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The Opal Serpent
by Fergus Hume
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Sylvia rose and staggered to the door. "No more—no more."

Maud pushed her back into her chair. "Stop where you are, you whimpering fool!" she snarled exultingly, "I have you safe." Then she continued quickly and with another glance at the clock, the long hand of which now pointed to a quarter to four, "with Tray's assistance I carried Krill up to the shop. Tray found an auger and bored a hole in the floor. Then I picked up a coil of copper wire, which was being used in packing things for Krill to make his escape. I took it up. We laid Krill's neck over the hole, and passed the wire round his neck and through the hole. Tray went down and tied a cross stick on the end of the wire, so that he could put his weight on it when we strangled—"

"Oh—great heaven," moaned Sylvia, stopping her ears.

Maud bent over her and pulled her hands away. "You shall hear you little beast," she snarled. "All the time Krill was sensible. He recovered his senses after he was bound. I prolonged his agony as much as possible. When Tray went down to see after the wire, I knelt beside Krill and told him that I knew I was not his daughter, that I intended to strangle him as I had strangled Lady Rachel. He shrieked with horror. That was the cry you heard, you cat, and which brought you downstairs. I never expected that," cried Maud, clapping her hands; "that was a treat for Krill I never intended. I stopped his crying any more for assistance by pinning his mouth together, as he had done mine over twenty years before. Then I sat beside him and taunted him. I heard the policeman pass, and the church clock strike the quarter. Then I heard footsteps, and guessed you were coming. It occurred to me to give you a treat by strangling the man before your eyes, and punish him more severely, since the brooch stopped him calling out—as it stopped me—me," she cried, striking her breast.

"Oh, how could you—how could—"

"You feeble thing," said Maud, contemptuously, and patting the girl's cheek, "you would not have done it I know. But I loved it—I loved it! That was living indeed. I went down to the cellar and fastened the door behind me. Tray was already pressing on the cross stick at the end of the wire, and laughed as he pressed. But I stopped him. I heard you and that woman enter the shop, and heard what you said. I prolonged Krill's agony, and then I pressed the wire down myself for such a time as I thought it would take to squeeze the life out of the beast. Then with Tray I locked the cellar door and left by the side passage. We dodged all the police and got into the Strand. I did not return to the hotel, but walked about with Tray all the night talking with—joy," cried Maud, clapping her hands, "with joy, do you hear. When it was eight I went to Judson's. The porter thought I had been out for an early walk. My mother—"

Here Maud broke off, for Sylvia, who was staring over her shoulder out of the window saw a form she knew well at the gate. "Paul—Paul," she shrieked, "come—come!"

Maud whipped the black silk handkerchief round the girl's neck. "You shall never get that money," she whispered cruelly, "you shall never tell anyone what I have told you. Now I'll show you how Hokar taught me," she jerked the handkerchief tight. But Sylvia got her hand under the cruel bandage and shrieked aloud in despair. At once she heard an answering shriek. It was the voice of Deborah.

Maud darted to the door and locked it. Then she returned and, flinging Sylvia down, tried again to tighten the handkerchief, her face white and fierce and her eyes glittering like a demon's.

"Help—help!" cried Sylvia, and her voice grew weaker. But she struggled and kept her hands between the handkerchief and her throat. Maud tried to drag them away fiercely. Deborah was battering frantically at the door. Paul ran round to the window. It was not locked, and Maud, struggling with Sylvia had no time to close it. With a cry of alarm Paul threw up the window and jumped into the room. At the same moment Deborah, putting her sturdy shoulder to the frail door, burst it open. Beecot flung himself on the woman and dragged her back. But she clung like a leech to Sylvia with the black handkerchief in her grip. Deborah, silent and fierce, grabbed at the handkerchief, and tore it from Maud's grasp. Sylvia, half-strangled, fell back in a faint, white as a corpse, while Paul struggled with the savage and baffled woman.

"You've killed her," shouted Deborah, and laid her strong hands on Maud, "you devil!" She shook her fiercely. "I'll kill you," and she shook her again.

Paul threw himself on his knees beside the insensible form of Sylvia and left Deborah to deal with Maud. That creature was gasping as Mrs. Tawsey swung her to and fro. Then she began to fight, and the two women crashed round the little room, upsetting the furniture. Paul took Sylvia in his arms, and shrank against the wall to protect her.

A new person suddenly appeared. No less a woman than Matilda. When she saw Maud in Deborah's grip she flew at her sister like a tigress and dragged her off. Maud was free for a moment. Seeing her chance she scrambled out of the window, and ran through the garden down the road towards the station. Perhaps she had a vague idea of escape. Deborah, exerting her great strength, threw Matilda aside, and without a cry ran out of the house and after the assassin who had tried to strangle Sylvia. Matilda, true to her salt, ran also, to help Maud Krill, and the two women sped in the wake of the insane creature who was swiftly running in the direction of the station. People began to look round, a crowd gathered like magic, and in a few moments Maud was being chased by quite a mob of people. She ran like a hare. Heaven only knows if she hoped to escape after her failure to kill Sylvia, but she ran on blindly. Into the new street of Jubileetown she sped with the roaring mob at her heels. She darted down a side thoroughfare, but Deborah gained on her silently and with a savage look in her eyes. Several policemen joined in the chase, though no one knew what the flying woman had done. Maud turned suddenly up the slope that led to the station. She gained the door, darted through it, upset the man at the barrier and with clenched fists stood at bay, her back to the rails. Deborah darted forward—Maud gave a wild scream and sprang aside: then she reeled and fell over the platform. The next moment a train came slowing into the station, and immediately the wretched woman was under the cruel wheels. When she was picked up she was dead and almost cut to pieces. Lady Rachel and Lemuel Krill were revenged.



CHAPTER XXVI

A FINAL EXPLANATION

Sylvia was ill for a long time after that terrible hour. Although Maud had not succeeded in strangling her, yet the black silk handkerchief left marks on her neck. Then the struggle, the shock and the remembrance of the horrors related by the miserable woman, threw her into a nervous fever, and it was many weeks before she recovered sufficiently to enjoy life. Deborah never forgave herself for having left Sylvia alone, and nursed her with a fierce tenderness which was the result of remorse.

"If that wretch 'ad killed my pretty," she said to Paul, "I'd ha' killed her, if I wos hanged fur it five times over."

"God has punished the woman," said Paul, solemnly. "And a terrible death she met with, being mutilated by the wheels of the train."

"Serve 'er right," rejoined Deborah, heartlessly. "What kin you expect fur good folk if wicked ones, as go strangulating people, don't git the Lord down on 'em. Oh, Mr. Beecot," Deborah broke down into noisy tears, "the 'orrors that my lovely one 'ave tole me. I tried to stop her, but she would tork, and was what you might call delirous-like. Sich murders and gory assassins as wos never 'eard of."

"I gathered something of this from what Sylvia let drop when we came back from the station," said Beecot, anxiously. "Tell me exactly what she said, Deborah."

"Why that thing as is dead, an' may she rest in a peace, she don't deserve, tole 'ow she murdered Lady Rachel Sandal an' my ole master."

"Deborah," cried Beecot, amazed. "You must be mistaken."

"No, I ain't, sir. That thing guv my lily-queen the 'orrors. Jes you 'ear, Mr. Beecot, and creeps will go up your back. Lor' 'ave mercy on us as don't know the wickedness of the world."

"I think we have learned something of it lately, Mrs. Tawsey," was Paul's grim reply. "But tell me—"

"Wot my pore angel sunbeam said? I will, and if it gives you nightmares don't blame me," and Mrs. Tawsey, in her own vigorous, ungrammatical way, related what she had heard from Sylvia. Paul was struck with horror and wanted to see Sylvia. But this Deborah would not allow. "She's sleepin' like a pretty daisy," said Mrs. Tawsey, "so don't you go a-disturbin' of her nohow, though acrost my corp you may make a try, say what you like."

But Paul thought better of it, thinking Sylvia had best be left in the rough, kindly hands of her old nurse. He went off to find Hurd, and related all that had taken place. The detective was equally horrified along with Beecot when he heard of Sylvia's danger, and set to work to prove the truth of what Maud had told the girl. He succeeded so well that within a comparatively short space of time, the whole matter was made clear. Mrs. Jessop, alias Mrs. Krill, was examined, Tray was found and questioned, Matilda was made to speak out, and both Jessop and Hokar had to make clean breasts of it. The evidence thus procured proved the truth of the terrible confession made by Maud Jessop to the girl she thought to strangle. Hurd was amazed at the revelation.

"Never call me a detective again," he said to Paul. "For I am an ass. I thought Jessop might be guilty, or that Hokar might have done it. I could have taken my Bible oath that Mrs. Krill strangled the man; but I never for one moment suspected that smiling young woman."

"Oh," Paul shrugged his shoulders, "she was mad."

"She must have been," ruminated the detective, "else she wouldn't have given herself away so completely. Whatever made her tell Miss Norman what she had done?"

"Because she never thought that Sylvia would live to tell anyone else. That was why she spoke, and thought to torture Sylvia—as she did—in the same way as she tortured that wretched man Lemuel. If I hadn't come earlier to Rose Cottage than usual, and if Deborah had not met me unexpectedly at the station, Sylvia would certainly have been killed. And then Maud might have escaped. She laid her plans well. It was she who induced Matilda to get her sister to come to Kensington for a chat."

"But Matilda didn't know what Maud was up to?"

"No. Matilda never guessed that Maud was guilty of two murders or designed to strangle Sylvia. But Maud made use of her to get Deborah out of the house, and it was Maud who made Tray send the letter asking Mrs. Purr to come to him, so that she also might be out of the way. In fact Maud arranged so that everyone should be away and Sylvia alone. If she hadn't wasted time in telling her fearful story, she might have killed my poor love. Sylvia was quite exhausted with the struggle."

"Well," said Hurd. "I went with the old woman to the address given in that letter which Tray got written for him. He wasn't there, however, so I might have guessed it was a do."

"But you have caught him?"

"Yes, in Hunter Street. He was loafing about there at night waiting for Maud, and quite ignorant of her death. I made him tell me everything of his connection with the matter. He's as bad a lot as that girl, but she had some excuse, seeing her grandmother was a murderess; Tray is nothing but a wicked little imp."

"Will he be hanged?"

"No, I think not. His youth will be in his favor, though I'd hang him myself had I the chance, and so put him beyond the reach of hurting anyone. But I expect he'll get a long sentence."

"And Mrs. Krill?"

"Mrs. Jessop you mean. Hum! I don't know. She apparently was ignorant that Maud killed Krill, though she might have guessed it, after the way in which Lady Rachel was murdered. I daresay she'll get off. I'm going to see her shortly and tell her of the terrible death of her daughter."

Paul did not pursue the conversation. He was sick with the horror of the business, and, moreover, was too anxious about Sylvia's health to take much interest in the winding up of the case. That he left in the hands of Hurd, and assured him that the thousand pounds reward, which Mrs. Krill had offered, would be paid to him by Miss Norman.

Of course, Pash had known for some time that Maud was too old to have been born of Mrs. Jessop's second marriage with Krill; but he never knew that the widow had committed bigamy. He counted on keeping her under his thumb by threatening to prove that Maud was not legally entitled to the money. But when the discovery was made at Beechill and Stowley Churches by Miss Qian, the monkey-faced lawyer could do nothing. Beecot could have exposed him, and for his malpractices have got him struck off the rolls; but he simply punished him by taking away Sylvia's business and giving it to Ford. That enterprising young solicitor speedily placed the monetary affairs on a proper basis and saw that Sylvia was properly reinstated in her rights. Seeing that she was the only child and legal heiress of Krill, this was not difficult. The two women who had illegally secured possession of the money had spent a great deal in a very wasteful manner, but the dead man's investments were so excellent and judicious that Sylvia lost comparatively little, and became possessed of nearly five thousand a year, with a prospect of her income increasing. But she was too ill to appreciate this good fortune. The case got into the papers, and everyone was astonished at the strange sequel to the Gwynne Street mystery. Beecot senior, reading the papers, learned that Sylvia was once more an heiress, and forthwith held out an olive branch to Paul. Moreover, the frantic old gentleman, as Deborah called him, really began to feel his years, and to feel also that he had treated his only son rather harshly. So he magnanimously offered to forgive Paul on no conditions whatsoever. For the sake of his mother, the young man buried the past and went down to be received in a stately manner by his father, and with joyful tears by his mother. Also he was most anxious to hear details of the case which had not been made public. Paul told him everything, and Beecot senior snorted with rage. The recital proved too much for Mrs. Beecot, who retired as usual to bed and fortified herself with sal volatile; but Paul and his respected parent sat up till late discussing the matter.

"And now, sir," said Beecot senior, grasping the stem of his wine glass, as though he intended to hurl it at his son, "let us gather up the threads of this infamous case. This atrocious woman who tried to strangle your future wife?"

"She has been buried quietly. Her mother was at the funeral and so was the father."

"A pretty pair," gobbled the turkey-cock, growing red. "I suppose the Government will hang the pair?"

"No. Captain Jessop can't be touched as he had nothing to do with the murder, and Sylvia and myself are not going to prosecute him for his attempt to get the jewels from Pash."

"Then you ought to. It's a duty you owe to society."

Paul shook his head. "I think it best to leave things as they are, father," he said mildly, "especially as Mrs. Jessop, much broken in health because of her daughter's terrible end, has gone back with her husband to live at his house in Stowley."

"What," shouted Beecot senior, "is that she-devil to go free, too?"

"I don't think she was so bad as we thought," said Paul. "I fancied she was a thoroughly bad woman, but she really was not. She certainly committed bigamy, but then she thought Jessop was drowned. When he came to life she preferred to live with Krill, as he had more money than Jessop."

"And, therefore, Jessop, as you say, had free quarters at 'The Red Pig.' A most immoral woman, sir—most immoral. She ought to be ducked."

"Poor wretch," said Paul, "her mind has nearly given way under the shock of her daughter's death. She loved that child and shielded her from the consequences of killing Lady Rachel. The Sandal family don't want the case revived, especially as Maud is dead, so Mrs. Jessop—as she is now—can end her days in peace. The Government decided to let her go under the circumstances."

"Tush," said Beecot senior, "sugar-coated pills and idiocy. Nothing will ever be done properly until this Government goes out. And it will," striking the table with his fist, "if I have anything to do with the matter. So Mrs. Krill or Jessop is free to murder, and—"

"She murdered no one," interposed Paul, quickly; "she knew that her daughter had killed Lady Rachel, and shielded her. But she was never sure if Maud had strangled Krill, as she feared to ask her. But as the girl was out all night at the time of the murder, Mrs. Jessop, I think, knows more than she choses to admit. However, the Treasury won't prosecute her, and her mind is now weak. Let the poor creature end her days with Jessop, father. Is there anything else you wish to know?"

"That boy Tray?"

"He was tried for being an accessory before the crime, but his counsel put forward the plea of his age, and that he had been under the influence of Maud. He has been sent to a reformatory for a good number of years. He may improve."

"Huh!" grunted the old gentleman, "and silk purses may be made out of sow's ears; but not in our time, my boy. We'll hear more of that juvenile scoundrel yet. Now that, that blackguard, Hay?"

"He has gone abroad, and is likely to remain abroad. Sandal and Tempest kept their word, but I think Hurd put it about that Hay was a cheat and a scoundrel. Poor Hay," sighed Paul, "he has ruined his career."

"Bah! he never had one. If you pity scoundrels, Paul, what are you to think of good people?"

"Such as Deborah who is nursing my darling? I think she's the best woman in the world."

"Except your mother?"

Paul nearly fell from his seat on hearing this remark. Beecot senior certainly might have been in earnest, but his good opinion did not prevent him still continuing to worry Mrs. Beecot, which he did to the end of her life.

"I suppose that Matilda Junk creature had nothing to do with the murder?" asked Beecot, after an embarrassing pause—on his son's part.

"No. She knew absolutely nothing, and only attacked Deborah because she fancied Deborah was attacking Maud. However, the two sisters have made it up, and Matilda has gone back to 'The Red Pig.' She's as decent a creature as Deborah, in another way, and was absolutely ignorant of Maud's wickedness. Hurd guessed that when she spoke to him so freely at Christchurch."

"And the Thug?"

"Hokar? Oh, he is not really a Thug, but the descendant of one. However, they can't prove that he strangled anything beyond a few cats and dogs when he showed Maud how to use the roomal—that's the handkerchief with which the Thugs strangled their victims."

"I'm not absolutely ignorant," growled his father. "I know that. So this Hokar goes free?"

"Yes. He would not strangle Aaron Norman because he had but one eye, and Bhowanee won't accept maimed persons. Failing him, Maud had to attend to the job herself, with the assistance of Tray."

"And this detective?"

"Oh, Ford, with Sylvia's sanction, has paid him the thousand pounds, which he shares with his sister, Aurora Qian. But for her searching at Stowley and Beechill, we should never have known about the marriage, you know."

"No, I don't know. They're far too highly paid. The marriage would have come to light in another way. However, waste your own money if you like; it isn't mine."

"Nor mine either, father," said Paul, sharply. "Sylvia will keep her own fortune. I am not a man to live on my wife. I intend to take a house in town when we are married, and then I'll still continue to write."

"Without the spur of poverty you'll never make a hit," grinned the old gentleman. "However, you can live where you please. It's no business of mine but I demand, as your indulgent father, that you'll bring Sylvia down here at least three times a year. Whenever she is well I want to see her."

"I'll bring her next week," said Paul, thinking of his mother. "But Deborah must come too. She won't leave Sylvia."

"The house is big enough. Bring Mrs. Tawsey also—I'm rather anxious to see her. And Sylvia will be a good companion for your mother."

So matters were arranged in this way, and when Paul returned to town he went at once to tell Sylvia of the reconciliation. He found her, propped up with pillows, seated by the fire, looking much better, although she was still thin and rather haggard. Deborah hovered round her and spoke in a cautious whisper, which was more annoying than a loud voice would have been. Sylvia flushed with joy when she saw Paul, and flushed still more when she heard the good news.

"I am so glad, darling," she said, holding Paul's hand in her thin ones. "I should not have liked our marriage to have kept you from your father."

Mrs. Tawsey snorted. "His frantic par," she said, "ah, well, when I meet 'im, if he dares to say a word agin my pretty—"

"My father is quite ready to welcome her as a daughter," said Paul, quickly.

"An' no poor one either," cried Deborah, triumphantly. "Five thousand a year, as that nice young man Mr. Ford have told us is right. Lor'! my lovely queen, you'll drive in your chariot and forget Debby."

"You foolish old thing," said the girl, fondly, "you held to me in my troubles and you shall share in my joy."

"Allays purvidin' I don't 'ave to leave the laundry in charge of Bart an' Mrs. Purr, both bein' infants of silliness, one with gin and t'other with weakness of brain. It's well I made Bart promise to love, honor and obey me, Mr. Beecot, the same as you must do to my own lily flower there."

"No, I am to love, honor and obey Paul," cried Sylvia.

"When?" he asked, taking her in his arms.

"As soon as I can stand at the altar," she replied, blushing, whereat Deborah clapped her hands.

"Weddin's an' weddin's an' weddin's agin," cried Mrs. Tawsey, "which my sister Matilder being weary of 'er spinstering 'ome 'ave made up 'er mind to marry the fust as offers. An' won't she lead 'im a dance neither—oh, no, not at all."

"Well, Deborah," said Beecot, "we have much to be thankful for, all of us. Let us try and show our gratitude in our lives."

"Ah, well, you may say that," sighed Mrs. Tawsey, in a devout manner. "Who'd ha' thought things would have turned out so 'appy-like indeed. But you go on with your billin', my lovely ones, and I'll git th' mutting broth to put color int' my pretty's cheeks," and she bustled out.

Sylvia's heart was too full to say anything. She lay in Paul's strong arms, her cheek against his. There she would remain for the rest of her life, protected from storm and tempest. And as they sat in silence, the chimes of an ancient grandfather's clock, Deborah's chief treasure, rang out twice, thrice and again. Paul laughed softly.

"It's like wedding-bells," he whispered, and his future wife sighed a sigh of heart-felt joy.

THE END



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Transcriber's Note

In this the ASCII version, accents have been dropped.

The advert ("The Best Novels by Fergus Hume") was originally at the front of the book, but has been moved to the end.

The following typographical corrections have been made:

(page 8) "furthur" changed to "further" (page 11) "Notebook" changed to "Note-book" (page 33) "lookout" changed to "look-out" (page 49) "eyeglass" changed to "eye-glass" (page 59) "hand-bag" changed to "handbag" (pages 71, 85) "agoin'" changed to "a-goin'" (page 71) "It" changed to "If" in "If we come to" (page 84) quotation mark added after "look—look—" (page 109) "Deborrah" changed to "Deborah" (page 111) quotation mark added before "How dare you" (page 113) "pou" changed to "you" ("before you became an heiress") (page 132) "is" changed to "it" ("that is was picked up") (page 140) "mid-night" changed to "midnight" (page 163) "schoolfellow" changed to "school-fellow" (page 173) "non-plussed" changed to "nonplussed" (page 180) "handbills" changed to "hand-bills" (page 188) "beliving" changed to "believing" (pages 203, 204) "bed-post" changed to "bedpost" (page 214) "sipte" changed to "spite" (page 211) used single quotation marks for the inscription (page 225) quotation mark added before "On no condition" (page 243) quotation mark added after "seem to win," (page 264) quotation mark added before "for I" (page 269) quotation mark added after "certificate." (page 276) question mark added after "lawyer you are" (page 303) "pining" changed to "pinning" (page 315) "slience" changed to "silence"

THE END

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