had you not been engaged to me."

"I know, Paul. I am so young and inexperienced."

"You are an angel," said he, embracing her. "But there's one thing we must do"—and his voice became graver—"we must see Pash and offer a reward for the discovery of the person who killed your father."

"But Mr. Pash said let sleeping dogs lie," objected Sylvia.

"I know he did, but out of natural affection, little as your poor father loved you, we must stir up this particular dog. I suggest that we offer a reward of five hundred pounds."

"To whom?" asked Sylvia, thoroughly agreeing.

"To anyone who can find the murderer. I think myself, that Hurd will be the man to gain the money. Apart from any reward he has to act on behalf of the Treasury, and besides, he is keen to discover the mystery. You leave the matter to me, Sylvia. We will offer a reward for the discovery of the murderer of—"

"Aaron Norman," said Sylvia, quickly.

"No," replied her lover, gravely, "of Lemuel Krill."



CHAPTER X

A BOLT FROM THE BLUE

Paul's reason for advertising the name of Lemuel Krill was a very natural one. He believed that in the past of the dead man was to be found his reason for changing his name and living in Gwynne Street. And in that past before he became a second-hand bookseller and a secret pawnbroker might be found the motive for the crime. Therefore, if a reward was offered for the discovery of the murderer of Lemuel Krill, alias Aaron Norman, something might come to light relative to the man's early life. Once that was known, the clue might be obtained. Then the truth would surely be discovered. He explained this to Hurd.

"I think you're right, Mr. Beecot," said the detective, in his genial way, and looking as brown as a coffee bean. "I have made inquiries from the two servants, and from the neighbors, and from what customers I could find. Aaron Norman certainly lived a very quiet and respectable life here. But Lemuel Krill may have lived a very different one, and the mere fact that he changed his name shows that he had something to conceal. When we learn that something we may arrive at the motive for the murder, and, given that, the assassin may be caught."

"The assassin!" echoed Paul. "Then you think there was only one."

Hurd shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows?" he said. "I speak generally. From the strange circumstances of the crime I am inclined to think that there is more than one person concerned in this matter. However, the best thing to be done is to have hand-bills printed offering the five hundred pounds reward. People will do a lot to earn so much money, and someone may come forward with details about Mr. Krill which will solve the mystery of Norman's death."

"I hope you will gain the reward yourself, Hurd."

The detective nodded. "I hope so too. I have lately married the sweetest little wife in the world, and I want to keep her in the way she has been accustomed to be kept. She married beneath her, as I'm only a thief-catcher, and no very famous one either."

"But if you solve this mystery it will do you a lot of good."

"That it will," agreed Billy, heartily, "and it will mean advancement and extra screw: besides the reward if I can get it. You may be very sure, Mr. Beecot, that I'll do my best. Oh, by the way," he added, "have you heard that Mr. Pash is being asked for many of those jewels?"

"No. Who are asking for them? Not that nautical man?"

Hurd shook his head. "He's not such a fool," said he. "No! But the people who pledged the jewels are getting them back—redeeming them, in fact. Pash is doing all the business thoroughly well, and will keep what jewels remain for the time allowed by law, so that all those who wish to redeem them can do so. If not, they can be sold, and that will mean more money to Miss Norman—by the way, I presume she intends to remain Miss Norman."

"Until I make her Mrs. Beecot," said Paul, smiling.

"Well," replied Hurd, very heartily, "I trust you will both be happy. I think Miss Norman will get a good husband in you, and you will gain the sweetest wife in the world bar one."

"Everyone thinks his own crow the whitest," laughed Beecot. "But now that business is ended and you know what you are to do, will you tell me plainly why you warned me against Grexon Hay?"

"Hum," said the detective, looking at Paul with keen eyes, "what do you know about him, sir?"

Beecot detailed his early friendship with Hay at Torrington, and then related the meeting in Oxford Street. "And so far as I have seen," added Paul, justly, "there's nothing about the man to make me think he is a bad lot."

"It is natural you should think well of him as you know no wrong, Mr. Beecot. All the same, Grexon Hay is a man on the market."

"You made use of that expression before. What does it mean?"

"Ask Mr. Hay. He can explain best."

"I did ask him, and he said it meant a man who was on the marriage market."

Hurd laughed. "Very ingenious and untrue."

"Untrue!"

"Certainly. Mr. Hay knows better than that. If that were all he wouldn't think a working man would warn anyone against him."

"He guessed you were not a working man," said Paul, "and intimated that he had a liaison with a married woman, and that the husband had set you to watch."

"Wrong again. My interest in Mr. Hay doesn't spring from divorce proceedings. He paints himself blacker than he is in that respect, Mr. Beecot. My gentleman is too selfish to love, and too cautious to commit himself to a divorce case where there would be a chance of damages. No! He's simply a man on the market, and what that is no one knows better than he does."

"Well, I am ignorant."

"You shall be enlightened, sir, and I hope what I tell you will lead you to drop this gentleman's acquaintance, especially now that you will be a rich man through your promised wife."

"Miss Norman's money is her own," said Paul, with a quick flush. "I don't propose to live on what she inherits."

"Of course not, because you are an honorable man. But I'll lay anything you like that Mr. Hay won't have your scruples, and as soon as he finds your wife is rich he'll try and get money from her through you."

"He'll fail then," rejoined Beecot, calmly. "I am not up to your London ways, perhaps, but I am not quite such a fool. Perhaps you will enlighten me as you say."

Hurd nodded and caught his smooth chin with his finger and thumb. "A man on the market," he explained slowly, "is a social highwayman."

"I am still in the dark, Hurd."

"Well, to be more particular, Hay is one of those well-dressed blackguards who live on mugs. He has no money—"

"I beg your pardon, he told me himself that his uncle had left him a thousand a year."

"Pooh, he might as well have doubled the sum and increased the value of the lie. He hasn't a penny. What he did have, he got through pretty quickly in order to buy his experience. Now that he is hard up he practises on others what was practised on himself. Hay is well-bred, good-looking, well-dressed and plausible. He has well-furnished rooms and keeps a valet. He goes into rather shady society, as decent people, having found him out, won't have anything to do with him. But he is a card-sharper and a fraudulent company-promoter. He'll borrow money from any juggins who is ass enough to lend it to him. He haunts Piccadilly, Bond Street and the Burlington Arcade, and is always smart, and bland, and fascinating. If he sees a likely victim he makes his acquaintance in a hundred ways, and then proceeds to fleece him. In a word, Mr. Beecot, you may put it that Mr. Hay is Captain Hawk, and those he swindles are pigeons."

Paul was quite startled by this revelation, and it was painful to hear it of an old school friend. "He does not look like a man of that sort," he remonstrated.

"It's not his business to look like a man of that sort," rejoined the detective. "He masks his batteries. All the same he is one of the most dangerous men on the market at the present in town. A young peer whom he plucked two years ago lost everything to him, and got into trouble over some woman. It was a nasty case and Hay was mixed up in it. The relatives of the victim—I needn't give his title—asked me to put things right. I got the young nobleman away, and he is now travelling to acquire the sense he so sadly needed. I have given Mr. Hay a warning once or twice, and he knows that he is being watched by us. When he slips, as he is bound to do, sooner or later, then he'll have to deal with me. Oh I know how he hunts for clients in fashionable hotels, smart restaurants, theatres and such-like places. He is clever, and although he has fleeced several lambs since he plucked the pigeon I saved, he has, as yet, been too clever to be caught. When I saw you with him, Mr. Beecot, I thought it just as well to put you on your guard."

"I fear he'll get little out of me," said Paul. "I am too poor."

"You are rich now through your promised wife, and Hay will find it out."

"I repeat that Miss Norman's money has nothing to do with me. And I may mention that as soon as the case is in your hands, Mr. Hurd—"

"Which it is now," interpolated the detective.

"I intend to marry Miss Norman and then we will travel for a time."

"That's very wise of you. Give Hay a wide berth. Of course, if you meet him, you needn't tell him what I have told you. But when he tries to come Captain Hawk over you, be on your guard."

"I shall, and thanks for the warning."

So the two parted. Hurd went away to have the bills printed, and Paul returned to Gwynne Street to arrange with Sylvia about their early marriage. Deborah was in the seventh heaven of delight that her young mistress would soon be in a safe haven and enjoy the protection of an honorable man. Knowing that she would soon be relieved from care, she told Bart Tawsey that they would be married at the same time as the young couple, and that the laundry would be started as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Beecot left for the Continent. Bart, of course, agreed—he always did agree with Deborah—and so everything was nicely arranged.

Meanwhile Pash worked to prove the will, pay the death-duties, and to place Sylvia in full possession of her property. He found in one of the safes the certificate of the girl's birth, and also the marriage certificate of Aaron Norman in the name of Lemuel Krill. The man evidently had his doubts of the marriage being a legal one if contracted under his alias. He had married Lillian Garner, who was described as a spinster. But who she was and where she came from, and what her position in life might be could not be discovered. Krill was married in a quiet city church, and Pash, having searched, found everything in order. Mrs. Krill—or Norman as she was known—lived only a year or two after her marriage, and then died, leaving Sylvia to the care of her husband. There were several nurses in succession, until Deborah grew old enough to attend alone on her young mistress. Then Norman dismissed the nurse, and Deborah had been Sylvia's slave and Aaron's servant until the tragic hour of his death. So, everything being in order, there was no difficulty in placing Sylvia in possession of her property.

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