The Project Gutenberg EBook of Tracked by a Tattoo, by Fergus Hume This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook. Title: Tracked by a Tattoo A Mystery Author: Fergus Hume Release Date: October 20, 2017 [EBook #55783] Last Updated: March 4, 2018 Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK TRACKED BY A TATTOO *** Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia
1. Page scan source:
La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia
"Everywhere throughout its source there is evident the same wonderful originality that distinguished his first success. It is as clever a piece of detective story writing as 'The Leavenworth Case.'"--Dundee Advertiser.
"To say that Mr. Fergus Home's 'The Carbuncle Clue' is one of his best stories hardly does justice to its merits. Very clever must be the reader who, in the earlier chapters, finds even a faint clue in this labyrinth of crime and intrigue."--Morning Post.
"It is in all truth a mystery, and one which when dipped into will be followed with the greatest interest in all its maze of detail. There is scarcely one of the opening chapters that does not reveal some new, startling, and apparently inexplicable fact."--The Scotsman.
"Among the more successful of the purveyors of the detective order of fiction is Mr. Fergus Hume. All who love mystery will find his last story exactly to their taste."--Publishers' Circular.
"We were becoming afraid that Mr. Hume was over-producing--a fear greatly allayed by 'The Carbuncle Clue.' Mr. Hume keeps his story well in hand, and although the mystery changes its aspect many times, he never allows it to drag; and in the end he springs the secret on us in a way that effectually discounts any feeling of superiority we may have cherished as to our powers of playing the amateur detective."--Literary World.
"Apart from the author's reputation, 'The Carbuncle Clue,' standing on its own undoubted merits, will commend itself to those of the reading public who can admire a clever plot, with just a sufficient dash of sensationalism. The skilful manner in which the plot is evolved and the machinations of the conspirators disclosed, place the work on a much higher level than the average detective story."--Chester Courant.
"A capital story, one that will hold its reader enthralled to the end. The clever detective--Mr. Fanks, alias Rixton--is, we think greatly superior to Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his many followers, inasmuch as he is not omniscient, and is quite capable of making mistakes and getting exasperated over them. He follows the slender clue with the sagacity and patience of a bloodhound, and the mystery is so well maintained that its solution only breaks on us as we turn the last page.--Pall Pall Gazette.
"Mr. Hume is great in mysteries, but almost excels himself in the complications of this carbuncle clue. It is brightly and briskly written, and goes on without a hitch or momentary loss of interest from beginning to end. The actors are admirably described. It is the ordinary man and woman that Mr. Hume brings on the stage, and he pulls the wires so deftly that it is with a sigh of regret that we close the book. The publishing world has been inundated with detective stories recently, but if all were so good as 'The Carbuncle Clue' there would not be much reason to complain of the fashion."--Manchester Courier.
"One of the best detective stories that have appeared for a long time."--Manchester Guardian.
"The whole plot is very ingeniously contrived. The interest never flags, and, together with the mystery, is kept up to the very end of the story."--Glasgow Herald.
"In 'The Carbuncle Clue' the author elucidates with his accustomed skill a highly mysterious murder. The story is thrilling and ingenious."--Yorkshire Post.
"Mr. Fergus Hume is a wonderful producer of books, and he proves himself the possessor of considerable resource, while he is also very versatile. 'The Carbuncle Clue' will be read with avidity by lovers of this particular class of work, while it will also be found to contain a goodly share of attraction for the general novel reader."--Western Daily Mercury.
"For some time past the feeling has been that the detective story has had its day, living only in the memory of the immortal Sherlock Holmes. After perusing the mystery of 'The Carbuncle Clue,' however, we feel inclined to change our mind. Mr. Fergus Hume has a more than ordinary talent for the making and unravelling of enigmas."--Liverpool Mercury.
"There are few weavers of mystery like Mr. Fergus Hume. In 'The Carbuncle Clue' his best qualities as an adept in the art of mystification are apparent. He is a magician in mystery and a wizard in working up a sensation without divulging the denouement until the opportune moment."--Newsagent.
"A splendid story, and the identity of the murderer of the unknown man so mysteriously found stabbed to death in the chambers of a man about town is cleverly concealed until the last. There is not a dull line in the book, and the interest is never for a moment allowed to flag."--Blackburn Times.
"A story replete with sensational excitement from the first to the last. In our opinion it is one of the best novels he has yet produced."--The People.
"A peculiar faculty is necessary for the composition of a really ingenious story of the detective type, and Mr. Fergus Hume undeniably possesses it in an unusual degree. 'The Carbuncle Clue' is a really clever piece of work of its school. The mystery suffices to keep the reader on the alert till he comes to the final page."--Court Journal.
Entered at Stationers' Hall.
|III.||The Result Of The Crime|
|V.||The Red Star Advertisement|
|VI.||A Startling Incident|
|VIII.||A Mysterious Parcel|
|IX.||Vaud and Vaud|
|X.||Exit Dr. Renshaw|
|XI.||Another Link in the Chain|
|XII.||The Intervention of Chance|
|XIII.||The Tattooed Cross|
|XIV.||Fanks Makes Up his Mind|
|XVII.||Two against One|
|XVIII.||On the Twenty-First of June|
|XIX.||The Defiance of Anne Colmer|
|XX.||The Green Overcoat|
|XXI.||The Eight Bells Enigma|
|XXII.||Mrs. Boazoph Receives a Shock|
|XXIII.||The Confession of Hersham|
|XXIV.||The Clue of the Handwriting|
|XXV.||At Mere Hall, Hants|
|XXVI.||Mrs. Prisom's Story|
|XXVII.||Mrs. Prisom's Story--continued|
|XXVIII.||Sir Louis Explains|
|XXIX.||Dr. Binjoy Protests|
|XXX.||A Letter from Hersham, Senior|
|XXXI.||The Secret is Revealed|
|XXXII.||Mrs. Boazoph Tells the Truth|
|XXXIII.||How and Why the Deed was Done|
|XXXV.||The Opinion of Octavius Fanks|
On the twenty-first of June, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-four Mr. Fanks, of New Scotland Yard, detective, was walking down the Strand, between the hours of seven and eight in the evening, in the character of Octavius Rixton, of the West End, idler. It may be as well to repeat here, what is no doubt already known--that this individual led a dual existence. He earned his money as a detective, and spent it as a man about town. East of Trafalgar Square he was called Fanks; westward he was known by his real name of Rixton. But few people, were aware that the idler and the worker were one and the same. Nevertheless of necessity four or five persons possessed this knowledge, and of these one was Crate, a brother officer of Fanks, who had worked with him in many cases, and who had a profound respect for his capabilities. Fanks had obtained this ascendancy over Crate's mind by his skilful unravelling of the Chinese Jar mystery.
This especial evening Rixton had cast off the name, clothes, and personality of Fanks; and in "propriā personā," he was about to treat himself to a melodrama at the Adelphi Theatre. As he was passing through the vestibule, at a quarter to eight, a man came forward and touched him on the arm. To the surprise of Rixton he recognised Crate.
"You mentioned that you were coming here this evening, Mr. Rixton," said this latter, who had been instructed to so address his chief on particular occasions. "And I have been waiting for the last half hour to see you."
"What is the matter, Crate?"
The subordinate beckoned Rixton to a quiet corner, and in a low tone said one word, which made him dismiss from his mind the idea of attending the theatre on that evening. The whispered word was "murder."
"Where?" asked Fanks, assuming the detective on the instant.
"Down Tooley's Alley."
"Man or woman or child?"
"Man! I think a gentleman."
"When was the crime committed?"
"Between six and seven this evening."
"In a house or on the street?"
"In a house. The Red Star public-house."
"I know it," said Fanks, with a sharp nod, "a cut-throat place at the bottom of Tooley's Alley. The assassin chose an excellent locality. Poison, steel, or bludgeon?"
"The first I fancy; there are no marks of violence on the body. But you had better come and see for yourself."
"I agree with you. Return to the Red Star, Crate, while I go to my rooms to change my clothes. I am Rixton at present, and I don't want to mix up my two personalities. Expect me in half an hour."
Crate departed with prompt obedience, and Rixton drove off in a swift hansom to his chambers in Duke Street, St. James. In ten minutes he had assumed his detective clothes and Fanks personality; in twenty he was returning eastward; and at the expiration of half an hour he was standing at the door of the house wherein the crime had been committed. Such promptitude was characteristic of the man.
Tooley's Alley is a narrow zig-zag street, which, beginning at a point in Drury Lane, twists its way through a mass of malodorous houses until blocked finally by the Red Star Hotel. It is a famous Rialto of rogues and vagabonds, for here "they most do congregate;" and here come the police, when any especial criminal is wanted by the law. An evil district with an evil name; a plague spot, which cannot be eradicated either by law or by religion. There are many such in London, and of all Tooley's Alley is the worst. It was plausible enough that a gentleman should be trapped, robbed, and murdered in this quarter; but it was more difficult to surmise what errand had brought a gentleman into so dangerous a neighbourhood. A gentleman done to death in Tooley's Alley! Fanks scented a mystery.
The Red Star was a gorgeous gin-palace, all gas, and glare, and glitter. It was licensed to Mrs. Boazoph, a widow, whose character was more than suspected by the police; but who contrived by a circumspect demeanour to keep on the right side of the law. By virtue of her position, her supposed wealth, and above all by reason of her talents, she was quite the queen of Tooley's Alley. Why she should have been permitted to hold her disreputable court in this hotbed of crime was best known to the authorities; but hold it she did, and made money out of her ragged subjects. In the neighbourhood she was popularly known as Queen Beelzeebub.
Attracted by the news of the murder, a mob of raffish men and slatternly women had collected round the Red Star, but the presence of four policemen prevented them from entering the bar and drinking, as they desired to do.
Fanks had no need to push through the crowd, for on recognising him they fell to right and left to leave him a free passage. Under his keen gaze a quiver of fear passed over many of the brutalised faces; and here and there some especial rogue, scared by the memory of lately committed crimes, shrank back into the shadows, lest this man, who personified the law, should discover and punish. Fanks was the Nemesis of Tooley's Alley; the god they desired to propitiate, and he was at once hated and feared by his debased worshippers.
After exchanging a few words with the guardian policemen, Fanks entered the house, and was met in the passage by Crate and by Mrs. Boazoph. This latter, who appeared to be between forty and fifty years of age, was a slender and pallid-faced woman, with almost white hair smoothed back from her high forehead. She spoke habitually with folded hands and downcast eyes, and her voice was low and soft, with a refined accent. One would have taken this demure figure, clad in a plain dress of lustreless black, for an hospital nurse, or for a housekeeper. Yet she was--as the police asserted--the most dangerous woman in London, hand and glove with thieves and rogues: not for nothing had she gained her reputation and queenly title.
"Well, Mrs. Boazoph," said Fanks, abruptly, "this last scandal will add largely to the excellent reputation already gained by your house."
"No doubt of it, sir," replied the landlady, without raising her eyes; "it is most unfortunate."
"And most unexpected?"
"Certainly most unexpected, sir."
The detective looked at her sharply, and noticed that her fingers played nervously with the stuff of her gown. Also he heard a tremor in her voice as she answered. Now Mrs. Boazoph was not easily upset; yet, as Fanks well saw, only her unusual self-control prevented her from having an attack of hysteria. To many men the circumstance of the crime having been committed in the house would have accounted for this. Fanks was too well acquainted with Queen Beelzeebub to give her the benefit of the doubt. She was disturbed by something more than the mere fact of the murder.
"Do you know the man?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on her face.
"No!" retorted Mrs. Boazoph, with suspicious promptitude. "I never set eyes on him until this evening."
And with this hinted defiance she stared Fanks boldly in the face. When she saw that he was watching her twitching fingers, they became motionless on the instant. Only one conclusion could the detective draw from this behaviour; she knew more than she would own to, and she was afraid lest he should find it out. After another look, which discovered nothing--for she was now on her guard--Fanks turned sharply to Crate.
"Where is the body?"
"Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms."
"Was the murder committed in one of the bedrooms?"
"No, Mr. Fanks. It was committed in the room at the end of this passage."
"And why was the body removed out of that room?"
"I removed the body," said Mrs. Boazoph, in a low voice.
"You had no right to do so," rebuked Fanks, sharply. "It was your duty to leave things as they were, when you discovered that a crime had been committed, and to give immediate information to the police."
"I did do so, sir. The police were in this house ten minutes after I saw the dead body."
"Nevertheless, you found time to remove it in that ten minutes."
"I thought it best to do so," said Mrs. Boazoph, obstinately.
"No doubt. I shall not forget your zeal," was Fanks' rejoinder.
The woman could not repress a shudder at the ironical tone of the detective, and her pale face turned yet paler. However, she passed discreetly over the remark and turned the conversation briskly.
"Shall I take you upstairs to see the body, sir?
"No; I shall first examine the room. Afterwards I shall hear your story and inspect the corpse. Come with me, Crate."
Still preserving an impenetrable countenance, Mrs. Boazoph preceded the two men into the little room at the end of the passage. It was an apartment of no great size, furnished in a scanty, almost in a penurious fashion. A window draped with faded curtains of red rep faced the entrance There was no fireplace, and the furniture consisted of a mahogany horse-hair sofa placed against the right-hand wall looking from the door, a round table covered with a stained red cloth, which stood in the centre of the room, and on either side of this two chairs. A crimson felting carpeted the floor, and a few racing pictures, crudely coloured, adorned the salmon-tinted walls. Beyond this the room contained nothing, save an iron gas-pipe suspended from the roof, by which two jets flaring in pink globes lighted the apartment.
Fanks glanced slowly round, taking in every detail, and walked across to the window. It was locked, the curtains were drawn, the blind was down. As it was too dark to see the outlook, Fanks turned to Mrs. Boazoph for information.
"What does this window look out on to?"
"A yard, sir."
"Is there any outlet from the yard?"
"No, sir, excepting through the kitchen where the servants have been all the evening."
"When you entered the room and discovered the fact of the murder, where was the body?"
"Huddled up on yonder sofa, sir."
"Was the room in the same state as it is now?"
"In precisely the same state, Mr. Fanks."
"Wait a moment," interposed Crate; "you told me that you took some glasses out of the room."
Mrs. Boazoph darted a tigerish glance at the detective, which revealed the hidden possibilities of her nature. However, she replied with all possible meekness--
"I quite forgot that, sir I did take two glasses off that table."
Recalling Crate's remark that the deceased had probably been poisoned, Fanks was rendered angry and suspicious by this action; but as it was mere folly to quarrel with so clever a woman as Mrs. Boazoph he made light of the circumstance, and observed casually that no doubt the glasses had been washed and put away.
"Yes, sir," assented the landlady, "they were washed and put away by my own hands."
"I have always known you to be an extremely tidy woman," said Fanks, ironically. "Two glasses, you say? Then there were two gentlemen in this room between six and seven?"
"There were two men in this room between six and seven," replied Mrs. Boazoph, making the correction with emphasis.
"Two men, you say? And they came to have a chat--by appointment?"
"I think so, sir. The white man came at six, and the black man arrived an hour later."
"Ho! ho!" said Fanks, rather taken by surprise; "so one of the men was a negro. I see. And who lies dead upstairs?"
"The white man, sir."
"And the negro assassin; what of him?"
"We have no proof that the negro committed the crime, Mr. Fanks," protested Mrs. Boazoph, forgetting her caution for the moment. "There are no marks of violence on the body."
"Of course not," said Fanks, with grim humour. "No doubt the white man died a convenient and natural death, while the negro, for no reason, fled in alarm. I am obliged to you for the suggestion, Mrs. Boazoph. Probably it is as you say."
Not sufficiently clever to see the irony of this remark, Crate looked surprised. But the woman was clearer sighted; and, seeing that she had over-reached herself by saying too much, she relapsed into silence. The detective, feeling that he had scored, smiled grimly, and went on with his examination of the room.
"The body was on the sofa, you say?" he said after a pause.
"Yes; it was tumbled in a heap against the wall."
"And the glasses were on the table?"
"On the table and on the tray."
"Were there any signs of a struggle?"
"Not that I saw, Mr. Fanks."
"Can you describe the appearance of the white man; no, stop, I'll see his body when I go upstairs. What of the black man?"
"He was a tall, burly, fat creature, sir, just like any other negro."
"How was he dressed?"
"In a black opera hat, dark trousers, brown boots, and a long green overcoat with brass buttons," said Mrs. Boazoph, concisely.
"Rather a noticeable dress," said Fanks, carelessly; "had you ever seen the negro before?"
"Nor the white man?"
"I never saw white or black man in my life till this evening."
By this time the patience of Mrs. Boazoph was nearly worn out, and her self-control was gradually giving way. She evidently felt that she could hold out no longer, for, after replying to the last question, she left the room suddenly. But that Fanks interfered Crate would have stopped her.
"Let her go," said the former, "we can see her later on. In the meantime," he continued, pointing to the table, "what is all this?"
Crate bent forward, and on the dingy red tablecloth he saw a number of tiny black grains scattered about.
"It is a powder of some sort," he said; "I told you that I thought the man had been poisoned."
Even as Crate spoke the gaslight went out, leaving them in complete darkness.
"Ah!" said Fanks, rather startled by the unexpected incident, "Mrs. Boazoph is fiddling with the meter."
"What the deuce did she do that for?" asked Crate, as his superior struck a match.
"Can't you guess? She saw these black grains on the tablecloth, and wants to get rid of them. That was why she left the room and turned off the gas. She hopes that the darkness will drive us out. Then she will explain the incident by a lie, and enter before us to relight the gas."
"Well?" said Crate, stolidly.
"Well!" repeated Fanks, crossly. "I shall never make you understand anything, Crate. Before lighting the gas she will pull off the tablecloth and scatter the grains."
"Do you think she's in this, Mr. Fanks?"
"I can't say--yet. But she knows something. You get a candle, and--hang this match," cried Fanks, "it has burnt my fingers."
As he uttered the exclamation the match, still alight, dropped on the table among the black grains to which allusion has been made. There was a flicker, a sparkle of light, and when Fanks struck another match the grains had disappeared.
"Gunpowder!" said the detective, in a puzzled tone; "now, what possible connection can gunpowder have with this matter?"
To this there was no answer; and by the glimmer of the single match, the two men looked blankly at one another.
Topping this discovery came the return of Mrs. Boazoph with a candle and an apology. Her procedure was so exactly the same as that suggested by Fanks that Crate could not forbear from paying the tribute of an admiring chuckle to the perspicuity of his chief. Only in her action with the tablecloth did Mrs. Boazoph vary from the prescribed ritual.
"My regrets and apologies, sir," she said, addressing Fanks, with a side glance at the table; "but one of the servants--an idle slut, whom I have now discharged--turned off the gas at the meter by accident. I hope that you were not alarmed by the sudden darkness. Permit me to relight the burners."
And with this neat speech she mounted a chair with the activity of a girl. Having remedied the accident she stumbled--or seemed to stumble--in descending, and caught at the table to save herself, thereby dragging the cloth on to the floor. Then it was that Crate chuckled; whereupon Mrs. Boazoph was on her feet at once, with a look of startled suspicion. However, as she had accomplished her object, she recovered her equanimity speedily and made another apology, with a lie tacked on to it.
"My regrets for the second accident," she remarked glibly, "but it is due to overstrung nerves. Put it down to that gentleman, if you please, and you will put it down to the right cause."
"Pray do not mention it, Mrs. Boazoph," said Fanks, significantly; "I have already examined the cloth. And now, if you please, we will go upstairs."
The woman drew back and bit her lip. She guessed that Fanks had seen through her stratagem, and for the moment she was minded to excuse herself. Fortunately her habitual caution saved her from a second blunder; and she strove to conciliate Fanks by a piece of news.
"I trust that you will not think me presuming, sir," she said, "but in the hope that there might be some chance of life remaining in It, I sent for a doctor. He is now upstairs with It."
"Your kindness does you great credit," said Fanks, seeing his way clear to a thrust, "you could not have behaved better if you had known this man."
Holding the candle before her face, Mrs. Boazoph drew back a step, with one hand clutching the bosom of her dress. Her composure gave way.
"In one word, you suspect me," she cried with a glitter in her eyes.
"In one word, I suspect nobody," retorted Fanks. "I have not yet heard all your story, remember."
"You know all that I know," said Mrs. Boazoph. "The man who came here at six this evening--the man who lies dead upstairs, is a complete stranger to me. I caught only a glimpse of him as he entered; I did not speak to him. He asked for a private room in which to wait for a friend. He was shown into this room, and waited. The negro arrived ten minutes later. I saw him--I showed him into this room; but indeed, Mr. Fanks, I never set eyes on him before. The pair--white and black--were together till close on seven. They had something to drink, for which the dead man paid. I did not enter the room; it was the barmaid who served them with drink. I did not know when the negro went; but, wanting the room for some other gentlemen, I knocked at the door at seven o'clock to ask if they had finished their conversation. I received no reply; I opened the door; I entered; I found the white man dead, the negro absent. After removing the body upstairs and covering it with a sheet, as any decent woman would, I sent for the police. That is all; I swear that it is the truth. Say what you please; do what you please; you cannot fasten this crime on to me."
Fanks listened to this speech with great imperturbability, and made but one comment thereon.
"I took you for a clever woman, Mrs. Boazoph," he said, "evidently I have been wrong. Will you be so kind as to light us upstairs."
Mrs. Boazoph thrust the candle into his hands.
"I have seen It once; I refuse to look upon it again."
She passed out of the room shaking as with the ague. Fanks nodded in a satisfied way, and beckoning to Crate, he went upstairs. A frightened housemaid on the landing indicated the room of which they were in search; and they entered it to come face to face with the doctor summoned by the zealous landlady. He introduced himself as Dr. Renshaw, and made this announcement with a bland smile and a condescending bow. Fanks eyed his tall and burly figure; his Napoleonic countenance; his smooth, brown beard and his perfect dress. There was a look about the man which he did not like; and he mistrusted the uneasy glance of the hard, grey eyes. The detective relied largely on his instinct. In this case it warned him against the false geniality of Dr. Renshaw.
"The representatives of the law, I believe," said the medical man in a deep and rolling voice. "I was about to take my departure; but if I can be of service in the interests of justice, pray command me."
"I suppose there is no doubt that our friend there is dead," said Fanks.
"Dead as Caesar, sir," said the magnificent doctor, waving his arm.
"Caesar died by steel," remarked Fanks significantly. "It appears that this man died in an easier manner."
"There is another parallel," said the doctor, condescending to add to the historical knowledge of the detective. "If we may believe Brutus, the great Julius was slain as a traitor to the republic. This unknown man," added Renshaw, pointing to the body, "also died the death of a traitor."
"If, as you say, the dead man is unknown," said Fanks quickly, "how can you tell that he was a traitor?"
"By inference and deduction," was the reply. "You can judge for yourself. Far be it from me that I should set my opinion against that of the law; but I have a theory. Would you care to hear it? If I may venture on a jest," said Renshaw with ponderous playfulness, "the medical mouse may help the legal lion."
"Let us hear your theory by all means," said Fanks easily, "but first permit me to speak with my assistant."
The doctor bowed and passed over to the other side of the bed; while Fanks went with Crate to the door. Here he hesitated, glanced at the doctor, and finally led his subordinate into the passage.
"Crate!" he said in a rapid whisper, "I mistrust that man. He will shortly leave this place. Follow him and find out where he lives. Then set someone to watch the place, and return to me."
"Do you think that he has anything to do with it?" asked Crate.
"I can't say at present. I may be wrong about him and about Mrs. Boazoph; all the same I mistrust the pair of them. Now off with you."
When Crate departed to watch for the outcoming of the doctor, Fanks re-entered the chamber of death. Renshaw still stood beside the bed, and seemingly had not moved from that position. Nevertheless, a mat placed midway between bed and door, was rucked up. By the merest accident Fanks had previously noticed that it was lying flat. Thence he deduced that Renshaw had crossed to the door. In plain words, Renshaw had been listening. Fanks was confirmed in this opinion by the complacent smile which played round the lips of the doctor.
"Now for your theory, Doctor," said Fanks, noting all, but saying nothing.
"Certainly, sir. As a detective you know, of course, of the existence of secret societies."
"I do; and I know also that those who reveal the doings of such societies are punished. Go on, Doctor."
"First you must inspect the body," replied Renshaw.
He drew down the sheet which concealed the face of the dead. In the cruel glare of the gaslight, Fanks beheld a countenance discoloured and distorted. The head was that of a young man with brown and curly hair, well-marked eyebrows, and a moustache of the same hue as the hair. The body was clothed in moleskin trousers, and a flannel shirt. From the bedpost hung a rough, grey coat, and a cloth cap. A glance assured Fanks that these clothes of a working man were perfectly new; another glance confirmed his first belief that the dead man was a gentleman. On looking intently into the face he started back in surprise; but recovering himself, said nothing. If the doctor had observed his action, he made no pointed remark thereon; but set it down merely to a natural feeling of repulsion.
"I do not wonder that the state of the body revolts you, sir," he said. "The corpse is swollen and discoloured in a terrible manner. Of course, I can say nothing authoritatively until the post mortem has been made; but from all appearances I am inclined to ascribe the death to poison."
"Ah; then it is a case of murder?"
"So you say, sir; the secret society to which this man belongs, would call it a punishment."
"How do you know that this man belongs to a secret society. Do you recognise the body?"
"No, sir. The man is nameless so far as I am concerned. There are no marks on his linen or clothes; and there are no papers in his pockets likely to identify him. Oh, believe me, sir, the society has done its work well."
"You seem to be very confident about your secret society?"
The doctor bent over the body, and rolled up the shirt sleeve of the left arm. Between elbow and shoulder there appeared a swollen mark in the shape of a rude cross, surrounded by a wheel; violet in colour, and slashed across with a knife. To this he pointed in silence.
"I see what you mean," said Fanks, twisting his signet ring; always a sign of perplexity with him. "The secret mark of the society has been obliterated."
"Precisely. Now you can understand, sir, why I infer that this man was a traitor. Evidently the negro--of whose presence Mrs. Boazoph informed me--was the emissary of the society, and killed this traitor by poison. Afterwards, as was natural, he obliterated the secret mark by drawing his knife across it."
"He did not do his work thoroughly then, Doctor. The secret mark is a cross."
"The secret mark is more than a cross, sir," replied the doctor, "else you may be sure that the negro would have obliterated it more perfectly."
The detective replaced the sheet over the face of the dead: and prepared, as did the doctor, to leave the room. They turned down the gas and departed; but while descending the stairs, Renshaw asked Fanks a question.
"Are you satisfied that my explanation is a correct one?" he demanded.
"I am perfectly satisfied," said Fanks, looking directly at the man.
Strange to say, this unhesitating acceptance appeared to render Renshaw uneasy; and the flow of his magnificent speech broke up in confusion.
"I may be wrong," he muttered. "We are all liable to error; but such as it is, that is my opinion."
"You would be willing to repeat that opinion at the inquest, Doctor?"
Renshaw drew back with a shudder.
"Is it necessary that I should go to the inquest?" he asked faintly.
"I think so," replied Fanks significantly. "You were the first to see the corpse. You will have to describe the state in which you found it. Your address if you please?"
"Twenty-four, Great Auk Street," said Renshaw, after some hesitation. "I am staying there at present."
"Yes! I--I--not practise in London. I do not practise at all, in fact. I travel--I travel a great deal. In two weeks I go to India."
"You must go first to the inquest," responded Fanks dryly. "But if you do not practise in London, how comes it that Mrs. Boazoph sent for you?"
"She did not send for me," explained the doctor, "but for my friend, Dr. Turnor; he is absent on a holiday, and I am acting as his locum tenens for a short period."
"Thank you, Doctor; that is a thoroughly satisfactory explanation; quite as satisfactory as your theory of the death. Good evening. I should recommend a glass of brandy; you look as though you needed it."
"Weak heart!" muttered Renshaw in explanation, and took his departure with evident relief. But before he left the hotel, he acted on the detective's suggestion. Mrs. Boazoph gave him the brandy with her own hands. The action afforded her an opportunity of exchanging a few words with him. Fanks thwarted her intent by also entering the bar, and asking for refreshment; whereupon, the doctor finished his liquor and departed.
Left alone with Fanks, the landlady drew a breath of relief, and addressed herself to the detective.
"Do you wish to know anything else, sir," she said coldly. "If not, with your permission, I shall retire to bed."
"I have learned all I wish to know at present, thank you, Mrs. Boazoph. Go to bed by all means. I am sure that you need rest after your anxiety."
The landlady, looking worn out and haggard, retired, and Fanks went to the door to wait for Crate's return. In the meantime he made notes and formed theories; these will be revealed hereafter, but in the meantime the case was in too crude a state for him to come to the smallest conclusion. However, he had already decided on the next step. In the chamber of death he had made an important discovery which enabled him to move in the matter.
In half an hour Crate returned with the information that Dr. Renshaw had entered No. 24, Great Auk Street; and that he had set a detective to watch the house. Fanks smiled on receiving this report.
"He is cleverer than I thought," he murmured; and left Tooley's Alley with Crate.
"Well, Mr. Fanks, whom do you suspect?"
"No one at present, Crate."
"Oh! and what do you do next?"
"Make certain of the dead man's identity."
Crate stopped in surprise.
"Do you know who he is, Mr. Fanks?"
"Yes! He is a friend of my own. Sir Gregory Fellenger, Baronet."
A week after his discovery of the identity of the dead man, Fanks, having slipped his detective skin for the time being, was seated in the writing room of the Athenian Club, with the "Morning Planet" newspaper on his knee. He was not reading it, however, but was looking absently at a long and lean young man, who was writing letters at a near table.
Francis Garth, of the Middle Temple, barrister and journalist, was one of the few West End men who knew the real profession of Rixton, alias Fanks. In fact, there was very little he did not know; and Fanks--as it will be convenient to call the detective--was debating as to whether he should question him about the Tooley Alley crime. He was urged to this course by the remembrance that he had seen Garth at the inquest. This had been held on the previous day. The jury had brought in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, and the conduct of the case had been placed officially in the hands of Fanks. So far all was ship-shape.
And now the detective found himself at a standstill. No evidence had been brought forward implicating either Mrs. Boazoph or Dr. Renshaw; and, doubtful as was Fanks as to their honesty, he could gain no clue from the one or the other of them likely to elucidate the mystery. Failing this, he had determined to learn if possible all about the previous life of the deceased, and in this way discover if anyone was likely to be a gainer by his death. Garth, who had known the late Sir Gregory intimately--who had been present at the inquest--was the most likely person to furnish these details; and Fanks was waiting for an opportunity of addressing him. On the result of the projected conversation would depend his future movements.
"I say, Garth," said Fanks, "how much longer will your correspondence take?"
"I shall be at your service in ten minutes," replied Garth, without desisting from his occupation. "What do you wish to talk about?"
"About the death of your friend, Sir Gregory Fellenger."
Garth looked up and turned round with alacrity.
"Is the case in your hands, Fanks?"
"Yes; and I want some information from you."
"I shall be happy to give it. But wait for a few minutes; I am just writing about it to a friend of mine--and yours."
"Humph! and the name?"
"Ted Hersham, the journalist."
They looked at one another, the same thought occupying both their minds.
"Has your reason for writing anything to do with the left arm of our friend?" asked Fanks, after a pause.
Garth nodded and returned to his work. When he had sealed, directed, and stamped the letter Fanks spoke again.
"Garth?" he said; "I say, Garth?"
"Yes! What's the matter?"
"Don't send that letter till after our conversation."
"Ah! You guess why I am writing to him."
"My remark of a few moments ago ought to have shown you that," said Fanks, dryly. "Yes; I guess your object, and I want you to leave the case in my hands. It is too difficult a one for you to manage alone."
"I know that it is difficult, Fanks, but I wish to solve this mystery."
"Because Fellenger was your friend?" asked Fanks.
"Because Fellenger was my cousin," replied Garth.
The announcement took Fanks by surprise, as he had not known of the relationship. He was aware that Fellenger and Garth had been close friends, but he knew little of the former, save as a club acquaintance, and the latter was very reticent about his private affairs, although he was curious concerning the affairs of others.
"So you wish to revenge the death of your cousin," he remarked after a thoughtful moment.
Garth shrugged his shoulders.
"Hardly that," he replied; "between you and me, I did not care overmuch for Fellenger. He was a bad lot, and we only held together because of our relationship. But I should like to find out what took him to Tooley's Alley and who killed him."
"A laudable curiosity. Do you suspect anybody?"
"Not a soul. I am as much in the dark as--you are."
"I may not be so much in the dark as you think," said the other.
"Then why did you ask me to assist you?" retorted Garth, sharply. "See here, Fanks, tell you all that I know if you will promise to keep me posted up concerning the progress of the case."
Fanks twisted his ring and reflected.
"I agree," he said briefly, "but you must not meddle--unless I tell you to do so."
"Agreed!" And the pair shook hands on the bargain.
"And now," said Fanks, grimly, "that letter, if you please."
After a moment's hesitation Garth handed it over. He had a great respect for the mental capacity of his friend, and on the whole he judged it advisable to carry out the agreement which had been concluded.
"Though I would send that letter if I were you," he expostulated; "Hersham has----"
"I know what Hersham has," interrupted Fanks; "but I want him to see me, not you. Wait till we know how we stand at the present moment. Come into the smoking-room and answer my questions."
"What a peremptory chap you are," grumbled Garth, as they left the room. "Evidently you don't confide in my discretion."
"I am about to do so," said Fanks, who understood the art of conciliation; "we will work together, and all that I know you shall know. But you must let me manage things in my own way."
In his heart Garth was flattered that Fanks should have chosen him as his coadjutor, and, dominated by the stronger will of the detective, he quietly took up the position of an underling. Garth was self-willed and not usually amenable to reason; but Fanks had the law at his back, without which Garth could not hope to do anything. Hence his acquiescence.
"Come, now, old fellow," said Fanks, amiably, "we have a hard task before us; so you must make it easier by answering my questions."
"Go on," said Garth, lighting a cigar; "I always give in to a man who has had more experience than myself."
Fanks laughed at this delicate way of adjusting the situation, but as he wished to keep on good terms with the touchy lawyer he let the remark pass in silence. When they were fairly settled, and he saw that they had the smoking-room to themselves, he took out his pocket-book and began his examination as to the past of the dead man.
"The Fellengers are a Hampshire family, I believe?"
"Yes," replied Garth, with a nod; "Sir Gregory was the fourth baronet and only son. The family seat is Mere Hall, near Bournemouth."
"You are Sir Gregory's cousin?"
"I am, on the mother's side."
"Who is the present baronet? Yourself or somebody else?"
"Somebody else," said Garth, with a sigh. "I should have told you if I had been his heir. I wonder at so clever a man as you asking so very frivolous a question."
"I have my reasons," said Fanks calmly. "Well, and who is the heir?"
"My cousin, Louis Fellenger; he is twenty-five years of age, and as great a prig as ever lived."
"Where does he reside now?"
"I believe that he has gone to Mere Hall to take possession of the property. But he did live at Taxton-on-Thames, a village near Weybridge."
"Do you know Sir Louis intimately?"
"No. I have only seen him once or twice. He is a bookish, scientific man, and an invalid;--at least," corrected Garth, "he has always a doctor living with him; a tall, fat brute, called Binjoy, who twists him round his finger. He has been with him for years."
"A tall, fat brute," repeated Fanks, smiling at this amiable description. "Has the gentleman in question a long, brown beard?"
"No, he is clean shaven. A pompous creature, fond of using long words, and proud of his voice and oratorial powers. Something like 'Conversation Kenge' in 'Bleak House.'"
"Humph!" said Fanks, rather struck by the description, which was not unlike that of Renshaw, "we will discuss Dr. Binjoy later on. In the meantime, just enlighten me as to your precise relationship with the present baronet."
"It's easily understood. Gregory's father, Sir Francis--after whom I was named--had a brother and sister. She married my respected father, Richard Garth, and I am the sole offspring."
"And the brother was the father of the present Sir Louis?"
"Exactly. There is a great deal of similarity between all three cases. Gregory was an only child and his parents are dead; Louis is an only child, and his parents have also gone the way of all flesh; I am an only child, and I am likewise an orphan."
Fanks made a note of the family tree in his book.
"So far so good," he said, with a nod. "Sir Gregory is dead and Sir Louis has succeeded him; if Louis dies without issue, you are the heir. And failing you?"
"The property goes to the Crown," replied Garth. "Louis and I are the sole representatives of the Fellengers."
"The race has dwindled considerably. Now what about your dead cousin. He was a trifle rapid, I believe?"
"A regular bad lot; but I kept in with him because--well, because he was useful to me. Understand?"
"Perfectly," replied Fanks, who knew of Garth's financial difficulties. "We will pass that. Have you any idea what took him to Tooley's Alley?"
"Not the slightest. I saw him two days before his death--on the nineteenth--and he said nothing about going there then."
"Did he behave as usual towards you?"
"No. He was out of sorts. He had lost a lot of money at cards, I believe, and he was crabbed in consequence."
"There was no other trouble; no financial difficulty?"
"Not that I know of. Fast as he was, he could not get through ten thousand a year before the age of twenty-eight."
"I have known men who have done so," said Fanks dryly. "However, if it was not a question of money, what about the inevitable woman?"
"I don't think it was that, either," demurred Garth. "It was a man he met--a negro--not a woman."
"True. Well, you were at the inquest?"--
"How do you know?" asked Garth, starting.
"I saw you there in the crowd."
"You see everything, Fanks."
"It is my business to see everything, Garth. It is because you were at the inquest that I sought you out to-day. Now that you have explained to me your relationship to Sir Gregory I understand why you were present. But to return to the main point. You heard the theory of Dr. Renshaw?"
"Yes," replied Garth reflectively. "There might be something in that secret society business. Not, mind you, that Gregory was the man to meddle with rubbish of that kind. He was too much of a fool; but one never knows; a man does not have a cross tattooed on his arm for nothing."
"Do you think that it is the mark of a revolutionary society?"
"I can't say; I should like to know. That is why I was writing to Hersham. Of course you know that he----"
"I know that he has a cross tattooed on his arm also. And it is for that reason that I reject your secret society business."
"It isn't mine. I am merely following the lead of Renshaw."
"Then you are following a will-o-the-wisp," retorted Fanks. "See here, Garth. I have known Hersham for a long time; he is the son of a clergyman in the Isle of Wight. He was brought up to the law like yourself; and also like yourself, he left it for journalism. As you know, he is a merry, open-minded creature, who could not conceal a secret if his life depended upon it. Do you think that if he had been mixed up with secret societies that he would have been able to conceal the fact from me?"
"Then why is there a cross tattooed on his left arm?" asked Garth.
"I intend to see him and find out. I noticed it long ago; but made no remark on it, thinking that it was the result of some school-boy freak. Now it has assumed a new importance in my eyes. Therefore you must let me interview Hersham, and choose my own time and place for doing so."
"I suppose you are right. Tear up that letter, please." Fanks held out the letter.
"Tear it up yourself," he said.
This Garth did without further remark, and looked at his friend.
"What do you intend to do now?" he asked.
"Continue this conversation for a few minutes longer. You were intimate with the dead man, Garth. Did you ever notice this cross?"
"I did not," said Garth, promptly, "or I should have asked what it meant. By Jove!" he added, with a start. "Then all that obliteration business must be nonsense."
"Of course," assented Fanks, smoothly. "I came to that conclusion long ago. Fellenger had no cross on his arm when he entered Tooley's Alley. It was tattooed that night by the negro."
"What makes you think that?"
"I found a few grains of gunpowder on the tablecloth of the room in which they were together; gunpowder is used in tattooing. Again, the arm, when Renshaw showed it to me, was raw, as though the operation had been done lately."
"But why should Gregory go to Tooley's Alley to be tattooed?"
"Tell me that, and the mystery of his death is at an end," said Fanks, significantly. "But I am certain that Fellenger voluntarily let this negro tattoo his arm; and so came by his death."
"Came by his death," echoed Garth in astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"Why," answered Fanks, seriously, "I mean that the needle used for the tattooing was poisoned; and so--," he shrugged his shoulders, "--the man died."
Informed of this astounding fact, Garth stared at his friend in blank astonishment. The detective resumed his cigar, and waited.
"You cannot be in earnest," said the barrister after a pause.
"Why not? The theory is feasible enough. It was proved at the inquest that the man died from blood-poisoning."
"Yes. But it might have been administered in the liquor. The pair had drinks, remember."
"I have not forgotten," said Fanks quietly, "but on your part remember that no trace of poison was found in the stomach; while the blood was so corrupted, as to show that the deceased had been inoculated with some powerful vegetable poison. There was no mark on the body, save the cross on the left arm; and, by your own showing, it was not there when Fellenger went to Tooley's Alley. The assumption is that it was done there; as is more than confirmed by the presence of gunpowder."
"Again, according to Mrs. Boazoph, there was no struggle; therefore the deceased must have passed away quietly. My inference is that this negro desired to kill Sir Gregory--or else he was instructed to do so by some one else who wished for the death of your cousin. What then so easy, as for the negro to have a poisoned needle prepared to execute the tattooing. Quite unaware of the danger, Fellenger--for some unknown reason--would permit the insertion of the fatal needle. As the work went on, he would gradually be inoculated with the poison. When the gunpowder and acids were applied the job would be finished, and he would pull down his sleeve, quite ignorant that to all intents and purposes he was a dead man. Then he sat and chatted with the negro till the end came; when he sank into a state of coma and died. When certain that the death was an assured fact, the negro took his departure. Oh, it is all as plain as day to me;--all excepting one fact."
"And that fact?"
"Why did Fellenger get a negro in Tooley's Alley to tattoo him."
"I can only conclude that a secret--"
"Rubbish!" said Fanks, contemptuously, "you and your secret societies. I tell you that is all nonsense. Even assuming that the cross is an emblem of some association--which I do not grant for a moment--we have proved that it was not tattooed on your cousin's arm when he went to keep his appointment; therefore he could not at that time have been a member of your mythical society. If, on the other hand, he was being made a member--a ceremony which would not have taken place in a low pot-house--why should he be killed? These societies admit living men to work their ends; they have no use for dead bodies."
"That is all true enough, Fanks. We must reject the idea of a secret society. But in an affair of robbery and murder--"
"In such an affair, the method of procedure would be different. A bludgeon--a sand-bag--a knife--any of these weapons if you please. But if this negro had designed to rob Fellenger, he need not have ingratiated himself into his confidence to permit the performance of so delicate an operation as that of the poisoned needle. No. We must reject that theory also."
"Then what do you think was the motive of the murder?"
"I am not a detective out of a novel, Mr. Garth. Ask me an easier question."
He rose from his seat and began to walk to and fro. "The whole mystery lies in the tattooing," he muttered to himself. "If I can only find out why Sir Gregory permitted that cross to be tattooed; and why he went to Tooley's Alley to have it done, I shall discover the assassin."
"Hersham has a tattooed cross on his left arm," said Garth, "perhaps he can explain the riddle."
"Perhaps he can; perhaps he can't," returned Fanks, sharply. "The coincidence is certainly curious. I shall see and question Hersham; but there is much to be done before then. You must help me, Garth."
"I am willing to do whatever you wish, my friend."
"Ah," said Fanks with a smile, "you have a touch of detective fever. I suffer from it myself notwithstanding my experience. The unravelling of these criminal problems is like gambling; a never-failing source of excitement; and, like gambling, chance enters largely into their solution."
"I don't see much 'chance' in this case."
"Don't you think again. Why, the very fact that you and I should know that Hersham has a tattooed cross on his left arm is a chance. Such knowledge--which is mere chance knowledge--might lead to nothing; on the other hand, it may help to find the man who killed your cousin."
"Surely you do not suspect Hersham?"
"Certainly not. Why should I suspect him on the evidence of the tattooed cross. For all I or you know, it may be a simple coincidence, such as crops up constantly in real life. No. I don't suspect Hersham."
"Do you suspect anyone?"
"I don't suspect any special person of committing the murder; but I suspect some people, and particularly one individual, of knowing more than they chose to say. But this is beside the point. I wish you to help me."
"By all means. What is it you want me to do?"
"You know the chambers of your cousin; by my desire they have been in the hands of the police since his death. Fellenger's valet is also there--detained by my desire. Now I wish to search the chambers for possible evidence and to examine him. You must take me there at once."
"Is it necessary when, by your own showing, you are all-supreme already?"
"My friend," said Fanks, solemnly, "it is my experience that when the lower orders--to which this valet belongs--come into contact with a detective they are quite useless as witnesses, for the very simple reason that the presence of the law paralyses them. To avoid this danger you must introduce me into the chambers as a sympathising friend only. You can question the servant in my presence, and having got rid of him in the meantime, we can search the chambers together."
"But the police may recognise you."
"The police have their instructions; they will recognise me as Mr. Rixton, of the West End."
Garth fell in readily with this scheme, and together the two men left the club. As they proceeded along Piccadilly--the dead man's chambers were in Half-Moon Street--Fanks resumed the conversation from the point where it had been broken off.
"You have answered my questions capitally, Garth. Now, as we are working together, I shall reply to anything you like to ask me."
The barrister, restored to a sense of importance by the thought of the part he was about to play in the forthcoming interview with the valet, availed himself readily of the opportunity of learning the plans of the detective. Fanks had no hesitation in confiding them to him, as, foreseeing that Garth would be necessary to the elucidation of the mystery, he wished to interest him in the case as much as possible. He was well aware that Garth was not the man to give up an idea when once it had fixed itself in his head, and his present idea was to investigate the mystery of his cousin's death. With characteristic wisdom Fanks, who never wasted a person or an opportunity, made use of this new factor in the case to further his own ends. Such economies aided his frequent successes in no small degree.
"What are your plans?" asked Garth, taking advantage of the permission.
"As yet I cannot be certain of them; but, so far as I can see at present, they include the search and examination of chambers and valet, a conversation with the landlady of the Red Star, a visit to Taxton-on-Thames, and an interview with Dr. Renshaw."
"Why with the latter gentleman?"
"Because Renshaw is too confidential with Mrs. Boazoph, because he was too conveniently on the spot at the time of the murder for my liking; and, finally, because Renshaw had a cut-and-dried theory of the motive of the crime prepared on the instant."
"You don't trust the man?"
"I think that his conduct is suspicious; but I do not accuse him of anything--as yet."
"He does not look a man to be feared," said Garth, disbelievingly; "he was very timid in giving his evidence at the inquest."
"That is one reason why I mistrust him. Dr. Renshaw is acting a part, but I am unable to say whether he is mixed up in this especial affair. I have my suspicions, but, as you know, I never like to speak unless certain."
Garth looked curiously at the detective.
"You hint at the guilt of Mrs. Boazoph," he said, doubtfully.
"Do I? Then I should hold my tongue. There is no doubt that the negro committed the crime in the way that I told you of. But I believe that he acted as the agent of a third party--not Mrs. Boazoph. I wish to find out that party to hang him or her as an accessory before the fact."
"You can't hang him or her."
"Perhaps not; but I can imprison him or her."
"Do you think that Mrs. Boazoph knows the motive of the crime?"
"Yes, I think she does," he said, quietly; "it is my belief that the motive for which you and I are searching is to be found in the past life of Mrs. Boazoph."
"Her past is known to the police, is it not?"
"It is known for the last twenty years only. She appeared in London twenty-one years ago, but who she is and where she came from, the police know no more than you do."
"Then how can the motive be found in----"
"Garth," said Fanks, pausing, and touching the other with his finger, "I have presentiments and premonitions; these rarely deceive me. In this instance they point to Mrs. Boazoph. Do not ask me why, for I can tell you no more. But I am sure that we are going forward on a dark path; at the end of that path we will find--Mrs. Boazoph."
"I never thought that you were so superstitious, Fanks."
"I do not regard myself as so, I assure you. But," and here Fanks became emphatic, "I believe in my instinct, in my presentiment."
Garth walked along in silence, rather inclined to ridicule the apparent weakness of Fanks. However, he judged it wiser to keep these thoughts to himself, and merely asked another question relative to the negro.
"I am at a loss about the negro," said Fanks, "as I do not know where to search for him. Under these circumstances I think it necessary to follow the clue I hold in my hand. The going of your dead cousin to Tooley's Alley to keep his appointment."
"How do you know that it was an appointment?"
"I learnt that much from Mrs. Boazoph. She said that the white man came first and was asked for by the black man. That is an appointment, and I wish to find out who made it."
"How can you discover that?"
"Well, I hope to do so by searching the chambers of your cousin. There must be a letter or some sign whereby Fellenger knew where to meet the negro."
"The letter may have been destroyed."
"Possibly. From your knowledge of your cousin's character would you think it probable that he would destroy the letter making the appointment?"
"No," said Garth, after a moment's thought. "If the appointment was made within the last month I should think that the letter was still in existence."
"On what ground?" asked Fanks, eagerly.
"Well, Gregory used to read all his letters and then drop them into the drawer of his desk. At the end of the month he went through the pile, and the letters that were worth nothing were destroyed. So if that letter making the appointment is in existence it will be in the drawer of the desk."
"Good! This is a chance I hardly hoped to have."
"Yes; chance again," replied Fanks, good-humouredly. "How many men burn their letters; but for the fortunate circumstance that your cousin saved his for a month it would be almost hopeless to think of gaining a clue; but now there is more than a hope."
"Provided that the appointment was made by letter."
"Of course," assented Fanks, gravely; "we must always take that into consideration. But a question on my side. Did it strike you at the inquest that there was a resemblance between Doctors Renshaw and Binjoy?"
"I can't say that it did. Renshaw is much older than Binjoy, and he wears a full beard, whereas Binjoy is shaven clean. Still they are both burly; both have fine voices, and indulge in long words and stately Johnsonian dialogue. You surely do not think the two men are one and the same?"
"I have such an idea," said Fanks, dryly, "strange as it may appear. But as my opinion is mainly founded on your description I may be wrong. At all events Renshaw goes to India next week. If I find Binjoy in the company of Sir Louis Fellenger after Renshaw's departure, I shall admit my error. Otherwise--well, I must get to the bottom of the matter."
"I have only seen each of them once," said Garth, "so do not depend altogether on my powers of description."
"I won't. I depend on nothing but my own eyesight. For instance, if I see a black man wearing a green overcoat with brass buttons, I shall have a reasonable suspicion that I see the assassin of your cousin. Hullo! what is the matter?"
For Garth was leaning against the iron railings of Green Park with a look of dread on his face.
"By heaven, Fanks, you may be right!"
"About Renshaw and Binjoy being one and the same man."
"Indeed; what makes you think so," asked Fanks, dryly.
"Because Binjoy has a negro servant who wears a green coat with brass buttons."
Greatly to the surprise of Garth, the detective appeared to be decidedly disappointed at this announcement.
"You don't seem to be overpleased at what I have told you," he said in a tone of pique. "Yet it makes the case easier to you."
"I confess that I do not think so," was Fanks' reply. "I shall give you my reasons after I have examined your cousin's rooms. At present I must say that you have puzzled me."
Fanks' refusal to discuss the subject of the negro did not at all please Garth; especially as he considered that his discovery had placed the solution of the case in their hands. But to his protestations the detective only reiterated his determination to keep silent, until the rooms had been searched. With this Garth was forced to be content; although he could not conceive the reason of such extraordinary conduct; and he ascended the stairs with an ill-grace.
"Were I in your place, I should follow out the clue of the negro without delay," he said, as they rang the bell.
"Were you in my place you would do as I am doing, and take time to consider your movements," retorted Fanks as the door was opened.
Venturing on no further remonstrance Garth walked into the chambers, followed by his friend. The servant who admitted them was a light-complexioned, light-haired young fellow, who appeared to be thoroughly frightened. His first remark exposed the reason of his terror.
"I am afraid you can't come in, sir," he said to the cousin of his late master, with a backward glance, "the police are here."
As he spoke a policeman made his appearance overflowing with official importance. Prompted by Fanks the barrister at once addressed himself to this Jack-in-office.
"I am the cousin of the late Sir Gregory Fellenger," he said, "and I wish to go into the sitting-room for a few minutes."
"You can't enter, sir," said the policeman, stolidly.
"Why not; my friend here, Mr. Rixton----"
The officer started and looked at Fanks. Evidently he saw his orders in the face of the detective; for he at once moved aside and granted the desired permission. The valet Robert was astonished at this sudden yielding; but he entertained no suspicion that there was any understanding between the policeman and the fashionably-dressed young man who had been introduced as Mr. Rixton. At a glance the detective saw that he had to deal with a timid, simple creature, who might be trusted to tell the truth out of sheer nervous apprehension. The discovery afforded him satisfaction.
"I am much obliged to you, officer," said Garth, slipping a shilling into the policeman's hand. "We shall not stay long. Robert, show us into the sitting-room, if you please. I wish to ask a few questions."
A terrified expression flitted across the face of the mild valet, but like a well-trained servant, he merely bowed and preceded Garth along the passage. Fanks lingered behind.
"Maxwell!" he said to the policeman, "has anyone been here this morning?"
"Yes, sir!" replied, the man, in a low tone. "A young lady, sir; very pretty, with dark 'air and blue eyes. She asked to see Robert, sir."
"Oh, indeed! And how did you act?"
"I wouldn't let her see him, sir. He don't know she called."
"Quite right. What did she say when you refused?"
"She was upset, Mr. Fanks, and insisted on seeing him. I said as he was out, so she said as she would call this afternoon at three o'clock."
Fanks glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past two, so this unknown woman might be expected in a short space of time. Fanks was curious to see her and to learn the reason of her coming; as it might be that she was indirectly connected with the case. As yet there was no woman mixed up in the matter with the doubtful exception of Mrs. Boazoph; but from long experience Fanks was sure that the necessary element would yet appear. It seemed as though his expectations were about to be realised.
"Was she a lady, Maxwell, or an imitation of one?"
"A real lady, sir; she gave me half a sov., sir."
"You had no business to take the money," he said, half smiling at Maxwell's definition of what was a real lady.
"I couldn't help it, sir," said Maxwell, piteously, "she would give it to me, sir. I am ready to return it, sir, if she should come back."
"Well! We shall see; show her into the sitting-room if she calls again; has that valet been out to-day?"
"No, sir; he seems too frightened to go out. He does nothing but go about the 'ouse 'owling. A poor miserable thing, Mr. Fanks."
"Has he said much to you?"
"Never a word, sir; he 'olds his tongue and 'owls; that's all."
This behaviour of the servant struck Fanks as strange; but he did not make any comment thereon to the policeman. Again desiring Maxwell to show the young lady into the room when she called, he went in search of Garth. To his surprise he found the barrister alone.
"Where is Robert?" asked Fanks, sharply.
"I sent him out; thinking that we would search the room first."
"That won't do; we shall want his assistance, call him in at once."
Garth nodded and rang the bell. In a few minutes Robert, looking more terrified than ever, made his appearance. With a glance at Fanks to bespeak his attention--for the detective was lounging idly in a chair--Garth began his interrogation at once.
"Robert," he said, with great deliberation, "how long have you been in the service of my cousin?"
"Four years, sir."
"Was he a kind master?"
"A very kind master, sir. I would not wish for a better place."
"Do you remember the twenty-first of June?" asked the barrister, in true police-court style.
"Yes, sir," replied the man with a shiver. "It was the night that my master was murdered."
"At what time, did Sir Gregory leave the house?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You don't know," repeated Garth, while Fanks pricked up his ears. "Were you not in attendance on him?"
"No, sir. My master received a letter by the five o'clock post which seemed to upset him very much. After a time he recovered and sent me out to get seats for the theatre. When I got back at six he was gone. I never saw him again," declared the man in a shaking voice, "never again till I was called on to identify his dead body."
"You had no idea where your master was going?"
"No, sir! He did not tell me."
"When you left Sir Gregory to get seats for the theatre how was he dressed?"
"In a frock coat and light trousers, sir; but when I saw the body it was clothed in moleskin trousers and a flannel shirt."
"Did you ever see that disguise in his possession?"
"I can't say that I ever did, sir," replied the valet, hesitatingly. "But the week before a parcel came for Sir Gregory, which he would not let me open. I was about to do so when he stopped me. I think the parcel contained the clothes--the disguise."
"Why do you think so?"r
"Because the parcel was soft, and felt like clothes. Besides it came from Weeks and Co., of Edgeware-road; and they sell more workmen's clothes than anything else."
"On what day did the clothes arrive?" asked Fanks, idly.
"On the fourteenth, sir. I am certain of the date, because Sir Gregory was taken ill in the morning."
"Taken ill!" repeated Garth. "At what time was he taken ill?"
"At breakfast, Mr. Garth, when he was reading the paper. He gave a cry and I came in to find him in a faint like. I got him a glass of brandy, and he dressed and went out. The parcel arrived in the afternoon."
"What paper did your master take in?"
"The 'Morning Post,' sir," replied the man, turning to Fanks, who had asked the question.
"The 'Morning Post' of the fourteenth. And where is the paper?"
"My master put it away, sir."
"Oh! Do you happen to know where he put it?"
"No, sir. I was out of the room at the time."
Fanks sank back in his chair and nodded to Garth to continue the conversation; which the barrister did at once.
"How long had your master been in town before the murder?" he asked.
"About a month, sir. Before that we were at Mere Hall in----"
"I know where it is," said Garth, impatiently. "But about that letter which came by the five o'clock post on the day of the crime. Did you see it?"
"I saw the envelope when I brought it in, sir."
"Was the handwriting a man's or a woman's?"
"It was in female handwriting I am certain, sir."
"Your master was agitated when he opened it?"
"Very agitated, sir. He had an attack like that of the previous week when he was reading the paper."
"The letter was from a woman?"
"I supposed it was, sir, judging from the handwriting."
"Had Sir Gregory anything to do at that time with any particular woman?"
Robert grew even paler than usual, and placed his hand on his throat with a nervous gesture. He replied, with difficulty, his eyes on the ground.
"Not that I know of, sir," he said hoarsely.
Fanks was satisfied that the servant was lying, but he made no attempt to intervene. On the contrary, he signed to Garth to conclude his examination and to let the man go. This the lawyer did forthwith.
"That is all, Robert; you can go. I shall remain here with Mr. Rixton for a few minutes longer."
When the servant had taken his departure, Garth turned eagerly to his friend. "Well, Fanks, and what do you think of all this?"
"I think that there is a woman at the bottom of it as usual."
"No, a younger and a prettier woman than Mrs. Boazoph. We will talk of that later. In the meantime I wish to see that letter and the advertisement."
"The one in the 'Morning Post' which upset your cousin on the fourteenth; in which drawer does he stow his letters?"
Garth went to the desk. He tried the middle drawer, but it was locked; as were the other drawers. "He used to place his papers in the middle drawer," said Garth, "but you see that it is closed."
"I thought it might be," said Fanks, producing a bunch of keys, "so I brought these with me."
"No good. No skeleton keys will open these locks. They are of special construction, and Gregory was very proud of them."
"These are the keys of the desk, Garth. They were found in the dead man's pockets; and I brought them with me, in case the drawers should be locked. I was right, it seems. And now let us make our search."
He opened the middle drawer and revealed a mass of letters all in the envelopes in which they had come.
The two men went carefully through the pile; and in ten minutes they were rewarded by finding the object of the search. The envelope, the address of which, as had been stated by Robert, was in female handwriting, contained three documents. Two printed slips cut from a newspaper; a piece of cardboard in the shape of a five-rayed star, painted red, and inscribed with some writing. Slips and star read as follows:
The first printed slip, dated 14th June:
"Tattooed cross left arm. I alone know all. I alone can save you. If you wish to feel secure, meet me when and where you please."
The second printed slip, dated 16th June:
"Tattooed cross left arm. I wish to feel secure. Name time and place, and I shall be there."
The cardboard star, painted red:
Five pointed star with handwriting in arm viz.:
"Tooleys," "Alley," "21 June," "6-7," "Hotel."
"Good!" said Fanks, surveying this documentary evidence with much satisfaction. "We have more than hearsay to go on now. The case is shaping better than I expected."
"You were right about an appointment having been made," said Garth. "These slips and that star prove it."
"Yes! He who runs may read--now; but you were not so confident of my foresight a few minutes ago. Well, we have made a step forward. Here is the slip asking for the appointment; here is your cousin's reply, leaving the question of the appointment to the first advertiser: and finally here is the ingenious pictorial information indicating the Red Star in Tooley's Alley, as the meeting-place. Sir Gregory disguised himself in the workman's clothes bought from Weeks and Co., on the day that the first notice appeared; kept the appointment between six and seven; and so walked blindfolded into the trap of the Red Star, where he met with his fate. The assassin laid his plans uncommonly well; but she made one mistake."
"She! You don't mean to say that the murderer is a murderess?"
"No! The negro killed Sir Gregory; that is beyond all doubt. But as I said before, it is my opinion that the negro was inspired by a third party. Can't you see that the address on that envelope is in female handwriting?"
"Certainly I can. But that does not prove that a woman inspired the crime; you go too fast, Fanks."
"Perhaps I do, and, after all, I may be mistaken. But that address is in no feigned hand; it was written by a woman. If a woman had nothing to do with this death why should she bait the trap to lure the man to his doom. And again, the directions on the cardboard star are in an angular female hand. Both address and directions are in the handwriting of an elderly woman."
"Come now!" cried Garth, disbelievingly. "You can't tell the woman's age from her handwriting."
"I can tell that she is elderly. These angular, spiky letters were formed by a woman who learned to write in early Victorian days. Female handwriting has altered of late, my friend. The new woman goes in for masculine handwriting, as well as for masculine dress. If a girl of the present day had written this address, it would have been in a bold and manly hand. As it is, I bet you five pounds that it was scribbled by a woman over fifty."
"It may be so; but this is all deduction."
"Most of the evidence in criminal cases is circumstantial and deductive. Another thing makes me think that it is a woman. There is a great deal of useless mystery here. A man would not have troubled about that. He would have inserted a third advertisement appointing time and place; but this woman can't resist a touch of the mysterious. Therefore she devises this silly cardboard star; sends it through the post; and so betrays herself."
"How can she betray herself when there is no address?"
"There is no address; but there is a postmark. Look at the envelope."
Garth picked up the paper, and saw that the postmark was Taxton-on-Thames.
"Why!" he cried in astonishment, "that is where my cousin Louis lives."
"Yes, and it is where Dr. Binjoy lives, which is more to the purpose," said Fanks, dryly. "Did I not tell you that I was right to doubt that gentleman."
Garth looked again at the envelope. "You say that this handwriting is that of an elderly woman. I suppose you are thinking of Mrs. Boazoph?"
"Indeed I am not. I give Mrs. Boazoph more credit than to murder a man in her own hotel and advertise the fact so openly. She is not a fool. But patience, Garth, we are not yet at the end of our discoveries."
He again searched the drawers. In many of them there was nothing likely to attract his attention; but in the lowest drawer on the right hand side, Garth made a discovery. It was that of a pretty girl's photograph, and this he showed to Fanks with a laugh.
"Gregory always had a weakness for pretty faces," he remarked. "Do you not think that his taste was good?"
Fanks looked reflectively at the picture. It was that of a girl just budding into womanhood, with a delicate face, and rather sad eyes. The name of the artist was not printed at the foot, as is usual, nor was the address of the studio inscribed thereon. Nevertheless, on the back of the photograph the detective found writing which startled him.
"Garth!" he cried eagerly, "give me that envelope. Ah, I thought so."
"What is the matter?" asked Garth, astonished at the excitement of the usually calm Fanks.
"Look at the envelope; look at the back of the photograph; compare the handwritings."
Fanks placed them side by side on the desk. On the envelope was the address of Sir Gregory in Half-Moon Street; on the photograph, an inscription which ran as follows: "Emma. Born 1874; died 1893." The handwriting on both was one and the same. Garth drew a long breath.
"By George, that is strange," he said, after a pause, "the woman who wrote the one, wrote the other; there isn't a shadow of difference between the writings. You are right, Fanks, the penmanship is that of an elderly woman; no doubt the mother of the girl."
"That is my opinion also; but the girl, Garth? Who is she?"
The lawyer reflected and frowned. "I did hear that my cousin was entangled with some woman," he said with reluctance. "But that was many months ago. In fact, there was a rumour of a marriage. I asked Gregory if this was so, and received a prompt denial. But for all that," added Garth, looking at the portrait, "there might have been some truth in the rumours. I never saw this lady; but my cousin could be very secretive when he liked. Seventy-four to ninety-three; just nineteen. Poor creature! Whosoever she was, I am certain that he treated her badly."
"You may judge him too harshly."
Garth shook his head with a gloomy air. "I knew my cousin well," he said. "He would have killed any woman with unkindness."
They looked at one another, and back at the photograph. There was something sinister in the fact that the two articles were inscribed in the same handwriting. The writing on the photograph recorded the decease of a pretty woman; that on the envelope had lured the baronet to his death. Was it possible that the follies of Sir Gregory had come home to him in so fearful a fashion. The two men could not but incline to this opinion.
"Well!" said Fanks, after a long pause, "I should like to ask Robert what he knows about this woman."
"Very probably he knows nothing."
"I am not so certain about that," replied Fanks, "When you asked him about a woman--about a possible entanglement, he could hardly speak for fear; and he told a lie about it. He is a servile hound, that fellow, and I daresay he did all Fellenger's dirty work for him. We must have him in and force the truth from his unwilling lips."
"Will you go away after you have seen him?" said Garth, who was beginning to weary of the matter.
"No. I wish to wait and see--a girl."
"A girl! What girl?"
"A young lady who called this morning to see Robert. Maxwell told her the necessary lie that Robert was out, so she said she would call again this afternoon at three."
"It is past three now," said Garth, glancing at the clock.
"All the better; she may appear at any moment. Maxwell has my orders to show her in here."
"And then I shall find out why a lady should call upon that miserable dog of a valet. In the meantime touch the bell and have him in."
"Shall I question him?"
"If you please. I wish to remain incognito."
Robert answered the bell so promptly as to suggest the probability that he had been stationed at the keyhole. His face, however, was as vacant and miserable as ever, so even if he had overheard, Fanks did not think that he had sufficient brains to be dangerous. The valet waited mutely for orders, with a cowed look on his face, and rubbed one lean hand over the other. He was an uncomfortable creature in every respect.
"Robert," said Garth, in as mild a tone as was possible, "I was authorised by the police to look over my cousin's papers. I have done so with the assistance of Mr. Rixton, and we have made several discoveries."
"Yes, sir," said the man, moistening his dry lips.
"Do you know Taxton-on-Thames?"
"No, sir; I never heard of it."
Startled by this calm denial, Fanks bent forward to observe the man's face. He was satisfied by a glance that Robert had spoken the truth; he had never heard of Taxton-on-Thames. This discovery puzzled the detective.
"Did your master--your late master--know of it?" he interpolated.
"Not that I am aware of, sir; he never mentioned the name to me."
"Robert," said Garth, solemnly, "you denied some time ago that Sir Gregory was entangled with a woman. Think again and answer truly."
Robert shifted from one foot to the other and looked uneasily at his questioner. Then he made an evasive reply.
"Sir Gregory was connected with no woman at the time of his death," he said, doggedly.
"That may be; but was he connected with a woman in 1893?"
The valet started back with a gasp.
"How did you hear of that?" he asked, shaking in every limb.
"I heard it from no one; but I guessed it from this picture."
With a sudden movement he thrust the photograph under the eyes of the pale and trembling creature. After one glance Robert recoiled with an ejaculation of horror, and covered his face with his hands. Expecting revelations, Fanks waited and watched.
"Come!" said Garth, quietly, "I see that you recognise the woman. Her name, if you please?"
"I--I--promised never to speak of her."
"You must--for your own sake."
"I dare not. Let me go, Mr. Garth!"
He broke away from the lawyer, but before he could reach the door he was in the grip of Fanks. "Come, Robert," said the latter, soothingly, "you must make the best of a bad job. I know that you were devoted to your master. At the same time he is dead, and it is necessary that the mystery of his death should be cleared up. On the whole," added Fanks, looking into the eyes of the servant, "I think it advisable that you should confess."
"The woman you speak of had nothing to do with the death of my master."
"I am not asking you that. I am inquiring her name. Answer!"
The sudden imperiousness in the detective's tone made Robert's heart sink within him. He was incapable of a prolonged struggle, and forthwith answered with all submissiveness--
"I--I--don't know her real name."
"What did she call herself?"
"Ah! And what did you call her, Robert?"
The valet looked at Garth with a look of malicious triumph. "I called her Lady Fellenger," he said slowly.
Garth sprang up with a sudden exclamation, but he was stopped by Fanks, who rapidly questioned the valet. "Was Emma Calvert really and truly the wife of your master?"
"Yes, sir; they were married quietly in a Hampstead church. She was in a dressmaker's shop, and my master was very much in love with her. I heard that she was engaged to another gentleman, but she threw him over, and married Sir Gregory before they went to Paris."
"So rumour was right for once," said Garth, shrugging his shoulders. "Well, whether Gregory was married or single matters little to me. I am not the heir."
"It may matter a great deal to the case," remarked Fanks, dryly. "Perhaps, Robert, you can tell me where Emma Calvert came from?"
"I do not know; my master knew, but he never told me. Lady Fellenger did not speak of her past in my presence."
"And where is she now?"
"Dead; she died in Paris."
"I see that you are telling the truth. She died in 1893."
"How did she die?"
"I can't answer you," burst out Robert, in a frenzy. "You will drive me mad. Night and day I have her dead face before me. Look at me," he continued, holding out his trembling hands. "I am a wreck of what I was once. All through the death of Emma Calvert, of Lady Fellenger."
The two listeners arose to their feet. What dark mystery was connected with the death of this woman that could so move the man? In searching for one murder had they stumbled upon another?
"Did she meet her death; by foul play?" asked Garth, sternly.
"No! No! I swear it was not that; but she did not get on well with my master. He wearied of her, he neglected her; she was very proud and impulsive; and one night after a great scene--she--she----"
"She--she destroyed herself."
"Great heavens!" cried Garth, confirmed in his worst fears. "Suicide?"
"She drowned herself in the Seine," said Robert, in a low voice.
As he spoke a woman appeared on the threshold of the open door. Robert gave one look at her, and raised his hands with a cry. "The dead!" he moaned, retreating from the woman. "The dead returned to life. I saw her laid out. I saw her buried; yet she is there--there!" and with a cry he fell on the floor in a fit.
The others made no attempt to assist him. They were staring spellbound at the woman. She was the original of the photograph which Garth held in his hand.
The woman who had caused this commotion stood in the doorway, looking on in some surprise. She was dressed in the semi-masculine fashion now affected by the sex--a serge gown, short and smart in appearance, a natty jacket of the same material, worn over a black striped shirt, and a Tyrolean hat of brown felt. Her face was oval and waxen in its pallor, her eyes of a dark blue, and her hair black and luxuriant. A look of determination was impressed on lip and eye, but this gave place to an expression of surprise when she saw Robert fall on the floor. Finally, when her eyes met those of Fanks', she started and shrank back. Maxwell peered over her shoulder in gaping astonishment; and for quite half a minute there was a dramatic pause. It was broken by the woman, who stepped forward and addressed herself to Fanks.
"You see how the sight of me terrifies this wretch," she said, pointing to the man on the floor; "you shall hear from other lips than mine how he treated his master's wife. Wait, gentlemen, till I bring up my friend to confront this man."
And with these extraordinary words she pushed back Maxwell and disappeared.
Quite believing that she spoke in all good faith, Fanks made no sign that she should be stopped. Indeed, he was too dumbfounded by the strangeness of the situation to speak; and he looked helplessly at Garth.
That gentleman was, if possible, even more surprised than his friend. The sudden appearance of the presumably dead woman at once alarmed and astonished them both; and they knew not what to make of the matter.
"Do you believe that it is Emma Calvert?" asked Garth, who was the first to recover the use of his tongue.
"Emma Calvert, my friend?"
"Well, then, Lady Fellenger, if you prefer it."
"It doesn't matter what we call her," rejoined Fanks, with a shrug, "seeing that she is dead."
"But she is not dead."
Fanks again shrugged his shoulders, and pointed to the photograph. "The card says that Emma Calvert is dead," he remarked; "the valet says that Emma Calvert is dead. How then can this living woman be Emma Calvert, Lady Fellenger?"
"I can't explain," said Garth, obstinately, "but I am sure of one thing; that she is the original of this picture."
"It would appear so," said Fanks, looking puzzled; "and yet--upon my word, it is the most extraordinary thing I ever saw in life. Garth, for once you see me at my wit's end and thoroughly mystified."
"Wait, Fanks. Wait the explanation of this woman; hear the story of her friend. In the meantime, let us revive this wretched creature."
"He is in a kind of fit," said Fanks, kneeling down and loosening the collar of the insensible man. "Get some water, Garth, and you, Maxwell, go down and see if that woman and her friend are coming up. We may as well see this business out."
These directions were obeyed, and Garth soon returned with a glass of water, while Fanks--always provided against emergencies--produced a smelling bottle and a flask of brandy. While thus employed they were interrupted by Maxwell, with a look of alarm on his face.
"Well!" said Fanks, sharply. "Where is this woman and her friend?"
"I don't know about her friend, sir; but she's gone off."
Fanks sprang to his feet. "Gone off!" he repeated. "What do you mean?"
"What I say, sir," said the policeman, doggedly. "I went down and could not see her. I asked the constable at the door, and he said as she had drove off in a hansom."
A look of mingled surprise and distrust settled on the face of Fanks. In a moment he guessed without much difficulty that the woman had tricked him, and he felt small in his own estimation at having been so neatly baffled. It was the most humiliating moment of his life.
"Attend to this man with Mr. Garth," he said roughly, "I shall see for myself;" and, blaming himself for his simplicity, he caught up his hat and took himself out of the chambers.
At the street door he looked up and down, but ho could see no trace of the missing woman. A constable loitered on the pavement some distance away, and although he was a stranger to Fanks the detective accosted him without the least hesitation. This was less the time for considering than for acting. Every moment was precious; every moment lessened the chance of tracking and discovering the woman. Fanks, as a rule, was one of the most self-contained of men, rarely losing his self-control or cool temper, but at this moment he could have sworn freely at his want of caution which had let a possible witness in the case slip through his fingers. But he hoped that there was yet time to retrieve his fault. "Officer," he said, walking quickly up to the constable, "did you see a lady come out of yonder door?"
"Yes, sir. The policeman upstairs just asked me about her. She went away in a hansom five minutes ago. I see it drive off like mad."
"Were you near at hand?"
"Just at her elber, so to speak, sir."
"Did you hear what address she gave the cabman?"
"What do you want to know for, sir?" asked the policeman, in a gruff way.
"That is my business and not yours," retorted Fanks, unused to being thwarted by members of the force; "I am Fanks, the detective, and I am here on business. Quick, man, the address?"
As Maxwell had hinted that a detective was upstairs, the policeman at once believed this statement and saluted respectfully. "She didn't give no perticler address, but she jest said Piccadilly promiscus."
"What part of Piccadilly?" demanded Fanks, hailing a hansom.
"Jest Piccadilly, and no more, sir," repeated the officer.
"Do you know the number of the cab?"
"No, sir; there weren't no occasion of me to take it."
"Of course, of course," muttered Fanks, testily. "Can you describe the hansom? Was there any particular mark, by which I can recognise it?"
"Well, sir, I did note as it had a red, white, and blue suncloth over the roof, with a cabby as wore a white beaver, so to speak."
"That will do," cried Fanks, jumping into the vehicle which had driven up; "which way did the cab turn?"
"To the right, sir; down Piccadilly."
"Cabby," cried the detective, as the driver looked through the trap, "go down Piccadilly, and look for a hansom with a red, white, and blue suncloth. It's a sovereign if you catch it."
"That's Joe Berners' cab, that is," said Jehu, and drove off briskly, with his fare in a fever of excitement.
Fanks had enough to think about during that drive, the material being amply supplied by the woman who had so cleverly tricked him. What motive had brought this woman to Fellenger's chambers? For what reason had she taken her departure so suddenly? Was Emma Calvert dead? If so, who was the woman who bore so extraordinary a resemblance to her? If Emma Calvert were not dead, and this was she, why had she come to Half-Moon Street, and why had Robert fainted at the mere sight of her? All these questions presented themselves to the mind of the detective, and he found himself unable to answer any of them. If he discovered the mysterious woman there might be a chance of explanation; failing the woman, there remained the valet. But if the one was missing and the other was ignorant, Fanks knew not what he should do in so difficult a matter.
As it was the height of the season, Piccadilly was crowded with vehicles of all descriptions, and the rate of progress was slow. Far, very far, ahead Fanks thought that he could descry the noticeable suncloth described by the constable, but of this he was not quite sure; therefore he remained in his cab instead of alighting to make certain.
During a block caused by the congested state of the roadway it flashed into his mind that he had seen the woman's face before. He was doubtful if this was so, and yet he had an uneasy feeling that it was. The features of this unknown woman were familiar to him; but, as the Americans say, "he could not fix her nohow." It only remained for him to refresh his memory with a second glimpse; but at present he saw no chance of getting one. He despaired of finding the woman of whom he was in search.
The hansom showed no signs of moving on, and, finding that he could walk quicker than he could drive, Fanks paid his cabman, jumped out, and raced along the crowded pavement. He saw a number of people whom he knew, but paying no attention to these he rushed along, intent on getting to his goal. At length his exertions were rewarded, for by the Isthmian Club he saw the wished-for cab ahead. It was turning into Berkeley Square, and, as the throng was thinner in the side street, Fanks secured another hansom with a likely-looking horse, and followed in its wake. It struck him that he might as well find out where the woman lived; therefore he did not attempt to catch up, but directed his driver to keep persistently on the trail. It was his only chance of gaining his ends with so crafty an opponent.
Then commenced a long, long chase, which cost Fanks the best part of a sovereign. He followed to Oxford Street, thence emerged into Regent Street; passed through Piccadilly Circus, down to Trafalgar Square. After proceeding along the Strand, the cabs dropped down Arundel Street to the Embankment, went up through Northumberland Avenue, Cockspur Street, Waterloo Place, and again doubled the trail in Piccadilly. Fanks began to weary of this interminable chase; he wondered where this woman intended to stop. Still he held on in a dogged fashion, determined to weary out his adversary, whom he began to consider a foeman--or rather a foewoman--not unworthy of his steel. He therefore kept up the chase on the doubled trail, and, to his surprise, he found that the cab which he had so persistently followed turned up Half-Moon Street, and stopped before the chambers of Fellenger.
"Good Lord!" said Fanks to himself, "surely she has not been so great a fool as to come to earth again, where she knows she will find me."
He was perfectly right in making this remark, for when he jumped out and ran up to the first cab he found it--empty. Fanks swore, whereat Joe Berners grinned.
"And it do serve y' right," said Joe, who was a surly person; "I never did 'old as young gents should persecute innocents. G' on wi' y'."
Fanks recovered his temper on hearing this speech. It was most humiliating to have followed an empty cab for so many miles; but it was rather amusing to be accused of being a profligate when he was ardently bent on doing his duty. The detective laughed, although the joke was against himself.
"The question of persecution will bear argument, my friend," he said in a laughing tone. "In the meantime, perhaps you will tell me what you did with the young lady you picked up here?"
"Why!" said Mr. Berners, "she told me as you was after her for kisses an' such like; so she gives me a sov. to mislead you. She got out of my keb at the end of this street, she did; and told me to drive on an' on for an hour or so, while she got away. I done that," added Joe, with a grin, "an' you've bin follerin' a h'empty keb ever since I went up to Berkeley Square."
"You have acted according to your lights, my friend," said Fanks, when he realised how he had been tricked, "and I do not blame you. All the same I am not a profligate, but a detective."
"Lor!" said Joe, "has she done anything, sir?"
"What she has done is nothing to you. Can you tell me in which direction she went?"
"No, I can't, sir; and I don't bel've you, I don't," and so saying Joe Berners drove off in high dudgeon.
Fanks made no attempt to stop him; for he saw that the woman had defeated him, and the only thing left for him to do was to retire with the best possible grace. To this end he paid his cab, shrugged his shoulders, and went upstairs again. Since the woman had succeeded in escaping him, the solution of the problem lay entirely with Robert. Then a miracle. On the way up to the chambers the memory of that face flashed across the mind of Fanks.
"Ah!" he said, with a start, "I remember now. I saw that face in the crowd round the Red Star, on the night of the murder."
Before Fanks finally dismissed the matter of that futile chase he asked a question of his friend the constable. "Did you notice," said he, "if that young lady had a friend with her?"
"No, Mr. Fanks," said the other, promptly, "she was all alone."
"Humph! I thought so," meditated Fanks, as he ascended the stairs, "the accusing friend was a myth. Well, I guess there's a vacancy for a fool, and I'm elected. I've lost her once; but she won't escape me a second time. Taxton-on-Thames isn't London."
The links of the chain which brought forth this remark were as follows:--The postal mark on the envelope was Taxton-on-Thames; the handwriting thereon was the same as that on the back of the photograph--to all appearance that of the missing woman--therefore Fanks thought that he might gain some information about her in the village. The link of the writings connected her with the riverside town; and by following such a clue he hoped to arrive at some knowledge of her identity.
With this resolution, he entered the chambers and found Robert restored to sensibility, sitting on the sofa, with Garth and Maxwell in attendance. The latter looked up eagerly as the detective entered. But Fanks had no idea of letting an inferior into his methods of working, and he dismissed him forthwith.
"Maxwell, you can leave the room," he said sharply; and when the policeman had taken his departure he turned to Garth, and continued, "I lost her after all, my friend; she gave me the slip with singular dexterity. That going down to bring up a witness was all bosh; she told that story as a blind to get out of the room without suspicion."
"But who is she?" asked Garth, at this tale of failure.
Fanks smiled grimly, and looked at the valet. "No doubt Robert can tell us that, he said, significantly.
"I think she is Lady Fellenger--Emma Calvert," said Robert, faintly.
"That is all nonsense. You told us distinctly that Emma Calvert was dead; the inscription on the portrait affirms your statement. How then can this living woman be the lady in question?"
"It might have been her ghost."
"Rubbish! Ghosts don't appear in the daytime; and drive off in cabs; moreover there are no such things as ghosts. Your explanation is weak, Robert; try another story."
"It is the best that I can give, sir; if she isn't Emma Calvert; who is she?"
"That is what we wish to find out," said Garth. "You say that Lady Fellenger--whom you will persist in calling Emma Calvert--is dead?"
"I saw her lying at the Morgue, sir," declared Robert, passionately. "I saw her placed in her coffin; I saw her buried, and the earth heaped over her. She is dead; I swear that she is dead."
"Where is she buried?"
"In Pere la Chaise, in Paris."
Fanks began twisting his ring. "You say that she destroyed herself," he said; "had you anything to do with her death?"
The man broke down, and burst out weeping, exculpating himself between his sobs. "I had nothing to do with her death," he declared, "she was always a good mistress to me, but my master treated her shamefully. When he married her and first came to Paris they were quite happy. But Sir Gregory grew tired of her; he grew tired of everyone; and he began to neglect her for others. She was very proud, and she put up with it for a time. At last she got angry at him, and insisted that he should take her back to London and introduce her to his friends. This he refused to do, and he taunted her with having been in a shop. He called her Emma Calvert even before me."
"You are sure that she was his wife?" interrupted Fanks.
"I was present at the marriage myself, sir. It took place in a registry office. She was his wife and Lady Fellenger sure enough, but after some months he would not call her by that name. He knew that she was proud," added Robert, in a lower tone, "and I think he wished to drive her to her death."
"I always said that he was a bad lot," interposed Garth, in disgust.
"He was not a good man, sir, but he was a good master to me. But the end of it all was that one evening they had a terrible quarrel, and in a fit of rage she ran out of the house. I would have followed her, but my master would not let me go. When next I saw her, she was lying dead in the Morgue."
"You think that she flung herself into the river?"
"I am sure of it, sir. Her body was taken out of the Seine. My master seemed to feel her death terribly, but all the same I think he was relieved that his marriage was at an end. He got it put about in some way that the death was an accident, and the body was buried in Pere la Chaise. After that he made me promise not to tell anyone that he had been married, and we returned to England. That is all I know, except that she has come back to haunt me."
Fanks stood biting his fingers. The servant was evidently in earnest, and according to his story the ill-fated wife of the late Sir Gregory was dead and buried; yet, going by the likeness of the portrait to the woman who had vanished, she was alive. Fanks had been engaged in several very difficult cases, but they were all child's play compared to the intricacy of this problem. He was at his wits end, startled, mystified.
While the valet wept and Fanks thought, Garth broke the silence. "We are off the track," he said roughly; "we are seeking to solve the mystery of my cousin's death, not to trouble about that of his unhappy wife."
"It is all of a piece," replied Fanks, "the one death is connected with the other; how, I am unable to say at present. In the face of it, I can hardly bring myself to believe that Emma Calvert is dead."
"Robert swears that she is," said Garth, with a shrug.
"I do, I do, I swear it," wailed the man. "I saw her buried."
The tones of the wretched creature were so heart-rending that both his listeners believed that he spoke the truth. The detective placed the portrait, the pasteboard star, and the envelope containing the slips of print in his pocket, and beckoned to Garth. "We can do no more good here," he said in a low tone. "I must think out the matter by myself; let us go away."
"I shall stay here, sir," said the servant, rising; "Mr. Vaud said that I was to stay here until Sir Louis Fellenger came to town."
"Who is Mr. Vaud?" demanded Fanks.
"Oh, he is Fellenger's lawyer," explained Garth, quickly, "of the firm of Vaud and Vaud, of Lincoln's Inn Fields. I was wondering why my cousin had not come up to take possession of the property; but it appears that he is ill."
"Was he not at the funeral?"
"Yes, and, mighty bad he looked; he must have taken to his bed since. I suppose that not finding himself able to come he sent for Mr. Vaud."
"Yes, sir," said the valet, "and Mr. Vaud came here to find the police in possession; so he told me to stay here."
"Quite right," said Fanks. "I shall see Mr. Vaud myself."
Before leaving the chambers Fanks told Maxwell to keep a sharp lookout on Robert, of whom he had some suspicion. Then with Garth he went down slowly, talking and thinking. Garth had asked him what was to be done next, and he did not know what to say. Ultimately he declared that he would interview Vaud.
"Why?" asked Garth, after a pause.
"Because if I do not see him, he will see me. I must explain why I wish the police to continue in possession of the dead man's chambers; and also I want a letter of introduction to the new baronet."
"I can give you that; but I do not understand why you should wish to see him. He can do no good."
"I am not so sure of that," responded Fanks, dryly, "and in any case I must tell him what I am doing. As the heir he must be anxious to clear up the mystery of his cousin's death."
"I don't think he'll trouble much," replied Garth, doubtfully. "Gregory and Louis hated, one another like poison. They had not met for ten years."
"Why did they hate one another?"
"I don't know. Louis is a better man than Gregory. He was a scoundrel, as you have heard. An out-and-out scamp."
"And something worse than a scamp," said Fanks; "but about this introduction? Are you on good terms with your cousin Louis?"
"I don't like him," answered Garth, after a pause, "he is a scientific prig. All the same there is no ill-will between us."
"Very good. You can give me that introduction as soon as you like."
"I'll write it to-day; and if you wish to see Vaud the elder you'll find him at Lincoln's Inn Fields, a pleasant old gentleman of the out-of-date school."
"You emphasise the elder Vaud. Is there a son?"
"Yes, a fellow of thirty or thereabouts, He is the partner, but he has been ill of late, and has only returned from a tour of the world. But, I say Hersham, you know."
"I shall call on him to-morrow," said Fanks, "and question him about the tattooed cross."
"When shall I see you again?"
"Call to-morrow night at my Duke Street chambers. I may have some news for you."
"About Emma Calvert?"
"About Dr. Renshaw."
"Do you still connect him with the crime?"
"I connect him with Dr. Binjoy, and I connect Dr. Binjoy with his negro servant; and further I connect a black man wearing a green coat with brass buttons with the murder."
"Then you suspect that the servant of Dr. Binjoy killed Fellenger, and that Binjoy in the disguise of Renshaw was at the Red Star to assure himself that his instructions had been carried out."
"That is exactly what I don't mean."
"Then what are you driving at?"
"Ask me the same question in five weeks, and I'll tell you."
"Will it take you all that time to find out the truth?"
Fanks laughed at the implied sneer. "I am no miracle-monger, my dear sir," he said; "I am groping in the dark; and a mighty hard task it is. I do not know in which direction to move at the present moment. If only some thing would turn up likely to point out a path. Renshaw, Mrs. Boazoph, and Robert are all sign-posts, but which to go by, I really cannot say. Five weeks, Garth, and then perhaps failure."
All this time they were still standing at the door at the foot of the stairs. Now Fanks made a movement, but before he could step on to the pavement he was aware that Maxwell was coming down the stairs quickly. In another moment he was at the elbow of his superior officer, holding out a small packet wrapped up in brown paper. Fanks took it gingerly, and examined it with a thoughtful look on his face.
"Well, Maxwell," he said, "what is this?"
"I don't know, sir," said the breathless Maxwell. "I guessed that you mightn't be far away, so I took the liberty to come after you."
"To give me this packet?"
"Yes, sir. I found it a few minutes ago in the letter-box on the door.
"Ah!" said Garth, in a startled tone, "was it there last time you looked?"
"No, sir; not an hour ago. It ain't got no postmark or stamp."
"And it is addressed to Sir Gregory Fellenger," said Fanks; "I'll open it," and without further remark Fanks did so. Therein was a morocco case. When this was opened they saw lying on a bed of purple velvet a long and slender needle of silver. Garth would have picked it out, but Fanks stopped him with a shudder. "Don't touch it," he said; "there is death here."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," said Fanks, "that I hold in my hand the poisoned needle with which your cousin was murdered."
Here, indeed, was food for reflection. That the instrument with which the crime had been committed should come into the detective's possession was extraordinary; but that it should have been left anonymously at the rooms of the murdered man was inconceivably audacious. Fanks at once returned to the chambers, and closely questioned Maxwell and Robert. It struck him that the latter might have had a hand in placing the mysterious parcel in the letter box.
"I examined the box an hour ago, sir," said Maxwell, "as you told me to look after all letters. There was nothing in it then. It must have been placed in it since."
"While we were in the sitting-room, no doubt," said Garth. "Do you know anything of this, Robert?"
"I, sir? Lord, no, sir; I never set eyes on it before."
"We left ten minutes ago," remarked Fanks. "What have you been doing since that time."
"I have been with Mr. Maxwell, sir."
"Was he with you all the time, Maxwell?"
"Yes, sir," replied the policeman in great alarm. "He came out into the kitchen, and we was together for a chat; then I thought it was near post time, and I goes to the box. I found that parcel, and as I knowed you couldn't be far off I ran down stairs."
This explanation was perfectly satisfactory, yet for the life of him, the detective could not help looking at Robert with suspicion. However, as he had not been out of Maxwell's company, he could not possibly have put the parcel in the box, therefore Fanks was reluctantly compelled to believe in his innocence.
"That will do," he said, at length, and drew Garth away. When they again descended the stairs, Garth began to ask him questions, but Fanks cut these short. "I must be alone to think it out," he said, in apologetic explanation. "Go away, Garth, and let me puzzle over the matter by myself."
The young lawyer was unwilling to do this as he was filled with genuine curiosity concerning the needle. However, he could suggest nothing, and he saw that his mere presence worried his friend. He therefore obeyed the request, and went off to meditate on his own account. As for Fanks, he repaired to his rooms, and with the needle before him he sat for considerably over an hour thinking what it all meant. The mystery was deeper than ever.
There was no doubt that someone had left the parcel in the letter box within the hour. According to Maxwell, it had not been there when he last looked in; according to Robert, he had not been out of the policeman's company since he left the sitting-room. Who, then, placed this damning evidence of the crime in the box? The assassin himself? But the assassin, as had been proved clearly, was a negro. A few questions to the constable stationed near the door had elicited the fact that no negro had gone up. In fact, the man had sworn that he had seen nobody ascend the stairs since the time Fanks returned from his unsuccessful pursuit. So scanty were the facts which he had to go on, that Fanks could not even build up a theory. He was completely in the dark, and he seemed likely to remain so.
The instrument was of silver, the length of a darning needle, and while the point was as sharp as a lancet, it broadened gradually till when it passed into a slim, ebony handle, it was--for a needle, quite bulky. In this broad part the poison was doubtless contained, and thence it oozed, drop by drop, to the deadly point. Fanks shuddered at the sight of the piece of devilish ingenuity. The infernal dexterity of the thing gave him an idea.
"Must have been manufactured by a scientific man," he mused, touching the slender, silver line gingerly. "It's too clever for an amateur. Louis, the new baronet, is a man of science; he has succeeded to the title. Can it be that--but, no!" he added, breaking off abruptly, "he would not commit a crime in so obvious a fashion, much less, leave the means he used at the address of his victim."
Nevertheless, the idea lured him so far afield, into so many speculations that, finding they led to nothing, he locked up the poisoned needle, put it out of his thoughts, and paid a visit to New Scotland Yard. Here he explained to the person in authority, that, while he had every hope of capturing the assassin of the late Sir Gregory Fellenger, yet he was bound to point out that the expenses of the case would be considerable. To this, the person in authority replied by placing before Fanks a letter from Messrs. Vaud and Vaud, of Lincoln's Inn Fields. It stated that they had been directed by Sir Louis Fellenger--who was at present confined to bed through ill-health--to assure the authorities that he wished every effort to be made to discover the murderer of his cousin; and that he would willingly bear the costs of the investigation. This communication concluded by requesting that the detective in charge of the case should call at the offices of the lawyers at his earliest convenience.
"Very meritorious of Sir Louis to save the Government expense," said the person in authority. "Use what money you require, Mr. Fanks, but be reasonable--be reasonable."
"I shall be as reasonable as I possibly can be, sir," replied Fanks; "but in my opinion, the case will be both long and expensive. It is the most complicated matter that I ever took in hand."
"The more difficulty, the more glory," said the person in authority. "Go on with the case, Mr. Fanks; act as you please, make use of all our resources. I have every confidence in you, Mr. Fanks; if anyone can lay his hand on the assassin of Sir Gregory Fellenger, you are the man. I wish you good day, Mr. Fanks."
Dismissed in this gracious manner, Fanks left the room with the intention of obeying forthwith the injunction of Vaud and Vaud. Before he could depart he was intercepted by Crate.
"A communication from Dr. Renshaw," said Crate, with an air of great importance. "He called here this afternoon with the intention of seeing you. In your absence, he saw me; and stated that he was leaving for India to-night by the P. and O. steamer 'Oceana.' Before leaving, he wished to see and speak with you."
"Before leaving, he has to see and speak with me," retorted Fanks, coolly. "I would have him arrested on suspicion if he attempted to leave London without according me an interview."
"You have no evidence on which you can arrest him, Mr. Fanks."
"I have more evidence than you are aware of, Crate. If Dr. Renshaw could have defied me he would have done so; but he dare not. Where is he now?"
"He is still at Great Auk Street, where he has been watched ever since the night of the murder."
"When does the 'Oceana' leave the Docks?"
"To-night at ten o'clock. Dr. Renshaw goes down from Fenchurch Street by the eight train."
"It is now a quarter past five. Good! I shall call at Great Auk Street; in the meantime, I have to keep another appointment."
"Have you found out anything since I saw you last, Mr. Fanks?"
"I have found out that there is a woman in the case," said Fanks. "And that reminds me, Crate. You must go to Paris by to-night's mail. Are you busy with anything else?"
"No, Mr. Fanks. I shall be ready to start when you please. What am I to do in Paris?"
Fanks sat down at Crate's table and wrote a name and a date. "Get me a certificate of the death and burial of Emma Calvert, who died in Paris last year; she committed suicide, which was passed off as an accident, and was buried in Pere la Chaise. I do not know the month of the death, but you can do without that. Wire me all particulars. You can get the French police to help you. Ask in the office here for necessary credentials and authorisation. Don't spare expense, I have full power to draw all moneys I want."
After delivering these necessary instructions, Fanks drove off to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and presented his card at the office of Vaud and Vaud. He was at once shown up to the room of the senior partner, and found him as Garth said, a dignified gentleman of the old school. He was red-faced and white-haired; emphasised his remarks by waving a "pince-nez," and spoke with some of the magnificence of Dr. Renshaw.
"This is a most lamentable business, Mr. Fanks," he said, when the detective was seated. "I usually go home before five o'clock, but in the interests of our client, Sir Louis Fellenger, I remained, on the chance of seeing you. I am glad to see you."
"I came as soon as I was able, Mr. Vaud; but you only sent for me to-day. I wonder you did not wish to see me before."
"There was no necessity, my dear sir. We only heard from Sir Louis yesterday that he was prepared to bear all expenses connected with the investigation of the case."
"Sir Louis is ill, I believe, Mr. Vaud?"
"Sir Louis is never well, sir," said the lawyer impressively. "He is a delicate man, and he is given over to the arduous science of experimental chemistry. The earnestness with which he prosecutes his researches keeps him in a constant state of anxiety; and his health suffers accordingly. He is now at Mere Hall, attended by Dr. Binjoy."
"Is Dr. Binjoy with Sir Louis at Mere Hall at this present moment?"
"Certainly. Dr. Binjoy never leaves the side of Sir Louis. He has the greatest influence over him. Though I must say," added Vaud, "that even the influence of the doctor could not prevent his patient rising from his sick-bed to attend the funeral of the late baronet."
"He must have been fond of his cousin," said Fanks, pointedly.
"On the contrary, the cousins had not seen one another for ten years and more," said Mr. Vaud, solemnly. "I do not wish to speak evil of the dead, but the late Sir Gregory was certainly a butterfly of fashion, while the present Sir Louis is a man of science. They never got on well together, and therefore kept out of each other's way."
"And very sensible, too," said Fanks, dryly. "Do you happen to know if Dr. Binjoy has been in London lately?"
"I happen to know on the best authority--that of Sir Louis--that Binjoy has not been in London for the last six weeks. Sir Louis has been ill for that period; the doctor has not left his bedside."
Fanks made a mental note of this answer, and turned the conversation in the direction of the crime. "You know that Fellenger died from poison?"
"From blood-poisoning," corrected Vaud. "So I saw in the papers. A most remarkable case, my dear sir. What took our late client to that locality, and why did he submit himself to the tattooing needle?"
"I can't say. Are you aware of any motive which might have induced the dead man to have a cross tattooed?"
"No, sir. As a matter of fact," continued Mr. Vaud, "the late Sir Gregory and myself were not on the best of terms. He was extravagant, and he resented my well-meant advice. I saw as little of him as of Sir Louis."
"Then you are not intimate with Sir Louis?"
"I cannot say that I am. Sir Louis has led a secluded life at Taxton-on-Thames. I have only seen him once or twice."
"And Dr. Binjoy?"
"I have never seen him at all?"
"Was Sir Louis rich?"
"On the contrary, he was very poor. Five hundred a year only."
"Well, Mr. Vaud," said Fanks, rising. "I have to thank Sir Louis for his offer to bear the expenses of this case; and I shall do my best to bring the criminal to justice."
"Have you any clue, Mr. Fanks?"
"I have a variety of clues, but they all seem to lead to nothing."
"Do you think that you will be successful?"
"I can't say--yet. I hope so."
"I hope so, too, but I am doubtful; very doubtful. Well, good evening, Mr. Fanks. Do you want any money?"
"Not at present. I shall write to you when I do."
"That's all right. I trust you will succeed, Mr. Fanks. But in my opinion you are wasting time and money. The crime is a mystery, and for all that I can see, it will remain a mystery."
Fanks had gained some useful information from the lawyer, and it would appear that the conversation had settled, at least, two important points in the case. Of these the first was that Sir Louis could not have had anything to do with the commission of the crime, or the leaving of the parcel at the chambers in Half Moon Street. Yet the needle had been prepared by a man learned in experimental chemistry; and, as that was the special study of the new baronet, it might be that he was responsible for the preparation of that deadly instrument. By the death of his cousin he had gained a fortune; therefore that might stand as a motive for the committal of the crime. But Sir Louis had been ill for some months; he had been confined to bed, therefore he could not have been in London on the night of the murder; nor later on--being still in bed--could he have deposited the needle in the letter box. Clearly, the case against Louis broke down entirely.
As for Binjoy, he also had not been in town for six weeks. If this were so, he could not be identical with Renshaw, in which case the suspicions entertained by the detective could not fail to prove groundless. Then again, the fact that Binjoy had a negro servant habited like the assassin--also a black man--was highly suspicious. Binjoy might have instructed the negro to slay, and himself have remained at Taxton-on-Thames in attendance on Sir Louis. But then what could be his motive for the perpetration of so terrible a crime? Fanks sought for this motive.
In the first place, he noted that the absence of Louis from town on that night was deposed to by Binjoy; in the same way Louis said that Binjoy had not left Taxton-on-Thames for six weeks. Both these statements had been made to Fanks by Vaud. It would then appear that Louis and the doctor were in collusion to obtain the property of Gregory by procuring his death at the hands of the negro. But even this theory failed to discover, or point out, who was the man who had called to leave the parcel at Half Moon Street. The constable had asserted positively that no negro had gone up the stairs. If then the messenger was not the negro, it was either Binjoy or Sir Louis. Mr. Vaud said that the one was ill, the other in attendance. Thus the case stood when Fanks left the office of Vaud and Vaud; and he felt utterly unable to cope with the intricacies which met him on every hand. There seemed no way in or out.
Yet in the face of the presumption that Renshaw was not the double of Binjoy, the detective determined to follow up that clue. He did not like the way in which the doctor had behaved, either in the chamber of death, or at the inquest; he was suspicious of his apparent intimacy with Mrs. Boazoph: therefore, for his own gratification, he went to Great Auk Street to interview the man, and to see whether his suspicions had any foundation in fact. On arriving at the house he was unable to decide on his next action, but before he left it again he had determined what to do.
A stupid-looking man-servant received Fanks, and took him into a dull waiting room, while he went to inform Dr. Renshaw of the name of his visitor. In a few moments he returned and conducted the detective to the back of the house, where he found Renshaw waiting for him in the company of another man. This latter was Dr. Turnor, for whom Renshaw had been acting as "locum tenens;" a lean, little man with a ferret of a face, and a sharp, jerky way of speaking which must have been exceedingly irritating in a sickroom. Renshaw was more imposing in looks than ever, and, with habitual restlessness, combed his long, brown beard with his fingers; but in the badly-lighted room Fanks could not find out if the beard was false. So closely did Renshaw resemble Garth's description of Binjoy, that notwithstanding Vaud's evidence, Fanks was on the alert to discover if--as he truly believed--the two were one and the same. The ensuing conversation was likely to prove interesting in more ways than one.
After being introduced to Fanks, and acknowledging the introduction with a sour smile, Turnor arose to leave the room. He was stopped by Renshaw, who evidently did not relish the idea of facing a difficult interview by himself. Another proof, as Fanks considered, of his uneasy conscience.
"Pray do not depart, Turnor," he said, in his usual pompous manner. "I have no secrets from you. I trust, Mr. Fanks, that you see no objection in my adopting this course?"
"Certainly, I see no objection," replied Fanks, quietly. "Let Dr. Turnor stay by all means. I have nothing particular to say."
Turnor, who had resumed his chair, looked up at this, and Renshaw stared at his visitor with pompous indignation.
"Then why are you here, sir?" he demanded in a more confident tone.
Fanks shrugged his shoulders. "Really, I cannot tell you, unless it is because you left a message at my office that you wished to see me."
"I did so in fulfilment of my promise to communicate with you before leaving London."
"Indeed! So you think of starting again on your travels? You will like that much better than staying in London."
"There is no reason why I should not like to stay in London," said Renshaw, with an angry glance.
"No reason in the world, that I can see."
"I am going out to India--to Bombay. I proceed to Aden by the 'Oceana,' and there I exchange into the 'Cylde.'"
"It is really very good of you to tell me all this, doctor," said Fanks, ironically; "I trust that you will have a pleasant voyage."
Renshaw looked nonplussed and a trifle disappointed at the coolness of the detective. It was Fank's intention to bring about this feeling; for if Renshaw had nothing to do with the crime, if he was not masquerading under a false name, the detective did not see that it was necessary to make these elaborate explanations. It seemed to Fanks that Renshaw's anxiety to bestow gratuitous information as to his movements had its root in a design to mislead the police. Notwithstanding the assurances of Vaud, his suspicions of Renshaw revived in full force under this clumsy diplomacy; and he bent his energies to get to the bottom of the matter. To this end he affected indifference, and gave Renshaw plenty of rope with which to hang himself.
"Am I to understand that I am free to go?" demanded the stout doctor, in a highly dramatic manner.
"I suppose so; this is a free country."
"You do not think--my friend--any knowledge--murder?" jerked Turnor, as he looked eagerly at Fanks.
The detective saw the eagerness and wondered. "Hallo! my friend," he thought, "are you in this also?" However, he answered the question in the calmest manner. "I was not aware that I had made any accusation against Dr. Renshaw," was his suave reply.
"But I have been watched," cried Renshaw; "watched like a criminal."
"You don't say so," said Fanks, imperturbably. "And who is watching you? And why have you been watched?"
The two doctors looked at one another, and, from a covert sign made by Turnor to Renshaw, the detective became convinced that there was an understanding between them. He guessed that the sign hinted at the conclusion of the interview, and this interpretation proved correct. Turnor rose and jerked out an apology.
"Mistake!" said the little man. "Told Renshaw--moonshine--no watching. Hope you'll catch--murderer."
"I have little hope of that," said Fanks, dolefully. "He has concealed his trail too cleverly," and he chuckled inwardly as he saw the two faces brighten.
"Well! well! well! We will say no more, Mr. Fanks," said Renshaw, in a patronising tone. "I deemed it my duty to let you know that I go to India to-night. I shall not return to England for many years, as I propose exploring Thibet. Good evening; I am delighted that my fears that I was being watched have proved to be groundless."
But Fanks was not to be got rid of so easily. He wished to ask Turnor a few questions, for he believed that the little man knew all about this mysterious Renshaw. However, he made his examination carefully, as he did not wish to startle the pair, but rather to lull their suspicions, so that he might the more easily carry out his plans. He had already decided upon his next step.
"You were not in London at the time of the murder, Dr. Turnor?" he asked.
"No," replied the doctor, promptly. "If I had been, I should have been summoned by Mrs. Boazoph. As it was, Renshaw went."
"Yes, I saw Renshaw," said Fanks; "and I believe that he was right in his theory that the crime was due to a secret society."
"What makes you agree with my theory?" said Renshaw, quickly.
"Well," drawled Fanks, keeping an eye on both men, "you see I can't find out the meaning of that tattooed cross. It must be the work of a society, else it would not have been obliterated. If I could only find out what that cross means I would hang someone." Renshaw wiped the perspiration off his bald forehead and laughed in an uneasy manner. "I wish I could help you," he said, "but I know nothing about the cross, or the society."
"And what do you say, Dr. Turnor?"
"Nothing--was away on that night. Read about cross--papers. Queer."
Fanks saw plainly enough that the pair were on their guard, and that there was nothing more to be got, out of them. The only thing to be done was to watch and wait the progress of events. With this idea he said goodbye, and took his departure. Once outside and he made up his mind that Renshaw should be tracked. His anxiety to show that he was leaving England appeared to be suspicious, and Fanks concluded that he did not intend to go as he had so emphatically declared.
"I shouldn't be surprised to find that he was Binjoy after all," thought the detective. "He professes a deal too much, and his friend Turnor is a deal too eager. I shouldn't wonder if the pair were in league. However, I have thrown them both off their guard. Now I'll play my own game. I'll find out the owner of that silver needle yet, and then I'll punish its owner. I wonder," added Fanks, with a silent laugh, "I wonder whether the criminal will prove to be black or white?"
With this peculiar remark he went in search of the detective whose duty it was to guard the house, and rated himself severely. "You have let yourself be seen," said Fanks. "Have you not more sense than to play the fool? Keep yourself out of sight; remain here until I send another watcher, and report yourself at the Yard."
The detective, much abashed, tried to exculpate himself, but Fanks would not listen to his excuses. He hurried to New Scotland Yard, picked out a smart man, and instructed him to relieve the disgraced watcher, and to follow Renshaw to the Docks.
"And then, sir?" asked the man.
"Then if Renshaw goes on board the steamer you will report the fact to me without loss of time."
"Am I to come back here, Mr. Fanks?"
"No; I shall be at the Docks in disguise. If you see a clergyman holding a white handkerchief in his right hand you will see me. If you are doubtful ask the clergyman what the time is, and you will be safe as to my identity. Off with you, and send that fool back to Mr. Crate."
"What are you about to do, Mr. Fanks?" asked Crate, when the man had gone.
"Learn if Renshaw is lying or not. I'll see if he boards the steamer at the Docks, and find out if he has taken a passage to Bombay--a fact which at present I am much inclined to doubt."
"And if he goes on board the steamer?"
"In that case I'll follow him as far as Plymouth to make sure that he does not get off there."
"If he doesn't?"
"I shall know that he has nothing to do with this murder."
"And if he does get off at Plymouth?"
"Why," said Fanks, rubbing his hands, "I shall track him to Mere Hall in Hampshire."
Crate looked astonished, for he could by no means follow the thoughts of his superior. "How do you know that he will go there?" he demanded in a disbelieving manner.
"Because if Dr. Renshaw leaves the steamer at Plymouth under that name I shall find him at Mere Hall as Dr. Binjoy."
True to his appointment Garth called the next evening at the chambers in Duke Street, only to find that Fanks was absent, and that a note was awaiting him.
"Dear Garth," wrote the detective, "I have been called unexpectedly out of town and shall not return for at least three days. Visit me at the expiration of that time and prepare yourself for a surprise."
"A surprise," said Garth to himself, as he departed; "I wonder if he has found out about Emma Calvert, and if his discovery has anything to do with the death in Tooley's Alley."
Think as he might he could find no answer to this question, and he was forced to restrain his curiosity until such time as Fanks should return. In the meantime, out of curiosity, he called upon Mr. Vaud to learn what that gentleman thought about the position of affairs.
Mr. Vaud thought nothing about them. A detective had charge of the case, and, in Mr. Vaud's opinion, it would be better to wait the solution by him of this criminal problem. All this, as well as much more, was expressed to Garth by the pompous lawyer. "And I should advise you, Mr. Garth," he concluded, "not to let this unhappy episode divert your energies from your business."
"As to that, I have precious little to do," retorted Garth, with some heat; "you do not put much in my way, Mr. Vaud. I am always hard up."
"I am aware of that," replied Vaud, ignoring the beginning of the speech, "and I am aware also that our late client assisted you several times."
"Because I was necessary to him," said Garth, bitterly. "And I'll tell you what, Mr. Vaud, had I known then what I know now about my cousin I should never have accepted his help."
"Oh, dear me!" said Mr. Vaud, "quite so. Sir Gregory had many faults; but are you a saint yourself, Mr. Garth?"
"I don't pretend to be one. Still, I never drove a woman to her death."
"Do you know what you are saying, Mr. Garth?"
"Do you know the name of Emma Calvert, Mr. Vaud?"
The lawyer paled and pushed his chair from the table. "I--I have--heard the--name," he stuttered.
"Then you have heard the name of a very injured woman, Mr. Vaud."
Before the other could reply a knock came to the door, and immediately afterwards it opened to admit a tall and handsome young man. He bowed to Garth and placed some papers before Mr. Vaud. "Will you please excuse this intrusion, father, and look over these?" he said quietly.
"My son Herbert, Mr. Garth," said the elder Vaud, and again the young man bowed. He rather resembled his father in appearance, but there was a sternness about his manner which was wanting in that of the elder gentleman. He was dark-haired, and clean shaven, with thin lips and a compressed mouth. There was a look of resolution and hard work about him which did not recommend his personality to pleasure-loving Garth. However, the latter bowed and smiled when introduced, and scribbled on a sheet of blotting-paper while Herbert spoke to his father. Still thinking on the subject of his discourse with Mr. Vaud he absently wrote the name of Emma Calvert. Young Vaud moved near him while looking for a special paper, and in doing so his eye fell on the name. With an ejaculation he drew back, and turned as pale as his father had done.
"What do you know of Emma Calvert?" he demanded abruptly; "why do you write down her name?"
"Herbert!" said the father, warningly--almost imploringly. "I shall speak," said Herbert, his composure replaced by intense excitement. "What do you knew of Emma Calvert, sir?"
Garth looked up surprised. "I know as much as Robert, the valet of Fellenger, could tell me."
"A scamp who served a scamp," muttered the young man.
"Sir Gregory was my cousin, Mr. Herbert."
"Then your cousin was a scoundrel, Mr. Garth."
"Herbert, leave the room," said his father, sternly
The son looked defiantly at his father, and turned away without a word. At the door he paused and addressed Garth. "I know that your cousin was murdered, Mr. Garth," he said savagely. "I am glad that he met with such a death. He escaped me, but he could not escape punishment. I hated Sir Gregory and I bless the man who killed him."
He left the room, and in dumb astonishment Garth turned to the elder Vaud for an explanation. The old man had buried his face in his hands; but he looked up when Garth touched him, and groaned aloud.
"I am sorry you wrote down that name, Mr. Garth," he said at length. "Its effect on my unfortunate son is always terrible."
"But for what reason?"
"I did not intend to tell you, but as you know so much, you may as well know all. Herbert was in love with this girl. He wished to marry her, and it was he who introduced her to Sir Gregory. You can guess the rest."
"I can guess that my cousin married the girl and took her to Paris, where he neglected her and drove her to suicide."
"I know about the marriage," said Mr. Vaud. "I am glad that Sir Gregory did her that justice. I also know of the death. Sad, very sad."
"She must have been a pretty girl to have so strongly attracted two men."
"I never saw her," said Vaud. "I did not even know that Herbert was in love with her until she eloped with Sir Gregory. Then my son came with his broken heart and told me all. He would have followed Sir Gregory to Paris but that he fell ill of brain fever. Afterwards he was ordered on a sea voyage; and returned only six weeks ago. He heard of the death of Lady Fellenger in Paris, and--"
"Did he know that Fellenger had married her?"
"Afterwards; not at first. He discovered all about the marriage and death in Paris. How, I do not know. But he came back broken in health and heart. He will never be the same man again; and whenever the name of Emma Calvert is mentioned, the consequences are as you see."
Garth rose to go. "It is a cruel story," he said sadly, "but Fellenger's sins have come home to him in a terrible fashion. Good-bye, Mr. Vaud."
Then Garth took his leave; and withdrew to meditate on the villainy of his cousin, which had ruined two lives. Half-way along the Strand, he was struck by a sudden thought. If young Vaud had known and loved Emma Calvert, he would be the man to identify the woman who had presented herself at Fellenger's chambers. He believed Emma Calvert to be dead; brought face to face with the missing woman, and he would see that she was alive. "Though it will be difficult to find that woman," he said, resuming his walk, "she has given us the slip. Still she may call to see Robert again, and he is being watched by Maxwell; so the chances are that we may find out whether she is my cousin's wife or her ghost. If she is confronted with Herbert Vaud we may arrive at the truth. But will the truth lead to the detection of Gregory's assassin. I doubt it."
He thought of calling upon Herbert and telling him about the appearance and flight of the presumedly dead woman; but the same reason which had prevented him from seeing Hersham, prevented this visit. "No!" he said, resolutely. "I must interview Fanks and ask his advice. The matter is too difficult for me to handle alone."
Having come to this sensible conclusion; he went about his daily business and postponed moving in the matter until the return of Fanks from his mysterious journey. His appointment had been for the previous night; and Fanks had asked him to wait three days. As he had employed one day in seeing Mr. Vaud, he thought that he would utilise the second by interviewing Mrs. Boazoph. For this purpose he called at the Red Star, but he was disappointed, Mrs. Boazoph, the barmaid informed him, was out of town--on business. Garth left Tooley's Alley in a meditative mood. "Fanks has gone to the country on business; Mrs. Boazoph has gone to the country on business. I wonder if the same errand takes them there."
Nothing further transpired; and, on the evening of the third day, Garth presented himself at Duke-street. Fanks was within and received him in the most amiable manner. Garth noted that his friend looked weary, and ventured an opinion that Fanks had made a long journey that day.
"You are about right," said Fanks, indicating a seat. "I only got back three hours ago from Hampshire."
"You have been to Mere Hall?"
"I have been in the neighbourhood of Mere Hall. And I have also been to Plymouth," he added, after a pause.
"What have you been doing there?"
"Following our friend Renshaw, alias Binjoy."
"You don't mean to say that the two are one," cried Garth, jumping up.
"I do, and I can prove it by the clearest evidence you ever heard in your life. Sit down and listen."
Garth resumed his seat, and leaned forward with much curiosity to hear the promised recital. It was well worthy of an attentive hearing.
"I told on that I suspected Renshaw to be Binjoy in disguise," said Fanks, "your description of the one fitted the other in many respects; and the eagerness with which Renshaw tried to impress me with the fact that he was going to India, roused my suspicions. I determined to see for myself if he was really leaving England, so I disguised myself as a parson, and went to the docks. Renshaw had been followed there by my emissary, and he duly went on board the P. and O. steamer 'Oceana.' Assured of this I dismissed the watcher, and took up the running to Plymouth."
"But how about your passage."
"Oh, I fixed that up all right; how, I need not stop to explain. You may be sure that I kept a watch on our friend; and confident in my disguise, I tried to get speech with him. This was impossible, as he remained in his berth the whole time. I discovered, however, that his passage was booked to Bombay, exchanging at Aden into the 'Clyde.' At Plymouth he feigned to be so ill as to be unable to proceed further on his journey, and rather than do so, he forfeited his passage money, and got off--"
"Then he did not go to India after all?"
"My dear sir; he had no intention of going to India. I followed him ashore; and then I am sorry to say that I lost him. It is not creditable to my intelligence," said Fanks, shrugging his shoulders.
"What did you do?"
"The best I could. I saw the local police, and had the railway stations and boats watched. He could not leave Plymouth either by land or water without my knowing it. To make a long story short, I was informed that a stout gentleman, somewhat like my man, was awaiting a train at a certain station. I went there--"
"And you saw Renshaw?" interrupted Garth.
"Indeed, no. I saw a clean-shaven man much younger in appearance than Dr. Renshaw, and dressed differently. From your description I recognised him as Binjoy, and to clinch the matter, I followed him to Mere hall."
"Then you are certain that Renshaw is Binjoy?"
"Positive. I made inquiries in the village, and I was informed that Sir Louis was ill, and that Binjoy was attending him. Of course I said nothing, for, to tell you the truth, I did not know what to say. But you will observe, Garth, that I have proved that these two men are one and the same."
"And the negro. Did you see Binjoy's negro servant?"
"I inquired about him, and I was informed that Binjoy had brought no negro servant with him. No doubt, he left him behind at Taxton-on-Thames."
"Then my idea is correct," said Garth, "the negro committed the crime at the instigation of Binjoy; and Binjoy in the disguise of Renshaw, went to the Red Star to see that it was accomplished. Now he has got rid of the negro and of his disguise; so cutting off every trace of his connection with the crime."
"A very plausible theory," said Fank, shaking his head, "but the motive?"
"Motive? Why Binjoy wanted Louis to inherit the property. He has a great influence over Louis; what would benefit the one would benefit the other. Oh, depend upon it, Fanks, it is as I say."
"No!" said Fanks, "there is a third person in it. A woman!"
"Oh, come now; she is out of town on business."
"I know that; and her business was at Mere Hall in Hants. I saw her there."
It was a moment or so before Garth could quite grasp the fact of this new intrusion of Mrs. Boazoph into the case. When he did so, he remarked that she had no doubt gone to Mere Hall to see Louis Fellenger. Fanks dissented. "In my opinion she went to see Binjoy."
"For what reason?"
"I can't tell you. It must be a powerful reason which would make this woman seek out Binjoy when he had so carefully destroyed his connection with Renshaw. But I have long had my suspicions of Mrs. Boazoph. She removed the dead body; she answered my questions in a hesitating manner, and attempted to exculpate herself without being requested so to do. Also she got rid of the grains of gunpowder. All these things show that Mrs. Boazoph knows more about the matter than she chooses to tell."
"Do you think that she knows who committed the crime?"
"I wouldn't swear to that," said Fanks, with some hesitation; "but she must have identified Renshaw with Binjoy, else she would never have sought out the latter at Mere Hall."
"Do you believe that Mrs. Boazoph inveigled Fellenger to her hotel by means of that advertisement, and then had him killed?"
"How can I tell?" retorted Fanks; "you know as much about the matter as I do. But I will do Mrs. Boazoph the justice to say that I hardly believe she would adopt a course so dangerous to herself. I do not think that she had anything to do with the advertisement."
"The envelope was addressed in a woman's handwriting."
"No doubt; but the handwriting may not be that of Mrs. Boazoph. Still she is in some way connected with Binjoy, and he is mixed up in the crime."
"You mean that he employed the negro to commit it?"
"It looks like it; and yet," continued Fanks, with a frown, "the evidence is too clear for me to take that view."
"Why! The clearer the evidence, the more certain you must be of the truth."
Fanks shook his head. "From my experience I am inclined to doubt easily-obtained evidence. Everything points to the committal of the crime by the negro servant of Binjoy, and for that reason I do not care to accept it. It would seem that in case of trouble Mrs. Boazoph and Binjoy had provided for their own safety by throwing suspicion on the negro."
"But one thing is clear enough," said Garth, impatiently, "the negro killed my cousin."
"A negro killed your cousin, but not necessarily the negro of Binjoy."
Garth looked puzzled. "I am more in the dark than ever," he said.
"Same here, Garth. Depend upon it this murder is no bungling affair. It is a cleverly-planned and cleverly-executed scheme; carried out by people who know what they are doing. As the case new stands I cannot see my way. The evidence--in my opinion--leads to nothing. If Crate had this matter in hand he would arrest Binjoy on suspicion, and hunt for the negro servant as the supposed murderer, and by doing so he would make a mess of the whole business. I shall arrest nobody--at present. Save to yourself and perhaps Crate I shall give my opinions to nobody. I shall watch and wait; put two and two together, and when they make four I shall pounce on the assassin. It will take time and patience and money, but, as I said before, the case is a delicate one. We are dealing with people who are as clever and cleverer than we are. I confess that the outlook is anything but promising," concluded Fanks, with a sigh.
"You cannot guess who committed the crime?"
"No, I cannot. To all appearances it was the negro, but--and this is the main point--was it the negro of Binjoy, and would the negro be clever enough to conceive so subtle a method of committing a crime as the mode of the poisoned needle? Again, would a negro be in possession of such information as would induce Fellenger to permit the use of the needle? The whole mystery lies in that cross tattooed on the arm. When I discover its meaning I shall be able to name the assassin."
"Then why not see Hersham?" suggested Garth. "He has a similar tattoo mark on his left arm. He may be able to tell you what you wish to know."
"I have an appointment with Hersham at his rooms to-morrow. I may learn something from him; on the other hand, I may learn nothing."
"And what about Emma Calvert?"
"Oh, I shall find out about her at Taxton-on-Thames. I may discover dead Lady Fellenger of Paris alive at the Surrey village under another name. And yet," added Fanks, producing a paper, "Crate's report proves that the woman died in Paris in 1893, and was buried in Pere la Chaise."
"If that is so, who was the woman who appeared so strangely? The evidence of the photograph and the valet both prove that she is Emma Calvert."
"I can only surmise that she did not die; but that either knowingly or unknowingly some woman was buried in her place. It is the only explanation that I can give. Yet, for all I know, Emma Calvert may have employed that negro to kill her wicked husband."
"It is a wild theory," said Garth, "why should this woman, the lawful wife of my cousin, pretend to be dead, and submit to have her identity destroyed by the false burial? If she is alive, I can quite conceive that she should have my cousin killed out of revenge; but why the pretended death, which--to all appearances--was acquiesced in by Fellenger?"
"I can't answer that question until I wring the truth from Robert."
"There is no necessity for Robert. I have found another person who can tell you the truth."
"Oh!" said Fanks, looking up sharply, "and this person?"
"Herbert Vaud; the son of the lawyer you saw the other day."
"You don't say so," exclaimed Fanks, eagerly, "you laugh at chance, Garth; well, here is another chance which may put us on the right track. If we solve the mystery of Emma Calvert, we may unravel the Tooley Alley enigma. Tell me all you know; omit no detail. Begin, begin!"
Flattered by the interest taken in his discovery, Garth related at great length the extraordinary conduct of young Vaud; the cause of such conduct as explained by the elder Vaud; and drew attention to the fact that if confronted with the missing woman, Herbert might be able to recognise her, either as an imposter, or as the dead Emma Calvert.
Fanks listened with the closest attention; nor did he venture a remark until Garth had concluded his story. Then he drew a breath and reflected.
"It is most extraordinary," he said at length, "dare you disbelieve in chance. Chance led you to the office of the Vauds; chance made you scribble that name on the paper; chance drew the attention of Herbert Vaud to the name. I have always found that chance is my best friend."
"All this is beside the point," said Garth, impatiently, "what do you say?"
"Your discovery may lead to something," replied Fanks, cautiously. "I shall see Herbert Vaud after I have interviewed Hersham. Between the two of them I may learn something likely to throw light on the darkness of this case; but we are only on the threshold of our difficulties as yet."
Garth rose to take his leave. "I agree with you," he said, "the future looks anything but hopeful. But I shall leave you now; as you are tired after your long journey."
Fanks stretched himself. "I am rather weary," he remarked, yawning, "and I shan't be sorry to go to bed. Come and see me to-morrow, and I'll tell you how I get on with Hersham. And Garth," added Fanks, going to the door with his guest, "don't do any more detective business on your own account. It will take me some time to exhaust the information you have brought me. When I have arrived at some conclusion regarding this new evidence, I shall tell you what to do."
Garth was quite willing to be guided by Fanks' advice; the more so as he was entirely at a loss how to proceed, and was waiting for the more experienced head of the detective to guide him. With quite sufficient to think about for the next twenty-four hours he took his departure, and left Fanks to enjoy a well-earned rest.
The appointment with Hersham was for twelve o'clock the next day; and punctually at that time Fanks took his way up to Acacia Road, St. John's Wood, where the journalist had his lodgings. Certainly not a very central position for a man engaged in the press; but Hersham had been brought up in the Isle of Wight, beside the sea, and amid green trees. From the effect of early association he could not bear to be cooped up amid bricks and mortar, where he could scarcely breathe. Therefore he had taken up his abode in a suburb where he was certain of fresh air. He went to and fro between Fleet Street and St. John's Wood on his bicycle, and thus by a little dexterity, he managed to attend to his duties on the "Morning Planet," and yet to live a comparatively rural life.
When Fanks arrived at noon, Hersham, for health's sake, was digging in the garden; but, on seeing the detective, he came forward to greet his visitor. He was a slender, handsome young man of eight and twenty, or thereabouts; with curly, brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a moustache, but otherwise he was clean-shaven. Usually his face was pleasant and smiling, with a high colour and a genial expression. On this occasion he was rather pale, and there was an anxious look in his eyes which did not escape the detective. He had seen the same expression in the eyes of Binjoy.
"How are you, Fanks," said Hersham, with an obvious effort at lightness. "I see that you are punctual to the minute. I am glad of that; as I can't give you much time. I have an engagement with my editor at one-thirty."
"Oh, I can explain my business in half an hour," replied Fanks, lightly. "I won't take up more of your valuable time than I can help. You were astonished to get my note."
"Frankly speaking, I was," said Hersham, with an uneasy look. "I can't conceive what you want to see me about. I hope," he added, with a faint smile, "that it is nothing in your line of business?"
"That is just the point. It is in my line of business."
To the surprise of Fanks, the young man gave a kind of gasp, and without a word he turned and led the way into the house. This behaviour was so different to his usual manner, that Fanks suspected trouble; and, with nothing but his incurable suspicion to go on, he wondered if this agitation was in any way connected with the business he had come about. In plain words, with the tattooed cross; and with the crime of Tooley's Alley. The room into which Hersham ushered the detective, was a simply-furnished apartment of a bright and cheerful character. Furniture, carpet, wallpaper, and curtains, were all of a light and pleasant complexion. Two dwarf book-shelves on either side of the fireplace were filled with well-chosen volumes; while boxing gloves and foils on the walls showed that the tastes of the journalist were not exclusively literary. Excellent pictures adorned the walls; and photographs--mostly those of pretty women--were ranged on the mantlepiece. As a whole, the room was remarkably bright and attractive in both of which respects it thoroughly reflected the character of its occupant.
With commendable hospitality, Hersham produced a bottle of whisky, two glasses, and a jug of water. Signing to Fanks to help himself, he sat in a chair near the window, and waited for his apparently unwelcome visitor to speak. Fanks did not open his mouth, and Hersham looked up to see the cause of his silence. The detective was staring at the photographs on the mantleshelf--or rather, he was gazing with astonished eyes at one portrait. It was little wonder that he did so; for the picture was that of the young woman, who had appeared and disappeared so unexpectedly at the chambers of Sir Gregory Fellenger, in Half-Moon Street. For once in his life, Fanks was rendered dumb with astonishment.
"What are you staring at?" asked Hersham, sharply.
The detective pointed to the picture. "Who is that young lady?" he asked in a tone of intense curiosity.
"I don't see what business that is of yours," replied Hersham, "but to gratify your curiosity I may tell you she is the girl I am engaged to."
"The girl you are engaged to! Is she alive?"
"Of course she is," said Hersham, half angry, half amused, "why should she be dead. Do you know her? Have you seen her? Why do you ask?"
"I shall tell you that later on," answered Fanks, "but tell me. Is the name of that girl Emma Calvert?"
"I never heard of Emma Calvert," retorted Hersham, crossly, "the name of that young lady is Anne Colmer."
"Yes! Of Taxton-on-Thames."
Fanks was prepared for most surprises, and, from experience, he was capable, of controlling his emotions thoroughly. In this instance, however, he was so overwhelmed by the unexpectedness of the discovery that it was some time before he could arrange his thoughts and plan of action. The coincidence of the tattooed cross was extraordinary, but the resemblance of the portraits was still more so. Before he could comment on the fact Hersham asked an abrupt question.
"Why do you speak of these things?" he said anxiously, "and what do you know about Miss Colmer?"
"I know nothing about Miss Colmer," replied Fanks, quickly. "Hold on a minute, my good fellow, I have had what people call a turn."
Hersham accepted this explanation with a doubtful air, and pushed the spirits towards the detective. Accepting this attention, Fanks poured himself out a stiff glass. A sip or two braced his nerves and set his brain to work, so that shortly he was able to face the unexpected situation. For obvious reasons he did not wish to reveal too much to Hersham; yet under the peculiar circumstances of the case he was forced to tell him a certain amount. To gain his ends with the least possible risk to his plans he was reduced to manufacturing a plausible theory from the facts within his knowledge. The task was one of some little difficulty, but he succeeded fairly well in suppressing so much of the truth as he did not wish known.
"That photograph took me by surprise, Hersham," he said after a pause.
"Why should it take you by surprise?" said the other, jealously. "Have you ever met with Miss Colmer?"
"I have not met the lady," replied Fanks, slowly, "but I have seen some one who greatly resembles her. So greatly indeed that I thought the person I saw was the original of that photograph."
"Where did you see this person?"
"At Paris--in the Morgue."
It seemed to Fanks that Hersham changed colour on hearing this; but he kept his feelings under control, and merely remarked, "In the Morgue? A case of murder, no doubt."
"No! Suicide by drowning. Afterwards I heard that the body was that of an English girl called Emma Calvert." He purposely suppressed the fact of the marriage. "She is buried in Pere la Chaise under the name--whether true or not, I cannot say--of Calvert. You cannot wonder that the sight of that picture, which I took for that of the dead woman, should startle me, the more especially as you assure me that the original of that photograph is still alive and is engaged to you."
"Was it for this purpose that you came to see me?" demanded Hersham.
"No; I came to see you about something else. Nevertheless, before telling you the object of my visit, I should like to have the mystery of the photograph explained."
"How do you know that I can explain it?"
"Perhaps you can, perhaps you can't. On the other hand, perhaps you can and perhaps you--won't."
Hersham bit his lip, and took a turn up and down the room. He appeared to be on the verge of revealing something, but checked himself when about to speak. At this stage Fanks wisely held his tongue, and resolved to let Hersham make the first remark. Evidently the young man had something on his mind, and what the something was Fanks was determined to find out; but he left the mode of revelation entirely to his host. Hersham was aware of this, and hesitated and faltered and frowned. Ultimately he resumed his seat and accepted the situation.
"I have always looked upon you as a friend, Fanks," he said in a hesitating manner; "and I have every reason to believe that you wish me well."
"My dear fellow," said Fanks, wondering what could be the reason of this appeal, "you are perfectly right. I would do anything to prove my friendship for you."
"Then answer me candidly. Did you come here to ask me about that cross which you know is tattooed on my left arm?"
"Yes," said Fanks, unhesitatingly; "I did. How did you guess my errand?"
"I read the report of the inquest on the body of Fellenger, and I remarked the fact of the poisoned needle and the tattooed cross. I was informed that you had the case in hand; I knew that you had seen the mark on my arm. So when you wrote asking me to see you it was not hard for me to guess what you wanted. You see, I was right."
"I congratulate you on your penetration, my dear Hersham," replied. Fanks, coolly. "At the same time, I do not see what this speech has to do with your former one about friendship."
"I can explain. You asked me a question about that photograph; and to answer it in a satisfactory manner I shall be forced to tell you something about the family of the girl to whom I am engaged."
"Does your explanation concern the late Sir Gregory Fellenger?"
"Yes. It has a great deal to do with the late Sir Gregory."
"And with Emma Calvert?"
"With the woman you call Emma Calvert."
"Ought I to say Lady Fellenger?" said Fanks, quickly.
Hersham shrugged his shoulders. "That makes no difference to my explanation," he said, and rose to get the photograph off the mantelshelf. "You think that this is the picture of Emma Calvert?"
For answer, Fanks produced the portrait he had found in Fellenger's rooms, and showed it to Hersham. "Is this the picture of Anne Colmer?" he asked.
"No, that is Emma Calvert."
"Then these photographs are those of two different women?"
"Certainly. The one is Emma Calvert who committed suicide in Paris. The other is Anne Colmer who is alive and engaged to me."
Fanks considered for a minute. "I now begin to see light," he said, in a sober tone. "Am I right in assuming that Emma is the sister of Anne?"
"You are perfectly right. She is the twin-sister."
"Ah! That accounts for the resemblance."
"It does," replied Hersham, with a nod, "the two sisters were so exactly alike that apart you could not tell one from the other--at least, so I have been told."
"Oh! Then you never saw the two sisters together?"
"I did not. I never saw Emma in my life."
"Of course you know her sad story," said Fanks, after a pause.
"Anne's mother told it to me. I know that Emma married Fellenger secretly, and was driven to her death by his brutality. Now, you can see why I reminded you of our friendship before telling you the truth."
"No!" said Fanks, sharply, "I can't see."
"Why! I am engaged to the sister of the dead girl; so I thought--"
"That I might accuse you of killing Sir Gregory out of revenge?"
"Well, I did have that thought in my head; and then the coincidence of the cross, you know."
Fanks laughed, and took the hand of Hersham. "My dear lad," he said. "I have no idea of accusing you of the crime; your engagement to Miss Colmer is no proof that you killed the man who acted so badly towards her sister. Do not, therefore, hesitate to tell me all you know. How Emma Calvert came to London; how she met with Sir Gregory; and how she was loved by Herbert Vaud?"
"What!" cried Hersham. "You know that also?"
"I know more than you think, Hersham; therefore, if you attempt to deceive me I shall find you out. Now go on with your story."
"I do not want to deceive you," replied the journalist, "but you must understand that I only speak from hearsay. If you want the tale first-hand you must see old Mrs. Colmer, at Taxton-on-Thames."
"Hum!" said Fanks, remembering his theory regarding the directing of the envelope which contained the cardboard star. "What kind of a person is the lady in question?"
"An invalid," said Hersham, promptly. "A paralytic; she has not moved hand or foot for years."
"What is the matter?"
"Nothing. Only your information has upset a theory. Never mind; go on."
"There isn't much to tell," said Hersham. "Mrs. Colmer is a decayed gentlewoman, whose husband died and left her with two little girls. To support these she set up a dressmaker's establishment at Taxton-on-Thames. When the children grew up, Mrs. Colmer was smitten with paralysis and laid on the shelf. Anne and Emma carried on the business, and thus supported their mother. Emma came to London to gain experience in a fashionable dressmaker's establishment; and Anne remained behind to look after the shop at Taxton-on-Thames. While in London, Emma met with young Vaud at the house of a friend of her mother's. He fell in love with Emma and wished to marry her. She liked him, but she did not love him; nevertheless, for her mother's sake, she accepted his offer. Then in an unlucky hour Herbert introduced Fellenger to Emma; she loved him, or was attracted by his title. At all events, she ran away with him to Paris and became his wife."
"She was married in a London office. Registrar's."
"I did not know that," said Hersham. "Emma told her mother that she was married, but she did not write where. Well, young Vaud had an attack of brain fever, and afterwards he went on a sea voyage. On his return he crossed to Paris to learn what had become of Emma. He ascertained that she was dead and buried; in some way he learned the whole miserable history. Vaud returned to England to see Fellenger; but before he could meet with him the baronet was killed in Tooley's Alley; and the fate of Emma was avenged by an unknown hand. That is the story, Fanks; you can make what use you like of it."
"It is a wretched story," replied Fanks. "I can now understand the hatred which young Vaud bears towards the memory of his false friend; and I can understand also how I mistook Anne for Emma. But," added Fanks, with emphasis, "I cannot understand why Anne came to the chambers of Fellenger, and why she ran away when she saw me."
Hersham looked jealous, and frowned. "I cannot understand that myself," he said. "She hated Fellenger as much as did Herbert Vaud; and I do not know why she should go to the rooms of the scoundrel."
"She asked for the valet."
"Robert, the whimpering, pitiful dog?"
"Anne might have gone to see him to ask for particulars of her sister's death."
"Well, yes," replied Fanks, thoughtfully; "but that does not explain why she went away when she saw me."
"I can only surmise that she did not wish to explain what brought her there, and so tell the tale of her sister's death to a stranger."
"No, there is more in it than that," said the detective, remembering that Anne had been among the crowd on the night of the murder; "but we will talk of this hereafter. In the meantime, let us return to the main object of my visit, and show me this famous cross."
Hersham made no objection to this request, and removed his coat. Rolling up his sleeve he exposed the cross tattooed on the flesh of the left forearm. It was a St. Catherine cross, the size of a florin, and Fanks examined it long and carefully. "Did you get that tattooed at school?" he asked when Hersham had resumed his coat.
"I did not get it done at all. I have had it ever since I can remember; and I have asked my father often about it, but he cannot, or will not, give me any information."
"He will not most probably. Are you sure that there is no story attached to the tattooing?"
"None that I know of; but my father might be better informed."
"Would your mother know?"
"I have no mother; she died when I was a baby."
"Strange," muttered Fanks, pensively; "it is strange that you should have this mark on you and yet be ignorant of its significance. I wish you would speak to your father about it."
"He won't tell me anything; I have asked him before."
"You have no idea why a cross similar to this should have been tattooed on Sir Gregory's arm by a negro?"
"Certainly not. I did not even know Sir Gregory."
"I wonder if your father could tell me?"
"I don't know. He might or he might not. Do you think that this cross has anything to do with the murder you are investigating?"
"That is just what I do think," retorted Fanks. "The man was killed by means of a poisoned needle used to prick in a cross similar to that on your arm."
"But that insinuates that I am mixed up in the matter."
"It does nothing of the sort. Don't be an ass."
But Hersham was not content with this friendly assurance. "You think that I have something to do with the crime," he said obstinately.
Fanks looked at his agitated face, at his trembling hands, and a strange suspicion entered his mind. "I'll tell you what I do think," he said in an abrupt tone; "I think that you have not told me all the truth."
Hersham trembled still more, and clasped his hands together. "I cannot," he muttered, shrinking away from Fanks; "I dare not."
Naturally Fanks was astonished at this confession; but he was so conversant with the character of the young man that he could not believe the journalist was guilty. Despite the coincidence of the tattooed cross and the relationship of Fellenger's wife with Anne Colmer, he did not think for a moment that his friend had anything to do with the crime. Nevertheless, it would appear from the hesitation of Hersham to speak openly that he had some knowledge--if not of the crime itself--at all events of the circumstances leading to its accomplishment. This was the only construction he could place on this last outburst.
"After what I have said, Hersham, I think you ought to confide in me," he remarked after a pause. "I do not suspect you in any way; yet you refuse to aid me. You ought to be the first to help me."
"I do not see how you make that out," replied Hersham, with a pale face. "I never met with Sir Gregory. I heard nothing but evil of his life, and he drove to suicide the sister of the girl to whom I am engaged. Why should I help you?"
"Ah!" cried Fanks, sharply; "then you can help me if you choose."
"I certainly cannot," returned Hersham, doggedly. "I have not the slightest idea who killed Fellenger. I can tell you nothing."
"Yes, you can; only you refuse to. Why I cannot say. You had better be careful, Hersham; you will not find me easy to deal with if you rouse my suspicions."
"Do you threaten me?"
"I warn you," retorted Fanks, smartly, "I am not accustomed to have my offers of help repelled. Your remark of a few moments ago shows me that you know something. What is it?"
"I know nothing."
"You do! Speak, if not for your own sake, at least for that of Miss Colmer."
Hersham stepped up to Fanks with an angry face. "How dare you introduce the name of Miss Colmer?" he cried. "I forbid you to speak of her."
"All the worse for you and for--her. She called at the chambers of the dead man. Why did she call there? She was at Tooley's Alley on the night of the murder. What was she doing in such a place? You refuse to tell me? I shall ask her."
Hersham sprang forward, and grasped the arm of Fanks to prevent his leaving the room. "Think of what you are about," he gasped. "Ask her nothing, you hear me, nothing."
"That rests with yourself. Tell me what you know and--"
"I know nothing," said Hersham, and turned away with an obstinate look.
"Good!" said Fanks, putting on his hat. "We now understand one another. I shall find out all without troubling you. Good-bye. And you may thank your stars that I do not arrest you on suspicion."
"I swear that I am innocent."
"I know that, else I would have had you in custody by this time. But you are screening another person. Anne Colmer, for instance."
"She knows nothing."
"I shall judge of that for myself," retorted Fanks, and left the room.
In Acacia Road the detective hailed a cab and drove to the nearest telegraph office. It had occurred to him that Hersham might attempt to communicate with Anne; and he was resolved to checkmate such a move. To this end he sent a wire to the head of the rural police at Taxton-on-Thames, instructing him to delay if possible all letters and telegrams which might come to Miss Colmer. Thereby he hoped to prevent Hersham warning the girl.
Arriving at New Scotland Yard, he detailed a man to watch Hersham, and sent him up to Acacia Road. A glance at "Bradshaw" assured him that to reach Taxton-on-Thames, Hersham would have to start from Waterloo. Thither he sent another detective, to keep an eye on the trains. Therefore, by letter, by telegram, and by railway, he had stopped Hersham from communicating with Anne Colmer. After taking these precautions he saw Crate.
"I am going to Taxton-on-Thames at three o'clock," he said.
"Are you going to look for the woman who directed the envelope, Mr. Fanks?"
Fanks stretched out his legs, and began fiddling with his ring. "That is just what is puzzling me, Crate," observed he. "I have told you of my conversation with Mr. Hersham. Well, unless he is deceiving me, Mrs. Conner, is a paralytic. She could not have directed that envelope; yet, going by the writing, I'll swear that an elderly woman penned the address. If not Mrs. Colmer--an obvious impossibility--who wrote it?"
"Anne Colmer," said Crate, promptly.
"No. For disguise, she would rather have adopted a masculine hand."
"If Mrs. Boazoph had been traced to Taxton-on-Thames I should say yes; if the letter had been sent from Mere Hall I should have said yes. But," added Fanks, with emphasis, "as it did not come from Mere Hall, and Mrs. Boazoph has nothing to do with Taxton-on-Thames, I am not inclined to suspect the lady."
"Then there is nobody else."
"There must be somebody else; and the somebody else committed the crime."
Crate thought. "Do you think that the negro sent that star?" he asked.
"I feel perfectly certain that the negro had nothing to do with the star."
"But we have proved conclusively that a negro killed Fellenger."
Fanks smiled complacently. "I should not be at all surprised if we found out that a negro had nothing to do with the murder," he said, slowly.
"But that is impossible, Mr. Fanks."
"Nothing is impossible in a criminal case," said Fanks. "Look here, Crate, as you know, it is not my habit to give an opinion before I have thoroughly threshed out the subject matter of a case; but in this instance, I shall depart from my rule. I should not be surprised if I had already spotted the assassin of Sir Gregory Fellenger."
"No!" cried Crate in admiration. "And who is it, Mr. Fanks. Man or woman?"
"Walls have ears, Crate. I shall whisper the name and when the case comes to an end--if it ever does--you can laugh at me or congratulate me at your will. Now then."
Fanks approached his mouth to the ear of Crate and whispered a single name. "That is my opinion," he said slowly.
Crate shook his head. "No, Mr. Fanks. I am loth to put my opinion, against yours, but I think you are making a mistake."
"Perhaps I am," assented Fanks, carelessly, "the case is a difficult one, and I am quite prepared to find out that I am wrong. All the same, I am confident that the person I named is guilty. I'll bet you five pounds to five shillings that I am correct."
Crate grinned and took up the bet. The behaviour of his chief flattered him, and he would not have minded losing. But he could not bring himself to agree with Fanks as to the name of the guilty person; for he had a theory of his own in which he believed. This theory was diametrically opposed to that of his superior.
"How long shall you be at Taxton-on-Thames," he asked Fanks, when this little piece of amusement was concluded.
"I may be a few days, a few hours, or a month. It all depends on what I find out. I must interview Anne Colmer; see her mother; and make inquiries about Binjoy and his negro servant."
"But the doctor is at Mere Hall. You must go there to ask about the negro."
"Rubbish. As I told you before, the negro has never been seen at Mere Hall. Binjoy lived at Taxton-on-Thames, and it is there that I must ask after this mysterious black man. Afterwards, I can go to Mere Hall."
"Have you any reason for going?"
"One. I wish to find out why Mrs. Boazoph visited the Hall."
"And what about the tattooed cross, Mr. Fanks?"
"Oh, I shall see that later on. But in the meantime I must pay these visits. Firstly, Taxton-on-Thames. Secondly, Mere Hall. Thirdly, the Isle of Wight and the Rev. Mr. Hersham."
"Humph!" said Crate, doubtfully. "From what you say, I should think Mr. Hersham junior would thwart your plans, if he could."
"I have not the least doubt of it," replied Fanks dryly, "but he is being watched. If he tries to thwart me I shall, at least, have the satisfaction of knowing it. By the way, do you know anything about Bombay?"
"That's in India, isn't it?" said Crate, rather taken aback by the apparent irrelevancy of this question. "I don't know anything about Bombay, Mr. Fanks, except what I've seen in books."
"You must extend your knowledge then; for I may want you to go there in a week or so."
"Has my going there anything to do with this case?" demanded Crate, still very much astonished at the turn the conversation had taken.
"It has everything to do with this case," replied Fanks, enjoying his perplexity, and the confusion of his somewhat slow-moving mind.
"Dr. Renshaw did not go to India," was Crate's next remark.
"Quite so. Renshaw having resumed his real name of Binjoy, is now at Mere Hall--in safety, as he thinks. I can lay hands on him any time; but I can't lay hands on that negro. You must do that, Crate."
"But the negro isn't in India, Mr. Fanks?"
"In my humble opinion--I may be wrong--he is," replied the other. "See here, Crate. Dr. Binjoy must know that as I am employed by Sir Louis to hunt down the assassin, I must see him sooner or later. If I see the new baronet, I can hardly help seeing his 'Fidus Achates.' Now, although Binjoy has--as he thinks--destroyed all trace of his connection with Renshaw, yet he cannot quite alter his personal appearance, which is rather noticeable. He may shave off his beard so as to make himself look younger; he may even get rid of his stoutness; but he cannot alter his voice or entirely change his pompous manner. He must, therefore guess that I may be struck with his resemblance to Renshaw. In some way--for I give him the credit of being clever--he will endeavour to account for the resemblance. I do not know the particular lie he will stick to; but of one thing I am certain;--he will keep up the deception that Renshaw is in India by means of prepared letters written to Dr. Turnor."
"It is my opinion, Crate," continued Fanks, solemnly, "that Binjoy has got rid of his negro servant by sending him to Bombay; and, from Bombay the negro will forward letters--already written--to Turnor of Great Auk Street. I may be wrong, of course, and I do not wish to act in a hurry. But the first letter I see from India, purporting to be from Binjoy-Renshaw, that very day you start for Bombay to look for the negro who is at present missing. I am content to stake my professional reputation that you will find him there."
"Well, you are a 'cute one, Mr. Fanks," said Crate in an admiring tone. "I should never have thought of that."
This tribute of respect from Crate put an end to the conversation for the time being. Fanks went to his chambers, packed a few clothes, and repaired to Waterloo Station. The detective who was watching there, assured him that Hersham had not been seen on the platform; and Fanks went down to Taxton-on-Thames quite satisfied that he had what the Americans call "the inside running."
He amused himself while in the train by making notes in his pocket book; and with figuring out the questions which he intended to ask Miss Colmer. Notwithstanding his assurance to Crate, he was very doubtful if he would be able to discover the assassin of Sir Gregory, for the further he went into the case the more intricate did it become. So far as he could see at the present moment, the person who had killed the Tooley Alley victim had every chance of escaping the gallows. All that the detective could do was to go on in the darkness; and trust to any stray gleam of light which might reveal the assassin; but at present, he could not see an inch ahead of him.
On arriving at Taxton-on-Thames he drove at once to the local post office; and, as he expected, he there found a telegram, which the police had succeeded in delaying. It was addressed to Anne Colmer, and ran as follows: "Detective coming; answer him nothing." There was no name; but from the context, and the place whence it had been sent--High Street, St. John's Wood--Fanks had no difficulty in guessing that it had come from Hersham.
"Very good," he murmured. "What Hersham knows, the girl knows. I failed to get the information from him; I may from her."
The Colmers, mother and daughter, dwelt at the further end of the village in a cottage adjoining the shop. The former was small, but the latter was quite an imposing structure for so sparsely-populated a neighbourhood. Indeed its owners made an excellent income out of the dressmaking business; and they were fairly comfortable in the position of life into which they had been forced by circumstances. They employed five or six girls in the workroom and three in the shop, so that Anne found her hands full in looking after these underlings, and in supervising the general run of the business. She was an admirable administratrix.
As may be guessed from the nature of her complaint, Mrs. Colmer was a mere cypher in the domestic economy of Briar Cottage--for so the house was named. The old woman usually sat in a wheeled chair beside a bow window, looking out on to the back garden. This latter sloped down to the river banks, and was prettily laid out, with a summerhouse at the lower end. From her window the paralytic could see the passing of boats and steamers, and enjoy the brightness of the aquatic life. She viewed this panorama from morn to eve; read on occasions, and meditated on her past life, which had been none of the happiest.
A mild and placid woman, she was of a singularly sweet disposition; and although she was chained to her chair by her affliction, she never complained. The paralysis extended only to her limbs, but her brain was still active, and she could give, and did give, her daughter excellent advice in connection with the business. The sorrowful expression on her face showed how keenly she had felt the loss of Emma. But that was not the only melancholy event in her life; there were others which will be spoken of in due course. Mrs. Colmer was not without her troubles, but she had her consolations also, and of these the love of Anne was the greatest.
On the day of Fanks' arrival the old lady was seated in her usual place, between five and six, waiting for Anne. Tea was ready for the girl, but Mrs. Colmer had already been fed by her nurse, and was looking forward to the usual conversation which took place at this time. All day Anne was busy in the shop, and Mrs. Colmer was left to her own devices; but when the labours of the day were ended, mother and daughter met to converse. To Mrs. Colmer this had been the happiest hour of the day--but that was before Emma went to London. She still talked to Anne, and took an interest in domestic and local affairs; but she was haunted by a feeling of impending evil, and she clung despairingly to her remaining child, dreading lest she should meet with the fate of her sister. An atmosphere of apprehension existed in Briar Cottage.
In due course Anne entered, and, having kissed her mother, sat down to tea. She was as beautiful as ever, but there was a haggard look on her face which accorded but ill with her youth. It would seem as though she dreaded the future also, and was expecting the happening of some terrible misfortune. After a short discussion of domestic matters the conversation languished, for, wrapped in her own thoughts, Anne did not seem inclined to talk. Mrs. Colmer noticed this, and commented thereon with affectionate solicitude, bent on knowing what made Anne so absentminded.
"Is there anything wrong, my dear?" she asked nervously.
"Nothing, mother; I am a little tired, that is all."
"There is more than that, Anne. For some days you have not been at all like yourself."
"Can you wonder at that, mother?" replied Anne, bitterly. "Think of all that has happened this last month."
An angry light came into the faded eyes of the old woman. "You should be glad of what has happened," she said in a stern voice; "that wicked man has been punished for his evil courses. He drove my Emma to her death, and himself has perished by violence. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; that is Scripture."
"All the same, mother, I wish that he had not been murdered. Gregory was a brute, I know, and the death of poor Emma lies at his door; but murder--" she shuddered. "It is so terrible to think that he should have been cut off in the midst of his wickedness."
"He has gone down into the pit, child. Let us talk no more of him. It is said that we must forgive our enemies, but it is hard for me to forgive him, even though he is dead. My beautiful Emma, she should have lived as Lady Fellenger, instead of dying through his cruelty. I hope, Anne, that your marriage will turn out happier than that of your poor sister."
"Ted will be the best of husbands," said Anne, in a tone of conviction. "He loves me as dearly as I love him. I wonder when he is coming down to see me again? I have so much to tell him."
"About your visit to Half-Moon Street?"
"That and other things," was Anne's answer; then, after a pause, "though indeed he may not be so ignorant of that visit as you think."
"Who could tell him but yourself?"
"That detective, mother. He saw me when I entered the room, and he followed me also. If I had not escaped him in the manner I told you, I should have been in trouble."
"You need not be anxious about that now, Anne. The detective can never find you----"
"I am not so sure about that," said Anne, in parenthesis.
"And as to Mr. Hersham knowing about your visit to Half-Moon Street," Mrs. Colmer continued, "I do not see how this detective you speak of can possibly tell him."
"I can see, mother. Mr. Hersham knows this detective--a Mr. Fanks; and he will probably see him about the case in the interests of the 'Morning Planet.' Should they meet--as they are almost sure to do--my name will certainly be mentioned. Then the story of my visit will come out, with the result that Fanks will find me here."
Mrs. Colmer turned slightly pale. "Are you afraid to meet him," she asked.
Anne shrugged her shoulders. "I can't say that I am overpleased," was her reply. "He is a clever man, and I shall have considerable difficulty in keeping my own counsel."
"You must tell him nothing--nothing."
"You can be sure of that, mother. Should Mr. Fanks come here he will go away as wise as he came. I know when to hold my tongue as on this occasion. Matters are too serious to be spoken of openly."
"Oh, dear, dear," said Mrs. Colmer in an agitated tone. "Into what difficulties have we not been led. I wish I had never let Emma go to London."
"Rather wish that she had never met with Herbert Vaud, mother."
"But, Anne, she loved Herbert."
"I do not think so, else she would never have married Sir Gregory. But you know she always was ambitious and impulsive; look where her ambitions have led her. If she had not met with Herbert she would not have become the wife of that wicked man; if she had not been his wife she would not have been driven to her death; and if she had not died, we should not have been involved in all this trouble."
"Trouble, trouble!" moaned Mrs. Colmer. "What troubles we have had, and more will come."
"Do not be afraid, mother," said Anne, kissing her. "You have always me to stand between you and danger. I may never meet with this detective; I may never be questioned by him, and so all will be well. But should he come, why--I shall know how to answer him."
"You will say nothing."
"On the contrary, I shall say a great deal," replied Anne. "But such things as will mislead Mr. Fanks. He shall never be set on the right path by my telling; be sure of that."
"I wish I could see you married to Ted, my dear," said her mother, comforted by these assurances. "It would be such a relief to my mind."
"I am afraid we will not be able to marry for some considerable time. My dear Ted is very clever, but he cannot earn enough for us both to live on; and I do not wish to be a drag on him. No, no, mother, we must wait until things mend, and the outlook is brighter."
"You could have married Dr. Binjoy."
"I would not marry Dr. Binjoy if there was not another man in the world," said Anne, with supreme contempt. "He is a self-indulgent sensualist. My Ted is worth a dozen of him."
"Still he is well-off," sighed Mrs. Colmer.
"I do not see how you make that out, mother. He was, and is, entirely dependent on Sir Louis Fellenger for his money; and I want to have nothing to do with the Fellengers. Their family have cost us dear enough already."
This reference to the dead Emma made Mrs. Colmer weep, and Anne had considerable difficulty in quietening her. However, she succeeded in the end, and left her mother to her own thoughts, while she herself went out into the garden for a breath of fresh air. Moreover, she wanted to be alone, for the purpose of thinking over the position of things. Anne could not but recognise that if certain contingencies arose, she and her mother would find themselves very awkwardly placed.
The evening was warm, and the sky was filled with a mellow light, which rendered languid the atmosphere. Against this, the trees stood out in bold relief, every twig and leaf being sharply outlined against the amber sky. The sound of distant laughter, and the musical splash of oars came to the ears of the girl as she walked slowly down the path towards the summerhouse. A low, redbrick wall ran along the bank of the river, and as she leaned over this low parapet, Anne could see some considerable distance to right and left. Before a boating house on the opposite shore a number of people were collected; and every now and then a boat would shoot out into the gleaming waters bearing two or three of them away. Someone musically inclined had brought a banjo, and Anne could hear the thrumming of the string's, and the echo of the latest music-hall ditty. Altogether, the scene was not without its charm; but she was too much taken up with her own troubles to pay much attention to the pleasant picture spread out before her. The quiet of the evening brought no peace to her.
"How foolishly I have acted," she thought, with a shiver. "If I had been wise I would have left these matters alone. I feel certain that Mr. Fanks recognised me as the woman he saw in Tooley's Alley. If he finds me out, he will ask me what I was doing there on the night of the murder. What can I say. I dare not tell him the truth, and he may refuse to believe what I say to him. I acted for the best, it is true, but my good intentions have led me into a position of danger. But I may be wrong--I may be quite safe. That man may never find me. If he does,"--she shivered again, and looked up the river.
Under the glow of the sunset sky, the waters rolled, a broad sheet of gold flecked here and there with the dark forms of boats. To the left Anne saw a skiff containing one oarsman, coming swiftly down the stream. In a half dreamy moment she calculated that he would pass almost immediately under the wall. Then she returned to her self-communings.
"If Ted were only here," she thought. "I should like to tell him all that I have done, and ask him how to act. For his own sake he must keep silent; and for the sake of my mother I must hold my tongue. Oh, it is terrible--terrible to know what I know, and yet remain dumb. And I am afraid of that detective. His eyes seemed to pierce me through on that day. Should he find me out he may compel me to speak. And if I speak--oh, the disgrace and shame of it. Why, why are such things permitted in this world. Oh, Ted! Ted, I wish you were here to comfort me."
She leaned her head on the wall and burst into tears. Anne was not easily moved; and it was an unusual thing for her to thus give way to her emotions. But she was only a girl after all, and her system was strung up and nervously excited by the knowledge of the secret she knew. She would like to have confided in someone, if only to relieve her overburdened mind; but she shrank from the consequences of such a step. A word from her, and the murder in Tooley's Alley--but, no, she put the thought out of her mind, and, still leaning her head on her arms, she wept bitterly.
Meanwhile the single oarsman rowed steadily towards the red brick wall, which was evidently the point for which he was making. Soon he came abreast of it; shortly he came under it, and Anne raised her head at the sound of the splash of oars, to behold the very man of whom she had been thinking. It was Ted Hersham.
Hersham brought his boat under the wall with a sweep, but before disembarking he looked up to Anne with an anxious expression on his face.
"Did you get my telegram?" he demanded hastily.
"Telegram!" she repeated. "I have received no telegram from you."
"I thought so," said the journalist, and laughed in a savage sort of manner.
"What do you mean?" demanded Anne, noting how haggard he looked. "Is anything wrong?"
"More than I like to say," was his answer.
At that moment it seemed to Anne that her presentiments were about to become true, and she waited with vague terror for his next speech. Ted did not open his mouth for some minutes, being fully occupied in making fast his boat prior to landing. In spite of the importance of the interview, and his desire to prepare Anne for the immediate coming of Fanks, he did not hurry himself, but executed his task with the utmost deliberation. On her part the girl held her peace, and not until her lover had taken her in his arms to kiss her passionately did she speak. Then she led him to the summerhouse--out of sight of Mrs. Colmer at the window--and broached the subject which was uppermost in her mind.
"Ted," she asked in a low voice, "is there any danger?"
"There is a great deal of danger."
"From what quarter?"
"From the worst of all quarters. Fanks has found you out."
"Ah!" she sat back suddenly and her face turned pale with apprehension. "Is he here?"
Hersham nodded. "I sent a telegram to warn you not to answer his questions."
"I did not receive it."
"I guessed you would not," replied her lover, with a nod. "Fanks visited me to-day, and left me with the intention of coming down here to see you. I sent the wire. Then I fancied that he might manage to get it delayed at the office here. I did not dare to go by Waterloo, as I made sure he would have the station watched. In this dilemma there was nothing left for me to do but to come down on my bicycle, which I did. I rode to Warby's boat-house, left my machine there, and came on to warn you."
Anne considered for a few minutes. "How was it that Mr. Fanks found me out?" she asked anxiously.
"He saw your portrait in my rooms."
"What was he doing in your rooms?"
"He came to question me about the cross tattooed on my arm."
"Did you tell him anything?"
"Nothing! What could I tell him? I am quite unaware how the cross came to be there. But with regard to his recognition of you; how was it that you went to the chambers of that dead scoundrel?"
"I went to get a photograph of Emma's that was in the possession of her late husband."
"Why did you wish to get the photograph?"
"It had some writing on the back, which may implicate another person in this trouble of the death. I think," she added, pointedly, "that you can guess the name of that person."
"I think I can," replied Hersham, gloomily, "and the worst of it is that Fanks will certainly find out that name."
"Impossible! I may be able to thwart him on that point."
"I hope so; but you do not know the man as I do. He is the most patient and pertinacious of men. He will stick to this case until he has the assassin of Sir Gregory in jail."
"God forbid!" ejaculated Anne, with a shudder.
"Amen to that!" answered Hersham. "Oh, Anne, my dear Anne," he continued, taking her hand, "how I wish we could end all this and fly to the ends of the earth!"
"My dear," she said gently, "we have others to think of besides ourselves. It would never do to desert them at the present moment. Besides there may not be so much chance of discovery as you think."
"I don't know; I am certain of nothing," said Hersham, with a sigh. "I only dread one thing--lest Fanks should force you into betraying that which you would rather hide."
"Don't trouble about that, Ted," returned Anne, dryly. "I think Mr. Fanks will find me more than his match. You need not have come to prepare me, for I am quite ready for the gentleman as soon as he chooses to call."
"That will be very soon. He is in the village now. I don't want him to see me. For that reason I came here in a boat."
"Do not be foolish, Ted," said Anne, quickly. "You must let him see you, else he will suspect that you know something about this matter. And you must be aware, dear, that you have your own safety to look to."
"Oh!" groaned Hersham, "how are we to extricate ourselves from this mess?"
"I think we will leave that to time; and you have me to comfort you."
"Dearest!" he drew her towards him; "without you I should not be able to move one step. At present all is dark and dreary; but let us hope that there are brighter days in store."
"I am certain that there are," said Anne; "but we have a great deal to endure before peace comes. We must go through the valley of humiliation to reach the promised land."
"Well!" said Ted, emphatically, "when we do reach it I think we must go to America, there to commence a new life. It is no use trying to construct a new one here out of the ruins of the old."
"That we shall see," replied Anne, with a sigh "God knows we have had a great deal to endure since the death of my poor sister. But let us for the moment banish this gloomy subject, and talk of ourselves. How are you getting on with your work?"
Hersham smiled and kissed her. He saw that she was striving to lighten the burden which had been laid upon him; and he was grateful for the kindness. All the same he found it difficult to put his troubles out of sight and memory, seeing that they were so insistent, and that within the next half hour he might be called upon to defend himself from a dangerous charge. Alone as they were in the summerhouse, they were afraid to speak openly, lest the birds of the air should carry to Fanks undesirable news which would please him, but ruin them. Under these circumstances Hersham agreed with Anne that it was best to let affairs connected with the case of Tooley's Alley remain in abeyance, until they were compelled to take action. In the meantime the unhappy pair went hand in hand into a Fool's Paradise of make-believe, and hollow joys. There was something pitiful in this playing with happiness.
"We will be very poor, my love," said Hersham, somewhat later in the conversation; "and I am afraid that you will miss all the luxuries to which you have been accustomed."
Anne laughed and kissed him. "You silly boy," she said kindly; "my luxuries are of the cheapest kind, as you well know. Besides I can face poverty with a brave heart with you."
"But your mother?"
"I am afraid she will not live long," sighed Anne. "She is growing so weak, and she has long, long fits of silence. Poor mother! she has had a hard life. I do not think she ever got over the death of Emma."
"Does she know anything about these other matters?"
"Very little. I kept as much from her as I could. Indeed, she would never have heard of the death at all had it not been for Herbert Vaud."
"He might as well have held his tongue," said Ted, angrily; "but the fact is, that since Emma's death and his illness he has not been quite right in his head. He returned comparatively well, as you know; but that journey to Paris to inquire after Lady Fellenger unsettled him again."
"Don't talk of Lady Fellenger," said Anne, with a shudder.
"Why not? Your sister was lawfully the wife of Sir Gregory."
"I know that. All the same, I hate to hear the name of the family."
"And yet," said Hersham, meaningly, "you were fond enough of Louis."
Again Anne laughed. "You must not be jealous of my friendship for Louis, Ted. He is a good fellow in his way. I was never in love with him as I am with you, but I liked him."
"And Binjoy, that pompous doctor, did you like him?"
"I hated him. I hate him still," she flashed out. "He is the evil genius of Louis. If these matters only concerned Dr. Binjoy, I should not keep silent and bear the burden I am doing."
"You have me to bear it with you," said. Hersham, softly.
"I know that, my dear. But there are some things which men and women have to face singly. Such a thing is this coming interview with Mr. Fanks. I wanted you to see him so as to disarm any suspicions which he may entertain. Still, I wish you to take no part in the conversation."
"But why?" asked Ted, with a frown. "I can't leave you to fight my battle."
"You must in this case," replied Anne, "you are a dear, good fellow, Ted, but you allow your heart to govern your head."
"That is very true. And it is the reverse with you, Anne."
"Not so far as you are concerned, Ted. I am as weak as water with you. If you see me hard to other people you must set it down to the severe training I have had in the school of adversity. I am only a girl in years, but I am a woman in experience."
"You are the dearest and bravest woman in the whole world," said Hersham fondly, kissing her hand, "and if happiness comes to us in the future, it will be through you. I shall do what you say and hold my tongue. But, my darling, are you sure that you can cope with Fanks."
"I do not know as I have only seen him, but once we cross swords and I shall soon learn my strength. I have a large stake to fight for, and the remembrance of that will make me desperate."
"Well," said Ted, dolefully, "we cannot turn back now. The enemy is within our gates, and we must fight. 'Vę victis.'"
"You may well say that," said Anne, bitterly. "'Woe to the vanquished' indeed. Come let us go to the house and see my mother, but you must say nothing to her about our conversation. She knows as much as is good for her, and her health will not stand any great shock."
"In that case," observed Hersham, as they strolled up the path, "you must not let her see Fanks."
"Trust me, Ted. Forewarned is forearmed."
Mrs. Colmer was delighted to see Ted, for he was a great favourite with the invalid. She had no suspicion of what had brought him down in so unexpected a manner, and chatted to the young man in the most cheerful of spirits. Meanwhile Anne gave her lover a cup of tea, and cut him some sandwiches. All the time she was straining her ears to catch the fall of the knocker on the front door. Every moment she expected to bear the crash which would announce the arrival of the detective, and as the minutes went by her nerves became strained to their utmost pitch. Ted saw what she suffered, but in the presence of Mrs. Colmer he could say nothing, and the old lady went chattering on. There was something cruelly ironical about the situation.
At last, Hersham could bear the suspense no longer, and making some excuse to Mrs. Colmer, he drew Anne out into the passage. There he placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Are you afraid?" he said, anxiously. "Are you afraid of the coming interview with this man?"
"Yes," said Anne, and shivered; the colour had left her cheeks, and she suddenly appeared older, and more haggard.
"Why are you afraid? Because of your visit to those chambers?"
"That and another thing."
"Does the other thing concern yourself."
"Yes. It concerns a visit to London on that night."
"Heavens! Where did you go?"
Before Anne could answer, a sharp knock came to the door, which drove all the blood into their hearts.
They looked at one another, for they now felt that the danger was on them. What would happen within the next hour.
"Where did you go on that night?" asked Hersham, hoarsely.
"To Tooley's Alley--to the Red Star Hotel."
"Anne, Anne. And you saw--"
Anne nodded. "Yes," she said, steadily, "I saw."
On arriving at Taxton-on-Thames Fanks had taken up his abode at the Royal Arms Hotel. It was his intention to make inquiries about Sir Louis Fellenger, Dr. Binjoy, and the negro servant of the latter. Ignorant that he had been thwarted by Hersham, he had also intended to interview Anne Colmer without loss of time, before she could see or even hear from her lover. The intercepted telegram proved conclusively that this girl knew something which Hersham did not want her to reveal; and in the absence--as Fanks supposed of all warning--he hoped to take her at a disadvantage. In this mood he took his way to her home.
So far as the detective could see, his future plans depended almost entirely upon the information which he expected to obtain from this girl within the next few hours. And in that supposition lay the irony of the situation. Being in this frame of mind, his astonishment may be conceived when on the door of Briar Cottage being opened he saw before him the man whom he thought was at that moment in London. For the minute he was unable to speak, but recovered himself to ironically congratulate Hersham on his dexterity in evading the machinery of the law. In reality Fanks was angered, but he had too much good sense to give way to bad temper. It was, in his opinion, useless to make bad worse.
"So you have stolen a march on me, Hersham," he said sardonically. "I was doubtful of your honesty in London; I am still more so now. How did you manage to dodge the traps I laid for you?"
"By knowing where they were laid," said Hersham, sullenly. "I guessed you would have the railway stations watched, so I came down here on my bicycle."
"A very ingenious idea; you have no doubt warned Miss Colmer not to answer my questions?"
"Yes," said Hersham, defiantly; "I have done so. As I did not receive a reply to my telegram, I guessed that you had intercepted my message in some way. It has arrived now, when it is too late. To see Miss Colmer, to warn her, I came down here at the risk of my own safety."
"Oh!" remarked Fanks, taking note of this injudicious speech. "That is as much as to say that you risked being arrested by me. I don't know that you are wrong, my friend. You deserve punishment for your trickery."
"You have evidence against me?"
"I have sufficient to ensure your arrest. On the whole, Hersham," said the detective, "I should advise you to help me. Otherwise I shall arrest you within the hour. Take your choice."
Before Hersham could answer this question Anne appeared at the door with a pale face and a determined manner. At once she intervened in the conversation, and placed herself between the two men.
"There is no necessity to threaten, Mr. Fanks," said she, quickly. "Come inside, and let us discuss this matter calmly. I am sure that Mr. Hersham will agree that this is the best course."
The journalist nodded sullenly, and the two men passed into the house, conducted by Anne. She led them into a room, the window of which looked on to the road, and here, when they were seated, she addressed herself more particularly to Hersham.
"You were wrong to speak as you did to Mr. Fanks," she said meaningly. "There is no reason why you or I should conceal anything. I am perfectly willing to tell all that I know--which is not much--and to afford this gentleman every information in my power."
"You will regret it if you do, Anne," said Hersham, warningly.
"You will regret it if you don't," interposed Fanks. "I really do not understand why you should act in this childish manner. I have always been your friend, yet you treat me a though I were your bitterest enemy."
"You are trying to trap me."
"If your conscience is clear I do not think you need be afraid of being trapped," retorted Fanks; "but it seems useless to hope for any sense from you. Perhaps this young lady may be more amenable to reason."
"You can depend upon me to help you, Mr. Fanks," said Anne, calmly.
Hersham rose to his feet with an agitated look on his face. "I shall leave you to reveal what you think fit," he declared. "At the same time I wash my hands of the consequences which may result."
And with a significant look at Anne, he left the room.
Fanks gave him a parting warning as he passed through the door. "You had better stay here, Hersham," he said, "as I may want to see you again. Whether you stay or go I can lay my hands on you at any moment."
"You are having me watched?" questioned Hersham, fiercely.
"Yes, I am having you watched; and you may thank yourself that you are placed in so unpleasant a position. Now, then, will you go to London, or stay here?"
Hersham hesitated for a moment, then, biassed by a look from Anne, he compromised. "I shall stay in the village," he said, and passed through the open door, leaving the detective with Miss Colmer.
Strange to say, Fanks was by no means at his ease with this woman the more so, as he mistrusted her promise to tell him all she knew. She had deceived him by flying from the chambers in Half-Moon Street; she might again mislead him with false reports. If she had anything to conceal, this ready acquiescence hinted that she would not tell her secret; and the detective was far more distrustful of her craft than of the foolish behaviour of Hersham. He might combat obstinacy with more or less success, but to deal with a diplomatic person like Miss Colmer, required a dexterous use of all the intelligence he possessed. Fanks, therefore, prepared for a duel of words; and weighed both expression, and information, during the ensuing conversation.
"Well, Mr. Fanks," said Miss Colmer, coolly, "I must congratulate you on your cleverness in determining my identity; I thought when I left you in Sir Gregory's chambers that I should be able to elude you altogether. I was wrong, it seems; you have found me out. Now that you have done so, may I ask what you want to know?"
"I want to know a great many things," said Fanks, emulating her coolness; "but the question is whether you will consent to answer all my questions?"
"You can judge for yourself. Ask me what question you will, and I shall answer to the best of my ability. But," added she, pointedly, "before you begin, let me ask you one question. Do you suspect that I have anything to do with the murder of Sir Gregory?"
"I can't answer that until you have replied to my questions, Miss Colmer; but, judging from your readiness to afford me information, I fancy that you do know something of the matter."
"You are right, I do know something of the matter; but I cannot promise to tell you who killed Sir Gregory. I know that he was murdered--no more; and even that information I gained from the newspapers."
Fanks made no reply to this remark; whereupon Miss Colmer continued: "Why do you think that I know anything about the crime? I never met Sir Gregory."
"Why did you come to the rooms of Sir Gregory?" replied Fanks. "I connect you with the murder because of that visit."
"If you know the story of my poor sister, you know why I came to Half-Moon Street," said Anne, coldly. "It was to ask the servant, Robert, for a portrait of Emma, that had been taken from her by Sir Gregory."
"I have seen that photograph, Miss Colmer. Did you want it back for the picture, or because it had some writing on the back?"
"What writing do you mean?" asked the girl, sharply.
Fanks produced the celebrated envelope from his pocket. "That is the writing," he said; "whosoever wrote that, also wrote on the back of the photograph of your sister. Perhaps you can tell me who is the scribe."
Miss Colmer looked earnestly at the envelope, and shook her head. "I never saw that writing before," she said, decisively.
"Yet you can see that the post mark is of this village."
"So it appears; nevertheless. I cannot name the writer; and I cannot understand why you show it to me."
"Well, Miss Colmer," said Fanks, disappointed with this answer, "when I find out who wrote this envelope I shall know who killed Sir Gregory."
"I am sorry I cannot help you, Mr. Fanks. I see that you think the envelope came from this house, but I assure you that you are wrong. Both my mother and myself considered Sir Gregory a villain because of his treatment of poor Emma; but we did not wish his death. If you came here to find the assassin you have wasted your time. I know nothing about the matter."
"Then what is it that Hersham did not wish you to reveal?"
"Nothing; he wished me to deny that I had been at the chambers of Sir Gregory on that day, lest you should think I had something to do with the murder."
"Oh!" said Fanks, disbelievingly. "And did Hersham wish you to deny also that you had been in Tooley's Alley on the night of the murder?"
Anne became pale at the directness of this attack, and took refuge in a plain denial. "I was not there," she said, obstinately. "Neither on that night nor at any time."
"Pardon me, I saw you myself."
"You must have been mistaken."
"I think not. Yours is not a face I could easily forget."
"Thank you for the compliment," said Anne, "but in this case I am afraid it is unmerited. I was not at Tooley's Alley on that night. If you doubt me, you can ask my mother."
"No!" said Fanks, after a moment's reflection, "I shall not ask your mother--yet." As a matter of fact, the detective was well assured that mother and daughter had prepared an alibi in case of discovery. Not being ready to analyse the matter, by reason of lack of information, and certain that Anne would persist in her denial, he wisely postponed all discussion until a more fitting occasion. He, therefore, on the face of it, accepted Anne's assertion, and merely remarked that Hersham was foolish to induce her to conceal what had better have been told.
To this, Anne replied, promptly: "You must forgive him, Mr. Fanks," she said. "He knows that I hated Sir Gregory for his treatment of my sister; and he fancies that my unlucky visit might implicate me in this matter. But I have told you the reason I went there; so you must blame or excuse me as you see fit."
"I shall do neither, at present," said Fanks, significantly. "But I shall ask you why you ran away from me on that day?"
"I was afraid of you."
"Why, you did not know me; you never saw me before."
"I saw your portrait," said Miss Colmer, frankly. "You gave one to Ted--Mr. Hersham--and he told me that you were a detective. When I saw you in those chambers I guessed that you had the case in hand; and I was seized with a panic fear lest you should suspect me to be mixed up in the crime. For that reason I fled. How did you trace me?"
"It was wrong of you to go, Miss Colmer," said Fanks, not replying directly, "and I was naturally suspicious of your flight."
"But you don't suspect me now?"
"Not since you have explained your visit. You ask me how I traced you. First, from your marvellous resemblance to your dead sister; and, secondly, from the post mark on this envelope. As I told you, the writing on envelope and portrait are the same. You see the connection?"
"Yes. I see the connection. And now, Mr. Fanks, I have told you all I know; is there any other question you wish to ask me?"
"Yes. Where was this photograph taken you wanted?"
"In this village."
"Was it your sister's possession?"
"It was; it was the only photograph we had of her. The negative was broken and there was no picture of my sister in existence. After the death, my mother wanted this picture; and, as I guessed that it might be at Sir Gregory's chambers, I went up for it."
"Did you see it in your sister's possession before she went away with Sir Gregory?"
"Yes. She took it from here when she went to London."
"Was there any writing on the back then?"
Anne reflected a moment. "No," she said. "There was no writing on it then."
"Do you think your sister wrote on the back of the portrait before she committed suicide?"
"If the writing on the back of the photograph is the same as that on this letter--or rather, envelope--I do not think she wrote it. This is not my sister's handwriting."
"You cannot think who wrote it?"
"No, Mr. Fanks; I am entirely ignorant of that."
Needless to say, Fanks took his departure from Briar Cottage in a very puzzled frame of mind. Before leaving, he told Miss Colmer that he would call again the next day. When he got back to his hotel he asked himself how much of her story he could believe; and he came to the conclusion that not one word of it was true. He was as far off discovery as ever.
Up to the present time the visit of Fanks to Taxton-on-Thames had been a complete failure. He had been thwarted by Hersham; he more than suspected that he had been tricked by Anne; and he saw no means of obtaining any information likely to lead to the elucidation of the mystery which enveloped the death of Sir Gregory Fellenger. It was in very low spirits that the detective returned to the Royal Arms, and after a good dinner, which somewhat cheered him, he sat down with a pipe to consider what he should do next.
He had no hope of obtaining any information from Hersham or Anne Colmer, as for some reason or another each of them declined to speak. Fanks thought they could put him on the right track if they pleased; but he saw no means by which he could force them to speak openly. In spite of his threats he could arrest neither of them, as he had not sufficient evidence to do so. Unable, therefore, to force or to flatter them into plain speaking, he was completely baffled in his efforts to solve the enigma in this direction. For the time being he was at a standstill.
In this dilemma he left the decision regarding his future movements to "chance," and, in the expectation of hearing something of value to his plans, he strolled into the tap-room of the hotel. Here he hoped to find the village gossips, and to gather from their idle talk information concerning Sir Louis Fellenger, Dr. Binjoy, and the negro servant. However, there was no one in the room save a bent and crooked old man, with a pair of keen eyes. He was seated in a corner of the settle, with a tankard of beer before him; and with garrulous complacency he introduced himself as Simeon Wagg, the parish clerk of Taxton-on-Thames. He had a long tongue and a fund of gossip at his disposal; and he was ready to afford Fanks all the information in his power about the parish and its inhabitants.
"I hev more edication than the most folk about here," piped this ancient. "Theer ain't much as I don't know if I do so choose. Thirty year, sir, hey I bin official in this yer church an' village; and I've buried an' married an' christened wi' five passons. They come, they go; but old Simeon he staay like t' church itself. He! he! he!"
"I suppose you know Sir Louis Fellenger?"
"I knaw Mr. Louis Fellenger," corrected the aged gossip. "He warn't no barrownit when I seed him. Now he hev gone inter th' 'Ouse of Lors, es I hev heard. But he was in the third 'ouse es you go down by Fox's Farm. Aw, yis, I knaws him; sold hisself to Ould Scratch, he did."
"What do you mean, Mr. Wagg?"
"Whoy, this ere Mister Fellenger he was a-pothicary an' a chimist, an' he raised the 'nemy of mankin', as the saaying goes. An' they do saay es the black maan wor a devil, from all of which Good Loord deliv'r us, es I ses i' t' church."
"Did you know Dr. Binjoy?"
"Aye! He were laarge an' beer-baarel like; aw, vis, an' the woords he sid, passon culdn't spake like he. He wint awaay wi' Mister Fellenger t' be a barrownit, es I hey heaard tell."
"Did the negro servant go with them?"
"Aw, no. T' blaack devil he was turned out o' doors on t' twenty first, he was. I know t' toime, I do, 'cause blaack maan he nearly run me over on his bikikle, he did."
Fanks pricked up his ears at this. It was on the twenty-first that the murder had been committed in London. He addressed himself with renewed attention to the task of extracting information from this piece of antiquity.
"How was it that the negro nearly ran over you on his bicycle?"
"Naow, I'll jes' tell ye, I will," said Simeon, settling himself for a long story. "This yere blaack maan--Caesar is his name--he worn a grean coat wi' brass buttons, he did. I knawed him in t' dark by that coat, I did."
"Was it in the dark that he ran over you?" asked Fanks.
"Aye; it jes' were, Mister. I was on t' Lunon Roaad, I was; about nine, es I cud tell by t' striking clock fro' t' church. An' this yere blaack maan he coom along, he did, on t' divil machine, an' he laaid me flaat on my back, he did; an' I bean't so yooung es I was, Mister. I shoated to he, but he niver saaid nothing, he didn't. He run on an' left me lying on my baack in t' durt, he did. I were main aangry, I were."
"I don't wonder at it, Mr. Wagg," said Fanks, amiably. "But how did you know it was the negro Caesar?"
"I seed his groan coaat, I tell 'ee; his face were muffled oop-like, but his coaat were plaain in t' gaas lamp, it were. I hev seen t' coaat heaps of times, I hev. An' t' nex' day he were sent away, he were."
This story made Fanks wonder if Caesar had been up to town on the twenty-first. A negro had committed the murder in Tooley's Alley between six and seven. So if he returned to Taxton-on-Thames on a bicycle there was plenty of time for him to come down before nine o'clock, or, as the old man said, after nine o'clock. A good wheelman could easily cover the distance between London and Taxton-on-Thames in two hours. Again, Mrs. Boazoph had sworn that the murderer had been arrayed in a green coat with brass buttons; and this description matched that of the negro who had so nearly run over Wagg on the London Road. Time and date corresponded; and then the negro had been dismissed the next day--he had been smuggled out of the way by his master. On the whole, Fanks thought that matters looked rather black against the stout doctor. He proceeded with his enquiries.
"Did Dr. Binjoy discharge his servant, or did Sir Louis?"
"Weel theer naow," said the aged one, taking the pipe out of his mouth, "blamed if I knaw who did give him t' kickout. Muster Fellenger, he were ill, he were, an' hed bin fur weeks; t' doctor he was wi' him, he was, an' I niver saaw one of 'en--an' naw one else es I heerd of did, fur daays an' daays. But Missus Jerusalem, she es is t' housekeeper t' Muster Fellenger, she said es haow Caesar hed bin turned awaay. He got off fro' t' village, he did; an' I niver see'd him since, I didn't. Then t' cousin of Muster Louis died, he did; an' Muster Fellenger he went awaay wi' doctor to be barrownit, he did."
"You don't think that Dr. Binjoy was up in London on the night you met Caesar on the bicycle?"
"Noa, sir, I doan't. Whoy Muster Fellenger he were ill, he were; an' t' doctor he kep in t' sick room, he did. No one iver saaw him for daays, they didn't."
From this information, it seemed to Fanks as though there were an understanding between Sir Louis and the doctor. This old creature who represented the village opinion was quite sure that Dr. Binjoy had been in attendance on Fellenger on the night of the twenty-first. Yet Fanks knew by personal observation that Binjoy, under the name of Renshaw, had been in Tooley's Alley. He would not have returned to Taxton-on-Thames on that night, as the house in Great Auk Street had been watched. And yet Fanks had proved beyond all doubt that Renshaw and Binjoy were one and the same person. Was it possible that Sir Louis was telling a lie to screen Binjoy from the consequences of his being in town; and was it possible that the two had employed the negro, Caesar, to commit the crime, and then had smuggled him out of the way--say to Bombay--so that he should not betray them. In a word, were Fellenger and Binjoy guilty of the murder of the cousin of the former? It seemed impossible; and yet, as Sir Louis was employing Fanks to hunt down the assassin, it was hard to believe. The conversation of Simeon Wagg only introduced a new perplexity into this perplexing case.
There was nothing more to be got out of the old clerk; so Fanks retired to bed in a very melancholy frame of mind. He did not know which way to move in the midst of such contradictory information. The night brought counsel; and the next morning Fanks arose with a definite object. He would return to town and advertise for the negro. Caesar must have left his bicycle somewhere, so if he advertised for a negro in a green coat with brass buttons, he might find out something. Those with whom the bicycle had been left would be able to give a description of the negro who had arrived and departed with it; and so Fanks hoped to learn if the black murderer of Tooley's Alley was the same as the servant Caesar of Dr. Binjoy. Regarding the shielding of the doctor by Louis Fellenger, the detective resolved to leave that question until he went to Mere Hall and saw the two men together.
"I am afraid that Crate will have to go to Bombay, after all," said Fanks to himself as he left the hotel.
He did not go at once to town, as he wished to see both Hersham and Anne Colmer; also he was desirous of having an interview with the mother. Half-way down the street he met with the journalist, who saluted him in rather a sullen fashion.
"I was just about to call on you," said Hersham. "I wish to go to town by the midday train, if you have no objection."
"You can go as soon as you please," retorted Fanks, "you are not so much good to me that I care to keep you here."
"You need not make yourself so infernally disagreeable, Fanks," said the young man, tartly. "I have told you all I know, and so has Miss Colmer."
"As to that, I have my own opinion, Hersham. I certainly think that you and she have a secret between you which you will not share with me."
"It does not concern you."
"Ah, you have a secret, then?"
"Yes, I have, but it is private business, and has nothing to do with the death of that titled scoundrel."
"I should like to judge of that for myself," said Fanks, coldly. "However, I daresay I'll find out all I wish to know without your assistance."
Hersham came forward, and laid his hand on the arm of the detective. "I say, Fanks," he observed, earnestly, "I know I'm not treating you well, but you must make allowances for the natural fear I feel at being brought into contact with the law. I know something; and I should like to tell it to you, but I can't make up my mind to do so--yet. Still, I give you my word of honour that if you ask me again next week I shall tell you all; I shall place my life and liberty in your hands."
"Good heavens, man!" cried the startled Fanks. "You don't mean to say that you are concerned in the murder?"
"No, I am not, but when I tell you all, you will see why I did not speak before. Give me a week to make up my mind."
"I'll give you the week," said the detective, briefly, and without further speech, Hersham took his leave in an abrupt manner, evidently relieved to be so dismissed.
On presenting himself at Briar Cottage, Fanks was at once admitted, and was shown by the servant--a neat-handed Phyllis--into a different sitting-room from the one he had seen before. In a large chair by the window which looked out on the garden, an old lady was seated. She was dressed completely in white; and the lower part of her body was swathed in a shawl of Chinese crape. Her face was pale and careworn, and her eyes were red-rimmed as from constant crying. An open Bible lay on her lap, and from this she raised her eyes as Fanks entered. He had little hesitation in guessing that this was Mrs. Colmer, the paralytic mother of the living Anne and the dead Emma.
"You must excuse my rising to receive you," she said in a low and sweet voice, "but I am unable to move hand or foot. Doubtless, my daughter has told you of my affliction. My daughter will see you presently."
Fanks bowed, and there was a silence between them for a few moments. He glanced round the neatly furnished room; at the pictures and photographs; but among them all he could not see one of the dead Emma.
At the elbow of Mrs. Colmer, on a small table, stood a pile of photographs, at which she had evidently been looking prior to his entrance, and Fanks surmised that a portrait of Emma might be there. He was anxious to discover one, if possible, as Anne had denied that there was a photograph of her sister in existence save the one which she had sought at Sir Gregory's chambers. Fanks thought that if he could find another in the pile at Mrs. Colmer's elbow he would be able to convict Anne out of her own mouth, and expose the falsity of the motive she gave for her visit. He cast about for some means whereby to accomplish his purpose.
"You will excuse me, Mrs. Colmer," he said, rising from his seat, "but that is an excellent picture of the Bay of Naples."
He had crossed over to the other side of the room to look at the picture, and so found himself standing by the small table which held the sundry pictures. In turning away he pretended to stumble, and so knocked over the table and photographs.
"Thousand apologies," said Fanks, in confusion, stooping to pick them up.
He looked in vain for the face he sought; but he made a discovery which startled him not a little. The last photograph which he picked up off the carpet was one of--Mrs. Boazoph.
Before Fanks could remark on the strangeness of this discovery, the door opened and Anne entered the room. With characteristic quickness she recognised the photograph in the hand of the detective. At once she came forward, and signed to him to be silent. At the same time she spoke to her mother.
"Mr. Fanks has been shown into this room by mistake," she said, hurriedly; "so with your permission, mother, I shall conduct him into the next room."
"As you please, Anne; you know best."
Accepting this permission Anne drew Fanks quickly into the passage, and led him into the apartment he had seen on the occasion of his last visit. He still held the photograph in his hand; and at this she looked anxiously as she signed to him that he should take a seat. Fanks placed himself in a comfortable armchair; Miss Colmer took up her position opposite to him, and both prepared for a difficult conversation. As was natural from her late action, she made an observation on the picture of Mrs. Boazoph.
"I see that you recognise that face," said Anne, coolly; "no doubt you wonder how that photograph came to be in this house?"
"I do wonder. Am I to hear the truth from you, Miss Colmer?"
"Certainly; there is no reason why I should tell you a lie."
Man and woman looked directly into one another's eyes, and a look of mutual distrust passed between them. It was Fanks who first took up the unspoken challenge.
"I think you would tell me a lie if there was anything to be gained or concealed by it," said the detective, dryly.
"You are not far out there," returned Anne, coolly. "I am above petty moral doubts in such circumstances. But in this instance, Mr. Fanks, I have nothing to gain or to lose by telling a falsehood. You saw Mr. Hersham this morning," she added abruptly and irrelevantly.
"Yes. Have I you to thank for the alteration in his demeanour?"
"You have; I persuaded him to tell you all. Has he done so?"
"No; he has postponed the confession for a week."
"What foolish weakness," muttered Anne, with a sigh. "I wish he had told you this morning."
"Do you? Why?"
"Because you may find out that which he wished to hide before he can brace his mind to a confession. I love Edward Hersham dearly, Mr. Fanks; but I can see his faults and weakness of character as plainly as you can. I entreated him to tell you all at once. He consented; yet you see when it comes to the point his feebleness makes him shrink from the ordeal."
"You hint at danger to Hersham. May I ask if it is connected with the committal of this crime?
"No, you may not, Mr. Fanks. Edward can tell you the truth for himself in a week; he is foolish but he is not guilty."
Fanks was at once piqued and delighted with this woman. She was so clever and so inscrutable that he could not help respecting her. For the first time for many days he had met with a woman with the mind of a man; and he felt that he would need all his intelligence to beat her. On the other hand, he was not unprepared to expect defeat in place of victory.
"What would you say, Miss Colmer, if I told you that I had found the assassin of Sir Gregory?" he asked, craftily.
"I should at once congratulate you, and doubt you," was the quick response. "No, Mr. Fanks, you are not yet successful, else you would not come to see me, nor would you be astonished at seeing the photograph of Mrs. Boazoph."
"You know her, it seems?"
"I do; but my mother does not know her under that name."
"What do you mean?"
Miss Colmer made no immediate reply. She compressed her beautiful lips tightly together, and looked out of the window.
"I see that I shall have to make a confidant of you, sir," she said, slowly, "although I do not recognise your claim to demand an explanation."
"Pardon me, Miss Colmer," said Fanks, with the utmost politeness, "the law gives me every right. By your visit to Half-Moon Street where the murdered man lived you implicated yourself in the matter. I can see by the hints of yourself and Hersham that you both know more than you choose to tell; and as I am deputed to search out the truth, I can call on you to reveal all you know."
"I made my confession yesterday."
"Was it the truth?"
"It was the truth so far as it went."
"Ah! then there is more to tell?"
"Yes," said Anne, after a pause; "there is more to tell; but not yet, not yet."
Fanks leaned forward and looked into her eyes. "Miss Colmer," he said in a low tone, "tell me who killed Sir Gregory?"
"I do not know; I swear I do not know. See here, Mr. Fanks," she cried, suddenly, "I do not know the truth, but I have an inkling of the truth; I may be wrong; I fervently trust that I am wrong; still I am doubtful; very, very doubtful. I can't tell you of my suspicions: they might get an innocent person into trouble."
"Are you alluding to Hersham?"
"I decline to say; by my advice Mr. Hersham is about to tell you all he knows; I cannot take the words out of his mouth; he would never forgive me; and I do not wish to lose his love."
"Then you mean Mrs. Boazoph?"
"I refuse to speak; I shall leave you if you ask further questions," she said, almost fiercely. "You nearly discovered what I think is the truth in those chambers; I did not know that you were there, but I went up to Half-Moon Street to prevent the truth being discovered, if I could. I failed because you were present."
Fanks sat up alertly. She had given him a clue. "Is the truth to be discovered in Half-Moon Street?" he asked, eagerly.
Anne moistened her dry lips, and turned away her face. "Yes! I believe it is," she murmured, "and I hope you will never discover it."
She was so moved that Fanks thought she was about to faint. With considerable dexterity he left the question alone for a time and turned the conversation toward the subject of Mrs. Boazoph.
"You have not yet told me about this portrait," he said, gently.
"I will do so now," said Anne, recovering her nerve, "Mrs. Boazoph is my mother's sister; she is my aunt."
"Oh!" said Fanks, considerably astonished, "then how is it that your mother does not know the name of Boazoph?"
"Because she only knows her sister as Mrs. Bryant."
"But I do not understand," said Fanks, rather bewildered.
"The matter is easy of explanation. My mother is a gentlewoman, although we keep a shop; and she is very proud of her birth and blood. The behaviour of my sister nearly killed her. You can, therefore, guess what she would think of my aunt, Mrs. Boazoph, did she know that she kept a notorious hotel in Tooley's Alley; and was so well known to the police as she is."
Fanks looked at this woman in astonishment. It was so strange to hear her speak in this manner of her own flesh and blood. Anne noticed his astonishment; and a faint blush crept over her cheek. "I see what you are thinking of, Mr. Fanks. But I know my aunt; she has told me all about her unhappy life. Believe me, she is more to be pitied than blamed."
"Like Hersham?" said Links, dryly.
"Yes, like Mr. Hersham," she retorted, defiantly. "My aunt made an unhappy marriage with a man far beneath her. His name was Bryant, not Boazoph, so my mother only knows her sister by that name. Bryant lost all his money, and was set up by some of his friends in the Red Star, in Tooley's Alley. There, from some shame at his fall, he called himself Boazoph. When he died, my aunt carried on the business; and I daresay you know all the rest of her life."
Fanks nodded. "I suppose Mrs. Boazoph visits you occasionally, as Mrs. Bryant?" he said, inquisitively.
"She comes once or twice in the year; and, for my mother's sake, I see her; but I do not approve of Mrs. Boazoph's misguided life, and I am not what you would call friendly with her."
"Yours is indeed an unfortunate family," said Fanks, bluntly, and with less of his usual courtesy. "Your sister driven to her death by that dead scoundrel; your aunt one of the most notorious women in London; your mother paralysed; your lover mixed up in this murder."
Anne lost her temper at this brutal speech, which was just what Fanks wished her to do, and why he had made it. Inherently a gentleman, he would never have thought of taunting the poor girl with the crime and follies of her family had he not desired to get the better of her; but in this instance he desired to make her angry; and took this way--an unworthy way it must be confessed. With a burst of indignation, Anne rose to her feet.
"I always understood that you were a gentleman, Mr. Fanks," she said bitterly, "but I see I am mistaken. If you think to trap me into helping you by insulting my family, you are mistaken. I shall tell you nothing--now."
"Perhaps I may force you to help me," said Fanks, looking very wicked.
"I am afraid not. In what way do you hope to accomplish so impossible a task?"
"Why," said Fanks, keeping his eyes fixed on her face, "by arresting your lover."
"You dare not."
"I dare! I dare anything. Look you here, Miss Colmer, I am growing tired of being in the dark; and rather than remain in it any longer, I shall resort to strong measures. In some way--of which you know--Hersham is mixed up in this crime. If you won't be persuaded to tell, you must be forced to speak out, if only to save Hersham from being tried for the crime. I shall arrest him."
"Do so; and you will only be the loser by so rash an action."
Fanks walked to the door. "Good day, Miss Colmer, I shall do as I say; and the blame will lie at your door."
Anne said nothing; but, very pale and very determined, she stood looking at Fanks. He admired her for the way in which she was fighting, and he privately considered that if the way to the truth lay through Anne Colmer, there was small chance of it being discovered. He made one more attempt to induce her to speak.
"Come," he said, pleadingly, "be advised; save yourself and Hersham, by telling the truth."
"I don't know the truth, I only guess it."
"Your guess may be the correct one; let me know what it is?"
"No, no, no!"
"You won't speak?"
"No. Not for worlds."
It was plain that whatever she knew she would not reveal, so Fanks, shaking his head, left the room. When he was out of the door, Anne broke down, and, falling into a chair, she burst into tears. Yet she had no idea of yielding: for better or worse the die was cast, and if Hersham was arrested, at her door would lie the ruin and disgrace of his life. Truly, it was a powerful reason which made Anne conceal the truth at the expense of her lover's liberty, and--it might be--of his life.
As for Fanks, he went off to the station, and caught the train to town. He had gone to Taxton-on-Thames full of hope of success; he left it beaten on every point--and by a woman. His sole chance of learning anything further lay in advertising for the negro; and in the chance that Hersham would confess next week. Anne Colmer was as silent as the Sphinx; all the same, Fanks had not done with that young lady.
It may be here mentioned that Fanks had no intention of arresting Hersham at the present time, he had threatened to do so in order to induce Anne to speak out; but this having failed, he thought no more about the matter. The journalist was being watched, and he could be arrested at any moment; so Fanks was quite at his ease on that score. The slightest false step, and Hersham would find himself within the walls of a jail; but up to the present time Fanks had not collected sufficient evidence against him to warrant any magistrate authorising his imprisonment. The confession of the next week might bring about the intervention of the law, but till then Fanks left Hersham under the eye of the watching detective, and devoted himself to searching for the mysterious negro who had worn the green coat with brass buttons.
It may seem strange to the reader that so astute a man as Mr. Fanks should advertise for a negro, when he was confident that the only negro connected with the matter was in Bombay. But this apparent riddle will be explained when Mr. Fanks receives the expected answer to his paragraph in the "Morning Planet." This appeared two days after he left Taxton-on-Thames, and read as follows:--
"Ten pounds reward will be given to any person who can inform advertiser of the whereabouts of a black man dressed in a green coat with brass buttons. Twenty pounds will be given to anyone who can give information as to the movements of the said black man on the night of the twenty-first of June last, between the hours of six and nine. Apply Messrs. Vaud and Vaud, Lincoln's Inn Fields."
It cannot be said that this advertisement was a masterpiece of composition, but the clumsy wording was due to Crate, and Crate not being a scholar had written it in such a fashion. Fanks commented on its prolixity to the author himself on the morning of its appearance.
"You could have shortened that advertisement considerably," he said, smiling. "I never saw so roundabout a request for information."
"What does it' matter?" replied Crate, growing rather red. "I ain't no scholar, Mr. Fanks, and I did the best I could. If, the fish bites, sir, that is all you want."
"I hope the fish will bite, Crate," said Fanks, fretfully; "if not, I do not know what I shall do. Never have I been so unlucky as over this case. Everything seems to go wrong with me. But if I can find anyone who saw this negro on the night of the murder we my hear strange things."
"About Mrs. Boazoph and Dr. Binjoy?"
"About Miss Colmer and Hersham. Though to be sure such information may run me into a blind alley. By the way, did Mr. Garth call to see me in my absence?"
"The deuce!" muttered Fanks, with a frown. "I wonder why he is so anxious over this case?"
"I think I can tell you that, sir."
"And I think I can guess what you are about to say," retorted Fanks. "However, let me hear your theory."
"Well, I may be wrong," said Crate, modestly, "but it seems to me that this Mr. Garth is anxious to find out that Sir Louis Fellenger is concerned in the murder of his cousin, because----"
"Because he wants to inherit the Fellenger title and property as next heir," finished Fanks, smartly.
"Exactly, sir; what do you think of my theory?"
"There may be something in it, Crate," replied Fanks, thoughtfully; "of course, Mr. Garth comes into the Fellenger estates on the death of the present baronet. But," he added, emphatically, "we know that this negro actually killed Sir Gregory, so Louis could only be associated with the case as an accessory before the fact. Therefore he could not be hanged, even if the case were proved against him. Where would Mr. Garth be then? In such an event the estates would probably be thrown into Chancery while Sir Louis was undergoing imprisonment, and would not come to Garth for years. Your idea is a good one, Crate, but I do not see how it would benefit our friend."
Crate scratched his chin. "I suppose that Mr. Garth is lawyer enough to know all that," he said, grudgingly, "and wouldn't risk his neck for the mere chance of such a thing. He----"
"Ah! now you are on another track. Mr. Garth may be anxious to prove the case against Sir Louis, but I do not think he killed Sir Gregory himself."
"Oh, I know who you think is guilty, Mr. Fanks. All the same, I do not agree with you; and I should not be surprised if this Garth turned out to be the real criminal."
"Garth isn't a negro."
"I guess you have your own ideas about that negro, Mr. Fanks."
The detective smiled and rose from his seat. "I guess I have, Mr. Crate. You are improving, my friend; and you are beginning to see further than your nose. I should not wonder if I made something of you yet. So you suspect Garth?"
With becoming modesty, but a good deal of emphasis, Crate asserted that he did, and moreover said that if permitted by his superior officer he would have great pleasure in proving his case against the barrister. To this Fanks assented readily enough.
"Prove your case by all means, Crate," he said, dryly. "I do not agree with you in the least; all the same I am always open to correction. One thing only I ask. You must tell me all you do, all you discover, as I do not wish you to cross my trail."
This Crate assented to without demur, and Fanks departed to Duke Street, where he changed his clothes for the more stylish ones of Rixton. Thence he went to the Athenian Club, and, as he expected, found Garth in the smoking-room. The lean lawyer looked so haggard and worn out that Fanks wondered if there might not be more in Crate's theory than appeared at first sight. But he rejected this idea almost as soon as it crossed his mind; he was confident that the true assassin of Sir Gregory was--but that revelation comes later. In the meantime he greeted Garth with his customary coolness, and sat down beside him with a view to learning all that had transpired during his absence.
"Were you waiting for me here?" he asked, lighting a cigarette.
"Not exactly," replied Garth, with some hesitation. "I hoped that you would come in here sooner or later, and I wished to see you. But at present I am waiting for Herbert Vaud."
"Really! Do you expect him shortly?"
Garth looked at his watch. "He ought to be here now."
"What do you wish to see him about?" asked Fanks, eyeing his companion keenly; "anything about this case?"
Garth nodded. "Yes; young Vaud knew Emma Calvert, and I wish to learn if she is really dead."
"You can set your mind at rest on that point," said Fanks, coolly. "Emma Calvert is six feet below the soil of Pere la Chaise."
"But the woman who appeared at my cousin's chambers; the woman whom Robert said was she."
"That is Anne Colmer, the twin sister of the dead woman."
"Anne Colmer! She is engaged to Ted Hersham."
"She is. I have been down to Taxton-on-Thames, and I have found out all the family history."
"Have you found out who wrote on the back of the photograph; who directed that envelope?"
"No," said Fanks, gloomily, "I have not discovered anything yet about that."
"Do you think that Anne Colmer wrote it?"
"I am certain from personal observation that Anne Colmer did not."
"Did her mother?"
"Impossible. Mrs. Colmer is a hopeless paralytic."
"Then who wrote it?"
"That is just what I have to learn. I am no further in the case than I was when I saw you last. Have you discovered anything?"
"No; but I had hoped to have learned about Emma from Herbert."
"Well," said Fanks, with a sigh, "we know all about Herbert Vaud; we are aware of the identity of Emma Calvert. It is not in that direction we must search. Our only chance of finding out the truth, lies in discovering this negro."
"I saw your advertisement in the 'Morning Planet.' Anybody who can give information is to call at the office of Vaud and Vaud, I see."
"I thought it best that they should receive the information," said Fanks, "seeing that they are the solicitors of Sir Louis. I hope that something will turn up; but I am doubtful; I am very doubtful."
At this moment the waiter brought in a telegram to Mr. Garth. The barrister opened it, and uttered an ejaculation of surprise. After a pause, he handed the telegram to Fanks. "Queer, isn't it?" he said.
Fanks looked at the message, which ran as follows: "Cannot see you to-day; have to wait in to see Fanks about advertisement. H. Vaud."
"Humph!" said Fanks, rising briskly to his feet, "it is strange that I should be here with you; and stranger still that the advertisement should be answered so promptly. I told Vaud to write to Scotland Yard should anything turn up; but this will save me a journey."
"Can I come with you?"
"If you like; I must call at my room first," said Fanks. "By the way, my friend," he added, turning sharply on Garth, "you don't know anything about this very apropos telegram?"
"Good Lord, no! How should I? You don't think that I sent it?"
"No, I don't. But it is--no matter. Let us get on; there is no time to lose."
As a matter of fact, Fanks did not like the look of things at all. He was naturally suspicious of this telegram, fitted in so very neatly with the subject of their conversation, that he thought Garth might know more of it than he had chosen to say. But a moment's reflection convinced him that he suspected the lawyer wrongly. Garth did not know that he was coming to the Athenian Club; therefore, he could not have made such an arrangement. Fanks dismissed the matter from his mind; and allowed Garth to come with him to his room.
In Duke Street he picked up a photograph, and placed it in his pocket. Garth saw the face of the picture, and whistled. "You don't think that person has anything to do with it?" he asked, anxiously.
"This person has to do with the present matter," said Fanks, smartly, "but I can't say if the person has anything to do with the death in Tooley's Alley. I am only taking this portrait on chance; I may be wrong. However, we shall see," and not another word would Fanks say, until he arrived at Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Here they found Herbert in his father's room with an apology. "I have to take the place of my father to-day, Mr. Fanks," said the young lawyer, who looked ill, "he is not well, and deputed me to see after this matter."
"Touching the advertisement?" said Fanks, eagerly.
"Yes. A man turned up this morning in answer to it. He is waiting in the next room; and he says that he knows all about the negro you are in search of."
"Good. Let us have him in. You do not mind my friend, Mr. Garth, being present, I hope?"
"Not at all," replied Herbert, coldly; "that lies more in your hands than mine. Show in that man who came about the advertisement," he added to a clerk who entered.
The gentleman in question entered. A dried-up little man, brisk and keen-eyed, with a horsey look about him. He glanced sharply at the three men, pulled his forelock, and proceeded to ask about the reward.
"I want thirty puns," he said, calmly.
"Oh, no, you don't," retorted Fanks, "you want ten or twenty. The two rewards are separate; you must not add them together."
"But I can tell of the whereabouts of this negro; and I can tell his movements. I know all about him, so I ought to get both rewards."
"You'll get either the ten or the twenty," said Fanks. "Now no more talk; what is your name?"
"Berry Jawkins; I am barman at the Eight Bells public on the Richmond Road."
"Ho; Ho!" muttered Fanks, "I thought as much."
"On the twenty-first a nigger came riding a bicycle about eight o'clock; he came into the bar; and had a drink. He wore a green coat with brass buttons. After he had his drink, he asked if he might wash his face. I sent him out to the pump in the back yard; he washed and came in. Then gents," said the little man, with emphasis, "I got a surprise, I can tell you."
"What kind of surprise?" demanded Garth, with an astonished look.
"Why, sir; that nigger weren't no nigger at all; he were a white man; as white as you make 'em."
"A white man," said Fanks, producing the portrait from his pocket.
"A white man with a smile and a moustache; a very good-looking sort of feller," added the barman, "he explained how it was he--"
"Wait a moment," said Fanks, "is that the man you saw?"
Berry Jawkins started back in surprise, the moment he set eyes on the photograph which Fanks had thrust under his nose. "My gum, here's a start," said Mr. Berry Jawkins. "That's the very identical person who washed himself at the Eight Bells. How did you come to know of him, sir?"
"I suspected it for some time," said Fanks, "do you recognise the face, Mr. Vaud?"
Herbert looked at the face, and his countenance reflected the astonishment of Berry Jawkins and of Garth.
"Why!" exclaimed the young solicitor, starting back, "it is Ted Hersham."
Although Fanks quite expected this revelation, he was, nevertheless, rather astonished at its unexpected confirmation. From that bicycle ride of Hersham's to Taxton-on-Thames to thwart his designs on Anne Colmer, Fanks had deduced certain suspicions; the hesitation of the journalist had confirmed those suspicions. Frankly speaking, he had no reason to connect Hersham with the negro; but he had been satisfied from the evidence of Simeon Wagg that Caesar--Dr. Binjoy's servant--had not been away from the Surrey village on that fatal night. Failing the real negro someone must have personated the black man; from the behaviour of Hersham, Fanks thought he might be the person in question. His random shot had hit the bull's-eye; it was quite an accident that it had done so.
"I expected as much," said Fanks, again restoring the photograph; to his pocket-book. "I told you, Garth, that I was right to trust to my instincts. This discovery explains the extraordinary conduct of Hersham."
"In what way?"
"I shall tell you later on. In the meantime let us hear what this man has to say."
He turned towards Berry Jawkins as he spoke, and waited for him to speak. The barman looked rather downcast, and when he did open his mouth it was to revert to the subject of the reward.
"I'm a poor man, gentlemen," he said, in a whining tone, "and I hope you mean fair about this thirty puns."
"We mean fair about the twenty pounds, man," said Vaud, sternly. "You heard what Mr. Fanks said."
"Oh, yes, I heard fast enough," retorted Berry Jawkins, "and I don't hold with him; the rewards added together make thirty puns."
"No doubt they do; but then the rewards are not to be added together," said Fanks. "You had better tell all you know, Mr. Berry Jawkins, or I'll look into the matter myself, and then you'll get no reward."
"Ah you'd go back on me. Well, d'y see, I shan't tell anything."
Fanks shrugged his shoulders. He had no desire to quarrel with the man or to waste time in arguing. The only way to induce speech from this obstinate creature was to pay him the money, which, after all, he had earned fairly enough. The detective therefore advised Herbert Vaud to fulfil the terms of the advertisement, which was accordingly done, and Mr. Jawkins found himself the richer by twenty pounds.
"Though it should have been thirty puns," said the obstinate creature; "but there ain't no chance of getting what's fair out of the aristocracy. I am a Radical, I am, and I goes----"
"We don't want to have your political opinions, man," said Fanks, sharply. "Come to the point."
"I'm coming to it," grumbled Berry Jawkins. "On the night of the twenty-first I was in the bar. Business was bad that evening, gentlemen, and there was not a blessed soul in the bar but myself. Just about eight o'clock I thought as how I might shut up, when the door opened and in came a black man. He said, 'I've left my bike outside: I want a drink of Scotch cold,' he ses. And, mind you, I twigged that he wasn't a nigger when he spoke, and I saw as he was a gent by the peculiar refinement of his jawing. But as it wasn't my business, I said nothing till he asked to wash his face. Then I told him to go round to the pump in the back yard, 'tho'' ses I, 'a gent like you will want hot water.' 'I ain't a gent,' ses he, 'I'm only a poor strolling Christy Minstrel,' he ses. Then I laughs, seein' as he was lying; but he scowls and bolts out to the back. When he comes back his face was white--as white as you or me--and he had a moustached like the feller in that photo. In fact, gents, he is the feller in that photo, as I can swear to in any court of law. Well, he comes back clean, and finishes his Scotch cold, and goes out. I thinks his manner queer-like, and goes to the door. He gets on his bike, and goes off down the road like a house on fire."
"Which way did he go? To London or down the country?"
"Oh, down the country, for sure, gents. Well, I didn't say anything about all this, for I thought as he might be a gent doing a bolt in disguise; but it wasn't any of my business to split, perticular as he had given me two shilling, just for fun like. But, all the same, I keeps my eye on the papers to see if there was anyone wanted. Then I comes to this Tooley Alley murder, and a description of the negro in a green coat and brass buttons. 'That's my man,' I ses, 'but hold hard, Berry Jawkins, and don't say nothing till you see as there is a reward.' So I waits and waits, till in this morning's paper I sees a reward of thirty puns----"
"Very well, gents all, we'll say twenty, tho' to my mind it ought to be another tenner. But, as I ses, I sees this reward, and comes up to get it. I have got it," said Jawkins, slapping his pocket, "tho' not the amount I did expect; now, having told all, I goes, hoping you'll catch that black-white nigger and hang him, for I think he is a aristocrat, and I hates them, they being my natural enemies."
Having heard this history, Fanks let Berry Jawkins go, as there was no reason why he should be detained. First, however, he found out that Mr. Jawkins was always to be heard of at the Eight Bells in his capacity of barman. The man having left the room, Fanks turned towards Garth and Herbert to see what they thought of the revelation which had been so unexpectedly made. They returned his gaze, and Garth was the first to break the silence.
"Well," he said, in a low tone, "so Hersham is the culprit after all?"
"Pardon me, Garth; but I do not think that we have proved that yet. What do you say, Mr. Vaud?"
"I can say nothing," replied Herbert, coldly. "I have no opinion in the matter. As my father is absent I am attending to the case by his desire; but, personally speaking, I would not lift one finger to discover the assassin--or rather, the punisher of Gregory Fellenger."
"You hated him then?" said Fanks, quietly.
"I hated him; I still hate him; even though he is dead. You wonder at my speaking in this way, Mr. Fanks, but--"
"No!" replied Fanks, with a certain pity in his tone. "I do not wonder; your father told Mr. Garth here the story of Emma Calvert; and Mr. Garth repeated it to me. I know you hate the very memory of that dead scoundrel."
"Can you wonder at it?" said Herbert again. "I loved her; she did not love but she might have grown to do so in time. But he came with his lies and money to drag her away from me. He married her certainly, but he drove her to suicide; and if he had not met with his death by this unknown hand, he would have had to reckon with me for his baseness."
"You would have killed him yourself, perhaps?"
Herbert Vaud opened and shut his hand convulsively. "I don't know what I should have done," he said in a thick voice. "But he is dead, so what does it matter. But if I had my way, the assassin of Gregory Fellenger should go free."
"He may go free after all," said Fanks, quietly, "we have not yet solved the problem of his death."
"We have proved that Hersham was disguised as the negro," said Garth, impetuously.
"We have proved that Hersham was disguised as a negro," replied Fanks, making the correction with point, "but we have not proved that he was--that he is--the negro who killed your cousin in Tooley's Alley."
"If he did not, why was he blacked up on the very night the murder was committed. He must have had some reason for so masquerading."
"I have no doubt he had a reason; and I have no doubt that he will explain his reason to me when I see him. But, on the face of it, I do not think that he is the negro of Tooley's Alley."
"Why not?" said Garth, impatiently. "Look here, Fanks. The skein runs out as clean as a whistle. Hersham has a cross tattooed on his arm. The death of my cousin was caused by a similar cross being pricked on his arm. Hersham is engaged to Anne Colmer; you tell me that she is the sister of the girl, Emma Calvert, who committed suicide in Paris, as the victim of Sir Gregory. The envelope, making the appointment comes from Taxton-on-Thames; Anne Colmer comes from the same place; she lives there. Hersham was disguised as a negro on the very night of the murder--at the very time the murder was committed. What is more reasonable than to suppose that Hersham was inspired by Anne Colmer to kill the man who had deceived her sister. There, in a few words you have the motive of the crime; and the way in which it was carried out. Oh, there is no doubt in my mind that we have the real man at last. Were I you, I should arrest Hersham without delay."
"If you were in my place, you would do what I intend to do," said Fanks, quietly, "and take time to consider the matter. I admit that you have made a very strong case out against Hersham, but there is one important particular which you have overlooked."
"What is that?" asked Garth, "it seems to me that there is not a link missing."
"That comes of being too confident. Can you see the missing link, Mr. Vaud?"
The young lawyer reflected for a few moments in a composed and careless manner, then looked up, and professed his inability to amend the case as set out against Hersham. Fanks shrugged his shoulders at their lack of penetration, and explained his theory.
"The negro who was in Tooley's Alley had no moustache," he said, slowly, "as was proved by the evidence of Mrs. Boazoph. Hersham, on the contrary, both as negro and white man, had a moustache; as has been proved by the story of Berry Jawkins."
"It might have been a false moustache," said Garth, still sticking to his point.
"It was not a false moustache," retorted Fanks, shaking his head, "if Hersham intended a disguise he would have worn a beard. A moustache would disguise him little. But for the sake of argument, we will grant that the moustache was intended as a disguise. If so, why did he retain it when he washed the black off his face; or, if it was part of his disguise, why did he wear it both as the black and the white man. No, no. I am sure that Hersham wore his own moustache; and not a false one. And again," added Fanks, with an afterthought, "I saw Hersham shortly after the murder--within two or three days in fact--he then wore a heavy moustache; and you can trust me when I say it was not a false one. If then Hersham was the Tooley Alley negro, who we have agreed committed the murder, how did he manage to grow his moustache in so short a period. The thing is impossible," finished the detective, "that one point alone assures me that Hersham is guiltless of the crime."
"Mrs. Boazoph may have made a mistake," suggested Garth, "remember she did not see the negro go out."
"She saw him go in, however. Mrs. Boazoph is too clever a woman to make a mistake of that sort. The black man who committed the murder had no moustache; our friend, masquerading as a Christy Minstrel, had one. Against the evidence of Mrs. Boazoph we can place the evidence of Berry Jawkins; the one contradicts the other; and both evidences conclusively prove that Hersham had no hand in the commission of the mysterious tragedy."
"And another thing," said Herbert, suddenly. "Mr. Garth couples the fact of the murder with the name of Miss Colmer. As a friend of the family, I protest against that. I know Mrs. Colmer, I know her daughter; and I am certain that neither of these unfortunate people have anything to do with the death of that scoundrel."
"Nevertheless the envelope which contained the appointment of the Red Star in Tooley's Alley as the rendezvous bore the Taxton-on-Thames postmark. Mrs. Colmer and her daughter live at Taxton-on-Thames."
"What of that? Sir Louis Fellenger and his medical friend lived at the same place. You might as well say that the new baronet committed the crime so as to succeed to the title and estates. The one theory is as feasible as the other."
"Very true," said Fanks, in a desponding tone; "I am as much in the dark as ever. At the present moment we can build up a theory on anything. For instance, I might say that our friend Garth here killed his cousin."
"The deuce!" cried Garth, aghast.
"You are startled," said Fanks, keenly watching the effect of his speech on the young man. "I don't wonder at it. I merely say this to show how slow you should be in condemning Hersham."
"But I don't see how you could bring me in," stammered Garth.
"It is easy enough. You are the heir, failing Sir Louis; you know the purport of that tattooed cross. You might have killed your cousin, and have sent the appointment from Taxton-on-Thames to implicate Sir Louis in the matter, and so have removed the two people between you and the title at one sweep."
"But I don't want the title."
"Possibly not; but you want money. But do not look so afraid, Garth. I don't think you committed the crime; you are no doubt as innocent as Mr. Herbert here."
"If I had committed the crime I should not deny it," said Herbert, gloomily. "I should glory in causing the death of such a scoundrel. If Fellenger had not been killed by the negro in Tooley's Alley, Mr. Fanks, you might have had to arrest me as the cause of his death. As it is, my revenge has been taken out of my hands. But the same end has been arrived at. I am glad the blackguard is dead."
Here the argument ended, and Fanks went out arm in arm with Garth. Both of them were sorry for the unhappy Herbert Vaud, and both of them were more puzzled than ever over the case. As yet all evidence had failed to throw the least gleam of light on the subject.
Shortly after the conversation at Lincoln's Inn Fields Fanks took his leave of Garth. He was rather weary of the lawyer's company, and, moreover, he found such a third person a hindrance to the free speech he wished to induce from those with whom he conversed. In his own heart he was perfectly satisfied that Garth was connected in no way with the crime, for the test which he applied in the office of Vaud and Vaud entirely satisfied him. Nevertheless, he was not so certain that Garth would not be pleased to learn that his cousin--the sole person who stood between him and the Fellenger estate--was implicated in the affair.
On these grounds he therefore excused himself to the barrister, and walked off by himself, intent on his own business. Garth, who was suffering from a bad attack of detective fever, was not over pleased at being thus dismissed; still he thought it best to obey his friend, and so he departed, to think over the aspect the case had now assumed. In fact, he intended to do a little detective business on his own account, and, if possible, he wished to surprise Fanks by an unexpected discovery. There were now three different people following three different lines of action with respect to the case, so it was to be hoped that one of them at least would run down the assassin of Sir Gregory Fellenger, unless indeed all failed on the principle that too many cooks spoil the broth.
On leaving the barrister, Fanks took his way towards Tooley's Alley. It was his intention to see Mrs. Boazoph and to try an experiment on that astute lady. From her demeanour Fanks believed that the landlady of the Red Star knew more about the case than she choose to confess, and that she was anxious to screen the man or woman who had done the deed. Of this belief he wished to make certain.
Mrs. Boazoph received the detective with her customary composure. She was quite prepared for his visit, as she knew that her connection with the case was too patent to escape his vigilant eye. Anticipating a trying conversation, she directed Fanks to be shown into her private sitting-room, and she braced herself up to confuse and baffle him.
No one would have guessed the landlady's thoughts from the amiable manner in which she received her almost declared enemy. She was positively genial in her conversation and demeanour, and Fanks augured ill from this.
"Well, Mrs. Boazoph," said he, mildly, "I suppose you are wondering what brings me here?"
"Indeed I am doing no such thing, Mr. Fanks. You came to find out what I know about this crime."
"I congratulate you on your perspicuity, Mrs. Boazoph. And what do you know about it?"
The woman raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders.
"I know nothing at all," she replied. "I gave my evidence at the inquest; you heard it."
"Well, there is nothing more to be said."
"I beg to differ with you, Mrs. Boazoph; there is a great deal more to be said."
"Not by me," said Mrs. Boazoph, obstinately, closing her mouth. "If you think that I am going to assist you to find out who killed this wretched man, you are very much mistaken."
"Strange," said Fanks, in a musing tone, meant to reach her ear, "the same thing was said in almost the same words by Anne Colmer."
"What do you know about Anne Colmer?"
"More than you can guess. For instance, I know that she is the niece of--Mrs. Bryant."
With a start, instantly repressed, she looked to him in a hard and fixed manner, a disbelieving smile on her lips. "Mrs. Bryant," she repeated, "and who is Mrs. Bryant?"
"If you don't know, I am sure I do not."
"Speak plainly. I hate epigrams."
"So do I. They are such a bar to intelligent conversation. Well, Mrs. Bryant is a lady of birth, who married beneath her. Mr. Bryant was a bully, a sot, a spendthrift, and he lost all his money by fast living. When he became poor, his friends--for strange to say, this unpleasant person had some friends--set him up in an hotel. He was ashamed to stick his own name over his door; so he cast about for another. Perhaps you can tell me what that other name was?"
"What a singularly obstinate person you are," said, Fanks, shaking his head. "Believe me, it is no use our wasting time in discussing facts. Be sensible, Mrs. Boazoph, and admit that you are Mrs. Bryant."
"Mrs. Bryant, the sister of Mrs. Colmer, of Taxton-on-Thames, dressmaker, and decayed gentlewoman."
"I don't know her; I never heard her name."
"Really!" said Fanks, with gentle pity, "then I must inquire of Mrs. Colmer, of Taxton-on-Thames, how is it that her sister, Mrs. Bryant, is the notorious Mrs. Boazoph, of London."
"You are a fiend!"
"And what is Mrs. Bryant, alias Boazoph?"
"She is a most unhappy woman; a woman rather to be pitied than blamed."
"Ah!" said Fanks, drawing a long breath of satisfaction. "So you admit your identity at last."
"I can do nothing else. I do not wish my poor sister to know that I am Mrs. Boazoph. She thinks that I live on the money left to me by my late husband; she does not know that I keep this hotel; that I am the woman who has been mentioned so often in the papers, in connection with thieves, rogues, and detectives. Yes. I admit that I am Mrs. Bryant, the sister of Mrs. Colmer. Who told you?"
"Your niece, Anne."
"She had no business to do so."
"Very probably; but she could not help herself. I forced her to speak; how, it does not matter; but I extracted the truth out of her, Mrs. Bryant."
"Call me Mrs. Boazoph," flashed out the woman, "and relieve me of your presence as speedily as possible. What do you wish to know?"
"I wish to know the agreement you made with Dr. Binjoy, regarding this crime."
"Who is Dr. Binjoy?"
"Come now, Mrs. Boazoph, do not let us have another argument. I have neither the time nor the patience to endure one, I assure you. I know more than you think; and I can force you to speak if I so choose. I would rather not choose, if it is all the same to you. Let us conduct this conversation pleasantly, if possible. You know that Dr. Binjoy is the same as Dr. Renshaw?"
"Indeed, I do not. How can you prove it?"
"Very easily. I followed Dr. Renshaw on his presumed journey to Bombay, and tracked him to Mere Hall at Bournemouth."
Mrs. Boazoph quailed, and shrank back. This man knew so much, that she did not know where she stood.
For the moment, she did not know what to do; but, unable to deny the identity of Renshaw with Binjoy, she admitted it.
"Good!" said Fanks, in a satisfied tone, "we are getting on. And the agreement you made with this man?"
"I made no agreement with him."
"Then why was he here on the night of the murder?"
"It was an accident. For some reason of his own, Dr. Binjoy, whom I met at Taxton-on-Thames, was in the habit of changing his name when in London. He usually stayed with Dr. Turnor, who is an old friend of his; and did his work when Turnor was absent. When I found out the murder, I sent for Dr. Turnor, he was away, and Dr. Binjoy came under his name of Renshaw. I was astonished to see him. I did not know that he was in town."
"Oh! Had you any reason to go to Mere Hall to see him?"
"Mere Hall!" stammered Mrs. Boazoph, "you saw me at Mere Hall?"
"I saw you with my own eyes; you cannot deny that."
"I have no wish to deny it," retorted Mrs. Boazoph, with asperity, "yes I was at Mere Hall. I went there to warn Binjoy against you."
"Indeed; and no doubt Binjoy assured you that he had baffled me by the pretended journey to Bombay."
"Yes, he said that."
"And did he say that he had sent his negro, Caesar, to Bombay, in his place?"
Mrs. Boazoph drew back and gasped, holding tightly on to the arms of her chair. "You know that?" she said, in alarm.
"I know that, and a great deal more," said Fanks, grimly. "In fact, I more than suspect that I know the assassin."
"Then you know that Caesar killed Sir Gregory?"
"You jump to conclusions, Mrs. Boazoph," said Fanks, noting the tone of relief in which she made this remark. "I do not know that Caesar killed Sir Gregory Fellenger. But I know that both you and Dr. Binjoy would like me to think so."
"Man! Man!" cried Mrs. Boazoph, with an hysterical laugh, "do you think that I had anything to do with this crime?"
"Why not; the man was killed in your house: you called in a doctor, who is the dearest friend of the present baronet; it was to Binjoy's interest that Sir Gregory should be got out of the way."
Again Mrs. Boazoph seemed relieved. "Then you suppose that Binjoy instructed Caesar to kill Sir Gregory?"
"No, I do not; Caesar had nothing to do with the commission of the crime."
"Then who was the black man who killed the baronet?"
"It was no black man."
"But it was," said. Mrs. Boazoph, angrily. "I saw him myself enter the room."
"You saw a white man disguised as a negro enter the room."
Mrs. Boazoph bounded to her feet. "What!" she cried, "do you mean to say that the black man was a disguised white man?"
"Yes, I do say so; although I daresay it is no news to you."
Mrs. Boazoph stamped her foot. "It is news to me, I tell you. I thought that Caesar killed Sir Gregory at the behest of Dr. Binjoy. When you entered the room I hoped to keep the fact from you; because I did not wish Binjoy to get into trouble. But you say that Caesar did not commit the crime, and so you have upset my ideas altogether. Now, Mr. Fanks, I tell you truly, that if this negro did not kill Sir Gregory, I do not know the name of the assassin."
Fanks looked puzzled. She evidently spoke in all good faith, and he could not but believe her. He wondered if she was right, and whether the negro of Dr. Binjoy had killed the baronet after all. "Did you recognise as Caesar the black man who came here on that night?" he asked.
"No; how could I? I never saw Caesar in my life. But I know that Binjoy had a negro servant; that he smuggled him off to Bombay; and that he was the friend of Sir Louis Fellenger. Therefore I thought this negro was the instrument Binjoy made use of to kill Sir Gregory."
"Do you know anything about a tattooed cross, Mrs. Boazoph?" asked Fanks, going on another tack.
The woman fell into her chair as pale as a sheet of paper. The mention of the tattooed cross had a most powerful effect on her mind, and she stared thunderstruck at the detective. Not a word could she utter for at least two minutes. When she spoke her voice was thick and unsteady. "What do you know of the tattooed cross?" she muttered.
"I know that Sir Gregory let this disguised man tattoo a cross on his left arm, and that the needle used was poisoned. Now, can you tell me why Sir Gregory let a cross be pricked on his arm?"
"No! no! I--I--can't tell you that."
"Does that mean that you won't tell me?"
"It--means that I--I--can't tell you," gasped Mrs. Boazoph. "I did not know Sir Gregory Fellenger."
"Do you know anyone else who has a cross tattooed on his left arm?" asked Fanks, preparing for his great stroke.
"No! Why do you ask me?" she muttered, in a terrified tone.
"Because the man who has that cross tattooed on his left arm was the disguised negro; he was the man who killed Sir Gregory."
"Ah Heavens! Oh, Edward Hersham?" moaned Mrs. Boazoph, and fell upon the floor in a faint.
When Fanks saw Mrs. Boazoph lying at his feet his first intention was to wait until she recovered. Later on he changed his mind, and when he had placed her in the hands of the servant he went home full of thought and dark surmises. It seemed to him that the case was centring in Ted Hersham; that the whole situation depended on the right reading of the tattooed cross riddle. Mrs. Boazoph knew something about the cross, she knew something about Hersham; but what it was Fanks could by no means make up his mind. It seemed to him that in exploring the depths of Mrs. Boazoph's mind he had found a still lower deep; and he was puzzled what to think.
"Confound the woman," he thought, meditating over a pipe; "I said that we should find her at the end of the path which leads to the discovery of the mystery, and it seems that I was right. She screened Binjoy for some reason which I cannot discover; she will now attempt to save Hersham, lest he should fall into my clutches. Why should she take all this trouble for those two men? And what does she know about the tattooed cross? Does Binjoy know about it also? And was it he who made the obliterating mark? I can't think Hersham guilty, and yet things look black against him. But no," said Fanks, rising, "the disguised man who slew in Tooley's Alley and Hersham are two different people; I proved that conclusively to Garth. What's to be done now?"
It was difficult to decide. At first he almost resolved to return to Mrs. Boazoph and urge her confession; again, he thought it best to wait until he heard what Hersham had to say. It might be, he thought, that Hersham's confession would throw some light on his relation to Mrs. Boazoph. The hints of Anne Colmer, the terror of Hersham, the fainting of Mrs. Boazoph were all of a piece, and Fanks felt confident that beneath these perplexities lay the key to the riddle. It was not that he had no clue; he was in reality quite bewildered by the multiplicity of clues, so bewildered that he did not know which clue to seize first. At length he came to the conclusion that it would be best to wait till he saw Hersham and heard what he had to say, and afterwards to follow up the clue placed in his hands by the fainting of Mrs. Boazoph.
"I'll write to Hersham, and remind him that he promised to see me in a few days and tell the truth." said Fanks, going to his desk; "and if he reveals all I am certain that his confession will contain the information that Mrs. Boazoph wrote and warned him against me."
He was confident, as he said, that she would do this. If she tried to save Binjoy, she would certainly try to help Hersham; but her reason for doing the one was as inscrutable as her reason had been for acting in the way she did towards Binjoy. The further he went into the case the darker it grew; and in sheer despair Fanks wrote his reminder to Hersham, and did nothing more for the next few days but meditate over the tangle in which he found himself involved. His meditations led to no result, and when Hersham called on him at the Duke Street chambers in three days, the detective was at his wit's end how to proceed.
However, he was delighted to see Hersham, as he had doubted whether the young man would fulfil his promise. Now that he had come to do so there might be some chance of seeing a gleam of light. Fanks did not tell the journalist what he had discovered concerning his movements on the night of the twenty-first, as he wanted to see if Hersham would confess as much. If he did so, such frankness would confirm his belief that the young fellow had nothing to do with the commission of the crime. If, on the other hand, Hersham concealed the proven facts Fanks intended to force him into confession by revealing what he had heard from Berry Jawkins. By the result he would be guided in his future movements. The ensuing conversation was likely to prove as interesting and important as that which he had held with Mrs. Boazoph.
"I am glad to see you, Hersham," he said, in a gentle tone, "as I hope what you have to tell me may throw some light on the darkness of this Tooley Alley crime."
"I can throw no light on the cursed thing," said Hersham, gloomily. "I am only here to exonerate myself."
"From what? What do you mean?"
"Why should you ask me that?" said Hersham, angrily. "Is it not you who suspect me of killing this man?"
"Decidedly not. I do not think you killed Fellenger. As I told you before I do not believe you had anything to do with it."
"Then why did you have me watched?" demanded the young man.
"Ask that of yourself," said Fanks, coolly. "You roused my suspicions; you hinted that you knew something; you thwarted me with regard to Anne Colmer. Cast your mind back to our first conversation, man; you will say that I had every reason for acting as I did. If you had told me the truth at first; had you become my ally instead of my enemy, you would not have had all this trouble. But, for all that, I do not suspect you of being a murderer. Had I done so," finished Fanks, "you would have been in a cell long e'er this."
"I held my tongue because I was afraid of you," said Hersham, sullenly.
"If you are innocent, there is no reason to be afraid of me."
"I am innocent; and yet I am afraid of you. Yes, I am dreading to tell you what I am about to reveal."
"Circumstances may so close round an innocent man," continued Hersham, not heeding the interruption, "that it would seem as though he were guilty. Think yourself, Fanks. Innocent men have been hanged e'er now, because circumstantial evidence was strong against them."
"True enough," replied Fanks. "I suppose it is natural that you should be afraid. No man would run the risk of putting his head into the noose if he could help it. You say that circumstances are strong against you. What are these circumstances?"
Hersham bit his lip, and turned a wan face on his friend. "I place my life in your hands, mind you," he said, hoarsely.
"It will be safe there," replied Fanks, getting up and fetching a decanter of brandy from the sideboard. "Nothing will induce me to believe that you had anything to do with the commission of this crime."
"Will you swear to that?" cried Hersham, stretching out a shaking hand.
"Certainly if it will comfort you. Here, my friend, drink this, and tell me what you know. It may help me to nab the person I have my eye on."
Hersham drank the brandy. "Have you found out who killed Fellenger?"
Fanks shrugged his shoulders. "I think so," he said, "but who can tell; I may be wrong."
"Is it a man or woman?" asked Hersham, quickly.
"I shan't tell you."
"I shan't tell you, my friend. But I shall tell you this for the quieting of your fears, that it is not you whom I suspect. Now sit down again, and let me hear what you have to say."
Hersham resumed his seat obediently, and began his recital. He confessed exactly what Fanks expected he would confess; what Fanks already knew, but the detective listened to this twice-told tale with the keenest attention. Thereby he hoped to learn some new detail which had been overlooked by the zealous Berry Jawkins.
"About the beginning of June," said Hersham, in a hesitating voice, "I was engaged on a series of papers for the 'Morning Planet' on Street Music. To gain the information I required, I thought it would be an excellent plan to go about the streets of London in guise, and to get at the root of the matter. I told my editor that I would burnt-cork my face and go with some street minstrels. He approved of the idea, and I did so."
"And how were you dressed?"
"In a great coat with brass buttons. I also wore brown boots. Now, you can see why I was afraid to tell you. That is the dress the negro you are looking for wore."
"Yes!" said Flanks, perplexedly, "I know that; but I do not see why you should have been afraid to tell me. You can explain your movements on that night."
"That is exactly what I can't do," said Hersham, his face growing dark.
"I don't understand."
"I shall explain. On the night of the twenty-first I intended to go out in the streets in disguise. Before doing so, I told the office boy that if a telegram came for me he was to bring it at once to me; I expected a wire about six o'clock; and I told the boy that I would be in the Strand near St. Clements Church."
"From whom did you expect the telegram?"
"From Anne Colmer. That day I had received a letter from her, saying that she was greatly worried about something; what it was she did not tell me; but she said that if she wanted me she would wire, and that I was then to come down at once to Taxton-on-Thames."
"Go on," said Fanks, greatly interested in the introduction of Anne's name.
"Well, I blacked my face, and went out with the genuine niggers to sing and play. About six, or a little after, I was near St. Clement's Church, and there the office boy came to me with a telegram."
"Why did you expect the telegram at six?"
"Because I was in the office about five, and it had not come then. I thought it might come after I left, so I appointed St. Clement's Church as the meeting-place where the boy might find me."
"And you obeyed?"
"What was in the telegram?"
"A request that I should come down to Taxton-on-Thames at once."
"Yes, there was no reason why I should not. I thought that Anne was in trouble; I went down at once on my bicycle."
"Why did not you go by train? It would have been easier."
"Not for me. I was in the habit of running down to Taxton-on-Thames on my machine; it is only two hours' run."
"Had you your machine in town?"
"Yes; I had left it at a shop in the Strand where I usually leave it; though sometimes I ride it on to the office in Fleet Street. On this occasion it was in the Strand. As soon as I got the telegram I left my troupe and went off on my bicycle.
"Didn't you wash your face?"
"Not at that time; I was in such a hurry and so anxious to learn what was the matter with Anne, that I did not think of doing so. I rode along until I was recalled to the spectacle I must have presented, by the laughing, and the guying of the boys. Then I thought that I might startle Anne, and I determined to wash myself."
"And did you?"
"Not immediately. On the way to Richmond I had an accident, and the tyre of my back wheel was punctured. The air escaped, and I was over an hour mending it. Then I had to go slowly, and did not get to Richmond till after eight o'clock. I went into the hotel called the Eight Bells, and had a drink and a wash. Then I came out a white man to the astonishment of the barman, and went on down to Taxton-on-Thames. I got there shortly after nine o'clock."
"Didn't you nearly run over a man as you neared the village?"
"Yes, I did," said Hersham, in some astonishment. "But how do you know that?"
"I'll tell you later on," replied Fanks, smiling. "But about the result of your trip to Taxton-on-Thames?"
Hersham's face fell. "There was no result," he said, in a low voice. "When I arrived I went at once to Briar Cottage and asked for Anne. I was told that she had gone up to town by the five o'clock train."
"Gone up to town!" repeated Fanks. "That is curious. Why did she go up to town after sending you a wire to bring you down?"
"I can't say. She returned by the night train, and I was at the station to meet her. I asked her why she had gone to town, and she refused to tell me. She merely said that she had sent the wire shortly before five o'clock, and that she had found occasion to go up by the five train."
"Can you conjecture what took her to town?"
"No; and she will not tell me."
Fanks said nothing. He was meditating on the strange story told to him by Hersham, and on the stranger conduct of Anne Colmer. The mystery concerning this young lady, which had begun in the chambers of Sir Gregory, seemed to be thickening. Fanks was puzzled and gloomy.
On concluding the recital of his movements on the night of the twenty-first of June, Hersham looked anxiously at Fanks to see what the detective thought of the matter. The latter made no immediate comment, whereupon the journalist, impatient of the silence, made the first observation.
"I have told you all," he said; "now what is your opinion?"
"Let me think for a minute or two," replied Fanks, holding up his hand. "I must consider."
Thereupon he thrust his hands into his pockets and strolled to the window, where he stood looking absently at the adjacent chimney-pots. Hersham eyed him with continued anxiety, but he did not dare to interrupt, so that Fanks had ample time to reflect over the strange story which had been related to him.
He had heard the main facts of it before from Berry Jawkins, and these corresponded entirely with the narrative of the journalist. Still, the additional evidence concerning Anne Colmer disquieted Fanks not a little. Her behaviour was strange, to say the least of it, and far more suspicious than that of Hersham. Why had she sent a telegram to withdraw her lover from London at the very time of the committal of the crime? And why had she--so to speak--nullified that telegram by going herself to town almost immediately after she had despatched it. Such conduct was decidedly suspicious; and it looked as though she was implicated in the matter in some underhand way. Why had she behaved in so mysterious a fashion, and why had she refused to reveal her reason for so acting to Hersham?
So far, so good; but there remained a greater mystery. It was Anne Colmer herself who had instructed Hersham to confess to Fanks; yet she must have known that her very extraordinary conduct would need explanation. But would she explain? Fanks thought not. He recalled his conversation with her; how she had refused to speak lest her evidence--whatever it was--should be detrimental to an innocent person. Clearly that innocent person could not be Hersham, for he had established his innocence in the eyes of the detective. Then if the person in question was not Hersham, who could he--or she--be? Mrs. Colmer, Dr. Binjoy, Anne, or Caesar, the missing negro?
Not the first, thought Fanks, decidedly not the first, for Mrs. Colmer was confined to her room by paralysis, and could not take an active part in the business. Scarcely the second, for Anne could have no reason to screen the doctor--at least no reason that Fanks could even guess at. If the third--and seeing that Mrs. Boazoph was her aunt it might be so--the motive might be that Anne desired aid to carry out a scheme of revenge against the destroyer of her sister. As to Caesar, Fanks had quite settled in his own mind that the negro was innocent, and that his personality was being made use of merely to screen the chief actor or actors in the tragedy.
The result of Fank's meditations therefore resulted in his having an increased suspicion of Mrs. Boazoph. Her behaviour at the time of the discovery of the murder, her visit to Mere Hall, and her fainting at the mention that Hersham was the probable criminal--all these things were suspicious; and now the probable visit of Anne Colmer to her aunt--although such visit was not yet proved--clinched the matter. All the interest of Fanks now centred in Mrs. Boazoph; and he addressed himself again to Hersham in the hope of learning something tangible, likely to connect her more intimately with her niece either in London or at Taxton-on-Thames. He was right to act in this way; an indefinable instinct had placed him on the right path.
"I wish you had told me of this before," he said to Hersham, as he resumed his seat. "It would have saved me a lot of trouble."
"I did not wish to tell you. I was afraid to speak lest I should inculpate myself. I am sure my movements on that fatal night must appear very suspicious to you. What is your opinion of me now?"
"The same as before. I am satisfied that you have told me the truth. No, Hersham, it is not you whom I suspect."
"Then who is it?" asked the young man, eagerly.
"I'll tell you that later on," replied Finks. "In the meantime you must answer a few more questions. I am not yet quite clear on some points. How did you obtain your disguise?"
"Oh, that was Miss Colmer's suggestion."
"The deuce it was!" said Fanks, rather startled at this admission.
"Yes! I told her of my idea to disguise myself in order to obtain a thoroughly realistic description of street music, and of those who make it. I asked her how she thought I should dress. In a half-laughing way she advised me to take Binjoy's servant Caesar as my model."
"Which you did?"
"Certainly. I thought the suggestion a good one. Caesar was rather an oddity in his way, and dressed with that mixture of vivid colours which is so dear to the black race. When off duty he usually wore a red neck scarf, a brown felt hat, black trousers, and a long green coat with large brass buttons, quite a noticeable garb in fact. He had several of these quaint garments, and he had brought one to Anne's establishment to get yellow velvet cuffs and collar sewn on to it. On the promise that I would not keep it more than a fortnight Anne lent me the coat, which I wore for my purpose."
"Strange," said Fanks, thoughtfully. "So you wore the very coat of the man whom we suspected in the first instance?"
"I did. It is odd now that you mention it."
Fanks considered. "Did anyone suggest your disguising yourself as a negro for this street music business, or was it your own fancy?"
"It was the suggestion of Dr. Binjoy."
"Oh, was it? Humph! I am beginning to see daylight."
"Why, you don't think----?"
"I think nothing at present," said Fanks, quickly; "matters are in too crude a state."
This observation was hardly true, for Fanks was beginning to think that the affair of the green coat looked singularly like a conspiracy. He was unwilling to communicate his suspicions to Hersham, because of necessity they included Anne Colmer; therefore he passed the matter off as before mentioned. Nevertheless, he thought it doubtful that the disguise was the result of an accident. That Binjoy should suggest the idea of blackening the face, that Anne should induce Hersham to dress up in the very clothes of Caesar, both these things seemed suspicious and quite impossible to understand. He could guess Binjoy's object, presuming that Binjoy had designed the murder--it was to avert suspicion from himself and servant by throwing it on Hersham. But what Fanks could not see was why Anne should act as she did, when Hersham was her lover. She surely did not wish to implicate Hersham in the matter--if it could be presumed that she was connected with it herself, of which Fanks was by no means sure--and yet Fanks was honestly puzzled to understand the action, so at variance with her position. With his usual sense he therefore abandoned the subject for the present, and re-addressed himself to the examination of Hersham.
"Did you know Dr. Binjoy?"
"I did, and disliked him greatly. I don't think he liked me either," added Hersham, smiling, "for I was his successful rival."
"With Miss Colmer?"
"Yes! Fancy, that old man fell in love with Anne and wished to marry her; asked her to be Mrs. Binjoy four or five times, in fact. Like his impudence, wasn't it? However, Anne told him that she was engaged to me, and sent him off with a flea in his ear. I don't think he liked me any better for my triumph."
"No," said Fanks, dryly. "I have no doubt he would do his best to injure you."
"Fanks, do you think he designedly induced me to act as a duplicate of Caesar?"
"That I can't say. It looks suspicious. His being at the Red Star on the night of the murder under an assumed name is still more suspicious. All the same he has managed the business so cleverly that I can bring nothing home to him."
"Do you think that he designed the murder of Fellenger so as to get the estates for Sir Louis?"
"His actions bear that interpretation," said Fanks, scratching his chin; "but I have no proof as yet. I may find out at Mere Hall."
"Are you going there?"
"Next week. I wish to see my employer, Sir Louis, and tell him what I have done; at the same time I intend to observe Binjoy. By the way," added the detective, "did you like Sir Louis?"
Hersham shrugged his shoulders. "So, so," he replied. "He is a dry stick, wrapped up in his scientific studies. He passes most of his days with Binjoy in the laboratory making experiments. A tall, stout fellow, he is, not at all like a dry-as-dust savant."
"Humph!" said Fanks, twisting his ring; "a tall stout creature. Dr. Binjoy is also tall and stout?"
"Yes! and so is the negro, Caesar. The trio are all fat and healthy."
"Humph!" said Fanks again. "I wonder--but that is impossible."
"What is impossible?"
"Something that came into my head. What it is, does not matter. I shall no doubt prove its impossibility at Mere Hall."
"You suspect Sir Louis?"
"Such a suspicion did cross my mind. But, as Sir Louis is employing me to hunt down the murderer, he would hardly act in such a way. Never mind that at the present moment, Hersham, but tell me if you have written to your father?"
"About the tattooed cross? No, I have not done so yet. I don't see how my father can help you."
"I am of another opinion," said Fanks, dryly. "It is my firm conviction that the whole secret of that murder in Tooley Alley lies in the explanation of that tattooed cross. Do not look so scared, Hersham. I do not suspect your father."
"I should think not," said Hersham, fiercely.
Fanks laughed indulgently, in nowise offended with the indignant tone adopted by the young man. Indeed, he rather admired him for being so ready to take up the cudgels on behalf of his parent. Nevertheless, he stuck to his point, as he was determined to fathom the meaning of the tattooed cross, and he saw no one was so likely to help him to an interpretation as the Rev. George Hersham, Vicar of Fairview, Isle of Wight.
"You must do as I ask," he said, "and write to your father. I must know why he had that cross tattooed on your arm."
"I don't believe my father had anything to do with it," said Hersham, angrily. "However, as you insist on it, I shall go home and see him. If he tells me, I shall tell you. If he refuses, as he has done before--"
"In that case I'll come down to Fairview and see him myself."
"As you please," said Hersham, with a feigned air of indifference, but real vexation. "I'll do my best; I can do no more."
"Don't be angry, old fellow. I don't wish to vex either you or your father, but you must see that it is important that I should know the meaning of this cross. You will go and see Mr. Hersham?"
"Yes; before the end of the week. Will that content you?"
"Yes," replied Fanks, in his turn. "And now, before you go, just tell me if you received a letter from Mrs. Boazoph, and if you have brought it with you?"
"Now it is strange that you should have guessed that," said Hersham, in astonishment. "I did get a letter from Mrs. Boazoph; I brought it to see what you thought of it. It quite slipped my memory till you spoke of it. Here it is. Came yesterday from Fairview."
"From Fairview!" repeated Fanks, making no attempt to take the letter which Hersham held towards him. "Was it sent to that address?"
"Yes, care of my father, who forwarded it on to me. See for yourself."
"Did Mrs. Boazoph know of your address in the Isle of Wight?"
"No, that's odd," added Hersham, staring at Fanks. "How did she get it?"
"From Miss Colmer."
"I have never given any but my London address to Miss Colmer. I had my reasons for not doing so."
"So Mrs. Boazoph knew of your address without your telling her," said the detective, stretching out his hand for the letter. "Queer! If I am not mistaken I--By Jove!"
"What is the matter?"
"Wait. Wait," said Fanks, in great excitement. "Let me read the letter first. My word, here is a discovery."
"What discovery?" asked Hersham, staring at the letter.
But Fanks paid no attention to him. He was already devouring the communication from the landlady of the Red Star, which ran as follows:--
"Dear Mr. Edward Hersham,--Come and see me at once. Important business, and, in the meantime, hold no communication with the man who calls himself Fanks. I will explain when we meet.--Yours, Louisa Boazoph."
"I wish you had shown me this before," said Fanks.
"I was so anxious about what I had to confess, that I forgot, Fanks. Is it important?"
"I should think so. You must see her at once, and tell me what she says. We may find the key to the whole business in her conversation."
"Do you think Mrs. Boazoph has anything to do with it?"
For answer, Fanks got out the photograph of the dead Emma Calvert, and the envelope which had contained the red star. He pointed out the handwritings on both to Hersham.
"You see that," he said, eagerly. "The handwriting on the back of the portrait, and that on the envelope are the same as that on your letter."
"True enough," said Hersham, examining the three objects closely, "but what of that?"
"Only this. That Mrs. Boazoph addressed the envelope, and enclosed the red cardboard star, which lured the late Sir Gregory Fellenger to his death on the evening of the twenty-first of June."
Fanks was rather astonished when he learned that Mrs. Boazoph had contrived the lure which had drawn Fellenger to his death. He had given the landlady credit for more cleverly concealing her scheme, and that she should have carried out a plan so compromising, in so open a manner, seemed to him to be the height of folly. Nevertheless, he was pleased that he had discovered who had directed the fatal envelope; and he was still more pleased that Mrs. Boazoph had sent for Hersham. If possible he intended to learn her reason for seeking an interview, and to ascertain why she had fainted at the intelligence that Hersham was likely to be arrested for committing the crime. A true report of that conversation--and Fanks had no doubt that Hersham would repeat it faithfully to him--might afford the clue to the mystery. At the present moment Fanks was convinced that the landlady of the Red Star could unravel the riddle if she chose, and he was resolved to force her to do so. But here an element on which Fanks had not calculated came into play.
As instructed by the detective, Hersham duly called at the Red Star only to be informed that Mrs. Boazoph was dangerously ill, and could not see him. This he reported to Fanks, and at first the detective deemed the illness an excuse to postpone the interview, the more especially as Dr. Turnor was the medical man in attendance. He mistrusted Turnor as much as he did Binjoy, and thought that the former had persuaded Mrs. Boazoph to relinquish the idea of seeing and confiding in Hersham. Such confidence might prove as fatal to Turnor as to Binjoy; and if so there was no doubt that Turnor had compelled Mrs. Boazoph to hold her tongue lest she should compromise him. Thus Fanks argued out the situation; and he sought Tooley's Alley to ascertain if Mrs. Boazoph was really ill, or merely feigning at the order of Turnor.
A view of the sick woman showed him plainly that he was wrong. Mrs. Boazoph was laid on a bed of sickness, incapable almost of speech, and Fanks concluded promptly that there was no chance of learning anything until she recovered. The result of the last interview had shaken her terribly, and she was thoroughly worn out with nervous prostration. Turnor, more like a ferret than ever, eyed Fanks complacently, and seemed relieved that things were going so badly for the case. Fanks questioned him, but could learn nothing definite, for, if the detective was clever, the doctor was cleverer, and defeated Fanks on every point. Indeed, he carried the war into the camp of the enemy.
"I suppose I am right in ascribing this illness to you, sir," he said, with a sly smile. "It seems that my patient fainted at her last interview she had with you."
"She did. I said something which startled her."
"That was very wrong of you, Mr. Fanks. Mrs. Boazoph is a woman of delicate organisation, and a sudden shock might bring about her death. She has a weak heart."
"I am sorry to hear so, sir," retorted Fanks, gloomily. "I counted on gaining some information from her. Do you think she will soon recover?"
"Not for some time," said Turnor, in a satisfied tone. "I presume you wish to learn something from her, relative to the case you have in hand?"
"You are quite right. I do wish to learn something relative to the murder which took place in this hotel. But if Mrs. Boazoph cannot tell me what I wish to know, you may be able to do so."
Dr. Turnor spread out his hands in a deprecating manner. "I, my dear friend," he said, "what can I know about the case?"
"As much as Dr. Renshaw could tell you," retorted Fanks, fixing Turnor with his keen eye.
"Dr. Renshaw told me nothing, because he knew nothing."
"I have my own opinion about that, Dr. Turnor."
"Really; I thought you were satisfied that my friend had nothing to do with the matter. He went to India, you know."
"Are you sure he went to India, Dr. Turnor?"
"Oh, yes; he will be soon be at Bombay. I got a letter from him at Aden, where he changed into the 'Clyde.'"
"No doubt," said Fanks, affably, "I expect you will hear from him when he is settled in Bombay."
"Certainly; Renshaw and I are great friends."
"I am sure of that. You confide your secrets to one another, and work in unison."
"What do you mean by working in unison, Mr. Fanks?" said Turnor, drawing himself up.
"I don't think I need afford you any explanation, Dr. Turnor. You are playing a dangerous game, sir."
"You insult me, sir."
"Is it possible to insult you, Dr. Turnor?" sneered Fanks.
"I'll make you prove your words," said Turnor, with rather a pale face.
"There will not be much difficulty in doing that--at the proper time."
The ferret of a man eyed Fanks nervously and savagely. "Do you think I have anything to do with the matter of Sir Gregory's death?" he burst out.
"I'll tell you that when I return from Mere Hall," was Fank's reply.
"Mere Hall?" repeated Turnor, betraying himself, which was the reason Fanks had mentioned the name; "what do you know of Mere Hall?"
"That is just what I wish to ask you. What do you know of Mere Hall, sir?"
"Nothing, nothing. I merely repeated your words."
"In a very singular fashion, doctor."
The little man turned away with a scowl. "I shall defend myself from your insinuations," he said, in a stifled voice, "if you suspect me, say so."
"Suspect you of what?" asked Fanks, innocently; "you speak in riddles."
Turnor pointed to the woman lying on the bed. "Perhaps Mrs. Boazoph can solve them," he said.
"Perhaps she can," retorted Fanks, with equal coolness; "and I trust it will not be to your disadvantage when the answers come."
"I can look after myself, Mr. Fanks," said Turnor, and left the room without the detective making any effort to detain him.
Fanks was suspicious of Turnor, from his connection with the so-called Renshaw; and this conversation went a long way towards confirming these suspicions. However, as he wished to go to Mere Hall and follow up the Binjoy clue, he had no time to attend to the Turnor matter. Nevertheless, on leaving Tooley's Alley he sought out Crate, and instructed him to look after the doctor.
"Find out his financial position," said Fanks; "what kind of practice he has, how he lives, what kind of character he bears, and all about him."
"Very well, Mr. Fanks." said Crate, noting the instructions down, "and what about Mrs. Boazoph?"
"Keep an eye on her, and should she recover so far as to see Mr. Hersham or to journey to Taxton-on-Thames, let me know. You can write or wire me at the Pretty Maid Inn, Damington."
"That's near Mere Hall, ain't it, sir?"
"A quarter of a mile away. I shall stay there some time to watch Binjoy and Sir Louis Fellenger."
"Do you suspect him, Mr. Fanks?"
"If you remember the name I mentioned, you would not ask me that, Crate."
The underling was abashed and said no more, but turned the conversation to the subject of Garth. "What am I to do about him, sir?"
"Oh," said Fanks, dryly, "you think he is guilty, so I will leave him to you. But do not neglect my interests to look after that business. I tell you, Crate, the man is innocent."
"I have my own opinion about that."
"Then keep to your opinion, but mind my instructions."
"Well, I will tell you one thing, sir," said Crate. "Mr. Garth has left town."
"You don't say so," said Fanks, frowning, "he did not say that he was going away. Where has he gone to?"
"I can't tell you that, sir, I lost him. But I'll tell you where he hasn't gone--and that is to Taxton-on-Thames."
"I didn't expect he would go there, but it does not matter. I have my hands full without thinking of Garth. I leave him to you. In the meantime, goodbye; I am off to Hampshire."
Fanks arrived at Damington about five o'clock, and put up at The Pretty Maid Inn as he had done before when following Binjoy in the disguise of a parson. But thanks to his cleverness in "making up," no one at the inn suspected that he was the same man. The landlady--a genial soul with a plump person and a kindly face, quite an ideal landlady of the Dickens type--welcomed him without suspicion, as a gentleman come down for the fishing, and detailed all the gossip of the neighbourhood. She was especially conversant with the affairs of Sir Louis Fellenger.
"Such a nice gentleman," said Mrs. Prisom, "rather melancholy and given to hard study, which ain't good for a young man. But he comes here and takes a glass with a kind word and a smile always."
"Does Dr. Binjoy come over with him?" said Fanks.
"Oh yes, sir; I am sorry to see that the doctor ain't well lately, he looks pale and mopey-like. Seems as if he had something on his mind."
"And what do you think he has on his mind, Mrs. Prisom?"
"Well, it ain't for me to say, sir; but I should think as he was sorry he and Sir Louis did not get on so well as they might."
"What makes you think they do not get on well?" said Fanks, pricking up his ears.
"It is the way they look at one another," said Mrs. Prisom, reflectively. "And they say Dr. Binjoy is going away; though what Sir Louis will do without him, I don't know."
"Dr. Binjoy going away," murmured Fanks, rather startled, "now what is that for?"
Mrs. Prison could not tell him; she could only say that the doctor was departing from Mere Hall that day week; and that it was reported in the village that he had quarrelled seriously with Sir Louis. "Though of course," added Mrs. Prisom, "it may not be true."
"I must see to this," thought Fanks. "I wonder if this sudden departure has anything to do with the murder. Is it a case of thieves falling out; I must keep my eyes open." After which resolution, he asked the landlady if she was well acquainted with the Fellenger family.
"I should think so," said Mrs. Prisom, with pride, "I knew that poor, young man who was murdered in that wicked London, as well as I know myself. A noble gentleman, but wild; ah me!" sighed Mrs. Prisom, "just like his father."
"Did you know Sir Gregory's father?"
"Did I know Sir Gregory's father," echoed Mrs. Prisom, contemptuously, "do I know the nose on my face, sir? The late Sir Francis and myself were playmates. Yes, you may well look astonished, sir, but it is the truth. I was the daughter of the steward at Mere Hall, and I was brought up with the late Sir Francis almost like brother and sister. I could tell you many a good story of him," finished Mrs. Prisom, with a nod and a smile.
"You must do so," said Fanks, returning the smile, "I am fond of stories."
The fact is, he was wondering if he could find the motive for the murder in the family history of the Fellengers. Many great families had secrets, which, if divulged, might lead to trouble; and it might be that the Mere Hall folk's secret had to do with the tattooed cross. If it proved to be so, then Fanks thought there might be a chance of penetrating the mystery of Sir Gregory's death. The family secret and the death in Tooley's Alley were widely apart; but there might be a connecting link between them, at present hidden from his gaze. At all events, it was worth while examining Mrs. Prisom, and hearing her story.
This Fanks resolved to do that evening; but in the meantime he left the garrulous landlady, and went out for a stroll in the direction of Mere Hall. It was not his intention to see Sir Louis on that evening but rather to wait till the morning. Nevertheless, he had a desire to look again at the splendid mansion of the Fellengers, more to pass away the time than with any ulterior motive. In the calm twilight he strolled along, and soon left the village behind him. His way lay through flowery hedges, bright with the blossoms of summer; and, under the influence of the hour and the beauty of the landscape, Fanks quite forgot that he was at Damington for the purpose of unmasking a murderer. From his dreams he was rudely awakened, and brought back to real life.
As he sauntered along, swinging his stick, he saw a man ahead, whose figure and gait seemed to be familiar. In the clear, brown twilight he could see fairly well; and so it appeared could the man he was looking at; for the figure made a pause and jumped over the hedge. Fanks wondered at this, for he had noted that the figure was that of a gentleman, or, at all events, someone other than a labourer. With his usual suspicion, and as much out of curiosity as anything else, Fanks jumped over the hedge also; whereupon the stranger began to run across the fields. By this time, Fanks was thoroughly convinced that something was wrong; so he gave chase at once, with a chuckle of delight at the excitement of the adventure.
Across the green meadow they raced, and Fanks saw the man fading into the dim twilight. He redoubled his sped; so did the fellow, but in the next field Fanks found that he was gaining. The fugitive sprang over another hedge; with Fanks close on his heels. But when the detective landed he could see nothing of the stranger. A backward glance showed him that the man had doubled, and was running along beside the hedge. The next instant, Fanks was following on his trail; and, although the mysterious figure made the greatest efforts to escape, Fanks drew closer. Then an accident brought the race to an end, for the man stumbled over a clod, and rolled on the grass. The next moment Fanks, panting for breath, stood over him.
The detective peered down, to see who it was he had caught, and, to his surprise, he recognised Garth.
"What the deuce are you doing here?" asked the detective, angrily, "and why did you run away when you saw me?"
"As to my being here," replied Garth, sitting up and wiping his face, "I came down to watch my cousin, of whom I was suspicious; and I ran away because, on catching sight of you in the twilight, I took you for Louis Fellenger."
"Oh! And for what purpose are you down here?"
"I have told you. I suspect that my cousin, through his medical friend, is concerned in the murder of Sir Gregory."
Fanks frowned, and Garth having got on his feet, they walked on together. He wished that Garth would leave the case to him, and resented the presence of the young lawyer on the spot. "Where are you staying?" he asked, abruptly.
"At the Pretty Maid Inn. I suppose you are there also, as it is the only comfortable lodging in the village."
"Yes, I am there, and, now as I have dropped across you, we may as well go back to supper. I had intended having a look at the Hall, but on second thoughts I shall go back with you to pump Mrs. Prisom."
"I know Mrs. Prisom very well," said Garth; "she is an old servant of our family, but I do not see what you can learn from her."
"I may learn nothing, on the other hand I may learn a great deal. She was well acquainted with the father of the late baronet."
"And she was well acquainted with my mother, and with the father of the present baronet. But in what way do you expect her to help you?"
"Well, I'll tell you. I want to find out if there is anything in the family history of the Fellengers likely to have induced Sir Gregory to submit to that tattooing."
"I am a member of the family, and I don't know of any reason," said Garth.
"Mrs. Prisom belongs to a generation before you," replied Fanks, "and it is possible that she may know something. Of course, it is only fancy on my part. Still, a drowning man clutches a straw, and I am clutching at this. We may learn something."
Garth shook his head. He knew the history of his family, and there was nothing he could recall likely to touch on the subject of a tattooed cross.
Mrs. Prisom received them both with great dignity, and in half an hour they were seated at a well-spread table. Both did justice to the viands set before them; and during the progress of the meal they chattered about the case. While they were thus conversing Fanks elicited an important fact concerning Sir Louis.
"I don't know why you should suspect your cousin," he said, in reply to a remark of Garth's. "Mr. Vaud told us that both Sir Louis and Binjoy were at Taxton-on-Thames on the night of the murder. The first was ill, and the second was in attendance."
"True enough," replied Garth, frankly; "all the same, you proved that Binjoy was masquerading in London on the evening of the twenty-first."
"Yes; it is strange that Sir Louis should say that Binjoy never left his side. I suppose you suspect your cousin on that account?"
"By no means. I suspect my cousin because he was himself in London on that night."
Fanks leaned back in his chair, and stared at the barrister. "What is that you say?" he cried. "Was Sir Louis in Tooley's Alley on that evening?"
"Oh, I won't go so far as that. But Louis certainly went up to London on that night. I found that out from Mrs. Jerusalem."
"And who is Mrs. Jerusalem?"
"She was the housekeeper of Sir Louis at Taxton-on-Thames. When he came in for the title he brought her here. I saw her yesterday, and she inadvertently admitted that much."
"How did you get that out of her?"
"Well, it was a fluke. She is an old servant of our family, like Mrs. Prisom. I met her while out walking, and she recognised me. I made her promise not to tell Sir Louis that I was here."
"But what excuse did you make?"
"None," said Garth, coolly. "I'll tell you a secret, Fanks. Mrs. Jerusalem likes me and hates Sir Louis. She was a foster-sister of my mother's, and she desires to see me in the place of my scientific cousin."
"Indeed," said Fanks, eyeing Garth in a strange manner; "and has she done anything likely to forward your interest in that respect?"
"I suppose you mean to hint that she would like to clear Sir Louis out of my path by accusing him of the murder?" said Garth, coolly; "well, you are about right. Mrs. Jerusalem connects the absence of Sir Louis from Taxton-on-Thames with the death of Sir Gregory. She saw the report of the inquest, you know; she recognised--as she thinks--the description of Binjoy's servant Caesar, and, by putting two and two together, she told me yesterday that it is her firm conviction--on the slightest of proofs, remember--that Louis killed Gregory by means of the black man."
"Humph!" said Fanks, thoughtfully; "I must see this lady. But if she dislikes Sir Louis and Binjoy why does she stay in the service of the former?"
Garth shrugged his shoulders. "One must live," he said, "and Mrs. Jerusalem has a very easy time of it with my cousin. When my mother died, and we were as poor as rats, my father got Louis's father to take Mrs. Jerusalem into his service, and she has been there ever since. Oh, she will not tell my cousin that I am here," concluded Garth, with a satisfied nod.
"Mrs. Prisom may," suggested Fanks. "You may be sure that a good deal of gossip goes on between inn and Hall. How long have you been here?"
"About three days."
"Then you may be certain that your cousin knows of your presence in the village. If he has any danger to fear from you he will take his measures accordingly. I don't like your Mrs. Jerusalem, Garth; she ought to be true to her salt."
"I can't help that," retorted Garth, sulkily. "She would willingly keep house for me if I had a house to keep, but as I have not she stays where she is. But what do you think of her suspicions? Do yours point in the same way?"
"They did not," replied Fanks, promptly; "but your discovery of Sir Louis's visit to town on that night puts quite a different complexion on the case. All the same, I can come to no conclusion until I see this spy of yours."
"She isn't a spy," said Garth, gloomily. "I did not drag the information out of the creature. She thought that she was doing me a good turn by betraying my cousin. She thinks that if he killed Gregory he ought to suffer, and let me have the property."
"And what do you think?" asked Fanks, with a keen glance.
"I don't want to build up my life on the ruins of another man's; it is a bad foundation. I know you believe that I wish to get my cousin into trouble, but you are wrong. I would help Louis to escape if I could."
"There may be no necessity for that; we have proved nothing against him as yet. I hardly think that a man who has committed a crime would put down money to hunt out himself, and thereby lose the benefit he gained by his wickedness. No, no, Garth, I do not believe Sir Louis is such a guilty fool. However, I shall give my opinion when I see him and question Mrs. Jerusalem."
"Will you tell my cousin that I am here?"
"Certainly. There is nothing to be gained by concealment. You only place your honour in the hands of that Jerusalem creature, and make yourself her accomplice. However, I am ready to bet you that Sir Louis knows you are here through Mrs. Prisom."
Garth made no reply, but stating that he was weary, went off to bed. The detective, left alone, thought over what he had been told, and found himself unable to come to any conclusion. He did not like the way in which Garth was acting, but, all the same, he believed that the lawyer had no ill intentions towards his cousin, despite Crate's opinion to the contrary. The young man laughed as he thought how he had picked up the trail of Garth when it had been lost by the astute Crate. "I am afraid that Crate will never make a success of the detective business," thought Fanks, lighting his pipe. "But I don't agree with him about Garth; and I don't agree with Garth about Sir Louis. Certainly, it is strange that Sir Louis should have feigned illness, and shielded Binjoy, and then have gone up to town on that night. What the deuce were he and his medical friend doing there? Dr. Turnor knows; I believe that Sir Louis was alone with Binjoy in the Great Auk Street house. It is odd, to say the least of it. I wonder if that negro was the actual Caesar, or Binjoy or Sir Louis in disguise. At all events, he wasn't Hersham, for that young man has exonerated himself clearly enough. H'm. I'll reserve my decision as to Mrs. Jerusalem's story till I see Sir Louis. Perhaps the secret of the crime is to be found at Mere Hall, after all. No, no, no!" said Fanks, getting on his feet with an emphatic stamp. "The secret is connected with that tattooed cross. I wonder who can tell us about it."
At, this moment, as if in answer to his query, the door opened, and Mrs. Prisom came in to clear away the dinner things. As a rule, she left this duty to the parlour maid, but as Garth, an offshoot of the great Fellenger family, was dining under her roof, she would let no one but herself attend to him. She looked surprised when she saw that Garth was not in the room. At once Fanks explained the absence of his friend.
"Mr. Garth has retired to bed," he said, "as he is very tired. I shall go myself soon, as your country air makes me sleepy, but at present I should like to have a chat with you, Mrs. Prisom."
Mrs. Prisom smiled in an expansive manner, and expressed the honour she felt at such a request, adding that she dearly loved a chat.
"All the better," thought Fanks, as she cleared away the dishes. "You will be the more likely to tell me what I want to know."
In a few minutes the table was tidy, and Mrs. Prisom, at Fanks' request, had brought in her knitting. He guessed that she would talk better with the needles clicking in her active hands, and herein he judged wisely, for thus employed Mrs. Prisom would gossip for hours, provided she had a good listener.
"I suppose you knew the mother of Mr. Garth?" said Fanks, plunging at once into the history of the Fellenger family.
"Miss Eleanor? Ah, that I did; but she was a proud young lady, and didn't care to play with me, even as a child, because I was the daughter of the steward. They were all proud, the Fellengers, except Sir Francis."
"That was Sir Gregory's father?"
"Yes. There was Sir Francis, the eldest and the merry one; Mr. Michael, the father of the present Baronet, Sir Louis, he was proud, too; and then Miss Eleanor, who married Mr. Garth. But I liked Sir Francis the best of all," concluded the old lady, with a sigh.
There was a look in her eyes as she said this, which made Fanks think that she had been in love with the gay baronet, in the old days.
"He was a bonny man, Sir Francis Fellenger," she resumed. "Never a maid but what he had a smile for, and many a kiss did he take without the asking," laughed Mrs. Prisom. "Oh, he was a merry blade. But all sailors have those ways."
"Was Sir Francis a sailor?" asked Fanks, suddenly.
"He was a Captain in the Navy before he came into the title," said Mrs. Prisom, "then he settled down and married Miss Darmer, a Shropshire lady. But she died, poor soul, when Sir Gregory was born, and it was five weeks after her death, that Sir Francis was killed by being thrown from his dog-cart."
"Sir Francis was a sailor?" asked Fanks, abruptly. "I suppose when he went to sea and came home a middy, he had anchors, and ships, and true lovers' knots, and such like things tattooed upon his skin."
"He just had," replied Mrs. Prisom, laughing. "He had quite a fancy for that sort of thing. He told me he learnt how to do it in Japan."
"He learnt how to do it," echoed Fanks, leaning forward in his excitement.
"Yes, yes; and very clever he was at drawing such pictures on the skin. I shall never forget how angered my mother was when Sir Francis--Master Francis he was then--insisted on pricking those blue marks on my arm."
"Did he do that?" demanded the detective, little expecting what would follow.
"He did, sir; the mark of it remains to this day," and Mrs. Prisom drew up the sleeve of her left arm. Fanks bent forward, and saw tattooed thereon--a cross. Was he then about to unravel the mystery of the tattooed cross which had puzzled him for so long?
Fanks restrained his joy at this important discovery; he was afraid lest Mrs. Prisom should cease to speak should she think that the revelation was of consequence to him. That she should have the same symbol as that possessed by Hersham, as that attempted on Sir Gregory, appeared to hint at its owning a certain significance. What that significance might be he now set himself to discover.
"Why did Sir Francis choose a cross to tattoo on your arm, Mrs. Prisom," he asked, as the old lady pulled down her sleeve.
"I cannot say, Mr. Fanks. I fancy it was because he could draw a cross better than anything else. You see it is St. Catherine's cross, with four arms and a wheel--at least, that is what Sir Francis called it."
"It is St. Catherine's cross," said Fanks, recalling the mark on Hersham's arm. "Perhaps Sir Francis attached some meaning to it. Do you know if he tattooed anyone else with the same symbol?"
At this remark Mrs. Prisom suddenly desisted from her occupation, and not only refused to speak but taxed Fanks with trying to fathom her meaning for some ill purpose. "Why should you come down here, and ask questions about Sir Francis Fellenger?" she asked, with a troubled look; "why do you wish to know all these things?"
There was no help for it. If Fanks wished to learn the truth he would have to tell her the real purpose of his visit; and then out of love for the memory of Sir Francis she might do what she could to aid him to discover the person who had murdered Sir Gregory. Resolving to risk all on the casting of this die, he spoke out boldly and to the point. Yet he approached the old lady with a certain amount of caution.
"I have an important reason for asking you these questions," he said, in an earnest tone, "and I shall tell you my reason shortly. But first say if you regretted the death of Sir Gregory."
"I regretted it because he was the son of his father, but I did not care over much for him. He was a bad man, Mr. Fanks, a very bad man. I loved the father as an old playmate, and as one who was always kind to me and mine; but the son--ah!" Mrs. Prisom shook her head and sighed.
"You know that he was murdered?"
"Yes; but they never found out who murdered him."
"No; they are trying to find out now. You may be able to help me to do so."
"Help you?" said the old lady, in a frightened tone. "Who are you, sir?"
"My name is Fanks, as, you know, Mrs. Prisom. But what you do not know is that I am a detective, anxious to learn who killed Sir Gregory."
"I know nothing of the murder, sir. I am a simple old body, and cannot help you in any way."
"Oh, yes, you can, Mrs. Prisom. You can help me by relating all you know about this tattooing."
"But what can the death of Sir Gregory have to do with an old story of man's treachery and woman's folly?"
"More than you think. The whole secret of the death lies in the explanation of that tattooing. Come, Mrs. Prisom, you must tell me all you know."
Mrs. Prisom thought for a moment, and then made up her mind. "I'll do what I can," said she. "Those who are concerned in this tale are dead and gone; and, so long as it does not hurt the living, I see no reason why I should not gratify your curiosity; but I must ask you not to repeat what I tell you, unless you are absolutely obliged to do so. It is no good spreading family scandals, but as you have appealed to me to help you to revenge the murder of my old, playfellow's son, I will confide in you."
Fanks assured Mrs. Prisom that he would be as reticent as possible about her forthcoming history, and would not use it unless compelled to do so. Satisfied on this point, Mrs. Prisom commenced; at the same moment Fanks took out his note-book to set down any important point.
"The other person who was tattooed," said Mrs. Prisom, "was Madaline Garry." Fanks whistled softly and made a note in his book. "Only a thought which struck me," he explained. "Madaline Garry; was she also tattooed with a cross?"
"Yes, sir. Madaline and Jane Garry were the daughters of old Captain Garry, a retired naval officer, who lived in Damington. I knew them both very well, as we used to meet on terms of equality in parish work. Jane was the quiet one, but Madaline was a flighty girl, fond of admiration and dress. She attracted the attention of Sir Francis, and it was thought at one time that he would marry her. However, he did not do so, but brought home the lady from Shropshire to Mere Hall. Still, Madaline must have been fond of him, for she let him tattoo on her arm a cross similar to this one of mine, I saw it one day while she was changing her dress, and remarked it. She said Sir Francis had pricked it on her arm as a sign that she was engaged to him, and that it was like a wedding ring. I warned her against Sir Francis, and mentioned the lady of Shropshire to whom he was said to be paying his addresses. She laughed at this, and said Sir Francis would marry her. 'If he doesn't,' she added, 'I shall know how to avenge myself.'"
"Did she know that you had a cross on your arm also?"
"Oh, yes, I told her; but I never expected to marry Sir Francis, and he did me no harm. I can't say the same of Madaline. He acted badly towards her. I don't say that Sir Francis was a good man," added Mrs. Prisom, in a hesitating manner; "but he was good to me. He certainly should have married Madaline Garry."
"Did he go about tattooing all the girls he was in love with?"
"He was not in love with me," rejoined Mrs. Prisom, with dignity, "and I only let him tattoo me because I was a schoolgirl and his old playfellow. I knew no better then; but Madaline was a grown woman when he loved her, and marked her with the cross. I suppose it was to bind her to him;--not that it did much good, for shortly afterwards he married Miss Darmer, and in a rage at his desertion Madaline took up with an old admirer--Luke Fielding was his name--and she married him almost on the same day that Sir Francis led his bride to the Hall."
"Did she ever forgive him?"
"She said she did," replied Mrs. Prisom, with hesitation; "but I have my doubts of that. At all events, she was stopping at the Hall within the year of her marriage."
"How was that?"
"Well, you see, sir, in nine months after the marriage Mr. Fielding died, leaving Madaline with no money and a little child. About the same time Lady Fellenger died at the birth of the dead Sir Gregory. Somebody was wanted as a nurse, and Madaline asked Sir Francis if she could come. She was poor, you see, and wanted money, although after the death of her husband she was living with her father. At first Sir Francis would not let her come--feeling ashamed-like, no doubt--but in some way she prevailed against him, and went to the hall as the nurse to the heir."
"And what about her own child?"
"She took him also, by permission of Sir Francis."
"Oh! was the child of Madaline a son?"
"Yes. Her son and that of Sir Francis were born almost on the same day; she insisted that her son should come to the Hall also, so Sir Francis agreed in the end."
"And Madaline Garry nursed the heir--that is, the late Sir Gregory?"
"She did," assented Mrs. Prisom. "Till Sir Francis was killed, as I told you, five weeks after the death of his wife. His body was brought home and buried; but, almost immediately after the funeral, Madaline disappeared with her child. She was never heard of again; and I have no doubt that by this time she is dead."
"How long ago is it since she disappeared?" asked Fanks.
"Twenty-eight years, sir. Where she and the child went, I do not know; for she had no money. Poor soul; I was sorry for her."
"And her sister and Captain Garry?"
"Captain Garry died soon after. Madaline was his favourite child; he never held up his head after she disappeared. When the Captain died, Miss Jane went to some relatives in Scotland."
"And the heir?"
"Sir Gregory? Oh, Dr. Binjoy got another nurse for him."
Fanks glanced up in astonishment. "Dr. Binjoy!" he repeated. "Was he here?"
"Of course he was, sir," replied Mrs. Prisom, with a slight shade of surprise, "he was at the births of both Madaline's child and Sir Gregory. Afterwards, when the father of Sir Louis died, he asked Dr. Binjoy to look after his son, who was sickly. The doctor agreed; and he has been with Sir Louis ever since."
"Yet now they are about to part."
"It seems strange, doesn't it, sir?" said Mrs. Prisom, "but ever since Dr. Binjoy has been here with Sir Louis, they have got on badly. I think it was the chemistry which kept them together; for their characters are quite unlike one another."
"You like Sir Louis?"
"Yes. But I don't like Dr. Binjoy. No. Not though I have known him for so many years. He was a lover of Madaline Garry also, but she would have nothing to do with him. I am glad he is leaving Sir Louis."
"Was Binjoy friendly with Sir Gregory?"
"I can't say, sir. I do not think he had much love for him; because he was the heir and kept Sir Louis out of the property."
"Oh; and no doubt Binjoy wanted Sir Louis to have the property, so that he could get a share of the money."
"I think so, sir. They said that Dr. Binjoy was always very gay; and used to go to London to lead a fast life."
"Who said that? Did you ever go to Taxton-on-Thames?"
"No, Mrs. Jerusalem told me. You know she was the housekeeper of the late Mr. Garth; and, after his death, she went to keep house for Sir Louis at Taxton-on-Thames. When Sir Louis came in for the property he brought her here."
"Is she a native of this village?"
"Oh, yes; she was a school friend of mine, though I never liked her over much. I believe she was in love with the late Mr. Garth. At all events, she is devoted to his son. I wonder she left him to keep house for Sir Louis. But, as poor, young Mr. Garth had no money, I suppose she had to do the best she could for herself."
In Fanks' opinion, the love of Mrs. Jerusalem for the late Mr. Garth explained why she was so anxious to benefit the son; but it did not indicate why she should hate Sir Louis. Mrs. Prisom's next words enlightened him on this point.
"It is more strange," pursued Mrs. Prisom. "Because Mr. Michael, the father of Sir Louis, treated Mrs. Jerusalem very badly. Yes, almost as badly as Sir Francis did Madaline Garry."
"I wonder Sir Francis was not afraid that Madaline Garry would avenge herself for his treatment," said Fanks, now satisfied as to the cause of Mrs. Jerusalem's hatred for Sir Louis.
"I think he was afraid," replied Mrs. Prisom, rising and rolling up her work. "I can't explain what he said to me in any other way."
"What was that?" said Fanks, eagerly.
"I was at the Hall one day, shortly after the death of Lady Fellenger," said the landlady, "and I saw him in his study. He was grieving greatly for the death of his wife; but he also told me how pleased he was at the birth of an heir. While he was talking, Madaline entered, and spoke about something; then she nodded to me, and went away. As the door closed after her, Sir Francis looked anxious. 'Nancy,' he said, turning to me--he always called me 'Nancy,'" said Mrs. Prisom, in parentheses. "'Nancy,' he said, all in a flutter like, 'if it should chance as I die, and anything goes wrong about my son, remember that cross I tattooed on your arm; and if you want any further proof, look in this desk.' Just then, we were interrupted, and he did not say any more. I never saw him again," added Mrs. Prisom, with emotion, "for he was brought home dead that day week."
"Can you understand what he meant?"
"No, sir," said Mrs. Prisom, rising. "I can only say from the look he gave the door, that he was afraid of Madaline. What he meant by the cross and the desk I know no more than you do. But he was wrong in thinking that Madaline would harm his child--for that was what he thought, I'm sure--for she went away a week after his death with her own, and Sir Gregory grew into a fine, young gentleman, though wild, very wild."
After which speech, Mrs. Prisom, exclaiming that it was close on ten o'clock, left the room; and Fanks sat meditating over the strange history he had heard, far into the night. Already he saw a connecting link between the story of Madaline Garry and the tragedy of Tooley's Alley.
The outcome of Fanks' midnight meditations, was that he resolved to devote himself entirely to following the clue afforded by Mrs. Prisom's story of the tattooed cross. The dead father had chosen the symbol of St Catherine's martyrdom for some unknown purpose; the murdered son had perished while the same emblem was being tattooed on his arm. For some reason he had wished to be marked in such a way, and the murderer had taken advantage of the wish to inoculate the blood of his victim with a deadly poison. If then, Fanks could learn the significance of the cross, he might be able to fathom the mystery of the death. The question he asked himself was, whether he could find out the truth concerning the cross in the study of the late Sir Francis.
The warning which the dead man had given to Mrs. Prisom, seemed strange to the detective. That it was dictated by fear of Madaline Garry, he felt sure; but as she had passed away, and had foregone her vengeance it would seem that the warning was useless. Nevertheless, Fanks resolved to see the desk referred to by Mrs. Prisom, and to search for the evidence hinted at by Sir Francis. Also, for reasons of his own, which the reader may guess, he wired to Hersham at the Fairview vicarage, to seek an explanation from his father relative to the cross tattooed on his arm. The tale of the Reverend Hersham might show why the special symbol of Sir Francis was figuring on the skin of a young man who had nothing to do with the Fellengers and their mad freaks. After concluding the first part of his scheme by despatching this letter, Fanks proceeded to the second, and walked to Mere Hall to see the desk referred to by Mrs. Prisom. Garth had refused to accompany the detective to the Hall; and gave his reason for such refusal. "It is no good my going," he said, "I don't wish to see my cousin; and if, as you think, he knows that I am here, there is no longer any reason why I should stay in Damington. I shall go up to town by the midday train, and leave you to find out if he has anything to do with the crime."
"Well, as I know all you know, and a great deal more besides, I don't think it is necessary for you to stay," said Fanks, dryly. "I'll follow up the clue afforded by the malice of Mrs. Jerusalem. Return to town by all means, and if you want anything to do, just join Crate in watching the Red Star Hotel in which Mrs. Boazoph lies ill."
This Garth promised readily enough, much to the amusement of Fanks, as the latter was simply throwing him into the society of Crate in order to afford that person a chance of learning the connection--if any--of Garth with the crime. He was assured in his own mind that Garth was innocent, but he was willing to afford Crate some innocent amusement, by setting him to find the mare's nest of his own imagination. When Garth, therefore, departed, Fanks smiled in his own quiet way; and went off to solve the more difficult riddle which awaited him at Mere Hall.
When he was nearing the Hall, a woman stepped out of a gap in the hedge almost in front of him. She was dressed in a black silk dress with lavender coloured shawl over her shoulders; and she wore also a bonnet of grey velvet made Quaker fashion, and close fitting over the ears. But it was not at her dress that Fanks looked; he was staring at the most malignant countenance he ever saw in his life. She was pale and thin-lipped; her hair and eyes and eyebrows were of a light, sandy hue; and she had a stealthy, observant way with her, which made Fanks mistrust her on the instant. Like an apparition she arose from the ground; and laid one thin hand on his breast to detain him.
"One moment, Mr. Fanks," she said, in a perfectly unemotional voice. "You must speak to me before you go to Mere Hall."
"Why must I?" demanded Fanks, with a stare, "and how is it you know my name?"
"Mr. Garth told me your name and your errand."
"Oh!" cried Fanks, remembering Garth's excuse for retiring to bed on the previous night. "So you are Mrs. Jerusalem?"
"That is my name; and I wish to tell you--"
"I wish to hear nothing," said Fanks, roughly. "Mr. Garth had no business to speak about me. What is there between you and him that he should act in this underhand way without telling me? He said he was going to bed last night. Instead of that, he sneaks out and sees you."
"There you are wrong," replied Mrs. Jerusalem, still without a trace of emotion. "Mr. Garth did not come to me. On the contrary, it was I who came to him at the inn while you were talking to Mrs. Prisom. He came out of his bedroom to see me for a few moments; and then I went away."
"And why did he not tell about this meeting?" asked Fanks, angrily.
"Because I asked him not to. I wished to take you by surprise. If you had heard of my midnight visit, you might mistrust me; as it is--"
"As it is, I mistrust you still. Well, Mrs. Jerusalem, we will waive the point. I know you accuse Sir Louis of this murder. Is it to betray the master whose bread you eat, that you have sought this meeting?"
"That is just why I am here," was the quiet reply. "I hate my master--"
"Because his father, Michael Fellenger, treated you ill. I know all about that, Mrs. Jerusalem."
"Ah!" said the woman, coldly. "I see you employed your time with Mrs. Prisom to good purpose. Well, you can understand that I hate Sir Louis, and I would gladly see Francis Garth sit in his place?"
"And for this purpose you have concocted a story against Sir Louis."
"I have concocted no story. I tell the truth. Sir Louis and Dr. Binjoy went up to London on the night of the murder; although they now pretend that the one was ill, and the other attended him. They sent me out of the house on that night; but I suspected, I watched, I discovered. Do you know why the pair went up to London?" she continued, grasping Fanks by the arm. "To kill Sir Gregory. Do you know why they killed Sir Gregory? To get money for their scientific experiments. Do you know how they killed Sir Gregory? Ask them about the poisoned needle. Yes. They made use of their scientific knowledge to slay the man whose money they wanted."
"Who put the advertisement in the paper?"
"Ask Mrs. Boazoph, she knows."
"Does she?" said Fanks, disgusted with her malignity, "and perhaps you know about the tattooed cross?"
"No, I don't know about the tattooed cross," said Mrs. Jerusalem, "but I daresay Madaline Garry can tell you."
"Madaline Garry? Do you know her? Is she still alive?"
"I know her, she is still alive. See Sir Louis, Mr. Fanks," said the woman, stretching out her lean hand, "tear the mask off the lying face of Dr. Binjoy who loved Madaline Garry and ask him where she lives; and what evil he has worked with her aid?"
More Fanks would have asked, but with a sudden movement she eluded his detaining hand, and before he could recover from his astonishment she was far down the road to the village, gliding like an evil shadow into the sunny distance. Fanks thought of following her, but on second thoughts he pursued his journey to the Hall. "Sir Louis and Binjoy first," he muttered, "afterwards Mrs. Jerusalem and Madaline Garry."
Despite his belief in the evidence of Mrs. Jerusalem, which was obviously dictated by a malignant spirit, he caught himself wondering if she was really right, and if, after all, Sir Louis was guilty. But the moment afterwards he rejected this idea, as it was incredible that Sir Louis would commit a crime and then offer a reward for the detection of the assassin. Still Fanks admitted to himself that if Sir Louis was not frank, he would find it difficult to come to a decision touching his innocence or guilt.
On sending in his card at Mere Hall, the detective was admitted into the study of Sir Louis Fellenger. Here he found not the baronet but his old acquaintance Dr. Renshaw, who advanced boldly and introduced himself as Dr. Binjoy. In place of wearing a thick brown beard he was clean-shaven, and his face looked young, fresh-coloured, and smooth. For the rest he was as tall and burly as ever, as unctuous in his speech; and to complete the resemblance between himself and the doctor of Tooley's Alley, there lurked an unmistakable look of anxiety in his grey eyes. It was impossible to think how he hoped to deceive so clever a man as Fanks by so slight a change in his personal appearance; but he evidently thought Fanks knew nothing of the truth, for he came forward with a bland smile, prepared to carry on the comedy.
"My dear sir," said Binjoy, with magnificent pompousness, "your card was brought to Sir Louis, but he has been busy in his laboratory, and is rather untidy in consequence, he deputed me to receive you. Pray be seated."
Fanks smiled slightly and sat down, while Dr. Binjoy, rendered uneasy by the silence, carried on a difficult conversation.
"I presume, Mr. Fanks, that you have come to report your doings to Sir Louis touching this unfortunate death of my friend's predecessor in the title. May I ask if you have any clue to the assassin?"
"Oh, yes," said Fanks, quietly; "you will be pleased to hear, Dr. Binjoy, that I have every hope of arresting the right man."
Binjoy turned grey and looked anything but delighted. Indeed an unprejudiced observer would have said that he looked thoroughly frightened. But he controlled himself so far as to falter out a question as to the name of the guilty man. Fanks mentioned the name of Renshaw, and thereby reduced his listener to a state of abject terror.
"Renshaw is innocent, sir," said the doctor, tremulously, "I would he were here to defend himself; but he is in India at present, at Bombay. I received a letter from him, dated from Aden."
"How strange," said Fanks, innocently; "Dr. Turnor got a letter from him also."
Binjoy saw that he had over-reached himself, and bit his lip. "We need discuss Renshaw no longer," he said, coolly. "Let us talk of other matters till Sir Louis enters."
"By all means," said Fanks. "Let me ask you, Dr. Binjoy, what you were doing at Dr. Turnor's in Great Auk Street on the night of the twenty-first?"
Binjoy went pale again, and stammered out a denial. "I was not in town on that night," he protested. "I was attending on Sir Louis, who was ill. I never left the house at Taxton-on-Thames."
"Oh, yes, you did. You went up with Sir Louis."
"Prove it, prove it," gasped Binjoy, with white lips.
"I can prove it by the mouth of Mrs. Jerusalem. She saw you leave; she saw Sir Louis return alone."
"A lie! A lie!"
"It is not a lie, and you know it. It is time to have done with this farce, Dr. Binjoy. I know who you are. I know all about your impersonation and disguise. I know why you called yourself Renshaw. I traced you to Plymouth and saw you disembark; I followed you to this place, and now I have you."
Binjoy stared wildly for a moment at seeing his mask of lies fall away from him, and then sank back in his chair with a shiver, moaning and crying. "It is a lie, a lie," was all he could gasp.
"It is not a lie," said a voice at the door, and Fanks turned to see Sir Louis. "It is not a lie," repeated the baronet. "Binjoy is Renshaw; he went up with me to town on the night of the twenty-first. If you want to know who killed my cousin, Mr. Fanks, there is the assassin."
Silence ensued after this astounding statement had been made by Sir Louis, during which time Fanks narrowly observed the personality of the speaker. The baronet was a tall, and rather stout young man, with a round face, destitute of beard and moustache. He was shabbily dressed in an old tweed suit. He wore spectacles, and his shoulders were slightly bowed as from constant bending over a desk. His appearance was rather that of a studious German than that of a young Englishman, but Fanks, from this hasty observation, judged him to be of a sensible and reflective nature. Such a man would not make so terrible an accusation unless he was able to substantiate it on every point.
Binjoy arose to refute the accusation of his quondam pupil. "That man," he said, pointing an unsteady hand at the baronet, "is lying. He hates me because I know his secrets. For their preservation he seeks to destroy me. But if I fall he falls also; if I am guilty he is doubly so. Let him speak and admit that our sin is mutual."
"I admit nothing of the sort," retorted Sir Louis, coming forward. "You tell your story, and I shall tell mine. Mr. Fanks can judge between us."
"You had better be careful, Louis," said Binjoy, with an attempt at bravado. "I hold you in the hollow of my hand."
"We will see," said Fellenger, coldly. "Be seated, Mr. Fanks. Before you leave this room you shall hear my story, and decide as you think best. I refuse to be the accomplice of that man any longer."
"Louis, I implore you."
But Fellenger turned a deaf ear to the voice of the charmer, and sat down near Fanks, to whom he addressed himself. "For the sake of Binjoy I concealed the truth; out of pity for him I held my tongue; but when he strives to make me an accomplice in the crime, when he attempts to blackmail me by threatening to inform you of our doings on the night of the twenty-first of June, I prefer to forestall him, and let you know the worst of myself."
"You were listening to our conversation, Sir Louis?" said Fanks.
"I was," replied the baronet, coldly. "I know what Mrs. Jerusalem thinks; I know how Binjoy has been lying to you; and I am sick of living on the verge of a precipice, over which that man and my housekeeper threaten to push me. At any cost you shall hear the truth so far as I am able to tell it to you. Ask what questions you like, Mr. Fanks, and I shall answer them; when I fail no doubt the worthy doctor there will come to my aid, and shield himself if possible at my expense."
"I shall say nothing," said Binjoy, wiping his lips. "My only desire is to save myself from the consequences of your falsehoods. I wish you no harm."
"Just hear him!" cried Louis, in a mocking tone. "Would you believe that my friend there threatened to blackmail me last week by saying he would denounce me to the police. Well, Binjoy, here is a representative of the law. You can now speak. I give you full power to do so."
Binjoy did not accept this challenge. He sat back in his chair to listen to the forthcoming conversation, and to defend himself if necessary.
"Well, Sir Louis," said the detective, "I have heard your accusation and the denial of Dr. Binjoy. Until I hear your story and his I attach no value to either."
Binjoy drew a long breath of relief. "I can defend myself," he said, in a defiant tone. "I can prove to you that Louis lies."
"You shall have ample opportunity of doing so," replied Fanks, coldly; "in the meantime I shall hear what Sir Louis has to say."
"I must begin at the beginning," said Louis, quietly. "That man Binjoy was the doctor in this village of Damington. When my father died leaving me an orphan--for my mother had died some years before--he asked Binjoy to look after me."
"And I have done so," broke in Binjoy, "and this is my reward."
"This is your reward for trying to blackmail me," said Fellenger, dryly. "You did your best to ruin me, and to put bad thoughts into my heart as to Gregory's wealth and my own poverty. See here, Mr. Fanks," added Louis, turning to the detective, "I am a man of science; I am devoted to my work. I wanted neither money nor title, and I would not have lifted a finger to obtain either. I did not like Gregory; he was a brutal and wicked boy, and when we were playmates together he treated me like a dog. I never saw him for years. We never corresponded or treated each other as relatives, but for all that I did not wish him evil; I did not desire his death; least of all did I desire to rob him of his titles and lands. Do you believe me, sir?"
Fanks looked at the open face of the young man, and glanced at the scowl which rested on the countenance of Binjoy. Drawing his own conclusions, he replied quietly, "I believe you, Sir Louis; proceed, if you please."
"Binjoy," pursued Louis, "was always lamenting that I was not the owner of the Fellenger estates; and now that I am he hopes to make me pay him large sums of money to purchase his silence."
"What does he threaten to accuse you of?" said Fanks.
"Of murdering my cousin under the disguise of the negro Caesar, but I am innocent, Mr. Fanks, as I hope to prove to you. I was trapped by that man and his accomplice, Dr. Turnor."
"Ah!" murmured Fanks, while Binjoy scowled. "I was sure that the ferret had something to do with the matter."
"Of that you shall judge for yourself," said Fellenger. "Have you heard of Mithridates, Mr. Fanks?"
The detective was rather astonished at this apparently irrelevant question; but having some knowledge of ancient history, he said that he had heard of the monarch. "He was a king of Pontus, wasn't he; who lived on poisons?"
"Exactly. He accustomed himself to taking poisons for so long that in the end the most deadly had no effect on him. I always thought that this was a fable and I wanted to see if I was right. For this purpose, I tried experiments on dogs. I inoculated an animal with a weak poison, and gradually increased the dose. Whether I was successful does not matter; it has nothing to do with my story. But I may tell you this, that, with the aid of Binjoy, I prepared a very powerful vegetable poison for my final experiment; with this I impregnated a needle."
"Oh!" said Fanks, "now I am beginning to see. Was it an ordinary needle?"
"No, it was not an ordinary needle," replied Fellenger. "In the first place it was silver; in the second, it was hollow; in the third, it was filled with this deadly vegetable poison, of which I told you."
"Prepared by Dr. Binjoy?"
"Prepared by both of us," said Binjoy, savagely. "Let him take his share of the guilt."
"I am not guilty. Mr. Fanks can judge of that for himself when I tell him what I know," retorted the baronet. "Well, Mr. Fanks, we prepared this needle and placed it in a case; for the least prick with it meant death by blood poisoning. We intended to use it on the dog, when the animal was sufficiently saturated with weaker poisons to admit of the experiment being made. You may be sure, sir, that I was very careful of that needle; I placed it in my cabinet. Dr. Binjoy had access to that cabinet."
"I had not," contradicted Binjoy.
"Yes, you had; you possessed a key as well as myself," retorted Sir Louis, sharply.
"I did not," said the doctor, obstinate in his denial.
"Don't lie, Binjoy, I found you with it opened one day; the day Anne Colmer was with you, and I was so angry."
"Oh, Anne Colmer knew about this needle?" said Fanks.
"I can't say," said Fellenger. "While I was living at Taxton-on-Thames, Miss Colmer sometimes came to the house. But I was angry at Binjoy for opening that cabinet in her presence, as there were a lot of dangerous drugs in it."
"She touched none of them," growled. Binjoy.
"Oh!" said Fanks, sharply. "Then you admit that you showed Miss Colmer the cabinet of poisons."
Binjoy scowled, and grew a shade paler; as he saw that he had over reached himself. However, he said nothing, lest he should make bad worse; and, with a significant glance at Fanks the baronet resumed his story.
"One day, in the middle of June," said Fellenger, "I found the needle missing; and Binjoy told me he had given it to Turnor."
"I did not say that," exclaimed Binjoy, wrathfully. "I said that I missed it one day when Turnor was in the laboratory; and I thought that he might have taken it. As it proved, he did not. I know no more than yourself who took it."
"We will see," said Louis. "I was ill at the time: and when Binjoy hinted that Turnor had it, I determined to go up to London, and get it again. I rose from my bed of sickness and went up to London on the evening of the twenty-first."
"But was it necessary that you should have gone up?" said Fanks, "would not a line to Dr. Turnor have done?"
"Probably. But the preparation of the poison was a secret, and when I heard that the needle was in Turnor's possession, I was afraid lest he should analyse the preparation. I went up to town with Binjoy post haste to recover it again. This haste may appear strange to you, Mr. Fanks; but you do not know how jealous we men of science are of our secrets. But, at all events, we went up to town that evening. Do you deny that, Binjoy?"
"No, I don't deny it," retorted Binjoy, gloomily. "Mr. Fanks tracked me to Plymouth; he knows that I am Renshaw."
"I do. May I ask, Dr. Binjoy, why you took a false name?"
Binjoy pointed to his friend. "It was to save that ungrateful man," he said, in a tragic voice. "When I saw you at the Red Star, and found out that it was Sir Gregory who had been murdered, I foresaw how you might suspect Louis as the cousin of the dead man. Mrs. Boazoph sent for Dr. Turnor, I came instead of him, leaving Turnor with Louis. I had been to the Red Star before, and Mrs. Boazoph knew me as Renshaw."
"And you wore a false beard. How was that?"
"I used to go up to London to enjoy myself," said Binjoy, apologetically, "and I did not want any rumours to creep down to Taxton-on-Thames concerning my movements. This is why I adopted the false name; and disguise."
"Did you know of this?" said Fanks, turning to Louis.
"I do now, I did not then," said he, promptly. "When I arrived in town, I went with Binjoy to Dr. Turnor's house in Great Auk Street. Turnor denied possession of the needle. Shortly afterwards, a message came that the landlady of the Red Star wanted Turnor. I would not let Turnor leave the room; as I felt sure that he had the needle, and thought that he might make away with it. Binjoy went in his place; but he had no disguise on when he went out of the house."
"I put it on outside," explained Renshaw, alias Binjoy. "I did not tell you all my secrets, as you were always so straight-laced, you might have objected to my enjoying myself."
"I should certainly have objected to your disguising yourself, and going under another name," said Louis, coldly, "I do not like such underhand doings. I did not know that you went to the Red Star as Renshaw; when you came back I had gone."
"Ah!" murmured Fanks, "that accounts why we didn't catch you. The house was not watched till Binjoy came back. Did you return to Taxton-on-Thames?"
"Yes. I returned without the needle, which Turnor denied having. I felt very ill, and got into bed at once."
"Was Mrs. Jerusalem in the house, then?"
"Yes. Binjoy, as I afterwards learned, had sent her out. It was part of the trap. He wanted to make out that I had got rid of the woman so that I could go up to town and kill my cousin."
"When did you hear of your cousin's death?"
"The next day. Turnor came down; and said that Binjoy could not return as he was being watched by detectives."
"Quite so. And Turnor told you about your cousin's death?"
"He did; and then he said that if I did not hold my tongue, and pretend that I had not left Taxton-on-Thames that night, I should be in danger of being accused of the crime. What could I do, Mr. Fanks; I saw my danger, I held my tongue."
"Yes," said Fanks. "I can see why you were afraid. You were in a dangerous position."
"I was in a trap," retorted Louis. "Can't you see, Mr. Fanks. Gregory was killed with a poisoned needle. I had talked about that needle to many people. Many scientific men knew that I was experimenting with it. I was in Turnor's house at the very time that the crime was committed."
"And you were thereby able to prove an alibi."
"Indeed, no. Turnor told me that he needed money; and he swore that he would deny that I had been in his house; that he would denounce me as the murderer of my cousin, if I did not give him a cheque. I could do nothing, I was afraid; the circumstances were too strong for me. I would have told the police; but in the face of Turnor's denial; in the face of Binjoy's treachery in luring me into that house at the very time of the murder, I dreaded lest I should be arrested and condemned on circumstantial evidence. And the negro, Binjoy's servant, was smuggled off to Bombay by Binjoy, to close the trap more firmly on me."
"That's a lie," said Binjoy. "I sent the negro away to Bombay to avert suspicion. I feigned a voyage to Plymouth for the same reason. I ordered Caesar to meet me at Plymouth; and sent him to Bombay in my place."
"I know you did," said Fanks, "you no doubt did that when I lost you in the town after you disembarked."
"Well, you see, Mr. Fanks," said Louis, "that I am innocent. I held my tongue, and lied about Binjoy, because I was afraid of the circumstantial evidence which might be brought against me. Thanks to Binjoy and Turnor, I was in a trap; I was at their mercy. I have told you all because Binjoy tried to blackmail me last week. Now what do you say?"
"Say, Sir Louis. I believe that you have told the truth. You are innocent of this crime. But the question is, what does Dr. Binjoy say?"
"I say that there is not one word of truth in the whole story," said the doctor, with a scowl.
Upon hearing this untruthful and obstinate denial of the baronet's story, Fanks wheeled round his chair, until it directly faced that of Binjoy. At the sullen creature he looked sternly, and shook an emphatic forefinger in his face.
"Now look you here, Dr. Binjoy, or Renshaw, or whatever you choose to call yourself," he said, sternly. "I believe that Sir Louis has spoken the truth about this matter. I have not the least doubt that you and your accomplice, Turnor, lured him into the Tooley Alley crime, with which, to my belief, he has nothing to do whatever. You laid a trap, and he fell into it--unluckily for him; but for his wise resolution to confess his doings on that night to me, I have no doubt that you would have blackmailed him."
"I did not want to blackmail him," said Binjoy in a low voice. "I did not lure him into a trap. On the contrary, when I found out that it was his cousin who had been murdered, I did all I could to save him--to draw suspicion on to myself. I feigned the voyage to Plymouth; I made use of my false name; I sent off Caesar to Bombay; and I closed the mouth of Dr. Turnor. What more could you expect me to do?"
"I quite believe that you did all these things; and for why? Because you wished to rivet your chains more securely on your victim. When you found that he was in possession of the property, you resolved to get whatever money you wanted out of him in order to lead a debauched life in town. Oh, yes, Doctor, I quite believe you changed your name and assumed a disguise while in London. You did not wish that the scampish Renshaw of the Red Star should be identified with, the respectable Dr. Binjoy, late of Taxton-on-Thames, and now of Mere Hall in Hampshire. I can understand that, and I can understand that you designed the murder so that Sir Louis could become possessed of money which you intended to spend."
"I did not design the murder," said Binjoy, in a hoarse voice. "I swear I do not know who committed the crime. When I was called in by Mrs. Boazoph, I was as ignorant as anyone that Gregory Fellenger had been murdered. I only acted as I did because I saw how dangerous it was that Louis should be suspected. He was in the neighbourhood--"
"Lured there by yourself?"
"No! No! I did not lure him there. That we should be at Turnor's house, so near to Tooley's at that time, was quite an accident."
"Was it an accident that Dr. Turnor came down to Taxton-on-Thames, and threatened to blackmail me," broke in Louis.
"I know nothing of what Turnor said or did. It was not because you paid him money that he held his tongue; but because I told him to do so."
"You tried to blackmail me, also. That was why we quarrelled; that was why you were going away next week. And I dare swear, Binjoy," added Sir Louis, quietly, "that had you gone, you would have found means to betray me to the police. That is why I have told Mr. Fanks everything. You cannot harm me now.
"Don't you be too sure of that," growled Binjoy; "you have got to clear yourself of suspicion."
"Sir Louis has cleared himself in my eyes," said Fanks. "But you have yet to explain what became of the poisoned needle."
"I do not know; I missed it as did Sir Louis, but I do not know who took it. You can't prove that I committed the crime."
"I am not sure of that," said Fanks, coolly. "See here, Dr. Binjoy, you wanted Sir Louis to get the Fellenger estates so that you could handle the money. Sir Louis can prove that much. You had access to this poisoned needle with which the crime was committed; you went up to London on the evening of the twenty-first of June; you repaired to the Red Star about the time the deed was committed; you lied about your name; you took a pretended voyage; you sent your negro to Bombay in order to throw the suspicion on him. Now you attempt to blackmail Sir Louis--you and Turnor--by threatening to accuse him of committing a crime of which he is guiltless. From my own soul I believe that he is the victim of conspiracy; I believe that you lured him up to Great Auk Street to entangle him in the matter. And," added Fanks, rising, "I believe that you, in disguise of a negro, killed Sir Gregory Fellenger with that poisoned needle."
"I did not. I swear I did not. It is all a mistake," gasped the wretched man. "Ask Turnor."
"The other blackguard, the other blackmailer? No, thank you. He would only lie to me as you are doing. You are guilty. Confess your share in this crime. Confess the mystery of the tattooed cross."
"The tattooed cross? What do you know about the tattooed cross?"
"More than you think," returned Fanks, significantly. "What about Madaline Garry and her revenge?"
Binjoy's eyes seemed to be starting out of his head with terror and surprise. His face was of a deathly paleness, and great drops of perspiration rolled down his cheeks. He tried to speak, but the words rattled in his throat, and with a gasp the man, strong as he was, fainted quietly in the chair. He had been struck down by his own terrors; rendered insensible by an instinctive knowledge of his danger.
"What do you intend to do, Mr. Fanks?" asked Louis, looking at the inanimate form of Binjoy with strong distaste. "Arrest this man?"
"I do. I shall send a telegram to London to get a detective down. In the meantime--I shall stay here so as not to lose sight of him."
"You don't think that I would help him to escape?" said Louis, indignantly. "I am only too glad to see the scoundrel captured. He has been the curse of my life ever since my father placed me in his care; he spoilt my nature, he half ruined me, but I stood it all until he tried to blackmail me. Then I revolted against his tyranny. If you had not appeared here so opportunely I should have written for you to come and hear my confession. I admit that I was afraid to speak before, for these villains had laid their plans so skilfully that I was afraid my tale would not be believed. But now the scamp has been caught in his own trap, and I am glad of it."
"All the same, I am not sure that he killed your cousin."
"Why not? All the circumstances seem to point to his having done so."
"No doubt. But some time ago I thought I had spotted the person who had executed the crime. From that opinion I am not inclined to depart. Evidently, Binjoy knows all about the affair, and possibly he may be brought in as the accessory before the fact, but you can see for yourself that the man is a rank coward. He has fainted. No man of his timid nature would be brave enough to commit so daring a crime, and then face me within an hour of such commission. No, Sir Louis, we have not yet caught the assassin."
"Then why arrest Binjoy?"
"Because he knows who is guilty, and I wish to force him into confession. Just send the servant with this telegram, will you, and tell him to ask if there are any letters for me at the Pretty Maid Inn?"
"What about Binjoy?"
"Leave him here with me for a time. Should I get a letter I may ask you to take me over the house. Till then I shall watch my man."
"What is this letter you expect?" demanded Louis, with curiosity.
"I'll tell you that when I have despatched my telegram. Send a groom with it at once, please."
Sir Louis obeyed and left the room, while Fanks remained to revive the insensible Binjoy. He threw water on his face, loosened his collar, but the doctor still continued insensible. Becoming alarmed, Fanks rang the bell, and sent for a medical man. The upshot of the affair was that Binjoy was put to bed in high fever. The shock inflicted on him by the detective had unsettled his brain; and when Crate arrived at Mere Hall there was no question of arresting the guilty man. Binjoy was dangerously ill, and suffering from an attack of brain fever. What with the doctor ill in the country and Mrs. Boazoph ill in town, Fanks began to grow uneasy. If all the principals of the case were rendered incapable of confession in this manner, he did not see how he was to arrive at any solution of the riddle. He was two days meditating over the next move in the game. "Mrs. Boazoph knows something," said Fanks, to himself, "and Dr. Binjoy knows more; but if both are ill and incapable of confession, what am I to do?"
There was no answer to this question, but later on the detective's hands were full in elucidating the mystery of the tattooing. He asked the baronet if he knew anything about the fancy Sir Francis had for pricking crosses on the arms of women whom he loved.
"I never heard of it," said Louis. "I did not know much about my uncle Francis, and still less about my cousin, his son Gregory. I am afraid we are a singularly unamiable family, Mr. Fanks, for we all seem to quarrel."
"Have you quarrelled with Garth?"
"Not exactly. But we do not get on well together. He used to come and see me at Taxton-on-Thames, but I am afraid he thought me a scientific prig. Indeed, he hinted so much."
Fanks laughed at this, remembering how Garth had made use of the words attributed to him by Sir Louis. However, he did not explain the reason of his laughter, but asked the baronet about Madaline Garry. To this also he received a denial. Sir Louis knew nothing about the lady or her connection with the late Sir Francis.
"All these things were before my time," he said, shaking his head. "If you want to know about our family secrets, ask Mrs. Prisom, at the inn. I believe she is a perfect book of anecdotes regarding the Fellenger family."
"I have asked her," said Fanks, quietly. "She told me a great deal; but not all I wish to know. Is there anyone else?"
"Well, there was Mrs. Jerusalem," said Sir Louis. "But she has walked off. I intended to tell you, since you referred to her."
"Where has she gone?"
"I do not know. On that day you met her she went off and never came back. I can't say I am sorry, as I feel, from your description, she bore me ill-will. Perhaps on account of the way my father treated her; but you must ask Mrs. Prisom to tell you that story."
"I don't need to do that," replied Fanks. "I know that Mrs. Jerusalem hated you, and that is enough. She must have intended to bolt the day I met her; but I thought she would have waited with the amiable intention of assisting you into trouble. I wish I knew where she had gone."
"Perhaps she will come back?"
"Let us hope so. Now that Binjoy is ill, and she hates him, I should like to know what she can say about him. By the way, there is a question I wish to ask you. Why was it, when you were afraid of being implicated in the crime, that you offered to supply the money for me to hunt down the criminal?"
"Well, that was Binjoy's idea. You see he thought that he had completely destroyed the trail likely to bring you across my track; so he said it would still further avert suspicion if I offered that reward. I did so, but, to tell you the honest truth, if I had not intended to confide in you in order to stop the blackmailing of Messrs. Binjoy and Turnor, I should not have risked doing so. By the way, are you going to arrest that atrocious little scamp?"
"Not yet. Binjoy is ill, and cannot have warned him; Mrs. Boazoph is in the same plight; no, I will let him wait. He has no idea that he is in any danger. When the time comes, I will pounce on him, if necessary; though I hope he will not take a fit also. I can get nothing out of Binjoy or Mrs. Boazoph, while they are ill."
"You may not need to do so. You may find out the truth when the letter comes from Hersham."
"I wish it would come," said Fanks. "I want to know why he has the same symbol on his arm as that on the arms of Mrs. Prisom and Madaline Garry."
"You speak as if Madaline Garry were still alive?"
"Mrs. Jerusalem says she is. That is why I want to trace Mrs. Jerusalem; she might help me to learn where I can find Madaline Garry. The clue to the mystery of the cross lies with her; or else," added Fanks, "it is hidden in the desk of the late Sir Francis. You remember I told you his parting words to Mrs. Prisom?"
Two days after this the long expected letter came from Hersham. And not only from him, but one from his father, was enclosed also. The contents caused Fanks surprise; and yet, he half expected to read what he did. He was beginning to guess the mystery which filled Dr. Binjoy and Mrs. Boazoph with such fear. After all, he would be able to discover the truth without them; although their testimony would be necessary to confirm it.
"Dear Fanks" (wrote Hersham). "When you read the enclosed, you will be astonished, as I was. I have not yet recovered from the shock of learning the truth; but, as you will see, the mystery of the tattooed cross is a greater one than ever. I can give you no assistance--all is told in the enclosed letter, which I particularly asked to be written for you. I cannot say if it will solve the Tooley Alley riddle, but it has certainly invested my life with a mystery which I shall not rest until I solve. I can write no more, for my head is in a whirl. Tell me what you think of enclosed. And believe me, yours, Ted Hersham (as I suppose I may still sign myself)."
The enclosed was a letter from the Rev. George Hersham, to the effect that Ted was not his son; that he was no relation to him.
"I am a bachelor" (wrote Mr. Hersham). "I adopted Ted from motives of pity, and a desire to cheer my lonely life. Nearly twenty-eight years age, a poorly clad woman came to my door. She was starving, and carried an infant in her arms. I gave her succour, and procured her work. After a time, she grew restless, and wished to go away, but in that time I had become fond of the child. In the end, I offered to adopt it. To this she consented, rather to my surprise; though, indeed, she did not seem at any time very much attached to the babe. However, she gave me the child, and went away with a little money I had given her. I afterwards received a letter from her in London, but she then stopped writing, and for years I have never heard anything about her. The child--now my son, Ted--was marked with a cross on the left arm, when I adopted him. The woman never told me why he had been so tattooed. I knew nothing of the woman's history, save that her name was--Madaline Garry."
On receipt of Mr. Hersham's letter, Fanks sought out Sir Louis, and showed him the communication. He had told the baronet all that he had heard from Mrs. Prisom; for, without permission, he could not hope to examine the desk of the late Sir Francis. If he did not do so, he would not be able to discover the secret of the tattooed cross; therefore, for the gaining of his ends, and also with a belief in Fellenger's good sense, he made him his confidant, and finally placed the letter in his hands. Louis read it carefully; and, knowing all that had gone before, he understood it partially. Nevertheless, he was puzzled as to the real meaning of the affair; and looked to Fanks for an explanation.
"What do you think of that?" asked Fanks, when the baronet gave back the letter in silence. "Can you understand it?"
"I do not think it is very difficult to understand," said Fellenger, with a shrug of his shoulders, "Madeline Garry went from the Isle of Wight; she was starving, and she met with a good Samaritan, who took her in. Afterwards, she sought London, and left her child behind to be adopted. That child is your friend, Edward Hersham. The story is plain enough."
"It is so far as you have related it. But Hersham has the cross of St. Catherine tattooed on his arm. Why should the child of Madaline Garry be marked in that way?"
"Perhaps my uncle marked the child. He seemed to have had a passion for tattooing."
"Why should Sir Francis mark the child of Fielding?"
There was something so significant in the tone of the detective that Sir Louis looked at him intently. What he saw in his face prompted his next remark. "You don't think Hersham is illegitimate, do you?" he asked.
"Indeed, that is my opinion," returned Fanks. "Why was Sir Francis afraid of Madaline Garry? Because he had done her a wrong. Why did she marry Fielding, almost on the same day that your uncle married Miss Darmer? Why did Sir Francis tattoo the child with his favourite cross? The answer to all these questions is--to my mind--to be found in the fact that the child of Madaline Garry was also the child of Sir Francis Fellenger. I feel convinced that Hersham is the half-brother of the man who was murdered at Tooley's Alley."
"It seems likely," assented Louis, nursing his chin with his hand. "But how can you establish the truth of your statement?"
"There are two ways. One is by asking Binjoy. He may know as he was in attendance both at the birth of Gregory, and at that of Hersham. He may tell the truth; but as he is delirious, there is no chance of getting any information from him. The second way is to find out Madaline Garry, and force her to own up. But the only person who knows where she is, is Mrs. Jerusalem, who has vanished. If I find Mrs. Jerusalem, I may find the other woman. But at present that is impossible also."
"Quite impossible. I do not see what you can do."
"Do you remember what Mrs. Prisom said about the desk in the study of your late uncle?"
"Yes. She alluded to some secret in connection with the desk, which was to be used for the benefit of Gregory, should Madaline Garry attempt to revenge herself."
"Exactly. Well, we must examine the desk. I fancy that Sir Francis, dreading the anger of the woman whom he had wronged, wrote out a full account of his sin; and of the reason why he tattooed the cross on the arm of the child. If we can find that paper--which Sir Francis plainly hinted was in the desk, we may discover why your cousin was murdered."
"I cannot conceive what you mean."
"You will know soon enough," replied Fanks, a trifle sadly. "I have a very shrewd idea of what will be the outcome of my search. If things are as I think, it will not be long before I run down the assassin of Sir Gregory. I have an instinct--and more than an instinct--that the clue to the mystery which has eluded me so long, is about to be placed in my hand. I shall be pleased for my own sake; I shall be sorry for yours."
"Why. What do you mean? I do not understand. Explain yourself, Mr. Fanks."
"No," replied Fanks, shaking his head. "I may be wrong, and I do not wish to cause you unnecessary pain. Let me examine the desk. If I am wrong, all the better for you; all the worse for the case. If am right, I had rather you learned the truth without my intervention. Come, Sir Louis, let us seek the study of your late uncle. Do you know where it is?"
"Oh, yes," said Sir Louis, leading the way. "It has been shut up since his death. You know my cousin was not a man of books, so he did not use it. As for myself, I am always in my laboratory in the old wing. If Sir Francis left any secret paper in his desk, it will be there still. Unless," added Louis, with an afterthought, "unless it was taken away by the woman he feared."
"No. If the paper had given Madaline Garry power to revenge herself on the heir of her old lover, she would have used that power; and then Mrs. Prisom might have interfered by acting on the last request of Sir Francis. Nothing of this has happened; so I am sure that if the paper is in that desk, we shall find it; if we find it we shall learn the truth about this tattooed cross; and, consequently, discover the motive which prompted the murder of your cousin."
After which speech, the detective went with Sir Louis to the study of the late Sir Francis Fellenger.
Sir Louis unlocked the door; and they entered into the long-disused room. It had been shut up for many years, the atmosphere was dusty and musty, with a chill smell of decay. Fanks opened the shutters, and the strong sunlight poured into the apartment; it illumined the dusty carpet on which their feet made marks; it gleamed on the old-fashioned furniture, cumbersome and comfortless, such as was used in the early days of the Victorian era; and--to the satisfaction of the detective--it revealed a mahogany escritoire, all drawers and pigeon-holes, and brass handles. The key, massive and rusty, was still in the lock; and Louis, turning it over with, a harsh creak, threw open the heavy sheet of mahogany which covered the writing cloth. This was lined with dingy green cloth, ink-stained and dusty, but on it there rested no papers nor pens nor ink. Evidently the papers had been arranged before the desk had been closed, and left to its many years' solitude.
Fanks bent down and unlocked the drawers one after the other. These contained nothing but masses of newspaper, everyone of which they examined carefully, but without finding any writing referring to the cross. There were also bundles of old letters; and musty accounts, and ancient records of ships, and stores, and divers expenses; doubtless remnants of Fellenger's naval days. In another drawer they found sea-shells, and seaweed mounted on cardboard; while some shallow repositories contained pictures, and small charts. But nowhere could they discover the paper to which Sir Francis had referred in that last long conversation with Mrs. Prisom.
"Well, it is not in any of these," said Fanks, rising with a look of disappointment. "I wonder where it can be?"
"Perhaps there is a secret drawer," suggested Sir Louis.
"It is not unlikely; and no doubt the paper would be hidden in such a receptacle out of fear of the woman.
"I believe you are right, Sir Louis; let us look for a secret drawer. If there is one I shall find it; I have been at this sort of work before; and I have an idea how to go about it."
Fanks made no vain boast, for after a hard search of an hour or more; after sounding with the knuckles and measuring with a tape, they stumbled across a hiding-place, contrived in the thickness of the wood at the back of the desk. Herein was a paper yellow with age, which Fanks drew slowly out; for it was so fragile with time that he thought it would crumble in his hand; carrying this to the strong light of the window he read carefully, while Sir Louis waited for a revelation of its contents. The face of the detective paled when he read it; and he glanced pityingly at the baronet, when he finished his perusal.
"It is the paper I hoped to find," he said, slowly, "and it clears up the most important point of the case. But I told you, Mr. Fellenger, that the contents would give you pain. Read them for yourself."
"Why do you call me Mr. Fellenger?" asked Louis, quietly.
"You will find the answer to that question in this paper," replied Fanks, and passed it to the baronet. After a pause, and a sharp glance at the detective, Fellenger took the thin yellow sheet, and read it slowly. This was what he read, in the faded handwriting of Sir Francis:
"I have deceived Madaline Garry; I am the father of the child born to her about the same time that my heir, Gregory, was born. Madaline wished me to marry her; but, for reasons which I need not explain here, I was unable to do so. She married Luke Fielding, and he is supposed to be the father of her child. This is not so; the boy is mine. When my wife died, Madaline insisted on coming to the Hall and nursing Gregory. For obvious reasons I could not refuse her; she would have revealed the truth, and have disgraced me and her family, had I not yielded to her wish. She came to the Hall with her own child and nursed that of my late wife. But I was afraid that she would change the children so that her son should enjoy what rightfully belonged to his half-brother. I was twice nearly sending her away on account of this fear; but she threatened to disgrace me by revealing the truth; so I let her stay. But, to avert the danger, I one night tattooed on the left arm of my son, Gregory, the cross of St. Catherine, which I had already tattooed on the arm of Madaline and of Nancy Prisom. Should the children be changed, and I die, the truth can be ascertained by the tattooed cross. The child marked with the cross is my son and heir, Gregory Fellenger; the other is his brother, Edward, the son of myself and Madaline Garry. I hope, in this way, that I shall prevent Madaline from revenging herself on me, as I feel sure she intends to do.
(Signed), Francis Luddham Fellenger."
On reading this extraordinary document, Louis felt the room whirl round him, and he was fain to be seated. Fanks turned silently towards him and received back the paper--the paper which robbed the young man at one sweep of title and property. Louis recovered himself, and smiled faintly. "I understand," he said, in a low tone, "Sir Gregory enjoyed the title and estates wrongfully; Hersham is the rightful heir."
"Yes. Madaline Garry fulfilled her vengeance. She put her child in the place of the real heir, after the death of Sir Francis, and took away the son of Lady Fellenger. That was why she came to the Hall to be the nurse; she wanted her child to enjoy the property. Owing to the tattooing and the father being alive, she could not change the children; but when Sir Francis was killed she did so, and therefore secured the title for her son. I now understand why she parted so readily with Hersham so that he should be adopted by the Vicar of Fairview; he was not her child, but that of her rival in the affections of Sir Francis; I can see all this; so can you; but," added Fanks, with hesitation, "can you guess how this discovery affects you?"
"Certainly," replied Louis, calmly, "I shall have to give the property up to my cousin, who now goes by the name of Hersham. I assure you, I shall not mind the loss so much as you seem to think. As I told you, I care nothing for money, and everything for science. Oh, believe me, Mr. Fanks, I am quite content to surrender title and estates, and go back to Taxton-on-Thames, as plain Louis Fellenger."
"You can contest this matter?"
"I shall not contest the matter. I believe that paper to be true. We found it together; and it proved beyond a doubt--by the evidence of the cross tattooed on Hersham's left arm, that he is the rightful Sir Gregory, and the owner of these estates. Let him have them; I shall not raise one finger to prevent his enjoying what is rightfully his own. Besides, I like Hersham--as I may still call him--he is a good fellow. I used to meet him at Taxton-on-Thames. Let him marry Anne Colmer, and take up his position; he will make a much better baronet than I."
They left the room, and went downstairs again to the library. In there Louis asked Fanks a question which had been in his mind for some time.
"I say, Mr. Fanks," he said, "what makes you say that this tattooed cross clears up the mystery of Tooley's Alley?"
"Well," said Fanks, "someone must have known this story; and have told it to Sir Gregory. That was why he allowed the cross to be tattooed on his arm."
"I don't see that."
"Why, the person who told him the story assured him that the only chance he had of keeping the property was to be tattooed with the mark, which Sir Francis said was on the arm of his real heir."
"Oh, I understand now. But who was the person who told Sir Gregory the secret of that cross and tattooed it on his arm?"
"Ah," said Fanks, "tell me the name of that person, and I'll tell you the assassin of the son of Madaline Garry, who wrongfully bore the title and name of Sir Gregory Fellenger."
Immediately after this great discovery, Fanks received a letter from Garth informing him that Mrs. Jerusalem was in London, located at the Red Star. "Mrs. Boazoph," said the writer, "is much better, and is now permitted to leave her bed; rather I fancy to the disappointment of Turnor. Should you want to get any information out of Mrs. Boazoph now is the time to do so." The result of this communication was that Fanks resolved to go at once to town and interview the landlady.
"You see that I want to get something out of Mrs. Boazoph," he said to Louis. "I want her to tell me who killed Sir Gregory."
"Do you think she knows that?"
"I think she has known it all along," retorted Fanks. "You can take it from me, Fellenger, she recognised the negro when he entered the hotel on that night. For some reason, which I mean to discover, she has held her tongue. I intend to force her to reveal the name by threatening to arrest Hersham, in the event of her refusing to speak."
"Will she tell in order to save Hersham?"
"I think so; and for more reasons than one. You see she fainted when I told her that I could prove the crime against that young man. It may be that she knows how hardly he has been dealt with by Madeline Garry, and therefore she may be anxious to save him further trouble."
"But how could she learn the story of Madeline Garry and the changing of the children," objected Fellenger.
"From Anne Colmer, who must have learned it from Dr. Binjoy. I believe he is at the bottom of the whole affair. I do not say that he killed Gregory; but he can tell us who did."
"How can you prove that?"
"Well, the person who killed Gregory must have known that story of the changing of the children, so as to induce him to let the cross be tattooed on his arm. Dr. Binjoy must have told that person; Dr. Binjoy must have supplied that needle; Dr. Binjoy, my friend, is at the bottom of the whole devilish affair."
"You forget Madeline Garry; she might have told the murderer about the changing of the children."
"I don't think so. Madeline would not have been likely to reveal anything detrimental to her son; and on the face of it she could not have obtained access to the poisoned needle. No, I suspect Binjoy as an accessory before the fact. I shall see Mrs. Jerusalem, and force her to tell me where to find Madeline Garry; though to be sure I have a pretty good notion of where to find her as it is."
"What! Do you know who Madeline Garry is?"
"I think so. A speech of Mrs. Prisom's put me on her track; but I may be wrong so I shall say nothing as yet."
"You are clever in guessing things, Mr. Fanks. Perhaps you can tell me who killed Gregory?"
"Well," said Fanks, looking straight at his questioner, "I might even go as far as that. I do not know for certain who is the assassin; but I have a shrewd notion. I shall have my doubts set at rest on that point when I see these women in town. I shall interview Mrs. Boazoph, take down her confession, and make her sign it. I shall act in the same way with Binjoy, with Anne Colmer, with Robert, the valet of the dead man, and with Turnor, the accomplice of your medical friend."
"Do you think they are all in it?"
"I am more than certain they are," said Fanks in a confident tone. "Well, Mr. Fellenger, will you come up with me and see the last act of the comedy?"
"No, I shall stay here with Mr. Crate; and keep an eye on Dr. Binjoy, But you must write me all that befalls you at the Red Star. Do you really think that you will find the truth in that house?"
"I am certain of it. Believe me the tragedy will end as it began--in the Red Star in Tooley's Alley. I hope all will go as I wish," added Fanks with a gloomy air. "I have had no end of trouble with this case. And although I think I see daylight at last, I must not be too confident. The whole proving of my theory lies with Mrs. Boazoph."
Having thus settled his plans, Fanks left Crate at Mere Hall to look after Dr. Binjoy, and repaired to town. Immediately on his arrival, which took place about noon, he sent for Garth, and questioned him concerning Mrs. Jerusalem. Having received satisfactory replies, he entrusted a special commission to the lawyer, and, with a detective, he went himself to the Red Star. That short conversation with Fanks so astonished Garth, that he went on his errand--which had to do with such conversation--in a state of great surprise and no little nervousness.
At the Red Star Fanks inquired for Mrs. Jerusalem, and was confronted by Dr. Turnor. The ferret looked rather disconcerted as the detective appeared; and tried to dissuade him from seeing Mrs. Boazoph as he wished to do. "She is yet weak," he urged, "and I do not think it will be wise of you to talk with her as yet."
"I don't care how weak she is," said Fanks, grimly. "I intend to talk to her, and to you too."
"What can you have to say to me?" demanded Turnor, with an attempt at bravado.
"I'll tell you that after I have seen Mrs. Boazoph and Mrs. Jerusalem," was the reply. "I know all your doings on the night of the twenty-first, Dr. Turnor; and I am aware of your attempt to blackmail Sir Louis Fellenger."
After which speech Fanks went upstairs to the room occupied by Mrs. Boazoph. At the door he met with Mrs. Jerusalem. She looked at him in an expressionless way, and spoke in her usual cold and unemotional manner. Her first question was of Fanks' visit to Mere Hall.
"Did you find out the truth, sir?" she asked.
"I found out the truth; but not the particular truth you wished for," replied Fanks, who disliked this woman immensely. "Your master is not guilty."
"Then who is guilty if he is not?"
"I'll reveal that in a few moments, Mrs. Jerusalem. I may tell you that I know all about Madaline Garry and the tattooed cross, also about Mr. Louis Fellenger."
The woman drew back, and for the first time since Fanks had known her, an expression of surprise flitted across her face. "He said Mr. Louis," she said to herself. "How much does he know?"
"He knows most of the circumstances which led to the murder in this house," retorted Fanks, moving towards the door, "and now with your assistance he is about to learn the rest."
"At all events the truth will be bad for Louis Fellenger," muttered Mrs. Jerusalem. "If it was to benefit him I would not move a step. As it is," she added, throwing open the door, "come in, Mr. Fanks, and ask Mrs. Boazoph to tell you the story she related to me this morning."
Fanks nodded, and without saying a word entered the apartment. In spite of the warm weather there was a fire burning in the grate, and beside it crouched Mrs. Boazoph. She was seated on the carpet warming her thin hands at the blaze; and she turned her face as the detective entered. He was astonished at the change wrought in her by illness. Her face was lined and drawn with pain; her hair was falling about her ears in rough masses; and the looseness of her dress showed how emaciated she had become. The poor creature was but a shadow of the notorious woman who had defied the police for so long; and at the first glance Fanks saw that death was written on her haggard face. If there was anything to be learned from this wreck there was no time to be lost in hearing it. Nemesis had claimed at least one victim for the death of Sir Gregory Fellenger;--or rather Edward Fielding.
"Have you come here to see me die, Mr. Fanks?" asked Mrs. Boazoph, with a faint smile.
"I hope it is not so bad as that," replied Fanks gently, for he pitied the exhaustion of the poor creature. "You may get better."
Mrs. Boazoph shook her head. "I think not," she said quietly. "The end is coming fast. I do not care; my life has been none so happy that I should wish to live. I am anxious to die."
"Are you anxious to make reparation for your crimes?"
With a start Mrs. Boazoph looked at the other woman, who still stood at the door. "What have you told him?" she asked in a hoarse voice.
"I have told him nothing," replied Mrs. Jerusalem, coldly, "but he knows all."
"That is impossible," muttered Mrs. Boazoph, with a shiver. "He cannot know all. Who is there to tell him?"
"I was told by the dead."
"The dead? What dead?"
"By your dead lover, on whose son you avenged your betrayal, Mrs. Bryant."
She shivered, and looked up angrily. "Not that name, I am not Mrs. Bryant."
"I can give you another name if you like," said Fanks, pointedly. "Shall I say Mrs. Fielding or--Madaline Garry?"
The woman rose to her knees with an effort; and parting the tangled mass of her grey hair she looked at Fanks in a terrified manner. "Madaline Garry is dead," she said, in a low voice. "She died when she married Luke Fielding. Neglect and dishonour killed her."
"Madaline Garry did not die then," said Fanks, determinedly. "She lived to avenge herself on her lover by exchanging his child for that of her own."
"They were both his children," cried Mrs. Boazoph, with sudden fury, "I see you know all; so I can speak as I choose. I loved Francis Fellenger, and he betrayed me. I should have been his wife, but, like the coward he was, he married another woman. I became the wife of Luke Fielding, of the man I hated, in order to conceal the truth from my father. The child I bore was not his. It should have borne the title of the Fellengers."
"And it did bear the title of the Fellengers," said Fanks, in an impressive voice. "It took the place of the real heir, thanks to your schemes. And you, Madaline Garry, deserted the infant of your rival, after you had robbed him of his birthright. Wretched woman; make reparation while you can; give back his name to Edward Hersham, before it is too late, or" added Fanks, drawing nearer, "keep silence to the end; and let him suffer on the gallows for the murder of your son."
"No! No!" shrieked Mrs. Boazoph, clutching at her chair to raise herself, "not that, anything but that. He is innocent. I tell you that he is innocent!"
"If he is innocent, who then is guilty?" asked Fanks.
Mrs. Boazoph reeled, and would have fallen but for the arm of Mrs. Jerusalem, who sprang forward to catch her. A draught of brandy brought back her strength, and she sat in the chair by the fire, rocking herself to and fro, with heart-rending sobs. Fanks approached to speak to her, but she waved him off.
"Do not touch her yet," said Mrs. Jerusalem, in a low tone, "she will recover soon."
Quiet as was the whisper, Mrs. Boazoph heard it, and moaned. "Never, never on this side of the grave," he wept. "My race is run; and weary have been my days. I never had a chance like other women. Once I was Madaline Garry, the darling of her father, the prettiest girl in Damington. But Francis Fellenger made me what I am. I curse him, living or dead, I curse him." She broke into hysterical laughter. "I revenged myself well. I put my child and his in the place of the heir. It was my son who reigned at Mere Hall; it was my son who spent the moneys of that evil family, and bore their title. I am glad of it; I am glad of it. The real heir--her child--had to work for his bread; but mine reigned in his place; he took the seat of his father. Of what use was it that Francis marked his son as he marked me? See," she cried, pulling up the sleeve of her dress. "Do you see this cross on my skin, you bloodhound of the law? Francis Fellenger marked me like that to show that I was his wife; yet he married another. Francis marked his legitimate son like that, yet the son ate the bread of strangers, and another sat in his seat. I have done my work, I have had my revenge, I am willing to die."
"Are you willing that the son whom you disinherited should die at the hands of justice?"
Mrs. Boazoph moaned, and hid her face in her hands. "Ah, no!" she said, in a plaintive voice. "He has suffered enough. My son is dead, so let the other take back his name and estates. My son is dead; he perished in the house of his mother; the mother who was too cowardly to avenge him, who was afraid to reveal the name of the assassin. My son is dead, but not by the hand of his half-brother did he meet with his death."
"Then who killed him. Tell me," cried Fanks, eagerly. "You have sinned. Make what reparation you can for your sins while there is yet time. Look up, Madaline Garry, and tell me if that man slew your son?"
While Fanks had been speaking, the door had opened softly, and Garth in the company of another man appeared on the threshold. The two stood spell-bound when they heard this speech of the detective; and Mrs. Boazoph turned her face slowly towards them. Suddenly she crushed down her weakness, and arose to her feet with miraculous strength. Stretching out her hand at the man who stood terror-stricken awaiting her words, she cried out in a shrill and triumphant voice:
"Yonder is the man who killed my son; yonder is the man who must suffer in the place of Edward Hersham. You wish to know who came here as a negro and killed my son? There he stands--Herbert Vaud!"
"I thought so," murmured Fanks, and the next instant he had the handcuffs on Vaud's wrists.
The evidence of Mrs. Boazoph:--
"My name is Madaline Garry. I was born in the village of Damington, where my father lived for years after his retirement from the navy. I have one sister, Jane, now Mrs. Colmer, of Taxton-on-Thames. We lost our mother at an early age, and, being without maternal care, we grew up to be rather more independent than most young women. Jane was always much quieter than I, and she was not considered so beautiful. Yes, I am now an old woman, and I can speak without vanity; I was considered very beautiful, in my youth, and I had many lovers who wished to marry me. Luke Fielding especially was in love with me, but I refused to marry him as, in my turn, I was in love with Sir Francis Fellenger. He had then lately given up the sea on his accession to the title; but still retaining his pleasure in his old profession he was accustomed to visit my father, and the two would talk over naval matters together.
"At first he came solely for these chats, but afterwards he came because he was in love with me. Had I played my cards well, I might have been Lady Fellenger; but in my love and weakness I trusted too much to his honour, and I learned, too late, that he had none. He had promised to make me his wife; but he afterwards told me that the fortunes of his family were at a low ebb; that if he did not make a rich marriage he should be forced to sell the Hall. He swore that he loved no one but me, and said that although he married another woman I should always be his real wife. Again I yielded to his cunning, and held my peace about his villainy. Nay, more, to hide his wickedness, I married my old admirer, Luke Fielding, almost at the same time that Francis brought home Miss Darmer to take the place which should have been mine. I should have been Lady Fellenger, and not that puling minx. Afterwards, I discovered that he loved her--loved her, the villain, after all the lies he had told to me. I swore to be revenged, and I told him so.
"Then my husband died, and I was left penniless, as Luke had been trying to increase his fortune by speculation. I became a mother, and the son born of me had the right to call Sir Francis Fellenger father. In my destitution I went back to my father, and nursed my boy, while I watched events at the Hall. There the punishment of Francis had already begun. His wife, for whose sake he had forsaken me, died at the birth of her son. So matters stood. The two children, both of Francis Fellenger, although but one was acknowledged, had been born within a few days of one another. A nurse was wanted at the Hall. I required money; and I saw an opportunity of working out my revenge by changing the children. I insisted that I should come to the Hall as the nurse of the heir. Francis resisted, until I swore to reveal all his villainy. Then he yielded, and I attained my end; I was established at Mere Hall as the nurse of the heir, and my child, Edward Fielding--falsely so called--was in the nursery with me.
"The two children lay side by side in the cradle. I could have changed them then, but I was unable to do so with safety; for, guessing my purpose, Francis had marked his son with the St. Catharine's Cross, which he had long before pricked on my arm. I could not, therefore, change the children with safety while Francis lived, and I began to think that I should not succeed in my revenge. Then the powers above us intervened. Francis, while driving home one stormy night, was thrown out of his dog-cart and killed. I saw my opportunity, and I took it. Nobody knew of the tattooed cross on the skin of the real heir, save myself and Dr. Binjoy, who had been attending on both children. He was in love with me, and I made him promise to be silent. When I had secured his promise, which I did by saying that I would marry him, I changed the children; in the cradle of the heir I placed my own child, and with the son of my rival I left the village.
"I never intended to marry Binjoy, whom I hated, and when I fled he was forced to hold his tongue, lest he should be accused of complicity in the abduction. I went to London, but my money came to an end; I travelled to the Isle of Wight, where my sister was staying. She had left Ryde, I found out, and had gone to Scotland. I had no money, I was hungry, and perishing with cold, when I was rescued by that good Samaritan, the Vicar of Fairview. He wished to adopt the child, and, as I hated it, as being the son of my rival in the affections of Francis, I let him take it. Then I went to London, afterwards to Scotland, where I lived with my sister, who married Mr. Colmer. Later on I became the wife of a drunken and wealthy brute called Bryant. Then came misfortune. My sister's husband lost his money, and died of broken heart. She took her little girls, Emma and Anne, and set up in Taxton-on-Thames as a dressmaker.
"I came South with my husband. He lost his money also, but he was set up by his friends in the Red Star public-house in Tooley's Alley. We took the name of Mr. and Mrs. Boazoph, so as to cut off all links with our former lives. My husband drank, and ultimately he died of drink. As Mrs. Boazoph I carried on the business and drifted into evil ways. I assisted thieves and rogues. If you wish to know my history for twenty years ask the police; they will tell it to you. My sister had become paralytic and never knew me as Mrs. Boazoph. To her I was Mrs. Bryant, living on the little money left to me by my good husband. I hope she may die in that belief, so that I may retain at least one person's respect.
"All this time I had watched the fortunes of the two children. The false Sir Gregory had grown up to be a wicked young man, fast and dissolute, the true Sir Gregory, passing under the name of Edward Hersham, had become a journalist, and was reported steady and clever. Dr. Binjoy had left Damington, and was living at Taxton-on-Thames with Louis, the son of Michael Fellenger. Then my niece Emma came to London to enter a dressmaker's establishment. She found out the truth about my life, and told her sister. I asked them to keep the knowledge from their mother.
"Binjoy also found out where and how I was living. He used to come up to town and stay at Dr. Turnor's or with me as Dr. Renshaw, hoping by a feigned name to hide the iniquitous life he led while in town. He wanted to oust my son and get Sir Louis to hold the Fellenger estates. I refused to let him do this, and threatened to produce the real heir should he attempt to do so. Young Vaud used to come to my hotel. He saw Emma and fell in love with her. I was glad of this, as I knew that the young fellow was good and true, much better than my wretched son, for whom I had sinned. Vaud became engaged to Emma. He went to Taxton-on-Thames and saw my sister; she gave her consent to the match. All was going well, when Emma, who had become acquainted with my son, the false Sir Gregory, went off with him to Paris. He married her and neglected her. She destroyed herself, as was confessed to me by the valet Robert, a dog of a creature.
"I was distracted when I learned all this. I went to my sister and I told her that the false Sir Gregory was my son. I returned to town to find that young Vaud was seriously ill. Afterwards he was sent on a sea voyage, and he went over to Paris when he got back to rescue Emma from my miserable son. She was dead, and he returned to see if he could take vengeance on her murderer. He told me that he would kill Sir Gregory, but I thought that it was an idle threat. Afterwards I saw nothing more of him for some time. My sister asked for the address of Sir Gregory, as she wanted a photograph of Emma which had been taken at Taxton-on-Thames.
"When I went to Gregory's rooms in Half-Moon Street to tell him the truth, I saw the photograph. I wrote on it the date of the birth and death of his victim. I told him about the tattooed cross, and how I could prove that he was not the real Sir Gregory, because he had not that mark on his arm. He did not believe me, and turned me out of his rooms, me--his mother. At that moment I hated him for his likeness to his father who had wronged me. But I could not harm him. I went to Taxton-on-Thames; I said nothing. I wrote on an envelope the address of Sir Gregory, and gave it to my sister, so that she could write to him for the photograph, on the back of which I had written. All this took place before the murder.
"Then Gregory came to my hotel on the evening of the twenty-first of June. I did not see him, but I saw Vaud, who entered afterwards, disguised as a black man. I recognised him at once, and asked him why he was dressed up like the servant of Binjoy. He said it was to play a trick on the doctor, who was in the inner room waiting to see him. I believed him, although I thought his behaviour strange. But I know that he had not been quite right in his head since his illness, so that I thought his dressing-up was a freak, and let him pass into the inner room, where I presumed he was about to see Binjoy. I went back to my own room, and never dreamt that the supposed doctor was my son in disguise. Had I known I would not have left the half-crazed Vaud go into him, knowing how he hated my son as the destroyer of Emma.
"I know nothing more. I saw Binjoy later on. I asked him if he had seen Vaud; he said no, that he had just come to the hotel. I went into the inner room and found my son dead. I did not know how he died till Binjoy told me about the blood-poisoning. Then I sent for the police, and Mr. Fanks arrived. I saw the grains of gunpowder. I thought they were the evidence of some drug which had destroyed my son. I got rid of them by pulling off the tablecloth. I did not tell the truth or speak out, because I was afraid of being inculpated in the crime. My character was so bad that I knew the police would have no mercy if they thought I was mixed up in the murder. I did not want to disgrace my sister, or let her know my real life, my feigned name. I afterwards went down to Mere Hall and saw Binjoy. I said I would put the rightful heir in his own place, and oust Louis. Binjoy said if I did he would tell my story, and that with his evidence I would be accused of the murder. I therefore held my tongue; I could not bring back my son to life. He had treated me badly, and I did not want to get Vaud into trouble, as I knew that he was mad with grief and rage, and was not responsible for his actions. On the whole I thought it best to hold my tongue, and for the above reasons I did so.
"I have now spoken because Edward Hersham, the rightful heir, is accused of the crime. He has suffered enough injustice, and I do not wish to see him hanged. Binjoy can tell his own story of how he came to the hotel on that night and met with Mr. Fanks. Vaud can confess if he will as to how he plotted and carried out the crime. For myself, I have said all I have to say. What is set down here is the truth. I am deeply sorry for my evil ways, but I am paying for my follies with my life; all I ask for is forgiveness and forgetfulness. I have sinned, I am punished. All good Christians pray for the soul of a wicked but deeply wronged woman.
(Signed), Madaline Bryant (better known as Louisa Boazoph)."
The evidence of Theophilus Binjoy:--
"I am a medical man; and in my early manhood, I practised in the village of Damington. I was present at the birth of Edward Fielding, and of Gregory Fellenger. I know about the mark on the arm of the real heir. Madaline changed the two children, and I said nothing as she promised to marry me. I was madly in love with her. She left the village, and deceived me. Afterwards I held my tongue lest I should get into trouble; also I hoped when the false Sir Gregory grew up, to have a hold on him. I was prevented from doing this by Madaline (whom I had discovered in Tooley's Alley, under the name of Mrs. Boazoph). She threatened to reveal the name of the true heir if I meddled with her son. I therefore did nothing. I saw the poisoned needle which Louis had made ready for an experiment. It was in a cabinet in the laboratory. Young Vaud came to Taxton-on-Thames nearly crazed with the death of Emma Colmer, whom he had courted as Emma Calvert. She had been driven to her death by her husband, the false Sir Gregory, and had killed herself in Paris. Vaud asked me about poisons. He said nothing to me about killing Sir Gregory, or I should have dissuaded him from doing so wicked and rash an action.
"I swear I did not wish the death of the young man. What I said to him in the laboratory, was purely without ulterior motives.
"I admit I showed him the poisoned needle. I was interested in the experiment, and, being full of it, I spoke of our intention of trying the poison on the dog. When Vaud left the laboratory, I did not miss the needle; I did not miss it until Louis spoke to me about it. As Turnor had lately been in the laboratory, and we had been speaking about the experiment, I thought he had taken the needle. It never struck me that Vaud had benefited by my explanation, and had stolen the needle to kill Gregory. With Louis I went up to town on the twenty-first of June, to see Turnor, and ask him for the needle; I had no motive in taking Louis to Turnor's. If Turnor attempted to blackmail Louis, I knew nothing about it. I repel with scorn the insinuation that I purposely inveigled Louis to Great Auk Street to entangle him in the crime, and so blackmail him. I never heard of the murder until I went to the Red Star, according to my usual custom of an evening. Madaline asked me if I had seen Vaud, who was disguised as a negro. I said I had not.
"We went into the room; and found the body of Sir Gregory; he was disguised as a working-man; Vaud had disappeared. I ordered the body to be taken upstairs, and made an examination. I then saw that Gregory had been killed by being inoculated with the poison which Louis and I had discovered. I recognised the cross of St. Catherine, half tattooed on the arm; and I guessed from that how Vaud had induced Gregory to let himself be pricked with the poisoned needle. I showed the mark to Fanks when he came upstairs. But before doing so, I obliterated it with a cut of the knife. I did this because I thought I might be inculpated with the crime. I remember advising Hersham (who I did not know was the real heir) to disguise himself as a negro so as to gain realistic descriptions of street music. I did not do so with any wrongful intention of connecting him with the murder. Madaline had told me how Vaud was dressed as my negro servant; I saw that the death had been brought about by the poisoned needle stolen from our laboratory by Vaud; and with these two things in my head I recognised my danger at once. I gave my feigned name to Fanks; I suggested that the crime was the work of a secret society. Then I went back to Turnor, and I was aware that I was being watched and could not return to Taxton-on-Thames without being discovered.
"I consulted Turnor; he advised the voyage to Bombay, and said I ought to send Caesar in my place, in order to get rid of him, since the murderer of Gregory had been disguised in his livery; and also that Caesar could send letters (already written by me) from India, in order to keep up the deception, and baffle the police. I adopted the idea, and, assisted by Dr. Turnor, I carried it out with great success. I had an interview with Fanks in the character of Dr. Renshaw, and I told him that I was going to Bombay. I then took a passage to India in the P. and O. steamer 'Oceana'; and wired to Caesar to meet me at Plymouth.
"Thither I went and gave the letters (purporting to be written by myself from Bombay) to Caesar and sent him off in my place. Afterwards, I took off my disguise, and went back to Mere Hall. I had no idea that I had been followed by Mr. Fanks, and thinking that I had destroyed all links with the crime in Tooley's Alley, likely to endanger Louis and myself, I advised him to offer a reward so as to still further avert suspicion.
"This he did, and I thought all was well, till Madaline came from Mere Hall to warn me against Fanks, and to threaten to put the real Gregory in the place of Louis. I stopped her doing this, and defied Fanks. How he over-reached me; how I was betrayed by Louis, has been told by others. I can swear with a clear conscience that I acted throughout in the interests of Louis, who has treated me with the basest ingratitude. I have no more to say, save to express my pleasure that Mr. Hersham has recovered his real name in the world. I hope he will remember that it was indirectly through me that he was re-instated in his estates; by my confirming the statements of Madaline, and that of the late Sir Francis, his father. I think that he should reward me. In this hope I take my leave.
(Signed), Theophilus Binjoy."
The evidence of Anne Colmer--
"I am the daughter of Mrs. Colmer, of Taxton-on-Thames, the sister of Emma Colmer, who died in Paris under the name of Emma Calvert, and the niece of Madaline Garry, better known as Mrs. Boazoph. I saw the letter--or rather the envelope--which she directed for my mother, to get back the photograph of my sister from Sir Gregory. It was taken out of our house by Herbert Vaud, and I believe he sent it to Sir Gregory with the cardboard star, making the appointment in Tooley's Alley. I had no idea that Vaud contemplated revenging the death of my sister on Gregory. I knew that he hated him, and that he would do him harm if he could, but I did not know that he would go so far as murder.
"I wired to Ted Hersham on the twenty-first, as my mother told me that she suspected that Vaud had taken the envelope, and that he contemplated harm to Sir Gregory. I wanted Ted to get back the envelope. Afterwards, I thought that I would see my aunt in Tooley's Alley, as I knew she had great influence with Vaud. I sent the telegram, and immediately, without returning to the house, I went up to town. I was detained by the train breaking down, and I did not arrive in town till nearly seven o'clock. I went to the Red Star, where I saw Mr. Fanks; and then heard of the crime. I fancied that Vaud might have committed it, but I was not sure. I was afraid lest my mother should be implicated in it; as she informed me that she had told Vaud about the substitution of the false Sir Gregory, and about the tattooed cross. This story had been related to her by Mrs. Boazoph, when we learned that Sir Gregory had caused the death of his wife, my sister.
"I determined to recover the envelope, in case my aunt should get into trouble, and to obtain the photograph, lest the police should trace the connection of the so-called Emma Calvert with myself and my mother. I went up to the chambers in Half-Moon Street. There I saw Mr. Fanks, and I recognised him as a detective. I had seen him and heard his name when I had been at the Red Star, shortly after the committal of the crime. I was afraid we would all get into trouble, therefore, I took advantage of Robert's faint to leave the room. I got into a cab, and told the man that I was being followed by a gentleman. He assisted me to escape by dropping me in Piccadilly, and afterwards--as I learned--he misled Mr. Fanks, who followed me.
"I know nothing about the poisoned needle, or how the crime was accomplished. I heard afterwards about the tattooed cross from my mother. It was with no intention of getting Ted into trouble that I told him to assume the dress of Caesar. When the detective suspected it, I advised him to make a clean breast of it, which he afterwards did. I did not tell Mr. Fanks what I knew, as I was afraid of getting my mother and aunt into difficulties. All this is true, I swear, and I know no more about the matter.
(Signed), Anne Colmer."
The evidence of Mrs. Colmer:--
"I told Vaud about the substitution of Gregory for Edward Hersham. My sister, Mrs. Bryant, had confessed it to me. I was mad with rage and grief at the way in which my girl had been treated by Gregory, and I thought Vaud might see about getting him turned out of the place he wrongfully occupied, and so punish his wickedness. I had no idea that Vaud intended to kill Sir Gregory. Bad as he was, I did not wish to go that far. I only wanted him to be deprived of his estates and title, so that he should suffer. I gave the envelope, which had been written by my sister, Mrs. Bryant, with the address in Half-Moon Street, so that Vaud should call on Sir Gregory, and tell him the truth, and should get back the photograph of my poor girl.
"I knew nothing of the murder, which took place in a low hotel in Tooley's Alley, and which was kept by a notorious woman called Mrs. Boazoph. I also told Vaud that Ted Hersham was writing articles on street music, and that, to study the subject, he was going about London in the guise of a negro. I only told him this in the course of conversation, and without any motive. This is all I know about the affair.
(Signed), Jane Colmer."
The evidence of Dr. Turnor:--
"I did not take the poisoned needle. I knew nothing of such an instrument. Louis and Binjoy came up to me on the twenty-first to ask me about it. I denied having it, but Louis did not believe me. When I was called in by Mrs. Boazoph he would not let me go out of the room. Binjoy went under the name of Renshaw. He used that name and a disguise in order to enjoy himself in London. After he left, Louis, finding, that I had not the needle, returned to Taxton-on-Thames. Binjoy came back; he told me that Gregory Fellenger was dead, and that he was being watched. I saw his danger, and advised him to keep up his fictitious character so as to deceive the police. I suggested the voyage to India; I helped to carry out the plan.
"He got away to Mere Hall safely, as we thought. When Fanks asked me questions, I did my best to baffle him for the sake of Binjoy. I had no other motive. I was ignorant of the tattooed cross, of the changing of the children. I saw Sir Louis when he succeeded to the estates by the death of his cousin. I did not blackmail him. The sum of money he gave me was a reward for my helping Binjoy to escape. I know nothing of the murder save what I read in the newspaper. I consider that I have been ungratefully treated by Mr. Louis Fellenger, and most insolently by the man who calls himself Fanks. I have nothing more to add.
(Signed), Walter Turnor."
The confession of Herbert Vaud:--
"I killed Gregory Fellenger. I am glad that I killed him. When I found out in Paris how he had deceived and slain the woman I loved, I determined to make him pay for his wickedness. 'An eye for an eye,' that is Scripture. I wished to kill Gregory without harm to myself; and an opportunity soon occurred. I was at Mrs. Colmer's, at Taxton-on-Thames, commiserating, with her on the death of her daughter and my affianced wife. I did not tell her I wished to kill the scoundrel; I told nobody. She related to me the history of the changing of the children, which had been told to her by her sister, Mrs. Bryant, whom I knew as Mrs. Boazoph. She wanted to avenge the death of her daughter on Gregory by depriving him of his title and estates. Also, she gave me the address of Gregory, written on an envelope by Mrs. Boazoph, and asked me to call upon him for the double purpose of telling him what he really was, and also, to get the photograph which had been seen and written upon by Mrs. Boazoph, in Gregory's chambers.
"I took the envelope, but at that time I did not design the murder. I wanted to kill Gregory, but I could not see how to do it with safety to myself. I afterwards went to Mrs. Boazoph, and learned from her that she had told her son about the tattooing, and the falseness of his position. She implored me not to see him about his relationship to her. I agreed; for I wished to kill him, and make him suffer. The taking away of his property was not good enough in my eyes to punish him for his wickedness.
"Afterwards I went to Taxton-on-Thames to see Binjoy. I knew that he was a chemist, and I desired to ask him about a poison to kill Gregory. He told me about the poisoned needle, and showed it to me. Whether he did so in order to put the idea into my head I do not know. I did not tell him that I intended to kill Gregory; so far he is guiltless; but he certainly showed me the way--innocently, perhaps--to kill Gregory. When I came back from Taxton-on-Thames I had the poisoned needle in my possession, and saw how to carry out my plan. I remembered the tattooed cross on the arm of the rightful heir, and I resolved to make use of that to induce Gregory to let me tattoo his arm with the poisoned needle.
"I placed the advertisement in a paper, which I knew he took in. I saw his answer, and I then sent him the cardboard star appointing the meeting-place in Tooley's Alley. I imitated the writing on the envelope when designing a star, so that, if necessary, the blame might rest on Mrs. Boazoph, his mother. For the same reason I chose the Red Star as the meeting-place. To make things doubly sure, I made use of Hersham's masquerade as a negro; and I adopted his disguise to implicate him. Moreover, I thought that, failing Hersham, I might be able to throw the blame on Binjoy and his negro servant. In every way I thought that I was safe.
"I went to the Red Star on the twenty-first; I met Mrs. Boazoph, and made an excuse to her for my disguise (which she penetrated) that I was about to play a trick on Binjoy. She thought that I was mad, and I let her remain in that delusion. But I here state that I am quite sane; that I killed Gregory with the greatest deliberation, and that I do not regret what I have done. I went into the room; I met Gregory. He took me for the negro of Dr. Binjoy, whom he had never seen. The lights were low, and I said little; also I disguised my voice. Gregory was a remarkably stupid creature, else I should never have succeeded in my plan; also he was rather drunk. I counted on his density in coming into his presence. At all events he did not know me; and when I told him that the rightful heir must have the cross pricked on his arm--a fact which I said I had heard from Binjoy--he let me tattoo it in his arm. I did so with the poisoned needle, and in a short space of time he became insensible; afterwards he died. Then I pulled down his sleeve and left the hotel. The gunpowder scattered on the table was used by me as a device to make Gregory think that I was really tattooing him.
"Afterwards I left a parcel containing the poisoned needle at his chambers, to rid myself of all evidence of the crime. Well, I killed him and went away. No one else is guilty of the crime but me. I conceived it without assistance. I alone committed the crime in Tooley's Alley and killed Gregory Fellenger, or, rather, Edward Fielding, the son of Madaline Garry and Sir Francis. I am not sorry. I glory in having punished a villain. I am sorry that I was found out, but I was not surprised when Mrs. Boazoph betrayed me. I wondered that she did not do so long ago. When this is read I shall be dead.
(Signed), Herbert Vaud."
A few months after the confession of Vaud and the end of the Tooley Alley case, Fanks was seated with Louis Fellenger in the house of the latter at Taxton-on-Thames. Louis had surrendered the estates to Hersham, who was now known by his rightful title of Sir Gregory Fellenger. Mrs. Boazoph was dead; Anne Colmer contemplated marriage with the new Sir Gregory; and Mr. Fanks was having a chat with Fellenger about the extraordinary matters in which they both had been concerned.
"When did you get back to town, Fanks?" asked Louis, when they were comfortably seated.
"Last week, old fellow. I have been enjoying myself in Italy, and I assure you that I needed it after the wear and tear of the Tooley Alley affair. I came down to have a chat with you about it."
"I am glad you have. There are one or two points about those confessions which I do not understand. That case was a hard nut to crack, Fanks."
Fanks looked up from the pipe he was filling. "Hard?" he echoed; "you may well say that, Fellenger. I have had many hard cases in my time, but the Tooley Alley mystery was the hardest of them all. The affair of Monsieur Judas was difficult; so was the Chinese Jar Puzzle. The Carbuncle Clue gave me some trouble; but all these were child's play compared to the mystery of your cousin's death. I thought I should never get a hold of the rope with which I designed to hang Vaud."
"You didn't hang him, however."
"No; he managed to hang himself before his trial. I was not sorry, poor devil."
"Nor was I," said Louis; "and I think that Vaud was mad when he killed Gregory, mad with despair and grief at the end of Emma Calvert. The old man has gone abroad, I hear."
"Yes; I met him in Italy. He is quite broken down, as he was very proud of his son Herbert. But he told me that he always thought Herbert would do something rash, although he never suspected that he killed Gregory. How could he when the young man conducted himself so circumspectly? I don't think Herbert was insane," said Fanks, decisively; "he acted too cleverly and cunningly for that. He killed Gregory in cold blood with the greatest determination. Besides, look at the measures he took to secure his safety. No, no, my friend; Vaud was not mad."
"Crate told me that you suspected him for some time before you found out the truth."
"Yes, I did. I suspected him without any evidence to go on. But he protested so much, and behaved so queerly, that I thought he was the man I wanted. All the same, as I had no evidence to go on, I held my tongue until I was certain. When I left Binjoy ill at Mere Hall I could think of no one so likely to have committed the crime as Vaud; so, on the chance that Mrs. Boazoph would tell the truth, I sent Garth for him. When he came into the room at the Red Star Mrs. Boazoph spotted him at once. I knew that the woman was aware of the real murderer. I saw that on the night the crime was committed. Her action with the gunpowder gave me that tip."
"And Mrs. Boazoph, alias Mrs. Bryant, alias Mrs. Fielding, alias Madaline Garry, is dead also. I was sorry for that woman, Fanks."
"So was I," said the detective, promptly. "She had a hard time of it. I don't think that she was naturally bad, and in happier circumstances she might have been a decent member of society. But look at the training and misfortunes she had. Sir Francis, a fool of a first husband, a brute of a second, and all the temptations at Tooley's Alley to contend against. I wonder she was as decent as she was. I am a deal sorrier for her than for your friend Binjoy, who got off scot-free."
"Don't call him my friend," said Louis, with a shudder. "I hate the very name of the man. It was only out of respect for my father that I bore with him for so long. I was glad when he went away. Did you ever see so insolent a confession as he made?"
"Oh, I was prepared for anything from a scoundrel like Binjoy. He gave me a rub for myself; and so did his friend, Turnor. 'Arcades Ambo.' Blackguards both," quoted Fanks, smiling. "But Hersham did not remember him as he expected him to."
"No, the present Sir Gregory, whom you will call Hersham, sent Binjoy away pretty sharply, I can tell you. Binjoy and Turnor actually had the cheek to call on him at Mere Hall, and ask him for money in order to leave England; on the plea that their substantiation of Mrs. Boazoph's evidence had gained him the estate."
"I think it was your decency in letting Hersham have the estates without going into Court that made things so smooth, Fellenger. Do you regret the loss?"
"No, I assure you I do not. I was satisfied that Hersham was truly the heir; the evidence of that paper we found, and of Mrs. Boazoph, was quite enough. I was glad to come back here, and go on with my experiments in peace. I accepted a thousand a year from Hersham, which he insisted on giving me; so you see I am fairly well off."
"And you are good friends with Hersham--I beg his pardon--Sir Gregory Fellenger, of Mere Hall, in the county of Hants?"
"I am excellent friends with him and with his future wife, Anne Colmer. You know, of course, that they are going to be married in a month or so, that is, if Mrs. Colmer does not die in the meantime?"
"From what I hear from Garth, it is likely that she will die," said Fanks. "I expect the poor woman will be glad to go now that she sees her daughter will make a good marriage."
"Garth came to see me the other day," said Louis, "and he told me that at one time he thought I had committed the crime."
"I thought so, too," said Fanks, quietly. "Mrs. Jerusalem did her best to make me suspect you."
"I am glad you found that I was guiltless. By the way, where is Mrs. Jerusalem?"
"She is keeping house for Garth. I hear that Hersham gave Garth some money, knowing how hard-up he was, so he has set up a house on the strength of it. I don't envy Garth his housekeeper."
"Oh, she loves him in her own savage way," said Louis, coolly. "I daresay when he marries he will give her the go-by. I am sure she deserves it for the double way in which she treated me. Then she will go to the Union, or become an emigrant to America, like Messrs. Binjoy and Turnor."
"She has a sister there. I wonder what those two scoundrelly doctors are doing in the States?"
"Evil, you may be sure of that," replied Fanks. "Let us hope that they will be lynched some day. I am sure that they deserve it."
"They do," assented Fellenger. "I am sorry they did not get into trouble."
Fanks laughed. "That was certainly your own fault, my dear fellow," he said.
"Well, I was unwilling to prosecute for that blackmailing, because I did not want the public to know more of our family scandal than was necessary. I was sorry to let the blackguards go, but, after all, it is best so. Don't you think so yourself?"
"No, I don't," said Fanks. "You are too full of the milk of human kindness, my dear Fellenger. I should have punished the rascals."
"I am sure you would not if your family had been involved in such a business. I am glad you kept so much from the public ear; there are quite enough scandals as it is. Well, we have discussed the case a good time, so suppose you come inside and have some luncheon."
"I'm agreeable," was Fanks' reply, and he got up to follow his friend. "By the way, can I take any message from you to Hersham and Miss Colmer? I am going down to Mere Hall next week."
"Tell them I hope they will ask me to dance at the wedding."
"Of course they will. I shall dance also," added Fanks, with a smile. "I deserve to, for I danced enough after the evidence of this Tooley Alley case. May I never have such another; it was more like a detective novel than a story in real life. But it is over now, thank Heaven. We have acted our several parts; the bad have been punished and the good rewarded, so we can drop the curtain on the Tragedy of Tooley's Alley."