"You shall have speech with her to-night after supper," promised Giuseppe. "Now it is my turn. We will ascend to the little shrine on the track above the orchards. There are shrines too many to the Holy Mother, my friend. But this one is not to Madonna of the wind, or the sea, or the stars. I call her 'Madonna del farniente'—the saint for weary people, whose bodies and brains both ache from too much work."
They climbed aloft presently, Doria in a holiday suit of golden-brown cloth with a ruby tie, and Brendon attired in tweeds, his luncheon in his pocket. Then the Italian's manner changed and he dropped his banter. Indeed for a time he grew silent.
Brendon opened the conversation and of course treated the other as though no question existed concerning his honesty.
"What do you think of this business?" he asked. "You have been pretty close to it for a long time now. You must have some theory."
"I have no theory at all," replied Doria. "My own affairs are enough for me and this cursed mystery is thrusting a finger into my life and darkening it. I grow a very anxious and miserable man and I will tell you why, because you are understanding. You must not be angry if I now mention my wife in this affair. A mill and a woman are always in want of something, as our proverb says; but though we may know what a mill requires, who can guess a woman's whims? I am dazed with guessing wrong. I don't intend to be hard or cruel. It is not in me to be cruel to any woman. But how if your own woman is cruel to you?"
They had reached the shrine—a little alcove in a rotting mass of brick and plaster. Beneath it extended a stone seat whereon the wayfarer might kneel or sit; above, in the niche, protected by a wire grating, stood a doll painted with a blue cloak and a golden crown. Offerings of wayside flowers decorated the ledge before the little image.
They sat down and Doria began to smoke his usual Tuscan cigar. His depression increased and with it Brendon's astonishment. The man appeared to be taking exactly that attitude to his wife she had already suggested toward him.
"Il volto sciolto ed i pensieri stretti," declared Giuseppe with gloom. "That is to say 'her countenance may be clear, but her thoughts are dark'—too dark to tell me—her husband."
"Perhaps she fears you a little. A woman is always helpless before a man who keeps his own secrets hidden."
"Helpless? Far from it. She is a self-controlled, efficient, hard-headed woman. Her loveliness is a curtain. You have not yet got behind that. You loved her, but she did not love you. She loved me and married me. And it is I who know her character, not you. She is very clever and pretends a great deal more than she feels. If she makes you think she is unhappy and helpless, she does it on purpose. She may be unhappy, because to keep secrets is often to court unhappiness; but she is not helpless at all. Her eyes look helpless; her mouth never. There is power and will between her teeth."
"Why do you speak of secrets?"
"Because you did. I have no secrets. It is Jenny, my wife, who has secrets. I tell you this. She knows all about the red man! She is as deep as hell."
"You mean that she understands what is happening and will not tell her uncle or you?"
"That is precisely what I mean. She does not care a curse for Alberto. What is born of hen will scrape—remember that. Her father had a temper like a fiend and a cousin of her mother was hanged for murder. These are facts she will not deny. I had them from her uncle. I am frightened of her and I have disappointed her, because I am not what she thought and have ceased to covet my ancestral estates and title."
Such a monstrous picture of Jenny at first bewildered Brendon and then incensed him. Was it within the bounds of possibility that after six months of wedded life with this woman, any man living would utter such an indictment and believe it?
"She is great in her way—much too great for me," said Giuseppe frankly. "She should have been a Medici or a Borgia; she should have lived many centuries sooner, before policeman and detective officers were invented. You stare and think I lie. But I do not lie. I see very clearly indeed. I look back at the past and the veil is lifted. I understand much that I did not understand when I was growing blind with love for her. As for this Robert Redmayne—'Robert the Devil,' I call him—once I thought that he was a ghost; but he is not a ghost: he is a live man.
"And presently what will happen if he is not caught and hanged? He will kill Uncle Alberto and perhaps kill me, too. Then he will run away with Jenny. And I tell you this, Brendon: the sooner he does so, if only he leaves me alone, the better pleased I shall be. A hideous speech? Yes, very hideous indeed; but perfectly true, like many hideous things."
"Do you honestly expect that I, who know your wife, am going to believe this grotesque story?"
"I do not mind whether you believe it or no. Feel as savage as you please. For that matter I feel rather savage myself. There is a new ferocity creeping into me. If you keep company with a wolf, you will soon learn to howl—that's why I howl a good deal in secret, I can tell you. Soon I shall howl so that everybody will hear. So now you know how it is with me. I am outside her secrets and feel no wish whatever to learn them, save as they affect me. If she will give me a few thousand pounds and let me vanish out of her life, I shall be delighted to do so. I did not marry her for her money; but since love is dead, I shall like a little of the cash to start me at Turin. Then she is free as air. It will pay you quite well to try and arrange the bargain."
Brendon could hardly believe his ears, but the Italian appeared very much in earnest. He chattered on for some time. Then he looked at his watch and declared that he must descend.
"The steamer is coming soon," he said. "Now I leave you and I hope that I have done good. Think how to help me and yourself. What she now feels to you I cannot tell. Your turn may come. I trust so. I am not at all jealous. But be warned. This red man—he is no friend to you or me. You seek him again to-day. So be it. And if you find him, be careful of your skin. Not that a man can protect his skin against fate. We meet at supper."
He swung away, singing a canzonet, and quickly vanished, while Brendon, overwhelmed by this extraordinary conversation, sat for an hour motionless and deep in thought. He could hardly plough his path through what appeared a jungle of flagrant falsehood. But where another man had striven to find underlying purpose in this diatribe and consider Doria's object in choosing him for a confessor, Brendon, while swift enough to regard the attack on Jenny as foul and false, yet did not hesitate to believe that which his own desire drove him to believe. He sifted the grain from the chaff, doubtfully guided by his own passion, and saw the Italian's wife free. But he could not see her false. He scorned the baleful picture that Giuseppe had painted and guessed that his purpose was to cut the ground from under Jenny's feet and accuse her of those identical crimes that he himself had committed. His attitude to Doria was affirmed, and from that hour he believed, with Peter Ganns, that the Italian knew the purposes of the unknown and was assisting him to achieve them. But again his spirit picked and chose. He did not remember how Ganns also, though in more temperate words than Doria's, had warned him for the present to put no trust even in Jenny. He trusted her as he trusted himself; and that also meant distrusting her husband.
He considered now his own course of action and presently proceeded to the region in which Robert Redmayne had been most frequently reported. Certain appearances were chronicled and, before Ganns returned to England, the theory had been accepted that the fugitive hid and dwelt aloft in some fastness with the charcoal burners. Now Brendon felt the need to probe this opinion and determined, if possible, to find the lair of the red man.
Not single-handed did he expect to do so. His purpose henceforth was to watch Doria unseen and so discover whom he served. Thus he would kill two birds with one stone and simplify action for Peter Ganns when he returned.
Brendon climbed steadily upward and presently sat down to rest upon a little, lofty plateau where, in the mountain scrub, grew lilies of the valley and white sun-rose. Idly he sat and smoked, marked the steamers creep, like waterman beetles, upon the shiny surface of the lake stretched far below, watched a brown fox sunning itself on a stone and then plucked a bunch of the fragrant valley lilies to take to Jenny that night when he came to sup at the Villa Pianezzo. But the blossoms never reached the hand of Mrs. Doria.
Suddenly, as he rose from this innocent pastime, Mark became aware that he was watched and found himself face to face with the object of his search. Robert Redmayne stood separated from him by a distance of thirty yards behind the boughs of a breast-high shrub. He stood bare-headed, peering over the thicket, and the sun shone upon his fiery red scalp and tawny mustache. There could be no mistaking the man, and Brendon, rejoicing that daylight would now enable him to come to grips at last, flung down his bouquet and leaped straight for the other.
But it appeared that the watcher desired no closer contact. He turned and ran, heading upward for a wild tract of stone and scrub that spread beneath the last precipices of the mountain. Straight at this cliff, as though familiar with some secret channel of escape, the red man ran and made surprising speed. But Mark found himself gaining. He strove to run the other down as speedily as possible, that he might close, with strength still sufficient to win the inevitable battle that must follow, end effect a capture.
He was disappointed, however, for while still twenty yards behind and forced to make only a moderate progress over the rocky way he saw Robert Redmayne suddenly stop, turn and lift a revolver. The flash of the sun on the barrel and the explosion of the discharge were simultaneous. As the red man fired, the other flung up his arms, plunged forward on his face, gave one convulsive tremor through all his limbs, and moved no more. The discovery, the chase and its termination had occupied but five minutes; and while one big man, panting from his exertions, approached only to see that his fallen victim showed no sign of life, the other, with his face amid the alpine flowers, remained where he had dropped, his arms outstretched, his hands clenched, his body still, blood running from his mouth.
The conqueror took careful note of the spot in which he stood and bringing a knife from his pocket blazed the stem of a young tree that rose not very far from his victim. Then he disappeared and peace reigned above the fallen. So still he lay that another fox, scared from its siesta, poked a black muzzle round a rock and sniffed the air; but it trusted not appearances and having contemplated the recumbent object lifted its head, uttered a dubious bark and trotted away. From on high an eagle also marked the fallen man, but swiftly soared upward to the crown of the mountain and disappeared. The spot was lonely enough, yet a track ran within one hundred yards and it often happened that charcoal burners and their mules passed that way to the valleys.
None, however, came now as the sun turned westward and the cool shadow of the precipice began to creep over the little wilderness at its feet. Many hours passed and then, after night had flooded the hollow, there sounded from close at hand strange noises and the intermittent thud of some metal weapon striking the earth. The din ascended from a rock which lifted its grey head above a thicket of juniper; and here, while the flat summit of the boulder began to shine whitely under the rising moon, a lantern flickered and showed two shadows busy above the excavation of an oblong hole. They mumbled together and dug in turn. Then one dark figure came out into the open, took his bearings, flung lantern light on the blazed tree trunk, and advanced to a brown, motionless hump lying hard by.
Infinite silence reigned over that uplifted region. Above, near the summit of the mountain, flashed the red eye of a charcoal burner's fire; beneath only the plateau sloped to a ragged edge easterly, for the lake was hidden under the shoulder of the hills. No firefly danced upon this height; but music there was, for a nightingale bubbled his liquid notes in a great myrtle not ten yards from where the still shape lay.
The dark, approaching figure saw the object of his search and came forward. His purpose was to bury the victim, whom he had lured hither before destroying, and then remove any trace that might linger upon the spot where the body lay. He bent down, put his hands to the jacket of the motionless man, and then, as he exerted his strength, a strange, hideous thing happened. The body under his touch dropped to pieces. Its head rolled away; its trunk became dismembered and he fell backward heaving an amorphous torso into the air. For, exerting the needful pressure to move a heavy weight, he found none and tumbled to the ground, holding up a coat stuffed with grass.
The man was on his feet in an instant, fearing an ambush; but astonishment opened his mouth.
"Corpo di Bacco!" he cried, and the exclamation rang in a note of something like terror against the cliffs and upon the ear of his companion. Yet no swift retribution stayed his steps; no shot rang out to arrest his progress. He leaped away, dodging and bounding like a deer to escape the expected bullet and then disappeared behind the boulder. But neither rascal delayed a moment. Their mingled steps instantly rang out; then the clatter faded swiftly upon the night and silence returned.
For ten minutes nothing happened. Next, out of a lair not fifteen yards from the distorted dummy, rose a figure that shone white as snow under the moon. Mark Brendon approached the snare that he himself had set, shook the grass out of his coat, lifted his hat from the ball of leaves it covered, and presently drew on his knickerbockers, having emptied them of their stuffing. He was cold and calm. He had learned more than he expected to learn; for that startled exclamation left no doubt at all concerning one of the grave-diggers. It was Giuseppe Doria who had come to move the body, and there seemed little doubt that Brendon's would-be murderer was the other.
"'Corpo di Bacco,' perhaps, but not corpo di Brendon, my friend," murmured Mark to himself. Then he turned northward, traversed some harsh thickets that barred the plateau, and reached a mule track, a mile beneath, which he had discovered before daylight waned. It led to Menaggio through chestnut woods.
The operations of the detective from the moment that he fell headlong, apparently to rise no more, may be briefly chronicled.
When his enemy drew up and fired pointblank upon him, the bullet passed within an inch of Brendon's ear and the memory of a similar experience flashed into his mind and led to his subsequent action.
On a previous occasion, having been missed at close quarters, he pretended to be hit and fell apparently lifeless within fifteen yards of a famous malefactor. The ruse succeeded; the man crept back to triumph over an inveterate foe and Brendon shot him dead as he bent to examine a fancied corpse. With a loaded revolver still in his opponent's hand, he could take no risk on this second occasion and fell accordingly. His purpose was to tempt the red man back and if possible secure his weapon before he had time to fire again.
But he was disappointed, for the unknown, seeing Mark crash headfirst to the ground, and blood run from his mouth, evidently felt assured that his purpose was accomplished. Brendon had simulated death for a while, but when satisfied of his assailant's departure, presently rose, with no worse hurts than a bruised face, a badly bitten tongue, and a wounded shin.
The situation thus created he weighed in all its bearings and guessed that those who now believed themselves responsible for his death would take occasion to remove the evidence of their crime without much delay. The blazed tree, which he presently noted, confirmed this suspicion. Nobody had ever seen one of Robert Redmayne's victims and the last was little likely to be an exception. Mark guessed that until darkness returned he might expect to be undisturbed. He walked back, therefore, to his starting-place, and found the packet of food which he had brought with him and a flask of red wine left beside it.
After a meal and a pipe he made his plan and presently stood again on the rough ground beneath the cliffs, where he had pretended so realistically to perish. He intended no attempt to arrest; but, having created the effigy of himself and stuffed his knickerbockers and coat to resemble nature and deceive anybody who might return in darkness to his corpse, Brendon found a hiding-place near enough to study what would happen. He expected Redmayne to return and guessed that another would return with him. His hope was to recognize the accomplice and prove at least whether Jenny was right in hinting her husband's secret wickedness, or whether Doria had justly accused her of collusion with the unknown. It was impossible that both were speaking the truth.
With infinite satisfaction he heard Giuseppe's voice, and even an element of grim amusement attended the Italian's shock and his subsequent snipe-like antics as he leaped to safety before an anticipated revolver barrage.
The adventure told Brendon much and his first inclination was to arrest Doria on the following morning; but that desire swiftly passed. A surer strategy presented itself. From the first ambition—to get Jenny's husband under lock and key—his mind leaped to a more workmanlike proposition. He suspected, however, that Giuseppe might take the initiative and deny him any further opportunity of bettering their acquaintance; and that night as he fell asleep with an aching shin and cheek, Mark endeavoured to consider the situation as it must appear from Doria's angle of vision. Much temporal comfort resulted for him from this examination.
It seemed clear that Doria and Redmayne were working to destroy Albert Redmayne for their common advantage. Let the old book lover disappear and Robert and his niece would be the last of the Redmaynes to share the fortune of the vanished brothers. Robert, indeed, could have no open part in these advantages, for he was outlawed; but it would be possible for him, in process of time, when Jenny inherited all three estates and Robert, Bendigo and Albert were alike held to be deceased in the eyes of the law, to share the fortune in secret with his niece and her husband. This view explained the prescience of Peter Ganns and his surprise that Albert Redmayne should still be in the land of the living. Ganns, however, was proved mistaken in one vital particular, for there could no longer be any reasonable doubt that Robert Redmayne still lived.
Utterly mistaken as Brendon's theories ultimately proved to be, they bore to his weary brain the stamp of truth and he next proceeded to consider Doria's future attitude before the problem now awaiting him and his companion in crime. Doria could not be sure that he had been recognized or even seen when approaching the supposed corpse of Redmayne's victim; and, in any case, under the darkness, no man might certainly swear that it was Doria who came to dig the grave and dispose of the body. Brendon confessed to himself that only Giuseppe's startled oath had proved his presence, and Jenny's husband might well be expected to offer a sound alibi if arrested. He judged, therefore, that Doria would deny any knowledge of the incident; and time proved that Mark was right enough in that prediction.
The next morning, while he rubbed his bruises in a hot bath, Brendon determined upon a course of action. He proposed to tell Jenny and her husband exactly what had happened to him, merely concealing the end of the story.
He breakfasted, lighted his pipe and limped over to Villa Pianezzo. He was not in reality very lame, but accentuated the stiffness. Only Assunta appeared, though Brendon's eyes had marked Doria and Jenny together in the neighbourhood of the silkworm house as he entered the garden. He asked for Giuseppe and, having left Brendon in the sitting-room of the villa, Assunta departed. Almost immediately afterward Jenny greeted him with evident pleasure but reproved him.
"We waited an hour for supper," she said, "then Giuseppe would wait no longer. I was beginning to get frightened and I have been frightened all night. I am thankful to see you, for I feared something serious might have happened."
"Something serious did happen. I've got a strange story to tell. Is your husband within reach? He must hear it, too, I think. He may be in some danger as well as others."
She expressed impatience and shook her head.
"Can't you believe me? But of course you can't. Why should you? Doria in danger! However, if you want him, you don't want me, Mark."
It was the first time that she had thus addressed him and his heart throbbed; but the temptation to confide in her lasted not a moment.
"On the contrary I want you both," he answered. "I attach very great weight to the hints you have given me—not only for my sake but for your own. The end is not yet as far as you're concerned, Jenny, for your welfare is more to me than anything else in the world—you know it. Trust me to prove that presently. But other things come first. I must do what I am here to do, before I am free to do what I long to do."
"I trust you—and only you," she said. "In all this bewilderment and misery, you are now the only steadfast rock to which I can cling. Don't desert me, that's all that I ask."
"Never! All that's best in me shall be devoted to you, thankfully and proudly—now that you have wished it. Trust me, I say again. Call your husband. I want to tell you both what happened to me yesterday."
Again she hesitated and gazed intently upon him.
"Are you sure that you are wise? Would Mr. Ganns like you to tell Doria anything?"
"You will judge better when you have heard me."
Again he longed to confide in her and show her that he understood the truth; but two considerations shut his mouth: the thought of Peter Ganns and the reflection that the more Jenny knew, the greater might be her own peril. This last conviction made him conclude their conference.
"Call him. We must not let him think that we have anything of a private nature to say to each other. It is vital that he should not imagine such a thing."
"You have secrets from me—though I have let you know my own secret," she murmured, preparing to obey him.
"If I keep anything from you, it is for your own good—for your own security," he replied.
She left him then and in a few moments returned with her husband. He was full of curiosity and under his usual assumption of cheerfulness Brendon perceived considerable anxiety.
"An adventure, Signor Marco? I know that without you telling me. Your face is solemn as a raven and you walked stiffly as you came to the door. I saw you from the silkworms. What has happened?"
"I've had a squeak of my life," replied Mark, "and I've made a stupid mistake. You must pay all attention to what I'm going to tell you, Doria, for we can't say who is in danger now and who is not. The shot that very nearly ended my career yesterday might just as easily have been aimed at you, had you been in my place."
"A shot? Not the red man? A smuggler perhaps? You may have stumbled upon some of them, and knowing no Italian—"
"It was Robert Redmayne who fired upon me and missed by a miracle."
Jenny uttered an exclamation of fear. "Thank God!" she said under her breath.
Then Brendon told the story in every detail and explained his own ruse. He related nothing but the truth—up to a certain point; but beyond that he described events that had not taken place.
"Having made the faked figure, I hid just before dusk fairly close to it intending, of course, to keep watch, for I was positive that the murderer, as he would suppose himself to be, must come back after dark to hide his work. But now ensued an awkward contretemps for which I had not provided. I found myself faint—so faint that I began to be alarmed. I had not eaten since the morning and the food and flask which I had brought with me were half a mile and more away. They remained, of course, where I had left them when I started to chase Redmayne. It was a choice between attempting to reach the food while I could do so, or stopping and growing chilled and every moment weaker.
"I am not made of iron and the day had been rather strenuous for me. I was bruised and lame and utterly played out. I decided that I should have time to reach my food and return to my hiding-place before the moon rose. But it was not such an easy or speedy business as I had expected. It took me a long time to get back to the starting-place and when I did, a search was needed before I found my sandwiches and flask of Chianti. Never was a meal more welcome. I soon felt my strength returning and set off in half an hour on the journey back to the plateau.
"Then my troubles began. You'll think the wine got into my head and it may have done so; but at any rate I lost the path most effectually and presently lost myself. I began to despair and had very nearly given up any further attempt to return when, out of the trees, blinked the white face of the precipice under Griante's crown and I recognized the situation. Then I went slowly and silently forward and kept a sharp lookout.
"But I returned too late. Once back again, a glance at the dummy showed me that I had lost my chance. It had been handled. The trunk was in one place, the grass head, with my cap upon it, lay in another. One knew that no fox or other wild creature would have disturbed it thus.
"Dead silence hung over the spot; and now, half fearing an ambush in my turn, I waited an hour before emerging. Not a soul was there. Redmayne had clearly come, discovered my escape and then departed again. Even in that moment I considered what I should have done had he confiscated my clothes! It would then have been necessary to tramp to my hotel in the white shirt and scanty underclothing which was all that remained to me. But now I donned my jacket and knickerbockers, cap and stockings and then prepared to depart.
"There was a smell of earth in the air—a reek of upturned mould; but what that may have been I cannot say. I soon started downhill and, presently, striking a path to the north, entered the chestnut woods and was at my hotel an hour after midnight. That is my story and I propose to-day to revisit the spot. I shall engage the local police who have orders to assist us—that is, unless you, Doria, can spare time to accompany me yourself. I would rather not ask them; but I do not go there again alone."
Jenny looked at her husband and waited to speak until he had done so. But Giuseppe appeared more interested at what had already happened to Brendon than in what was next to happen. He asked many questions, to which Mark was able to return true replies. Then he declared that he would certainly accompany the detective to the scene of his adventure.
"We will go armed this time," he said.
But Jenny protested.
"Mr. Brendon is not nearly well enough to climb there again to-day," she declared. "He is lame and must be feeling the effects of yesterday. I beg him not to attempt to go again so soon."
Doria said nothing but looked at Mark.
"I shall best lose my stiffness by another climb," he assured them.
"That is very true. We will be in no hurry."
"If you go, I come too," said the woman quietly; and both men protested. But she would take no denial.
"I will carry your meal for you," she said, and though they opposed her again, went off to prepare it. Giuseppe also disappeared, that he might leave an order for the day with Ernesto, and Jenny had joined Brendon again before he returned. He had begged her once more not to accompany them; but she was impatient.
"How dull you are for all your fame, Mark"; she replied. "Can you not think and put two and two together where I am concerned, as you do in everything else? I am safe enough with my husband. It will not pay him to destroy me—yet. But you. Even now I implore you not to go up again alone. He is as wily as a cat. He will make some excuse, disappear and meet the other villain. They won't fail twice—and what can a woman do to help you against two of them?"
"I want no help. I shall be armed."
They started, however, and Jenny's fears were not realized. Doria showed no levity and did nothing suspicious. He kept close to Brendon, offered him an arm at steep places and advanced a dozen theories of the incidents reported. He was deeply interested and reiterated his surprise that the unknown's shot should have missed Brendon.
"It is better to be lucky than wise," he declared. "And yet who shall not call you very wise indeed? That was a great ruse—to fall as though dead when the bullet had missed its billet."
Brendon did not reply and little was said as they proceeded to the scene of his adventures; but presently Doria spoke again.
"One eye of the master sees more than six of his servants. We shall hear how Pietro Ganns understands all this. But I am thinking of the red man. What is in his mind this morning? He is very savage with himself and perhaps frightened. Because he knows that we know. He is a murderer still. He does not repent."
They scoured the scene of Brendon's exploit presently and it was Jenny who found the shallow grave. She was very pale and shivering when they responded to her call.
"That is where you would be now!" she said to Mark.
But he was occupied with the mould piled beside the pit. Here and there were prints of heavy feet and Doria declared that the impression of the nails pointed to such boots as the mountain men habitually wore. Nothing else rewarded the search; but Giuseppe was full of theories and Brendon, occupied with his own thoughts, allowed him to chatter without interruption. For his part he felt doubtful whether any further apparition of Robert Redmayne might be expected. This failure would probably put a period to his activity for a time.
Mark determined to take no action until Mr. Ganns came back to Menaggio. Meanwhile he proposed to occupy himself with the husband and wife and, so far as possible, preserve an attitude of friendship to them both. That relations were secretly strained between them appeared clear enough; and the results of casual but frequent visits to the Villa Pianezzo were summed in the detective's mind before Mr. Redmayne and Peter returned. He believed most firmly that Doria was in collusion with the secret antagonist, and intended ultimate mischief to his wife's uncle for his own ends; and he was equally convinced that Jenny, while conscious enough that her husband could not be trusted and meant evil, as yet hardly guessed the full extent of his infernal purpose.
Had she known that Giuseppe and Robert Redmayne were actually working together to destroy Albert Redmayne, Brendon believed that she would tell him. But he guessed that she knew nothing definite, while suspecting much. She had shown the most acute concern at his own danger, and more than once implored Mark to do nothing but look after his own safety until Peter Ganns was back again. Meantime the rift between her spouse and herself appeared to grow. She was tearful and anxious, yet still chose to be vague, though she did admit that she thought she had glimpsed Robert Redmayne again, one evening. But Brendon did not press her again to confide in him, though Doria showed no sort of jealousy. He often left them together for hours and exhibited to the detective a very amiable attitude. He, too, on more than one occasion confessed that matrimony was a state overvaunted.
"Praise married life by all means, Signor Marco," he said, "but—keep single. Peace, my friend, is the highest happiness, and the rarest."
The days passed and presently, without any warning, Albert Redmayne and the American suddenly reappeared. They arrived at Menaggio after noon.
Mr. Redmayne was in the highest spirits and delighted to be home again. He knew nothing about Peter's operations and cared less. His visit to England was spent at London, where he had renewed acquaintance with certain book collectors, seen and handled many precious things, and surprised and gratified himself to observe his own physical energies and enterprise.
"I am still wonderfully strong, Jenny," he told his niece. "I have been most active in mind and body and am by no means so far down the hill of old age, that ends by the River of Lethe, as I imagined."
He made a good meal, and then, despite the long night in the train, insisted on sending for a boat and crossing the water to Bellagio.
"I have a present for my Poggi," he said, "and I cannot sleep until I hear his voice and hold his hand."
Ernesto went for a waterman and soon a boat waited at the steps, which descended from Mr. Redmayne's private apartments to the lake. He rowed away and Brendon, who had come to see Doria and found to his surprise that Redmayne and Peter were back again, anticipated some private hours with Mr. Ganns. But the traveller was weary and, after one of Assunta's famous omelettes and three glasses of white wine, he declared that he must retire and sleep as long as nature ordained slumber.
He spoke before the listening Giuseppe, but addressed his remarks to Brendon.
"I'm exceedingly short of rest," he said. "Whether I have done the least good by my inquiries remains to be seen. To be frank, I doubt it. We'll have a talk to-morrow, Mark; and maybe Doria will remember a thing or two that happened at 'Crow's Nest' and so help me. But until I have slept I am useless."
He withdrew presently, carrying his notebook in his hand, while Brendon, promising to return after breakfast on the following morning, strolled to the silkworm house where the last of the caterpillars had spun its golden shroud. He was not depressed by the weary tones of Peter's voice nor the discouraging nature of his brief statement, for, while speaking, Mr. Ganns had discounted his pessimism by a pregnant wink unseen by Doria. It was clear to Brendon that he had no intention of acquainting Giuseppe with any new facts—if such there might be; and this interested Mark the more because, as yet, Peter was quite ignorant of his own adventure on Griante. He had kept it out of the post, not desiring to obtrude anything between Mr. Ganns and his personal activities.
On the following day it was Mr. Redmayne who found himself weary. Reaction came and he slept all that night and determined to keep his bed for twenty-four hours. It seemed, however, that he was going to find occupation for everybody. He directed Doria to visit Milan, on a mission to secondhand booksellers, and Jenny was sent to Varenna with a gift for an acquaintance.
Brendon perceived that it was designed to keep both husband and wife out of the way for a few hours; but whether Doria suspected the intention he could not judge. Certainly Jenny did not. She welcomed the excursion to Varenna, for her uncle's correspondent was a widow lady and Jenny already knew her and valued her friendship.
Brendon arrived at Villa Pianezzo just as the twain were starting on their missions, and he and Peter walked to the landing stage with them and saw them departing in different steamers.
Even this arrangement, however, failed to satisfy Ganns. He was mysterious.
"If his steamboat stopped nowhere between here and Como, we wouldn't need to trouble," he said; "but as it does, and Doria might hop off anywhere and come back in an hour, we'll just drift back to Albert."
"He will be asleep and we can have our yarn out without fear of interruption," answered Mark.
They soon sat together on a shady seat of the villa garden from which the entrance was visible, and Peter, bringing out his notebook, took a great pinch of snuff, set his gold box on a little table before him, and turned to Brendon.
"You shoot first," he said; "there are three things I need to know. Have you seen the red man and what is your present opinion concerning Doria and his wife? Needn't ask if you found Bendigo's diary, because I am dead sure you did not."
"I didn't. I directed Jenny to have a hunt and she invited me to help her. For the rest I have seen Robert Redmayne, for we may safely speak of the unknown by that name, and I have come to a very definite conclusion concerning Giuseppe Doria and the unfortunate woman who is at present his wife."
A shadow of a smile passed over the great features of Peter.
He nodded and Mark proceeded to tell his story, beginning with the adventure on the mountain. He omitted no detail and described his talk with Doria, the latter's departure to join Jenny on their expedition to Colico, and his own subsequent surprise and escape from death. He told how he had been fired at and fallen, hoping to tempt the other to him, how his assailant had disappeared, and how, at a late hour, he had planned a dummy and seen Giuseppe Doria arrive to bury him.
He narrated how Giuseppe and Robert Redmayne had departed after their disappointment, how he had decided to give Giuseppe an account of the adventure, in order that he might not guess that his share in it was known; and he told how, on the morrow, the Dorias and himself had returned to the spot and found the empty grave with foot-marks of native boots about the margin. He added that Jenny, four days later, had reported a glimpse of a man whom she believed to be her uncle; but it was dark at the time and she could not be positive, though she felt morally sure of him. He was standing two hundred yards from the Villa Pianezzo in a lane from the hills and had turned and hastened away as she approached.
To this statement Peter listened with the deepest attention and he did not disguise his satisfaction when Mark made an end.
"I'm mighty glad for two things," he said. "First that you're in the land of the living, my son, and that a certain bullet passed your ear instead of stopping in that fine forehead of yours; and I'm glad to know what you've told me, because it fits in tolerably well and strengthens an argument you'll hear later. Your little trap was quite smart, though I should have worked it a bit different myself. However, you did a very clever thing, and to take Doria into your confidence afterward was up to our best traditions. Your opinion of him needn't detain us now. There only remains to hear what you may have to say on the subject of his pretty dame."
"My opinion of a very wonderful and brave woman remains unchanged," Brendon answered. "She is the victim of a hateful union and for her the situation must get worse, I fear, before it can get better. She is as straight as a line, Ganns; but of course she knows well enough that her husband's a rascal.
"Needless to say I haven't dropped her a hint of the truth; but while she is loyal in a sense and very careful, on her side, to leave her sufferings or suspicions vague, she doesn't pretend she's happy and she doesn't pretend that Doria is a good husband, or a good man. She knows that I know better. She has been longing for your return and it is a question with me now whether we shall not do wisely to take her into our confidence. If she knew even what we know, she would no doubt see much light herself and afford much light for us. As to her good faith and honour, there can be no question whatever."
"Well—so be it. I've heard you. Now you've got to hear me. We are up against a very marvellous performance, Mark. This case has some of the finest features—some unique even in my experience. Though, as history repeats itself, I dare say there have been bigger blackguards than the great unknown—though surely not many."
Peter broke off for a brief exposition. He took snuff, shut his eyes and began.
"Why do you harp on 'Robert Redmayne,' like a parrot, my son? Just consider all I've said on that matter and the general subject of forgeries for a minute. You can forge anything that man ever made, and a good few things that God has made. You can forge a picture, a postage stamp, a signature, a finger print; and our human minds, accustomed to pictures, postage stamps, finger prints, are easily deceived by appearances and seldom possess the necessary expert knowledge to recognize a forgery when we see it. And now we are dealing with people who have forged a human being, for that is what the red man amounts to.
"Didn't you do the same thing last week? Didn't you forge yourself and leave yourself dead on the ground? Whether the real Robert Redmayne is actually a stiff, we can't yet swear, though for my part I am pretty well prepared to prove it; but this I do know, that the man who shot at you and missed you and ran away was not Robert Redmayne."
Brendon demurred. "Remember, I'm not a stranger to him, Ganns. I saw and spoke with him by the pool in Foggintor Quarry before the murder."
"What of it? You've never spoken with him since; and, what's more, you've never seen him since, either. You've seen a forgery. It was a forgery that looked at you on your way back to Dartmouth in the moonlight. It was a forgery that robbed the farm for food and lived in the cave and cut Bendigo Redmayne's throat. It was a forgery that tried to shoot you and missed."
Mr. Ganns took snuff again and continued.
But as the course of his inquiries belong to the terrible culmination of the mystery and cannot here be told with their just significance, it will suffice to record that Brendon presently found his brain reeling before a theory so extravagant that he would instantly have discredited it from any lesser lips than those of the famous man who propounded them.
"Mind," concluded Peter, who had spoken without ceasing for nearly two hours, "I'm not saying that I am right. I'm only saying that, wild though it sounds, it fits and makes a logical story even though that story beats all experience. It might have happened; and if it didn't happen, then I'm damned if I know what did, or what is happening at this moment. It is a horrible thing, if true; but it's a beautiful thing from the professional point of view—just as a cancer, or a battle, or an earthquake can be beautiful when put in a category outside humanity."
Brendon delayed his answer and his face was racked with many poignant emotions.
"I can't believe it," he replied at length, in a voice which indicated the extent of his mental amazement and perturbation; "but I shall nevertheless do exactly as you direct. That is well within my power and obviously my duty."
"Good boy. And now we'll have something to eat. You've got it clear? The time is all important."
Mark scanned his notebook in which he had made voluminous entries. Then he nodded and shut it.
Suddenly Mr. Ganns laughed. The other's book reminded him of an incident.
"A funny little thing happened yesterday afternoon that I forgot," he said. "I'd turned in, leaving my notebook by my head, when there came a visitor to my room. I was asleep all right, but my heaviest sleep won't hold through the noise of a fly on the windowpane; and lying with my face to the door I heard a tiny sound and lifted one eyelid. The door opened and Signor Doria put his nose in. I'd pulled the blind, but there was plenty of light and he spotted my vade-mecum lying on the bed table a couple of feet from my head. Over he came as quiet as a spider, and I let him get within a yard. Then I yawned and shifted. He was gone like a mosquito, and half an hour later I heard him again. But I got up and he didn't do more than listen outside. He wanted that book bad—you can guess how bad."
For two days Mr. Ganns declared that he must rest; and then there came an evening when he privately invited Doria to take a walk.
"There's a few things I'd like to put to you," he said. "You needn't let on to anybody else about it and we won't start together. You know my favourite stroll up the hill. Meet me at the corner—say seven o'clock."
Giuseppe gladly agreed.
"We will go up to the shrine of Madonna del farniente," he declared; and when the time came, Peter found him at the spot. They ascended the hill side by side and the elder invited Doria's aid.
"Between ourselves," he began, "I am not too well pleased with the way this inquiry is panning out. Brendon's all right and means as well as any bull that ever I worked with. He does a clever thing here and there—as when he shammed death up on the mountain; but what was the sense of setting that trap and then missing his man? I shouldn't have done that. You wouldn't have done it. In plain words there's some dope coming between Mark and his work, and I should like to hear what you think of him, you being an independent witness and a pretty shrewd cuss. You've had a chance to study his make-up, so tell me what you think. I'm tired of fooling around this job—and being fooled myself."
"Marco is in love with my wife," answered Giuseppe calmly. "That is what's the matter with him. And, as I don't trust my wife in this affair and still believe that she knows more about the red man than anybody else, I think, as long as she hoodwinks Brendon, he will be no manner of use to you."
Peter pretended to be much astonished.
"My stars! You take it pretty cool!"
"For the good reason that I am no longer in love with my wife myself. I am not a dog in the manger. I want peace and quietness. I have no use for intrigues and plots. I am a plain man, Signor Pietro. Mystery bores me. Moreover I live in fear of getting into a mess myself. I do not see where I come in at all. My wife and this unknown rascal are after something; and if you want to get to the bottom of this, watch her—not me. The blow you fear may fall at any moment."
"You'd say trail Jenny?"
"That is what I would say. Sooner or later she'll make an excuse to be off to the mountains alone. Let her start and then follow her up with Brendon. The problem is surely simple enough: to catch this red Redmayne. If you cannot do it, tell the police and the doganieri. There is a force of smuggler hunters always on the spot and ready to your hand. Describe this savage, human fox and offer a big reward for his brush. He will be caught quickly enough then."
Mr. Ganns nodded and stood still.
"I shouldn't wonder if that may not have to be done; but I'd a deal sooner take him ourselves if we could. Anyway I must get a move on this fortnight, for to stop longer in Italy is impossible. Yet how am I going to beat it and leave my old friend at the mercy of this threat? While I'm alongside him, he's safe, I guess; but what may happen as soon as I turn my back?"
"Can I not help you?"
But Mr. Ganns shook his head.
"Can't work in cahoots with you, son, because I begin to fear you are right when you say your wife's against us; and a man isn't to be trusted to pull down his own wife."
"If that's all—"
They proceeded slowly and Peter kept the ball of conversation rolling while he pretended to be very busy with his plans and projects. He promised also that, when Jenny went to the hills alone, he and Brendon would secretly follow her.
Then a very strange thing happened. As the first firefly streaked the dusk and the ruined shrine rose beside the way, a tall man suddenly appeared in front of it. He had not been there a moment before, yet now he bulked large in the purple evening light, and it was not yet so dark but his remarkable features challenged the beholders. For there stood Robert Redmayne, his great, red head and huge mustache thrusting out of the gloom. He stared quite motionless. His hands were by his sides; the stripes of his tweed jacket could be seen and the gilt buttons on the familiar red waistcoat.
Doria started violently, then stiffened. For a moment he failed to conceal his surprise and cast one look of evident horror and amazement at the apparition. He clearly knew the tall figure, but there was no friendship or understanding in the bewildered stare he now turned upon the shadow that filled the path. For a moment he brushed his hand over his eyes, as though to remove the object upon which he glared; then he looked again—to find the lane empty and Ganns gazing at him.
"What's wrong?" asked Peter.
"Christ! Did you see him—right in the path—Robert Redmayne?"
But the other only stared at Giuseppe and peered forward.
"I saw nothing," he said; whereupon like lightning, the Italian's manner changed. His concern vanished and he laughed aloud.
"What a fool—what a fool am I! It was the shadow of the shrine!"
"You've got the red man on your nerves, I guess. I don't blame you. What did you think you saw?"
"No—no, signor; I have no nerves. I saw nothing. It was a shadow."
Ganns instantly dismissed the subject and appeared to attach no importance whatever to it; but Doria's mood was altered. He became less expansive and more alert.
"We'll turn now," announced Peter half an hour afterwards. "You're a smart lad and you've given me a bright thought or two. We must lecture Mark. It may be better for you, as her husband, to pretend a bit, even though you don't feel it. Let me know privately when Mrs. Doria is for the hills."
He stopped, kept his eye on Giuseppe and took a pinch of snuff.
"Maybe we'll get a move on to-morrow," he said.
Doria, now self-possessed but fallen taciturn, smiled at him and his white teeth shone through the gloom.
"Of to-morrow nobody is sure," he answered. "The man who knows what is to happen to-morrow would rule the world."
"I'm hopeful of to-morrow all the same."
"A detective must be hopeful," answered Giuseppe. "So often hope is all that he has got."
Chaffing each other amiably they returned together.
THE LAST OF THE REDMAYNES
For the night immediately following Doria's experience at the old shrine, Albert Redmayne and his friend, Virgilio Poggi, had accepted Mark Brendon's invitation to dine at the Hotel Victoria, where he still stayed. Ganns was responsible for the suggestion, and while he knew now that Giuseppe might view the festivity with suspicion, that mattered but little at this crisis.
His purpose in arranging to get Albert Redmayne away from home on this particular night was twofold. It was necessary that Peter himself should see Mark Brendon without interruption; and it was vital that henceforth his friend, the old book lover, should never for an instant lie within the power of any enemy to do him ill. In order, therefore, that he might enjoy private conversation with Brendon and, at the same time, keep a close watch upon Albert, Ganns had proposed the dinner party at the hotel and directed Brendon to issue the invitation as soon as Redmayne returned home.
Wholly unsuspicious, Signor Poggi and Albert appeared in the glory of soft white shirt fronts and rather rusty evening black. A special meal was prepared for their pleasure and the four partook of it in a private chamber at the hotel. Then they adjourned to the smoking-room, and anon, when Poggi and his companion were deep in their all-sufficing subject, Peter, a few yards distant with Mark beside him, related the incident of Giuseppe's ghost.
"You did the trick to a miracle," he said. "You're a born actor, my son, and you came and went and got away with it just as well as mortal man could wish, and far better than I hoped. Well, Doria was fine. We stung him all right, and when he saw and thought he recognized the real Robert Redmayne, it got him in the solar plexus—I'm doggone sure of that. For just a moment he slipped, but how could he help it?
"You see the beauty of his dilemma. If he'd been straight, he'd have gone for you; but he wasn't straight. He knew well enough that his Robert Redmayne—the forgery—wasn't on the war-path to-night; and when I said I saw nothing, he pulled himself together and swore he hadn't either. And the next second he realized what he had done! But too late. I had my hand on my shooting iron in my pocket after that, I can tell you! He was spoiling to hit back—he is now—he's not wasting to-night. But all that matters for the moment is that we've put a crimp on him and he knows it."
"He may be off before you return to the villa."
"Not he. He's going to see this thing through and finish his job, if we don't prevent it. And he won't waste any more time either. He's been playing a game and amusing himself—with us and Albert yonder—as a cat with a mouse. But he won't play any more. From to-night he's going for all three of us bald-headed. He's mad with himself that he was foolish enough to delay. He's a wonder for his age, Mark; but a man, after all—not a superman."
"What happened exactly, and how does he stand to what he saw?"
"Can't swear, but I figure it like this. I watched very close with what I call my third eye—a sort of receiver in my brain that soaks up what a man's thinking and draws it out of him. For the first moment he was nonplussed, lost his nerve and may even have believed he saw a spirit. He cried out, 'It's Robert Redmayne !' and instantly asked me if I'd seen him too. I stared and said I'd seen nothing at all, and then his manner changed and he laughed it off and said it was only a shadow cast by the shrine. But, on second thoughts, he knew mighty well it was no shadow, and presently he fell a bit silent, thinking hard, while I just chatted about nothing, as I'd done from the start of our walk. I'd pretended to take him into my confidence, you see, and I heard from him just exactly what I thought he was going to tell me—that you were in love with his wife; that he had no more use for her; that she knew all about the red man, and so on.
"Now what passed in his mind? He must have come to one of two possible conclusions. Either he suspected that he had been the victim of hallucination and seen a freak of his own imagination, and believed me when I said I had seen nothing; or else he did not. If he had taken it that way, there was nothing more to be said and nothing to worry about as far as I was concerned. But he didn't take it that way and, on second thoughts, he didn't believe me. He knew very well indeed that he was not the sort of person who sees ghosts; he remembered that you'd been away at Milan for a couple of days and he tumbled to it, the moment his wits cleared, that this was a frame-up between me and you to surprise something out of him. And he knew I had got exactly what I wanted, when he swore that he'd seen nothing, after all.
"And that's where he stands now. And he's going to be busy in consequence; but we've got to be busier. What he and his accomplice propose to do is to destroy Albert Redmayne—in such a way that they are not associated with his death; and what they will do, if we let them, is to act as they have already acted in England. Albert would disappear—and we might or might not be invited to look upon his blood; but we shouldn't see him. Como is the grave they probably mean for him."
"You'll go for Doria straight, then?"
"Yes. He's making his plans at this moment, just as we are, and it's up to us to work our wonders so they'll tumble in ahead of his. You see that? There's two of us and two of them, and the next move must be ours, or they'll checkmate our king all right. We've got this great advantage; that Albert is at our beck and call, not theirs; and while he remains safe, our stock's good. Master Giuseppe knows that; but he also suspects that he's no longer safe himself; so he's probably going to take some chances in the next twenty-four hours."
"Everything centres on the present safety of Mr. Redmayne?"
"It does; and we must watch him like a pair of hawks. To me the most interesting aspect of this case is the personal factor that has spoiled it for the master criminal. And the factor is vanity—an overmastering, gigantic, yet boyish vanity, that tempted him to delay his purpose for the simple pleasure of playing, first with you and then with me. It's himself that has given him away; there's mighty little credit to us, Mark. His own pride of intellect has thrown him. If he can win out now I'll forgive the scamp."
"To you all credit—if you are right in what you believe; to me certainly none from first to last," answered Brendon gloomily. "And yet," he added, "you may be mistaken. A man's convictions are not easily uprooted; love is not always blind, and still I feel that, even if I have lost my reputation, I may win something better—after the tale is told."
Ganns patted his arm kindly.
"Hope no such thing, I beg you," he said. "Fight your hope, for it will soon prove to be based on a chimera—on something that doesn't and never did exist. But your reputation is another matter and I pray you won't feel so ready to let a fine record go down the wind this time to-morrow."
"Yes; to-morrow night the bracelets go on him."
Peter then indicated his purpose.
"He'll not guess we're moving quite so quickly and, by so doing, we anticipate his stroke. That, at least, is what I mean to attempt with your help, if possible. To-night and to-morrow morning I keep beside Albert; then you must do so; because, after lunch, I have a meeting with the local police down the lake at Como. The warrant will be waiting for me and I shall return after dark in one of the little black boats of the doganieri. We shall come up with lights out and land at the villa.
"Your part will be to keep Albert in sight and watch the others. Doria will probably believe my excuse for going down to Como isn't true, and he is therefore likely to jump at the opportunity to get on with it. There's just a chance of poison. I don't like to get Albert across to Poggi, because there he would be much easier to tackle than here."
"He's awake to the critical situation?"
"Yes, I've made it clear. He's promised not to eat or drink anything, except what I bring home with me to-night from here. Our game is that he'll be indisposed to-morrow and keep his private rooms. He'll pretend that he's done himself too well with you to-night. I shall be with him—I don't sleep to-night, but play watch-dog. To-morrow his breakfast will go away untouched—and mine also. We shall then partake of the secret food.
"After noon it's up to you. I can't say what Doria will do; but you mustn't give him the chance to do anything. If he wants to see Albert, use your authority and tell him he cannot do so until I return. Put the blame on me; and if he's wicked use your iron."
"He may, of course, bolt when he knows the game is up," said Mark. "He may be off already."
"Not he," answered Peter. "It's contrary to reason to suppose he'll guess that I can possibly know what I know. He underrates me far too much to give me credit for that. He won't beat it; he'll bluff it—till too late. I don't fear to lose him; I only fear to lose Albert."
"Trust me that far."
"I'm going to. And I want to plan a little surprise of some sort, so that Albert unconsciously helps us. We can't ask him to do anything cute himself; he's not built that way; but he's the king to be guarded and if the king makes an unexpected move, much may be gained. We've got to be alive to a dozen possibilities. If, for instance, poison is attempted and found to fail—"
"How if we gave it out that it had succeeded and that Mr. Redmayne pretended he was mighty ill an hour after breakfast?"
"I'd thought of that. But the difficulty would be that we shan't be in a position to say if poison is really used. No time for chemistry."
"Try it on the cat."
"A double cross is often a very pretty thing," he admitted, "but I've seen too many examples among the police of digging a pit and falling in themselves. One difficulty is that we don't want to alarm Albert more than necessary. At present he only knows that I think him in danger; but he has not the most shadowy idea that members of his own household are implicated. He won't know it till I forbid him to touch his breakfast. Yes; we can certainly try a double cross. He shall order bread and milk—we know who will bring it to him. Then his cat, 'Grillo,' shall breakfast upon it." Peter turned to Mark. "That will convince you, my friend."
But the other shook his head.
"It depends upon circumstances. Even granted poison, many an honest man and woman has been the innocent tool of a murderer's will."
"True enough; but we are wasting time upon an improbability. I do not myself think it will be attempted. It is the line of least resistance and the line of least resistance generally means the lines of greatest risk afterward. No—he'll do something smarter than that if he gets half a chance. The grand danger would be that Doria should find himself alone with Albert, even for a moment. That is the situation to circumvent and avoid at any cost. Let nothing induce you to lose sight of one or other; and even should Doria obviously make a run for it before I return, don't be deceived by that, or go after him. He may adopt any ruse to get you guessing when I have gone—that is, if he suspects me of some immediate step. But if I go without leading him to feel any very grave suspicion as to my object in going, we may surprise him before his own stroke is struck. That, in a word, is our objective."
An hour later the detectives saw Signor Poggi to his boat and then walked home with Mr. Redmayne. Peter had provender concealed about his person and presently he explained to his friend that things were now come to a climax.
"In twenty-four hours I hope we're through with our mysteries and plots, Albert," he said; "but during that time you've got to obey me in every particular and so help me to set you free from this abomination hanging over you. I can trust you; and you must trust me and Mark here till to-morrow night. You'll soon be at peace again with your troubles ended."
Albert thanked Ganns and expressed his satisfaction that a conclusion was in sight.
"I have seen through the glass darkly," he told them. "Indeed I cannot say that I have seen through the glass at all. I am entirely mystified and shall be glad indeed to know this horror with which I am threatened may be removed. Only my absolute trust in you, dear Peter, has prevented me from becoming distracted."
At the villa Brendon left them and Jenny welcomed her uncle. The girl begged Mark to come in for a while before returning; but it was late and Mr. Ganns declared that everybody must retire.
"Look us up early, Mark," he directed. "Albert tells me there are some old pictures at Como that have got a lot of kick in them. Maybe we'll all go down the lake for a pleasure party to-morrow, if he thinks it good."
For a moment Brendon and Jenny stood alone before he departed; and she whispered to him.
"Something has happened to Doria to-night. He is struck dumb since his walk with Mr. Ganns."
"Is he at home?"
"Yes; he went to bed many hours ago."
"Avoid him," answered Mark. "Avoid him as far as possible, without rousing his suspicion. Your torments may be at an end sooner than you think for."
He departed without more words. But he presented himself early on the following day. And it was Jenny who first saw him. Then Peter Ganns joined them.
"How is uncle?" asked Mr. Redmayne's niece, and Albert's friend declared the old book lover found himself indisposed.
"He kept it up a bit too late last night at the hotel and drank a little too much white wine," said Peter. "He's all right but feeling a trifle like next morning. He'll stop where he is for a spell and you can take him up a biscuit and a hair of the dog that bit him presently."
Ganns then announced his intention of going later to the town of Como, and he invited Doria and Brendon to accompany him; but Mark, already familiar with the part he had to play, declined, while Giuseppe also declared himself unable to take the trip.
"I must make ready to return to Turin," he said. "The world does not stand still while Signor Pietro is catching his red man. I have business, and there is nothing to keep me here any longer."
He appeared indifferent to the rest of the company and lacked his usual good humour; but the reason Brendon did not learn until a later hour.
After luncheon Mr. Ganns set off—in a white waistcoat and other adornments; Giuseppe also left the villa, promising to return in a few hours; and Brendon joined Albert in his sleeping apartment. For a time they were alone together and then came Jenny with some soup. She stopped to chat for a little while and, finding her uncle apparently somnolent and disinclined to talk, turned to Mark and spoke under her breath. She was still agitated and much preoccupied.
"Later, when we may, I should like to speak to you—indeed I must do so. I am in great danger myself and can only look to you," she whispered. Combined fear and entreaty filled her eyes and she put her hand upon his sleeve. His own caught it and pressed it. He forgot everything before her words. She had come to him at last of her own free will.
"Trust me," he answered, so that only she could hear. "Your welfare and happiness are more to me than anything else on earth."
"Doria will be out again later. Once he has gone—after dusk—we can safely speak," she answered. Then she hastened away.
Albert Redmayne stirred himself as soon as Jenny withdrew. He was dressed and lying on a couch beside the window.
"This subterfuge and simulation of ill health are most painful to me," he declared. "I am exceeding well to-day and all the better for our delightful dinner of last night. For nobody less than dear Peter would I ever sink to pretend anything: it is contrary to my nature and disposition so to do. But since I have his word that to-day light is going to be thrown upon all this doubt and darkness I must possess my soul in patience, Brendon. There are dreadful fears in Peter's mind. I have never known him to be suspicious of good people before. He will not let me eat and drink in my own house to-day! That is as much as to say that I have enemies within my gates. What could be more distressing?"
"Suspicion is inconceivably painful to me. I will not harbour suspicion. When suspicion dawns in my mind, I instantly throw over the cause of the suspicion. If it is a book, however precious it may be, I drop it once for all. I will not be tormented by doubts or suspicions. In this house are Assunta and Ernesto, my niece and her husband. To suspect any of those excellent and honourable people is abominable and I am quite incapable of doing so."
"Only a few hours. Then, I think, all but one will be exonerated. Indeed I'm sure of it."
"Giuseppe appears to be the storm centre in Peter's mind. It is all beyond my understanding. He has always treated me with courtesy and consideration. He has a sense of humour and perceives that human nature lacks much that we could wish it possessed. He feels rightly toward literature, too, and reads desirable authors. He is a good European and is the only man I know, save Poggi, who understands Nietzsche. All this is in his favor; and yet even Jenny appears to regard Giuseppe as wholly ineffectual. She openly hints that she is disappointed in him. I know what may go to make a man; but am, I confess, quite ignorant of what goes to make a husband. No doubt a good man may be a bad husband, because the female has her own marital standards; yet what she wants, or does not want, I cannot tell."
"You like Doria?"
"I have had no reason to do otherwise. I trust that this unhappy brother of mine—if, indeed, he is what you all think and not an air-drawn vision projected by your subconscious minds—may soon be laid by the heels—for his own sake as much as ours. I will now read in 'The Consolations of Boethius'—last of the Latin authors properly so called—and smoke a cigar. I shall not see Giuseppe. I have promised. It is understood that I am an invalid; but he will certainly be hurt that I deny myself to him. The man has a heart as well as a head."
He rose and went to a little bookshelf of his favourite authors. Then he buried himself in Boethius, and Mark, looking out of the window, saw the life of the lake and the glory of the summer sky reflected. Beyond the shining water Bellagio's towers and cypresses were massed under a little mountain. From time to time there sounded the beat of paddle wheels, as the white steamers came and went.
* * * * *
Doria returned for a while during the afternoon, and Jenny told him that her uncle was better but still thought it wise to keep his room. Her husband appeared to have recovered his good temper. He drank wine, ate fruit and addressed most of his conversation to Brendon, who spoke with him in the dining-room for a while.
"When you and Mr. Ganns are weary of hunting this red shadow, I hope you will come and see me at Turin," he said. "And perhaps you will also be able to convince Jenny that my suggestions are reasonable. What is money for? She has twenty thousand pounds upon her hands and I, her husband, offer such an investment as falls to the chance of few capitalists. You shall come and see what my friends and I are doing at Turin. Then you will make her think better of my sense!"
"A new motor car, you told me?" asked Mark.
"Yes—a car that will be to all other cars as an ocean 'liner' to Noah's Ark. Millions are staring us in the face. Yet we languish for the modest thousands to launch us. The little dogs find the hare; the big dogs hold him."
Jenny said nothing. Then Doria turned to her and bade her pack his clothes.
"I cannot stop here," he said when she had gone. "This is no life for a man. Jenny will probably remain with her uncle. She is fed up, as you say, with me. I am very unfortunate, Marco, for I have not in the least deserved to lose her affection. However, if a new inamorato fills her thoughts, it is idle for me to yelp. Jealousy is a fool's failing. But I must work or I shall be wicked!"
He departed and Brendon joined Albert Redmayne, to find the old man had grown uneasy and fearful.
"I am not happy, Brendon," he said. "There is coming into my mind a cloud—a premonition that very dreadful disasters are going to happen to those I love. When does Ganns return?"
"Soon after dark, Mr. Redmayne. Perhaps about nine o'clock we may expect him. Be patient a little longer."
"It has not happened to me to feel as I do to-day," answered the book lover. "A sense of ill darkens my mind—a suspicion of finality, and Jenny shares it. Something is amiss. She has a presentiment that it is so. It may be, as she suspects, that my second self is not happy either. Virgilio and I are as twins. We have become strangely and psychologically linked together. I am sure that he is uneasy on my account at this moment. I am almost inclined to send Ernesto to see if all be well with him and report that all is well with me."
He rambled on and presently went out upon his balcony and looked across to Bellagio. Then he appeared to forget Signor Poggi for a time and presently ate a little of the store of food brought back in secret by Mr. Ganns on the previous night.
"It is a grief to me," he said again, "that Peter fears treachery under this roof. Surely God is all powerful and would not suffer my interesting and harmless life to be snatched away from me by poison? I shall be very thankful when Peter leaves his horrid profession and retires and devotes his noble intellect to purer thoughts."
"What became of the soup, Mr. Redmayne?"
"'Grillo' drank every drop and, having done so, my beautiful cat purred a grace after meat, according to his custom, then sank into peaceful slumber."
Mark looked at the great blue Persian, who was evidently sleeping in perfect comfort. It woke to his touch, yawned, spread its paws, purred gently and then tucked itself up again.
"He's right enough."
"Of course. Jenny tells me that her husband returns to Turin to-morrow. She, however, will stop here with me for the present. It may be well if they separate for a while."
They talked and smoked, while Mr. Redmayne became reminiscent and amused himself with memories of the past. He forgot his present disquiet amid these recollections and chatted amiably of his earliest days in Australia and his subsequent, successful career as a bookseller and dealer.
Jenny presently joined them and all entered the dining-room together, where tea was served.
"He will be going out soon now," whispered Albert's niece to Brendon; and he knew that she referred to her husband. Mr. Redmayne still declined to eat or drink.
"I did both to excess yesterday," he said, "and must rest my ill-used stomach until to-morrow."
He was chiefly concerned with Doria and had prepared for him various messages to bookmen in Turin. They sat long and the shadows were lengthening before the old man returned to his apartments. Then Giuseppe made a final and humorous appeal to Mark to influence Jenny in favour of the automobiles and presently lit one of his Tuscan cigars, took his hat and left the house.
"At last!" whispered Jenny, her face lighting in relief. "He will be gone for a good two hours now and we can talk."
"Not here, then," Mark answered. "Let us go into the garden. Then I can see when the man comes back."
They proceeded into the gathering dusk and presently sat together on a marble seat under an ilex, so near the entrance that none might arrive without their knowledge.
Presently Ernesto came and turned on an electric bulb that hung over the scrolled iron work of the outer gate. Then they were alone again, and the woman threw off all shadow of reserve and restraint.
"Thank God you can listen at last," she said, then poured out a flood of entreaties. He was swept from every mental hold, drowned in the torrent of her petitions, baffled and bewildered at one moment, filled with joy in the next.
"Save me," she implored, "for only you can do so. I am not worthy of your love and you may well have ceased to care for me or even respect me; but I can still respect myself, because I know well enough now that I was the innocent victim of this accursed man. It was not natural love that made me follow him and wed him; it was a power that he possesses—a magnetic thing—what they call the 'evil eye' in Italy. I have been cruelly and wickedly wronged and I do not deserve all that I have suffered, for it was the magic of hypnotism or some kindred devilry that made me see him falsely and deceived and drove me.
"From the time my uncle died at 'Crow's Nest' Doria has controlled me. I did not know it then, or I would have killed myself rather than sink to be the creature of any man. I thought it was love and so I married him; then the trick became apparent and he cared not how soon my eyes were opened. But I must leave him if I am to remain a sane woman."
For an hour she spoke and detailed all she had been called upon to endure, while he listened with absorbed interest. She often touched Brendon's shoulder, often clasped his hand. Once she kissed it in gratitude, as he promised to dedicate every thought and energy to her salvation. Her breath brushed his cheek, his arm was round her as she sobbed.
"Save me and I will come to you," she promised. "I am hoodwinked and deceived no longer. He even owns the trap and laughs horribly at me by night. He only wants my money, but thankfully would I give him every penny, if by so doing I could be free of him."
And Brendon listened with a rapture that was almost incredulous; for she loved him at last and desired nothing better than to come to him and forget the double tragedy that had ruined her young life.
She was in his arms now and he sought to soothe her, sustain her and bring her mind to regard a future wherein peace, happiness and content might still be her portion. Another hour passed, the fireflies danced over their heads; sweet scents stole through the garden; lights twinkled from the house; on the lake in the silence that now fell between them they heard the gentle thud of a steamer's propeller. Still Doria did not return and as a church clock struck the hour Jenny rose. Already she had knelt at his feet and called him her saviour. Now, still dreaming of the immense change in his fortunes, already occupied with the means that must be taken to free his future wife, Mark was brought back to the present.
Jenny left him to seek Assunta; and he, hearing the steamer and guessing that Peter was at hand, hastened to the house. Silence seemed to fill it, and, as he lifted his voice and called to Albert Redmayne, the noise on the water ceased. No answer reached Mark, and from the library he proceeded to the adjoining bedroom. It was empty and he hastened out upon the veranda above the lake. But still the book lover did not appear. A long, black vessel with all lights out had anchored a hundred yards from the Villa Pianezzo, and now a boat put off from the craft of the lake police and paddled to the steps below Brendon.
At the same moment Jenny joined him.
"Where is Uncle Albert?" she asked.
"I do not know. I have called him and got no answer."
"Mark!" she cried with a voice of fear. "Is it possible—" She moved into the house and lifted her voice. Then Brendon heard Assunta answer and in a moment there followed a horrified exclamation from the younger woman.
But Brendon had descended the steps to meet the approaching boat. His mind was still in a whirl of mingled emotions. Above him, as he steadied the boat, stood Jenny and she spoke swiftly.
"He is not in the house! Oh, come quickly if that is Mr. Ganns. My uncle has gone across the water and my husband has not returned."
Peter, with four men, quickly landed and Brendon spoke. He could give no details, however, and Jenny furnished them. While she and Mark sat in the garden, guarding the front door and front gate, behind them to the house there had come a message by boat for Mr. Redmayne from Bellagio. Perhaps there was but one appeal powerful enough to make Albert forget his promises or the danger that he had been assured now threatened him; but it was precisely this demand which had made the old man hasten away.
Assunta told them how an Italian had reached the steps in a skiff from Bellagio; how he had called her and broken the evil news that Signor Poggi was fallen dangerously ill; and how he sent entreaties to his friends to see him without delay.
"Virgilio Poggi has had a fatal fall and is dying," said the messenger. "He prays Signor Redmayne to fly to him before it is too late."
Assunta dared not delay the message. Indeed, knowing all that this must mean to her master, she delivered it instantly, and five minutes after hearing the dreadful news, Albert Redmayne, in great agony of mind, had embarked, to be rowed toward the promontory where his friend dwelt.
Assunta declared that her master had been gone for an hour, if not longer.
"It may be true," said Jenny, but Brendon knew too well what had happened.
The group formed under Peter's command and he issued his directions swiftly. He cast one look at Mark which the detective never forgot; but none saw it save Brendon himself. Then he spoke.
"Row this boat back to the steamer, Brendon," he said, "and tell them to take you across to Poggi as quick as may be. If Redmayne is there, leave him there and return. But he's not there: he's at the bottom of the lake. Go!"
Mark hastened to the boat and one of the officers who had come with Ganns wrote a dozen words on a sheet from a notebook. With this Brendon reached the black steamer and in another moment the vessel disappeared at full speed under the darkness in the direction of Bellagio.
Then Peter turned to the rest and bade them all, with Jenny, accompany him to the dwelling room. Supper had been laid here but the apartment was empty.
"What has happened," explained Peter, "is this: Doria has used the only certain means of getting Albert Redmayne out of this house, and his wife has doubtless aided him to the best of her power by arresting the attention of my colleague whom I left in charge. How she did it I can easily guess."
Jenny's horrified eyes flamed at him and her face grew rosy.
"How little you know!" she cried. "This is cruel, infamous! Have I not suffered enough?"
"If I am wrong, I'll be the first to own it, ma'am," he answered. "But I am not wrong. What has happened means that your husband will be back to supper. That's but ten minutes to wait. Assunta, return to the kitchen. Ernesto, hide in the garden and lock the iron gate as soon as Doria has passed through it."
Three big men in plain clothes had these remarks translated to them by the fourth, who was a chief of police. Then Ernesto went into the garden, the officers took their stations, and Mr. Ganns, indicating a chair to Jenny, himself occupied another within reach of her. Once she had tried to leave the room, but Peter forbade it.
"Fear nothing if you're honest," he said, but she ignored him and kept her thoughts to herself. She had grown very pale and her eyes roamed over the strange faces around her. Silence fell and in five minutes came the chink of the iron gate and the footfall of a man without. Doria was singing his canzonet. He came straight into the room, stared about him at the assembled men, then fixed his eyes upon his wife.
"What is this?" he cried in amazement.
"Game's up and you've lost," answered Ganns. "You're a great crook! And your own vanity is all that's beat you!" He turned quickly to the chief of police, who showed a warrant and spoke English.
"Michael Pendean," he said, "you are arrested for the murder of Robert Redmayne and Bendigo Redmayne."
"And add 'Albert Redmayne,'" growled Ganns. He leaped aside with amazing agility as he spoke, for the culprit had seized the weapon nearest his hand and hurled a heavy saltcellar from the table at Peter's head. The mass of glass crashed into an old Italian mirror behind Ganns and at the moment when all eyes instinctively followed the sound, Jenny's husband dashed for the door. Like lightning he turned and was over the threshold before a hand could be lifted to stop him; but one in the room had watched and now he raised his revolver. This young officer—destined for future fame—had never taken his eyes off Doria and now he fired. He was quick but another had been quicker, had seen his purpose and anticipated his action. The bullet meant for Michael Pendean struck down his wife, for Jenny had leaped into the doorway and stopped it.
She fell without a sound, whereupon the fugitive turned instantly, abandoned his flight, ran to her, knelt and lifted her to his breast.
He was harmless now, but he embraced a dead woman and the blood from her mouth, as he kissed her, covered his lips. He made no further fight and, knowing that she was dead, carried her to a couch, laid her gently down, then turned and stretched his arms for the handcuffs.
A moment later Mark Brendon entered from the house.
"Poggi sent no message and Albert Redmayne has not been seen at Bellagio," he said.
THE METHODS OF PETER GANNS
Two men travelled together in the train de luxe from Milan to Calais. Ganns wore a black band upon the sleeve of his left arm; his companion carried the marks of mourning in his face. It seemed that Brendon had increased in age; his countenance looked haggard; his very voice was older.
Peter tried to distract the younger man, who appeared to listen, though his mind was far away and his thoughts brooding upon a grave.
"The French and Italian police resemble us in the States," said Mr. Ganns. "They are much less reticent in their methods than you English. You, at Scotland Yard, are all for secrecy, and you claim for your system superior results to any other. And figures support you. In New York, in 1917, there were two hundred and thirty-six murders and only sixty-seven convictions. In Chicago, in 1919, there were no less than three hundred and thirty-six murders and forty-four convictions. Pretty steep—eh? In Paris four times as many crimes of violence are committed yearly as in London, though, of course, the population is far smaller. Yet what are the respective achievements of the police? Only half as many crimes are detected by the French as by the British. Your card index system is to be thanked for that."
He ran on and then Brendon seemed to come to himself.
"Talk about poor Albert Redmayne," he said.
"There's little to be added to what you know. Since Pendean chooses to keep dumb, at any rate until he's extradited, we can only assume exactly what happened; but I have no doubt of the details. It was Pendean, of course, you saw leave the villa, while his wife held you in conversation, and so ordered her falsehoods that you were swept away from every other consideration save how best to rescue her from her husband.
"She took good care to involve your own future and to say just what was most likely to make you forget your trust. My dear, dear Albert, forgive me if I am blunt; but when you look back, presently, you will see that the great loss is really mine, not yours. Michael Pendean, once out of sight, gets a boat, adopts his disguise—the false beard and mustache found upon him—and presently rows round to Albert's steps. He sees Assunta, who does not recognize him, and says that he has come from Virgilio Poggi, who is at death's door at Bellagio.
"There was no weightier temptation possible than that. Redmayne forgets every other consideration and in five minutes has started for Bellagio. The boat is quickly in mid-lake under the darkness and there Albert meets his death and burial. Pendean undoubtedly murdered him with a blow—probably just as he murdered Robert and Bendigo Redmayne; then, no doubt, he used weights, heavy stones brought for the purpose, and sank his victim in the tremendous depths of Como. He was soon back again with a clean boat and his disguise in his pocket. He had an alibi also, for we found out that he had been drinking for more than hour at an albergo before he came back to the villa."
"Thank you," said Brendon humbly. "There can be no doubt that it was so. And now I will ask a final favour, Ganns. What happened has made my mind a blank in some particulars. I should be thankful and grateful if you would retrace your steps when you were in England. I want to go over that ground again. You will not be at the trial; but I must be; and, praise God, this is the last time I shall ever appear in a court of law."
He referred to a determination that he had already expressed: to leave the police service and seek other occupation for the remainder of his life.
"That's as may be," answered Peter, bringing out the gold snuffbox. "I hope you'll think better of it. You've had a bitter experience and learned a great deal that will help you in business as well as in life. Don't be beaten by a bad woman—only remember that you had the luck to meet and study one of the rarest female crooks our mysterious Creator ever turned out. A face like an angel and a heart like a devil. Let time pass and presently you'll see that this is merely a hiatus in a career that is only begun. Much good and valuable work lies before you; and to abandon a profession for which you are specially suited is to fly in the face of Providence anyway."
After a pause and a long silence, while the train sped through the darkness of the Simplon tunnel, Peter retraced the steps by which he had been enabled to solve the riddle of the Redmaynes.
"I told you that you had not begun at the beginning," he said. "It's really all summed up in that. You occupied an extraordinary position. The criminal himself, in the pride of his craft and by reason of the consuming vanity that finally wrecked him, deliberately brought you in. It was part of his fun—his art if you like—that he should involve a great detective for the added joy of making a fool of him. You were the spice in his bloody cup for Michael Pendean—the salt, the zest. If he had merely stuck to business, not a thousand detectives would ever have queered his pitch. But he was as playful as any other hunting tiger. He rejoiced in adding a thousand details to his original scheme. He was an artist, but too florid, too decadent in his decorations. And so he ruined what might have been the crime of the century. It is just the touch of human fallibility that has brought Nemesis to many a great criminal.
"The machinery he employed focussed attention from the first on the apparent murderer rather than his victim. It appeared impossible to doubt what had happened and Pendean's death was assumed but never proved. Particulars concerning Robert Redmayne were abundant; yet, during the whole course of the official inquiry, none was forthcoming concerning the supposed victim. Of him you had heard from his wife; and her original statement to you at Princetown—when she invited you, doubtless at Pendean's direction, to take up the case—was masterly because so nearly true in every respect.
"But from the time that I met and spoke with Albert's niece I began to reflect upon that statement, and my speedy conviction was this: that a great deal more concerning Jenny's first husband demanded to be known. Do not suppose that I was on the track of the truth at that period. Far from it. I only desired more data and regarded the history of Michael Pendean as being of doubtful value, since his wife alone was responsible for the details. It seemed to me absolutely necessary to learn more than she was prepared to tell. I had questioned her, but found her either ignorant of much concerning him—or else purposely evasive. Of her three uncles, only Robert had ever seen Michael Pendean. Neither Bendigo nor dear Albert had set eyes on him; and that fact, though of no significance at first, of course, became very significant indeed at a later stage of my study.
"I went first to Penzance and devoted several days to learning all possible particulars of the Pendean family. On examining Michael Pendean's ancestry, as a preliminary to finding out everything remembered of Pendean himself, I at once made a highly important discovery. Joseph Pendean, Michael's father, was often in Italy on his pilchard business for the firm, and he married an Italian woman. She lived with her husband at Penzance and bore him one son, and a daughter who died in infancy. The lady seems to have given cause for a certain amount of scandal, for her Latin temperament and lively ways did not commend themselves to the rather austere and religious circle in which her husband and his relations moved.
"She visited Italy sometimes and Joseph Pendean undoubtedly regretted his marriage. He might have divorced her in the opinion of some with whom I spoke; but for the sake of his son he would not take this step. Michael was devoted to his mother and accompanied her frequently to Italy. On one of these occasions, when a boy of seventeen or eighteen, he met with an accident to his head; but I could glean no particulars of its nature. He seems to have been a silent and observant lad and never quarrelled with his father.
"When at last Mrs. Pendean died in Italy, her husband attended the funeral at Naples and returned to England immediately afterward with his son. The boy was subsequently apprenticed to a dentist, having expressed a wish to follow that profession. He promised well, passed his examinations and practised at Penzance for a time. But then he ceased to be interested in the work and presently joined his father. In connection with the pilchard trade, he now visited Italy and often spent a month at a time in that country.
"Few could give me any information as to his nature, and pictures of him did not apparently exist; but an elderly relative was able to tell me that Michael had been a silent, difficult boy. She also showed me an old photograph of his parents, taken together with their son when he must have been a child of three, or thereabout. His father didn't suggest a man of character; but Mrs. Pendean appeared to be a very handsome creature indeed, and it was at the moment I studied her features through a magnifying glass that I won my first conviction of a familiar likeness.
"It is a rule with me, when any sudden flash of intuition throws real or false light upon a case, to submit the inspiration to a most searching and destructive analysis and bring every known fact against it. Thus, on seeing a possible glimpse of Giuseppe Doria's beautiful countenance reflected upon my eyes from the photograph of the mother of Michael Pendean, I began to marshal all my knowledge to confound any deduction from that accident. But judge of my interest and surprise when I found nothing that could be pointed to as absolute refutation of the theory now taking such swift shape in my mind. Not one sure fact clashed with the possibility.
"Nothing at present was positively known by me which made it out of the question that Joseph Pendean's wife should be the mother of Giuseppe Doria. But none the less many facts might exist as yet beyond my knowledge, which would prove such a suspicion vain. I considered how to obtain these facts and naturally my thought turned to Giuseppe himself. To show you by what faltering steps we sometimes climb to safe ground, I may say that at this stage of my inquiry I had not imagined Doria and Michael Pendean were one and the same person. That was to come. For the moment I conceived of the possibility that Madame Pendean, a lady who had caused some fluttering in the Wesleyan dovecots of Penzance, might by chance have been the mother of a second son in her native country. I imagined that Michael and an Italian half brother might know each other, and that the two were working together to destroy the brothers Redmayne, so that Michael's wife should inherit all the family money.
"Having found out what Penzance could tell me, I beat it up to Dartmouth, because I was exceedingly anxious to learn, if possible, the exact date when Giuseppe Doria entered the employment of Bendigo Redmayne as motor boatman. Albert's brother hadn't any friends that I could find; but I traced his doctor and, though he was not in a position to enlighten me, he knew another man—an innkeeper at Tor-cross, some miles away on the coast—who might be familiar with this vital date.
"Mr. Noah Blades proved a very shrewd and capable chap. Bendigo Redmayne had known him well, and it was after spending a week at the Tor-cross Hotel with Blades and going fishing in his motor boat, that the old sailor had decided to start one himself at 'Crow's Nest.' He did so and his first boatman was a failure. Then he advertised for another and received a good many applications. He'd sailed with Italians and liked them on a ship, and he decided for Giuseppe Doria, whose testimonials appeared to be exceptional. The man came along and, two days after his arrival, ran Bendigo down to Tor-cross in his launch to see Blades.
"Redmayne, of course, was full of the murder at Princetown, which had just occurred, and the tragedy proved so interesting that Blades had little time to notice the new motor boatman. But what matters is that we know it was on the day after the murder—on the very day Bendigo heard what his brother, Robert, was supposed to have done at Foggintor Quarry—that his new man, Giuseppe Doria, arrived at 'Crow's Nest' and took on his new duties.
"From that all-important fact I built my case, and you don't need to be told how every step of the way threw light upon the next until I had reached the goal. Robert Redmayne is seen on the night of Michael Pendean's supposed destruction. He is traced home again to Paignton. He leaves his diggings before anybody is up and, from that exit, vanishes off the face of the earth. But during the same day—probably by noon—Giuseppe Doria arrives at 'Crow's Nest'—an Italian whom nobody knows, or has even seen before.
"That meant good-bye to any theory of a half brother for Michael; and it also meant that not Pendean, but his wife's uncle, Robert Redmayne, perished on Dartmoor. And there he lies yet, my son!"
Mr. Ganns took snuff and proceeded.
"Now, having made this tremendous deduction, I looked over all the facts again and they became very much more interesting. Every moment I expected some crushing blow to shake my structure; at every turn I guessed a certainty would come along and bowl my theory over; but no such thing happened. Details, of course, there are—many little pieces of the puzzle now known to only one man alive, and that is Pendean himself; but the main incidents, the true picture, loomed out clear enough for me before I left Dartmouth and came back to Albert in London. The big things were all, not there to be shaken. The picture was fogged at certain points, but I had no doubt as to what it represented, and even the incredible details that seemed to contradict reason were composed and cleaned up when Michael Pendean's own temperament was brought as a solvent to them.
"Here, I think, we may spare a tribute of admiration to Pendean's histrionics. I guess that his original conception and creation of 'Giuseppe Doria' was an exceedingly fine and well thought out piece of acting. He actually lived in the character and day after day exhibited qualities of mind and an attitude to life quite foreign to his real rather saturnine and reserved nature. Both he and his wife were heaven-born comedians as well as hell-born criminals.
"To return; the large particulars, then, were these: the foreground, the middle distance and the background made a synthetic whole, logically consistent, rational even—when you allow for the artist's make-up. That he will leave a full statement before the end, I venture to prophecy. His egregious vanity demands it. Nothing that he writes is likely to be sincere and he'll have his eye on the spotlight all the time; but you may expect a pretty complete account of his adventures before he's hanged; you may even expect something a little new in the suicide line if they give him a chance; for be sure he's thought of that.