Mr. Ganns held up his left hand, which was deformed and had lost the third and little finger.
"The last shot that Billy Benyon ever fired. A great man—Billy. I'll never see his like again."
"The Boston murderer? A genius!"
"He was. A marvellous brain. When I sent him to the chair it was like a Bushman killing an elephant."
"You're sorry for the under dog sometimes, I expect?"
"Not always; but now and again I like the bull to get the toreador, and the savage to eat the missionary."
They entered the smoking-room presently and then Brendon, very much to his surprise, heard an astonishing lecture which left him under the emotions of a fourth-form schoolboy after an interview with his head master.
Mr. Ganns ordered coffee, took snuff, and bade Mark listen and not interrupt.
"We're going into this thing together and I want you to get a clear hunch on it," he began, "because at present you have not. I don't say we shall see it through; but if we do, the credit's going to be yours, not mine. We'll come to the Redmayne business in a minute. But first let us have a look at Mr. Mark Brendon, if it won't bore you stiff."
The other laughed.
"He's not a very impressive object, so far as this case is concerned, Mr. Ganns."
"He is not," admitted Peter genially. "Quite the reverse, in fact. And his poor showing has puzzled Mr. Brendon a good bit, and some of his superior officers also. So let us examine the situation from that angle before we get up against the problem itself."
He stirred his coffee, poured a thimbleful of cognac into it, sipped it, and then slid into a comfortable position in his armchair, put his big hands into his trousers pockets, and regarded Mark with a steady and unblinking stare. His eyes were pale blue, deeply set and small, but still of a keen brilliancy.
"You're a detective inspector of Scotland Yard," continued Ganns, "and Scotland Yard is still the high-water mark of police organization in the world. The Central Bureau in New York is pretty close up, and I've nothing but admiration for the French and Italian Secret Services; but the fact remains: The Yard is first; and you've won, and fairly won your place there. That's a big thing and you didn't get it without some work and some luck, Brendon. But now—this Redmayne racket. You were right on the spot, hit the trail before it was cold, had everything to help you that heart of man could wish for; yet a guy who had joined the force only a week before could have done no worse. In a word, your conduct of the affair don't square with your reputation. Your dope never cut any ice from the start. And why? Because, without a doubt, you had a theory and got lost in it."
"Don't think that. I never had a theory."
"Is that so? Then failure lies somewhere else. The hopeless way you bitched up this thing interests me quite a lot. Remember that I know the case inside out and I'm not talking through my hat. So now let's see how and why you barked your shins so bad.
"Now, Mark, take a cinema show and consider it. Perhaps it's going to throw some light for you. A cinema film presents two entirely different achievements. It presents ten for that matter; but we'll take just two. It shows you a white sheet with a light thrown on it; it passes the light through a series of stains and shadows and the stains are magnified by lenses before they reach the screen. A most elaborate mechanism, you see, but the spectator never thinks about all that, because the machine produces an appeal to another part of his mind altogether. He forgets sheet, lantern, film, and all they are doing, in the illusion which they create.
"We accept the convention of the moving picture, the light and darkness, the tones and half tones, because these moving stains and shadows take the shape of familiar objects and tell a coherent story, showing life in action. But we know, subconsciously, all the time that it is merely an imitation of reality, as in the case of a picture, a novel, or a stage play. Certain ingenious applications of science and art combined have created the appearance of truth and told a story. Well, in the Redmayne case, certain ingenious operations have combined to tell you a story; and you have found yourself so interested in the yarn that you have quite overlooked the mechanism. But the mechanism should have been the first consideration, and the conjurers, by distracting your attention from it, did just what they were out to do. Let us take a look at the mechanism, my son, and see where the archcrooks behind this thing bluffed you."
Brendon did not hide his emotion, but kept silence while Mr. Ganns helped himself to a pinch of snuff.
"Now the little I've done in the world," he continued, "is thanks not so much to the deductive mind we hear such a lot about, but to the synthetic mind. The linking up of facts has been my strong suit. That's the backbone of success; and where facts can't be linked up, then failure is usually the result. I never waste one moment on a theory until I've got a tough skeleton of facts back of it. It was up to you to hunt facts, Mark; and you didn't hunt facts."
"I had an encyclopedia of facts."
"Granted. But your encyclopedia began at the letter 'B,' instead of the letter 'A.' We'll turn to that in a minute."
"My facts, such as they were, cannot be denied," argued Brendon, a little aggrieved. "They are cast-iron. My eyes and observation are trained to be exact and jealous of facts. No amount of synthesis can prevent two and one from being three, Ganns."
"On the contrary, two and one may be twenty-one, or twelve, or a half. Why jump to any conclusion? You had facts; but you did not have all the available facts—or anything like all. You tried to put on the roof before the walls were up; and, what's more, a great many of your 'cast-iron facts' were no facts at all."
"What were they then?"
"Elaborate and deliberate fictions, Mark."
At this challenge Brendon felt a hot wave of colour mount his cheek; but the other was far too generous and genial a spirit ever to seek any triumph over a younger man. Neither did Brendon feel angry with Mr. Ganns even though his remarks were provocative enough. He was angry with himself. Peter, however, knew his power. He read the detective's mind like a book and well understood that, both by his position and rank, Mark must be far too good a man to chafe at the criticism of a better than himself. He explained.
"Where I've got the pull on you, for the minute, is merely because I've been in the world a few years longer. A time's coming when you'll talk to your juniors as I can talk to you; and they'll listen, with all proper respect and attention, as you are listening. When you are my age, you'll command that perfect confidence which I command. Folks can't trust youth all the way; but you'll win to it; and believe me, in our business, there's no greater asset than the power to command absolute trust. You can't pretend to that power if you haven't got it. Human nature damn soon sees through you, if you're pretending what you don't command. But I'm playing straight across the board, Mark, as my custom is, and I know you are too sane and ambitious a lad to let false pride or self-assurance resent my calling you an ass over this thing."
"Prove it, Ganns, and I'll be the first to climb down. I know I've been an ass for that matter—knew it long ago," confessed Brendon.
"Yes, I'll prove it—that's easy. But what's going to be harder is to find out why you've been an ass. You've no right to be an ass. It's unlike your record and unlike your looks and your general make-up of mind. I mostly read a strange man's brain through his eyes; and your eyes do you justice. So perhaps you'll tell me presently where you went off your rocker. Or perhaps you don't know and I shall have to tell you—when I find the nigger in the woodpile. Now take a look round, and its dollars to doughnuts you'll begin to see the light."
He paused again, applied himself to his gold box, and then proceeded.
"To put it bluntly and drop everybody else but you out of it, for the minute, you went on false assumption from the kick-off, Brendon. To start wrong was not strange. I should have done exactly the same and nobody outside a detective story would have done differently; but to go on wrong—to pile false assumption on false assumption in face of your own reasoning powers and native wits—that strikes me as a very curious catastrophe."
"But you can't get away from facts."
"Nothing easier, surely. You said good-bye to facts when you left Princetown. You don't know the facts any more than I do—or anybody but those responsible for the appearances. You have assumed that the phenomena observed by yourself and reported by other professionals and various members of the public were facts, whereas a little solid thinking must have convinced you that they couldn't be. You didn't give your reason a chance, Mark.
"Now follow me and be honest. You say certain things have happened. I say they didn't, for the very sound reason that they couldn't. I am not going to tell you the truth, because I am a long way from that myself, and I dare say you'll strike it yet before I do; but I am going to prove that a good few things you think are true can't be—that events you take for granted never happened at all. We've got but few senses and they are easily deluded. In fact a man's a darned clumsy box of tricks at his best and I wouldn't swap a hill of beans for what my senses can assure me; but, as a wise man says, 'Art is with us to save us from too much truth,' so I say 'Reason is with us to save us from too much evidence of our senses—often false.'
"Now see how reason bears on the evidence of Robert Redmayne and his trick acts since first he disappeared. A thing occurs and there are only certain ways—very limited in number—to explain it. Either Robert Redmayne killed Michael Pendean, or else he did not. And if he did, he was sane or insane at the time. That much can't be denied and is granted. If he was sane, he committed the murder with a motive; and pretty careful inquiry proves that no motive existed. I attach no importance to words, no matter who may utter them, and the fact that Mrs. Pendean herself said that her husband and her uncle were the best of friends don't weigh; but the fact that Robert Redmayne stopped at Princetown with the Pendeans for over a week in friendship and asked them to Paignton, is of some weight. I'm inclined to believe that Redmayne was perfectly friendly with Michael Pendean up to the time of the latter's disappearance, and that there was no shadow of motive to explain why Redmayne did in his brother-in-law. Then, assuming him to be sane, he would not have committed such a murder. The alternative is that he was mad at the time and did homicide on Pendean while out of his mind.
"But what happens to a madman after a crime of this sort? Does he get off with it and wander over Europe as a free man for a year? Granted the resources of maniacal cunning and all the rest of it, was it ever heard that a lunatic went at large as this man did, and laughed at Scotland Yard's attempt to run him down and capture him? Is it reasonable that he runs away with a corpse, disposes of it safely, returns to his lodgings, makes a meal, and then, in broad daylight, vanishes off the face of the earth for six months, presently to reappear, hoodwink fresh people, and commit another crime? Once more he scorns law and order, vanishes for another six months, and now flaunts his red waistcoat and red mustache in Italy at his remaining brother's door. No, Mark, the man responsible for these impossible things isn't mad. And that brings me back to my preliminary alternative.
"I said just now, 'Either Robert Redmayne killed Michael Pendean, or else he did not.' And we may add that either Robert Redmayne killed Bendigo Redmayne or else he did not. But we'll stick to the first proposition for the moment. And the next question you must ask yourself is this. 'Did Robert Redmayne kill Michael Pendean?' That's where your 'facts,' as you call them, begin to sag a bit, my son. There's only one sure and certain way of knowing that a man is dead; and that is by seeing his body and convincing the law, by the testimony of those who knew the man in life, that the corpse belongs to him and nobody else."
"Good God! You think—"
"I think nothing. I want you to think. This is your funeral—so far; but I want you to come out like the sun from behind a cloud and surprise us yet. Just grasp that matters couldn't have happened as you supposed, and go on from there. Remember, incidentally, that you are quite unable to swear that either Pendean or Bendigo Redmayne is dead at all. They may both be just as much alive as we are. Chew it over. This is a very pretty thing and I believe we're up against some great rascals; but I don't even know that yet for sure. I can see many points that are vital which you are more likely to clear than I. You've been badly handicapped, for reasons I have yet to find out; but if you think over what I told you and look into your brain-pan without prejudice, maybe you'll begin to see them yourself."
"It's sporting of you to suggest that, but I can't offer any such excuse," answered Brendon thoughtfully. "Never did a man go into a case with less handicap. I even had peculiar incentives to make good. I came into it on the top of the tide with everything under my hands. No—what you've said throws rather too bright a light on the truth. Everything looked so straight-forward that I never thought the appearances hid an utterly different reality. Now I know they probably did."
"That's what I guess. Somebody palmed a marked card on you, Brendon; and you took it like a lamb. We all have in our time—even the smartest of us. Gaboriau says somewhere, 'Above all, regard with supreme suspicion that which seems probable and begin always by believing what seems incredible.' French exaggeration, of course; but there's truth in it. The obvious always makes me uncomfortable. If a thing is jumping just the way that suits you, distrust it at once. That holds of life as well as business."
They chatted for half an hour and Mr. Ganns attained his object, which was to fling his companion back to the beginning of the whole problem that had brought them together. He desired that Mark should travel the ground again with an open mind and all preconceptions put behind him.
"To-night, in the train," said Peter, "I shall ask you to give me your version of the case from the moment that Mrs. Pendean invited you to take it up—or from earlier still, if you had to do with any of the people before the catastrophe. I want the whole yarn again from your angle; and after what I've told you, it may be that, as you retrace every incident, light may flash that wasn't there before."
"It is very probable indeed," admitted Mark. Then his generous nature prompted him to praise the elder.
"You're a big man, Peter Ganns, and you've said things to-day that no doubt were elementary to you, but mean a lot to me. You've made me feel mighty small—which I wouldn't own to anybody else; but you know that much without my telling you. I only differ from you on one point and that is the sequel. If this thing is ever cleared, you'll be responsible for clearing it, and I shall see you get the credit."
The other laughed and flung snuff into his purple nostrils.
"Nonsense, nonsense! I'm a back number—almost out of the game now—virtually retired to take my ease and follow my hobbies. This is nothing to do with me. I'm only going to watch you."
"A detective's hobby is generally his old business," said Mark, and Mr. Ganns admitted it. "Literature and crime, nice things to eat and drink, snuff and acrostics—these serve to fill my leisure and represent my vices and virtues," he confessed.
"Each has its appointed place in my life; and now I'm adding travel. I've wanted to see Europe once again before I went into my shell for good; and to enjoy the society of my dear friend, Albert Redmayne, visit his home, and hear his bland and childlike wisdom once more.
"The only shadow thrown by a devoted friendship, Brendon, is the knowledge that it must some day come to an end. And when I say 'good-bye' to the old bookworm I shall know that we are little likely to meet again. Yet who would deny himself the glory of friendship, before the menace that it must sooner or later finish? A close amity and understanding, a discovery of kindred spirits, is among the most precious experiences within the reach of mankind. Love, no doubt, proves a more glorious adventure still; but lightning lurks near the rosy chariot of love, my lad, and we who win the ineffable gift must not whine if the full price has to be paid. For me, cool friendship!"
He chattered amiably and Mark guessed that on the simple and human side Mr. Ganns found himself much at one with his friend, Albert Redmayne. Peter's philosophy seemed to Brendon of a very mild quality, and he wondered how a man who looked at human nature in a spirit so hopeful, if not credulous, should yet own those extraordinary gifts the American possessed. Upon these, surely, and not his genial and elemental faith, was his fame founded.
PETER TAKES THE HELM
As the detectives travelled through night-hidden Kent and presently boarded the packet for Boulogne, Mark Brendon told his story with every detail for the benefit of Mr. Ganns. Before doing so he reread his own notes and was able to set each incident of the case very clearly and copiously before the older man. Peter never once interrupted him, and, at the conclusion of the narrative, complimented Mark on the recital.
"The moving picture is bright but not comprehensive," he said, returning to a former analogy. "In fact I'm beginning to see already that, no matter what we get at the end of the reel, there are still a few preliminary scenes that should come in at the beginning."
"I've begun at the beginning, Mr. Ganns."
But Peter shook his head.
"Half the battle is to know the beginning of a case. I'll almost go so far as to say that, given the real beginning, the end should be assured. You've not begun at the beginning of the Redmayne tangle, Mark. If you had, the clue to this labyrinth might be in your hands to-day. The more I hear and the more I think, the more firmly am I convinced that the truth we are out to find can only be discovered by a deal of hard digging in past times. There is a lot of spade work demanded and you, or I, may have to return to England to do it—unless we can get the information without the labour. But I've no reason to count on any luck of that sort."
"I should like to know the nature of the ground I failed to cover," said Brendon; but Peter was not disposed to enlighten him at present.
"Needn't bother yet," he said. "Now talk about yourself and give the case a rest."
They chatted until the dawn, by which time their train had reached Paris, and an hour or two later they were on their way to Italy.
Mr. Ganns had determined to cross the Lakes and arrive unexpectedly at Menaggio. He had now turned his mind once more to the problem before him and spoke but little. He sat with his notebook open and made an occasional entry as he pursued his thoughts. Mark read newspapers and presently handed a page to Mr. Ganns.
"What you said about acrostics interested me," he began. "Here's one and I've been trying to guess it for an hour. No doubt it ought to be easy; but I expect there's a catch. Wonder if it will puzzle you."
Peter smiled and dropped his notebook.
"Acrostics are a habit of mind," he said. "You grow to think acrostically and be up to all the tricks of the trade. You soon get wise to the way that people think who make them; and then you'll find they all think alike and all try to hoodwink you along the same lines. If you tempt me on to acrostics, you'll soon wish you had not."
Mark pointed to the puzzle.
"Try that," he said. "I can't make head or tail of it; yet I dare say you'll thrash it out if you've got the acrostic mind."
Mr. Ganns cast his eye over the puzzle. It ran thus:
When to the North you go, The folk shall greet you so. . . . . . . . . .
1. Upright and light and Source of Light 2. And Source of Light, reversed, are plain. 3. A term of scorn comes into sight And Source of Light, reversed again.
The American regarded the problem for a minute in silence, then smiled and handed the paper back to Brendon.
"Quite neat, in its little conventional way," he said. "It's on the regular English pattern. Our acrostics are a trifle smarter, but all run into one form. The great acrostic writer isn't born. If acrostics were as big a thing as chess, then we should have masters who would produce masterpieces."
"But this one—d'you see it?"
"Milk for babes, Mark."
Mr. Ganns turned to his notebook, wrote swiftly into it, tore out the page, and handed the solution to his companion.
G O D Omega Alph A D O G
"If you know Knut Hamsun's stories, then you guess it instantly. If not, you might possibly be bothered," he said, while Brendon stared.
"There are two ways with acrostics," continued Peter, full of animation, "the first is to make lights so difficult that they turn your hair grey till you've got them, the second—just traps—perhaps three perfectly sound answers to the same light, but the second just a shade sounder than the first, and the third a shade sounder than either of the others."
"Who makes acrostics like that?"
"Nobody. Life's too short; but if I devoted a year to a perfect acrostic, you bet your life it would take my fellow creatures a year to guess it. The same with cryptography, which we've both run up against, no doubt, in course of business. Cyphers are mostly crude; but I've often thought what a right down beauty it might be possible to make, given a little pains. The detective story writers make very good ones sometimes; but then the smart man, who wipes everybody's eyes, always gets 'em—by pulling down just the right book from the villain's library. My cryptograph won't depend on books."
Peter chattered on; then he suddenly stopped and turned to his notes again.
He looked up presently.
"The hard thing before us is this," he said, "to get into touch with Robert Redmayne, or his ghost. There are two sorts of ghost, Mark; the real thing—in which you don't believe and concerning which I hold a watching brief; and the manufactured article. Now the manufactured article can be quite as useful to the bulls as the crooks."
"You believe in ghosts!"
"I didn't say so. But I keep an open mind. I've heard some funny things from men whose word could be relied upon."
"If this is a ghost, that's a way out, of course; but in that case why are you frightened for Albert Redmayne's life?"
"I don't say he's a ghost and of course I don't think he's a ghost; but—"
He broke off and changed the subject.
"What I'm doing is to compare your verbal statement with Mr. Redmayne's written communication," he said, patting his book. "My old friend goes back a long way farther than you would, because he knows a lot more than you did. It's all here. I've got a regard for my eyes, so I had it typed. You'd better read it, however. You'll find the story of Robert Redmayne from childhood and the story of the girl, his niece, and of her dead father. Mrs. Doria's father was a rough customer—scorpions to Robert's whips apparently—a man a bit out of the common; yet he never came to open clash with the law. You never thought of Robert's dead brother, Henry, did you! But you'd be surprised how we can get at character and explain contradictions by studying the different members of a family."
"I shall like to read the report."
"It's valuable to us, because written without prejudice. That's where it beats your very lucid account, Mark. There was something running through your story, like a thread of silk in cotton, that you won't find here. It challenged me from the jump, my boy, and I'm inclined to think that in that thread of silk I shall just find the reason of your failure, before I've wound it up."
"I don't understand you, Ganns."
"You wouldn't—not yet. But we'll change the metaphor. We'll say there was a red herring drawn across the trail, and that you took the bait and, having started right enough, presently forsook the right scent for the wrong."
"Puzzle—to find the red herring," said Mark.
Mr. Ganns smiled.
"I think I've found it," he replied. "But on the other hand, perhaps I haven't. In twenty-four hours I shall know. I hope I'm right—for your sake. If I am, then you are discharged without a stain on your character; if I'm not, then the case is black against you."
Brendon made no reply. Neither his conscience nor his wit threw any light on the point. Then Peter, turning to his notes, touched on a minor incident and showed the other that it admitted of a doubt.
"D'you remember the night you left 'Crow's Nest' after your first visit? On the way back to Dartmouth you suddenly saw Robert Redmayne standing by a gate; and when the moonlight revealed you to him, he leaped away and disappeared into the trees. Why?"
"He knew me."
"We had met at Princetown and we had spoken together for some minutes by the pool in Foggintor Quarry, where I was fishing."
"That's right. But he didn't know who you were then. Even if he'd remembered meeting you six months before in the dusk at Foggintor, why should he think you were a man who was hunting him?"
"That's true," he said. "Probably he'd have bolted from anybody that night, not wishing to be seen."
"I only raise the question. Of course it is easily explained on a general assumption that Redmayne knew every man's hand was against him. He would naturally, in his hunted state, fly the near approach of a man."
"Probably he didn't remember me."
"Probably; but there are possibilities about the action. He might have been warned against you."
"There was nobody to warn him. He had not yet seen his niece, nor spoken with her. Who else could have warned him—except Bendigo Redmayne himself?"
Peter did not pursue the subject. He shut his book, yawned, took snuff, and declared himself ready for a meal. The long day passed and both men turned in early and slept till daybreak.
Before noon they had left Baveno on a steamer and were crossing the blue depths of Maggiore. Brendon had never seen the Italian lakes before and he fell silent in the presence of such beauty; nor did Mr. Ganns desire to talk. They sat together and watched the panorama unfold, the hills and gorges, the glory of the light over earth and water, the presence of man, his little homes upon the mountains, his little barques upon the lake.
At Luino they left the steamer and proceeded to Tresa. Beside the railroad, on this brief instalment of the journey, there stood lofty palisades of close wire netting hung with bells. Peter, who had travelled here twenty years earlier, explained that they were erected as a safeguard against the eternal smuggling between Switzerland and Italy.
"'Only man is vile' in fact," he concluded and woke a passing wave of bitterness in his companion's spirit.
"And our life is concerned with his vileness," Mark answered. "I hate myself sometimes and wish I was a grocer or a linen draper or even a soldier or sailor. It's degrading to let your life's work depend on the wickedness of your fellow creatures, Ganns. I hope a time is coming when our craft will be as obsolete as bows and arrows."
The elder laughed.
"What does Goethe say somewhere?" he asked. "That if man endures for a million years, he'll never lack obstacles to give him trouble, or the pressure of need to make him conquer them. Then there's Montaigne—you ought to read Montaigne—wisest of men. He'll tell you that human wisdom has never reached the perfection of conduct that itself prescribes; and could it arrive there, it would still dictate to itself others beyond. In a word, the world will never be short of crooks while human nature lasts, nor yet of men trained to lay them by the heels. Crime will continue, in some form or other, as long as men do; and as the criminal gets cleverer, so must we."
"I think better of human nature," answered Mark and his friend applauded him.
"Quite right, my boy—at your age," he said.
They wound over Lugano and came in evening light to its northern shore. Then once more they took train, climbed aloft, and fell at last to Menaggio on Como's brink.
"Now," said Peter, "I guess we'll leave our traps here and beat it to Villa Pianezzo right away. We'll scare the old boy a bit, but can tell him things all fell right and so we found that we could jog along a week before we thought to do so. Not a word that I think him to be in danger."
Within twenty minutes their one-horse vehicle had reached Mr. Redmayne's modest home and they found three persons just about to take an evening meal. Simultaneously there appeared Mr. Redmayne, his niece, and Giuseppe Doria; and while Albert, Italian fashion, embraced Mr. Ganns and planted a kiss upon his cheek, Jenny greeted Mark Brendon and he looked once more into her eyes.
There had come new experiences to her and they did not fail of the man's observation. She smiled indeed and flushed and proclaimed her wonder and admiration at the speed which had brought him across Europe to her uncle's succour; but even in her animation and excitement the new expression persisted. It set Mark's heart throbbing vigorously and told him that perchance he might yet be useful to her. For there hung a shadow of melancholy on Jenny's face her smiles could not dispel.
Doria held back a little while his wife welcomed her uncle's friend; then he came forward, declared his pleasure at meeting Mark again and his belief that time would soon reveal the truth and set a period to the sinister story of the wanderer.
Mr. Redmayne was overjoyed at seeing Ganns and quite forgot the object of his visit in the pleasure of receiving him.
"It has been my last and abiding ambition to introduce you to Virgilio Poggi, dear Peter, so that you, he and I may sit together, hear each other's voices and look into each other's eyes. And now this will happen. Thus the unhappy spirit who wanders upon the hills has unconsciously accomplished a beautiful thing."
Jenny and Assunta, had hastily prepared for the visitors and now all sat at supper and Brendon learned how rooms were already taken for him and Mr. Ganns at the Hotel Victoria.
"That's as may be," he declared to Doria's wife. "You will find, I think, that Mr. Ganns is going to stop here. He takes the lead in this affair. Indeed there was no great reason why I should have intruded again, where I have failed so often."
Jenny looked at him softly.
"I am very thankful you have come," she said—in a whisper for his ear alone.
"Then I am very thankful too," he replied.
After a cheerful meal Peter absolutely declined to cross Como and visit Signor Poggi on the instant.
"I've had enough of your lakes for one day, Albert," he announced, "and I want to talk business and get a rough, general idea of what more is known than Mark and I already know. Now what has happened since you wrote, Mrs. Doria?"
"Tell them, Giuseppe," directed Mr. Redmayne.
"Your gift—the gold box—take a pinch," said Peter holding out his snuff to the old bookworm; but the master of Villa Pianezzo refused and lighted a cigar.
"I will have smoke rather than dust, my precious Peter," he said.
"The man has been seen twice since you heard from my wife," began Doria. "Once I met him face to face on the hill, where I walked alone to reflect on my own affairs; and once—the night before last—he came here. Happily Mr. Redmayne's room overlooks the lake and the garden walls are high, so he could not reach it; but the bedroom of Mr. Redmayne's man, Ernesto, is upon the side that stands up to the road.
"Robert Redmayne came at two o'clock, flung pebbles at the window, wakened Ernesto, and demanded to be let in to see his brother. But the Italian had been warned exactly what to say and do if such a thing happened. He speaks English well and told the unfortunate man that he must appear by day. Ernesto then mentioned a certain place, a mile from here in a secluded valley—a little bridge that spans a stream—and directed Robert to await his brother at that spot on the following day at noon. This my Uncle Alberto had already planned in the event of his brother reappearing.
"Having heard this, the red man departed without more words and your friend, greatly courageous, kept the appointment that he had made, taking only me with him. We were there before midday and waited until after two o'clock. But nobody came to us and we saw neither man nor woman.
"For my own part I feel very certain that Robert Redmayne was hidden near at hand, and that he would have come out quickly enough had his brother been alone; but of course Uncle Alberto would not go alone, and we would not have allowed him to do so in any case."
Peter listened intently to these words.
"And what of your meeting with him?" he asked.
"That was clearly an accident on Robert Redmayne's part. I happened to be walking, deep in thought near the spot where my wife first saw him, and, rounding a corner, I suddenly confronted the man sitting on a rock by the path. He started at my footfall, looked up, clearly recognized me, hesitated, and then leaped into the bushes. I endeavoured to follow but he distanced me. He is harbouring aloft there and may be in touch with some charcoal burner above in the mountains. He was strong and agile and moved swiftly."
"How was he dressed?"
"Exactly as I saw him dressed at 'Crow's Nest' when Mr. Bendigo Redmayne disappeared."
"I should like to know his tailor," said Mr. Ganns. "That's a useful suit he wears."
Then he asked a question that seemed to bear but little on the subject.
"Plenty of smugglers in the mountains I suppose?"
"Plenty," answered Giuseppe, "and my heart is with them."
"They dodge the customs officers and get across the frontier by night sometimes I dare say?"
"If I stop here long enough, I shall be better in a position to know," replied the other cheerfully. "My heart, Signor Ganns, is with these boys. They are a brave and valiant people and their lives are very dangerous and thrilling and interesting. They are heroes and not villains at all. Our woman, Assunta, is the widow of a free trader. She has good friends among them."
"Now, Peter, tell us all that is in your mind," urged Mr. Redmayne as he poured out five little glasses of golden liqueur. "You hold that I go in some peril from this unhappy man?"
"I do think so, Albert. And as to my mind, it is not by any means made up. You say, 'Catch Robert Redmayne first and decide afterwards.' Yes; but I will tell you an interesting thing. We are not going to catch Robert Redmayne."
"You throw up the sponge, signor?" asked Giuseppe in astonishment.
"Surely you have caught everybody you ever tried to catch, Peter?" asked Albert.
"There is a reason why I shall not catch him," replied Ganns, sipping from his little Venetian glass.
"Can it be that you think him not a man at all but a ghost, Mr. Ganns?" asked Jenny, round-eyed.
"He has already suggested a ghost," said Mark, "but there are different sorts of ghosts, Mrs. Doria. I see that, too. There are ghosts of flesh and blood."
"If he is a ghost, he is a very solid one indeed," declared Doria.
"He is," admitted Peter. "And yet none the less a ghost in my opinion. Now let us generalize. It needn't be a sound maxim to seek the person who benefits by a crime—not always—for often enough the actual legatee of a murdered man may have had nothing whatever to do with his death. Albert, for example, will inherit Mr. Bendigo Redmayne's estate when leave to assume his death is granted by the law; and Mrs. Doria will inherit her late husband's estate in due course. But it isn't suggested that your wife killed her first husband, Signor Doria; and it isn't suggested that my friend here killed his brother.
"None the less, it's a safe question to ask what a suspected man gains by his crime. And, if we put that question, we find that Robert Redmayne gained nothing whatever by killing Michael Pendean—nothing, that is, but the satisfaction of a sudden, overpowering lust to do so. Pendean's murder made Redmayne a vagabond, deprived him of his income and resources, set every man's hand against him and left him a wanderer haunted by the gallows. Yet, while he evaded the law in a manner that can only be called miraculous, he made no attempt to avert suspicion from himself. On the contrary he courted suspicion, took his victim to Berry Head on a motor bicycle and did a thousand things which defiantly proclaim him a lunatic—but for one overmastering fact. A lunatic must have been caught: he was not.
"He vanishes from Paignton, to reappear at 'Crow's Nest'; he takes another life; he apparently commits another senseless murder on the person of his own brother and once more disappears, leaving not a clue. Now, in face of these absurdities, we have a right to brush aside the apparent facts and ask ourselves a very vital question. What is that question, Signor Doria?"
"It is one I have already asked myself," replied Giuseppe. "It is one I have asked my wife. It is a question, however, which I cannot answer, because I do not know enough. There is nobody in the world who knows enough—unless it be Robert Redmayne."
Ganns nodded and took snuff.
"Good," he said.
"But what is the question?" asked Albert Redmayne. "What is the question Giuseppe puts to himself and, you put to yourself, Peter? We who are not so clever do not see the question."
"The question, my friend, is this: Did Robert Redmayne murder Michael Pendean and Bendigo Redmayne? And you can ask yourself a still more vital question: Are these two men dead at all?"
Jenny shivered violently. She put out her hand instinctively and it clutched Mark Brendon's arm where he sat next to her. He looked at her and saw that her eyes were fixed with strange doubt and horror upon Doria; while the Italian himself showed a considerable amount of surprise at Peter's conclusion.
"Corpo di Bacco! Then—" he asked.
"Then we may be said to enlarge the scope of the inquiry a good deal," answered Mr. Ganns mildly. He turned to Jenny.
"This is calculated to flutter you, young lady, when you think of your second marriage," he said. "But we're not asserting anything; we're only just having a friendly chat. Facts are what we want; and if the fact is that Robert Redmayne didn't kill Michael Pendean, that doesn't mean for a moment that Mr. Pendean isn't dead. You must not let theories frighten you now, since you certainly did not allow them to do so in the past."
"More than ever it is necessary that my unhappy brother should be secured," declared Albert. "It is interesting to remember," he added, "that poor Bendigo first thought he had to do with a ghost when the arrival of his brother was reported to him. He was very superstitious, as sailors often are, and not until Jenny had seen and spoken with her uncle, did Bendigo believe that a living man wanted to see him."
"The fact that it was actually Robert Redmayne and no ghost is proved by that incident, Ganns," added Mark Brendon. "That the man who came to 'Crow's Nest' was in truth Robert Redmayne we can rest assured through Mrs. Doria, who knew her uncle exceedingly well. It only remains to prove with equal certainty that the wanderer here is Redmayne, and one can feel very little question that he is. It is of course marvellous that he escaped discovery and arrest; but it may not be as marvellous as it seems. Stranger things have happened. And who else could it be in any case?"
"That reminds me," replied Ganns. "There has been mention made of Mr. Bendigo's log. He kept a careful diary—so it was reported. I should like to have that book, Albert, for in your statement you tell me that you preserved it."
"I did and it is here," replied his friend. "That and dear Bendigo's 'Bible,' as I call it—a copy of 'Moby Dick'—I brought away. As yet I have not consulted the diary—it was too intimate and distressed me. But I was looking forward to doing so."
"The parcel containing both books is in a drawer in the library. I'll get them," said Jenny. She left the apartment where they sat overlooking the lake and returned immediately with a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
"Why do you need this, Peter?" asked Albert, and while he was satisfied with the reply, Brendon was not.
"It's always interesting to get a thing from every angle," answered Mr. Ganns. "Your brother may have something to tell us."
But whether Bendigo's diary might have proved valuable remained a matter of doubt, for when Jenny opened the parcel, it was not there. A blank book and the famous novel were all the parcel contained.
"But I packed it myself," said Mr. Redmayne. "The diary was bound exactly as this blank volume is bound, yet it is certain that I made no mistake, for I opened my brother's log and read a page or two before completing the parcel."
"He had bought a new diary only the last time he was in Dartmouth," said Doria. "I remember the incident. I asked him what he was going to put into the book, and he said that his log was just running out and he needed a new volume."
"You are sure that you did not mistake the old, full book for the new, empty one, Albert?" asked his friend.
"I cannot be positive, of course, but I feel no shadow of doubt in my own mind."
"Then the one has been substituted for the other by somebody else. That is a very interesting fact, if true."
"Impossible," declared Jenny. "There was nobody to do such a thing, Mr. Ganns. Who could have felt any interest in poor Uncle Bendigo's diary but ourselves?"
Mr. Ganns considered.
"The answer to that question might save us a very great deal of trouble," he said. "But there may be no answer. Your uncle may be mistaken. On the other hand I have never known him to be mistaken over any question involving a book."
He took up the empty volume and turned its pages; then Brendon declared they must be going.
"I'm afraid we're keeping Mr. Redmayne out of bed, Ganns," he hinted. "Our kits have already been sent to the hotel and as we've got a mile to walk, we'd better be moving. Are you never sleepy?"
He turned to Jenny.
"I don't believe he has closed his eyes since we left England, Mrs. Doria."
But Peter did not laugh: he appeared to be deep in thought. Suddenly he spoke and surprised them.
"I'm afraid you're going to find me the sort of friend that sticketh closer than a brother, Albert. In a word, somebody must go to the hotel and bring back my travelling grip, for I'm not going to lose sight of you again till we've got this thing straightened out."
Mr. Redmayne was delighted.
"How like you, Peter—how typical of your attitude! You shall not leave me, dear friend. You shall sleep in the apartment next my own. It contains many books, but there shall be my great couch moved from my own bedroom and set up there in half an hour. It is as comfortable as a bed."
He turned to his niece.
"Seek Assunta and Ernesto and set the apartment in order for Mr. Ganns, Jenny; and you, Giuseppe, will take Mr. Brendon to the Hotel Victoria and bring back Peter's luggage."
Jenny hastened to do her uncle's bidding, while Brendon made his farewell and promised to return at an early hour on the following morning.
"My plans for to-morrow," said Peter, "subject to Mark's approval, are these. I suggest that Signor Doria should take Brendon to the scene in the hills where Robert Redmayne appeared; while, by her leave, I have a talk with Mrs. Jenny here. I'm going to run her over a bit of the past and she must be brave and give me all her attention."
He started and listened, his ear cocked toward the lake.
"What's that shindy?" he asked. "Sounds like distant cannon."
"Only the summer thunder on the mountains, signor," he answered.
THE SUDDEN RETURN TO ENGLAND
A successful detective needs, above all else, the power to see both sides of any problem as it affects those involved in it. Nine times out of ten there is but one side; yet men have often gone to the gallows because their fellow men failed in this particular—followed the line of least resistance and pursued the obvious and patent conclusions to an end only logical upon a false premise.
Peter Ganns did not lack this perspicuity. It was visible in his big face to any student of physiognomy. He smiled with his mouth, but his eyes were grave—never ironical, never satirical, but always set in a stern, not unkindly expression. They were watchful yet tolerant—the eyes of one versed in the weakness as well as the nobility of human nature. He could measure the average, modest intelligence of his fellow creatures as well as estimate the heights of genius to which man's intellect may sometimes attain. His own unusual powers, centred in sound judgment of character and wide experience of the human comedy, had set the seal in his eyes while graving something like a smile upon his full, Egyptian lips.
He sat next day and spoke to Albert Redmayne on a little gallery that extended from the dining-room of the villa and overhung the lake. Here, for half an hour, he talked and listened until Jenny should be ready for him.
The elder expounded his simple philosophy.
"I was long out of heart with God, while striving to keep my faith in man, Peter," he declared. "But now I see more clearly and believe that it is only by faith in our Maker that we can understand ourselves. 'Better' is ever the enemy of 'good,' and 'best' is a golden word only to be used for martyrs and heroes."
"Men do their best for two things, Albert," replied Mr. Ganns. "For love and for hate; and without these tremendous incitements not the least or greatest among us can reach the limit of his powers."
"True, and perhaps that explains the present European attitude. The war has left us incapable of any supreme activity. Enthusiasm is dead; consequently the enthusiasm of good-will lacks from our councils and we drift, without any great guiding hand upon the tiller of destiny. Heart and brains are at odds, groping on different roads instead of advancing together by the one and only road. We see no great men. There are, of course, leaders, great by contrast with those they lead; but history will declare us a generation of dwarfs and show how, for once, man stood at a crisis of his destiny when those mighty enough to face it failed to appear. Now that is a situation unparalleled in my knowledge of the past. Until now, the hour has always brought the man."
"We drift, as you say," answered Ganns, dusting his white waistcoat. "We are suffering from a sort of universal shell shock, Albert; and from my angle of observation I perceive how closely crime depends upon nerves. Indifference in the educated takes the shape of lawlessness in the masses; and the breakdown of our economical laws provokes to fury and despair. Our equilibrium is gone in every direction. For example the balance between work and recreation has been destroyed. This restless condition will take a decade of years to control, and the present craving for that excitement, to which we were painfully accustomed during the years of war, is leaving a marked and dangerous brand on the minds of the rising generation. From this restlessness to criminal methods of satisfying it is but a step.
"We are sick; our state is pathological. What we need is a renewal of the discipline that enabled us to confront and conquer in the past struggle. We must drill our nerves, Albert, and strive to restore a balanced and healthy outlook for those destined to run the world in future. Men are not by nature lawless. They are rational beings in the lump; but civilization, depending as it does on creed and greed, has made no steps as yet, through education, to arrest our superstition and selfishness."
"Once let the light of good-will in upon this chaos and we should see order beginning to return," declared Mr. Redmayne. "The problem is how to promote good-will, my dear friend. This should be the great and primal concern of religion; for what, after all, is the basis of all morality? Surely to love our neighbour as ourself."
They set the world right together and their thoughts drifted into a region of benignant aspirations. Then came Jenny and presently the detective followed her into a garden of flowers behind Villa Pianezzo.
"Giuseppe and Mr. Brendon have gone to the hills," she said. "And now I am ready to talk to you, Mr. Ganns. Don't fear to hurt me. I am beyond hurting. I have suffered more in the past year than I should have thought it possible to suffer and keep sane."
He looked at her beautiful face intently. It was certainly sad enough, but to his eye, beneath the lines of sorrow, lay an anxiety that concerned neither the past nor the future, but the immediate present. She was apparently unhappy in her new life.
"Show me the silkworms," he said.
They entered the lofty shed rising above a thicket behind the villa—a shuttered apartment where twilight reigned. The place was fitted with shelves to the ceiling and between the caterpillar trays tall branches of brushwood ascended to the roof. Out of the cool gloom of this silent chamber there glimmered, as it seemed, a thousand little lamps dotted everywhere on the sticks and walls and ceiling. Not a place where a worm could climb or spin was unadorned, for the oval, shining cocoons, scattered like small, ripe fruit upon the twigs, made a delicate light on every side through the sombre dusk. Mr. Redmayne's silkworms were descended, through countless generations, from those historic eggs stolen by Nestorian pilgrims from China, and carried thence secretly in hollow canes to Constantinople some thirteen hundred years before.
The caterpillars had nearly all done their work and completed their silken cases; but a couple of hundred, fat, white monsters, each some three inches long, still remained in the trays, and they fastened greedily on fresh mulberry leaves that Jenny brought them. Others were but beginning their shrouds. They had sketched them and appeared to be busily weaving in the preliminary bag made of transparent and glittering filament. A few of the creatures began to turn yellow, though as yet they had not devoured their last meal. Jenny picked them up and held them to the morning light.
"Never mummy was wound so exquisitely as the silkworm's chrysalis," said Peter; and Jenny chatted cheerfully about the silken industry and its varied interests, but found that Mr. Ganns could tell her much more than she was able to tell him.
He listened with attention, however, and only by gradual stages deflected conversation to the affairs that had brought him. Presently he indicated an aspect of her own position arising from his words on the previous night.
"Did it ever strike you that it was a bold thing to marry within little more than nine months of your first husband's disappearance, Mrs. Doria?" he asked.
"It did not; but I shivered when I heard you talking yesterday. And call me 'Jenny,' not 'Mrs. Doria,' Mr. Ganns."
"Love has always been very impatient of law"; he declared, "but the fact is that unless proof of an exceptional character can be submitted, the English law is not prepared to say of any man that he is dead until seven years have passed from the last record of him among the living. Now there is rather a serious difference between seven years and nine months, Jenny."
"Looking back I seem to see nothing but a long nightmare. 'Nine months!' It was a century. Don't think that I didn't love my first husband; I adored him and I adore his memory; but the loneliness and the sudden magic of this man. Besides all that, surely none could question the hideous proofs of what happened? I accepted Michael's death as a fact which need not enter the calculation. My God! Why did not somebody hint to me that I was doing wrong to wed?"
"Did anybody have a chance?"
She looked at him with a face full of unhappiness.
"You are right. I was possessed. I made a terrible mistake; but do not fear that I have escaped the punishment."
He guessed her meaning and led her away from the subject of her husband.
"Tell me, if it won't hurt you too much, a little about Michael Pendean."
But she appeared not to hear him. Her thoughts were concerned entirely with herself and her present situation.
"I can trust you. You are wise and know life. I have not married a man, but a devil!"
Her hands clenched and he saw a flash of her teeth in the gloom of the silent chamber.
He took snuff and listened, while the unfortunate woman raved of her error.
"I hate him. I loathe him," she cried, and heaped hard words on the head of the debonair Giuseppe. She broke off presently panted, and then subsided in tears.
Peter studied her very carefully, yet, for the moment, showed no great sympathy. His answer was tonic rather than sedative.
"You must keep your nerve and be patient," he said. "Even Italy's a free country in some respects; you need not stop with Doria if you don't want to."
"Might my husband be alive? Do you imagine it possible that he could be alive? I think of him as my husband again, now that this midsummer madness is over. I have much to say to you. I want you—I pray you—to help me as well as my uncle. But he must come first, of course."
"We shall possibly find that in helping him we are helping you," answered Peter. "But you ask a question and I always answer a question when it's reasonable to do so. No, Jenny, I cannot think that Michael Pendean is alive. Let us go out into the air; it is stuffy here. But remember I do not say that he is not alive. It was certainly man's blood that an unknown hand shed at Foggintor; it was man's blood in the cave under the cliffs near Mr. Bendigo Redmayne's home; but as yet we know no more, with absolute certainty, who lost it than who spilled it. That is the large problem I am here to solve. And perhaps, if you want to help me, you can do so. This at any rate I promise you: if you help me, you will also help yourself and your Uncle Albert."
"He is in danger?"
"Consider the situation. In process of time the estate of Albert's two brothers will devolve upon him. That means, I suppose, that sooner or later the bulk of the money must be yours. Albert is frail. I do not think he will be a long-lived man. What follows? Surely that you—the last of the Redmaynes—will inherit everything. And you are married. Here is a proposition, then. And what have you just told me? That your husband is 'a devil,' and that you hate him since you have seen a glimpse of his heart. These facts cannot be entirely separated. They may or may not be closely allied."
She looked at him steadfastly.
"I have only thought of Giuseppe Doria in connection with myself, never in connection with Uncle Bendigo and Uncle Albert. Uncle Bendigo died—if he is dead—before I consented to marry Doria—before he asked me to do so. But keep my mistake from my uncle. I don't want him to know I'm miserable."
"You must decide where to put your trust, my dear," answered Mr. Ganns. "Otherwise you may find yourself on dangerous ground."
She weighed her answer.
"You are thinking of something," she said.
"Naturally. What you have told me as to your relations with your Italian husband offers considerable food for thought. But consider very carefully. You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. How many a bad man and, for that matter, how many an innocent man, has come to grief in the attempt. Tell me this. Does Giuseppe know that you no longer love him?"
She shook her head.
"I have hid it. The time has not come to let him know that. He would be revenged, and God knows what form his revenge might take. Till I have escaped from him, he must not dream that I have changed."
"That's your feeling? Well, the questions are two. Do you know enough about him to assist and justify your escape and, if you do, are you prepared to confide your knowledge to me?"
"I do not know enough," she answered. "He is a very clever man under his light-hearted and easy-going manners. He is, I believe, faithful to me, and he takes care never to be unkind in the presence or hearing of a third person. But this I think: that he knows very well what you've just told me—that all the Redmayne money must sooner or later be mine."
"And yet he behaves to you as though he were a devil? That's not very clever of him."
"I can't explain. Perhaps I have said too much. His cruelty is very subtle. Italian husbands,—"
"I know all about Italian husbands. We'll talk over this again when you have had time to think a little. There's a reason for your hate and distrust of him, no doubt. You would not pretend such emotions. He's faithful, you say, so perhaps that reason is linked with knowledge you do not care to impart to me—or anybody? Perhaps it embraces the mystery man we want to catch—Robert Redmayne? Does Doria know more about him than you or I do! And you have found it out? There may be quite a number of things that make you hate Doria. So think it over and consider if to hear any of them would help me."
Jenny looked at Peter with profound interest.
"You are a very wonderful man, Mr. Ganns."
"Not a bit—only practiced in the jig-saw puzzle we call life. Attach no special importance to what I have just said, or the possibilities I have just thrown out. I may be altogether wrong. I have only at present your word that Signor Doria is not a kind husband. I may not agree with you when I know him better. You may not be a judge. Your first husband was perhaps so exceptional that the norm of husbands is unknown to you. My mind is quite open on the subject, because I have often found that a wife knows much less about her husband's character than do other people. Remember that hate blinds quite as frequently as love; and love turned to hate is a transformation so complicated that it takes a cunning psycho-analyst to interpret it. Therefore to know the importance of your fears, I must know more about you yourself.
"We'll leave it at that—and all you need think of me at present is that I want to serve you. But I am an old bird, while Brendon, on the contrary, is still young; and youth understands youth. Remember that in him you have a steadfast and faithful friend. I shan't be jealous if you can tell him more than you can tell me."
Jenny's lips moved and were again motionless. He perceived that she had started to say one thing, but would now say another. She took his big hand and pressed it between her own.
"God bless you!" she said. "If I have you for a friend, I am content. Mr. Brendon has been very good to me—very, very good. But you are more likely to serve Uncle Albert than he."
They parted presently and Jenny returned to the house, while the detective, finding a comfortable chair under an oleander bush, sniffed the fragrance of the red blossom above him, regretted that his vice had largely spoiled his sense of smell, took snuff and opened his notebook. He wrote in it steadily for half an hour; then he rose and joined Albert Redmayne.
The elder was full of an approaching event.
"To think that to-day you and Poggi meet!" he exclaimed. "Peter, my dear man, if you do not love Virgilio I shall be broken-hearted."
"Albert," answered Mr. Ganns. "I have already loved Poggi for two years. Those you love, I love; and that means that our friendship is on a very high plane indeed; for it oftens happens that nothing puzzles us more infernally than our friends' friends. In our case, however, so entirely do we see alike in everything that matters, that it is beyond possibility you should be devoted to anybody who does not appeal to me. By the same token, how much do you love your niece?"
Mr. Redmayne did not answer instantly.
"I love her," he replied at length, "because I love everything that is lovely; and without prejudice I do honestly believe she is about the loveliest young woman I have ever seen. Her face more nearly resembles that of Botticelli's Venus than any living being in my experience; and it is the sweetest face I know. Therefore I love her outside very much indeed, Peter.
"But when it comes to her inside, I feel not so sure. That is natural, for this reason, that I do not know her at all well yet. I have seldom seen her in childhood, or had any real acquaintance with her until now. When I know her better, it is pretty certain that I shall love her all through; but one must confess I can never know her very well, because the gap in age denies perfect understanding. Nor does she come to me, as it were, alone. Her life turns to her husband. She is still a bride and adores him."
"You have no reason to think her as an unhappy bride?"
"None whatever. Doria is amazingly handsome and attractive—the type a woman generally worships. I grant that Italo-English marriages are not remarkable for their success; but—well, no doubt Jenny's husband is worldly-wise. He has everything to gain by being good, everything to lose by behaving badly. Jenny is a proud girl. She has qualities. There is a distinction about her. She would stand no nonsense from Doria and she knows that I would stand no nonsense from him. I hope to see much of her, though it appears that their home will be in Turin."
"He has abandoned his ambitions to recover the family estates and title and so forth? Brendon told me all about that."
"Entirely. Besides it seems that one of your countrymen has secured the castle at Dolceacqua and bought the title too. Giuseppe was very entertaining on the subject. But I'm afraid he loves idleness."
Before luncheon Mark Brendon returned from the hills with his guide. They had seen nothing of Robert Redmayne and appeared to be rather weary of one another's company.
"You must impart your wisdom and gay spirit to Signor Marco," said Giuseppe to Mr. Ganns, when Brendon was out of earshot with Jenny. "He is a very dull dog and does not even listen when I talk. Not simpatico, I suppose. He will never find out anything. Will you, I wonder? Have you any ideas? A new broom sweeps clean, as you say."
"I must suck your brains before you suck mine, Doria," said Peter genially. "I want to hear what you think of this man in the red waistcoat. We must have a talk."
"Gladly, gladly, Signor Peter. I have seen him now many times—in England three—four times—in Italy once. He is always the same."
"Not a spook?"
"A spirit? No. Very much alive. But how he lives and what he lives for—who can tell?"
"You do not fear on account of Mr. Redmayne?"
"I much fear on account of him," answered Doria. "And when my wife told me that she had seen him, I telegraphed from Turin that they should be careful and run no risk whatever of a meeting. Jenny's uncle is frightened when he thinks about it; but we keep his thoughts away as much as possible. It is bad for him to fear. For the love of Heaven, good signor, get to the bottom of it if you can. My idea is to set a trap for this red man and catch him, like a fox or other wild creature."
"A very cute notion," declared Peter. "We'll rope you in, Giuseppe. Between you and me and the post, our friend Brendon has been barking up the wrong tree, you know. But if you and I and he, together, can't clean this up, then we're not the men I take us for."
"'Deeds are men; words are women,'" he said. "There has been too much chatter about this; but now you are come; we shall see things accomplished."
It was not until after the midday meal that Ganns and Mark were able to get speech together. Then, promising to return in time to meet Virgilio Poggi, who would cross the lake for tea, the two men sauntered beside Como and exchanged experiences. The interview proved painful to the younger, for he found that Peter's doubts were cleared in certain directions. Brendon, indeed, led up to his own chastening very directly.
"It makes me mad," he said, "to see the way that beggar treats his wife—Doria I mean. Pearls before swine. I never hoped much from it; but to think they have only been married three months!''
"How does he treat her?"
"Well, one isn't blind to her appearance. The cause is, of course, concealed; the effect, very visible to my eyes. She's far too plucky to whisper her troubles; but she can't hide her face, where they may be read."
Mr. Ganns said nothing and Mark spoke again.
"Do you begin to see any light?"
"Not much upon the main problem. A minor feature has cleared, however. I know the rock you split upon, my son. You were in love with Jenny Pendean from the moment you knew that she was a widow. And you're in love with Jenny Doria now. And to be in love with one of the principals in a case, is to handicap yourself out of the hunt, as far as that case is concerned."
Brendon stared but made no answer.
"Human nature has its limits, Mark, and love's a pretty radical passion. No man ever did, or could, do himself justice in any task whatever—not while he was blinded with love of a woman. Love's a jealous party and won't stand competitors. So it follows that if you were in love anyway you wouldn't be at your best; and how much more so when the lady in your case was the lady in the case?"
"You wrong me," answered the other rather hotly. "That is really unreasonable. Emphatically the incident made no sort of difference, for the very good reason that she was not in the case, save as an innocent sufferer from the evil actions of others. She helped me rather than hindered me. Despite all she was called to endure, she kept her nerve from the first and fought her own grief that she might make everything clear to me. If I did come to love her, that made no sort of difference to my attitude to my work."
"But it made a mighty lot of difference to your attitude to her. However, your word runs with me, Mark, and I'm very willing to attach all due importance to your conclusions. But I am not in the least willing to accept your estimate of anybody's character without further proofs. You mustn't feel it personal. Only remember that I'm not in this case for my health, and, so far, I have had no reason whatever to eliminate anybody."
"We know some things without proof and are proud to take them on trust," answered Brendon. "Have I not seen Mrs. Doria under affliction and in situations unspeakably difficult? She has been marvellously brave. After her own great sorrow, her only thought was her unfortunate relations. She buried her own crushing grief—"
"And in nine months was married to another man."
"She is young and you have seen for yourself what her husband is. Who can tell what measures he took to win her? All I know is that she has made an appalling mistake. Perhaps I feel it rather than know it; but I'm positive."
"Well," said Peter quietly. "It's no good playing about. At a seemly opportunity, after her husband died, I guess you told her you loved her and asked her to marry you. She declined; but it didn't end there. She's got you on the string at this moment."
"That's not true, Ganns. You don't understand me—or her."
"Well, I do not ask much; but since I have picked up this thing for Albert's sake, there's one point on which I insist. If you are going to take Jenny into your confidence and assume that she has no wish or desire other than to see justice done and the mystery cleared, then I can't work with you, Mark."
"You wrong her, but that doesn't matter, I suppose. What does matter is that you wrong me," said Brendon, with fierce eyes fixed upon the elder. "I've never thought or dreamed of confiding in her, or anybody else. I've nothing to confide, for that matter. I did love her, and I do love her, and I'm deeply concerned and troubled to see the mess she's in with this blighter; but I'm a detective first and last and always over this business; and I have some credit in my painful profession."
"Good. Remember that, whatever happens. And keep your temper with me, too, because nothing is gained by losing it. I'm not saying a word against Mrs. Doria, but inasmuch as she is Mrs. Doria and inasmuch as Doria is as yet very much an unknown quantity to you and me, you must understand that I don't allow appearances to blind my eyes or control my actions. Now if a woman hints, or indicates, that she is unhappily married, then nothing is more natural than that a man like yourself, who entertains the tenderest feelings to the woman, should believe what he sees and regard her melancholy as genuine. It looks all right; but suppose, for their own ends, that Jenny Doria and her spouse want to create this impression? Suppose that their object is to lead you and me to imagine that they are not friends?"
"My God! What would you make of her?"
"It isn't what I'd make of her. It's what she really is. And that I'm going to find out, because a great deal more may depend upon it than you appear to imagine."
"A moment's reflection will surely convince you that neither she nor Doria—"
"Wait, wait! I'm only saying that we must not allow character, fancied or real, to dam any channel of investigation. If reflection convinces me that it is impossible for Doria to be in collusion with Robert Redmayne, I shall admit it. As yet that is not so. There are several very interesting points. Have you asked yourself why Bendigo Redmayne's diary is missing?"
"I have—and could not see how it was likely to contain anything dangerous to Robert Redmayne."
Peter did not enlighten him for the moment. Then he spoke and changed the subject.
"I must find out several fundamental facts and I certainly shall not learn them here," he said. "Next week in all probability, unless something unexpected happens to prevent it, I go back to England."
"Can't I go?'"
"I shall want you here; but our understanding must be complete before I leave.''
"Trust me for that," said Mark.
"You want me to look after Mr. Redmayne?"
"No; I look after him. He's my first care. I haven't broke it to him yet; but he's going with me."
Brendon considered and his thought flushed his cheek.
"You can't trust him with me, then?"
"It's not you. Mind, I'm only guessing; but, anyway, the risk is too considerable. I go, because, until I have been, I remain in the dark over some vital matters that must be cleared and can only be cleared in England. Vital in my opinion, that is. But in the meantime Albert is not the sort of a man to be trusted alone, for the reason that he has no idea whence the danger threatens; nor can he be trusted with you, either, because you are equally ignorant."
"But if the danger lies with Doria, as you seem to hint, how can you, or anybody else, save Mr. Redmayne from it? He likes Doria. The beggar amuses him and is tactful and clever to please where and when he wants to please. He's been trying to please me. To-morrow he'll try to please you."
"Yes—a very light-hearted, agreeable chap—and clever as you say. But I don't know yet whether what you and I see, or even what his wife sees, is the real Doria."
Ganns considered and then proceeded.
"I must give you a clear understanding. I'm so used to playing a lone hand and saying nothing till I can say everything, that I may be tempted to treat you in a way you don't deserve. Now I'll tell you how the cat's jumping. She's jumping in the dark—I'll allow that; but what I seem to see dimly is this: that Giuseppe Doria knows a great deal more about the man in the red waistcoat than we do. I hardly think Doria is the man to murder my old friend; but I'm not so sure that, if somebody else wanted to take the step, Doria would prevent him.
"If Albert disappeared, you've got to remember that Doria's wife would be the worldly gainer. Why anybody should want to kill Albert to put money into Jenny's pocket I cannot say. But it's a feature; and while I'm in England, I'll ask you to keep your eyes skinned and try and find out as much about Giuseppe as you can. Not from his wife, however. I needn't tell you that. You'll be free to poke about and try and surprise 'Red Waistcoat.' Perhaps you'll do the trick; but take care he doesn't surprise you. All I ask is that you don't believe a quarter you hear, or half you see. We must get under the appearances if we're to make good."
"You think, then, that Doria and Robert Redmayne may be running in double harness? And perhaps you think that Jenny Doria knows this fact and that in this secret knowledge her present misery lies?"
"No need to drag her in; but your own question suggests the possibility."
"Not against my own knowledge. She could be a willing party to no crime. It is contrary to her inherent character, Ganns."
"And yet you're a detective 'first and last and always'—eh? One would think that I wanted you to put her through the third degree. Not that I ever put any man or woman through it myself. It is dirty business and quite unworthy of our great service. We'll leave Mrs. Doria, then, and concentrate on her husband. There are a lot of very interesting things to find out about Doria, my boy."
"You forget that he only came into this business at 'Crow's Nest.'"
"How can I forget what I don't know? Why do you say he only came into it at 'Crow's Nest'? He may have come into it at Foggintor. Perhaps he and not Robert Redmayne, or any other, cut Michael Pendean's throat?"
"Impossible. Consider. Is not Michael's widow Doria's wife?"
"What, then? I'm not saying she knew he was the murderer."
"Another thing: Doria was the servant of Bendigo Redmayne at the time."
"And how do you know even so much?"
Brendon showed impatience.
"My dear Ganns, that's common knowledge."
"Common nothing! You can't swear he was the servant of Bendigo Redmayne on the day that the murder was committed. To prove as much would entail an amount of solid research that might surprise you. Of this crowd, only Doria for certain knows when he joined up at 'Crow's Nest.' His wife may, or may not, know. I'm quite unprepared to take Giuseppe's word for the date."
"That's why you wanted Bendigo Redmayne's log then?"
"One of the reasons certainly. The diary may be here yet. You can use your eyes when we are away and try to find it. If you are allowed to stumble on it, note particularly any pages torn out or erased or faked."
"You still believe that those about Mr. Redmayne are criminals ?''
"I believe that it becomes necessary to prove they are not. Perhaps you'll succeed in doing so before we return. There's a devil of a lot of clearing to be done yet before we begin building. What beats me frankly is the fact that my old friend Albert is still alive. I can see no reason whatever why he should be—and a dozen why he should not."
"Thanks to your forethought in coming unexpectedly, perhaps."
"With all the will and wit in the world you can't prevent one man from killing another if he wants to do so—that is, assuming the would-be murderer is at liberty and unknown. One more thing, Mark. When I leave with Mr. Redmayne, I disappear altogether, and so does he. It must be understood that nobody here is going to hear anything about us till we come back again. If you want me very urgently, you must telegraph to New Scotland Yard, where my direction will be known, but nowhere else. And look after yourself sharply too. Don't run any needless risks on trust. You may be in danger and certainly will be if you get on the scent."
Two days later the book lover and Peter were taking a steamer for Varenna, whence they would entrain for Milan and so return to England. The meeting of Signor Poggi and Mr. Ganns afforded exquisite satisfaction to Albert, and Peter did not cloud his pleasure with any allusion to the future until the following morning. Then, having expressed his enthusiasm for Virgilio and his hope of better acquaintance on their return, the American broke to Albert their immediate departure. He anticipated some protest, but Mr. Redmayne was too logical to make any.
"I asked you to solve this enigma," he said, "and I am the last to question your methods of so doing. That you will get to the bottom of these horrid mysteries, Peter, I am quite certain. It is a conviction with me that you are going to explain everything; but I shall support your operations and if you hold it necessary that I go to England, of course, dear friend, I go. You must not, however, count upon me for any practical assistance. It is entirely contrary to my nature to take an active part in this campaign. To put any enterprise or adventure upon me would be to ask for failure."
"Fear nothing at all," answered Ganns. "I don't want you to do anything whatever but lie low and amuse yourself. The danger may follow you, or it may not; but my only wish is to come between you and danger, Albert, and keep you under my own eyes. For the rest we'll hide our tracks. Get Jenny to pack your portmanteau for a ten days' tour. If all's well, you'll be home again at the end of next week."
The morning of departure swiftly arrived and while Mr. Redmayne gave final instructions to his niece, Peter and Mark walked the landing stage as the paddle steamer, Pliny, came thudding across from Bellagio to take the travellers on the first stage of their journey. Brendon defined the position.
"It stands thus," he said. "You strongly suspect Doria of being in collusion with another man, but doubt whether the other man is really Robert Redmayne. What you want me to do is to watch Doria and see if I can surprise the great unknown, or learn the truth about him. Meanwhile you go home, and your work on the case you prefer to keep to yourself until it is considerably clearer and forwarder than at present."
"The situation in a nutshell. Keep an open mind. I ask no more than that."
"I will," answered Brendon. "Already I suspect the explanation that you have had of Mrs. Doria's sufferings. It is tolerably clear to me that she knows more than we do, and has some secret of her husband's that is causing her unhappiness."
"A theory capable of proof. You'll see a good deal of the dame during the coming week and the time oughtn't to be wasted, if what you think is true."
On the steamer stood Virgilio Poggi. He was come across the water to take leave of Mr. Redmayne and see him as far as Varenna. The three men departed presently, leaving Mark, Jenny and her husband together. At Varenna, Virgilio also took his leave. He was not content with embracing Albert but clasped Mr. Ganns also in an affectionate farewell.
"We are great men, all three of us," said Signor Poggi, "and greatness cleaves to greatness. Return as quickly as you can, Albert, and obey Signor Ganns in everything. May this cloud be quickly lifted from your life. Meantime you both have my prayers."
Albert translated the speech for Peter's benefit; then the train moved forward and Virgilio took the next boat home again. He sneezed all the way, for he had accepted a pinch from Peter's snuffbox ignorant of its effects upon an untrained nose.
REVOLVER AND PICKAXE
While Brendon entertained no sort of regard for Giuseppe Doria, his balanced mind allowed him to view the man with impartial justice. He discounted the fact of the Italian's victory in love, and, because he knew himself to be an unsuccessful rival, was the more jealous that disappointment should not create any bias. But Doria had failed to make Jenny a happy wife; he understood that well enough, and he could not forget that some future advantage to himself might accrue from this circumstance. The girl's attitude had changed; he was not blind and could not fail to note it. For the present, however, he smothered his own interests and strove with all his strength to advance a solution of the problems before him. He was specially desirous to furnish important information for Peter Ganns on his return.
He did what his judgment indicated but failed to find sufficient reasons for linking Doria with the mystery, or associating him with Robert Redmayne. For despite Peter's luminous analysis, Mark still regarded the unknown as Albert Redmayne's brother; and he could find no reasonable argument for associating Giuseppe with this person, either at present or in the past. Everything rather pointed in a contrary direction. Brendon traversed the incidents connected with Bendigo Redmayne's disappearance, yet he could recall nothing suspicious about Giuseppe's conduct at "Crow's Nest"; and if it seemed unreasonable to suppose he had taken a hand in the second tragedy, it appeared still less likely that he could be associated with the first.
It was true that Doria had wedded Pendean's widow; but that he should have slain her husband in order to do so appeared a grotesque assumption. Moreover, as a student of character, Mark could not honestly find in Jenny's husband any characteristics that argued a malevolent attitude to life. He was a pleasure-loving spirit and his outlook and ambitions, while frivolous, were certainly not criminal. He talked of the smugglers a good deal and declared himself in sympathy with them; but it was gasconade; he evinced no particular physical bravery; he was fond of his comforts and seemed little likely to risk his own liberty by association with breakers of law and order.
A startling proof that Mark had not erred in this estimate was afforded by a conversation which he enjoyed with Doria on a day soon after the departure of Albert Redmayne and his friend. Giuseppe and his wife had planned to visit an acquaintance at Colico, to the northward of the lake; and before the steamer started, after noon, the two men took a stroll in the hills a mile above Menaggio. Brendon had asked for some private conversation and the other gladly agreed.
"As you know, I'm going to spend the day in the red man's haunt," explained Mark, "and I'll call at supper time since you wish it; but before you go, I'll ask you to stroll along for an hour. I want to talk to you."
"That will suit me very well," said the other, and in half an hour he returned to Brendon, found him chatting with Jenny in the dark portal of the silkworm house, and drew him away.