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The Opal Serpent
by Fergus Hume
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"I have heard that."

"You would have seen an example in Lemuel," she retorted. "When he drank brandy, he became a king, a sultan. From being timid he became bold; from not harming anyone he was capable of murder. Often in his fits did he lay violent hands on me. But I managed to escape. When sober, he would moan and apologize in a provokingly tearful manner. I hated and despised him," she went on, with flashing eyes, but careful to keep her voice from reaching the gamblers. "I was a fool to marry him. My father was a farmer, and I had a good education. I was attracted by the good looks of Lemuel, and ran away with him from my father's farm in Buckinghamshire."

"That's where Stowley is," murmured Paul.

"Stowley?" echoed Mrs. Krill, whose ears were very sharp. "Yes, I know that town. Why do you mention it?"

"The opal serpent brooch with which your husband's lips were fastened was pawned there."

"I remember," said Mrs. Krill, calmly. "Mr. Pash told me. It has never been found out how the brooch came to fasten the lips—so horrible it was," she shuddered.

"No. My father bought the brooch from the Stowley pawnbroker, and gave it to my mother, who sent it to me. When I had an accident, I lost it, but who picked it up I can't say."

"The assassin must have picked it up," declared Mrs. Krill, decisively, "else it would not have been used in that cruel way; though why such a brooch should have been used at all I can't understand. I suppose my husband did not tell you why he wanted to buy the brooch?"

"Who told you that he did?" asked Paul, quickly.

"Mr. Pash. He told me all about the matter, but not the reason why my husband wanted the brooch."

"Pash doesn't know," said Beecot, "nor do I. Your husband fainted when I first showed him the brooch, but I don't know why. He said nothing."

Again Mrs. Krill's face in spite of her care showed a sense of relief at his ignorance. "But I must get back to my story," she said, in a hard tone, "we have to leave soon. I ran away with Lemuel who was then travelling with jewellery. He knew a good deal about jewellery, you know, which he turned to account in his pawnbroking."

"Yes, and amassed a fortune, thereby."

"I should never have credited him with so much sense," said Mrs. Krill, contemptuously. "While at Christchurch he was nothing but a drunkard, whining when sober, and a furious beast when drunk. I managed all the house, and looked after my little daughter. Lemuel led me a dog's life, and we quarrelled incessantly. At length, when Maud was old enough to be my companion, Lemuel ran away. I kept on 'The Red Pig,' and waited for him to return. But he never came back, and for over twenty years I heard nothing of him till I saw the hand-bills and his portrait, and heard of his death. Then I came to see Mr. Pash, and the rest you know."

"But why did he run away?" asked Paul.

"I suppose he grew weary of the life and the way I detested him," was her reply. "I don't wonder he ran away. But there, I have told you all, so make what you can of it. Tell Miss Norman of my offer, and make her see the wisdom of accepting it. And now"—she rose, and held out her hand—"I must run away. You will call and see us? Mr. Hay will give you the address."

"What's that," said Hay, leaving the card-table, "does Beecot want your address? Certainly." He went to a table and scribbled on a card. "There you are. Hunter Street, Kensington, No. 32A. Do come, Beecot. I hope soon to call on your services to be my best man," and he cast a coldly loving look on Maud, who simply smiled as usual.

By this time the card-party had broken up. Maud had lost a few pounds, and Lord George a great deal. But Miss Qian and Hay had won.

"What luck," groaned the young lord. "Everything seems to go wrong with me."

"Stop and we'll try another game when the ladies have gone," suggested Hay, his impassive face lighting up, "then Beecot—"

"I must go," said the young gentleman, who did not wish to be called upon as a witness in a possible card scandal.

"And I'll go too," said Lord George. "Whenever I play with you, Hay, I always seem to lose."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Grexon, fiercely.

"Oh, he doesn't mean anything," said Miss Qian, sweetly, and putting her cloak round her. "Mr. Beecot, just take me to my cab."

"I'll take you to your carriage," said Hay, offering an arm to Mrs. Krill, which she accepted graciously.

Lord George followed, grumbling, with the ever-smiling Maud. Miss Qian skipped into a hansom, and offered Paul a drive back to town which he refused. As the cab was driving off she bent down and whispered, "Be careful," with a side-glance at Hay.

Paul laughed. Everyone seemed to doubt Hay. But that gentleman handed Mrs. Krill and her daughter into their carriage, and looked towards Lord George. "You don't want your revenge to-night?" he asked.

"No, confound you!" said the young man, sulkily.

"In that case I'll drive into Kensington with Mrs. Krill, and borrow her carriage for a trip to Piccadilly. Good-night, Sandal. Good-night, Beecot."

He waved his hand, and the ladies waved theirs, and then the three drove away. Lord George lighted a cigar, and putting his arm within that of Beecot, strolled down the road. "Come to my club," he said.

"No, thank you," answered Paul, politely, "I must get home."

"But I wish you'd come. I hate being by myself and you seem such a good sort of chap."

"Well," said Beecot, thinking he might say a word in season to this young fool, "I don't gamble."

"Oh, you cry down that, do you?"

"Well, I think it's foolish."

"It is," assented Lord George, frankly, "infernally foolish. And Hay has all the luck. I wonder if he plays square."

This was dangerous ground, and Paul shied. "I really can't say," he said coldly, "I don't play cards."

"But what do you know of Hay?" asked Sandal.

"Only that he was at school with me at Torrington. We met by accident the other day, and he asked me to dinner."

"Torrington. Yes. I had a brother at that school once," said Lord George, "but you and Hay wouldn't get on well together, I should think. You're straight, and he's—"

"You forget, we have been dining with him," said Paul, quickly.

"What of that. I've dined often and have paid pretty dearly for the privilege. I must have lost at least five thousand to him within the last few months."

"In that case I should advise you to play cards no more. The remedy is easy," said Paul, dryly.

"It isn't so easy to leave off cards," rejoined Sandal, gloomily. "I'm that fond of gambling that I only seem to live when I've got the cards or dice in my hand. I suppose it's like dram-drinking."

"If you take my advice, Lord George, you'll give up card-playing."

"With Hay, do you mean?" asked the other, shrewdly.

"With anyone. I know nothing about Hay beyond what I have told you."

"Humph," said Sandal, "I don't think you're a chap like him at all. I may look a fool, but I ain't, and can see through a brick wall same as most Johnnies."

"Who can't see at all," interpolated Paul, dryly.

"Ha! ha! that's good. But I say about this Hay. What a queer lot he had there to-night."

"I can't discuss that," said Paul, stiffly. He was not one to eat a man's bread and salt and then betray him.

Sandal went on as though he hadn't heard him. "That actress is a jolly little woman," said he. "I've seen her at the Frivolity—a ripping fine singer and dancer she is. But those other ladies?"

"Mrs. and Miss Krill."

The young lord stopped short in the High Street. "Where have I heard that name?" he said, looking up to the stars; "somewhere—in the country maybe. I go down sometimes to the Hall—my father's place. I don't suppose you'd know it. It's three miles from Christchurch."

"In Hants," said Paul, feeling he was on the verge of a discovery.

"Yes. Have you been there?"

"No. But I have heard of the place. There's an hotel there called 'The Red Pig,' which I thought—"

"Ha!" cried young Sandal, stopping again, and with such a shout that passers-by thought he was drunk. "I remember the name. 'The Red Pig'; a woman called Krill kept that."

"She can hardly be the same," said Paul, not wishing to betray the lady.

"No. I guess not. She'd hardly have the cheek to sit down with me if she did. But Krill. Yes, I remember—my aunt, you know."

"Your aunt?"

"Yes," said Sandal, impatiently, "she was murdered, or committed suicide in that 'Red Pig' place. Rachel Sandal—with her unlucky opals."

"Her unlucky opals! What do you mean?"

"Why, she had a serpent set with opals she wore as a brooch, and it brought her bad luck."



CHAPTER XVI

Sylvia's theory

It was close upon midnight when Paul reached his garret. Sandal drove him in a hansom as far as Piccadilly Circus, and from that place Beecot walked through Oxford Street to Bloomsbury. He had not been able to extract further information of any importance from the young lord. It appeared that Lady Rachel Sandal, in love with an inferior, had quarrelled with her father, and had walked to Christchurch one night with the intention of joining the man she wished to marry in London. But the night was stormy and Lady Rachel was a frail woman. She took refuge in "The Red Pig," intending to go the next morning. But during the night she was found strangled in the bedroom she had hired. Sandal could give no details, as the events happened before he was born, and he had only heard scraps of the dreadful story.

"Some people say Lady Rachel was murdered," explained Sandal, "and others that she killed herself. But the opal brooch, which she wore, certainly disappeared. But there was such a scandal over the affair that my grandfather hushed it up. I can't say exactly what took place. But I know it happened at a small pub kept by a woman called Krill. Do you think this woman is the same?"

"It's hardly likely," said Paul, mendaciously. "How could a woman who kept a small public house become suddenly rich?"

"True," answered Lord George, as they stopped in the Circus, "and she'd have let on she knew about my name had she anything to do with the matter. All the same, I'll ask her."

"Do so," said Paul, stepping out of the cab. He was perfectly satisfied that Mrs. Krill was quite equal to deceiving Sandal. The wonder was, that she had not held her peace to him about "The Red Pig."

"You won't come on to my club?" asked Sandal, leaning out of the cab.

"No, thank you," replied Paul. "Good-night," and he walked away.

The fact is Beecot wished to put on paper all that he had heard that night and send it to Hurd. As soon as he reached his attic he set to work and wrote out a detailed account of the evening.

"You might find out if Lady Rachel committed suicide or whether she was strangled by someone else," ended Beecot. "Certainly the mention of the serpent brooch is curious. This may be the event in Norman's past life which led him to change his name."

Paul wrote much more and then went out to post the letter. It was after midnight when he did, so there was not much chance of Hurd getting the letter before the second or third post the next day. But Paul felt that he had done his duty, and had supplied the information as speedily as possible, so he went to sleep with a quiet mind, in spite of the excitement of the evening. But next morning he was unable to sit down to his desk as usual, and felt disinclined to go to the newspaper office, so he walked to Jubileetown to see how Sylvia was getting along. Deborah met him at the gate.

"Well I never, Mr. Beecot," said Mrs. Tawsey, with her red arms akimbo in her usual attitude; "this is a sight for sore eyes. Won't my pretty be 'appy this day, say what you may. She's a-makin' out bills fur them as 'ad washin' done, bless her 'eart for a clever beauty."

"How is business?" asked Paul, entering the gate, which Deborah opened.

"Bless you, Mr. Beecot, I'll be a lady of forting soon," answered the proprietress of the laundry, "the way washing 'ave come in is jest amazin'. One 'ud think folk never 'ad no linen done up afore, and that they never did 'ave," said Deborah, rubbing her nose hard, "in my way, which is a way. If you'd only send along your shirts, Mr. Beecot, I'd be proud to show you what can be done with fronts, an' no thumbnails down them to spile their loveliness."

Paul did not reply to this, but laughed absently. He was wondering if Deborah had ever heard her master drop any hint as to his having come from the place where Mrs. Krill resided, and asked the question on the spur of the moment.

"Do you know Christchurch in Hants?"

Deborah rubbed her nose harder and looked at him doubtfully.

"Me as said as I'd no relatives must tell the truth now, as I 'ave," said she rather incoherently, "for my sister, Tilly Junk, worked for someone in that there place for years. But we never got on well, she being upsettin' and masterful, so arsk her to my weddin' I didn't, and denied relatives existing, which they do, she bein' alive ten years ago when she larst wrote."

"You have not heard from her since?" asked Paul, inquisitively.

"Sir, you may burn me or prison me or put me in pillaries," said Mrs. Tawsey, "but deceive you I won't. Me an' Tilly not bein' of 'appy matchin' don't correspond. We're Londing both," exclaimed Deborah, "father 'avin' bin a 'awker, but why she went to the country, or why I stopped in Gwynne Street, no one knows. And may I arsk, Mr. Beecot, why you arsk of that place?"

"Your late master came from Christchurch, Mrs. Tawsey. Did you never hear him mention it?"

"That I never did, for close he was, Mr. Beecot, say what you like. I never knowed but what he'd pawned and sold them bookses all his blessed life, for all the talkin' he did. If I'd ha' knowd," added Deborah, lifting her red finger, "as he'd bin maried afore and intended to cast out my lovely queen, I'd ha' strangled him myself."

"He had no intention of casting out Sylvia," said Paul, musingly; "he certainly left the money to her."

"Then why 'ave that other got it?"

"Sylvia's name wasn't mentioned, and Miss Krill is legally entitled as the legitimate daughter."

"Call her what you like, she's a cat as her mother is afore her," said Mrs. Tawsey, indignantly, "and not young at that. Thirty and over, as I'm a livin' woman."

"Oh, I don't think Miss Krill is as old as that."

"Being a man you wouldn't, sir, men bein' blind to wrinklings and paint. But paint she do, the hussey, and young she ain't. Over thirty—if I die for the sayin' of it."

"But Mrs. Krill was married to your master only thirty years ago."

"Then more shame to 'er," snapped Deborah, masterfully; "for she ain't an honest woman if the signs of age is believing. Will I write to my sister Tilly, as I don't love Mr. Beecot, and arsk if she knowed master when he wos in that there place, which she can't 'ave, seeing she's bin there but ten year, and he away twenty?"

"No, Deborah, you'd better say nothing. The case is in Hurd's hands. I'll tell him what you say, and leave the matter to him. But you must be deceived about Miss Krill's age."

"I've got two eyes an' a nose," retorted Mrs. Tawsey, "so don't talk of deceivin's. Thirty and more she is, the hussey, let her Jezebel of a mar lie as she like, an' can say what you will, Mr. Beecot. But there's my pretty smilin' from the winder and the tub's a-waitin'; so you go in and smooth 'er to affections, while I see that Mrs. Purr irons the shirts, which she do lovely there's no denyin'. Hoh!" and Deborah plunged round the corner of the house, rampant and full of corn.

Paul walked through the newly-created garden, in which he saw many proofs of Sylvia's love for flowers, and reached the door in time to take the girl in his arms. She was flushed and joyful, and her eyes were as bright as stars. "Paul, darling," she said, as they entered the sitting-room, where she was struggling with the accounts, "I'm so glad you are here. What's nine times nine?"

"Eighty-one," said Paul, looking at the long list of figures Sylvia had been trying to add up. "Why do you make your head ache with these accounts, darling?"

"I must help Debby, Paul, and I get on very well with the aid of an arithmetic." And she pointed to a small school book which she had evidently been studying.

"Let me take the burden from your shoulders," said her lover, smiling, and sat down at the table which was strewn with bills. In about an hour he had arranged all these, and had made them out neatly to Deborah's various customers. Then he directed the envelopes, and Sylvia sealed them up. All the time they laughed and chatted, and despite the dull toil thoroughly enjoyed themselves. "But I am glad to see, Sylvia," said Beecot, pointing to three library volumes lying on the sofa, "that you enjoy yourself occasionally."

"Oh!" said Sylvia, pouncing on these, "I'm so glad you spoke, Paul; I wanted to say something to you. The Confessions of a Thug," she read out, and looked at Paul. "Have you read it?"

Beecot nodded. "By Colonel Meadows Taylor. A very interesting book, but rather a bloodthirsty one for you, dearest."

"Debby got it," confessed Miss Norman, "along with some other books from a literary customer who could not pay his bill. It is very strange, Paul, that The Confessions of a Thug should be amongst the books."

"Really I don't see why," smiled Beecot, fingering the old-fashioned volumes.

"It's the finger of Fate, Paul," said Sylvia, solemnly. Then seeing her lover look puzzled, "I mean, that I should find out what goor is?"

"Goor?" Paul looked more puzzled than ever.

"It's an Indian word," explained Sylvia, "and means coarse sugar. The Thugs eat it before they strangle anyone."

"Oh," laughed Beecot, "and you think your father was strangled by a Thug? My dear child, the Thugs were stamped out years ago. You'll read all about it in the preface of that book, if I remember. But it's long since I read the work. Besides, darling," he added, drawing her to him caressingly, "the Thugs never came to England."

"Paul," said Sylvia, still more solemnly and resenting the laugh, "do you remember the Thug that came into the shop—"

"Oh, you mean the street-hawker that Bart spoke of. Yes, I remember that such an Indian entered, according to Bart's tale, and wanted to sell boot-laces, while that young imp, Tray, was dancing on poor Bart's body. But the Indian wasn't a Thug, Sylvia."

"Yes, he was," she exclaimed excitedly. "Hokar, he said he was, and Hokar was a Thug. Remember the handful of coarse brown sugar he left on the counter? Didn't Bart tell you of that?"

Paul started. "Yes, by Jove! he did," was his reply.

"Well, then," said Sylvia, triumphantly, "that sugar was goor, and the Thugs eat it before strangling anyone, and father was strangled."

Beecot could not but be impressed. "It is certainly very strange," he said, looking at the book. "And it was queer your father should have been strangled on the very night when this Indian Hokar left the sugar on the counter. A coincidence, Sylvia darling."

"No. Why should Hokar leave the sugar at all?"

"Well, he didn't eat it, and therefore, if he was a Thug, he would have done so, had he intended to strangle your father."

"I don't know," said Sylvia, with a look of obstinacy on her pretty face. "But remember the cruel way in which my father was killed, Paul. It's just what an Indian would do, and then the sugar—oh, I'm quite sure this hawker committed the crime."

Beecot shook his head and strove to dissuade her from entertaining this idea. But Sylvia, usually so amenable to reason, refused to discard her theory, and indeed Paul himself thought that the incident of the sugar was queer. He determined to tell Hurd about the matter, and then the hawker might be found and made to explain why he had left the goor on the counter. "But the sect of the Thugs is extinct," argued Paul, quickly; "it can't be, Sylvia."

"But it is," she insisted, "I'm sure." And from this firm opinion he could not move her. Finally, when he departed, he took the books with him, and promised to read the novel again. Perhaps something might come of Sylvia's fancy.

The lovers spent the rest of the time in talking over their future, and Beecot looked hopefully towards making sufficient money to offer Sylvia a home. He also described to her how he had met Mrs. Krill and related what she was prepared to do. "Do you think we should accept the five hundred a year, Paul," said Sylvia, doubtfully; "it would put everything right, and so long as I am with you I don't care where we live."

"If you leave the decision to me, darling," said Paul, "I think it will be best to refuse this offer. Something is wrong, or Mrs. Krill would not be so anxious to get you out of the country."

"Oh, Paul, do you think she knows anything about the murder?"

"No, dear. I don't think that. Mrs. Krill is far too clever a woman to put her neck in danger. But there may be a chance of her daughter losing the money. Sylvia," he asked, "you saw Maud Krill. How old would you take her to be?"

"Oh, quite old, Paul," said Sylvia, decisively; "she dresses well and paints her face; but she's forty."

"Oh, Sylvia, not so much as that."

"Well, then, thirty and over," insisted Sylvia. "Debby thinks the same as I do."

"Don't you think Debby's zeal may lead her to exaggerate?"

"It doesn't lead me to exaggerate," said Sylvia, slightly offended; "and I have eyes in my head as well as Debby. That girl, or that woman, I should say, is over thirty, Paul."

"In that case," said Beecot, his color rising, "I fancy I see the reason of Mrs. Krill's desire to get you out of the country. Maud," he added deliberately, "may not be your father's daughter after all."

"What makes you think that?"

"Well. According to the marriage certificate, and to Mrs. Krill's admission, she was married to your father thirty years ago. If Maud is over thirty—can't you see, Sylvia?"

"Yes." Sylvia colored. "You mean she may be the same as I am?"

"Not exactly, dear," replied Paul, soothing her. "I mean that Mrs. Krill may have been a widow and have had her little girl with her when she married your father. In that case Maud certainly could not get the money, and so Mrs. Krill wants you to leave England."

"In case I would get it," said Sylvia, excited.

Paul looked puzzled and rather sad. "I can't say, dear," he replied doubtfully. "Certainly the money is left to 'my daughter,' but as the marriage with your mother unfortunately is void, I fear you would not inherit. However," he said grimly, "there would be a certain pleasure in taking the money from that woman. Maud is a mere puppet in her hands," he laughed. "And then Hay would marry a poor bride," he ended maliciously.

Sylvia could not quite understand all this, and gave up trying to solve the problem with a pretty gesture of indifference. "What will you do, Paul?" she asked.

"I'll see Hurd and tell him what you and Deborah say about the age of Maud Krill."

"Why not see Mr. Pash?"

"Because he is a traitor," replied Beecot, darkly, "and, knowing he has lost your confidence, he will certainly try and give Maud Krill possession of the money. No, I'll speak to Hurd, who is my friend and yours. He is clever and will be able to unravel this tangle."

"Tell him about the goor also, Paul."

"Yes. I'll explain everything I can, and then I'll get him to go down to Christchurch and see what happened there, when your father lived with Maud's mother."

"What did happen, Paul?" asked Sylvia, anxiously.

"Nothing," he replied with an assumption of carelessness, for he did not want to tell the girl about the fate of Lady Rachel Sandal, "but we may find in your father's past life what led to his murder."

"Do you think Mrs. Krill had anything to do with it?"

"My own, you asked that question before. No, I don't. Still, one never knows. I should think Mrs. Krill is a dangerous woman, although I fancy, too clever to risk being hanged. However, Hurd can find out if she was in town on the night your father was killed."

"That was on the sixth of July," said Sylvia.

"Yes. And he was murdered at twelve."

"After twelve," said Sylvia. "I heard the policeman on his beat at a quarter-past, and then I came down. Poor father was strangled before our very eyes," she said, shuddering.

"Hush, dear. Don't speak of it," said Paul, rising. "Let us talk of more interesting subjects."

"Paul, I can think of nothing till I learn who killed my poor father, and why he was killed so cruelly."

"Then we must wait patiently, Sylvia. Hurd is looking after the matter, and I have every confidence in Hurd. And, by Jove!" added Beecot, with an after-thought, "Mrs. Krill doubled the reward. Were she concerned in the matter she would not risk sharpening the wits of so clever a man as Hurd. No, Sylvia, whosoever strangled your father it was not Mrs. Krill."

"It was this Indian," insisted Sylvia, "and he's a Thug."

Paul laughed although he was far from thinking she might be wrong. Of course it seemed ridiculous that a Thug should strangle the old man. In the first place, the Thugs have been blotted out; in the second, if any survived, they certainly would not exercise their devilish religion in England, and in the third, Hokar, putting aside his offering strangled victims to Bhowanee, the goddess of the sect, had no reason for slaying an unoffending man. Finally, there was the sailor to be accounted for—the sailor who had tried to get the jewels from Pash. Paul wondered if Hurd had found out anything about this individual. "It's all very difficult," sighed Beecot, "and the more we go into the matter the more difficult does it get. But we'll see light some day. Hurd, if anyone, will unravel the mystery," and Sylvia agreed with him.



CHAPTER XVII

HURD'S INFORMATION

For the next day or two Paul was kept closely to work in the office, reading a number of tales which were awaiting his judgment. After hours, he several times tried to see Billy Hurd, but was unable to meet him. He left a note at the Scotland Yard office, asking if Hurd had received his communication regarding Mrs. Krill, and if so, what he proposed to do concerning it. Hurd did not reply to this note, and Paul was growing puzzled over the silence of the detective. At length the answer came, not in writing, but in the person of Hurd himself, who called on Beecot.

The young man had just finished his frugal meal and was settling down to an evening's work when there came a knock to the door. Hurd, dressed in his usual brown suit, presented himself, looking cool and composed. But he was more excited than one would imagine, as Paul saw from the expression of his eyes. The detective accepted a cup of coffee and lighted his pipe. Then he sat down in the arm-chair on the opposite side of the fireplace and prepared to talk. Paul heaped on coals with a lavish hand, little as he could afford this extravagance, as the night was cold and he guessed that Hurd had much to say. So, on the whole, they had a very comfortable and interesting conversation.

"I suppose you are pleased to see me?" asked Hurd, puffing meditatively at his briar.

Paul nodded. "Very glad," he answered, "that is, if you have done anything about Mrs. Krill?"

"Well," drawled the detective, smiling, "I have been investigating that murder case."

"Lady Rachel Sandal's?" said Beecot, eagerly. "Is it really murder?"

"I think so, though some folks think it suicide. Curious you should have stumbled across that young lord," went on Hurd, musingly, "and more curious still that he should have been in the room with Mrs. Krill without recollecting the name. There was a great fuss made about it at the time."

"Oh, I can understand Lord George," said Beecot, promptly. "The murder, if it is one, took place before he was born, and as there seems to have been some scandal in the matter, the family hushed it up. This young fellow probably gathered scraps of information from old servants, but from what he said to me in the cab, I think he knows very little."

"Quite enough to put me on the track of Lemuel Krill's reason for leaving Christchurch."

"Is that the reason?"

"Yes. Twenty-three years ago he left Christchurch at the very time Lady Rachel was murdered in his public-house. Then he disappeared for a time, and turned up a year later in Gwynne Street with a young wife whom he had married in the meantime."

"Sylvia's mother?"

"Exactly. And Miss Norman was born a year later. She's nearly twenty-one, isn't she?"

"Yes. She will be twenty-one in three months."

Hurd nodded gravely. "The time corresponds," said he. "As the crime was committed twenty-three years back and Lord George is only twenty, I can understand how he knows so little about it. But didn't he connect Mrs. Krill with the man who died in Gwynne Street?"

"No. She explained that. The name of Krill appeared only a few times in the papers, and was principally set forth with the portrait, in the hand-bills. I shouldn't think Lord George was the kind of young man to bother about hand-bills."

"All the same, he might have heard talk at his club. Everyone isn't so stupid."

"No. But, at all events, he did not seem to connect Mrs. Krill with the dead man. And even with regard to the death of his aunt, he fancied she might not be the same woman."

"What an ass he must be," said Hurd, contemptuously.

"I don't think he has much brain," confessed Paul, shrugging his shoulders; "but he asked me if I thought Mrs. Krill was the same as the landlady of 'The Red Pig,' and I denied that she was. I don't like telling lies, but in this case I hope the departure from truth will be pardoned."

"You did very right," said the detective. "The fewer people know about these matters the better—especially a chatterbox like this young fool."

"Do you know him?"

"Yes, under the name of the Count de la Tour. But I know of him in another way, which I'll reveal later. Hay is still fleecing him?"

"He is. But Lord George seems to be growing suspicious of Hay," and Paul related the conversation he had with the young man.

Hurd grunted. "I'm sorry," he said. "I want to catch Hay red-handed, and if Lord George grows too clever I may not be able to do so."

"Well," said Paul, rather impatiently, "never mind about that fellow just now, but tell me what you have discovered."

"Oh, a lot of interesting things. When I got your letter, of course I at once connected the opal serpent with Aaron Norman, and his change of name with the murder. I knew that Norman came to Gwynne Street over twenty years ago—that came out in the evidence connected with his death. Therefore, putting two and two together, I searched in the newspapers of that period and found what I wanted."

"A report of the case?"

"Precisely. And after that I hunted up the records at Scotland Yard for further details that were not made public. So I got the whole story together, and I am pretty certain that Aaron Norman, or as he then was, Lemuel Krill, murdered Lady Rachel for the sake of that precious brooch."

"Ah," said Paul, drawing a breath, "now I understand why he fainted when he saw it again. No wonder, considering it was connected in his mind with the death of Lady Rachel."

"Quite so. And no wonder the man kept looking over his shoulder in the expectation of being tapped on the shoulder by a policeman. I don't wonder also that he locked up the house and kept his one eye on the ground, and went to church secretly to pray. What a life he must have led. Upon my soul, bad as the man was, I'm sorry for him."

"So am I," said Paul. "And after all, he is Sylvia's father."

"Poor girl, to have a murderer for a father!"

Beecot turned pale. "I love Sylvia for herself," he said, with an effort, "and if her father had committed twenty murders I would not let her go. But she must never know."

"No," said Hurd, stretching his hand across and giving Paul a friendly grip, "and I knew you'd stick to her. It wouldn't be fair to blame the girl for what her father did before she was born."

"We must keep everything from her, Hurd. I'll marry her and take her abroad sooner than she should learn of this previous murder. But how did it happen?"

"I'll tell you in a few minutes." Hurd rose and began to pace the narrow limits of the attic. "By the way, do you know that Norman was a secret drinker of brandy?"

Paul nodded, and told the detective what he had learned from Mrs. Krill. Hurd was much struck with the intelligence. "I see," said he; "what Mrs. Krill says is quite true. Drink does change the ordinary nature into the opposite. Krill sober was a timid rabbit; Krill drunk was a murderer and a thief. Good lord, and how he drank!"

"How do you know?"

"Well," confessed Hurd, nursing his chin, "Pash and I went to search the Gwynne Street house to find, if possible, the story alluded to in the scrap of paper Deborah Junk found. We couldn't drop across anything of that sort, but in Norman's bedroom, which nobody ever entered, we found brandy bottles by the score. Under the bed, ranged along the walls, filling cupboards, stowed away in boxes. I had the curiosity to count them. Those we found, ran up to five hundred, and Lord knows how many more he must have got rid of when he found the bottles crowding him inconveniently."

"I expect he got drunk every night," said Paul, thinking. "When he locked up Sylvia and Deborah in the upper room—I can understand now why he did so—he could go to the cellar and take possession of the shop key left on the nail by Bart. Then, free from all intrusion, he could drink till reeling. Not that I think he ever did reel," went on Beecot, mindful of what Mrs. Krill had said; "he could stand a lot, and I expect the brandy only converted him into a demon."

"And a clever business man," said Hurd. "You know Aaron Norman was not clever over the books. Bart sold those, but from all accounts he was a Shylock when dealing, after seven o'clock, in the pawnbroking way. I understand now. Sober, he was a timid fool; drunk, he was a bold, clever villain."

"My poor Sylvia, what a father," sighed Paul; "but this crime—"

"I'll tell you about it. Lemuel Krill and his wife kept 'The Red Pig' at Christchurch, a little public house it is, on the outskirts of the town, frequented by farm-laborers and such-like. The business was pretty good, but the couple didn't look to making their fortune. Mrs. Krill was a farmer's daughter."

"A Buckinghamshire farmer," said Paul.

"How do you know? oh!"—on receiving information—"Mrs. Krill told you so? Well, considering the murder of Lady Rachel, she would have done better to hold her tongue and have commenced life with her dead husband's money under a new name. She's a clever woman, too," mused Hurd, "I can't understand her being so unnecessarily frank."

"Never mind, go on," said Paul, impatiently.

Hurd returned to his seat and re-filled his pipe. "Well, then," he continued, "Krill got drunk and gave his wife great trouble. Sometimes he thrashed her and blacked her eyes, and he treated their daughter badly too."

"How old was the daughter?"

"I can't say. Why do you ask?"

"I'll tell you later. Go on, please."

"Well, then, Mrs. Krill always revenged herself on her husband when he was sober and timid, so the couple were evenly matched. Krill was master when drunk, and his wife mistress when he was sober. A kind of see-saw sort of life they must have led."

"Where does Lady Rachel come in?"

"What an impatient chap you are," remonstrated Hurd, in a friendly tone. "I'm coming to that now. Lady Rachel quarrelled with her father over some young artist she wanted to marry. He would not allow the lover to come to the Hall, so Lady Rachel said she would kill herself rather than give him up."

"And she did," said Paul, thinking of the suicide theory.

"There you go again. How am I to tell you all when you interrupt."

"I beg your pardon. I won't do so again."

Hurd nodded smilingly and continued. "One night—it was dark and stormy—Lady Rachel had a row royal with her father. Then she ran out of the Hall saying her father would never see her alive again. She may have intended to commit suicide certainly, or she may have intended to join her lover in London. But whatever she intended to do, the rain cooled her. She staggered into Christchurch and fell down insensible at the door of 'The Red Pig.' Mrs. Krill brought her indoors and laid her on a bed."

"Did she know who the lady was?"

Hurd shook his head. "She said in her evidence that she did not, but living in the neighborhood, she certainly must have seen Lady Rachel sometimes. Krill was drunk as usual. He had been boozing all the day with a skipper of some craft at Southampton. He was good for nothing, so Mrs. Krill did everything. She declares that she went to bed at eleven leaving Lady Rachel sleeping."

"Did Lady Rachel recover her senses?"

"Yes—according to Mrs. Krill—but she refused to say who she was, and merely stated that she would sleep at 'The Red Pig' that night and would go on to London next morning. Mrs. Krill swore that Lady Rachel had no idea of committing suicide. Well, about midnight, Mrs. Krill, who slept in one room with her daughter, was awakened by loud shouts. She sprang to her feet and hurried out, her daughter came also, as she had been awakened and was terrified. Mrs. Krill found that her husband was raving mad with drink and smashing the furniture in the room below. The skipper—"

"What was the skipper's name?"

"Jessop—Jarvey Jessop. Well, he also, rather drunk, was retiring to bed and stumbled by chance into Lady Rachel's room. He found her quite dead and shouted for assistance. The poor lady had a silk handkerchief she wore tied tightly round her throat and fastened to the bedpost. When Jessop saw this, he ran out of the inn in dismay. Mrs. Krill descended to give the alarm to her neighbors, but Krill struck her down, and struck his daughter also, making her mouth bleed. An opal brooch that Lady Rachel wore was missing, but Mrs. Krill only knew of that the next day. She was insensible from the blow given by Krill, and the daughter ran out to get assistance. When the neighbors entered, Krill was gone, and notwithstanding all the search made for him he could not be found."

"And Jessop?"

"He turned up and explained that he had been frightened on finding the woman dead. But the police found him on his craft at Southampton, and he gave evidence. He said that Krill when drunk, and like a demon, as Mrs. Krill told you, had left the room several times. The last time he came back, he and the skipper had a final drink, and then Jessop retired to find—the body. It was supposed by the police that Krill had killed Lady Rachel for the sake of the brooch, which could not be discovered—"

"But the brooch—"

"Hold on. I know what you are about to say. We'll come to that shortly. Let me finish this yarn first. It was also argued that, from Lady Rachel's last words to her father, and from the position of the body—tied by the neck to the bedpost—that she had committed suicide. Mrs. Krill, as I said, declared the deceased lady never mentioned the idea of making away with herself. However, Krill's flight and the chance that, being drunk, he might have strangled the lady for the sake of the brooch while out of the room, made many think he was the culprit, especially as Jessop said that Krill had noticed the brooch and commented on the opals."

"He was a traveller in jewels once, according to his wife."

"Yes, and left that to turn innkeeper. Afterwards he vanished, as I say, and became a pawnbroker in Gwynne Street. Well, the jury at the inquest could not agree. Some thought Lady Rachel had committed suicide, and others that Krill had murdered her. Then the family didn't want a scandal, so in one way and another the matter was hushed up. The jury brought in a verdict of suicide by a majority of one, so you can see how equally they were divided. Lady Rachel's body was laid in the family vault, and nothing more was heard of Lemuel Krill."

"What did Mrs. Krill do?"

"She stopped on at the inn, as she told you. People were sorry for her and helped her, so she did very well. Mother and daughter have lived at 'The Red Pig' all these years, highly respected, until they saw the hand-bills about Krill. Then the money was claimed, but as the circumstance of Lady Rachel's fate was so old, nobody thought of mentioning it till this young lord did so to you, and I—as you see—have hunted out the details."

"What is your opinion, Hurd?" asked Paul, deeply interested.

"Oh, I think Krill murdered the woman and then cut to London. That accounts for his looking over his shoulder, etc., about which we talked."

"But how did he get money to start as a bookseller? Premises are not leased in Gwynne Street for nothing."

"Well, he might have got money on the brooch."

"No. The brooch was pawned by a nautical gentleman." Paul started up. "Captain Jessop, perhaps. You remember?" he said excitedly.

"Ah," said Hurd, puffing his pipe with satisfaction, "I see you understand. I mentioned that about the brooch to hear what you would say. Yes, Jessop must have pawned the brooch at Stowley, and it must have been Jessop who came with the note for the jewels to Pash."

"Ha," said Paul, walking excitedly about the room. "Then it would seem that Jessop and Krill were in league?"

"I think so," said Hurd, staring at the fire. "And yet I am not sure. Jessop may have found that Krill had killed the woman, and then have made him give up the brooch, which he afterwards pawned at Stowley. Though why he should go near Mrs. Krill's old home, I can't understand."

"Is Stowley near her old home?"

"Yes—in Buckinghamshire. However, after pawning the brooch I expect Jessop lost sight of Krill till he must have come across him a few days before the crime. Then he must have made Krill sign the paper ordering the jewels to be given up by Pash, so that he might get money."

"A kind of blackmail in fact."

"Well," said Hurd, doubtfully, "after all, Jessop might have killed Krill himself."

"But how did Jessop get the brooch?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you, unless Norman himself picked it up in the street. We must find these things out. I'm going to Christchurch to make inquiries. I'll let you know what I discover," and Hurd rose.

"One minute," said Paul, hastily. "Do you think Miss Krill is the dead man's child?"

"Of course. She's as like her mother as two peas. Why do you ask?"

Paul detailed what Sylvia and Deborah had said. "So if she is over thirty," said Beecot, "she can't be Krill's child, or else she must have been born before Krill married his wife. In either case, she has no right to the money."

"It's strange," said Hurd, musingly. "I'll have to look into that. Meanwhile, I've got plenty to do."

"There's another thing I have to say."

"You'll confuse me, Beecot. What is it?"

"The sugar and that hawker," and Paul related what Sylvia had said about Thuggism. Hurd sat down and stared. "That must be bosh," he said, looking at the novel, "and yet it's mighty queer. I say," he took the three volumes, "will you lend me these?"

"Yes. Be careful. They are not mine."

"I'll be careful. But I can't dip into them just yet, nor can I go into the Hindoo business, let alone this age of Miss Krill. The first thing I have to do is to go to Christchurch and see—"

"And see if Mrs. Krill was at home on the night of the sixth of July."

Hurd started. "Oh," said he, dryly, "the night the crime was committed, you mean? Well, I didn't intend to look up that point, as I do not see how Mrs. Krill can be implicated. However, I'll take a note of that," and this he did, and then continued. "But I'm anxious to find Jessop. I shouldn't be at all surprised to learn that he committed the double crime."

"The double crime?"

"Yes. He might have strangled Lady Rachel, and twenty years later have killed Krill. I can't be sure, but I think he is the guilty person."



CHAPTER XVIII

AT CHRISTCHURCH, HANTS

The next afternoon Hurd was on his way to the former abode of Mrs. Krill. During the journey he glanced at his notes and arranged what inquiries he should make. It struck him as strange that Mrs. Krill should have told Paul of her association with "The Red Pig," considering the reputation of the place, in connection with Lady Rachel Sandal's murder—or suicide. It would have been better had Mrs. Krill changed her name by letters patent and have started a new life on her dead husband's money. The detective could not understand the reason for this unnecessary frankness.

Before leaving town he took the precaution to call on Pash and note down a description of the sailor—presumably Jessop—who had tried to obtain possession of the jewels on the morning after the crime had been committed in Gwynne Street. He learned that the man (who had given no name) was tall and stout, with the flushed skin of a habitual drinker of strong waters, and reddish hair mixed with grey. He also had a scar running from his right temple to his mouth, and although this was partly concealed by a beard, yet it was distinctly visible. The man was dressed in blue serge, carried his large hands slightly clenched, and rolled in his gait. Hurd noted these things down, and had little doubt but what he would recognize the man if he came across him. Connecting him with the individual who had pawned the brooch at Stowley, Hurd fancied he might be Jessop. He resolved to look for him in Southampton, as, judging from the evidence given at the inquest on Lady Rachel's remains, that was the port of call for the mariner.

At the station immediately before that of Christchurch, Hurd glanced at a telegram which he produced out of his pocket-book, and then leaned out of the carriage window. A pretty, daintily-dressed little woman saw him and at once entered the carriage with a gay laugh. She was Miss Aurora Qian, and Paul would have been considerably astonished had he overheard her conversation with Mr. Hurd. But the detective and the actress had the compartment to themselves, and talked freely.

"It's the safest place to talk in," explained Miss Qian, producing a bag of chocolate and eating during the conversation. "Of course, I told the landlady at 'The Red Pig' that my brother was coming down, so we can go there right enough. But walls have ears. I don't think railway carriages have, though, and we have much to say, Billy."

"Have you found out anything, Aurora?" asked Hurd.

Miss Qian nodded. "A great deal considering I have been in the place only twenty-four hours. It's a good thing I'm out of an engagement, Billy, or I shouldn't have time to leave London or to look after that man Hay. I am a good sister."

"Well, you are. But there's money in the business also. If I can get that thousand pounds, you'll have your share."

"I know you'll treat me straight, Billy," said the actress, with much satisfaction. "I always say that my brother is as square a man as I know."

"The deuce you do," said Hurd, rather vexed. "I hope you don't go telling everyone that I am your brother, Aurora?"

"Only one or two special friends—not Hay, you may be sure. Nor does that nice Mr. Beecot know that we are brother and sister."

"You'd best keep it dark, and say nothing, Aurora. It's just as well you left the private detective business and went on the stage. You talk too much."

"Oh, no, I don't," retorted Miss Qian, eating a sweet. "Don't be nasty, Billy, or I'll tell you nothing."

Her brother shrugged his shoulders. He was very fond of Aurora, but he saw her many faults, and she certainly had too long a tongue for one engaged in private matters. "What about Hay?" he asked.

Aurora raised her eyes. "I thought you wanted to know of my discoveries at Christchurch," she said, pouting.

"Well, I do. But Hay?—"

"Oh, he's all right. He's going to marry Miss Krill and her money, and is getting cash together by fleecing young Sandal. That fool will play, and keeps losing his money, although I've warned him."

"Then don't warn him. I wish to catch Hay red-handed."

"Ah," Miss Qian nodded, "you may catch him red-handed in a worse matter than gambling."

"Aurora, you don't mean to say he has anything to do with the murder of Aaron Norman?"

"Well, I don't go so far as to say that, Billy. But when I got settled in the private sitting-room of 'The Red Pig' on the plea that I had come down for a change of air, and expected my brother—"

"Which you do without any lies."

"Yes, that's all right, Billy," she said impatiently. "Well, the first thing I clapped eyes on was a portrait of Grexon Hay in a silver frame on the mantelpiece."

"Hum," said Hurd, nursing his chin in his hand, "he may have given that to Miss Krill during the engagement."

"I daresay," rejoined the actress, tartly, "for he has been engaged for many a long day—say two years."

"I thought so," said Hurd, triumphantly. "I always fancied the meeting at Pash's office was a got-up thing."

"What made you think so?"

"Because, when disguised as the Count de la Tour, I overheard Hay address Miss Krill as Maud, and it was the first time she and her mother came to his rooms. Sandal was there, and gambling went on as usual. I lost money myself," said Hurd, with a grimace, "in order to make Hay think I was another pigeon to pluck. But the mention of the Christian name on so short an acquaintance showed me that Hay and Miss Krill had met before. I expect the meeting at Pash's office was a got-up game."

"You said that before, Billy. How you repeat yourself! Yes. There's an inscription on the portrait—'From Grexon to Maud with much love'—sweet, isn't it? when you think what an icicle the man is. There is also a date—two years ago the photograph was given. I admired the photograph and asked the landlady who was the swell."

"What's the landlady's name?"

"Matilda Junk."

Hurd almost jumped from his seat. "That's queer," he said, "the woman who is devoted to Miss Norman and who nursed her since she was a baby is called Deborah Junk."

"I know that," said Aurora, "I'm not quite a fool, Billy. I mentioned Deborah Junk, whom I saw at the inquest on Norman's body. The landlady said she was her sister, but she had not heard of her for ages. And this Matilda is just like Deborah in looks—a large Dutch doll with beady eyes and a badly painted face."

"Well, that's a point," said Hurd, making a note. "What did she say about the photograph?"

"Oh, that it was one of Mr. Hay who was Miss Krill's young man, and that they had been engaged for two years—"

"Matilda seems to be a chatterbox."

"She is. I got a lot out of her."

"Then there can be nothing to conceal on the part of Mrs. Krill?"

"Well," said Aurora, throwing the empty sweetmeat bag out of the window and brushing her lap, "so far as I can discover, Mrs. Krill is a perfectly respectable person, and has lived for thirty years as the landlady of 'The Red Pig.' Matilda acknowledged that her mistress had inherited the money of Lemuel Krill, and Matilda knows all about the murder."

"Matilda is wrong," said the detective, dryly; "Miss Krill gets the money."

Aurora smiled. "From what I heard, Miss Krill has to do what her mother tells her. She's nobody and her mother is all the world. Matilda confessed that her mistress had behaved very well to her. When the money came, she gave up 'The Red Pig' to Matilda Junk, who is now the landlady."

"With a proviso she should hold her tongue."

"No. Mrs. Krill, so far as I can learn, has nothing to conceal. Even if it becomes known in London that she was the landlady of a small pub, I don't think it will matter."

"Did you ask questions about Lady Rachel's murder?"

"No. You gave me only a hint when you sent me down. I didn't like to venture on ground I wasn't sure of. I'm more cautious than you."

"Well, I'll tell you everything now," said Hurd, and gave a rapid sketch of what he had learned from the newspapers and the Scotland Yard papers relative to the Sandal affair. Aurora nodded.

"But Matilda Junk said nothing of that. She merely stated that Mr. Lemuel Krill had gone to London over twenty years ago, and that his wife knew nothing of him until she saw the hand-bills."

"Hum," said Hurd again, as the train slowed down to the Christchurch station, "it seems all fair and above board. What about Jessop?"

"Knowing so little of the Lady Rachel case, I didn't inquire about him," said Aurora. "I've told you everything."

"Anyone else stopping at the inn?"

"No. And it's not a bad little place after all. The rooms are clean and the food good and the charges low. I'd rather stop at 'The Red Pig,' small as it is, than at the big hotel. The curries—oh, they are delightfully hot!" Miss Qian screwed her small face into a smile of ecstasy. "But, then, a native makes them."

Hurd started. "Curries—a native?"

"Yes—a man called Hokar."

"Aurora, that's the man who left the sugar on the counter of Norman's shop. I forgot you don't know about that," and Hurd rapidly told her of the episode.

"It's strange," said Miss Qian, nodding with a faraway look. "It would seem that Mrs. Krill knew of the whereabouts of her husband before she saw the hand-bills."

"And possibly about the murder also," said Hurd.

Brother and sister looked at one another; the case was becoming more and more interesting. Mrs. Krill evidently knew more than she chose to admit. But at this moment the train stopped, and they got out. Hurd took his handbag and walked into the town with his pretty sister tripping beside him. She gave him an additional piece of information before they arrived at "The Red Pig." "This Hokar is not at all popular," she said; "they say he eats cats and dogs. Yes. I've talked to several old women, and they say they lost their animals. One cat was found strangled in the yard, and—"

"Strangled!" interrupted the detective. "Hum, and the man's an Indian, possibly a Thug."

"What's a Thug?" asked Aurora, staring.

Hurd explained. "I ran through the book lent by Beecot last night," he added, "and was so interested I sat up till dawn—"

"You do look chippy," said his sister, candidly, "but from what you say, there are no Thugs living."

"No, the author says so. Still, it's queer, this strangling, and then the cruel way in which the man was murdered. Just what a Hindoo would do. The sugar too—"

"Oh, nonsense! Hokar left the sugar by mistake. If he had intended to murder Norman he wouldn't have given himself away."

"I expect he never thought anyone would guess he was a Thug. The novel is not one usually read nowadays. It was the merest chance that Miss Norman came across it and told Beecot."

"I don't believe in such coincidences," said Aurora, dryly; for in spite of her fluffy, kittenish looks, she was a very practical person. "But here we are at 'The Red Pig.' Nice and comfy, isn't it?"

The inn was certainly very pretty. It stood on the very verge of the town, and beyond stretched fields and hedgerows. The house itself was a white-washed, thatched, rustic cottage, with a badly painted sign of a large red sow. Outside were benches, where topers sat, and the windows were delightfully old-fashioned, diamond-paned casements. Quite a Dickens inn of the old coaching days was "The Red Pig."

But Hurd gave the pretty, quaint hostel only a passing glance. He was staring at a woman who stood in the doorway shading her eyes with the palm of her hand from the setting sun. In her the detective saw the image of Deborah Junk, now Tawsey. She was of the same gigantic build, with the same ruddy face, sharp, black eyes and boisterous manner. But she had not the kindly look of Deborah, and of the two sisters Hurd preferred the one he already knew.

"This is my brother, Miss Junk," said Aurora, marching up to the door; "he will only stay until to-morrow."

"You're welcome, sir," said Matilda in a loud and hearty voice, which reminded the detective more than ever of her sister. "Will you please walk in and 'ave some tea?"

Hurd nodded and repaired to the tiny sitting-room, where he saw the photograph of Hay on the mantelpiece. Aurora, at a hint from her brother, went to her bedroom to change her dress, and Hurd spoke to Matilda, when she brought in the tray. "I know your sister," said he.

Miss Junk nearly dropped the tray. "Lor', now, only think! Why, we ain't wrote to one another for ten years. And I left London eleven years back. And how is she, sir? and where is she?"

"She is well; she has a laundry in Jubileetown near London, and she is married to a fellow called Bart Tawsey."

"Married!" cried Matilda, setting down the tray and putting her arms akimbo, just like Deborah, "lor', and me still single. But now I've got this 'ouse, and a bit put by, I'll think of gittin' a 'usband. I ain't a-goin' to let Debby crow over me."

"Your sister was in the service of Mr. Norman before she took up the laundry," observed Hurd, pouring out a cup of tea.

"Was she, now? And why did she leave?"

The name of Norman apparently was unknown to Matilda, so Hurd tried the effect of another bombshell. "Her master was murdered under the name of Lemuel Krill."

"Mercy," Matilda dropped into a chair, with a thud which shook the room; "why, that's my ladies' husband and father."

"What ladies?" asked Hurd, pretending ignorance.

"My ladies, Mrs. Krill and Miss Maud. They had this 'ouse, and kep' it for years respectable. I worked for 'em ten, and when my ladies comes in for a forting, for a forting there is, they gave me the goodwill of 'The Red Pig.' To think of Debby being the servant of poor Mr. Krill as was killed. Who killed 'im?"

"Doesn't your mistress know?"

"She," cried Matilda, indignantly, and bouncing up. "Why, she was always a-lookin' for him, not as she loved him over much. And as he is dead, sir, it's no more as what he oughter be, seeing as he killed a poor lady in this very 'ouse. You'll sleep in 'er room to-night," added Matilda, as if that was a pleasure. "Strangled, she was."

"I think I heard of that. But Lady Rachel Sandal committed suicide."

Matilda rubbed her nose, after the Deborah fashion. "Well, sir, my ladies were never sure which it was, and, of course, it was before my time considerable, being more nor twenty year back. But the man as did it is dead, and lef' my ladies his money, as he oughter. An' Miss Maud's a-goin' to marry a real gent"—Matilda glanced at the photograph—"I allays said he wos a gent, bein' so 'aughty like, and wearing evening dress at meals, late."

"Was he ever down here, this gentleman?"

"He's been comin' and goin' fur months, and Miss Maud loves 'im somethin' cruel. But they'll marry now an' be 'appy."

"I suppose your ladies sometimes went to see this gent in town?"

"Meanin' Mr. Hay," said Matilda, artlessly. "Well, sir, they did, one at a time and then together. Missis would go and miss would foller, an' miss an' missus together would take their joy of the Towers an' shops and Madame Tusord's and sich like, Mr. Hay allays lookin' after 'em."

"Did they ever visit Mr. Hay in July?"

"No, they didn't," snapped Matilda, with a change of tone which did not escape Hurd; "and I don't know, sir, why you arsk them questions."

"My good woman, I ask no questions. If I do, you need not reply. Let us change the subject. My sister tells me you make good curries in this hotel."

"Hokar do, me bein' but a plain cook."

"Oh! He's an Indian?"

"Yes, he is, sir. A pore Indian castaway as missus took up with when he come here drenched with rain and weary. Ah, missus was allays good and kind and Christian-like."

Privately Hurd thought this description did not apply very well to the lady in question, but he was careful not to arouse Matilda's suspicions again by contradicting her. He pretended to joke. "I wonder you don't marry this Indian, and keep him here always to make the curries I have heard of."

"Me marry a black!" cried Matilda, tossing her rough head. "Well, sir, I never," her breath failed her, "an' him goin' about the country."

"What do you mean by that?"

"What I say," said Miss Junk; "he'll stop here, Christian-like, for days, and then go orf to sell things as a 'awker. My par was a 'awker, sir, but a white, white man of the finest."

Hurd was about to ask another question when a husky voice was heard singing somewhat out of tune. "What's that?" asked Hurd, irritably.

"Lor', sir, wot nervses you 'ave. 'Tis only Cap'n Jessop makin' hisself 'appy-like."

"Captain Jessop," Hurd laughed. He had run down his man at last.



CHAPTER XIX

CAPTAIN JESSOP

Apparently Matilda Junk was quite ignorant of anything being wrong about her ladies, although she did shirk the question regarding their possible visit to London in July. However, Hurd had learned that Grexon Hay not only was an old friend, but had been engaged to Maud for many months. This information made him the more certain that Hay had robbed Beecot of the opal brooch at the time of the accident, and that it had passed from Mr. Hay's hands into those of the assassin.

"I wonder if Mrs. Krill murdered her husband in that cruel way," thought the detective, sitting over his tea; "but what could have been her object? She could have gone up on learning from Hay that Aaron Norman was her husband—as I believe she did—and could then have made him give her the money, by threatening him with the murder of Lady Rachel. I daresay Aaron Norman in his Krill days did strangle that lady to get the opal brooch and his wife could have used what she knew to govern him. There was no need of murder. Hum! I'll see about getting the truth out of Hay. Aurora," he cried. "Oh, there you are," he added, as she entered the room. "I want you to go back to town this night."

"What for, Billy?"

"Can you get Hay into trouble?"

Aurora nodded. "I have proofs of his cheating Lord George and others, if that's what you mean," she said; "but you didn't want them used."

"Nor do I. He's such an eel, he may wriggle out of our clutches. But can't you give a party and invite Lord George and Hay, and then get them to play cards. Should Hay cheat, denounce him to George Sandal."

"What good would that do?" asked Miss Qian, with widely open eyes.

"It will make Hay confess about the brooch to save himself from public shame. His reputation is his life, remember, and if he is caught red-handed cheating, he'll have to clear out of town."

"Pooh, as if that mattered. He's going to marry Miss Krill."

"If Miss Krill keeps the money, and I doubt if she will."

"But, Billy—"

"Never mind. Don't ask me any more questions, but go and pack. This Captain Jessop is in the bar drinking. I may probably have to arrest him. I got a warrant on the chance of finding him here. I can arrest him on suspicion, and won't let him go until I get at the truth. Your business is to bring Hay to his knees and get the truth out of him about the opal serpent. You know the case?"

"Yes," grumbled Aurora, "I know the case. But I don't like this long journey to-night."

"Every moment is precious. If I arrest Jessop, Matilda Junk will tell her ladies, who will speak to Hay, and then he may slip away. As the brooch evidence is so particular, and, as I believe he can give it, if forced, you can see the importance of losing no time."

Miss Qian nodded and went away to pack. She wanted money and knew Billy would give her a goodly share of the reward. In a few minutes Miss Junk, of "The Red Pig," learned that Miss Qian was suddenly summoned to town and would leave in an hour. Quite unsuspectingly she assisted her to pack, and shortly Aurora was driving in a hired vehicle to the railway station on her way to trap Grexon Hay.

When she was safely off the premises, Hurd walked to the telegraph office, and sent a cipher message to the Yard, asking for a couple of plain clothes policemen to be sent down. He wanted to have Hokar and Miss Matilda Junk watched, also the house, in case Mrs. Krill and her daughter should return. Captain Jessop he proposed to look after himself. But he was in no hurry to make that gentleman's acquaintance, as he intended to arrest him quietly in the sitting-room after dinner. Already he had informed Matilda that he would ask a gentleman to join him at the meal and taste Hokar's curry.

The thought of the curry brought the Indian to his mind, and when he got back to the Red Pig, he strolled round the house, inspecting the place, but in reality keeping eyes and ears open to talk to the Hindoo. Thinking he might meet the man some time, Hurd had carefully learned a few phrases relating to Thuggism—in English of course, since he knew nothing of the Indian tongues. These he proposed to use in the course of conversation with Hokar and watch the effect. Soon he found the man sitting cross-legged under a tree in the yard, smoking. Evidently his work for the day was over, and he was enjoying himself. Remembering the description given by Bart, the detective saw that this was the very man who had entered the shop of Aaron Norman. He wore the same dress and looked dirty and disreputable—quite a waif and a stray.

"Hullo," said Hurd, casually, "what are you doing. Talk English, eh?"

"Yes, sir," said Hokar, calmly. "I spike good Englis. Missionary teach Hokar Englis."

"I'm glad of that; we can have a chat," said Hurd, producing his pipe. He also produced something else with which he had provided himself on the way back from the post-office. In another minute Hokar was staring at a small parcel of coarse brown sugar. With all his Oriental phlegm the man could not keep his countenance. His eyes rolled until they threatened to drop out of his head, and he looked at Hurd with a certain amount of fear. "Goor," said that gentleman, pointing to the sugar with the stem of his pipe, "goor!"

Hokar turned green under his dark skin, and half-rose to go away, but his legs failed him, and he sat still trying to recover himself. "So you worship Bhowanee?" went on his tormentor.

The Indian's face expressed lively curiosity. "The great goddess."

"Yes. Kalee, you know. Did you make Tupounee after you used your roomal on Aaron Norman?"

Hokar gave a guttural cry and gasped. Tupounee is the sacrifice made by the Thugs after a successful crime, and roomal the handkerchief with which they strangled their victims. All this was information culled from Colonel Meadow Taylor's book by the accomplished detective. "Well," said Hurd, smoking placidly, "what have you to say, Mr. Hokar?"

"I know nozzin'," said the man, sullenly, but in deadly fear.

"Yes, you do. Sit still," said Hurd, with sudden sternness. "If you try to run away, I'll have you arrested. Eyes are on you, and you can't take a step without my knowing."

Some of this was Greek to the Indian, owing to his imperfect knowledge of English. But he understood that the law would lay hold of him if he did not obey this Sahib, and so sat still. "I know not anysing," he repeated, his teeth chattering.

"Yes, you do. You're a Thug."

"Zer no Thug."

"I agree with you," said Hurd; "you are the last of the Mohicans. I want to know why you offered Aaron Norman to Bhowanee?"

Hokar made a strange sign on his forehead at the mention of the sacred name, and muttered something—perhaps a prayer—in his native tongue. Then he looked up. "I know nozzing."

"Don't repeat that rubbish," said Hurd, calmly; "you sold boot laces in the shop in Gwynne Street on the day when its master was killed. And he was the husband of the lady who helped you—Mrs. Krill."

"You say dat," said Hokar, stolidly.

"Yes, and I can prove it. The boy Tray—and I can lay my hands on him—saw you, also Bart Tawsey, the shopman. You left a handful of sugar, though why you did so instead of eating it, I can't understand."

Hokar's face lighted up, and he showed his teeth disdainfully. "Oh, you Sahibs know nozzin'!" said he, spreading out his lean brown hands. "Ze shops—ah, yis. I there, yis. But I use no roomal."

"Not then, but you did later."

Hokar shook his head. "I use no roomal. Zat Sahib one eye—bad, ver bad. Bhowanee, no have one eye. No Bhungees, no Bhats, no—"

"What are you talking about?" said Hurd, angrily. His reading had not told him that no maimed persons could be offered to the goddess of the Thugs. Bhungees meant sweepers, and Bhats bards, both of which classes were spared by the stranglers. "You killed that man. Now, who told you to kill him?"

"I know nozzin', I no kill. Bhowanee no take one-eye mans."

For want of an interpreter Hurd found it difficult to carry on the conversation. He rose and determined to postpone further examination till he would get someone who understood the Hindoo tongue. But in the meantime Hokar might run away, and Hurd rather regretted that he had been so precipitate. However, he nodded to the man and went off, pretty sure he would not fly at once.

Then Hurd went to the village police-office, and told a bucolic constable to keep his eye on Miss Junk's "fureiner," as he learned Hokar was called. The policeman, a smooth-faced individual, promised to do so, after Hurd produced his credentials, and sauntered towards "The Red Pig," at some distance from the detective's heels. A timely question about the curry revealed, by the mouth of Miss Junk, that Hokar was still in the kitchen. "But he do seem alarmed-like," said Matilda, laying the cloth.

"Let's hope he won't spoil the curry," remarked Hurd. Then, knowing Hokar was safe, he went into the bar to make the acquaintance of his other victim.

Captain Jarvey Jessop quite answered to the description given by Pash. He was large and sailor-like, with red hair mixed with grey and a red beard that scarcely concealed the scar running from temple to mouth. He had drunk enough to make him cheerful and was quite willing to fall into conversation with Hurd, who explained himself unnecessarily. "I'm a commercial gent," said the detective, calling for two rums, plain, "and I like talking."

"Me, too," growled the sailor, grasping his glass. "I'm here on what you'd call a visit, but I go back to my home to-morrow. Then it's ho for Callao," he shouted in a sing-song voice.

Hurd knew the fierce old chanty and sized Captain Jarvey up at once. He was of the buccaneer type, and there was little he would not do to make money and have a roaring time. Failing Hokar, with his deadly handkerchief, here was the man who might have killed Aaron Norman. "Drink up," shouted Hurd in his turn, "we'll have some more.

"On no condition, is extradition, Allowed in Callao."

"Gum," said Captain Jessop, "you know the chanty."

Hurd winked. "I've bin round about in my time."

Jessop stretched out a huge hand. "Put it there, mate," said he, with a roar like a fog-horn, "and drink up along o' me. My treat."

Hurd nodded and became jovial. "On condition you join me at dinner. They make good curries here."

"I've had curry," said Captain Jessop, heavily, "in Colombo and Hong-Kong frequent, but Hokar's curries are the best."

"Ah!" said Hurd in a friendly curious way, "so you know this shanty?"

Jessop looked at him with contempt. "Know this shanty," said he, with a grin, "why, in coorse, I do. I've been swinging my hammock here time in and out for the last thirty year."

"You'll be a Christchurch man, then?"

"Not me, mate. I'm Buckinghamshire. Stowley born."

Hurd with difficulty suppressed a start. Stowley was the place where the all-important brooch had been pawned by a nautical man, and here was the man in question. "I should have thought you'd lived near the sea," he said cautiously, "say Southampton."

"Oh, I used t'go there for my ship," said the captain, draining his glass, "but I don't go there no more."

"Retired, eh?"

Jessop nodded and looked at his friend—as he considered Hurd, since the invitation to dinner—with a blood-shot pair of eyes. "Come storm, come calm," he growled, "I've sailed the ocean for forty years. Yes, sir, you bet. I was a slip of a fifteen cabin-boy on my first cruise, and then I got on to being skipper. Lord," Jessop smacked his knee, "the things I've seen!"

"We'll have them to-night after dinner," said Hurd, nodding; "but now, I suppose, you've made your fortune."

"No," said the captain, gloomily, "not what you'd call money. I've got a stand-by, though," and he winked.

"Ah! Married to a rich wife?"

"Not me. I've had enough of marriage, having been the skipper of a mermaid with a tongue. No, sir," he roared out another line of some song floating in his muzzy head, "a saucy bachelor am I," then changed to gruff talk, "and I intends being one all my days. Stand-by, I have—t'ain't a wife, but I can draw the money regular, and no questions asked." Again he winked and drank another glass.

Hurd reflected that perhaps Jessop had killed Aaron Norman for Mrs. Krill, and she was paying him blood-money. But he did not dare to press the question, as Jessop was coming perilously near what the Irish call "the cross drop." He therefore proposed an adjournment to the sitting-room. Jessop agreed quite unsuspectingly, not guessing he was being trapped. The man was so large and uncouth that Hurd felt behind his waist to see that his revolver was loose and could be used should occasion arise.

Miss Junk brought in the dinner with her own fair hands, and explained that Hokar had made the curry, but she didn't think it was as good as usual. "The man's shakin' like a jelly," said Matilda. "I don't know why."

The detective nodded, but did not encourage conversation. He was quite sure that Hokar was being watched by the smooth-faced policeman, and could not get away. Besides, he wished to talk to Captain Jessop. Miss Junk, seeing that she was not needed, retreated, after bringing in the curry, and left the gentlemen to help themselves. So here was Hurd in a pleasant room, seated before a well-spread table, and with a roaring fire at his back, waiting his opportunity to make Captain Jarvey Jessop confess his share in the dual murders of Lady Rachel Sandal and Aaron Norman.



CHAPTER XX

PART OF THE TRUTH

Captain Jessop ate as greedily as he drank strong waters, and did full justice to the curry, which was really excellent. Hurd did not broach any unpleasant topic immediately, as he wished the man to enjoy his meal. If Jessop was guilty, this dainty dinner would be the last of its kind he would have for many a long day. Moreover, Hurd wished to learn more of the mariner's character, and plied him with questions, which the unsuspecting sailor answered amiably enough.

"Me an' you might become mates, as it were," said Jessop, extending his large hand again and again. "Put it there."

"Well, we'd want to know something more about one another to become real mates," laughed Hurd.

"Oh, you're a commercial traveller, as you say, and I'm the captain of as fine a barkey as ever sailed under Capricorn. Leastways I was, afore I gave up deep-sea voyages."

"You must miss the ocean, living at Stowley."

"Inland it is," admitted the mariner, pulling out a dirty clay pipe, at the conclusion of the meal, "and ocean there ain't round about fur miles. But I've got a shanty there, and live respectable."

"You are able to, with the stand-by," hinted Hurd.

Jessop nodded and crammed black tobacco, very strong and rank, into the bowl of his pipe with a shaking hand. "It ain't much," he admitted; "folks being stingy. But if I wants more," he struck the table hard, "I can get it. D'ye see, Mister Commercial?"

"Yes, I see," replied Hurd, coolly. Jessop was again growing cross, and the detective had to be careful. He knew well enough that next morning, when sober, Jessop would not be so disposed to talk, but being muzzy, he opened his heart freely. Still, it was evident that a trifle more liquor would make him quarrelsome, so Hurd proposed coffee, a proposition to which the sailor graciously assented.

"Cawfee," he observed, lighting his pipe, and filling the room with evil-smelling smoke, "clears the 'ead, not as mine wants clearing, mind you. But cawfee ain't bad, when rum ain't t' be 'ad."

"You'll have more rum later," hinted Hurd.

"Put it there," said Jessop, and again the detective was forced to wince at the strong grip of a horny hand.

Miss Junk appeared in answer to the tinkle of the bell and removed the food. Afterwards she brought in coffee, hot and strong and black, and Jessop drank two cups, with the result that he became quieter. Then the two men settled down for a pleasant conversation. At least, Jessop thought so, for he frequently expressed the friendliest sentiments towards his host. Then Matilda appeared with a bottle of rum, a kettle and two glasses. When she departed, Hurd intimated that he would not require her services again that night. This he whispered to her at the door, while Jessop was placing the kettle on the fire, and before returning to his seat, he quietly turned the key. So he had the mariner entirely to himself and got to business at once while the kettle boiled.

"You have known this place for years I believe," said Hurd, taking a chair opposite to that of Jessop. "Did you ever drop across a man, who used to live here, called Lemuel Krill?"

The other man started. "Whatever makes you arsk that?" he inquired in a husky voice.

"Well, you see, as a commercial I trade in books, and had to do with a second-hand bookseller in Gwynne Street, Drury Lane. It seems that he was murdered," and he eyed Jessop attentively.

The sailor nodded and composed himself with a violent effort. "Yes," said he in his husky voice, "so I heard. But what's he got to do with Lemuel Krill?"

"Oh," said Hurd, carelessly, "it is said Aaron Norman was Krill."

"Might ha' bin. I don't know myself," was the gruff reply.

"Ah! Then you did not know Lemuel Krill?"

"Well," admitted the captain, reluctantly, "I did. He wos the landlord of this here pub, and a cuss to drink. Lor', 'ow he could drink, and did too. But he run away from his wife as used to keep this shanty, and she never heard no more of him."

"Until she found he was rich and could leave her five thousand a year," said Hurd, absently; "so like a woman."

"You seem to know all about it, mister?" said the sailor, uneasily.

"Yes, I read the papers. A queer case that of Norman's death. I expect it was only right he should be strangled seeing he killed Lady Rachel Sandal in the same way."

Jessop, resting his hands on the arms of his chair, pushed it back and stared with a white face. "You know of that?" he gasped.

"Why not? It was public talk in this place over twenty years ago. I understand you have been here-abouts for thirty years," went on Hurd, carelessly, "possibly you may recollect the case."

Jessop wiped his forehead. "I heard something about it. That there lady committed suicide they say."

"I know what they say, but I want to know what you say?"

"I won't be arsked questions," shouted the captain, angrily.

"Don't raise your voice," said the detective, smoothly; "we may as well conduct this conversation pleasantly."

"I don't converse no more," said Jessop in a shaky voice, and staggered to his feet, rapidly growing sober under the influence of a deadly fear. Hurd did not move as the man crossed the room, but felt if the key was safe in his pocket. The sailor tried to open the door, and then realized that it was locked. He turned on his host with a volley of bad language, and found himself facing a levelled revolver.

"Sit down," said Hurd, quietly; "go back to your chair."

Jessop, with staring eyes and outspread hands, backed to the wall. "Who are you anyhow?" he demanded, hardly able to speak.

"Perhaps that will tell you," said Hurd, and threw the warrant on the table. Jessop staggered forward and looked at it. One glance was sufficient to inform him what it was, and he sank back into his chair with a groan, leaving the warrant on the table. Hurd picked it up and slipped it into his pocket. He thought Jessop might destroy it; but there was no fight in the mariner.

"And now that we understand one another," said Hurd, putting away his weapon, "I want to talk."

"Sha'n't talk," said Jessop, savagely.

"Oh, yes, I think so; otherwise I can make things unpleasant for you."

"You can't arrest me. I've done nothing."

"That may be so, but arrest you I can and I have done so now. To-morrow morning you will go to London in charge of a plain-clothes policeman, while I go to Stowley."

"To my crib. No, I'm blest if you do."

"I sha'n't go immediately to your crib," rejoined Hurd, dryly, "though I may do so later. My first visit will be to that old pawnbroker. I think if I describe you—and you are rather a noticeable man, Captain Jessop—he will recognize the individual who pawned an opal serpent brooch with him shortly after the death of Lady Rachel Sandal, to whom the said brooch belonged."

"It's a lie," said Jessop hoarsely, and sober enough now.

"Quite so, and perhaps it is also a lie that a man resembling yourself tried to get certain jewellery from a lawyer called Pash—"

Jessop lost his self-control, which he was trying desperately to preserve, and rose to his feet, white-faced and haggard. "Who are you?" he shouted, "who are you?"

"Doesn't the warrant tell you," replied his companion, not at all upset. "My name is Billy Hurd. I am the detective in charge of the Norman murder case. And I've been looking for you for a long time, Mr. Jessop."

"I know nothing about it."

"Yes, you do; so sit down and talk away."

"I'll break your head," cried the captain, swinging his huge fists.

"Try," Hurd whipped out his revolver, but did not rise, "at the risk of getting a bullet through you. Pshaw, man, don't be a fool. I'm making things as easy for you as possible. Create a disturbance, and I'll hand you over to the police. A night in the village lock-up may cool your blood. Sit down I tell you."

The sailor showed his teeth like those of a snarling dog and made as to strike the seated detective; but suddenly changing his mind, for he saw well enough in what danger he stood, he dropped into his chair, and, covering his face with his hands, groaned aloud. Hurd put away his revolver. "That's better," said he, pleasantly; "take a tot of rum and tell me all you know."

"I'm innocent," groaned Jessop.

"Every man is innocent until convicted by a jury," said Hurd, calmly. "Consider me a jury and I'll size up your case, when I hear all. Are you innocent of both murders?"

"Lady Rachel committed suicide," said Jessop, raising a haggard face. "Yes—I stick to that, sir. As to Krill's death in London, I didn't touch him; I swear I didn't."

"But you saw him on that night?"

"How can you prove that?"

"Very simply. Norman—or Krill if you prefer the old name—took certain jewellery to Pash for safe keeping shortly before his death. You presented to Pash a paper, undeniably written and signed by the old man, saying that the jewellery was to be given up to bearer. Now, before taking the jewellery to Pash, Krill could not have written that paper, so you must have seen him during the few hours which elapsed between his visit to Pash and his death."

This was clearly argued, and Jessop could not contradict. "I left him quite well and hearty."

"In the cellar in Gwynne Street?"

"Yes, in the cellar," admitted Jessop.

"At what time?"

"About half-past eight—say between eight and nine."

"Well, what happened?" asked Hurd, smoking quietly.

The sailor twisted his big hands and groaned. Then he laid his head on the table and began to sob, talking brokenly and huskily. "I'm done for," he gasped. "I'd know'd it would come—no—I ain't sorry. I've had a nightmare of a time. Oh—since I pawned that brooch—"

"Ah. Then you did pawn the brooch at Stowley?"

Jessop sat up and wiped his eyes. "Yes, I did. But I pulled my cap down over my eyes and buttoned up my pea-jacket. I never thought old Tinker would ha' knowed me."

"Wasn't it rather rash of you to pawn the brooch in a place where you were well known?"

"I wasn't well known. I only come at times, and then I went away. Old Tinker hadn't seen me more nor once or twice, and then I pulled down my cap and—" Jessop, badly shaken, was beginning to tell the episode over again, when Hurd stopped him.

"See here," said the detective. "You say that you are innocent?"

"I swear that I am," gasped Jessop.

"Well, then, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. My business is not to hang innocent people. Take a glass of rum and tell me all you know, beginning with your first meeting with Krill and running down through the death of Lady Rachel to your last meeting in the Gwynne Street cellar."

"And when you know all?"

"Then I'll see what is to be done."

"Will you arrest me?"

"I have arrested you. Don't make conditions with me, man," said Hurd, with a stern face. "The night is growing late and I want to get to the bottom of this business before we go to bed. Take some rum."

Seeing there was nothing for it but to make a clean breast, Captain Jarvey Jessop wasted no further time in useless lamentation. He could have smashed Hurd easily enough, even though there was the risk of being shot. But the fracas would bring others on the scene, and Jessop knew he could not deal with the police. Therefore, he took a stiff peg and became quieter. In fact, when once started on his confession, he appeared to be rather relieved.

"It's been a nightmare," said he, wiping his forehead. "I'm glad it's come to the lawr, that I am. I met Krill, as he wos then, some twenty-five year back by chance, as you may say"—he cast a strange look at the detective, which the latter noted—"yes, by chance, Mr. Hurd. I found he kep' the pub here, and this bein' no distance from Southampton I took to runnin' down here when the barkey was at anchor. Me an' Krill became great mates, and I'd what you might call free quarters here—yes, sir—it's a frozen fact."

"Very generous of Mr. Krill," remarked Hurd, dryly, and wondering what the man was keeping back.

"Oh, he was right enough as a mate when not drunk; but the liquor made a howling dorg of him. I've seen many drunk in many places," said Jessop, "but anyone who held his liquor wuss nor Krill I never did see. He'd knife you as soon as look at you when drunk."

"But he evidently preferred strangling."

"Hold on, mate," said Jessop, with another deep pull at the rum. "I'm comin' to that night. We wos both on the bust, as y'may say, and Mrs. Krill she didn't like it, so got to bed with the child."

"How old was the child?"

"Maud? Oh, you might say she was thirteen or fifteen. I can't be sure of her age. What's up?"

For Hurd, seeing in this admission a confirmation that Maud was either not Krill's child or was illegitimate, and could not inherit the money, had showed his feelings. However, he made some trivial excuse, not wishing to be too confidential, and begged Jessop to proceed.

"Well, mate," said the captain, filling another glass of rum, "y'see the lady had come earlier and had been put to bed by the missus. I never saw her myself, being drinking in this very room along o' Krill. But he saw her," added Jessop, emphatically, "and said as she'd a fine opal brooch, which he wish he'd had, as he wanted money and the missus kept him tight."

"Krill was a judge of jewels?"

"Travelled in jewels once," said the captain. "Bless you, he could size up a precious stone in no time. But he sat drinking with me, and every now and then got out of the room, when he'd stop away for perhaps a quarter of an hour at the time."

"Did he mention the opal brooch again?"

"No," said Jessop, after reflection, "he didn't. But he got so drunk that he began to show fight, as he always did when boozy, though a timid chap when sober. I concluded, wishing no row, to git to my hammock, and cut up stairs. Then I went by mistake into the room of that pore lady, carrying a candle, and saw her tied to the bedpost stone dead, with a silk handkerchief round her neck. I shouted out blue murder, and Mrs. Krill with the kid came tumbling down. I was so feared," added Jessop, wiping his forehead at the recollection, "that I ran out of doors."

"What good would that do?"

"Lor', I dunno," confessed the man, shivering, "but I wos skeered out of my life. It wos rainin' pitchforks, as y'might say, and I raced on through the rain for an hour or so. Then I thought, as I wos innocent, I'd make tracks back, and I did. I found Krill had cut."

"Did his wife tell you?"

"Oh, she wos lying on the floor insensible where he'd knocked her down. And the kid—lor'," Jessop spat, "she was lying in the corner with her lips fastened together with the brooch."

"What?" cried Hurd, starting to his feet. "The same as her—the same as Norman's was?"

Jessop nodded and drank some rum. "Made me sick it did. I took th' brooch away and slipped it into my pocket. Then the kid said her father had fastened her lips together and had knocked her mother flat when she interfered. I brought Mrs. Krill round and then left her with the kid, and walked off to Southampton. The police found me there, and I told them what I tell you."

"Did you tell about the brooch?"

"Well, no, I didn't," confessed Jessop, coolly, "an' as the kid and the mother said nothing, I didn't see why I shouldn't keep it, wantin' money. So I went to Stowley and pawned it, then took a deep sea voyage for a year. When I come back, all was over."

"Do you think Krill murdered the woman?" asked Hurd, passing over for the moment the fact that Jessop had stolen the brooch.

"He said he didn't," rejoined the man with emphasis, "but I truly believe, mister, as he did, one of them times, when mad with drink and out of the room. He wanted the brooch, d'ye see, though why he should have lost the loot by sealin' the kid's mouth with it I can't say."

"When did you come across Krill again?"

"Ho," said Jessop, drawing his hand across his mouth, "'twas this way, d'ye see. I come round here lots, and a swell come too, a cold—"

"Grexon Hay," said Hurd, pointing to the photograph.

"Yes. That's him," said Jessop, staring, "and I hated him just, with his eye-glass and his sneerin' ways. He loved the kid, now a growed, fine gal, as you know, and come here often. In June—at the end of it anyhow—he comes and I hears him tells Mrs. Krill, who was always looking for her husband, that a one-eyed bookseller in Gwynne Street, Drury Lane, had fainted when he saw the very identical brooch showed him by another cove."

"Beecot. I know. Didn't you wonder how the brooch had left the pawnshop?" asked Hurd, very attentive.

"No, I didn't," snarled Jessop, who was growing cross. "I knew old Tinker's assistant had sold the brooch and he didn't oughter t' have done it, as I wanted it back. Mrs. Krill asked me about the brooch, and wanted it, so I said I'd get it back. Tinker said it was gone, but wrote to the gent as bought it."

"Mr. Simon Beecot, of Wargrove, in Essex."

"That wos him; but the gent wouldn't give it back, so I 'spose he'd given it to his son. Well, then, when Mrs. Krill heard of the one-eyed man fainting at sight of the brooch, she knew 'twas her husband, as he'd one eye, she having knocked the other out when he was sober."

"Did she go up and see him?"

"Well," said Jessop, slowly, "I don't rightly know what she did do, but she went up. I don't think she saw Krill at his shop, but she might have seen that Pash, who was Mr. Hay's lawyer, and a dirty little ape o' sorts he is."

"Ha," said Hurd, to himself, "I thought Pash knew about the women beforehand. No wonder he stuck to them and gave poor Miss Norman the go-bye," he rubbed his hands and chuckled. "Well, we'll see what will come of the matter. Go on, Jessop."

"There ain't much more to tell," grumbled the captain. "I heard of this, and I wasn't meant to hear. But I thought I'd go up and see if I could get money out of Krill by saying I'd tell about the murder of Lady Rachel."

"You are a scoundrel," said Hurd, coolly.

"I wos 'ard up," apologized the captain, "or I wouldn't, not me. I'm straight enough when in cash. So I went up in July."

"On the sixth of July?"

"If that was the day of the murder—yes. I went up and loafed round until it wos dark, and then slipped through that side passage at eight o'clock to see Krill."

"How did you know where to find him?"

"Why, that Hay knew about the chap, and said as he did business in a cellar after eight. So Krill let me in, thinking, I 'spose, I wos a customer. He'd been drinking a little and was bold enough. But when I said, as I'd say, he'd killed Lady Rachel, he swore he was an innercent babe, and cried, the drink dyin' out of him."

"The same as it died out of you lately," said Hurd, smiling.

"Go slow," grunted the captain, in a surly tone. "I ain't afraid now, as I ain't done nothing. I said to Krill I'd say nothin' if he'd give me money. He wouldn't, but said he'd placed a lot of pawned things with Pash, and I could have them. He then gave me a paper saying I was to have the things, and I went to Pash the next morning and had trouble. But I heard by chance," again Jessop cast a strange look at Hurd, "that Krill had been murdered, so I didn't wait for the lawyer to come back, but cut down to Southampton and went on a short voyage. Then I come here and you nabbed me," and Jessop finished his rum. "That's all I know."

"Do you swear you left Aaron Norman alive?"

"Meaning Krill? I do. He wasn't no use to me dead, and I made him give me the jewels Pash had, d'ye see."

"But who warned you of the death when you were waiting?"

Jessop seemed unwilling to speak, but when pressed burst out, "'Twas a measily little kid with ragged clothes and a dirty face."

"Tray," said Hurd. "Hum! I wonder how he knew of the murder before it got into the papers?"



CHAPTER XXI

MISS QIAN'S PARTY

Hurd's sister was a clever young woman who in her time had played many parts. She began her career along with Hurd as a private detective, but when her brother joined the official service, Miss Hurd thought she would better her position by appearing on the stage, and, therefore, took the rather queer name of Aurora Qian. In her detective capacity she had often disguised herself when employed in obtaining evidence, and was remarkably talented in changing her face and figure. This art she used with great success in her new profession, and speedily made her mark as an impersonator of various characters out of novels. As Becky Sharp, as Little Dorrit, she was said to be inimitable, and after playing under several managements, she started, in the phrase of the profession, "a show of her own," and rapidly made money.

But her great faults amongst others were vanity and extravagance, so she was always in need of money, and when chance offered, through her brother, to make any, she was not averse to returning to the spy business. Thus it came about that she watched Mr. Grexon Hay for many a long day and night, and he never suspected the pretty, fluffy, kittenish Miss Qian was in reality an emissary of the law. Consequently, when Aurora asked him to a card-party at her rooms, Hay accepted readily enough, although he was not in need of money at the time.

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