Pash was engaged in this congenial work for several weeks, and during that time all went smoothly. Paul paid daily visits to the Gwynne Street house, which was to be vacated as soon as he made Sylvia his wife. Deborah searched for her laundry and obtained the premises she wanted at a moderate rental. Sylvia basked in the sunshine of her future husband's love, and Hurd hunted for the assassin of the late Mr. Norman without success. The hand-bills with his portrait and real name, and a description of the circumstances of his death, were scattered broadcast over the country from Land's End to John-O'Groats, but hitherto no one had applied for the reward. The name of Krill seemed to be a rare one, and the dead man apparently had no relatives, for no one took the slightest interest in the bills beyond envying the lucky person who would gain the large reward offered for the conviction of the murderer.
Then, one day Deborah, while cleaning out the cellar, found a piece of paper which had slipped down behind one of the safes. These had not been removed for many years, and the paper, apparently placed carelessly on top, had accidentally dropped behind. Deborah, always thinking something might reveal the past to Sylvia and afford a clue to the assassin, brought the paper to her mistress. It proved to be a few lines of a letter, commenced but never finished. But the few lines were of deep interest.
"My dear daughter," these ran, "when I die you will find that I married your mother under the name of Lemuel Krill. That is my real name, but I wish you to continue to call yourself Norman for necessary reasons. If the name of Krill gets into the papers there will be great trouble. Keep it from the public. I can tell you where to find the reasons for this as I have written—" Here the letter ended abruptly without any signature. Norman apparently was writing it when interrupted, and had placed it unfinished on the top of the safe, whence it had fallen behind to be discovered by Deborah. And now it had strangely come to light, but too late for the request to be carried out.
"Oh, Paul," said Sylvia, in dismay, when they read this together, "and the bills are already published with the real name of my father."
"It is unfortunate," admitted Paul, frowning. "But, after all, your father may have been troubled unnecessarily. For over the fortnight the bills have been out and no one seems to take an interest in the matter."
"But I think we ought to call the bills in," said Sylvia, uneasily.
"That's not such an easy matter. They are scattered broadcast, and it will be next to impossible to collect them. Besides, the mischief is done. Everyone knows by this time that Aaron Norman is Lemuel Krill, so the trouble whatever it may be, must come."
"What can it be?" asked the girl anxiously.
Paul shook his head. "Heaven only knows," said he, with a heavy heart. "There is certainly something in your father's past life which he did not wish known and which led to his death. But since the blow has fallen and he is gone, I do not see how the matter can affect you, my darling. I'll show this to Pash and see what he says. I expect he knows more about your father's past than he will admit."
"But if there should be trouble, Paul—"
"You will have me to take it off your shoulders," he replied, kissing her. "My dearest, do not look so pale. Whatever may happen you will always have me to stand by you. And Deborah also. She is worth a regiment in her fidelity."
So Sylvia was comforted, and Paul, putting the unfinished letter in his pocket, went round to see Pash in his Chancery Lane office. He was stopped in the outer room by a saucy urchin with an impudent face and a bold manner. "Mr. Pash is engaged," said this official, "so you'll 'ave to wait, Mr. Beecot."
Paul looked down at the brat, who was curly-headed and as sharp as a needle. "How do you know my name?" he asked. "I never saw you before."
"I'm the new office-boy," said the urchin, "wishin' to be respectable and leave street-'awking, which ain't what it was. M'name's Tray, an' I've seen you afore, mister. I 'elped to pull you out from them wheels with the 'aughty gent as guv me a bob fur doin' it."
"Oh, so you helped," said Paul, smiling. "Well, here is another shilling. I am much obliged to you, Master Tray. But from what Deborah Junk says you were a guttersnipe. How did you get this post?"
"I talked m'self int' it," said Tray, importantly. "Newspapers ain't good enough, and you gets pains in wet weather. So I turns a good boy"—he grinned evilly—"and goes to a ragged kids' school to do the 'oly. The superintendent ses I'm a promising case, and he arsked Mr. Pash, as is also Sunday inclined, to 'elp me. The orfice-boy 'ere went, and I come." Tray tossed the shilling and spat on it for luck as he slipped it into the pocket of quite a respectable pair of trousers. "So I'm on m'waiy to bein' Lord Mayor turn agin Wittington, as they ses in the panymine."
"Well," said Beecot, amused, "I hope you will prove yourself worthy."
Tray winked. "Ho! I'm straight es long es it's wuth m'while. I takes m'sal'ry 'ome to gran, and don't plaiy pitch an' torse n'more." He winked again, and looked as wicked a brat as ever walked.
Paul had his doubts as to what the outcome of Mr. Pash's charity would be, and, being amused, was about to pursue the conversation, when the inner door opened and Pash, looking troubled, appeared. When he saw Paul he started and came forward.
"I was just about to send Tray for you," said he, looking anxious. "Something unpleasant has come to light in connection with Krill."
Beecot started and brought out the scrap of paper. "Look at that," he said, "and you will see that the man warned Sylvia."
Pash glanced hurriedly over the paper. "Most unfortunate," he said, folding it up and puffing out his cheeks; "but it's too late. The name of Krill was in those printed bills—a portrait also, and now—"
"Well, what?" asked Paul, seeing the lawyer hesitated.
"Come inside and you'll see," said Pash, and conducted Beecot into the inner room.
Here sat two ladies. The elder was a woman of over fifty, but who looked younger, owing to her fresh complexion and plump figure. She had a firm face, with hard blue eyes and a rather full-lipped mouth. Her hair was white, and there was a great deal of it. Under a widow's cap it was dressed a la Marie Antoinette, and she looked very handsome in a full-blown, flowery way. She had firm, white hands, rather large, and, as she had removed her black gloves, these, Paul saw, were covered with cheap rings. Altogether a respectable, well-dressed widow, but evidently not a lady.
Nor was the girl beside her, who revealed sufficient similarity of features to announce herself the daughter of the widow. There was the same fresh complexion, full red lips and hard blue eyes. But the hair was of a golden color, and fashionably dressed. The young woman—she likewise was not a lady—was also in black.
"This," said Pash, indicating the elder woman, who smiled, "is Mrs. Lemuel Krill."
"The wife of the man who called himself Aaron Norman," went on the widow; "and this," she indicated her daughter, "is his heiress."
A CUCKOO IN THE NEST
Paul looked from the fresh-colored woman who spoke so smoothly and so firmly to the apish lawyer hunched in his chair with a sphinx-like look on his wrinkled face. For the moment, so taken aback was he by this astounding announcement, that he could not speak. The younger woman stared at him with her hard blue eyes, and a smile played round her full lips. The mother also looked at him in an engaging way, as though she rather admired his youthful comeliness in spite of his well-brushed, shabby apparel.
"I don't know what you mean," said Beecot at length, "Mr. Pash?"
The lawyer aroused himself to make a concise statement of the case. "So far as I understand," he said in his nervous, irritable way, "these ladies claim to be the wife and daughter of Lemuel Krill, whom we knew as Aaron Norman."
"And I think by his real name also," said the elder woman in her deep, smooth contralto voice, and with the display of an admirable set of teeth. "The bills advertising the reward, and stating the fact of the murder, bore my late husband's real name."
"Norman was not your husband, madam," cried Paul, indignantly.
"I agree with you, sir. Lemuel Krill was my husband. I saw in the newspapers, which penetrate even into the quiet little Hants village I live in, that Aaron Norman had been murdered. I never thought he was the man who had left me more than twenty years ago with an only child to bring up. But the bills offering the reward assured me that Norman and Krill are one and the same man. Therefore," she drew herself up and looked piercingly at the young man, "I have come to see after the property. I understand from the papers that my daughter is an heiress to millions."
"Not millions," said Pash, hastily. "The newspapers have exaggerated the amount. Five thousand a year, madam, and it is left to Sylvia."
"Who is Sylvia?" asked Mrs. Krill, in the words of Shakespeare's song.
"She is the daughter of Mr. Norman," said Paul, quickly, "and is engaged to marry me."
Mrs. Krill's eyes travelled over his shabby suit from head to foot, and then back again from foot to head. She glanced sideways at her companion, and the girl laughed in a hard, contemptuous manner. "I fear you will be disappointed in losing a rich wife, sir," said the elder woman, sweetly.
"I have not lost the money yet," replied Paul, hotly. "Not that I care for the money."
"Of course not," put in Mrs. Krill, ironically, with another look at his dress.
"But I do care for Sylvia Norman—"
"With whom I have nothing to do."
"She is your husband's daughter."
"But not mine. This is my daughter, Maud—the legal daughter of Lemuel and myself," she added meaningly.
"Good heavens, madam," cried Beecot, his face turning white, "what do you mean?"
Mrs. Krill raised her thick white eyebrows, and shrugged her plump shoulders, and made a graceful motion with her white, be-ringed hand. "Is there any need for me to explain?" she said calmly.
"I think there is every need," cried Beecot, sharply. "I shall not allow Miss Norman to lose her fortune or—"
"Or lose it yourself, sir. I quite understand. Nevertheless, I am assured that the law of the land will protect, through me, my daughter's rights. She leaves it in my hands."
"Yes," said the girl, in a voice as full and rich and soft as her smooth-faced mother, "I leave it in her hands."
Paul sat down and concealed his face with a groan. He was thinking not so much of the loss of the money, although that was a consideration, as of the shame Sylvia would feel at her position. Then a gleam of hope darted into his mind. "Mr. Norman was married to Sylvia's mother under his own name. You can't prove the marriage void."
"I have no wish to. When did this marriage take place?"
Beecot looked at the lawyer, who replied. "Twenty-two years ago," and he gave the date.
Mrs. Krill fished in a black morocco bag she carried and brought out a shabby blue envelope. "I thought this might be needed," she said, passing it to Pash. "You will find there my marriage certificate. I became the wife of Lemuel Krill thirty years ago. And, as I am still living, I fear the later marriage—" She smiled blandly and shrugged her shoulders again. "Poor girl!" she said with covert insolence.
"Sylvia does not need your pity," cried Beecot, stung by the insinuation.
"Indeed, sir," said Mrs. Krill, sadly, and with the look of a treacherous cat, "I fear she needs the pity of all right-thinking people. Many would speak harshly of her, seeing what she is, but my troubles have taught me charity. I repeat that I am sorry for the girl."
"And again I say there is no need," rejoined Paul, throwing back his head; "and you forget, madam, there is a will."
Mrs. Krill's fresh color turned to a dull white, and her hard eyes shot fire. "A will," she said slowly. "I shall dispute the will if it is not in my favor. I am the widow of this man and I claim full justice. Besides," she went on, wetting her full lips with her tongue, "I understood from the newspapers that the money was left to Mr. Krill's daughter."
"Certainly. To Sylvia Krill."
"Norman, sir. She has no right to any other name. But I really do not see why I should explain myself to you, sir. If you choose to give this girl your name you will be doing a good act. At present the poor creature is—nobody." She let the last word drop from her lips slowly, so as to give Paul its full sting.
Beecot said nothing. He could not dispute what she said. If this woman could prove the marriage of thirty years ago, then Krill, or Norman as he called himself, had committed bigamy, and, in the hard eyes of the law, Sylvia was nobody's child. And that the marriage could be proved Paul saw well enough from the looks of the lawyer, who was studying the certificate which he had drawn from the shabby blue envelope. "Then the will—the money is left to Sylvia," he said with obstinacy. "I shall defend her rights."
"Of course," said Mrs. Krill, significantly. "I understand that a wife with five thousand—"
"I would marry Sylvia without a penny."
"Indeed, sir, that is the only way in which you can marry her. If you like I shall allow her twenty pounds for a trousseau."
Paul rose and flung back his head again. "You have not got the money yet, madam," he said defiantly.
Not at all disturbed, Mrs. Krill smiled her eternal smile. "I am here to get it. There is a will, you say," she added, turning to Pash. "And I understand from this gentleman," she indicated Beecot slightly, "that the money is left to Mr. Krill's daughter. Does he name Maud or Sylvia?"
Pash slapped down the certificate irritably. "He names no one. The will is a hasty document badly worded, and simply leaves all the testator died possessed of to—my daughter."
"Which of course means Maud here. I congratulate you, dear," she said, turning to the girl, who looked happy and flushed. "Your father has made up to us both for his cruelty and desertion."
Seeing that there was nothing to be said, Paul went to the door. But there his common sense left him and he made a valedictory speech. "I know that Mr. Krill left the money to Sylvia."
"Oh, no," said the widow, "to his daughter, as I understand the wording of the will runs. In that case this nameless girl has nothing."
"Pash!" cried Beecot, turning despairingly to the little solicitor.
The old man shook his head and sucked in his cheeks. "I am sorry, Mr. Beecot," said he, in a pitying tone, "but as the will stands the money must certainly go to the child born in wedlock. I have the certificate here," he laid his monkey paw on it, "but of course I shall make inquiries."
"By all means," said Mrs. Krill, graciously. "My daughter and myself have lived for many years in Christchurch, Hants. We keep the inn there—not the principal inn, but a small public-house on the outskirts of the village. It will be a change for us both to come into five thousand a year after such penury. Of course, Mr. Pash, you will act for my daughter and myself."
"Mr. Pash acts for Sylvia," cried Paul, still lingering at the door. The lawyer was on the horns of a dilemma. "If what Mrs. Krill says is true I can't dispute the facts," he said irritably, "and I am unwilling to give up the business. Prove to me, ma'am, that you are the lawful widow of my late client, and that this is my late esteemed client's lawful daughter, and I will act for you."
Mrs. Krill's ample bosom rose and fell and her eyes glittered triumphantly. She cast a victorious glance at Beecot. But that young man was looking at the solicitor. "Rats leave the sinking ship," said he, bitterly; "you will not prosper, Pash."
"Everyone prospers who protects the widow and the orphan," said Pash, in a pious tone, and so disgusted Paul that he closed the door with a bang and went out. Tray was playing chuck-farthing at the door and keeping Mr. Grexon Hay from coming in.
"You there, Beecot?" said this gentleman, coldly. "I wish you would tell this brat to let me enter."
"Brat yourself y' toff," cried Tray, pocketing his money. "Ain't I a-doin' as my master tells me? He's engaged with two pretty women"—he leered in a way which made Paul long to box his ears—"so I don't spile sport. You've got tired of them, Mr. Beecot?"
"How do you know Mr. Beecot's name?" asked Hay, calmly.
"Lor', sir. Didn't you and me pull him from under the wheels?"
"Oh," said Grexon, suddenly enlightened, "were you the boy? Since you have washed your face I didn't recognize you. Well, Beecot, you look disturbed."
"I have reason to. And since you and this boy pulled me from under the wheels of the motor," said Paul, glancing from one to the other, "I should like to know what became of the brooch."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Grexon, quietly. "We talked of this before. I gave it as my opinion, if you remember, that it was picked up in the street by the late Aaron Norman and was used to seal his mouth. At least that is the only way in which I can conjecture you lost it."
"You never saw it drop from my pocket?"
"I should have picked it up and returned it had I seen it," said Hay, fixing his eye-glass. "Perhaps this boy saw it."
"Saw what?" asked Tray, who was listening with both his large ears.
"An old blue-velvet case with a brooch inside," said Beecot, quickly.
Tray shook his head vigorously. "If I'd seen it I' ha' nicked it," he said impudently; "catch me givin' it back t' y', Mr. Beecot. There's a cove I knows—a fence that is—as 'ud give me lots fur it. Lor'," said Tray, with deep disappointment, "to think as that dropped out of your pocket and I never grabbed it. Wot crewel luck—ho!" and he spat.
Paul looked hard at the boy, who met his gaze innocently enough. Apparently he spoke in all seriousness, and really lamented the lost chance of gaining a piece of jewellery to make money out of. Moreover, had he stolen the brooch, he would hardly have talked so openly of the fence he alluded to. Hay the young man could not suspect, as there was positively no reason why he should steal so comparatively trifling an article. Sharper as he was, Hay flew at higher game, and certainly would not waste his time, or risk his liberty, in stealing what would bring him in only a few shillings.
"Why don't you ask the detectives to search for the brooch," said Hay, smiling.
"It is in the detective's possession," said Paul, sullenly; "but we want to know how it came to pin Norman's lips together."
"I can't imagine, unless he picked it up. If lost at all it must have been lost in the street the old man lived in, and you told me he wanted the brooch badly."
"But he wasn't on the spot?"
"Wot," cried Tray, suddenly, "the one-eyed cove? Ho, yuss, but warn't he? Why, when they was a-gitin' the ambulance, an' the peelers wos a-crowdin' round, he come dancing like billeo out of his shorp."
Beecot thought this was strange, as he understood from Deborah and Bart and Sylvia that Norman had known nothing of the accident at the time. Then again Norman himself had not mentioned it when he paid that visit to the hospital within a few hours of his death. "I don't think that's true," he said to Tray sharply.
"Oh, cuss it," said that young gentleman, "wot d' I care. Th' ole cove come an' danced in the mud, and then he gits int' his shorp again. Trew is trew, saiy wot y' like, mister—ho."
Beecot turned his back on the boy. After all, he was not worth arguing with, and a liar by instinct. Still, in this case he might have spoken the truth. Norman might have appeared on the scene of the accident and have picked up the brooch. Paul thought he would tell Hurd this, and, meantime, held out his hand to Hay. In spite of the bad character he had heard of that young man, he saw no reason why he should not be civil to him, until he found him out. Meantime, he was on his guard.
"One moment," said Grexon, grasping the outstretched hand. "I have something to say to you," and he walked a little way with Paul. "I am going in to see Pash on business which means a little money to me. I was the unfortunate cause of your accident, Beecot, so I think you might accept twenty pounds or so from me."
"No, thank you all the same," said Paul gratefully, yet with a certain amount of caution. "I can struggle along. After all, it was an accident."
"A very unfortunate one," said Hay, more heartily than usual. "I shall never forgive myself. Is your arm all right?"
"Oh, much better. I'll be quite cured in a week or so."
"And meantime how do you live?"
"I manage to get along," replied Paul, reservedly. He did not wish to reveal the nakedness of the land to such a doubtful acquaintance.
"You are a hard-hearted sort of chap," said Hay coldly, but rather annoyed at his friendly advances being flouted. "Well, then, if you won't accept a loan, let me help you in another way. Come and dine at my rooms. I have a young publisher coming also, and if you meet him he will be able to do something for you. He's under obligations to me, and you may be certain I'll use all my influence in your favor. Come now—next Tuesday—that's a week off—you can't have any engagement at such a long notice."
Paul smiled. "I never do have any engagements," he said with his boyish smile, "thank you. I'll look in if I can. But I am in trouble, Grexon—very great trouble."
"You shouldn't be," said Hay, smiling. "I know well enough why you will not accept my loan. The papers say Sylvia, your Dulcinea, has inherited a million. You are to marry her. Unless," said Hay, suddenly, "this access of wealth has turned her head and she has thrown you over. Is she that sort of girl?"
"No," said Paul quietly, "she is as true to me as I am to her. But you are mistaken as to the million. It is five thousand a year, and she may not even inherit that."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not at liberty to say. But with regard to your dinner," added Paul, hastily changing the conversation, "I'll come if I can get my dress-suit out of pawn."
"Then I count on you," said Hay, blandly, "though you will not let me help you to obtain the suit. However, this publisher will do a lot for you. By Jove, what a good-looking girl."
He said this under his breath. Miss Maud Krill appeared on the doorstep where the two young men stood and stumbled against Grexon in passing. His hat was off at once, and he apologized profusely. Miss Krill, who seemed a young woman of few words, as Paul thought from her silence in the office, smiled and bowed, but passed on, without saying a "thank you." Mrs. Krill followed, escorted by the treacherous Pash who was all smiles and hand-washings and bows. Apparently he was quite convinced that the widow's story was true, and Paul felt sick at the news he would have to tell Sylvia. Pash saw the young man, and meeting his indignant eyes darted back into his office like a rabbit into its burrow. The widow sailed out in her calm, serene way, without a look at either Paul or his companion. Yet the young man had an instinct that she saw them both.
"That's the mother I expect," said Hay, putting his glass firmly into his eye; "a handsome pair. Gad, Paul, that young woman—eh?"
"Perhaps you'd like to marry her," said Paul, bitterly.
Hay drew himself up stiffly. "I don't marry stray young women I see on the street, however attractive," he said in his cold voice. "I don't know either of these ladies."
"Pash will introduce you if you make it worth his while."
"Why the deuce should I," retorted Hay, staring.
"Well," said Beecot, impulsively telling the whole of the misfortune that had befallen him, "that is the wife and that is the daughter of Aaron Norman, alias Krill. The daughter inherits five thousand a year, so marry her and be happy."
"But your Dulcinea?" asked Grexon, dropping his eye-glass in amazement.
"She has me and poverty," said Paul, turning away. Nor could the quiet call of Hay make him stop. But at the end of the street he looked back, and saw Grexon entering the office of the lawyer. If Hay was the man Hurd said he was, Paul guessed that he would inquire about the heiress and marry her too, if her banking account was large and safe.
THE NEW LIFE
For obvious reasons Beecot did not return to Gwynne Street. It was difficult to swallow this bitter pill which Providence had administered. In place of an assured future with Sylvia, he found himself confronted with his former poverty, with no chance of marrying the girl, and with the obligation of telling her that she had no right to any name. Paul was by no means a coward, and his first impulse was to go at once and inform Sylvia of her reverse of fortune. But it was already late, and he thought it would be only kind to withhold the bad news till the morrow, and thus avoid giving the disinherited girl a tearful and wakeful night. Therefore, after walking the Embankment till late, Paul went to his garret.
To the young man's credit it must be said that he cared very little for the loss of the money, although he grieved on Sylvia's account. Had he been able to earn a small income, he would have married the girl and given her the protection of his name without the smallest hesitation. But he was yet unknown to fame; he was at variance with his father, and he could scarcely bring Sylvia to share his bitter poverty—which might grow still more bitter in that cold and cheerless garret.
Then there was another thing to consider. Paul had written to his father explaining the circumstances of his engagement to Sylvia, and asking for the paternal blessing. To gain this, he mentioned that his promised wife had five thousand a year. Bully and tyrant as Beecot senior was, he loved money, and although well off, was always on the alert to have more brought into the family. With the bribe of a wealthy wife, Paul had little doubt but what the breach would be healed, and Sylvia welcomed as the sweetest and most desirable daughter-in-law in the world. Then Paul fancied the girl would be able to subdue with her gentle ways the stubborn heart of his father, and would also be able to make Mrs. Beecot happy. Indeed, he had received a letter from his mother congratulating him on his wealthy match, for the good lady wished to see Paul independent of the domestic tyrant. Also Mrs. Beecot had made many inquiries about Sylvia's goodness and beauty, and hoped that he had chosen wisely, and hinted that no girl living was worthy of her son, after the fashion of mothers. Paul had replied to this letter setting forth his own unworthiness and Sylvia's perfections, and Mrs. Beecot had accepted the good news with joy. But the letter written to Beecot senior was yet unanswered, and Paul began to think that not even the chance of having a rich daughter-in-law would prevail against the obstinacy of the old gentleman.
But when he reached his garret, after that lonely and tormenting walk on the Embankment, he found a letter from his father, and opened it with some trepidation. It proved to contain joyful news. Mr. Beecot thanked Heaven that Paul was not such a fool as he had been of yore, and hinted that this sudden access of sense which had led him to engage himself to a wealthy girl had come from his father and not from his mother. He—Beecot senior—was aware that Paul had acted badly, and had not remembered what was due to the best of fathers; but since he was prepared to settle down with a rich wife, Beecot senior nobly forgave the past and Paul's many delinquences (mentioned in detail) and would be glad to welcome his daughter-in-law. Then Beecot, becoming the tyrant again, insisted that the marriage should take place in Wargrove, and that the fact of Sylvia's father being murdered should be suppressed. In fact, the old gentleman left nothing to the young couple, but arranged everything in his own selfish way, even to choosing, in Wargrove, the house they would inhabit. The house, he mentioned, was one of his own which could not be let on account of some trivial tale of a ghost, and Mr. Beecot would give this as a marriage gift to Paul, thus getting rid of an unprofitable property and playing the part of a generous father at one and the same time. In spite of his bucolic ways and pig-headed obstinacy and narrow views, Beecot senior possessed a certain amount of cunning which Paul read in every line of the selfish letter before him.
However, the main point was, that the old gentleman seemed ready to overlook the past and to receive Sylvia. Paul wanted to return to his home, not so much on account of his father, as because he wished to smooth the remaining years of his mother, and he knew well that Sylvia with her gentle ways and heart of gold would make Mrs. Beecot happy. So long as Paul loved the girl he wished to marry, the mother was happy; but Beecot senior had an eye to the money, and thus was ready to be bribed into forgiveness and decent behavior. Now all this was altered. From the tone of the letter, Paul knew his father would never consent to his marrying a girl not only without a name, but lacking the fortune which alone rendered her desirable in his eyes. Still, the truth would have to be told, and if Beecot senior refused to approve of the marriage, the young couple would have to do without his sanction. The position, thought Paul, would only make him work the harder, so that within a reasonable time he might be able to provide a home for Sylvia.
So, the young man facing the situation, bravely wrote to his father and explained how the fortune had passed from Sylvia, but declared, with all the romance of youth, that he intended to marry the girl all the same. If Beecot senior, said Paul, would permit the marriage, and allow the couple a small income until the husband could earn enough to keep the pot boiling, the writer would be grateful. If not, Paul declared firmly that he would work like a slave to make a home for his darling. But nothing in the world would make him give up Sylvia. This was the letter to his father, and then Paul wrote one to his mother, detailing the circumstances and imploring her to stand by him, although in his own sinking heart he felt that Mrs. Beecot was but a frail reed on which to lean. He finished these letters and posted them before midnight. Then he went to bed and dreamed that the bad news was all moonshine, and that Sylvia and he were a happy rich married pair.
But the cold grey searching light of dawn brought the actual state of things again to his mind and so worried him that he could hardly eat any breakfast. He spent the morning in writing a short tale, for which he had been promised a couple of sovereigns, and took it to the office of the weekly paper which had accepted it, on his way to Gwynne Street. Paul's heart was heavy, thinking of what he had to tell, but he did not intend to let Sylvia see that he was despondent. On turning down the street he raised his head, assumed a smile and walked with a confident step into the shop.
As he entered he heard a heavy woman plunge down the stairs, and found his arm grasped by Deborah, very red-faced and very furious, the moment he crossed the threshold. Bart could be heard knocking boxes together in the cellar, as he was getting Deborah's belongings ready for removal to Jubileetown, where the cottage, and the drying ground for the laundry, had already been secured through Pash. But Paul had no time to ask what was going on. A glance at the hand-maiden's tearful face revealed that she knew the worst, in which case Sylvia must also have heard the news.
"Yes," cried Deborah, seeing the sudden whiteness of Paul's cheeks, and shaking him so much as to hurt his injured arm, "she knows, she do—oh, lor', bless us that things should come to this—and there she's settin' a-crying out her beautiful eyes for you, Mr. Beecot. Thinking of your throwin' her over, and if you do," shouted Deborah, with another shake, "you'd better ha' bin smashed to a jelly than face me in my presingt state. Seein' you from the winder I made bold to come down and arsk your intentings; for if them do mean no marriage and the breaking of my pretty's 'eart, never shall she set eyes agin on a double-faced Jonah, and—and—" Here Deborah gasped for breath and again shook Paul.
"Deborah," he said, in a quiet voice, releasing himself, "I love Sylvia for herself and not for her money."
Deborah threw her brawny arms in the air and her apron over her red head. "I knowed it—oh, yuss, indeed," she sobbed in muffled tones. "Ses I, I ses, Mr. Paul's a gentleman whatever his frantic par may be and marry you, my own lovey, he will, though not able to afford the marriage fees, the same as will come out of Debby's pocket, though the laundry go by the board. 'Eaven knows what we'll live on all the same, pore wurkhus ijets as me an' Bart are, not bein' able to make you an' Miss Sylvia 'appy. Miss Sylvia Krill an' Norman both," ended Deborah with emphasis, "whatever that smooth cat with the grin and the clawses may say, drat her fur a slimy tabby—yah!"
"I see you know all," said Paul, as soon as he could slip in a word.
"Know all," almost yelled Deborah, dragging down the apron and revealing flashing eyes, "and it's a mussy I ain't in Old Bailey this very day for scratching that monkey of a Pash. Oh, if I'd known wot he wos never should he 'ave got me the laundry, though the same may have to go, worse luck. Ho, yuss! he come, and she come with her kitting, as is almost as big a cat as she is. Mrs. Krill, bless her, oh, yuss, Mrs. Krill, the sneakin', smiling Jezebel."
"Did she see Sylvia?" asked Beecot, sharply.
"Yuss, she did," admitted Deborah, "me lettin' her in not knowin' her scratchin's. An' the monkey an' the kitting come too—a-spyin' out the land as you may say. W'en I 'eard the noos I 'owled Mr. Paul, but my pretty she turned white like one of them plaster stateys as boys sell cheap in the streets, and ses she, she ses, 'Oh Paul'—if you'll forgive me mentioning your name, sir, without perliteness."
"Bless her, my darling. Did she think of me," said Beecot, tenderly.
"Ah, when do she not think of you, sir? 'Eart of gold, though none in her pocket by means of that Old Bailey woman as is a good match fur my Old Bailey master. Ho! he wos a bad 'un, and 'ow Miss Sylvia ever come to 'ave sich a par beats me. But I thank 'eaven the cat ain't my pretty's mar, though she do 'ave a daughter of her own, the painted, stuck-up parcel of bad bargains."
Paul nodded. "Calling names won't do any good, Deborah," he said sadly; "we must do the best we can."
"There ain't no chance of the lawr gettin' that woman to the gallers I 'spose, sir?"
"The woman is your late master's lawful wife. Pash seems to think so and has gone over to the enemy"—here Deborah clenched her mighty fists and gasped. "Sylvia's mother was married later, and as the former wife is alive Sylvia is—"
"No," shouted Deborah, flinging out her hand, "don't say it."
"Sylvia is poor," ended Paul, calmly. "What did you think I was about to say, Deborah?"
"What that cat said, insulting of my pretty. But I shoved her out of the door, tellin' her what she were. She guv me and Bart and my own sunbeam notice to quit," gasped Deborah, almost weeping, "an' quit we will this very day, Bart bein' a-packin' at this momingt. 'Ear 'im knocking, and I wish he wos a-knockin' at Mrs. Krill's 'ead, that I do, the flauntin' hussy as she is, drat her."
"I'll go up and see Sylvia. No, Deborah, don't you come for a few minutes. When you do come we'll arrange what is to be done."
Deborah nodded acquiescence. "Take my lovely flower in your arms, sir," she said, following him to the foot of the stairs, "and tell her as your 'eart is true, which true I knowed it would be."
Beecot was soon in the sitting-room and found Sylvia on the sofa, her face buried in her hands. She looked up when she recognized the beloved footsteps and sprang to her feet. The next moment she was sobbing her heart out on Paul's faithful breast, and he was comforting her with all the endearing names he could think of.
"My own, my sweet, my dearest darling," whispered Paul, smoothing the pretty brown hair, "don't weep. You have lost much, but you have me."
"Dear," she wept, "do you think it is true?"
"I am afraid it is, Sylvia. However, I know a young lawyer, who is a friend of mine, and I'll speak to him."
"But Paul, though my mother may not have been married to my father—"
"She was, Sylvia, but Mrs. Krill was married to him earlier. Your father committed bigamy, and you, poor child, have to pay the penalty."
"Well, even if the marriage is wrong, the money was left to us."
"To you, dear," said Beecot, leading her to the sofa, "that is, the money was left in that loosely-worded will to 'my daughter.' We all thought it was you, but now this legal wife has come on the scene, the money must go to her daughter. Oh, Sylvia," cried Paul, straining her to his breast, "how foolish your father was not to say the money was left to 'my daughter Sylvia.' Then everything would have been right. But the absence of the name is fatal. The law will assume that the testator meant his true daughter."
"And am I not his true daughter?" she asked, her lips quivering.
"You are my own darling, Sylvia," murmured Paul, kissing her hair; "don't let us talk of the matter. I'll speak to my lawyer friend, but I fear from the attitude of Pash that Mrs. Krill will make good her claim. Were there a chance of keeping you in possession of the money, Pash would never have left you so easily."
"I am so sorry about the money on your account, Paul."
"My own," he said cheerily, "money is a good thing, and I wish we could have kept the five thousand a year. But I have you, and you have me, and although we cannot marry for a long time yet—"
"Not marry, Paul! Oh, why not?"
"Dearest, I am poor, I cannot drag you down to poverty."
Sylvia looked at him wide-eyed. "I am poor already." She looked round the room. "Nothing here is mine. I have only a few clothes. Mr. Pash said that Mrs. Krill would take everything. Let me marry you, darling," she whispered coaxingly, "and we can live in your garret. I will cook and mend, and be your own little wife."
Beecot groaned. "Don't tempt me, Sylvia," he said, putting her away, "I dare not marry you. Why, I have hardly enough to pay the fees. No, dear, you must go with Debby to her laundry, and I'll work night and day to make enough for us to live on. Then we'll marry, and—"
"But your father, Paul?"
"He won't do anything. He consented to our engagement, but solely, I believe, because he thought you were rich. Now, when he knows you are poor—and I wrote to tell him last night—he will forbid the match."
"Paul!" She clung to him in sick terror.
"My sweetest"—he caught her in his arms—"do you think a dozen fathers would make me give you up? No, my love of loves—my soul, my heart of hearts—come good, come ill, we will be together. You can stay with Debby at Jubileetown until I make enough to welcome you to a home, however humble. Dear, be hopeful, and trust in the God who brought us together. He is watching over us, and, knowing that, why need we fear? Don't cry, darling heart."
"I'm not crying for crying," sobbed Sylvia, hiding her face on his breast and speaking incoherently; "but I'm so happy—"
"In spite of the bad news?" asked Paul, laughing gently.
"Yes—yes—to think that you should still wish to marry me. I am poor—I—I—have—no name, and—"
"Dearest, you will soon have my name."
"But Mrs. Krill said—"
"I don't want to hear what she said," cried Paul, impetuously; "she is a bad woman. I can see badness written all over her smiling face. We won't think of her. When you leave here you won't see her again. My own dear little sweetheart," whispered Paul, tenderly, "when you leave this unhappy house, let the bad past go. You and I will begin a new life. Come, don't cry, my pet. Here's Debby."
Sylvia looked up, and threw herself into the faithful servant's arms. "Oh, Debby, he loves me still; he's going to marry me whenever he can."
Deborah laughed and wiped Sylvia's tears away with her coarse apron, tenderly. "You silly flower," she cried caressingly; "you foolish queen of 'oney bees, of course he have you in his 'eart. You'll be bride and I'll be bridesmaid, though not a pretty one, and all will be 'oney and sunshine and gates of pearl, my beauty."
Deborah placed her young mistress in Paul's arms. "Then let 'im make you 'appier, pretty lily of the valley. Lor', as if anything bad 'ud ever come to you two while silly old Debby have a leg to stan' on an' arms to wash. Though the laundry—oh, lor'!" and she rubbed her nose till it grew scarlet, "what of it, Mr. Beecot, I do ask?"
"Have you enough money to pay a year's rent?"
"Yes, me and Bart have saved one 'undred between us. Rent and furniture and taxes can come out of it, sure. And my washin's what I call washin'," said Deborah, emphatically; "no lost buttings and tored sheets and ragged collars. I'd wash ag'in the queen 'erself, tho' I ses it as shouldn't. Give me a tub, and you'll see if the money don't come in."
"Well, then, Deborah, as I am too poor to marry Sylvia now, I want her to stop with you till I can make a home for her."
"An' where else should she stop but with her own silly, foolish Debby, I'd like to know? My flower, you come an' be queen of the laundry."
"I'll keep the accounts, Debby," said Sylvia, now all smiling.
"You'll keep nothin' but your color an' your dear 'eart up," retorted Debby, sniffing; "me an' Bart 'ull do all. An' this blessed day we'll go to Jubileetown with our belongings. And you, Mr. Beecot?"
"I'll come and see you settled, Deborah, and then I return to earn an income for Sylvia. I won't let you keep her long."
"She'll stop as long as she have the will," shouted Debby, hugging Sylvia; "as to that Krill cat—"
"She can take possession as soon as she likes. And, Deborah," added Paul, significantly, "for all that has happened, I don't intend to drop the search for your late master's murderer."
"It's the Krill cat as done it," said Debby, "though I ain't got no reason for a-sayin' of such a think."
THE DETECTIVE'S VIEWS
As Paul expected, the next letter from his father contained a revocation of all that had pleased him in the former one. Beecot senior wrote many pages of abuse—he always did babble like a complaining woman when angered. He declined to sanction the marriage and ordered his son at once—underlined—to give up all thought of making Sylvia Norman his wife. It would have been hard enough, wrote Beecot, to have received her as a daughter-in-law even with money, seeing that she had no position and was the daughter of a murdered tradesman, but seeing also that she was a pauper, and worse, a girl without a cognomen, he forbade Paul to bestow on her the worthy name of Beecot, so nobly worn by himself. There was much more to the same effect, which Paul did not read, and the letter ended grandiloquently in a command that Paul was to repair at once to the Manor and there grovel at the feet of his injured father.
To this despotic epistle the young man answered in a few lines. He said that he intended to marry Sylvia, and that nothing would make him give her up, and that he would not meet his father again until that father remembered that his son was an Englishman and not a slave. Paul signed his letter without the usual "your affectionate son," for he felt that he had small love for this imperious old man who declined to control his passions. So he now, knew the worst. The breach between himself and his father was wider than ever, and he had only his youth and his brains to depend upon, in making a living for himself and a home for Sylvia. Strange to say, Paul's spirits rose, and he braced himself bravely to do battle with fortune for his beloved.
Sylvia, under the charge of Deborah, and escorted by Bart Tawsey, had duly left Gwynne Street, bag and baggage, and she was now established in Rose Cottage, Jubileetown. The house was a small one, and there was not a single rose in the garden around it. Indeed, as the cottage had been newly erected, there was not even a garden, and it stood amidst a bare acre with a large drying-ground at the back. But the cottage, on the outskirts of the new suburb, was, to all intents and purposes, in the country, and Sylvia's weary eyes were so gladdened by green fields and glorious trees that she forgot the nakedness of her immediate surroundings. She was assigned the best room in the small abode, and one of the first things she did was to write a letter to Paul asking him to repair to Rose Cottage to witness the marriage of Deborah and Bart. The handmaiden thought this was necessary, so that she could make full use of her intended husband.
"If he wasn't here allays," said the bride-elect, "he'd be gadding about idling. I know him. An' me getting a business together won't be easy unless I've got him at 'and, as you may say, to take round the bills, let alone that he ought to sleep in the 'ouse in case burgulars gits in. And sleep in the 'ouse without the blessin' of matrimony he can't, my pretty, so that's all about it."
Deborah, as an American would say, was a "hustler," and having made up her mind, she did not let grass grow under her feet. She called on the vicar of the parish and explained herself at great length, but suppressed the fact that she had formerly lived in Gwynne Street. She did not want the shadow of the murder to cast a gloom over her new home, and therefore said nothing about the matter. All the vicar, good, easy soul, knew, was that Deborah had been a servant in a respectable family (whereabouts not mentioned); that the father and mother had died, and that she had brought the only daughter of the house to live with her and be treated like a lady. Then Deborah demanded that the banns should be put up, and arranged that Bart should take up his abode in the parish for the necessary time. This was done, and for three Sundays Deborah had the pleasure of hearing the banns announced which foretold that Bart Tawsey and herself would soon be man and wife. Then the marriage took place.
The future Mrs. Tawsey had no relatives, but Bart produced a snuffy old grandmother from some London slum who drank gin during the wedding-feast, much to the scandal of the bride. Paul acted as best man to Bart, and Sylvia, in her plain black dress, was bridesmaid. Mrs. Purr, the grandmother, objected to the presence of black at a wedding, saying it was unlucky, and told of many fearful incidents which had afterwards occurred to those who had tolerated such a funeral garb. But Deborah swept away all opposition.
"What!" she shouted in her usual style, "not 'ave my own sweet pretty to arsk a blessing on my marriage, and she not able to git out of 'er blacks? I'm astonished at you, Mrs. Purr, and you an old woman as oughter know better. I doubt if you're Bart's granny. I've married into an ijit race. Don't talk to me, Mrs. Purr, if you please. Live clean an' work 'ard, and there's no trouble with them 'usbands. As 'as to love, honor and obey you."—And she sniffed.
"Them words you 'ave t' saiy," mumbled Mrs. Purr.
"Ho," said Deborah, scornfully, "I'd like to see me say 'em to sich a scrub as Bart."
But say them she did at the altar, being compelled to do so by the vicar. But when the ceremony was over, the newly-made Mrs. Tawsey took Bart by the arm and shook him. He was small and lean and of a nervous nature, so he quivered like a jelly in his wife's tremendous grip. Deborah was really ignorant of her own strength.
"You 'ark to me, Bart," said she, while the best man and bridesmaid walked on ahead talking lovingly. "I said them words, which you oughter 'ave said, 'cause you ain't got no memory t' speak of. But they ain't my beliefs, but yours, or I'll know the reason why. Jes' you say them now. Swear, without Billingsgate, as you'll allays love, honor an' obey your lovin' wife."
Bart, still being shaken, gasped out the words, and then gave his arm to the lady who was to rule his life. Deborah kissed him in a loud, hearty way, and led him in triumph to the cottage. Here Mrs. Purr had prepared a simple meal, and the health of the happy pair was proposed by Paul. Mrs. Purr toasted them in gin, and wept as she did so. A dismal, tearful old woman was Mrs. Purr, and she was about to open her mouth, in order to explain what she thought would come of the marriage, when Mrs. Tawsey stopped her.
"None of them groans," cried Deborah, with vigor. "I won't have my weddings made funerals. 'Old your tongue, Mrs. Purr, and you, Bart, jes' swear to love, honor an' obey my pretty as you would your own lawful wife, and the ceremonies is hoff."
Bart performed the request, and then Paul, laughing at the oddity of it all, took his leave. On walking to the gate, he was overtaken by Mrs. Purr, who winked mysteriously. "Whatever you do, sir," said the lean old creature, with many contortions of her withered face, "don't have nothin' to do with Tray."
"Tray," echoed Paul in surprise. "Mr. Pash's office boy?"
"Him and none other. I knows his grandmother, as 'as bin up for drunk two hundred times, and is proud of it. Stretchers is as common to her, sir, as kissings is to a handsome young gent like you. An' the boy takes arter her. A deep young cuss," whispered Granny Purr, significantly.
"But why should I beware of him?" asked Beecot, puzzled.
"A nod's a wink to a blind 'un," croaked Mrs. Purr, condensing the proverb, and turning away. "Jus' leave that brat, Tray, to his own wickedness. They'll bring him to the gallers some day."
"But I want to know—"
"Ah, well, then, you won't, sir. I ses what I ses, and I ses no more nor I oughter say. So good-night, sir," and Mrs. Purr toddled up the newly-gravelled path, and entered the cottage, leaving an odor of gin behind her.
Beecot had half a mind to follow, so strange was the hint she had given him. Apparently, she knew something which connected him with Tray, and Paul wondered for the fiftieth time, if the boy had picked up the opal brooch. However, he decided to leave the matter alone for the present. Mrs. Purr, whom Deborah had engaged to iron, was always available, and Paul decided, that should anything point to Tray's being implicated in the finding of the opal serpent, that he would hand him over to Hurd, who would be better able to deal with such a keen young imp of the gutter. Thus making up his mind, Paul dismissed all thought of Mrs. Purr's mysterious utterance, and walked briskly to the nearest bus-stand, where he took a blue vehicle to the Bloomsbury district. All the way to his garret he dreamed of Sylvia, and poor though was the home he had left her in, he was thankful that she was there in the safe shelter of Mrs. Deborah Tawsey's arms.
It was five o'clock when Paul arrived at the door of the stairs leading to his attic, and here he was touched on the shoulder by no less a person than Mr. Billy Hurd. Only when he spoke did Paul recognize him by his voice, for the gentleman who stood before him was not the brown individual he knew as the detective. Mr. Hurd was in evening dress, with the neatest of patent boots and the tightest of white gloves. He wore a brilliantly-polished silk hat, and twirled a gold-headed cane. Also he had donned a smart blue cloth overcoat with a velvet collar and cuffs. But though his voice was the voice of Hurd, his face was that of quite a different person. His hair was dark and worn rather long, his moustache black and large, and brushed out a la Kaiser, and he affected an eye-glass as immovable as that of Hay's. Altogether a wonderfully changed individual.
"Hurd," said Paul, starting with surprise.
"It's my voice told you. But now—" he spoke a tone higher in a shrill sort of way and with a foreign accent—"vould you me discover, mon ami?" he inquired, with a genuine Parisian shrug.
"No. Why are you masquerading as a Frenchman, Hurd?"
"Not Hurd in this skin, Mr. Beecot. Comte de la Tour, a votre service," and he presented a thin glazed card with a coronet engraved on it.
"Well, Count," said Beecot, laughing, "what can I do for you?"
"Come up to your room," said the pseudo count, mounting the stairs; "there's something to be talked over between us."
"No bad news, I hope?"
"Ah, my poor friend," said the detective, in his usual genial voice, "you have had enough bad news, I am aware. To lose a lovely wife and a fine fortune at once. Eh, what a pity!"
"I have lost the money, certainly," said Beecot, lighting his lamp, "but the wife will be mine as soon as I can save sufficient to give her a better home than this."
Monsieur le Comte de la Tour sat down and gracefully flung open his overcoat, so as to expose a spotless shirt front. "What?" he asked, lifting his darkened eyebrows, "so you mean to marry that girl?"
"Of course," said Paul, angrily; "do you think I'm a brute?"
"But the money?"
"What does that matter. I love her, not the money."
"And the name. Her birth—"
"I'll give her my own name and then we'll see who will dare to say a word against my wife."
Hurd stretched out his hand, and, grasping that of Beecot's, shook it warmly. "Upon my word you are a man, and that's almost better than being a gentleman," he said heartily. "I've heard everything from Mr. Pash, and I honor you Mr. Beecot—I honor you."
Paul stared. "You must have been brought up in a queer way, Hurd," he said drily, "to express this surprise because a man acts as a man and not as a blackguard."
"Ah, but you see in my profession I have mixed with blackguards, and that has lowered my moral tone. It's refreshing to meet a straight, honorable man such as you are, Mr. Beecot. I liked you when first I set eyes on you, and determined to help you to discover the assassin of Aaron Norman—"
"Lemuel Krill you mean."
"I prefer to call him by the name we both know best," said Hurd, "but as I was saying, I promised to help you to find out who killed the man; now I'll help you to get back the money."
Paul sat down and stared. "What do you mean?" he asked. "The money can't be got back. I asked a legal friend of mine, and put the case to him, since that monkey of a Pash has thrown us over. My friend said that as no name was mentioned in the will, Maud Krill would undoubtedly inherit the money. Besides, I learn that the certificate of marriage is all right. Mrs. Krill undoubtedly married Aaron Norman under his rightful name thirty years ago."
"Oh, yes, that's all right," said Hurd, producing a dainty silver cigarette case, which was part of his "get-up." "Mrs. Krill is the widow of the murdered man, and the silly way in which the will has been made gives the five thousand a year to her daughter, whom Mrs. Krill has under her thumb. It's all right as I say. But I shouldn't be surprised to learn that there were circumstances in Aaron Norman's past life which led him to leave his wife, and which may lead Mrs. Krill into buying silence by giving Miss Norman half the income. You could live on two thousand odd a year, eh?"
"Not obtained in that way," said Beecot, filling his pipe and passing a match to Hurd. "If the money comes legally to Sylvia, well and good; otherwise she will have nothing to do with it."
Hurd looked round the bleak garret expressively and shrugged his shoulders again. "I think you are wrong, Mr. Beecot. You can't bring her here."
"No. But I may make enough money to give her a better home."
"Can I help you?"
"I don't see how you can. I want to be an author."
"Well," said Hurd, whose British speech was in strange contrast to his foreign appearance, "it's not a bad game to be an author if you get a good serial connection. Oh, don't look surprised. I know about newspapers and publishers as I know about most things. See here, Mr. Beecot, have you ever tried your hand at a detective story?"
"No. I write on a higher level."
"You won't write on a more paying level," replied Hurd, coolly. "I know a newspaper which will give you—if I recommend you, mind—one hundred pounds for a good detective yarn. You apply for it."
"But I couldn't make up one of those plots—so intricate."
"Pooh. It's a trick. You set your puppets in such and such a way and then mix them up. I'll give you the benefit of my experience as a 'tec, and with my plot and your own writing we'll be able to knock up a story for the paper I talk of. Then, with one hundred pounds you'll have a nest-egg to start with."
"I accept with gratitude," said Beecot, moved, "but I really don't know why you should trouble about me."
"Because you're a white man and an honorable gentleman," said the detective, emphatically. "I've got a dear little wife of my own, and she's something like this poor Miss Norman. Then again, though you mightn't think so, I'm something of a Christian, and believe we should help others. I had a hard life, Mr. Beecot, before I became a detective, and many a time have I learned that prayers can be answered. But this is all beside the question," went on Hurd quickly, and with that nervous shame with which an Englishman masks the better part of himself. "I'll see about the story for you. Meanwhile, I am going to a card-party to meet, incidentally, Mr. Grexon Hay."
"Ah! You still suspect him?"
"I do, and with good reason. He's got another mug in tow. Lord George Sandal, the son of Lord—well I needn't mention names, but Hay's trying to clear the young ass out, and I'm on the watch. Hay will never know me as the Count de la Tour. Not he, smart as he is. I'm fly!"
"Do you speak French well?"
"Moderately. But I play a silent part and say little. I shut my mouth and open my eyes. But what I came here to say is, that I intend to find out the assassin of Aaron Norman."
"I can't offer you a reward, Hurd," said Paul, with a sigh.
"Oh, that's all right. The widow, by the advice of Pash, has doubled the reward. One thousand pounds it is now—worth winning, eh?"
"Humph!" said Paul, moodily, "I shouldn't think she loved her husband so much as that."
Hurd's brown eyes shot a red flame which showed that he was excited, though he was cool enough externally. "Yes," he admitted in a careless manner, "she certainly does act the weeping widow in rather an exaggerated fashion. However, she's got the cash now—or at least her daughter has, which is the same thing. The two have taken up their quarters in a fashionable hotel in the West End, and are looking for a house. The old woman manages everything, and she will be one too many for Mr. Hay."
"What? Does he know Mrs. Krill? He said he didn't."
"Quite right. He didn't when the ladies went first to Pash's office. But Hay, on the look-out for a rich wife, got Pash to introduce him to the ladies, who were charmed with him. He's making up to the daughter, even in the few weeks that have elapsed, and now is assisting them to find a house. The daughter loves him I fancy, but whether the mother will allow the marriage to take place I can't say."
"Surely not on such a short acquaintance."
Hurd bent forward as about to say something, then changed his mind. "Really, I don't know—Hay is fascinating and handsome. Have you been to see him yet?"
"No. He asked me, but all these troubles have put him out of my head. Why do you ask?"
"Because next time he invites you, go."
"You warned me against him."
"And I warn you again," said the detective, dryly. "Don't ask me to explain, for I can't. But you go to see Hay when he invites you, and make yourself agreeable, especially to Mrs. Krill."
"Am I likely to meet her?" asked Paul, with repugnance.
"Yes, I fancy so. After all, you are engaged to the daughter of the dead man, and Mrs. Krill—I don't count Maud, who is a tool—is a deucedly clever woman. She will keep her eye on you and Miss Norman."
"Why? She has the money and need take no further notice."
Hurd closed one eye in a suggestive manner. "Mrs. Krill may not be so sure of the money, even though possession is nine points of the law. You remember that scrap of paper found by the maid?"
"In which Norman warned Sylvia against allowing his real name to become known? Yes."
"Well, the letter wasn't finished. The old man was interrupted, I suppose. But in the few lines of writing Norman says," here Hurd took a scrap of paper—a copy—out of his book and read, "'If the name of Krill gets into the papers there will be great trouble. Keep it from the public, I can tell you where to find the reasons for this as I have written'—and then," said Hurd, refolding the paper, "the writing ends. But you can see that Aaron Norman wrote out an account of his reasons, which could not be pleasant for Mrs. Krill to hear."
"I still don't understand," said Paul, hopelessly puzzled.
"Well," said the detective, rising and putting on his smart hat, "it's rather a muddle, I confess. I have no reason to suspect Mrs. Krill—"
"Good heavens, Hurd, you don't think she killed her husband?"
"No. I said that I have no reason to suspect her. But I don't like the woman at all. Norman left his wife for some unpleasant reason, and that reason, as I verily believe, has something to do with his death. I don't say that Mrs. Krill killed him, but I do believe that she knows of circumstances which may lead to the detection of the criminal."
"In that case she would save her thousand pounds."
"That's just where it is. If she does know, why does she double the reward? A straightforward woman would speak out, but she's a crooked sort of creature; I shouldn't like to have her for my enemy."
"It seems to me that you do suspect her," said Paul dryly, but puzzled.
Hurd shrugged his shoulders. "No, but I'm in a fix, that's a truth," said he, and sauntered towards the door. "I can't see my way. There's the clue of Mrs. Krill's past to be followed up, and the hint contained in this scrap of paper. The old man may have left a document behind likely to solve the whole business. He hints as much here."
"True enough, but nothing was found."
"Then again," went on Hurd, "the request for the jewels to be delivered to that sailor chap was in Norman's handwriting and signed with his name."
"No. Pash, who knows his writing better than any other man, says the document is genuine. Now then, Mr. Beecot, what made Aaron Norman write and sign those lines giving up his property—or a part of it—just before his death?"
"It may have been done in good faith."
"No. If so, the messenger would not have cleared out when Pash started for Gwynne Street. That nautical gent knew what the lawyer would find at the house, and so made himself scarce after trying to get the jewels. This scrap of paper," Hurd touched his breast, "and that request for the jewels in Pash's possession. Those are my clues."
"And the opal serpent?" asked Paul.
Hurd shook his head gloomily. "It's connection with the matter is beyond me," he confessed.
MR. HAY'S LITTLE DINNER
The detective was as good as his word. In a few days Paul was introduced to the editor of a weekly publication and obtained a commission for a story to be written in collaboration with Mr. Hurd. It seemed that the editor was an old acquaintance of Hurd's and had been extricated by him from some trouble connected with cards. The editor, to show his gratitude, and because that Hurd's experiences, thrown into the form of a story, could not fail to interest the public, was only too willing to make a liberal arrangement. Also Paul was permanently engaged to supply short stories, to read those that were submitted to the editor, and, in fact, he permanently became that gentleman's right hand. He was a kind, beery Bohemian of an editor, Scott by name, and took quite a fancy to Paul.
"I'll give you three pounds a week," said Scott, beaming through his large spectacles and raking his long gray beard with tobacco-stained fingers, "you can live on that, and to earn it you can give me your opinion on the stories. Then between whiles you can talk to Hurd and write this yarn which I am sure will be interesting. Hurd has had some queer experiences."
This was quite true. Hurd had ventured on strange waters, but the strangest he ever sailed on were those connected with the Gwynne Street case. These latter experiences he did not tell to Scott, who was incapable of holding his tongue, and secrecy, as the detective impressed on Paul, was absolutely necessary to the conduct of the case. "If we keep matters quiet," argued Hurd, "and let those concerned in the matter fancy the case has been dropped, we'll be able to throw them off their guard, and then they may betray themselves."
"I wish you would say if you think there is one person or two," said Paul, irritably, for his nerves were wearing thin under the strain. "You first talk of the assassin and then of the assassins."
"Well," drawled Hurd, smiling, "I'm in the dark, you see, and being only a flesh and blood human being, instead of a creation of one of you authors, I can only grope in the dark and look in every direction for the light. One person, two persons, three, even four may be engaged in this affair for all I know. Don't you be in a hurry, Mr. Beecot. I believe in that foreign chap's saying, 'Without haste without rest.'"
"Goethe said that."
"Then Goethe is a sensible man, and must have read his Bible. 'Make no haste in time of trouble,' says the Scriptures."
"Very good," assented Beecot; "take your own time."
"I intend to," said Hurd, coolly. "Bless you, slow and sure is my motto. There's no hurry. You are fixed up with enough to live on, and a prospect of making more. Your young lady is happy enough with that grenadier of a woman in spite of the humbleness of the home. Mrs. Krill and her daughter are enjoying the five thousand a year, and Mr. Grexon Hay is fleecing that young ass, Lord George Sandal, as easily as possible. I stand by and watch everything. When the time comes I'll pounce down on—"
"Ah," said Paul, "that's the question. On whom?"
"On one or two or a baker's dozen," rejoined Hurd, calmly. "My chickens ain't hatched yet, so I don't count 'em. By the way, is your old school-fellow as friendly as ever?"
"Yes. Why, I can't understand; as he certainly will make no money out of me. He's giving a small dinner to-morrow night at his rooms and has asked me."
"You go," said the detective, emphatically; "and don't let on you have anything to do with me."
"See here, Hurd, I won't play the spy, if you mean that."
"I don't mean anything of the sort," replied Hurd, earnestly, "but if you do chance to meet Mrs. Krill at this dinner, and if she does chance to drop a few words about her past, you might let me know."
"Oh, I don't mind doing that," said Beecot, with relief. "I am as anxious to find out the truth about this murder as you are, if not more so. The truth, I take it, is to be found in Krill's past, before he took the name of Norman. Mrs. Krill will know of that past, and I'll try and learn all I can from her. But Hay has nothing to do with the crime, and I won't spy on him."
"Very good. Do what you like. But as to Hay, having nothing to do with the matter, I still think Hay stole that opal brooch from you when you were knocked down."
"In that case Hay must know who killed Norman," cried Paul, excited.
"He just does," rejoined Hurd, calmly; "and now you can understand another reason why I take such an interest in that gentleman."
"But you can't be certain?"
"Quite so. I am in the dark, as I said before. But Hay is a dangerous man and would do anything to rake in the dollars. He has something to do with the disappearance of that brooch I am sure, and if so, he knows more than he says. Besides"—here Hurd hesitated—"No! I'll tell you that later."
"Tell me what?"
"Something about Hay that will astonish you and make you think he has something to do with the crime. Meanwhile, learn all you can from Mrs. Krill."
"If I meet her," said Paul, with a shrug.
Undoubtedly Hurd knew more than he was prepared to admit, and not even to Paul, staunch as he knew him to be, would he speak confidentially. When the time came the detective would speak out. At present he held his tongue and moved in clouds like a Homeric deity. But his eyes were on all those connected with the late Aaron Norman, indirectly or directly, although each and every one of them were unaware of the scrutiny.
Paul had no scruples in learning all he could from Mrs. Krill. He did not think that she had killed her husband, and probably might be ignorant of the person or persons who had slain the poor wretch in so cruel a manner. But the motive of the crime was to be found in Norman's past, and Mrs. Krill knew all about this. Therefore, Paul was very pleased when he found that Mrs. Krill and her daughter were the guests at the little dinner.
Hay's rooms were large and luxuriously furnished. In effect, he occupied a small flat in the house of an ex-butler, and had furnished the place himself in a Sybarite fashion. The ex-butler and his wife and servants looked after Hay, and in addition, that languid gentleman possessed a slim valet, with a sly face, who looked as though he knew more than was good for him. Indeed, the whole atmosphere of the rooms was shady and fast, and Paul, simple young fellow as he was, felt the bad influence the moment he stepped into the tiny drawing-room.
This was furnished daintily and with great taste in color and furnishing. It was more like a woman's room, and Mr. Hay had spared no cost in making it pleasing to the eye and comfortable to the body. The prevailing tone was pale yellow, and the electric light suffused itself through lemon-shaded globes. The Louis Quinze furniture was upholstered in primrose, and there were many Persian praying mats and Eastern draperies about the place. Water-color pictures decked the walls, and numerous mirrors reflected the dainty, pretty apartment. A brisk fire was burning, although the evening was not cold, and everything looked delightfully pleasant. Paul could not help contrasting all this luxury and taste with his bare garret. But with Sylvia's love to warm his heart, he would not have changed places with Grexon Hay for all his splendor.
Two ladies were seated by the fire. Mrs. Krill in black, majestic and calm as usual. She wore diamonds on her breast and jewelled stars in her gray hair. Although not young, she was a wonderfully well-preserved woman, and her arms and neck were white, gleaming and beautifully shaped. From the top of her head to the sole of her rather large but well-shod foot, she was dressed to perfection, and waved a languid fan as she welcomed Paul, who was presented to her by the host. "I am glad to see you, Mr. Beecot," she said in her deep voice; "we had rather an unhappy interview when last we met. How is Miss Norman?"
"She is quite well," replied Paul, in as cordial a tone as he could command. For the sake of learning what he could, he wished to be amiable, but it was difficult when he reflected that this large, suave, smiling woman had robbed Sylvia of a fortune and had spoken of her in a contemptuous way. But Beecot, swallowing down his pride, held his little candle to the devil without revealing his repugnance too openly. And apparently Mrs. Krill believed that his composure was genuine enough, for she was quite at her ease in his presence.
The daughter was dressed like the mother, save that she wore pearls in place of diamonds. She talked but little, as usual, and sat smiling, the young image of the older woman. Hay also introduced Paul to a handsome young fellow of twenty-one with rather a feeble face. This was Lord George Sandal, the pigeon Hay was plucking, and although he had charming manners and an assumption of worldly wisdom, he was evidently one of those who had come into the world saddled and bridled for other folk's riding.
A third lady was also present, who called herself Aurora Qian, and Hay informed his friend in a whisper that she was an actress. Paul then remembered that he had seen her name in the papers as famous in light comedy. She was pretty and kittenish, with fluffy hair and an eternal smile. It was impossible to imagine a greater contrast to the massive firmness of Mrs. Krill than the lively, girlish demeanor of the little woman, yet Paul had an instinct that Miss Qian, in spite of her profession and odd name and childish giggle, was a more shrewd person than she looked. Everyone was bright and merry and chatty: all save Maud Krill who smiled and fanned herself in a statuesque way. Hay paid her great attention, and Paul knew very well that he intended to marry the silent woman for her money. It would be hardly earned he thought, with such a firm-looking mother-in-law as Mrs. Krill would certainly prove to be.
The dinner was delightful, well cooked, daintily served, and leisurely eaten. A red-shaded lamp threw a rosy light on the white cloth, the glittering crystal and bright silver. The number of diners was less than the Muses, and more than the Graces, and everyone laid himself or herself out to make things bright. And again Maud Krill may be mentioned as an exception. She ate well and held her tongue, merely smiling heavily when addressed. Paul, glancing at her serene face across the rosy-hued table, wondered if she really was as calm as she looked, and if she really lacked the brain power her mother seemed to possess.
"I am glad to see you here, Beecot," said Hay, smiling.
"I am very glad to be here," said Paul, adapting himself to circumstances, "especially in such pleasant company."
"You don't go out much," said Lord George.
"No, I am a poor author who has yet to win his spurs."
"I thought of being an author myself," said the young man, "but it was such a fag to think about things."
"You want your material supplied to you perhaps," put in Mrs. Krill in a calm, contemptuous way.
"Oh, no! If I wrote stories like the author johnnies I'd rake up my family history. There's lots of fun there."
"Your family mightn't like it," giggled Miss Qian. "I know lots of things about my own people which would read delightfully if Mr. Beecot set them down, but then—" she shrugged her dainty shoulders, "oh, dear me, what a row there would be!"
"I suppose there is a skeleton in every cupboard," said Hay, suavely, and quite ignoring the shady tenant in his own.
"There's a whole dozen cupboards with skeletons to match in my family," said the young lord. "Why, I had an aunt, Lady Rachel Sandal, who was murdered over twenty years ago. Now," he said, looking triumphantly round the table, "which of you can say there's a murder in your family—eh, ladies and gentlemen?"
Paul glanced sideways at Mrs. Krill, wondering what she would say, and wondering also how it was that Lord George did not know she was the widow of the murdered Lemuel Krill, whose name had been so widely advertised. But Hay spoke before anyone could make a remark. "What an unpleasant subject," he said, with a pretended shudder, "let us talk of less melodramatic things."
"Oh, why," said Mrs. Krill, using her fan. "I rather like to hear about murders."
Lord George looked oddly at her, and seemed about to speak. Paul thought for the moment that he did know about the Gwynne Street crime and intended to remark thereon. But if so his good taste told him that he would be ill-advised to speak and he turned to ask for another glass of wine. Miss Aurora Qian looked in her pretty shrewd way from one to the other. "I just love the Newgate Calendar," she said, clasping her hands. "There's lovely plots for dramas to be found there. Don't you think so, Mr. Beecot?"
"I don't read that sort of literature, Miss Qian."
"Ah, then you don't know what people are capable of in the way of cruelty, Mr. Beecot."
"I don't want to know," retorted Paul, finding the subject distasteful and wondering why the actress pressed it, as she undoubtedly did. "I prefer to write stories to elevate the mind."
Miss Qian made a grimace and shot a meaning look at him. "It doesn't pay," she said, tittering, "and money is what we all want."
"I fear I don't care for money overmuch."
"No," said Mrs. Krill to him in an undertone, "I know that from the way you spoke in Mr. Pash's office."
"I was standing up for the rights of another."
"You will be rewarded," she replied meaningly, but what she did mean Paul could not understand.
The rest of the dinner passed off well enough, as the subject was changed. Lord George began to talk of racing, and Hay responded. Mrs. Krill alone seemed shocked. "I don't believe in gambling," she said icily.
"I hope you are not very down on it," said Hay. "Lord George and I propose to play bridge with you ladies in the next room."
"Maud can play and Miss Qian," said the widow. "I'll talk to Mr. Beecot, unless he prefers the fascination of the green cloth."
"I would rather talk to you," replied Paul, bowing.
Mrs. Krill nodded, and then went out of the room with the younger ladies. The three gentlemen filled their glasses with port, and Hay passed round a box of cigars. Soon they were smoking and chatting, in a most amicable fashion. Lord George talked a great deal about racing and cards, and his bad luck with both. Hay said very little and every now and then cast a glance at Paul, to see how he was taking the conversation. At length, when Sandal became a trifle vehement on the subject of his losses, Hay abruptly changed the subject, by refilling his glass and those of his companions. "I want you to drink to the health of my future bride," he said.
"What," cried Paul, staring, "Miss Krill?"
"The same," responded Hay, coldly. "You see I have taken your advice and intend to settle. Pash presented me to the ladies when next they came to his office, and since then I have been almost constantly with them. Miss Krill's affections were disengaged, and she, therefore, with her mother's consent, became my promised wife."
"I wish you joy," said Lord George, draining his glass and filling another, "and, by Jove! for your sake, I hope she's got money."
"Oh, yes, she's well off," said Hay, calmly, "and you, Paul?"
"I congratulate you, of course," stammered Beecot, dazed; "but it's so sudden. You haven't known her above a month."
"Five weeks or so," said Hay, smiling, and sinking his voice lower, he added, "I can't afford to let grass grow under my feet. This young ass here might snap her up, and Mrs. Krill would only be too glad to secure a title for Maud."
"I say," said Lord George suddenly, and waking from a brown study, "who is Mrs. Krill? I've heard the name."
"It's not an uncommon name," said Hay, untruthfully and quickly. "She is a rich widow who has lately come to London."
"Where did she come from?"
"I can't tell you that. From the wilds of Yorkshire I believe. You had better ask her."
"Oh, by Jove, no, I wouldn't be so rude. But I seem to know the name." Paul privately thought that if he read the papers, he ought certainly to know the name, and he was on the point of making, perhaps an injudicious remark, but Hay pointedly looked at him in such a meaning way, that he held his tongue. More, when they left their wine for the society of the ladies, Hay squeezed his friend's arm in the passage.
"Don't mention the death," he said, using a politer word by preference. "Sandal doesn't connect Mrs. Krill with the dead man. She wants to live the matter down."
"In that case she ought to leave London for a time."
"She intends to. When I make Maud my wife, we will travel with her mother for a year or two, until the scandal of the murder blows over. Luckily the name of Lemuel Krill was not mentioned often in the papers, and Sandal hasn't seen a hand-bill that I know of. I suppose you agree with me that silence is judicious?"
"Yes," assented Paul, "I think it is."
"And you congratulate me on my approaching marriage?"
"Certainly. Now, perhaps, you will live like Falstaff when he was made a knight."
Hay did not understand the allusion and looked puzzled. However, he had no time to say more, as they entered the drawing-room. Almost as soon as they did, Mrs. Krill summoned Paul to her side.
"And now," she said, "let us talk of Miss Norman."
A NEW CLUE
"I don't wish to talk of Miss Norman," said Paul, bluntly.
"Then you can be no true lover," retorted the widow.
"I disagree with you. A true lover does not talk to all and sundry concerning the most sacred feelings of his heart. Moreover, your remarks at our last meeting were not to my taste."
"I apologize," said Mrs. Krill, promptly, "and will not offend in that way again. I did not know you then, but since Mr. Hay has spoken about you to me, I know and appreciate you, Mr. Beecot."
But Paul was not to be cajoled in this manner. The more suave the woman was, the more he felt inclined to be on his guard, and he very wisely obeyed the prompting of his instinct. "I fear you do not know me, Mrs. Krill," said he as coldly as Hay could have spoken, "else you would hardly ask me to discuss with you, of all people, the lady whom I intend to make my wife."
"You are rather a difficult man to deal with," she replied, drawing her thick white eyebrows together. "But I like difficult men. That is why I admire Mr. Hay: he is not a silly, useless butterfly like that young lord there."
"Silly he is not, but I doubt his being useful. So far as I can see Hay looks after himself and nobody else."
"He proposes to look after my daughter."
"So I understand," replied Beecot, politely, "but that is a matter entirely for your own consideration."
Mrs. Krill still continued to smile in her placid way, but she was rather nonplussed all the same. From the appearance of Beecot, she had argued that he was one of those many men she could twist round her finger. But he seemed to be less easily guided than she expected, and for the moment she was silent, letting her hard eyes wander towards the card-table, round which sat the four playing an eager and engrossing game of bridge. "You don't approve of that perhaps?"
"No," said Paul, calmly, "I certainly do not."
"Are you a Puritan may I ask?"
Beecot shook his head and laughed. "I am a simple man, who tries to do his duty in this world," said he, "and who very often finds it difficult to do that same duty."
"How do you define duty, Mr. Beecot?"
"We are becoming ethical," said Paul, with a smile. "I don't know that I am prepared with an answer at present."
"Then the next time we meet. For I hope," said Mrs. Krill, smoothing her face to a smile—it had grown rather sombre—"that we shall often meet again. You must come and see us. We have taken a house in Kensington."
"Chosen by Mr. Hay?"
"Yes! He is our mentor in London Society. I don't think," added Mrs. Krill, studying his face, "that you like Mr. Hay."
"As I am Mr. Hay's guest," said Paul, dryly, "that is rather an unkind question to ask."
"I asked no question. I simply make a statement."
Beecot found the conversation rather embarrassing. In place of his pumping Mrs. Krill, she was trying to pump him, which reversal of his design he by no means approved of. He changed the subject of conversation by drawing a powerfully attractive red herring across the trail. "You wish to speak to me about Miss Norman," he remarked.
"I do," answered Mrs. Krill, who saw through his design, "but apparently that subject is as distasteful as a discussion about Mr. Hay."
"Both subjects are rather personal, I admit, Mrs. Krill. However, if you have anything to tell me, which you would like Miss Norman to hear, I am willing to listen."
"Ah! Now you are more reasonable," she answered in a pleased tone. "It is simply this, Mr. Beecot: I am very sorry for the girl. Through no fault of her own, she is placed in a difficult position. I cannot give her a name, since her father sinned against her as he sinned in another way against me, but I can—through my daughter, who is guided by me—give her an income. It does not seem right that I should have all this money—"
"That your daughter should have all this money," interpolated Beecot.
"My daughter and I are one," replied Mrs. Krill, calmly; "when I speak for myself, I speak for her. But, as I say, it doesn't seem right we should be in affluence and Miss Norman in poverty. So I propose to allow her five hundred a year—on conditions. Will she accept, do you think, Mr. Beecot?"
"I should think her acceptance would depend upon the conditions."
"They are very simple," said Mrs. Krill in her deep tones, and looking very straightly at Paul. "She is to marry you and go to America."
Beecot's face did not change, since her hard eyes were on it. But he was puzzled under his mask of indifference. Why did this woman want Sylvia to marry him, and go into exile? He temporized. "With regard to your wish that Miss Norman should marry me," said he, quietly, "it is of course very good of you to interest yourself in the matter. I fail to understand your reason, however."
"Yet the reason is patent," rejoined Mrs. Krill, just as quietly and quite as watchful as before. "Sylvia Norman is a young girl without much character——"
"In that I disagree with you."
"Well, let us admit she has character, but she certainly has no experience. In the world, she is exposed to much trouble and, perhaps, may be, to temptation. Since her position is the fault of her father, and she is entirely innocent, I want her to have a happy life. For that reason I wish her to marry you."
Paul bowed, not believing a word of this philanthropic speech. "Again, I say it is good of you," said he with some irony; "but even were I out of the way, her nurse, Deborah Tawsey, would look after her. As matters stand, however, she will certainly become my wife as soon as we can afford a home."
"You can afford it to-morrow," said Mrs. Krill, eagerly, "if you will accept my offer."
"A home in America," said Paul, "and why?"
"I should think both of you would like to be away from a place where you have seen such a tragedy."
"Indeed." Paul committed himself to no opinion. "And, supposing we accept your offer, which I admit is a generous one, you suggest we should go to the States."
"Or to Canada, or Australia, or—in fact—you can go anywhere, so long as you leave England. I tell you, Mr. Beecot, even at the risk of hurting your feelings, that I want that girl away from London. My husband treated me very badly—he was a brute always—and I hate to have that girl before my eyes."
"Yet she is innocent."
"Have I not said that a dozen times," rejoined Mrs. Krill, impatiently. "What is the use of further discussion. Do you accept my offer?"
"I will convey it to Miss Norman. It is for her to decide."
"But you have the right since you are to be her husband."
"Pardon me, no. I would never take such a responsibility on me. I shall tell Miss Norman what you say, and convey her answer to you."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Krill, graciously. But she was annoyed that her golden bait had not been taken immediately, and, in spite of her suavity, Paul could see that she was annoyed, the more so when she began to explain. "Of course you understand my feelings."
"I confess I don't quite. Naturally, the fact that you are connected with the murder in the public eyes—"
"Pardon me," said the woman, swiftly, "but I am not. The name of Krill has hardly been noticed. The public know that Aaron Norman was murdered. No one talks of Lemuel Krill, or thinks that I am the widow of the murdered man. Possibly I may come across some people who will connect the two names, and look askance at me, but the majority of people—such as Lord George there," she pointed with her fan, "do not think of me in the way you say. As he did, they will think they remember the name—"
"Lord George did not say that to you," said Paul, swiftly.
"No. But he did to Mr. Hay, who told me," rejoined Mrs. Krill, quite as swiftly.
"To-night?" asked Beecot, remembering that Hay had not spoken privately to Mrs. Krill since they came in from the dining-room.
"Oh, no—on another occasion. Lord George has several times said that he has a faint recollection of my name. Possibly the connection between me and the murder may occur to his mind, but he is really so very stupid that I hope he will forget all about the matter."
"I wonder you don't change your name," said Paul, looking at her.
"Certainly not, unless public opinion forces me to change it," she said defiantly. "My life has always been perfectly open and above board, not like that of my husband."
"Why did he change his name?" asked Beecot, eagerly—too eagerly, in fact, for she drew back.
"Why do you ask?" she inquired coldly.
Paul shrugged his shoulders. "An idle question, Mrs. Krill. I have no wish to force your confidence."
"There is no forcing in the matter," responded the woman. "I have taken quite a fancy to you, Mr. Beecot, and you shall know what I do."
"Pray do not tell me if you would rather not."
"But I would rather," said Mrs. Krill, bluntly; "it will prevent your misconception of anything you may hear about us. My husband's real name was Lemuel Krill, and he married me thirty years ago. I will be frank with you and admit that neither of us were gentlefolks. We kept a public-house on the outskirts of Christchurch in Hants, called 'The Red Pig.'" She looked anxiously at him as she spoke.
"A strange name."
"Have you never heard of it before?"
"No. Had I heard the name it would have remained in my memory, from its oddity."
Paul might have been mistaken, but Mrs. Krill certainly seemed relieved. Yet if she had anything to conceal in connection with "The Red Pig," why should she have mentioned the name.
"It is not a first-class hotel," she went on smoothly, and again with her false smile. "We had only farm laborers and such like as customers. But the custom was good, and we did very well. Then my husband took to drink."
"In that respect he must have changed," said Paul, quickly, "for all the time I knew him—six months it was—I never saw him the worse for drink, and I certainly never heard from those who would be likely to know that he indulged in alcohol to excess. All the same," added Paul, with an after-thought of his conversation with Sylvia in the Embankment garden, "I fancied, from his pale face and shaking hands, and a tightness of the skin, that he might drink."
"Exactly. He did. He drank brandy in large quantities, and, strange to say, he never got drunk."
"What do you mean exactly?" asked Beecot, curiously.
"Well," said Mrs. Krill, biting the top of her fan and looking over it, "Lemuel—I'll call him by the old name—never grew red in the face, and even after years of drinking he never showed any signs of intemperance. Certainly his hands would shake at times, but I never noticed particularly the tightness of the skin you talk of."
"A certain shiny look," explained Paul.
"Quite so. I never noticed it. But he never got drunk so as to lose his head or his balance," went on Mrs. Krill; "but he became a demon."
"Yes," said the woman, emphatically, "as a rule he was a timid, nervous, little man, like a frightened rabbit, and would not harm a fly. But drink, as you know, changes a nature to the contrary of what it actually is."