Miss Qian occupied a tiny flat on the top of a huge pile of buildings in Kensington, and it was furnished in a gimcrack way, with more show than real value, and with more color than taste. Every room was of a different hue, with furniture and hangings to match. The drawing-room was pink, the dining-room green, her bedroom blue, the entrance hall yellow, and the extra sleeping apartment used by her companion, Miss Stably, was draped in purple. Some wit called the flat "the paint-box," and indeed so varied were its hues that it was not a bad title to give it.
Like the Becky Sharp whom she impersonated with such success, Miss Qian possessed a sheep-dog, not because she needed one, being very well able to look after herself, but because it sounded and looked respectable. Miss Stably, who filled this necessary office, was a dull old lady who dressed excessively badly, and devoted her life to knitting shawls. What she did with these when completed no one ever knew: but she was always to be found with two large wooden pins rapidly weaving the fabric for some unknown back. She talked very little, and when she did speak, it was to agree with her sharp little mistress. To make up for speaking little, she ate a great deal, and after dinner with her eternal knitting in her bony hands and a novel on her lap, was entirely happy. She was one of those neutral-tinted people, who seem not good enough for heaven and not sufficiently bad for the other place. Aurora often wondered what would become of Miss Stably when she departed this life, and left her knitting behind her. The old lady herself never gave the matter a thought, but lived a respectable life of knitting and eating and novel reading, with a regular visit to church on Sunday where she worshipped without much idea of what the service was about.
This sort of person exactly suited Miss Qian, who wanted a sheep-dog who could neither bark nor bite, and who could be silent. These qualifications were possessed by the old lady, and for some years she had trailed through a rather giddy world at Aurora's heels. In her own dull way she was fond of the young woman, but was far from suspecting that Aurora was connected in an underhand manner with the law. That knowledge would indeed have shaken Miss Stably to the soul, as she had a holy dread of the law, and always avoided the police-court column when she read the newspapers.
This was the old lady who sat in the pink drawing-room to play propriety for Miss Qian. Lord George Sandal was present, looking rather washed out, but as gentlemanly as ever. Hay, with his fixed eye-glass and eternally cold smile was there, and a third young man, who adored Miss Qian, thinking her to be merely an actress, simpered across the card-table at his goddess. The four were playing a game which involved the gaining and losing of much money, and they had been engaged for about an hour. Miss Stably having eaten a good dinner and commenced a new shawl was half dosing in the corner, and paying absolutely no attention to the players.
"It's a good thing we're hanging on our own hooks in this game," said Miss Qian, who smoked a dainty cigarette. "Were I your partner, Sandal," she always addressed her friends in this free-and-easy fashion, "I'd be losing money. What luck you have!"
"I never do seem to win," lamented Lord George. "Whenever I think I've got a good hand, the thing pans out wrong."
"Hay has got all the money," said the simpering admirer who answered to the name of Tempest. "He and you, Miss Qian, are the winners."
"I've made very little," she replied. "Hay's raking in the dollars hand over fist."
"Lucky in love, unlucky at cards," said Hay, who did not like his good fortune to be commented upon, for reasons which Miss Qian knew. "It's the reverse with me—I'm lucky at cards—"
"And lucky in love, too," interrupted Aurora, with a grimace, "seeing you're going to marry that Krill heiress—if she is an heiress."
"What do you mean?" asked Hay, who was dealing a new round.
"Go on with the game and don't ask questions," said Miss Qian, in a saucy manner. "Sandal, don't stare round, but keep your eye on the cards," and she winked stealthily at the young lord, while Hay was exchanging a word with Tempest. The young man, who had spoken privately to her immediately before the dinner, knew well what she meant. Had Hay been likewise "in the know," he would scarcely have done what he did do, and which Sandal saw him do in a few minutes.
Hay was rapidly dealing, and the cards were flying like leaves. A pile of gold stood beside Hay's elbow, and some silver near Tempest. The game commenced, and soon the players were engrossed, heedless of the patent snoring of Miss Stably, who, poor old thing, had succumbed to the lateness of the hour. Suddenly Lord George, who had been very vigilant, felt his foot touched under the table by Miss Qian. He rose at once and snatched up the gold standing near Hay.
"What's that for?" demanded Hay, angrily.
"You're cheating," said Sandal, "and I don't play with you any more."
"That's a lie. I did not cheat."
"Yes, you did," cried Miss Qian, bending forward and seizing the cards; "we've been watching you. Tempest—"
"I saw it all right," said the other. "You took up that king—"
"And it's marked," said Aurora. "I believe Hay's got cards up his sleeve. Examine the cards."
Hay, very pale, but still keeping his countenance, tried to object, but the two young men seized and held him, while Miss Qian, with a dexterity acquired in detective circles, rapidly searched his pockets.
"Here's another pack," she cried, and shook an ace and two kings out of the detected swindler's sleeve, "and these cards—"
Sandal took one and went to the lamp. "Marked, by Jove!" he cried, but with a stronger oath; "here's a pin-prick."
"You are mistaken," began Hay, quite pale.
"No," said Tempest, coolly, "we're not. Miss Qian told us you cheated, and we laid a trap for you. You've been trying this double card and marked card dodge several times this very evening."
"And he's tried it lots of times before," said Aurora, quickly. "I have been at several places where Hay scooped the pool, and it was all cheating."
"If it was," said Hay, with quivering lips, "why didn't you denounce me then and there?"
"Because I denounce you now," she said; "you're cooked, my man. These boys will see that the matter is made public."
"By Jove, yes!" cried Sandal, with a look of abhorrence at Hay, "and I'll prosecute you to get back those thousands you won off me."
"I never did—"
"You've been rooking this boy for months," cried Miss Qian. "Here, Tempest, get a constable. We'll give him in charge for swindling."
"No! no!" cried Hay, his nerve giving way under the threatened exposure; "you'll have your money back, Sandal, I swear."
"Lord George to you now, you blackguard; and how can you pay me the money when I know you haven't got a cent?"
"He intends to get it from the heiress," sniggered Aurora.
"Oh, dear me!" rose the plaintive voice of the sheep-dog, "what is it, Aurora? Anything wrong?"
"We've caught Hay cheating, that's all, and the police—"
"Oh, Aurora, don't bring up the police."
"No, don't," said Hay, who was now trembling. "I'll do whatever you like. Don't show me up—I'm—I'm going to be married soon."
"No, you sha'n't marry," cried Tempest, sharply; "I'll see this girl myself and save her from you."
"You can't prove that I cheated," said Hay, desperately.
"Yes, we can," said George. "I, and Miss Qian, and Tempest all saw you cheat, and Miss Qian has the marked cards."
"But don't expose me. I—I—" Hay broke down and turned away with a look of despair on his face. He cursed himself inwardly for having ventured to cheat when things, by the marriage with Maud Krill, would have soon been all right for him. "Miss Qian," he cried in a tone of agony, "give me another chance."
Aurora, playing her own game, of which the two young men were ignorant, appeared to repent. She beckoned to Miss Stably. "Take Mr. Hay into the dining-room," she said, "and I'll see what I can do. But you try and bolt, Hay, and the news will be all over the West End to-morrow."
"I'll stop," said Hay, whose face was colorless, and, without another word, he followed the sheep-dog into the dining-room in an agony of mind better imagined than described. Then Miss Qian turned her attention to her guests:
"See here, boys," she said frankly, "this is a dirty business, and I don't want to be mixed up with it."
"But Hay should be exposed," insisted Sandal; "he's been rooking me, I do believe, for months."
"Serve you jolly well right," said Aurora, heartlessly. "I warned you again and again against him. But if there's a row, where do I come in?"
"It won't hurt you," said Tempest, eagerly.
"Oh, won't it? Gambling in my flat, and all the rest of it. You boys may think me free and easy but I'm straight. No one can say a word against me. I'm not going to be made out an adventuress and a bad woman for the sake of that swindler, Hay. So you boys will just hold your tongues."
"No," said Sandal, "my money—"
"Oh, bother your money. One would think you were a Jew. I'll see that Hay pays it back. He's going to marry this Krill girl, and she's able to supply the cash."
"But the girl shouldn't be allowed to marry Hay," said Tempest.
"Don't you burn your fingers with other people's fire," said Aurora, sharply. "This girl's in love with him and will marry him in spite of everything. But I don't care a cent for that. It's myself I'm thinking of. If I get your money back, Sandal, will you hold your tongue?"
Lord George, thinking of what his noble father would say were he involved in a card scandal connected with an actress, thought it just as well to agree. "Yes," said he, hesitatingly, "I'll not say a word, if you get the money back. But don't you let Hay speak to me again in public or I'll kick him."
"That's your affair and his," said Aurora, delighted at having gained her point; "but you hold your tongue, and you, Tempest?"
"I'll not say a word either," said the young man, with a shrug, "though I don't see why you should save this blackguard's reputation."
"It's my own I'm thinking of, so don't you make any mistake. And now I have both your promises?"
"Yes," said Sandal and Tempest, thinking it best to hush the matter up; "but Hay—"
"I'll see to him. You two boys clear out and go home to bed."
"But we can't leave you alone with Hay," said Tempest.
"I'll not be alone with him," cried the little woman, imperiously; "my companion is with me. What do you mean?"
"He might do you some harm."
"Oh! might he? You take me for a considerable idiot, I suppose. You get along, boys, and leave me to fix up things."
Both young men protested again; but Aurora, anxious for her conversation with Hay, bundled them out of the flat and banged the door to, when she heard them whistling below for a hansom. Then she went to the dining-room.
"You come along to the drawing-room," she said to Hay. "Miss Stably, stop here."
"I haven't got my shawl," bleated the old lady.
"Oh, bother," Aurora ran to the other room, snatched up the shawl and saw Miss Stably sitting down to knit, while she led Hay back into the drawing-room. He looked round when he entered.
"Where are they?" he asked, sitting down.
"Gone; but it's all right. I've made them promise not to say—"
Grexon Hay didn't let her finish. He fell on his knees and kissed her hand. His face was perfectly white, but his eyes were full of gratitude as he babbled his thanks. No one could have accused him of being cold then. But Miss Qian did not approve of this emotion, natural though it was.
"Here, get up," she said, snatching her hand away. "I've got to speak straight to you. I've done a heap for you, now you've got to do a heap for me."
"Anything—anything," said Hay, whose face was recovering its normal color. "You have saved me—you have."
"And much of a thing you are to save. You'll be cheating again in a week or so."
"No," cried Hay, emphatically, "I swear I'll not touch a card again. I'll marry Maud and turn respectable. Oh, what a lesson I've had! You are sure those fellows won't speak?"
"No. That's all right. You can go on swindling as before, only," Miss Qian raised a finger, "you'll have to pay Sandal back some cash."
"I'll do that. Maud will lend me the money. Does he want all?"
"Oh, a couple of thousand will shut his mouth. I'll not see you left. It's all right, so sit up and don't shake there like a jelly."
"You're very kind to me," said Hay, faintly.
"Don't you make any mistake. So far as I am concerned you might stick in the mud forever. I helped you, because I want you to help me. I'm in want of money—"
"I'll give you some."
"Picked from that girl's pockets," said Aurora, dryly, "no, thank you. It might dirty my fingers. Listen—there's a reward offered for the discovery of the murderer of Aaron Norman. I want to get that thousand pounds, and you can help me to."
Hay started to his feet with amazement. Of all the requests she was likely to make he never thought it would be such a one. "Aaron Norman's murder," he said, "what do you know of that?"
"Very little, but you know a lot."
"I don't, I swear I don't."
"Pish," said Miss Qian, imperiously, "remember I've got the whip-hand, my boy. Just you tell me how Mrs. Krill came to strangle the—"
"Mrs. Krill?" Hay turned white again, and his eye-glass fell. "She had nothing to do with the matter. I swear—"
"Strikes me you swear too much, Mr. Hay. What about that opal brooch you stole from Beecot when he had the smash?"
"I didn't steal it. I never saw it at the time of the accident."
"Then you got that boy Tray to steal it."
"I knew nothing about the boy. Besides, why should I steal that opal serpent brooch?"
"You wanted to buy it from Beecot, anyhow?"
Hay looked puzzled. "Yes, for a lady."
"I admit that Mrs. Krill wanted it. She had associations connected with that brooch."
"I know," interrupted Aurora, glancing at the clock, "don't waste time in talking of Lady Rachel Sandal's death—"
"How do you know about that?" stammered Hay, completely nonplussed.
"I know a mighty lot of things. I may as well tell you," added Miss Qian, coolly, "since you daren't split, that I've got a lot to do with the secret detective service business. I'm helping another to hunt out evidence for this case, and I guess you know a lot."
The man quailed. He knew that he did not stand well with the police and dreaded what this little fluffy woman should do. Aurora read his thoughts. "Yes," she said, "we know a heap about you at the Scotland Yard Office, and if you don't tell me all you know, I'll make things hot for you. This cheating to-night is only one thing. I know you are 'a man on the market,' Mr. Hay."
"What do you wish to hear?" asked Hay, collapsing.
"All about Mrs. Krill's connection with this murder."
"She has nothing to do with it. Really, she hasn't. Aaron Norman was her husband right enough—"
"And he ran away from her over twenty years ago. But who told Mrs. Krill about him?"
"I did," confessed Hay, volubly and seeing it was best for him to make a clean breast of it. "I met the Krills three years ago when I was at Bournemouth. They lived in Christchurch, you know."
"Yes. Hotel-keepers. Well, what then?"
"I fell in love with Maud and went to Christchurch to stop at 'The Red Pig.' She loved me, and in a year we became engaged. But I had no money to marry her, and she had none either. Then Mrs. Krill told me of her husband and of the death of Lady Rachel."
"Murder or suicide?"
"Suicide, Mrs. Krill said," replied Hay, frankly. "She told me also about the opal brooch and described it. I met Beecot by chance and greeted him as an old school-fellow. He took me to his attic and to my surprise showed me the opal brooch. I wanted to buy it for Mrs. Krill, but Beecot would not sell it. When next I met him, he told me that Aaron Norman had fainted when he saw the brooch. I thought this odd, and informed Mrs. Krill. She described the man to me, and especially said that he had but one eye. I went with Beecot to the Gwynne Street shop, and a single glance told me that Aaron Norman was Lemuel Krill. I told his wife, and she wanted to come up at once. But I knew that Aaron was reported rich—which I had heard through Pash—and as he was my lawyer, I suggested that the Krills should go and see him."
"Which they did, before the murder?"
"Yes. Pash was astonished, and when he heard that Mrs. Krill was the real wife, he saw that Aaron Norman, as he called himself, had committed bigamy, and that Sylvia—"
"Yes, you needn't say it," said Miss Qian, angrily, "she's worth a dozen of that girl you are going to marry. But why did you pretend to meet Mrs. Krill and her daughter for the first time at Pash's?"
"To blind Beecot. We were standing at the door when the two came out, and I pretended to see them for the first time. Then I told Beecot that I had been introduced to Maud at Pash's office. He's a clever chap, Beecot, and, being engaged to Sylvia Norman, I thought he might find out too much."
"About the murder?"
Hay rose and looked solemn. "I swear I know nothing of that," he said decidedly, "and the Krills were as astonished as I, when they heard of the death. They were going to see him by Pash's advice, and Mrs. Krill was going to prosecute him for bigamy unless he allowed her a good income. Death put an end to all that, so she made up the story of seeing the hand-bills, and then of course the will gave the money to Maud, who was engaged to me."
"The will or what was called a will, gave the money to Sylvia," said Aurora, emphatically; "but this brooch—you didn't take it?"
"No, I swear I didn't. Mrs. Krill wanted it, but I never knew it was of any particular importance. Certainly, I would never have risked robbing Beecot, and I never told that boy Tray to rob either."
"Then who took the brooch."
"I can't say. I have told you all I know."
"Hum," said Aurora, just like her brother, "that will do to-night; but if I ask any more questions you'll have to answer, so now you can go. By the way, I suppose the brooch made you stick to Beecot?"
"Yes," said Hay, frankly; "he was of no use to me. But while he had the brooch I stuck to him to get it for Mrs. Krill."
"Queer," said Aurora. "I wonder why she wanted it so much!" but this question Hay was unable to answer.
After all, Hurd did not send Jessop to town as he threatened to do. Evidently the captain had told him all he knew, and appeared to be innocent of Krill's death. But, in spite of his apparent frankness the detective had an idea that something was being kept back, and what that something might be, he determined to find out. However, his thoughts were turned in another direction by a note from Beecot addressed to him at "The Red Pig," asking him to come at once to the Jubileetown Laundry. "I believe we have discovered the person who stole the opal brooch from me," wrote Paul, "and Deborah has made a discovery connected with Norman which may prove to be of service."
Wondering what the discovery might be, and wondering also who had taken the brooch, Hurd arranged that Jessop and Hokar should remain at Christchurch under the eyes of two plain-clothes officials. These managed their duties so dexterously that Matilda Junk was far from guessing what was going on. Moreover, she informed the detective, who she thought was a commercial gent, that she intended to pay a visit to her sister, Mrs. Tawsey, and demanded the address, which Hurd gave readily enough. He thought that if Matilda knew anything—such as the absence of Mrs. Krill from the hotel during the early part of July—Deborah might induce her to talk freely.
Hokar had proved a difficult subject. Whether he was too grateful to Mrs. Krill to speak out, or whether he really did not understand what was asked of him, he certainly showed a talent for holding his tongue. However, Hurd saw well enough that the man was afraid of the Sahib's law, and when matters came to a crisis would try and prove his innocence even at the cost of implicating others. Therefore, with an easy mind the detective left these two witnesses being watched at Christchurch and repaired to town, where Aurora informed him of the interview with Hay. Billy approved of the way in which his sister had managed matters.
"I guessed that Hay was the man who put Mrs. Krill on the track of her husband," he said, with satisfaction; "but I wasn't quite sure how he spotted the man."
"Oh, the one eye identified him," said Aurora, who was eating chocolate as usual, "and Norman's fainting at the sight of the brooch confirmed Hay's belief as to who he was. I wonder he didn't make a bargain with Norman on his own."
Hurd shook his head. "It wouldn't have paid so well," said he, wisely. "Norman would have parted only with a small sum, whereas this murder will bring in Hay a clear five thousand a year when he marries the girl. Hay acted cleverly enough."
"But I tell you Hay has nothing to do with the murder."
"That may be so, though I don't trust him. But Mrs. Krill might have strangled her husband so as to get the money."
"What makes you think she did?" asked Aurora, doubtfully.
"Well, you see, from what Jessop says, Mrs. Krill is devotedly attached to Maud, and she may have been anxious to revenge her daughter on Krill. He acted like a brute and fastened the child's lips together, so Mrs. Krill treated him in the same way."
"Hum," said Miss Qian, reflectively, "but can you prove that Mrs. Krill was in town on the night of the murder?"
"That's what I'm going to find out," said Hurd. "All you have to do is to keep your eyes on Hay—"
"Oh, he won't cut, if that's what you mean. He thinks everything is square, now that I've got those boys to stop chattering. He'll marry Maud and annex the money."
"He may marry Maud," said Hurd, emphatically, "but he certainly won't get the five thousand a year. Miss Norman will."
"Hold on," cried Aurora, shrewdly. "Maud may not be Lemuel Krill's child, or she may have been born before Krill married the mother, but in any case, Sylvia Norman isn't the child of a legal marriage. Krill certainly committed bigamy, so his daughter Sylvia can't inherit."
"Well," said Hurd, "I can't say. I'll see Pash about the matter. After all, the will left the money to 'my daughter,' and that Sylvia is beyond doubt, whatever Maud may be. And I say, Aurora, just you go down to Stowley in Buckinghamshire. I haven't time to look into matters there myself."
"What do you want me to do there?"
"Find out all about the life of Mrs. Krill before she married Krill and came to Christchurch. She's the daughter of a farmer. You'll find the name in this." Hurd passed along a copy of the marriage certificate which Mrs. Krill had given to Pash. "Anne Tyler is her maiden name. Find out what you can. She was married to Krill at Beechill, Bucks."
Miss Qian took the copy of the certificate and departed, grumbling at the amount of work she had to do to earn her share of the reward. Hurd, on his part, took the underground train to Liverpool Street Station, and then travelled to Jubileetown. He arrived there at twelve o'clock and was greeted by Paul.
"I've been watching for you all the morning," said Beecot, who looked flushed and eager. "Sylvia and I have made such a discovery."
Hurd nodded good-humoredly as he entered the house and shook hands with the girl.
"Miss Norman has been doing some detective business on her own account," he said, smiling. "Hullo, who is this?"
He made this remark, because Mrs. Purr, sitting in a corner of the room with red eyes, rose and dropped a curtsey.
"I'm called to tell you what I do tell on my Bible oath," said Mrs. Purr, with fervor.
"Mrs. Purr can give some valuable evidence," said Paul, quickly.
"Oh, can she? Then I'll hear what she has to say later. First, I must clear the ground by telling you and Miss Norman what I have discovered at Christchurch."
So Mrs. Purr, rather unwillingly, for she felt the importance of her position, was bundled out of the room, and Hurd sat down to relate his late adventures. This he did clearly and slowly, and was interrupted frequently by exclamations of astonishment from his two hearers. "So there," said the detective, when finishing, "you have the beginning of the end."
"Then you think that Mrs. Krill killed her husband?" asked Paul, dubiously.
"I can't say for certain," was the cautious reply; "but I think so, on the face of the evidence which you have heard. What do you say?"
"Don't say anything," said Sylvia, before Paul could reply. "Mr. Hurd had better read this paper. It was found by Deborah in an old box belonging to my father, which was brought from Gwynne Street."
She gave the detective several sheets of blue foolscap pinned together and closely written in the shaky handwriting of Aaron Norman. Hurd looked at it rather dubiously. "What is it?" he asked.
"The paper referred to in that unfinished scrap of writing which was discovered behind the safe," explained Paul. "Norman evidently wrote it out, and placed it in his pocket, where he forgot it. Deborah found it in an old coat, she discovered in a box of clothes brought from Gwynne Street. They were Norman's clothes and his box, and should have been left behind."
"Debby won't hear of that," said Sylvia, laughing. "She says Mrs. Krill has got quite enough, and she took all she could."
"What's all this writing about?" asked Hurd, turning over the closely-written sheets. "To save time you had better give me a precis of the matter. Is it important?"
"Very I should say," responded Paul, emphatically. "It contains an account of Norman's life from the time he left Christchurch."
"Hum." Hurd's eyes brightened. "I'll read it at my leisure, but at the present moment you might say what you can."
"Well, you know a good deal of it," said Paul, who did the talking at a sign from Sylvia. "It seems that Norman—we'd better stick to the old name—left Christchurch because he was afraid of being accused of murdering Lady Rachel."
"Was she really murdered?"
"Norman doesn't say. He swears he knows nothing about the matter. The first intimation he had was when Jessop came down with the news after blundering into the wrong bedroom. But he hints that Mrs. Krill killed her."
"Can he prove that?"
"No. He can't give any proof, or, at all events, he doesn't. He declares that when his wife and daughter—"
"Oh! does he call Maud his daughter?"
"Yes! We can talk of that later," said Paul, impatiently. "Well, then, Norman says he went fairly mad. Jessop had bolted, but Norman knew he would not give the alarm, since he might be accused himself of killing Lady Rachel. Maud, who had seen the body, wanted to run out and call the neighbors."
"How old does Norman say she was?"
"About fifteen; quite old enough to make things unpleasant."
"Then she can't inherit the money," said Hurd, decisively.
"No," cried Beecot, quickly, "both Sylvia and I think so. But to go on with Norman's confession. He would not let Maud go. She began to scream, and he feared lest she should alarm the neighbors. He tied a handkerchief across her lips, but she got free, and again began to scream. Then he cruelly fastened her lips together with the opal brooch."
"Where did he get that, if innocent?"
"He declared that he spied it on the floor of the sitting-room, near his wife's feet, and then hints that she strangled Lady Rachel to get it and turn it into money as she was desperately in need of cash for Maud. Mrs. Krill idolized the child."
"I know that," snapped Hurd. "Go on."
"When Norman fastened the child's lips together, Mrs. Krill threw herself on him in a rage. He knocked her insensible, and then ran away. He walked through the night, until, at dawn, he came to a distant railway station. There he took a ticket and went to London. He concealed himself until there was no chance of his being discovered, and besides, saw the verdict of the jury in the newspapers. But he was determined he would not go back to his wife, because she threatened him."
"In what way?"
"Ah," said Paul, while Sylvia shuddered, "in a strange way. When he fastened the child's lips together, Mrs. Krill said that she would do the same to him one day and with the same brooch."
Hurd uttered an exclamation. "So that was why she wanted the brooch so much?" he exclaimed eagerly.
"Yes. And she told Hay she wanted it though she did not reveal her reason. She said if she got the brooch he would be allowed to marry Maud, with whom Hay was deeply in love. Hay stumbled across me by accident, and I happened to have the brooch. The rest you know."
"No," said Hurd, "I don't know how the brooch came into the possession of Mrs. Krill again, to use in the cruel way she threatened."
"Well," said Sylvia, quickly, "we aren't sure if Mrs. Krill did get the brooch."
"The evidence is against her," said Hurd; "remember the threat—"
"Yes, but wait till you hear Mrs. Purr," said Paul, "but just a moment, Hurd. You must learn how Norman laid the foundations of his fortune."
"Ah, I forget! Well?" and the detective settled himself to listen further.
"He was hard up and almost starving for a long time after he came to London," explained Paul, "then he got a post in a second-hand bookshop kept by a man called Garner in the Minories. He had a daughter, Lillian—"
"My mother," put in Sylvia, softly.
"Yes," went on Beecot, quickly, "and this girl being lonely fell in love with Norman, as he now called himself. He wasn't an attractive man with his one eye, so it is hard to say how Miss Garner came to love him. But she married him in the end. You'll find everything explained at length in the paper we gave you. Then old Garner died, and Lillian inherited a considerable sum of money, together with the stock. Her husband removed the books to Gwynne Street and started business. But with the money he began to trade in jewels, and you know how he got on."
"That's all plain enough," said Hurd, putting the confession of Norman into his pocket. "I suppose the man dreaded lest his first wife should turn up."
"Yes! And that's why he fainted when he saw the brooch. Not knowing that Jessop had removed it from Maud's mouth and pawned it—"
"I'm not so sure of that," said Hurd, quickly. "Bart overheard him talking of Stowley and the pawnbroker there."
"Well," said Paul, with a shrug, "he says nothing about it in the confession. Perhaps he did trace the brooch to the Stowley shop, but if so, I wonder he did not get it, seeing he wanted it. But when he saw it in my possession, he thought I might know of Mrs. Krill and might put her on the track. Hence his fainting. Later, he learned how I became possessed of it, and tried to buy it. Then came the accident, and I really believed for a time that Hay had stolen it."
"Aurora says he swore he did not."
"And he didn't," said Paul, going to the door. "Mrs. Purr!"
"You don't mean to say that old woman prigged it?" asked Hurd.
"No. But she warned me against that boy Tray on the day Deborah was married. Later, I asked her what she meant, and she then told me that she had learned from Tray's grandmother, a drunken old thief, how the boy brought home the opal brooch, and—"
Here Mrs. Purr, who had entered and was dropping curtseys to the majesty of the law, as represented by Hurd, thought an undue advantage was being taken of her position. She wished to talk herself, and interrupted Paul, in a shrill voice.
"Granny Clump, she is," said Mrs. Purr, folding her hands under her apron. "Tray's gran'mother, as 'is name is Tray Clump, I swear on my Bible oath. A wicked old woman as is famous for drink—"
"I've heard of her," said the detective, remembering; "she's been up heaps of times."
"And grows no better," wailed Mrs. Purr, bibulously, for she had been strengthening herself for the interview with frequent libations of gin. "Oh, what a thing strong drink is, sir! But Granny Clump, bein' ill with the lungses, and me bein' 'elpful in sich cases, 'aving bin a nuss, when young, as I won't deceive you by denying, called on me to be a good Smart 'un. And I wos, though she swore awful, saying she wanted gin an' jellies, an' could 'ave 'ad them, if that limb—so did she name Tray, gentlemen both—'ad only 'anded to 'er the rich brooch he brought 'ome, just afore he went to earn a decent livin' at the lawr orfice, which 'is name is Pash—"
"Ha," said Hurd, thoughtfully, "I'll see the boy."
"You can see him now," said Beecot, unexpectedly. "When I learned this from Mrs. Purr and knew you were coming, I sent a message to Pash's office for the boy. He came up quite unsuspectingly, but he refused to speak. I shut him up in a back room, and Deborah has been watching him—"
"An' the languige of that blessed limb!" exclaimed Mrs. Purr, raising her hands.
"Bring him in," said Hurd. "Miss Norman, if the boy uses bad language, you needn't stay."
Sylvia, having heard what Tray could do in this way, needed no further hint. She left the room gladly, and told Deborah to bring along her prisoner. Shortly, the noise of kicking and strong language was heard coming nearer, and Deborah, with a red face and a firm mouth, appeared at the door, holding aloft a small boy who was black in the face with rage. "There," said Deborah, flinging Tray in a heap at the detective's feet, "if me an' Bart 'ave sich a brat, I 'ope he dies in his cradle, instead of growing to a galler's thief in th' use of words which make me shudder, let alone my pretty. Ugh!" she shook her fist at Tray. "You Old Bailey viper, though young at that."
"Here," said Tray, rising, much dishevelled, but with a white face, "let me go. I'll 'ave the lawr of you."
"I'll attend to that, my lad," said Hurd, dryly. "Now, then, where did you get that brooch?"
"Sha'n't tell," snapped the boy, and put his tongue out.
Hurd gave him a smack with an open hand on the side of his face, and Master Clump began to blubber.
"Assalting me—oh, won't you ketch it," he raged in his puny wrath. "My master's a law-cove, and he'll 'ave y' up before the beak."
"You answer my questions," said Hurd, sternly, "or you'll get another clout. You know who I am well enough. Make a clean breast of it, you imp, or I'll lock you up."
"If I make a clean breast will you let me cut?" asked Tray, beginning to whimper, but with a cunning gleam in his eyes.
"I'll see, when I know what you have to say."
Tray looked round the room to see if there was any way of escape. But Paul guarded the closed window and Deborah, itching to box his ears, stood before the door. Before him was the stern-faced detective with whom Tray knew well enough he dare not trifle. Under these circumstances he made the best of a bad job, and told what he knew although he interpolated threats all the time. "Wot d'y want with me?" he demanded sulkily.
"Where did you find that brooch?"
"I prigged it from Mr. Beecot's pocket when he wos smashed."
"Did Mr. Hay tell you to steal it?"
"No, he didn't."
"Then how did you know the brooch was in my pocket?" asked Paul.
"I was a-dodgin' round the shorp," snapped Tray, "and I 'eard Mr. Norman an' Mr. Beecot a-talkin' of the brooch; Mr. Beecot said as he 'ad the brooch in 'is pocket—"
"Yes, I certainly did," said Paul, remembering the conversation.
"Well, when the smash come, I dodged in and prigged it. T'wos easy 'nough," grinned Tray, "for I felt it in 'is bres' poket and collared it. I wanted to guv it t' th' ole man, thinkin' he'd pay fur it, as he said he would. But arter the smash I went 'ome t' m' grann' and hid the brooch. W'en I wos a-lookin' at it at night, I sawr 'er a-lookin' at it, and she grabbed it. I cut away with m'own property, not wishin' to be robbed by the ole gal."
"What did you do then?"
Tray wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "I 'eard that Mr. Norman wos dead—"
"Yes, and you told Jessop so in the office. How did you know?"
"'Cause I went to the shorp in th' mornin' to sell the brooch to th' ole man. He was a goner, so I cut to Mr. Pash, as wos his lawyer, and said I'd sell 'im the brooch."
"What?" cried Hurd, rising. "You gave the brooch to Mr. Pash?"
"Yuss. He said he'd 'ave me up for stealin', and wouldn't guv me even a bob fur it. But he said I'd be his noo orfice boy. I thought I'd be respectable, so I went. And now," ended Master Clump in a sullen manner, "you knows all, and I ain't done nothin', so I'm orf."
Deborah caught him by the tail of his jacket as he made a dart at the door and swung him into the middle of the room. Hurd laid hands on him. "You come along with me," he said. "I'll confront you with Pash."
Tray gave a howl of terror. "He'll kill me," he shouted, "as he killed the old cove. Yuss. He did it. Pash did it," and he howled again.
WHAT PASH SAID
In a smoking compartment, which the three had to themselves, Hurd resumed his examination of Tray. They were now on their way to Liverpool Street and thence the detective intended to convey the boy to Pash's office in Chancery Lane. Paul sat in one corner much excited over the turn events had taken. He began to think that the assassin of Aaron Norman would be found after all. More, he believed that Sylvia would yet inherit the five thousand a year she was entitled to, morally, if not legally. Hurd, in another corner, pulled Tray roughly towards him, and shook his finger in the lad's face. The boy was sulky and defiant, yet there was a trace of fear in his eyes, and the reason of this Hurd wished to learn.
"You're a young liar," said Hurd, emphatically, "and not a clever one either. Do you think to play the fool with me?"
"I've tole you all straight," grumbled Tray.
"No, you haven't. Anyone can see that you've made a mistake. I leave it to Mr. Beecot yonder."
"I was about to draw your attention to the mistake," said Paul; "you mean the discrepancy in time."
Master Clump started and became more sulky than ever. He cast down his cunning eyes and shuffled with his feet while Hurd lectured him. "You know well enough," said the detective, sharply, "that the brooch was boned by you on the very evening when the murder took place. It was then that Mr. Beecot met with his accident. Therefore, you could not have given the brooch to Mr. Pash the next morning, as it had been used on the previous night."
"Sha'n't say anythin' more," retorted Tray, defiantly.
"Oh, won't you?" cried Hurd, ironically, "we'll see about that. You told that lie about the time to account for your knowing of the murder before anyone else did."
"No," said Tray, decidedly, "I did go to the shorp in th' mornin'."
"That you may have done, but not to sell the brooch. Mr. Pash had taken it from you on the previous night."
"He didn't," denied the boy.
"Then in that case you've told a lie. Pash never had the brooch, and has nothing to do with the murder."
"He did prig the brooch from me, and he did kill the ole cove."
"Well, we'll see what Mr. Pash will say when you accuse him," said Hurd; "but I don't believe one word of it. It's my opinion that you gave that brooch to a third party on the same evening as you stole it. Now, then, who did you give it to?"
"Mr. Pash," persisted Tray.
"On the same evening?"
There was no reply to this. Tray set his lips firmly and refused to speak. Hurd shook an admonitory finger again. "You can't play fast and loose with me, my lad," he said grimly; "if you didn't part with that brooch, you must be mixed up in the crime yourself. Perhaps you pinned the poor wretch's mouth together. It's just the sort of cruel thing a young Cain like you would do."
"I didn't," said Master Clump, doggedly; "you take me to master, and I'll tell him what I tells you. He's the one."
Hurd shook the boy to make him talk more, but Tray simply threw himself on the floor of the carriage and howled. The detective therefore picked him up and flung him into a corner. "You stop there, you little ruffian," he said, seriously annoyed at the boy's recalcitrants; "we'll speak again when we are in Mr. Pash's office." So Tray curled up on the cushion, looked savagely at the detective and held his tongue.
"What do you think will be the end of all this?" asked Paul, when Master Clump was thus disposed of.
"Lord knows," replied Hurd, wiping his face. "I never had a harder case to deal with. I thought Hay had a hand in it, but it seems he hadn't, bad lot as he is, asking your pardon, Mr. Beecot, since you're his friend."
"That I am not," disclaimed Beecot, emphatically; "there's a young lawyer I know, Ford is his name. I went to see him as to what chances Sylvia had of getting the money. He was at school with me, and remembered Hay. He said that Hay was dismissed from Torrington School for stealing."
"Didn't you know that yourself."
"No, I had left the school—I was ill at home with scarlet fever. But Hay apparently always has been a bad lot. He and that Krill pair are well matched, for I believe the mother is bad, even if the daughter Maud isn't. By the way her age—?"
Hurd nodded. "I believe she was fifteen at the time of the death of Lady Rachel. If so, she can't be legitimate or may not be the daughter of Aaron Norman. However, I've asked my sister to look up Mrs. Krill's past life in Stowley, where she comes from."
"But she wasn't married to Krill at Stowley?"
"No. But she lived there as Anne Tyler. From the certificate she was married to Krill at a small parish church twenty miles from Stowley, so Aurora will go there. But I want her to stop at Stowley first and learn all she can about Anne Tyler."
"Beechill's the name of the parish in which she was married to Krill before she came to Christchurch," said Paul, musingly, "so I expect they lived there. Miss Qian might search also for the certificate of Maud Krill's birth."
"I told her to, and, failing that, she's to search in Christchurch. We must get the certificate of birth somehow."
"Hurd," said Paul, rather diffidently, "I hope you won't be annoyed, but I have already asked my friend Ford to give notice to Pash to produce the certificate."
"Well," replied the detective, "you might have told me; but no great harm is done. What does Pash say?"
"I don't know. Ford has not let me know yet. Here we are."
This remark was caused by the stopping of the train at Liverpool Street Station. A number of people were returning from their employment in the city to the country, and the platforms were crowded. Hurd grasped Master Clump by the arm and marched him along. But in the confusion of finding his ticket at the barrier, he happened to let go, almost without thinking. In a moment Tray had darted through the barrier and was lost in the crowd. Hurd sprang after him, and left Paul to explain. He hurriedly did so, and then went out to see if the detective had caught the boy.
Hurd was nowhere to be seen, neither was Tray. The crowd was increasing thick, and Beecot was at a loss what to do. After waiting for an hour without finding the pair, he thought he would go to Pash's office. It might be that Hurd, having caught Tray, would take him there at once, leaving Beecot to follow. So Paul got on to the metropolitan railway and alighted at the Temple Station. Thence he walked up to the office in Chancery Lane.
"Where's Tray?" asked Paul, of the one clerk in the outer room, who was writing for dear life.
"I don't know, sir," said the clerk; "he went out this morning and hasn't been back all day. Mr. Pash is very angry with him."
Apparently Hurd had not caught the boy yet, or if he had, did not intend to bring him to the office. "Can I see Mr. Pash?" asked Paul, thinking he might as well make some use of his time.
The clerk inquired if the solicitor would see Beecot, and presently ushered him into the inner room, where Pash sat looking more like a monkey than ever. He did not appear at all pleased to see the young man, and sucked in his cheek with a crabbed air.
"Well, Mr. Beecot, what can I do for you?" he snarled.
"You might be civil in the first place," said Paul quietly, taking a chair. "You haven't behaved over well to Miss Norman and me."
"Oh," said Pash, coolly, "have you come to reproach me with that?"
"I never waste time," rejoined Paul, equally coolly. "I'll leave you to your conscience."
Pash shrugged his shoulders and put his feet on the rungs of his chair. "I think my conscience can stand that," he said; "it's business, Mr. Beecot, business. By the way, I have received a request from Mr. Ford of Cheapside to produce the certificate of birth of Miss Krill. What is the meaning of that?"
"I think you know very well, Mr. Pash."
"I profess my ignorance," said Pash, ironically, although he looked uneasy, and was apparently lying.
"In that case you had better wait till you hear from Mr. Ford."
"Are you employing Mr. Ford, may I ask?"
Paul nodded. "On behalf of Miss Norman," said he, coldly.
"Ah," sneered the monkey, "you think you'll get the money."
"Wait till you hear from Mr. Ford," retorted Paul again, and enjoyed the baffled expression on Mr. Pash's wrinkled face. "By the way, sir, why did you not tell Hurd that Tray gave you the opal brooch?"
Pash turned all the colors of the rainbow. "Does that brat I took into my office out of charity dare to say that he did."
"He does, and what is more, Mr. Hurd is bringing him here to make the statement, face to face with you. I am determined to get to the bottom of this case, sir, for Miss Norman's sake. And the possession of the brooch forms an important link."
"The person who had that brooch on the evening of the sixth of July murdered Norman," said Paul, calmly.
Pash jumped up and chattered like a baboon in a rage. "Do you mean to accuse me?" he demanded. "Take care—take care."
"I don't accuse you. Tray does."
"It's a lie—a lie—"
"Don't excite yourself, Mr. Pash. You'll need all your wits to convince Hurd. Tray accuses you, and Hurd suspects you. I have nothing to do with the matter."
"You put Hurd up to this," foamed Pash, hardly able to speak.
"Pardon me. Hurd is working for the reward offered by your client. Don't you think it was rather foolish of her to offer such a large reward, Mr. Pash, even though she did so to avert suspicion?"
The solicitor changed color again. "I don't understand you."
Paul shrugged his shoulders and rose to go. "Perhaps Mr. Hurd will explain," he said, and made for the door.
Pash, with his monkey face much perplexed, sat hunched in his chair, biting his fingers. As Paul laid his hand on the knob, he called him back. "I can explain," he said nervously.
"Not to me," said Paul, coldly.
"I prefer to do so to you," said the lawyer, hurriedly.
"Why to me particularly."
"Because I don't think I have acted very well towards Miss Norman, and, as you are to marry her, you may be able to arrange—"
"To make peace I suppose you mean," burst out Beecot; "no, Mr. Pash, you have acted like a scoundrel. You left that poor girl in the lurch as soon as you found that Miss Krill was—as you thought—legally entitled to the money."
"What do you mean by hinting she isn't?"
"Because you know very well what her age is," retorted Paul. "This matter will be shifted to the bottom, Mr. Pash, by my friend Ford, and if things are as I think they are, Miss Krill won't keep that money. You know very well—"
"Miss Norman won't get the money either," snarled Pash, "I know that very well. Leastways," he added, "without my assistance."
"More of your crooked ways," said Paul, indignantly. "Tell what you like to Hurd. I refuse to listen."
As he spoke he opened the door and found himself facing Hurd who was red and hot. The detective stepped into the office, and as he passed Paul, whispered, "Hold your tongue about the boy," then he turned to Mr. Pash. "Well, sir," he puffed, "I have had a job catching up Mr. Beecot. No doubt you know why I have come?"
"No," said Pash, dryly; "I don't see Tray."
"Tray will keep. I've got him safe under lock and key. Before bringing you face to face with him I thought it best to give you an opportunity of clearing yourself."
"Of what?" asked Pash, in a brazen manner.
Hurd looked at Beecot who spoke. "Mr. Pash knows very well that Tray accuses him of the crime," he said. "I told him so, and he professed his readiness to explain to you."
"Ah," said Hurd, "shut the door, Mr. Beecot. No need to let all London know the truth."
"I don't know it," said Pash, as Paul closed the door and returned to his seat.
"Very good," rejoined the detective, calmly, "we'll assume for the sake of argument that you did not strangle Norman."
"That I certainly did not."
"Then you know who did. Come, sir," Hurd became stern; "this boy Tray says he gave the opal brooch to you. And I believe he did. You would not have taken him into your office—a boy off the streets, and with a bad character at that—unless you wanted to bribe him to hold his tongue."
"I had no need to bribe," said Pash, gnawing his finger nails and rather cowed by this direct attack. "The boy did show me the opal brooch, and I took it from him to return to Norman."
"When did you receive it?" asked Hurd, pulling out his book. "Be careful, Mr. Pash, I'll take down what you say."
"I have nothing to conceal," said Pash, in quite an unnecessarily injured manner. "I had employed the boy on several errands, and he knew I was Norman's lawyer. On the evening of the sixth of July—"
"And the evening of the murder," said Hurd; "are you sure?"
"I'll take my oath on it. The boy told me that Mr. Beecot had met with an accident and that a blue velvet case containing a brooch had fallen out of his pocket."
"It was stolen," said Beecot, hastily.
"Tray was not such a fool as to tell me that," replied the lawyer, dryly; "he said that he picked the case up out of the mud, and took it home to his garret. His grandmother, who is a notorious thief, wanted to get it, and pawn it for drink, but Tray ran away with it and came to me about five o'clock. He gave me the brooch and asked me to take charge of it, as he expected to get money for it from Aaron Norman who wanted it."
"Tray overheard my conversation with Norman," said Paul, angrily, "and knew the brooch was mine—so did you, Mr. Pash."
"Well," said the solicitor, coolly, "what of that? Norman was my client and wanted the brooch. I intended to keep it and then see you, so that a sale might be arranged. Norman spoke to me about the brooch several times and wanted it for reasons you may not know."
"Oh, yes, we know," said Hurd, sardonically; "we know much more than you give us credit for, Mr. Pash. Well, you saw Norman about the jewel later that evening. I suppose you intend to tell us you gave him the brooch then."
"I intend to tell nothing of the sort," retorted Pash, after a few moments' thought. "I see that things are coming to a crisis, and I would like to see Miss Norman reinstated in her rights."
"Oh," said Paul, indignantly, "and you did your best to give the money to Maud Krill!"
"Because I believed she was legally entitled to it," explained Pash, lamely; "but since—no," he broke off, "I'll say nothing just now. I alone can put the matter right, and I refuse to do so unless I have Miss Norman's promise that I shall keep the business."
Paul would have refused then and there, but Hurd, more astute, interrupted his angry speech. "We'll see about that later, Mr. Pash," he said, soothingly; "meanwhile, what did you do with the brooch?"
"I laid it on the table there. The case was open, as I had been looking at it. I sent Tray out of the room and attended to my usual business. Several clients came and went, and I forgot about the opal serpent. Then I went to see my clerk outside about a deed. I was with him for some minutes. When I recollected the brooch before I went home—for I intended to take it with me—"
"Stop," interrupted Hurd, "you were here till Aaron Norman came along with the jewels, so you must have missed the brooch before he came or he would have taken it, seeing it was exposed on the table."
"My esteemed client did not come till seven," said Pash, annoyed at being detected in trickery. "He walked about with the bags of jewels for some time, not being able to make up his mind to give them to me, which he did for safe keeping."
"Then he expected a visit from his wife?"
"I can't say," said the solicitor, with an air of fatigue. "He certainly hinted that he wanted the jewels placed away safely in case someone connected with the opal brooch should come."
"Perhaps Captain Jessop, who did come," said Paul, suddenly.
"He didn't mention the name of Jessop," snapped Pash. "Had he hinted at a sailor I would have known who my nautical visitor was."
"We know all about that," said Hurd, waving his hand; "But if Norman came to you at seven, how did you manage to prevent him meeting his wife in this office?"
"Oh, she was—What do you mean?" asked Pash, breaking off, and conscious that he was letting slip something he had rather had not been known.
Hurd saw the slip and Pash's confusion and at once made every use of the opportunity. In fact, he played a game of bluff. Shaking his finger he approached the little lawyer. "Do you think I come here unprepared?" he asked, solemnly; "do you think I have not been to 'The Red Pig' at Christchurch and learned that Mrs. Krill knew of her husband's whereabouts, through Hay, long before the day she came to you with the lying story about the hand-bills? Hay has confessed his share in the business of a false introduction to throw Mr. Beecot off the scent, seeing that he was defending Miss Norman's interests. Do you think I don't know that this woman Krill came to see you, through Hay, whose lawyer you are? She was here on that fatal evening," said Hurd, making a bold shot, "how did you prevent her seeing Norman?"
Pash was completely thrown off his balance by this volley of language and presumption of knowledge. "Mrs. Krill left at six," he gasped, backing to the wall.
"And carried off the brooch?"
"I'm not sure—I can't say—I did miss the brooch—"
"After Mrs. Krill left?"
"No, when Norman came. I intended to show him the brooch and found it gone."
"Mrs. Krill left at six. Between six and seven did any other client come into the office?"
"Yes—no—I can't say. Well," Pash broke down in despair seeing that his lies were not believed, "I think Mrs. Krill did steal the brooch."
"Quite so, and murdered her husband!" Hurd went to the door and took Beecot's arm. "I only hope you won't be brought up as an accessory before the fact, Mr. Pash," and disregarding the lawyer's exclamations he dragged Paul outside. In Chancery Lane he spoke. "I've bluffed him fine," he said, "that boy is lost. Can't see him anywhere. But we're getting at the truth at last."
MRS. KRILL AT BAY
Next day Hurd did not go to see Mrs. Krill as he had intended, but spent his time in hunting for the missing boy. Tray, however, was not to be found. Being a guttersnipe and accustomed to dealing with the police he was thoroughly well able to look after himself, and doubtless had concealed himself in some low den where the officers of the law would not think of searching for him. However, the fact remained that, in spite of the detective's search, he could not be caught, and the authorities were much vexed. To unravel the case completely Tray was a necessary witness, especially as, even when examined at Jubileetown, Hurd shrewdly suspected he had not confessed all the truth. However, what could be done was done, and several plain-clothes detectives were set to search for the missing boy.
Pash remained quiet for, at all events, the next four-and-twenty hours. Whether he saw Mrs. Krill or not during that time Hurd did not know and, truth to say, he cared very little. The lawyer had undoubtedly acted dishonestly, and if the matter were made public, there would be every chance that he would be struck off the rolls. To prevent this Pash was quite ready to sell Mrs. Krill and anyone else connected with the mystery. Also, he wished to keep the business of Miss Norman, supposing the money—as he hinted might be the case through his assistance—came back to her; and this might be used as a means to make him speak out. Hurd was now pretty sure that Mrs. Krill was the guilty person.
"She knew Pash through Hay," argued the detective, while thinking over the case, "and undoubtedly came to see him before Norman's death, so that Pash might suggest ways and means of getting the better of the old man by means of the bigamy business. Mrs. Krill was in the Chancery Lane office when the brooch left by Tray was on the table, and Mrs. Krill, anxious to get it, no doubt slipped it into her pocket when Pash was talking to his clerk in the outer room. Then I expect she decided to punish her husband by fastening his lips together as he had done those of her daughter twenty and more years ago. I can't exactly see why she strangled him," mused Hurd, "as she could have got the money without proceeding to such an extreme measure. But the man's dead, and she killed him sure enough. Now, I'll get a warrant out and arrest her straight away. There's quite enough evidence to justify her being taken in charge. Hum! I wonder if she made use of that young devil of a Tray in any way? Well," he rose and stretched himself, "I may force her to speak now that she is in a corner."
Having made up his mind Hurd went to work at once, and the next day, late in the afternoon, he was driving in a cab to No. 32A Hunter Street, Kensington, with the warrant in his pocket. He also had with him a letter which he had received from Miss Qian, and written from Beechill in Buckinghamshire. Aurora had made good use of her time and had learned a number of facts connected with Mrs. Krill's early life which Hurd thought would prove of interest to the woman. In one way and another the case was becoming plain and clear, and the detective made sure that he would gain the reward. The irony of the thing was, that Mrs. Krill, with a view to throwing dust in the eyes of the law, had offered a bribe of one thousand pounds for the discovery of the assassin. She little thought when doing so that she was weaving a rope for her own neck.
Hurd had brought a plain-clothes policeman with him, and this man remained outside in a hansom while Hurd rang the bell. In a few minutes the door was opened and the detective sent up his card. Mrs. Krill proved to be at home and consented to receive him, so, shortly, the man found himself in an elegantly-furnished drawing-room bowing before the silent and sedate daughter.
"You wish to see my mother," said Maud, with her eternal smile. "She will be down in a few minutes."
"I await her convenience," said Hurd, admiring the handsome looks of the young woman, although he plainly saw that she was—as he phrased it—"no chicken."
After a few words Miss Krill rang the bell. "I want these things taken away," she said, pointing to a workbasket and some millinery with which she had been engaged when Hurd was announced, "then I shall leave you to speak to my mother."
The detective wondered if she was too fine a lady to remove these things herself, but his surprise ceased when the door opened and no less a person than Matilda Junk appeared. He guessed at once that the landlady of "The Red Pig" had come up to see her sister and had related details about her visitor. Probably Mrs. Krill guessed that Hurd had been asking questions, and Matilda had been introduced to see if he was the man. He became certain of this when Miss Junk threw up her hands. "The commercial gent," she exclaimed.
"Oh, no," said Maud, smiling smoothly. "This is Mr. Hurd, the detective, who is searching for the assassin of my dear father."
"Lor,'" said Matilda, growing red. "And he's the man as came to ask questions at the 'otel. I do call it bold of you, Mister Policeman."
"Well," said Hurd, swinging his hat lazily, and looking from one to the other, quite taking in the situation, "you answered very few of my questions, so that is all right."
"Why did you go down to Christchurch?" asked Miss Krill.
"If I have to find out who killed your father," said Hurd, with an accent on the word "father," "it was necessary that I should learn about his past life as Lemuel Krill."
"My mother could have informed you, sir."
"I guessed as much, and, as Miss Junk would not speak, I have come to question Mrs. Krill. Ah, here she is." Hurd rose and bowed. "I am glad to see you, madam."
Mrs. Krill, who was as plump and smiling and smooth-faced and severe as ever, bowed and rubbed her white hands together. At a sign from Maud, Matilda gathered up the fancy work and went out of the room with many backward glances. These were mostly indignant, for she was angry at Hurd's deception. "Do you wish my daughter to stay?" asked Mrs. Krill, smoothly.
"That is as she pleases," said the detective.
"No, thank you, mother," said Maud, shuddering, "I have heard quite enough of my poor father's terrible death," and she swept out of the drawing-room with a gracious smile.
"The poor child is so sensitive," sighed Mrs. Krill, taking a seat with her back to the window. Whether this was done to conceal her age, or the expression of her face during a conversation which could not fail to prove trying, Hurd was unable to determine. "I trust, Mr. Hurd, you have come with good news," said the widow.
"What would you call good news?" asked the detective, dryly.
"That you had traced the assassin," she replied coolly.
Hurd was amazed at this brazen assurance, and thought that Mrs. Krill must be quite convinced that she had covered up every trail likely to lead to the discovery of her connection with the murder.
"I'll leave you to judge whether I have been successful," he said calmly.
"I shall be pleased to hear," was the equally calm reply. But as Mrs. Krill spoke she glanced towards a gorgeous tapestry curtain at the end of the room, and Hurd fancied he saw it shake. It suddenly occurred to him that Maud was behind. Why she should choose this secret way of listening when she could have remained it was difficult to say, and he half thought he was mistaken. However, listening openly or secretly, did not matter so far as the daughter was concerned, so Hurd addressed himself to Mrs. Krill in a loud and cheerful voice. She composed herself to listen with a bland smile, and apparently was quite ignorant that there was anything wrong.
"I was lately down at Christchurch, madam—"
"So my servant, Matilda Junk, said."
"It was necessary that I should go there to search out your husband's past life. In that past I fancied, might be found the motive for the commission of the crime."
"I could have saved you the journey," said Mrs. Krill, shrugging her plump shoulders. "I can tell you what you wish to know."
"In that case I will relate all that I have learned, and perhaps you will correct me if I am wrong."
Mrs. Krill bowed but did not commit herself to speech. For the sake of effect the detective took out a sheaf of notes, but in reality he had the various points of the case at his finger tips. "You will excuse me if I talk on very private matters," he said, apologetically, "but as we are alone," again Mrs. Krill glanced at the curtain and thereby confirmed Hurd's suspicions of an unseen listener, "you will not mind my being, perhaps, personal."
"Personal," echoed Mrs. Krill, a keen look coming into her hard eyes, and she stopped rubbing her hands together.
"Well, yes," admitted Hurd, with affected reluctance. "I had to look into your past as well as into that of your husband's."
Mrs. Krill's eyes grew harder than ever. She scented danger. "My past is a most uninteresting one," she said, coldly. "I was born at Stowley, in Buckinghamshire, and married Mr. Krill at Beechill, which is a few miles from that town. He was a traveller in jewellery, but as I did not like his being away from me, I induced him to rent 'The Red Pig' at Christchurch, to which we removed. Then he left me—"
"On account of Lady Rachel Sandal's murder?"
Mrs. Krill controlled herself excellently, although she was startled by this speech, as was evident from the expression of her eyes. "That poor lady committed suicide," she said deliberately. "The jury at the inquest brought in a verdict of suicide—"
"By a majority of one," added Hurd, quickly. "There seemed to be a considerable amount of doubt as to the cause of the death."
"The death was caused by strangulation," said Mrs. Krill, in hard tones. "Since you know all about the matter, you must be aware that I and my daughter had retired after seeing Lady Rachel safe and sound for the night. The death was discovered by a boon companion of my husband's, with whom he was drinking at the time."
"I know that. Also that you came down with your daughter when the alarm was given. I also know that Krill fastened your daughter's lips together with the opal brooch which was found in the parlor."
"Who told you that?" asked Mrs. Krill, agitated.
"Jessop—the boon companion you speak of."
"Yes," she said, suppressing her agitation with a powerful effort. "Matilda said you had him to dine with you. What else did he say?" she asked with some hesitation.
"Much less than I should have liked to know," retorted Hurd, prepared to throw off the mask; "but he told me a great deal which interested me very much. Amongst other things that Grexon Hay had been engaged to your daughter for two years."
"Well?" asked Mrs. Krill, coolly, "what of that?"
"Nothing particular," rejoined Hurd, just as coolly, "only I wonder you took the trouble to pretend that you met Hay at Pash's office for the first time."
"That was some romantic rubbish of my daughter's. There was no reason why we should not have acknowledged Mr. Hay as an old acquaintance."
"None in the world that I can see," said Hurd, smoothly. "He told you that Aaron Norman was your husband."
"No," said Mrs. Krill, decidedly, "I first heard of my husband by seeing a chance hand-bill—"
"Not at all," answered Hurd, just as decidedly, "Hay has confessed."
"There was nothing to confess," cried Mrs. Krill, loudly and with emphasis.
"Oh, I think so," said the detective, noting that she was losing her temper. "You didn't want it known that you were aware of Norman's identity before his death. Do you deny that?"
"I deny everything," gasped Mrs. Krill, her hands trembling.
"That's a pity, as I want you to corroborate certain facts connected with Anne Tyler. Do you know the name?"
"My maiden name," said the widow, and a look of fear crept into her hard, staring eyes. "How did you come to know of it?"
"From the marriage certificate supplied by Pash."
"He had no right to give it to you."
"He didn't. I possess only a copy. But that copy I sent down in charge of a certain person to Beechill. This person found that you were married as Anne Tyler to Lemuel Krill in the parish church, twenty miles from your birthplace."
Mrs. Krill drew a long breath of relief. "Well?" she demanded defiantly, "is there anything wrong about that?"
"No. But this person also made inquiries at Stowley about you. You are the daughter of a farmer."
"I mentioned that fact myself."
"Yes. But you didn't mention that your mother had been hanged for poisoning your father."
Mrs. Krill turned ghastly pale. "No," she said in a suffocating voice, "such is the case; but can you wonder that I forebore to mention that fact? My daughter knows nothing of that—nor did my husband—"
"Which husband do you mean, Krill or Jessop?" asked Hurd.
Mrs. Krill gasped and rose, swaying. "What do you mean, man?"
"This," said the detective, on his feet at once; "this person hunted out the early life of Anne Tyler at Stowley. It was discovered that Anne was the daughter of a woman who had been hanged, and of a man who had been murdered. Also this person found that Anne Tyler married a sailor called Jarvey Jessop some years before she committed bigamy with Lemuel Krill in Beechill Church—"
"It's a lie!" screamed Mrs. Krill, losing her self-control. "How dare you come here with these falsehoods?"
"They are not falsehoods, Anne Tyler, alias Anne Jessop, alias Anne Krill, etc.," retorted Hurd, speaking rapidly and emphasizing his remarks with his finger in his usual fashion when in deadly earnest. "You were married to Jessop in Stowley Church; you bore him a daughter who was christened Maud Jessop in Stowley Church. The person I mentioned sent me copies of the marriage and birth certificates. So your marriage with Lemuel Krill was false, and his second marriage with Lillian Garner is a good one in law. Which means, Mrs. Jessop," Hurd hurled the word at her and she shrank, "that Sylvia Norman or Sylvia Krill, as she rightfully is, owns that money which you wrongfully withhold from her. The will gave the five thousand a year to 'my daughter,' and Sylvia is the only daughter and only child—the legitimate child, mark you—of Lemuel Krill."
"Lies—lies—lies!" raged Mrs. Krill, as she may still be called, though rightfully Jessop, "I'll defend the case on my daughter's behalf."
"Your daughter, certainly," said Hurd, "but not Krill's."
"I say yes."
"And I say no. She was fifteen when Lady Rachel was murdered, as Jessop, her father, admitted. I knew the man was keeping something back, but I was far from suspecting that it was this early marriage. No wonder the man came to you and had free quarters at 'The Red Pig.' He could have prosecuted you for bigamy, just as you would have prosecuted Krill, had you not murdered him."
Mrs. Krill gave a yell and her eyes blazed. "You hound!" she shouted, "do you accuse me of that?"
"I do more than accuse you, I arrest you." Hurd produced the warrant. "A man is waiting in the cab. We'll get a four-wheeler, and you'll come along with me to gaol, Mrs. Jessop."
"You can't prove it—you can't prove it," she panted, "and I sha'n't go—I sha'n't—I sha'n't!" and her eyes sought the tapestry.
"Miss Jessop can come out," said Hurd, coolly, "and, as to your not coming, a few policemen will soon put that right."
"How dare you insult me and my daughter?"
"Come, come," said the detective, sternly, "I've had quite enough of this. You offered me one thousand pounds to learn who killed your so-called husband, Krill. I have earned the reward—"
"Not one shilling shall you have."
"Oh, I think so. Miss Sylvia will pay it to me, and you—"
"I am innocent. I never touched the man."
"A jury will decide that, Mrs. Jessop."
"Krill—my name is Krill."
Hurd laughed and turned towards the tapestry.
"What do you say, Miss Jessop?" he asked.
Seeing that further concealment was at an end, Maud lifted the tapestry, which concealed a small door, through which she had silently stolen to listen. She advanced calmly. "I have heard all your conversation with my mother," she declared with flashing eyes, "and not one word of it is true. I am the daughter of Lemuel Krill."
"You'll find that hard to prove in the face of your birth certificate and your mother's marriage to Captain Jessop, your father."
"It will all be put right."
"Quite so, and Miss Norman will get the money."
"That girl—never!" cried Maud, fiercely. She looked very like her mother at the moment, but the more angry she grew the calmer became Mrs. Krill, who kept darting anxious glances at her daughter. "And you sha'n't take my mother away," she cried threateningly.
"I don't want to make a scandal in the neighborhood," said Hurd, taking a small whistle from his pocket, "but if I blow this my man out there will call the nearest policeman, and then—"
"There is no need," interrupted Mrs. Krill, who had recovered her self-control. "Maud, come over beside me. On what grounds, Mr. Hurd, do you accuse me of the crime? I was not in town on—"
"Oh, yes, you were, Mrs. Jessop. Pash can prove that you were in his office and took the brooch left by Tray from the table. I don't know where you stopped on that night—"
"At Judson's Hotel, Strand," cried Maud, placing herself beside her mother, "and anyone there can prove that my mother and myself were within doors after we came from Terry's Theatre, where we spent the evening. As my father—for Krill was my father—was killed after twelve, and we were both in bed in one room before then, your accusation falls to the ground. My mother was with me, and she did not leave the whole evening. Next day we went to Christchurch."
Hurd was rather staggered by the positive way in which the young woman spoke. But the facts were too plain for him to hesitate. "I must trouble you to come along with me," he said. "No, don't go!"
"To put on my cloak and hat?" urged Mrs. Krill. "I'll come quietly enough. I don't want a scandal. I am sure when the magistrate hears what I have to say he will let me go free."
"I trust so. But you must not leave the room. Matilda will, no doubt, bring your things."
Mrs. Krill touched the electric button of the bell, while Maud walked up and down, deathly white and fuming. "Mr. Hay shall see to this," she said in a cold rage.
"Mr. Hay will have quite enough to do to look after himself," said the detective, coolly; "you had better let your mother go quietly, and I won't say anything to Matilda Junk."
"Yes, do, Maud," urged the mother, placing an imploring hand on her tall daughter's shoulder; "it's better so. Everything will be put right when the magistrate hears my story."
"What will you tell him, mother?" asked Maud.
"That I am innocent, and that I am, as you are, ignorant of who killed your unfortunate father."
Matilda entered the room and heard that Mrs. Krill had to go out on business with Mr. Hurd. On receiving her orders she departed, and presently returned with the cloak and hat. Mrs. Krill, who was now quite cool, put these on. Hurd could not but admire the brave way in which she faced the terrible situation. Maud seemed to be far more upset, and Hurd wondered if the young woman knew the truth. Mrs. Krill kept soothing her. "It will be all right, my love. Don't excite yourself. It will be all right," she said several times.
Miss Junk departed, and Mrs. Krill said that she was ready to depart. Hurd offered her his arm, which she rejected, and walked to the door with a firm step, although her face was rather white. At the door she caught her daughter round the neck and kissed her several times, after which she whispered earnestly in her ear, and then went down the stairs with the detective in attendance. Maud, with white lips and cheeks, but with dry eyes, followed. When her mother was safely in the cab, the plain-clothes policeman alighted, so that Hurd might take his place. Maud came quietly down the steps and seized the detective by the arm.
"You have ruined my mother," she said in a cold, hard tone; "you have robbed me of my money and of the chance of marrying the man I love. I can't hurt you; but that girl, Sylvia—she shall never get one penny—so, remember!"
Hurd shook her off, and, stepping into the cab, drove away. Mrs. Krill looked apprehensively at him. "What did Maud say?" she asked. Hurd told her, and Mrs. Krill closed her lips firmly. "Maud is quite right," she said with a strange smile. "Sylvia will never get the money."
A CRUEL WOMAN
"Jus' say your meanin', my pretty queen," said Mrs. Tawsey, as she stood at the sitting-room door, and watched Sylvia reading an ill-written letter. "It's twelve now, and I kin be back by five, arter a long, and enjiable tork with Matilder."
"You certainly must go," replied Sylvia, handing back the letter. "I am sure your sister will be glad to see you, Debby."
Deborah sniffed and scratched her elbow. "Relatives ain't friends in our family," she said, shaking her head, "whatever you may say, my deary-sweet. Father knocked mother int' lunatics arter she'd nagged 'im to drunk an' police-cells. Three brothers I 'ad, and all of 'em that 'andy with their fistises as they couldn't a-bear to live in 'armony without black eyes and swolled bumps all over them. As to Matilder, she an' me never did, what you might call, hit it orf, by reason of 'er not givin' way to me, as she should ha' done, me bein' the youngest and what you might call the baby of the lot. We ain't seen each other fur years, and the meetin' will be cold. She'll not have much forgiveness fur me bein' a bride, when she's but a lone cross-patch, drat her."
"Don't quarrel with her, Debby. She has written you a very nice letter, asking you to go down to Mrs. Krill's house in Kensington, and she really wants to see you before she goes back to Christchurch to-night."
"Well, I'll go," said Deborah, suddenly; "but I don't like leavin' you all by your own very self, my sunflower."
"I'll be all right, Debby. Paul comes at four o'clock, and you'll be back at five."
"Sooner, if me an' Matilder don't hit if orf, or if we hit each other, which, knowin' 'er 'abits, I do expects. But Bart's out till six, and there won't be anyone to look arter them as washes—four of 'em," added Mrs. Tawsey, rubbing her nose, "and as idle as porkpines."
"Mrs. Purr can look after them."
"Look arter gin more like," said Deborah, contemptuously. "She's allays suckin', sly-like, tryin' to purtend as it's water, as if the smell didn't give it away, whatever the color may be. An' here she is, idling as usual. An' may I arsk, Mrs. Purr ma'am," demanded Deborah with great politeness, "wot I pays you fur in the way of ironin'?"
But Mrs. Purr was too excited to reply. She brushed past her indignant mistress and faced Sylvia, waving a dirty piece of paper. "Lor', miss," she almost screamed, "you do say as you want t'know where that limb Tray 'ave got to—"
"Yes—yes," said Sylvia, rising, "he escaped from Mr. Hurd, and we want to find him very much."
"It's a letter from 'im," said Mrs. Purr, thrusting the paper into Sylvia's hand; "tho' 'ow he writes, not 'avin' bin to a board school, I dunno. He's in a ken at Lambith, and ill at that. Want's me t'go an' see 'im. But I can't leave the ironin'."
"Yuss y' can," said Deborah, suddenly; "this erringd is ness'ary, Mrs. Purr ma'am, so jes' put on your bunnet, an' go to Mr. Hurd as 'as 'is orfice at Scotlan' Yard, and take 'im with you."
"Oh! but I couldn't—"
"You go," advised Mrs. Tawsey. "There's five pounds offered for the brat's bein' found."
"Five pun!" gasped Mrs. Purr, trembling. "Lor', and me 'avin' a chanct of gittin' it. I'll go—I'll go. I knows the Yard, 'avin' 'ad summat to do with them dirty perlice in my time. Miss Sylvia—"
"Yes, go, Mrs. Purr, and see Mr. Hurd. He'll give you the five pounds if you take him to Tray." Sylvia handed back the paper. "Tray seems to be ill."
"Ill or well, he sha'n't lose me five pun, if I 'ave to drag 'im to the lock-up m'self," said Mrs. Purr, resolutely. "Where's my bunnet—my shawl—oh lor'—five pun! Them is as good allays gits rewards," and she hurried out, hardly able to walk for excitement.
"There's a nice ole party fur you, Miss Sylvia?"
"Debby," said the girl, thoughtfully. "You take her to the Yard to see Mr. Hurd, and then go to Kensington to speak with your sister."
"Well, I'll go, as importance it is," said Mrs. Tawsey, rubbing her nose harder than ever. "But I 'opes you won't be lone, my poppet-dovey."
"Oh, no," said Sylvia, kissing her, and pushing her towards the door. "I'll look after those four women in the wash-house, and read this new book I have. Then I must get tea ready for Paul, who comes at four. The afternoon will pass quite quickly."
"I'll be back at five if I can, and earlier if Matilder ain't what she oughter be," said Mrs. Tawsey, yielding. "So make yourself 'appy, honey, till you sees me smilin' again."
In another quarter of an hour Mrs. Tawsey, dressed in her bridal gown and bonnet so as to crush Matilda with the sight of her splendor, walked down the garden path attended by Mrs. Purr in a snuffy black shawl, and a kind of cobweb on her head which she called a "bunnet." As Deborah was tall and in white and Mrs. Purr small and in black, they looked a strange pair. Sylvia waved her hand out of the window to Debby, as that faithful creature turned her head for a final look at the young mistress she idolized. The large, rough woman was dog-like in her fidelity.
Sylvia, left alone, proceeded to arrange matters. She went to the wash-house, which was detached from the cottage, and saw that the four women, who worked under Deborah, were busy. She found them all chattering and washing in a cheerful way, so, after a word or two of commendation, she returned to the sitting-room. Here she played a game of patience, arranged the tea-things although it was yet early, and finally settled down to one of Mrs. Henry Wood's interesting novels. She was quite alone and enjoyed the solitude. The wash-house was so far away, at the end of the yard, that the loud voices of the workers could not be heard. The road before Rose Cottage was not a popular thoroughfare, and it was rarely that anyone passed. Out of the window Sylvia could see a line of raw, red-brick villas, and sometimes a spurt of steam, denoting the presence of the railway station. Also, she saw the green fields and the sere hedges with the red berries, giving promise of a hard winter. The day was sunny but cold, and there was a feeling of autumnal dampness in the air. Deborah had lighted a fire before she went, that her mistress might be comfortable, so Sylvia sat down before this and read for an hour, frequently stopping to think of Paul, and wonder if he would come at the appointed hour of four or earlier. What with the warmth, and the reading, and the dreaming, she fell into a kind of doze, from which she was awakened by a sharp and peremptory knock. Wondering if her lover had unexpectedly arrived, though she did not think he would rap in so decided a manner, Sylvia rubbed the sleep out of her pretty eyes and hurried to the door. On the step she came face to face with Miss Maud Krill.
"Do you know me, Miss Norman?" asked Maud, who was smiling and suave, though rather white in the face.
"Yes. You came with your mother to Gwynne Street," replied Sylvia, wondering why she had been honored with a visit.
"Quite so. May I have a few minutes' conversation with you?"
"Certainly." Sylvia saw no reason to deny this request, although she did not like Miss Krill. But it struck her that something might be learned from that young woman relative to the murder, and thought she would have something to tell Paul about when he arrived. "Will you walk in, please," and she threw open the sitting-room door.
"Are you quite alone?" asked Maud, entering, and seating herself in the chair near the fire.
"Quite," answered Sylvia, stiffly, and wondering why the question was asked; "that is, the four washerwomen are in the place at the back. But Mrs. Tawsey went to your house to see her sister."
"She arrived before I left," said Maud, coolly. "I saw them quarrelling in a most friendly way. Where is Mr. Beecot?"
"I expect him later."
"And Bart Tawsey who married your nurse?"
"He is absent on his rounds. May I ask why you question me in this way, Miss Krill?" asked Sylvia, coldly.
"Because I have much to say to you which no one else must hear," was the calm reply. "Dear me, how hot this fire is!" and she moved her chair so that it blocked Sylvia's way to the door. Also, Miss Krill cast a glance at the window. It was not snibbed, and she made a movement as if to go to it; but, restraining herself, she turned her calm, cold face to the girl. "I have much to say to you," she repeated.
"Indeed," replied Sylvia, politely, "I don't think you have treated me so well that you should trouble to converse with me. Will you please to be brief. Mr. Beecot is coming at four, and he will not be at all pleased to see you."
Maud glanced at the clock. "We have an hour," she said coldly; "it is just a few minutes after three. My business will not take long," she added, with an unpleasant smile.
"What is your business?" asked Sylvia, uneasily, for she did not like the smile.
"If you will sit down, I'll tell you."
Miss Norman took a chair near the wall, and as far from her visitor as was possible in so small a room. Maud took from her neck a black silk handkerchief which she wore, evidently as a protection against the cold, and folding it lengthways, laid it across her lap. Then she looked at Sylvia, in a cold, critical way. "You are very pretty, my dear," she said insolently.
"Did you come to tell me that?" asked the girl, firing up at the tone.
"No. I came to tell you that my mother was arrested last night for the murder of our father."
"Oh," Sylvia gasped and lay back on her chair, "she killed him, that cruel woman."
"She did not," cried Maud, passionately, "my mother is perfectly innocent. That blackguard Hurd arrested her wrongfully. I overheard all the conversation he had with her, and know that he told a pack of lies. My mother did not kill our father."
"My father, not yours," said Sylvia, firmly.
"How dare you. Lemuel Krill was my father."
"No," insisted Sylvia. "I don't know who your father was. But from your age, I know that you are not—"
"Leave my age alone," cried the other sharply, and with an uneasy movement of her hands; "we won't discuss that, or the question of my father. We have more interesting things to talk about."
"I won't talk to you at all," said Sylvia, rising.
"Sit down and listen. You shall hear me. I am not going to let my mother suffer for a deed she never committed, nor am I going to let you have the money."
"It is mine."
"It is not, and you shall not get it."
"Paul—Mr. Beecot will assert my rights."
"Will he indeed," said the other, with a glance at the clock; "we'll see about that. There's no time to be lost. I have much to say—"
"Nothing that can interest me."
"Oh, yes. I think you will find our conversation very interesting. I am going to be open with you, for what I tell you will never be told by you to any living soul."
"If I see fit it shall," cried Sylvia in a rage; "how dare you dictate to me."
"Because I am driven into a corner. I wish to save my mother—how it is to be done I don't know. And I wish to stop you getting the five thousand a year. I know how that is to be done," ended Miss Krill, with a cruel smile and a flash of her white, hungry-looking teeth; "you rat of a girl—"
"Leave the room."
"When I please, not before. You listen to me. I'm going to tell you about the murder—"
"Oh," said Sylvia, turning pale, "what do you mean?"
"Listen," said the other, with a taunting laugh, "you'll be white enough before I've done with you. Do you see this," and she laid her finger on her lips; "do you see this scar? Krill did that." Sylvia noticed that she did not speak of Krill as her father this time; "he pinned my lips together when I was a child with that opal serpent."
"I know," replied Sylvia, shuddering, "it was cruel. I heard about it from the detective and—"
"I don't wish for your sympathy. I was a girl of fifteen when that was done, and I will carry the scar to my grave. Child as I was then, I vowed revenge—"
"On your father," said Sylvia, contemptuously.
"Krill is not my father," said Maud, changing front all at once; "he is yours, but not mine. My father is Captain Jessop. I have known this for years. Captain Jessop told me I was his daughter. My mother thought that my father was drowned at sea, and so married Krill, who was a traveller in jewellery. He and my mother rented 'The Red Pig' at Christchurch, and for years they led an unhappy life."
"Oh," gasped Sylvia, "you confess. I'll tell Paul."
"You'll tell no one," retorted the other woman sharply. "Do you think I would speak so openly in order that you might tell all the world with your gabbling tongue? Yes, and I'll speak more openly still before I leave. Lady Rachel Sandal did not commit suicide as my mother said. She was strangled, and by me."
Sylvia clapped her hands to her face with a scream. "By you?"
"Yes. She had a beautiful brooch. I wanted it. I was put to bed by my mother, and kept thinking of the brooch. My mother was down the stairs attending to your drunken father. I stole to Lady Rachel's room and found her asleep. I tried to take the brooch from her breast. She woke and caught at my hand. But I tore away the brooch and before Lady Rachel could scream, I twisted the silk handkerchief she wore, which was already round her throat, tighter. I am strong—I was always strong, even as a girl of fifteen. She was weak from exhaustion, so she soon died. My mother came into the room and saw what I had done. She was terrified, and made me go back to bed. Then she tied Lady Rachel by the silk handkerchief to the bedpost, so that it might be thought she had committed suicide. My mother then came back to me and took the brooch, telling me I might be hanged, if it was found on me. I was afraid, being only a girl, and gave up the brooch. Then Captain Jessop raised the alarm. I and my mother went downstairs, and my mother dropped the brooch on the floor, so that it might be supposed Lady Rachel had lost it there. Captain Jessop ran out. I wanted to give the alarm, and tell the neighbors that Krill had done it—for I knew then he was not my father, and I saw, moreover, how unhappy he made my mother. He caught me," said Maud, with a fierce look, "and bound a handkerchief across my mouth. I got free and screamed. Then he bound me hand and foot, and pinned my lips together with the brooch which he picked off the floor. My mother fought for me, but he knocked her down. Then he fled, and after a long time Jessop came in. He removed the brooch from my mouth and unbound me. I was put to bed, and Jessop revived my mother. Then came the inquest, and it was thought that Lady Rachel had committed suicide. But she did not," cried Maud, exultingly, and with a cruel light in her eyes, "I killed her—I—"
"Oh," moaned Sylvia, backing against the wall with widely open eyes; "don't tell me more—what horrors!"
"Bah, you kitten," sneered Maud, contemptuously, "I have not half done yet. You have yet to hear how I killed Krill."
Sylvia shrieked, and sank back in her chair, staring with horrified eyes at the cruel face before her.
"Yes," cried Maud, exultingly, "I killed him. My mother suspected me, but she never knew for certain. Listen. When Hay told me that Krill was hiding as Norman in Gwynne Street I determined to punish him for his cruelty to me. I did not say this, but I made Hay promise to get me the brooch from Beecot—on no other condition would I marry him. I wanted the brooch to pin Krill's lips together as he had pinned mine, when I was a helpless child. But your fool of a lover would not part with the brooch. Tray, the boy, took it from Beecot's pocket when he met with that accident—"
"How do you know Tray?"
"Because I met him at Pash's office several times when I was up. He ran errands for Pash before he became regularly employed. I saw that Tray was a devil, of whom I could make use. Oh, I know Tray, and I know also Hokar the Indian, who placed the sugar on the counter. He went to the shop to kill your father at my request. I wanted revenge and the money. Hokar was saved from starvation by my good mother. He came of the race of Thugs, if you know anything about them—"
"Oh," moaned Sylvia, covering her face again.
"Ah, you do. So much the better. It will save my explaining, as there is not much time left before your fool arrives. Hokar saw that I loved to hurt living creatures, and he taught me how to strangle cats and dogs and things. No one knew but Hokar that I killed them, and it was thought he ate them. But he didn't. I strangled them because I loved to see them suffer, and because I wished to learn how to strangle in the way the Thugs did."
Sylvia was sick with fear and disgust. "For God's sake, don't tell me any more," she said imploringly.
But she might as well have spoken to a granite rock. "You shall hear everything," said Maud, relentlessly. "I asked Hokar to strangle Krill. He went to the shop, but, when he saw that Krill had only one eye, he could not offer him to the goddess Bhowanee. He came to me at Judson's hotel, after he left the sugar on the counter, and told me the goddess would not accept the offering of a maimed man. I did not know what to do. I went with my mother to Pash's office, when she was arranging to prosecute Krill for bigamy. I met Tray there. He told me he had given the brooch to Pash, and that it was in the inner office. My mother was talking to Pash within and I chatted to Tray outside. I told Tray I wanted to kill Krill, and that if he would help me, I would give him a lot of money. He agreed, for he was a boy such as I was when a girl, fond of seeing things suffer. You can't wonder at it in me," went on Miss Krill, coolly; "my grandmother was hanged for poisoning my grandfather, and I expect I inherit the love of murder from her—"
"I won't listen," cried Sylvia, shuddering.
"Oh, yes, you will. I'll soon be done," went on her persecutor, cruelly. "Well, then, when I found Tray was like myself I determined to get the brooch and hurt Krill—hurt him as he hurt me," she cried vehemently. "Tray told me of the cellar and of the side passage. When my mother and Pash came out of the inner office and went to the door, I ran in and took the brooch. It was hidden under some papers and had escaped my mother's eye. But I searched till I got it. Then I made an appointment with Tray for eleven o'clock at the corner of Gwynne Street. I went back to Judson's hotel, and my mother and I went to the theatre. We had supper and retired to bed. That is, my mother did. We had left the theatre early, as my mother had a headache, and I had plenty of time. Mother fell asleep almost immediately. I went downstairs veiled, and in dark clothes. I slipped past the night porter and met Tray. We went by the side passage to the cellar. Thinking we were customers Krill let us in. Tray locked the door, and I threw myself on Krill. He had not been drinking much or I might not have mastered him. As it was, he was too terrified when he recognized me to struggle. In fact he fainted. With Tray's assistance I bound his hands behind his back, and then we enjoyed ourselves," she rubbed her hands together, looking more like a fiend than a woman.