The Ashiel mystery
Mrs. Charles Bryce
Part 4 out of 5
the bulls, and I shall soon know which is the horn."
He walked round to the front of the statue, so that he faced the stooping
figure of Pandora, and laid his hand upon one of the curved and
projecting horns of the left-hand bull. Nothing happened, and he tried
the next There were seven heads in all along the face of the great block,
and he tested six of them without perceiving anything unusual. Was it
possible that he was mistaken, and that, after all, the words of the
message did not refer to the statue?
When he grasped the first horn of the last head, the hand that did so was
shaking with excitement and suspense. It seemed, like the rest, to
possess no attribute other than mere decoration. And yet, and yet--surely
he had missed some vital point. He would go over them again. There
remained, however, the last horn, and as he took hold of it with a
premonitory dread of disappointment, he felt that it was loose in its
socket, and that he could by an effort turn it completely over. With a
triumphant cry he twisted it round, and at the same moment Lady Ruth
started back with an exclamation of alarm.
She was standing where he had left her, and was nearly knocked down by
the great slab of stone which, as Gimblet turned the horn of the bull,
swung sharply out from the end of the pediment, till it hung like a door
invitingly open and disclosing a hollow chamber within the stone.
Within the opening, on the floor at the far end, stood a large tin
The door was a good eighteen inches wide; plenty of room for Gimblet to
climb in, swollen with exultation though he might be. In less than three
seconds he had scrambled through the aperture and was stooping over the
box. It seemed to be locked, but a key lay on the top of the lid. He lost
no time in inserting it, and in a moment threw open the case and saw that
it was full of papers.
Suddenly there was another cry from Lady Ruth as, for no apparent cause
and without the slightest warning, the stone door slammed itself back
into position, and he was left a prisoner in the total darkness of the
vault. He groped his way to the doorway and pushed against it with all
his strength. He might as well have tried to move the side of a mountain.
But, after an interval long enough for him to have time to become
seriously uneasy, the door flew open again, and the agitated countenance
of Lady Ruth welcomed him to the outside world.
"Do get out quick," she cried. "If it does it again while you're half in
and half out, you'll be cracked in two as neatly as a walnut."
Gimblet hurried out, clutching the precious box. No sooner was he safely
standing on the turf than the door shut again with a violence that gave
Pandora the appearance of shaking with convulsions of silent merriment.
"I wasn't sure how it opened," said Lady Ruth, "but I tried all the horns
and got it right at last. How lucky I was with you!"
"Yes, indeed," said Gimblet. "I am very thankful you were."
They twisted the horn again, and stood together to watch the recurring
phenomenon of the closing door.
"It must be worked by clockwork," the detective said, and taking out his
watch he timed the interval that elapsed between the opening and
shutting. "It stays open for thirty seconds," he remarked after two or
three experiments. "No doubt the mechanism is concealed in the thickness
of the stone. At all events it seems to be in good working order."
Squatting on the grass, he opened the tin box, and examined the papers
with which it was filled. A glance showed him that they were what he
expected, and he replaced the box where he had found it, while Lady Ruth
manipulated the horn of the bull.
"I have no right to the papers," he explained to her, as they walked
homeward in the gathering dusk. "It would be more satisfactory if a
magistrate were present at the official opening of the statue, and I will
see what can be done about that to-morrow. In the meantime, and
considering that we have been interfering with other people's property, I
shall be much obliged if you will keep our discovery secret."
And talking in low, earnest tones, he explained to her more fully all
that was likely to be implied by the papers they had unearthed.
With her white paint and her scarlet smokestack, the _Inverashiel_--one
of the two small steamers that during the summer months plied up and
down the loch, and incidentally carried on communication between
Inverashiel and Crianan--was a picturesque addition to the landscape,
as she approached the wooden landing-stage that stood half a mile below
the promontory on which the castle was built. It was the morning of
Friday, the day following the funeral, and clouds were settling slowly
down on to the tops and shoulders of the hills in spite of the
brilliant sunset of the previous evening. The loch lay dark and still,
its surface wore an oily, treacherous look; every detail of the
_Inverashiel's_ tub-like shape was reflected and beautifully distorted
in the water, which broke in long low waves from her bows as she
swerved round to come alongside the pier.
As the few passengers who were waiting for her crossed the short gangway,
a shower burst over the loch and in a few minutes had driven every one
into the little cabin, except the two or three men who constituted the
officers and crew of the steamer. One of these was in the act of
slackening the rope by which the boat had been warped alongside, when a
running, gesticulating figure appeared in the distance, shouting to them
to wait for him.
Waited for accordingly he was; and in a few minutes Gimblet, rather out
of breath after his run, hurried on board, and with a word of apology and
thanks to the obliging skipper turned, like the other passengers, towards
the shelter of the cabin.
With his hand on the knob of the door he hesitated. Through the glass top
he had just caught sight of a figure that seemed familiar. He had seen
that tweed before; the short girl with her back to him was wearing the
dress in which he had seen her on the Wednesday night, searching among
Lord Ashiel's papers in the library at the castle. It was Julia Romaninov
beyond a doubt, and Gimblet drew back quickly and took up his position
behind the funnels on the after-deck. In spite of the rain he remained
there until the boat reached Crianan, leaning against the rail with his
collar turned up and his soft felt hat pulled down over his ears, so that
little of him was visible except the tip of his nose.
His mind, always active, was busier than usual as he watched the
ripples roll away in endless succession from the sides of the
_Inverashiel_--which looked so strangely less white on closer
inspection--or followed the smooth soaring movements of the gulls that
swooped and circled around her, as she puffed and panted on her way
across the black, taciturn waters.
As they drew near to Crianan he concealed himself still more carefully
behind a pile of crates, and not till Miss Romaninov had left the steamer
did he emerge from his hiding-place and step warily off the boat.
The young lady was still in sight, making her way up the steep pitch of
the main street, and the detective followed her discreetly, loitering
before shop windows, as if fascinated by the display of Scottish
homespuns, or samples of Royal Stewart tartan, and taking an
extraordinary interest in fishing-tackle and trout-flies.
But, though the girl looked back more than once, the little man in the
ulster who was so intent on picking his way between the puddles did
not apparently provide her with any food for suspicion; and she made
no attempt to see who was so carefully sheltered beneath the umbrella
At last they left: the cobble-stones of the little town and emerged upon
the high road, which here ran across the open moorland.
It was difficult now to continue the pursuit unobserved: and Gimblet
became absorbed in the contemplation of an enormous cairngorm, which was
masquerading as an article of personal adornment in the window of the
last outlying shop.
From this position--not without its embarrassments, since a couple of
barefooted children came instantly to the door, where they stood and
stared at him unblinkingly--he saw the Russian advancing at a rapid pace
across the moor; and, look where he would, could perceive no means of
keeping up with her unobserved upon the bare side of the hill.
Just as he decided that the distance separating them had increased to an
extent which warranted his continuing the chase, he joyfully saw her
slacken her pace, and at the same moment a man, who must have been
sitting behind a boulder beside the road, rose to his feet out of the
heather, and came forward to meet her. For ten long minutes they stood
talking, driving poor Gimblet to the desperate expedient of entering the
shop and demanding a closer acquaintance with the cairngorm. It is
humiliating to relate that he recoiled before it when it was placed in
his hand, and nearly fled again into the road. However, he pulled himself
together and held the proud proprietress, a gaunt, grey-haired woman with
knitting-needles ever clicking in her dexterous hands, in conversation
upon the theme of its unique beauties until the subject was exhausted to
the point of collapse.
Every other minute he must stroll to the door and take a look up and down
the road. A friend, he explained, had promised to meet him in that place;
and though the shopwoman plainly doubted his veracity, and kept a sharp
eye that he did not take to his heels with the cairngorm, she did not go
so far as to suggest his removing himself from the zone of temptation.
At last, when for the twentieth time he put his nose round the doorpost,
he saw that the pair had separated, and were walking in opposite
directions, the girl continuing on her way, while the man returned to the
town. He was, indeed, not a hundred yards off.
Gimblet plunged once more into the shop, and fastened upon some pencils
with a zeal not very convincing after his disappointing vacillation over
the brooch. The gaunt woman cheered up, however, when he bought the first
seventeen she offered him, and, the stock being exhausted, finished by
purchasing a piece of india-rubber, a stylographic pen, and a penny paper
of pins, which she pressed upon him as particularly suited to his needs
and charged him fourpence for.
By the time he issued forth into the open air, his pockets full of
packages, the stranger had passed the shop and was turning the corner of
the next house. To him, now, Gimblet devoted his powers of shadowing.
There was no great difficulty about it. The man walked straight before
him, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and as he strode along
the wet roads Gimblet noted with satisfaction the long, narrow, pointed
footprints that were deeply impressed in the muddy places. He had no
doubt they were the same as those he had noticed on the beach on the day
of his arrival at Inverashiel.
The stranger turned into the Crianan Hotel, which stands on the lake
front, fifty yards from the landing-place of the loch steamers. Gimblet
passed the door without pausing and went down to the loch, where he
mingled with the boatmen and loafers who congregated by the waterside.
He kept, however, a strict eye on the door of the hotel, and after a
quarter of an hour saw the object of his attentions emerge with
fishing-rod and basket, and cross the road directly towards him. Gimblet
had not been able to see his face before, but now he had a good look as
he passed close beside him.
He was a tall, fair man, evidently a foreigner, but with nothing very
striking about his appearance. A pointed yellow beard hid the lower part
of his face, and, for the rest, his nose was short, his eyes blue and
close together, and his forehead high and narrow. He looked closely at
Gimblet as he went by, and for a moment the eyes of the two men met, both
equally inscrutable and unflinching; then the stranger glanced aside and
strode on to where a small boat lay moored. The detective turned his back
while the fair man got in and pushed off into the loch.
"Gentleman going fishing?" he remarked to a man who lounged hard by upon
"He's axtra fond o' the feeshin'," was the reply, "for a' that he's a
Waiting till the boat had become a distant speck on the face of the
waters, Gimblet made his way into the inn and entered into conversation
with the landlord, on the pretext of engaging rooms for a friend. The
landlord was sorry, but the house was full.
"If ye wanted them in a fortnicht's time," he said, "ye could hae the
hale hotel; but tae the end o' the holidays we're foll up. Folks tak'
their rooms a month in advance; they come here for the fishin' on the
loch, and because my hoose is the maist comfortable in the Hielands."
"Indeed, I can well believe that," Gimblet assured him. "I suppose you
get a lot of tourists passing through, though, Americans, for instance?"
"We hardly ever hae a room tae tak' them in. No, I seldom hae an American
bidin' here; they maistly gang doon the loch," said the innkeeper.
"I thought," said Gimblet, "that was a foreign-looking man whom I saw a
little while ago, coming out of the hotel."
"We hae ae gintleman bidin' here wha belongs tae foreign pairts," the
landlord admitted. "A Polish gintleman, he is, Count Pretovsky, a vary
nice gintleman. I couldna just cae him a tourist. He's vary keen on the
fishin' and was up here for it last year as well. He has his ain boat and
is aye on the water trailin' aefter the salmon."
"A great many sporting foreigners come to our island nowadays," Gimblet
remarked. "Does he get many fish?"
"Oh, it's a grand place for salmon," said the inn-keeper with obvious
pride. "And there's troots tac. And pike, mair's the peety," he added.
"Dear me," said Gimblet, "just what my friend wants. I'm sorry you
can't take him in. I must tell him to write in good time next year if
he wants a room."
As he parted from the landlord upon the doorstep of the Crianan Hotel,
the _Rob Roy_--the second of the two loch steamers--was edging away from
the pier, under a cloud of black smoke from her funnel The rain had
stopped; the passengers were scattered on the deck, and in the bows of
the vessel the detective caught sight of Julia Romaninov's tweed-clad
form. She was leaning against the rail, and gazing at a distant part of
the loch where a black speck, which might represent a rowing boat, could
faintly be discerned. She had come back, then, from her moorland walk. It
was as Gimblet had expected; and, though he chafed at the delay, he
regretted less than he would have otherwise that he could not catch the
The _Inverashiel_ would be due on her homeward trip in a couple of hours'
time, and meanwhile he had other business that must be attended to.
He went first to the post office, where he registered and posted to
Scotland Yard a packet he had brought with him. Then, after asking
his way of the sociable landlord of the hotel, he proceeded to the
police station, a single-storied stone building standing at the end
of a side street.
Here he made himself known to the inspector, and imparted information
which made that personage open his eyes considerably wider than was
"If you will bring one of your men, and come with me yourself," said
Gimblet, at the conclusion of the interview, "I think I shall be able to
convince you that a mistake has been made. In the meantime there will be
no harm done by a watch being kept on the foreign gentleman who is at
this moment trolling for salmon on the loch."
The inspector agreed; and when the _Inverashiel_ started, an hour later,
on her voyage down the loch, she carried the two policemen on her deck,
as well as the most notorious detective she was ever likely to have the
privilege of conveying.
It was nearly three o'clock when they landed on the Inverashiel pier.
The weather, which for the last few hours had looked like clearing, had
now turned definitely to rain; clouds had descended on the hills, and the
trees in the valleys stooped and dripped in the saturated, mist-laden
air. Gimblet conducted the men to the cottage, where Lady Ruth anxiously
"If you don't mind their staying here," he suggested to her, "while I go
up to the castle and consult Lord Ashiel about a magistrate, it will be
most convenient, on account of the distance."
"By all means," said Lady Ruth. "I feel safer with them. I expect you
will find Miss Byrne up there. She has not come in to lunch, and I think
she probably met Mark and went to lunch at the castle. She ought to know
better than to go to lunch alone with a young man, and I am just
wondering if she has changed her mind and accepted him after all. Girls
are kittle cattle, but I've got quite fond of that one, and I hope she's
not forgotten poor David so soon. I really am feeling anxious about her."
"I daresay she has only walked farther than she intended," said Gimblet,
"or perhaps she came to a burn or some place she couldn't get over, and
has had to go round a mile or two. Depend on it, that's what's happened.
But I promise you that if she is at the castle I will bring her back when
Behind the shrubberies, which lay at the back of the holly hedge that
surrounded the little enclosed garden outside the library, beyond the.
end of the battlements, and reached by a disused footpath, a great tree
stood upon the edge of the steep hillside and thrust its sweeping
branches over the void.
Its trunk was grey and moss-grown; moss carpeted the ground between its
protruding roots, but the bracken and heather held back, and left a
half-circle beneath it, untenanted by their kind. It would seem that all
vegetation fears to venture beneath the shade of the beech; and for the
most part it stands solitary, shunned by other growing things except
moss, which creeps undaunted where its more vigorous brothers lack the
courage to establish themselves.
Here came Juliet that morning.
A week ago, David Southern had shown her the path to the tree. It had
been a favourite haunt of his when he was a boy, he told her. It was a
private chamber to which he resorted on the rare occasions when he was
disposed to solitude; when something had gone wrong with his world he had
been used to retire there with his dog, or, more seldom, a book. There he
had been accustomed to lie, his back supported by the tree, and hold
forth to the dog upon the troubles and difficulties of life and the
general crookedness of things; or, if a book were his companion, he
would gaze out, between the pages, at distant Crianan clinging faintly to
the knees of Ben Ghusy, and watch the swift change of passing cloud and
hanging curtain of mist upon the faces of the hills and loch.
It had been a place all his own; secret from every one, even from Mark,
his companion during all those holidays that he had spent at Inverashiel.
Somehow, David told Juliet--and it was a confidence he had seldom before
imparted to anyone--he had never quite managed to hit it off with Mark.
He couldn't say why, exactly. No doubt it was his own fault; but there
was no accounting for one's likes and dislikes.
And with quick regret at having betrayed his carefully suppressed
feelings in regard to his cousin, David had laughed apologetically, and
spoken of other things.
Here, then, just as the steamer _Rob Roy_ was drawing close to the wooden
landing-stage at the edge of the loch, with Julia Romaninov still
standing in the bows; here, because she had once been to this place with
him, because without her he had so often sat upon these mossy roots, came
Juliet to dream of her love.
Like him, she seated herself against the tree trunk at the giddy brink of
the precipitous rock; like him, her eyes rested on the smooth waters
below her, or on the far-away misty distance where Crianan slumbered;
but, unlike him, her eyes, as they looked, were filled with tears. Where
was he now? Oh, David, poor unjustly treated David! In what narrow cell,
lighted only by a high, iron-barred window--for so the scene shaped
itself in her mind--with uncovered floor of stone, bare walls and a bench
to lie on, was the man she loved wearing away his days under the burden
of so frightful an accusation?
For the thousandth time Juliet's blood boiled within her at the
thought, and she grew hot with anger and indignant scorn. That anyone
should have dared to suspect him! Why were such fools, such wicked,
evil-working imbeciles as the police allowed to exist for one moment
upon the face of the globe? But no doubt they had some hidden motive in
arresting him, for it was quite incredible that they really imagined he
had committed this appalling crime. She could not understand their
motive, to be sure, but without doubt there must have been some reason
which was not clear to her.
Oh, David, David! Was he thinking of her, as she was thinking of him? Did
he know, by instinct, that she would be doing all that could be done to
bring about his release? But was she? Again her mind was filled with the
disquieting question, was there nothing that might be done, that she was
leaving undone? Had she forgotten something, neglected something? She was
sure Gimblet did not believe David to be guilty, but was he certain of
being able to prove his innocence? He did not seem to have discovered
much at present.
Suddenly, in the midst of her distress, she smiled to herself.
At least Miss Tarver had shown herself in her true colours, and was no
more to be considered. Juliet felt that she could almost forgive her for
her readiness to believe the worst. It was dreadful, yes, and shameful
that anyone else should think for a moment that David could be capable of
such a deed, but in Miss Tarver, perhaps, the thought had not been
inexcusable. On the whole, it was so nice of her to break the engagement
that she might be forgiven the ridiculous reason she had advanced for
doing it. Of course, Juliet assured herself, it was a mere pretext,
because _no_ one could possibly believe it. And in this manner she
continued to reiterate her conviction that the suspicions entertained of
her lover were all assumed for some darkly obscure purpose.
So the morning wore away. A shower or two passed down the valley, but
under the thick tent of the beech leaves she scarcely felt it. She was,
besides, dressed for bad weather; and the grey and mournful face of the
day was in harmony with her mood.
There was something comforting in this high perch. She seemed more aloof
from the troubles and despair of the last few days than she had imagined
possible. There was a calm, a remoteness, about the grey mountains,
disappearing and reappearing from behind their screen of cloud but
unchanged and unmoved by what went on around and among them, that was in
some way reassuring.
The burn that ran at the bottom of the hill on which she sat, hurrying
down to the loch in such turbulent foaming haste, she was able to
compare, with a sad smile, to herself. The loch, she thought, was wide
and impassive as justice, which did not allow itself to be influenced by
the emotions. The burn would get down just the same without so much
turmoil and fuss; and she would see David's name cleared, equally surely,
if she waited calmly on events, instead of burning her heart out in
hopeless impatience and anxiety.
As she gazed, with some such thoughts as these, down to the stream
that splashed on its way below her, her attention was caught by a
movement in the bushes half-way down the steep slope at the top of
which she was sitting.
The day was windless and no leaf moved on any tree. There must be some
animal among the shrubs that covered the embankment, some large animal,
since its movements caused so much commotion; for, as she watched, first
one bush and then another stirred and bent and was shaken as if by
something thrusting its way through the dense growth.
What could it be? A sheep, perhaps; there were many of them on the
hillsides. This must be one that had strayed far from the rest. And yet
would a sheep make so much stir? Juliet drew back a little behind the
trunk of the beech-tree. Could it be a deer? She could not hear any sound
of the creature's advance, for the air was full of the clamour of the
burn, but she could trace the direction of its progress by shaking leaves
and swinging boughs. It seemed to be gradually mounting the slope.
Suddenly a head emerged from the waving mass of a rhododendron, and with
astonishment Juliet saw that it was that of Julia Romaninov.
Her first impulse was to lean forward and call her, but as she did so the
cry died unheard upon her lips. For the manner of Julia's advance struck
her as very odd. The girl was bending nearly double, and moving with a
caution that seemed very strange and unnecessary. What was the matter?
Was she stalking something? Crouching as she was in the bushes, she would
not be seen by anyone on the path below. Did she not want to be seen? It
looked more and more like it. But why in the world should Julia creep
along as if she feared to be observed? Where was she going, and why?
Suddenly Juliet came to a quick decision: she would find out what Julia
Romaninov was doing.
She backed hurriedly into the bracken, and made her way slowly and
cautiously around the clearing under the beech-tree to the edge of the
hill again, keeping under cover of the fern and heather. When she peered
over, Julia had disappeared from view beneath the rhododendrons.
For a minute Juliet's eyes searched the side of the slope below. Then she
drew back her head quickly, for she had caught sight of another bush
shaking uneasily a little way beyond the gap in which she had had her
first glimpse of the cause of the disturbance. Cowering low in the
bracken she crept along the top, keeping a foot or two from the edge,
where the rock fell nearly perpendicularly for a few yards before its
angle changed to the comparatively gradual, though actually steep slope
of the hill which Julia was climbing.
From time to time she looked cautiously between clumps of fern or heath,
to make sure that she was keeping level with her unconscious quarry.
The front of the hill swung round in a bold curve till it reached the
castle; and it soon became evident that, if both girls continued to
advance along the lines they were following, they would converge at a
point where the end of the battlemented wall met the great holly hedge
that formed two sides of the garden enclosure.
Juliet perceived this when she was not more than a dozen yards from the
corner, and dropped at full length to the soft ground, at a spot where
she could see between the stalks and under the leaves, and yet herself
remain concealed. She had not long to wait. In a minute, Julia's face
appeared over the brow of the hill. She pulled herself up by a young fir
sapling that hung over the brink, and stood for a moment, flushed and
panting after her long climb. She was dressed in a greenish tweed, which
blended with the woodland surroundings, and her shoulder was turned to
the place where Juliet lay wondering whether she would be discovered.
Fronting them, the end of the little turret, with which the wall of the
old fortress now came to a sudden termination, could be seen rearing its
grey stones above the dark glossy foliage of the hedge, which grew here
with peculiar vigour and continued to the extreme edge of the cliff, and
What was Juliet's surprise to see Julia, when she had found her breath,
and taken one quick look round as if to satisfy herself she was
unobserved, suddenly cast herself down, in her turn, upon the damp earth,
and inserting her head beneath the prickly barricade of the holly leaves,
begin to crawl and wriggle forward until she had completely disappeared
under it. What in the world could she be doing?
Minutes passed, and she did not reappear. Juliet waited, her nerves
stretched in expectation, but nothing happened. Overhead little birds,
tomtits and creepers, played about the bark of the fir-trees; a robin
came and looked at her consideringly, with a bright sensible eye; from
two hundred feet below, the murmur of the burn rose constant and
insistent; but no other sound broke the stillness, nor was there any sign
of human life upon the top of the cliff.
At last the girl could stand it no longer. Her patience was exhausted.
Curiosity urged her like a goad; and, if she had not much expectation of
making any important discovery, she was at least determined to solve the
mystery that now perplexed her.
Without more ado she got to her feet, and ran to the holly hedge. There,
throwing herself down once more, she parted the leaves with a cautious
hand, and followed the path taken by the Russian.
The hedge was old and very thick, more than three yards in width at this
end of it. In the middle, the trunks of the trees that formed it rose in
a close-growing, impassable barrier; but just opposite the place where
Julia had vanished Juliet found that there was a gap, caused, perhaps, by
the death in earlier days of one of the trees, or, as she afterwards
thought more likely, by the intentional omission or destruction of one of
the young plants. It was a narrow opening, but she managed to wriggle
On the other side, progress was bounded by the wall, whose massive
granite blocks presented a smooth unbroken surface. Where, then, had
Julia gone? The branches did not grow low on this, as on the outer side
of the hedge, and there was room to stand, though not to stand upright.
Stooping uncomfortably, the girl looked about her, and saw in the soft
brown earth the plain print of many footsteps, both going and coming,
between the place where she crouched and the end of the wall. She looked
behind her, and there were no marks. Clearly, Julia had gone to the end;
but what then? The corner of the wall was at the very edge of the
precipice; from what she remembered to have seen from below, the rock
was too sheer to offer any foothold; besides why, having just climbed to
the summit should anyone immediately descend again, and by such an
extraordinary route? While these thoughts followed one another in her
mind, Juliet had advanced along the track of the footsteps, and clinging
tightly to the trunk of the last holly bush she leant forward and looked
As she thought, the descent was impossible: the rock fell away at her
feet, sheer and smooth; there was no path there that a cat could take. It
made her giddy to look, and she drew back hurriedly.
Where, then, could Julia have gone? Not to the left, that was certain,
for then she would have emerged again into view. To the right? That
seemed impossible. Still, Juliet leant forward again, and peered round
the corner of the wall.
There, not more than a couple of feet away, was a small opening, less
than eighteen inches wide by about a yard in height. Hidden by the
overhanging end of the hedge, it would be invisible from below. Here was
the road Julia had taken.
Juliet did not hesitate. She could reach the aperture easily, and it
would have been the simplest thing in the world to climb into it, but
for the yawning chasm beneath. Holding firmly to the friendly holly, and
resisting, with an effort, the temptation to look down, she swung
herself bravely over the edge and scrambled into the hole with a gasp of
relief. It was, after all, not very difficult. She found herself
standing within the entrance of a narrow passage built into the
thickness of the wall. Beside the opening through which she had come, a
little door of oak, grey with age and strengthened with rusty bars and
cross-pieces of iron, drooped upon its one remaining hinge. Two huge
slabs of stone leaning near it, against the wall, showed how it had
been the custom in former centuries to fortify the entrance still more
effectively in time of danger.
Juliet did not wait to examine these fragments, interesting though they
might be to archaeologists, but hurried down the passage as quickly as
she could in the darkness that filled it, feeling her way with an
outstretched hand upon the stones on either side. As her eyes became
accustomed to the obscurity, she saw that though the way was dark it was
yet not entirely so: a gloomy light penetrated at intervals through
ivy-covered loopholes pierced in the thickness of the outer wall; and she
imagined bygone McConachans pouring boiling oil or other hospitable
greeting through those slits on to the heads of their neighbours. But
surely, she reflected, no one would ever have attacked the castle from
that side, where the precipice already offered an impregnable defence;
the passage must have been used as a means of communication with the
outer world, or, perhaps, as a last resort, for the purpose of escape by
the beleaguered forces.
After fifty yards or so of comparatively easy progress, the shafts of
twilight from the loopholes ceased to permeate the murky darkness in
which she walked, and she was obliged to go more slowly, and to feel her
way dubiously by the touch of hands and feet.
The floor appeared to her to be sloping away beneath her, and as she
advanced the descent became more and more rapid, till she could hardly
keep her feet. She went very gingerly, with a vague fear lest the path
should stop unexpectedly, and she herself step into space.
Presently she found herself once more upon level ground, when another
difficulty confronted her: the walls came suddenly to an end. Feeling
cautiously about her in the darkness, she made out that she had come to a
point where another passage crossed the one she was following, a sort of
cross-road in this unknown country of shade and stone. Here, then, were
three possible routes to take, and no means of knowing which of them
Julia Romaninov had gone by.
After a little hesitation, she decided to keep straight on. It would at
all events be easier to return if she did, and she would be less likely
to make a mistake and lose her way. So on she stumbled; and who shall say
that Fate had not a hand in this chance decision?
Though the distance she had traversed was inconsiderable, the darkness
and uncertainty made it appear to her immense, and each moment she
expected to come upon the Russian girl. At every other step she paused
and listened, but no sound met her ears except a slight, regular,
thudding noise, which she presently discovered, with something of a
shock, to be the beating of her own heart. The sound of her progress was
almost inaudible. As the day was damp, she was wearing goloshes, and her
small, rubber-shod feet fell upon the stone floor with a gentle patter
that was scarcely perceptible.
At last she nearly fell over the first step of a flight of stairs.
She mounted them one by one with every precaution her fears could
suggest. For by now the first enthusiasm of the chase had worn off, and
the solitude and darkness of this strange place had worked upon her
nerves till she was terrified of she knew not what, and ready to scream
at a touch.
Already she bitterly regretted having started out upon this enterprise
of spying. Why had she not gone and reported what she had seen to Mr.
Gimblet? That surely would have been the obvious, the sensible course. It
was, she reflected, a course still open to her; and in another moment she
would have turned and taken it, but even as the thought crossed her mind
she was aware that the darkness was sensibly decreased, and in another
second she had risen into comparative daylight. As she stood still,
debating what she should do, and taking in all that could now be
distinguished of her surroundings, she saw that the stairs ended in an
open trap-door, leading to a high, black-lined shaft like the inside of a
chimney, in which, some two feet above the trap, an odd, narrow curve of
glass acted as a window, and admitted a very small quantity of light. A
streak of light seemed to come also from the wall beside it.
Juliet drew herself cautiously up, till her head was in the chimney, and
her eyes level with the slip of glass.
With a sudden shock of surprise she saw that she was looking into the
room which, above all others, she had so much cause to remember ever
It was, indeed, the library of the castle, and she was looking at it from
the inside of that clock into which Gimblet had once before seen Julia
The curtains were drawn in the room, but after the absolute blackness of
the stone corridors the semi-dusk looked nearly as bright as full
daylight to Juliet, and she had no difficulty in distinguishing that
there was but one person in the library, and that person Julia.
She was standing by a bookshelf at the far end, near the window, and
seemed to be methodically engaged in an examination of the books. Juliet
saw her take out first one, then another, musty, leather-bound volume,
shake it, turn over the leaves, and put it back in its place after
groping with her hand at the back of the shelf. Plainly she was hunting
for something. But for what? She had no business where she was, in any
case, and Juliet's indignation gathered and swelled within her as she
watched this unwarrantable intrusion.
She would confront the girl and ask her what she meant by such behaviour.
But how to get into the library?
Looking about her, she saw that the streak of light in the wall beside
her came through a perpendicular crack which might well be the edge of a
She pushed gently and the wood yielded to her fingers.
Later on in the afternoon, when Gimblet arrived at the castle, he was
immediately shown into the presence of Lord Ashiel, who was pacing the
smoking-room restlessly, a cigarette between his teeth. He looked pale
and haggard, the strain of the last few days had evidently been too
much for him.
Gimblet greeted him sympathetically.
"You have not found your uncle's will, I can see," he began, "and you are
fretting at the idea of keeping his daughter out of her fortune. But set
your mind at rest; we shall be able to put that right. Is she here, by
the way?" he added, remembering Lady Ruth's anxiety.
"Here, of course not! What do you mean?" cried Mark, stopping suddenly
in his walk.
"Well, I was sure she was not," Gimblet replied, "but I promised to ask.
Lady Ruth is rather upset because Miss Byrne did not come in to lunch. I
told her she had probably gone for a longer walk than had been her
intention," he added soothingly, for Mark was looking at him with a
He seemed relieved, however, by the detective's suggestion.
"Yes, no doubt, that would be the reason," he murmured, lighting a fresh
cigarette, and throwing himself down in an easy-chair, with his hands
clasped behind his head. "No, I haven't found any will, and there's not
a corner left that I haven't turned inside out. I suppose he never really
made it. Just talked about it, probably, as people are so fond of doing.
And now I'm at a loose end; all alone in this big house with no one to
speak to and nothing to do with myself. It's a beast of a day, or I
should go out and try for a salmon, in self-defence. To-morrow I shall go
South. And you, have you found out anything new about the murder yet?"
"I have found out one thing which you will be glad to hear," said
Gimblet, "and that is the place where the missing will is concealed."
"What!" cried Mark, leaping to his feet. "Where is it? What does it say?
Give it to me!"
"I haven't got it," Gimblet told him. "I don't know what it says, but I
know where to look for it. It is in the statue your uncle put up on the
track known as the Green Way. I have found a memorandum of his which sets
the matter beyond a doubt."
And he related at length the story of the half-sheet of paper with the
mysterious writing, and of how he had learnt by accident of the manner in
which the statue fitted in with the obscure directions, omitting nothing
except the fact that he had already acted on the information so far as to
make certain of the actual existence of the tin box, and saying that he
should prefer the papers to be brought to light in the presence of a
"I believe there are other documents there besides the will," he said,
without troubling to explain what excellent reasons he had for such a
belief. "I understood from your uncle that there might be some of an
almost international importance. In case any dispute should subsequently
arise about them, I wish to have more than one reliable witness to their
being found. Can you send a man over to the lodge at Glenkliquart, and
ask General Tenby to come back with him. I am told that he is a
Gimblet did not think it necessary to relate how he had obtained
possession of the sheet of paper bearing the injunction to "face
curiosity." His adventures on that night savoured too strongly of
house-breaking to be drawn attention to.
"Your uncle must have posted it to me in London the day before he died,"
he said mendaciously. "It was forwarded here, and at first I could make
neither head nor tail of it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Mark asked impatiently. "And yet," he added
reflecting, "I might not have seen to what it referred. Yes, of course I
will send over for General Tenby. He can't come for three or four hours,
though, which will make it rather late. Are you sure we had not better
open the thing sooner? The bull's horn at the south-east corner turns
like a key, you say? Suppose some one else finds that out and makes off
with whatever may be hidden there."
"I am absolutely sure we needn't fear anything of the sort, because I
have the best of reasons for being positive that no one has the slightest
inkling of the secret," Gimblet assured him. "There is a whole gang of
scoundrels after the document of which your uncle told me, who are ready
to spend any money, or risk any penalty, in order to obtain it. They will
not be deterred even by having to pay for it with their lives. You may be
quite sure that if anyone had suspected where it was concealed, it would
not have been allowed to remain there, and we should find the _cache_
empty. But we may safely argue that they have not found it, since in that
case they certainly would not hang about the neighbourhood."
"Do you mean to say," cried Mark, "that you think there are any of
these Nihilist people lurking about? That letter which came for
Uncle Douglas--the letter from Paris--I guessed it meant something
of the sort."
"There is a foreigner staying at Crianan," said Gimblet, "whom I have
every reason to suspect. More than that, there has been a Russian in your
very midst who, I am afraid, you will be shocked to hear, is hand in
glove with him."
"Whom do you mean?" exclaimed Mark, "not--not Julia Romaninov?" It seemed
to the detective that he winced as he uttered the name of the girl.
Silently Gimblet bowed his head, and for a minute the two men stood
without a word. "Then," stammered Mark, "you think that she--that
she--Oh," he cried, "I can hardly believe that!"
Gimblet did not reply, but after a few moments walked over to the
writing-table and spread out a piece of notepaper. He kept his back
turned towards the young man, who seemed thankful for an opportunity to
recover his composure.
His face was still working nervously, however, when at length the
detective turned and held out a pen towards him.
"Will you not write at once to General Tenby?" he suggested.
Mark sat down before the blotting-pad.
"He will be at home," he said mechanically. "This weather will have
driven them in early if they have been shooting."
The note was written and dispatched by a groom on horseback, and then
Gimblet bade an revoir to his host at the door of the castle.
"I will go back to the cottage," he said; "I have an accumulation of
correspondence that absolutely must be attended to, and I do not think
there is anything to be done up here before General Tenby comes. Once we
have the Nihilist papers in our hands I have a little plan by which I
think our birds may be trapped. Will you meet me at the cottage at
half-past six? The General will have to pass it on the way to
Inverashiel, and we can stop him as he goes by."
"It will be about seven o'clock, I expect," said Mark, "when he gets down
from Glenkliquart. I'll be with you before he is. The Lord knows how I
shall get through the time till he comes. I loathe writing letters, but
this afternoon I'm dashed if I don't almost envy you and your
"I know it is the waiting that tells on one," Gimblet said, his voice
full of kindly sympathy. "What you want is to get right away from this
place. Its associations must be horrible to you. No one could really be
astonished if you never set foot in it again."
Mark laughed rather bitterly.
"That's just what I feel like," he said shortly. "My uncle killed; my
cousin arrested; my friend accused. Miss Byrne refusing to let me behave
decently to her about the money. Oh well," he pulled himself up, and
spoke in a more guarded tone, "one gets used to everything in time, no
doubt, but just at present, I'm afraid, I am rather depressing company.
See you later."
They went their ways, Gimblet going forth into the drenching rain which
was now falling down the road, through the soaking woodlands to the
cottage, where the Crianan policemen still smoked their pipes
undisturbed. Lady Ruth met him at the gate, running down in her
waterproof when she saw him approaching.
"Where is Juliet?" she cried. "Wasn't she at Inverashiel?"
"Hasn't she come back?" asked Gimblet, answering her question by another.
"No sign of her. What can have happened? Mr. Gimblet, I am really getting
dreadfully anxious. She must have gone on to the hills and lost her way
in the mist."
"She is sure to get back in time," Gimblet tried to reassure her, though
he himself was beginning to wonder at the girl's absence. "Perhaps," he
added, "she is at Mrs. Clutsam's. I daresay that's the truth of it."
"She can't be there," Lady Ruth answered. "Mrs. Clutsam told me she was
going out all day, to-day, to visit her husband's sister who is staying
somewhere twenty miles from here on the Oban road, and longing, of
course, to hear all about the murder at first hand. Relations are so
exacting, and if they are relations-in-law they become positive Shylocks.
Juliet may have gone to the lodge though, all the same, and stayed to
keep the Romaninov girl company."
She seemed to be satisfied with this explanation; and Gimblet had tea
with her, and then went to write his letters.
Soon after six one of the policemen went down to the high road to lie in
wait for General Tenby, and about twenty minutes past the hour wheels
rattled on the gravel of the short carriage-drive, and the General drove
up to the door. He was a tall, soldierly-looking man of between fifty and
sixty, with a red face and a keen blue eye, and a precise, jerky manner.
"Ah, Lady Ruth! Glad to see you bearing up so well under these tragic
circumstances," he said, shaking hands with that lady, who came to the
door to welcome him. "Poor Ashiel ought to have had shutters to his
windows. Dreadful mistake, no shutters: lets in draughts and colds in the
head, if nothing worse. These old houses are all the same. No safety in
them from anything. Young McConachan wrote me an urgent note to come
over. Don't quite see what for, but here I am. Eh? What do you say? Oh,
detective from London, is it? How d'ye do? Perhaps you can tell me what
the programme is?"
"Young Lord Ashiel promised to meet us here at half-past six," Gimblet
told him. "We expect to put our hands on some important documents, and I
was anxious you should be present."
"Quite unnecessary. Absolutely ridiculous. Still, here I am. May as well
The General went on talking to Lady Ruth, but after a few minutes the
inspector from Crianan sent in to ask if he could speak to him, and they
retired together to Lady Ruth's little private sitting-room, where they
remained closeted for some time. While the old soldier was listening to
what the policeman had to tell him, Gimblet began to show signs of
restlessness. He went to the door and looked about him. The weather was
clearing, the clouds breaking and scudding fast before a wind which had
arisen in the North; a tinge of blue showed here and there in the
interstices between them, while a veil of mist that trailed after them
shone faintly orange in the rays of the hidden sun.
Gimblet went back and sat down in the drawing-room with the _Scotsman_ in
his hand. He put it down after a few minutes, however, and began
fidgeting about the room. Then he went and conferred with the second of
the two policemen, and as he was talking to him the General and the
"I think," said Gimblet, coming towards them, "that we will not wait any
longer for Lord Ashiel."
General Tenby, staring at him with rather a strange expression,
nevertheless silently assented, and the four men started on their walk to
the green way.
As they went up the glen a ray of sunshine emerged from between the
flying clouds, and fell upon the statue at the end of the enclosed glade.
Away to the right their eyes could follow the track of a distant shower;
and as they went a rainbow curved across the sky, stretching from hill to
hill like some great monumental arch set up for the celestial armies to
march under on their return from the conquest of the earth.
"That statue," Gimblet remarked to the General, who walked beside him,
"is a specimen of the worst modern Italian sculpture. The figure of
Pandora is modelled like a sack of potatoes; the composition is weak and
unsatisfactory; and the pediment on which the whole group is poised large
enough to support three others of the same size."
The General grunted.
"I always understood that the late Lord Ashiel knew what he was
about," he said stiffly. "He told me himself that it cost him a great
deal of money."
Gimblet sighed. He could not help feeling that it was a pity Lord Ashiel
had not earlier fallen into the habit of consulting him.
Still, he was bound to admit that though the stone group, regarded as
a work of art, was altogether deplorable, the general effect of the
erection, in its rectangular setting of forest, was excellent. The
whole scene was one of peaceful and romantic beauty. Poets might have
sat themselves down in that moist and shining spot; and, forgetful of
the possibilities of rheumatism, found their muse inspiring beyond
Gimblet was at heart something of a poet, but he felt no inclination to
communicate the feelings which the place and hour aroused in him to any
of his companions; and it was in a silence which had in it something
dimly foreboding that the party drew near to the statue.
In silence, Gimblet approached the great block of stone and laid his hand
upon the projecting horn of the bull. Equally silently the two policemen
had taken up positions at the end of the pedestal; the General stood
behind them, alert and interested.
After a swift glance, which took in all these details, Gimblet turned the
horn round in its socket.
The hidden door swung open, and there was a sound of muttered
exclamations from the police and a loud oath from the General. Gimblet
sprang round the corner of the pedestal, and there, as he expected,
cowering in the mouth of the disclosed cavity, and looking, in his fury
of fear and mortification, for all the world like some trapped vermin,
crouched Lord Ashiel, glaring at his liberators with a rage that was
Beyond him, on the floor at the back, they could see the tin dispatch
box standing open and empty.
The two policemen, acting on instructions previously given them, made one
simultaneous grab at the young man and dragged him into the open with
several seconds to spare before the door slammed to again, in obedience
to the invisible mechanism that controlled it. They set him on his legs
on the wet turf, and stood, one on each side of him, a retaining hand
still resting on either arm.
For a moment Mark gazed from the General to the detective, his eyes full
of hatred. Then he controlled himself with an effort, and when he spoke
it was with a forced lightness of manner.
"I have to thank you for letting me out," he said. "The air in there was
getting terrible." He paused, and filled his lungs ostentatiously, but
no one answered him. Losing something of his assumed calmness, he went
on, uneasily: "I just thought I'd come along and see if there was any
truth in Mr. Gimblet's story; and I was quite right to doubt it, since
there isn't. He's not quite as clever as he thinks, for he was as
positive as you like that my uncle's will was hidden here, but as a
matter of fact it's not, as I was taking the trouble to make sure when
that cursed statue shut me in. There's nothing in it of any sort except
an empty tin box."
"There's nothing in it now," said Gimblet, speaking for the first time,
"because I had no doubt you meant to destroy the will if you found it, so
I removed it to a safe place last night. As for the other papers, I have
sent them to London, where they will be still safer. I knew you would
give yourself away by coming here. That's why I told you the secret of
the bull's horn."
Mark's face was dreadful to see. He made a menacing step forward as if
he would throw himself upon the detective. But the strong right hands of
Inspector Cameron and Police Constable Fraser tightened on his arms and
restrained his further action. He seemed for the first time to be
conscious of their presence.
"Leave go of my arm," he shouted. "What the devil do you mean by putting
your dirty hands on me?"
"My lord," said the inspector, "you had better come quietly. I am here to
arrest you for the murder of your uncle, Lord Ashiel, and I warn you that
anything you say may be used against you."
"Are you going to arrest the whole family?" scoffed Mark. "Where's your
"I have it here, my lord," replied the inspector, fumbling in his pocket
for the paper the astonished General had signed when the inspector had
imparted to him, in Lady Ruth's little sitting-room, the information he
had received from Mr. Gimblet.
As Inspector Cameron fumbled, the young man, with a sudden jerk which
found them unprepared, threw off the hold upon his arms and leaped aside.
As he did so, he plunged his hand into his pocket and drew forth a
"You shall never take me alive," he cried, and lifted it to his lips.
"Stop him!" shouted Gimblet.
Throwing his whole weight upon the uplifted arm, he forced the phial away
from Mark's already open mouth; the other men rushed to his assistance,
and between them the frustrated would-be suicide was overpowered, and
held firmly while the inspector fastened a pair of handcuffs over his
wrists. When it was done he raised his pinioned hands, as well as he
could, and shook them furiously at Gimblet.
"It's you I have to thank for this," he shouted. "Curse you, you
eavesdropping spy. But there are surprises in store for you, my friend.
You've got me, it seems, and you say you've got the will. You'll find it
more difficult to lay your hands on the heiress!"
The words and still more the triumphant tone in which they were uttered
cast a chill upon them all.
"What do you mean?" cried Gimblet.
But not another syllable could be got out of the prisoner; and the
inspector, besides, protested against questions being addressed to him.
With all the elation over his capture taken out of him, and with a mind
full of brooding anxiety, Gimblet hurried on ahead of the returning
party, and burst in upon Lady Ruth with eager inquiries.
But Juliet had not returned.
How was anyone to know that she had that morning made her way into the
secret passage of the old tower, and watched through the slip of glass in
the case of the clock what Julia Romaninov was doing in the library?
But leaving Gimblet and Lady Ruth to organize a search for her, we will
return to Juliet in her hiding-place and see what was the end of her
When Juliet, incensed and indignant at the Russian's behaviour,
discovered the door in the clock and was on the point of opening it
and making her presence known, a noise of steps in the passage made
her pause. As she listened, there was the sound of a key turning in
the lock, the library door was thrown suddenly open, and Mark stepped
into the room.
Juliet saw Julia's expression as she sprang round to face the newcomer.
She saw it change, swift as lightning, from a look of horrified dismay to
one of sudden transforming tenderness, as the girl recognized the
intruder, that the hand already in the act of pushing open the door of
the clock fell inert and limp to her side, and if she had been able to
move she would have lost no time in retreating. She knew instinctively
that she was seeing a secret laid bare which she had no right to spy
upon. And yet, though her impulse was to fly from the place in
embarrassment and confusion, something stronger than her natural
discretion and delicacy held her where she stood. For Julia had not come
here for the purpose of meeting Mark. She had come with a purpose less
personal: something, Juliet felt convinced, that was in some way vaguely
discreditable, and at the same time menacing. It could be for no harmless
reason that she had taken this secret, dangerous way into the castle.
And so Juliet kept her ground, blushing at her role of spy, and averting
her eyes as Julia dropped the book she was holding and ran forward to
meet Mark, with that tell-tale look upon her face.
But Mark did not show the same pleasure. He stood, holding the handle of
the door, which he had closed gently behind him, and looking with a
certain sternness at the girl.
"Julia," he said, "you here! What are you doing?"
"Oh, Mark," she cried, not answering his question, "aren't you glad to
see me? It is so long, oh, it is so long since I saw you!"
She threw her arms round his neck with a happy laugh, and drew his face
down to hers.
"Darling! darling!" she murmured. "How can we live without each other for
one single day!"
She spoke in a low, soft voice. To Juliet, to whom every purling syllable
was painfully audible, it sounded cooingly, like the voice of doves.
To the surprise of the girl to whom Mark had proposed marriage two days
before, when she ventured to peep through her spy window, Mark's arms
were round Julia and he was kissing her ardently.
But after a moment he released himself gently.
"You haven't told me, dear," he said, "what you are doing here."
His voice held a note of authority before which Julia's assurance
"I--I wasn't doing anything," she muttered.
"Julia!" he remonstrated.
"Well," she said, with some show of defiance, "I suppose anyone may take
a book from the library."
"Of course," he said, "you may take anything of mine you want Still, as
you are not staying in the house--In short, it seems to me that the
more obvious course would have been to have said something to me about
it; and besides," he added, struck by a sudden thought, "how in the world
did you get in? The door was locked, and the key is on the outside."
"Oh, if you're going to make such a fuss about nothing," she exclaimed
petulantly, her toe beginning to tap the boards, "it's not worth
explaining anything to you." She turned away and walked towards the
"I'm not making a fuss," Mark said quietly, "but you must tell me, Julia,
what you are doing here, and how you came. To speak plainly, I don't
believe you came for a book."
"If you don't believe me, what's the good of my saying anything?" she
retorted. "Oh, how horrid you are to-day, Mark. I don't believe you love
me a bit, any more." And leaning her head against the mantelpiece, she
burst into tears.
"You know it isn't that, Julia," he said, looking at her fixedly. "Don't
cry, there's a dear, good girl. You know that I love you. Why, you're the
only thing in the whole world that I really want. But you must tell me
how you came here. Tell me," he repeated, taking her hands from her face,
and forcing her to look at him, "what you want in the library. Tell me,
Julia, I want to know."
She seemed to struggle to keep silence, but to be unable to resist his
"I suppose I must tell you," she murmured; "it's not that I don't want
to. But they would kill me if they knew. Oh, Mark, I ought not to tell
you, but how can I keep anything secret from my beloved? Swear to me
that you will never repeat it, or try to hinder me in what I have to do?"
He bent and kissed her.
"Julia," he said, "can't you trust me?"
"I do, I do," she cried. "While you love me, I trust you. But if you left
off, what then? That is the nightmare that haunts me. Mark, Mark, what
would become of me if you were to change towards me?"
He kissed her again, murmuring reassuring words that did not reach
Juliet's ears. "So tell me now," he ended, "what you were doing here."
"Mark," she said nervously, "you know where my childhood was passed?"
"In St. Petersburg," he replied wonderingly.
"Yes, in Petersburg. And you know how things are there. It is so
different from your England, my England. For I am English really, Mark,
although that thought always seems so strange to me; since during so many
years I believed myself to be a Russian. I am the daughter of English
parents; my father was a very respectable London plumber of the name of
Harsden, whose business went to the bad and who died, leaving my mother
to face ruin and starvation with a family of five small children, of whom
I was the last. When a lady who took an interest in the parish in which
we lived suggested that a friend of hers should adopt one of the
children, my mother was only too thankful to accept the proposal, and I
was the one from whom she chose to be parted. I have never seen her
since, but she is still alive, and I send her money from time to time.
"The lady who adopted me was Countess Romaninov, and I believed
myself her child till a day or two before she died, when she told me,
to my lasting regret, the true story of my origin. But I was brought
up a Russian, and I shall never feel myself to be English. Somehow the
soil you live on in your childhood seems to get into your bones, as
you say here. It is true that I speak your language easily, but it was
Russian that my baby lips first learned. My sympathies, my point of
view, my friends, all except yourself, are Russian. And I have one
essentially Russian attribute, I am a member of what you would call a
Mark interrupted her with an interjection of surprise, but she nodded her
head defiantly, and continued:
"All my life, all my private ends and desires must be governed by the
needs of my country. First and foremost I exist that the rule of the
Tyrant may be abolished, and the Slav be free to work out his own
salvation; he shall be saved from the fate that now overwhelms and
crushes him; dragged bodily from under the heel of the oppressor. I am
not the only one. We are many who think as one mind. And the day is not
far distant when our sacrifices shall bear fruit. Ah, Mark, what a great
cause, what a noble purpose, is this of ours! Perhaps I shall be able to
convert you, to fire your cold British blood with my enthusiasm?"
She stopped and looked at him inquiringly. But he made no reply, and
after a moment she continued, placing her hand fondly upon his shoulder
as she spoke.
"Our plan is to terrify the rulers into submission. We must not shrink
from killing, and killing suddenly and unexpectedly, till they abandon
the wickedness of their Ways. They must never know what it is to feel
safe. And we see to it that they do not. Death waits for them at the
street corner, on their travels, at their own doorsteps. They never know
at what moment the bomb may not be thrown, or the pistol fired. It is
sad that explosives are so unreliable. There are many difficulties. You
would not believe the obstacles that we find placed in our path at every
turning. And for those who are suspected there is Siberia, and the
mines. But it is worth it. It is worth anything to feel that one is
working and risking all for one's country, and one's fellow-countrymen.
It is an honour to belong to a band of such noble men and women. But now
and then one is admitted who turns out to be unworthy. Yes, even such a
cause as ours has traitors to contend with. And your uncle, Lord Ashiel,
was one of them."
"What," said Mark incredulously, "Uncle Douglas a Nihilist? Nonsense.
"He was, really. For he joined the 'Friends of Man' when he was at the
British Embassy at Petersburg long years ago; and no sooner had he been
initiated than he turned round and denounced the society and all its
works. Worse still, he declared his intention of hindering it from
carrying out its programme. He would have been got rid of there and
then, but as ill-luck would have it he had, by an unheard-of chain of
accidents, become possessed of an important document belonging to the
society. It was, indeed, a list of the principal people on the executive
committee that fell into his hands, and he took the precaution of
sending it to England, with instructions that if anything happened to
him it should be forwarded to the Russian Police, before he made known
his ridiculous objections to our programme. Here, as you will
understand, was a most impossible situation with which there was
apparently no means of coping.
"For years that one man hampered and frustrated our entire organization.
He was practically able to dictate his own terms, for he announced his
intention of publishing the list of names if we carried out any important
project, and no device could be contrived to stop his being as good as
his word. The tyrant has walked unscathed except by mere private
enterprise, and the government we could have caused to crumble to the
ground has flourished and continued to work evil as before. We have been
crippled, paralysed in every direction. It was only last year that there
seemed reason to think that Lord Ashiel had removed the document from the
Bank of England where it had for so long been guarded, and there appeared
to be a possibility that he now kept it in his own house. If that were
so, there seemed a good chance of getting hold of it, and how proud I am,
Mark, to think that it was I who was chosen to make the attempt!
"I came to England with the best introductions into society, and had no
difficulty in making friends with your aunt and obtaining an invitation
to stay here. Last year I did not succeed in gaining any information.
Your uncle, for some reason, seemed rather to avoid me, and I did not
make any headway towards gaining his confidence. I never could be sure if
he suspected me. This year there was a question of replacing me by some
one else, but it was judged that Lord Ashiel's suspicions would be
certainly awakened by the appearance of another Russian, so, in the hope
that I was not associated in his mind with the people to which he had
behaved so basely, I was ordered to try again.
"A member of the society, who occupies a high and responsible position on
the council, accompanied me to the neighbourhood, and from time to time I
report to him and receive his advice and instructions. He stays in
Crianan, so that I have some one within reach to go to for advice. At
least, so I am officially informed, but I know very well he is really
there to keep watch on me, for it is not the habit of the society to
trust its members more than is unavoidable. If it is possible, I go once
a week to Crianan and make my report, but I can't always manage to go,
and then he rows across the loch after dark and I go out and meet him. He
was to come on the night of the murder, and my first thought when I heard
of it was that he might be caught in the shrubberies and mistaken for the
murderer. But it appears that he had already taken alarm, and I am
thankful to say he was able to escape in good time."
"So David really did see some one wandering about that night," Mark
commented thoughtfully. "Ah, Julia, if you'd told me all this earlier
everything might have been different. Poor old David need never have been
dragged into it at all."
She looked at him a moment, as if puzzled, and then continued her story.
"It was thought that I might be able to bring about your uncle's death by
some means that should have all the appearance of an accident, and so
perhaps not involve action on the part of those who hold the
document--that is, if it should prove not to be in his own keeping--for
he had always assured the council that no decisive step would be taken
except as a retort to signs of violence on our part, whether directed
towards himself or others.
"I have not been able to find any trace of the list. I thought I had it
one day in London, when I followed Lord Ashiel to a detective's office,
and managed to gain possession of an envelope given him by Lord Ashiel,
but as far as I could make out it contained nothing of any importance. It
was a bitter disappointment. You can imagine the consternation into which
we were thrown by the murder. It seemed certain that his death would be
attributed to our organization, and if anyone held the list for him it
would be published immediately. Four days have passed, however, and my
superior has received a cable saying that so far all is well. It looks
more and more as if the list had been kept here, but I have hunted
everywhere and found nothing. Oh, I have searched without ceasing since
the moment I heard of his death! I came here even on the very night of
the murder, and moved the body with my own hands in order to get at the
bureau drawers. There is a secret way into the room through that old
clock there, which leads into the grounds; I found it long ago, one day
when I was exploring outside in the shrubberies. I have often been here,
and searched, and searched again. Do you know anything of this document,
Mark? If you do, I beg and implore you to give it to me. Otherwise I
cannot answer for your life; and, as for our marriage, that is out of the
question unless I am successful in my undertaking."
It may be imagined with what amazement and growing horror Juliet listened
to this avowal. That Julia, the girl with whom she had associated on
terms of easy familiarity which had been near to becoming something like
intimacy in the close contact and companionship of a country-house life,
that this girl, an honoured guest in Lord Ashiel's house, should have
gained her footing there for her own treacherous ends, or at the bidding
of a band of political assassins! Juliet could scarcely believe her ears
as she heard the calm, indifferent tone in which Julia spoke of the
drawbacks to "getting rid" of Lord Ashiel, and of the contemplated
"accident" which was to have befallen him. She would have fled from where
she stood, if mingled fear and curiosity to hear more had not rooted her
to the spot. Her alarm was tempered by the presence of Mark. If this girl
should discover her hiding there and show signs of the violence that
might be expected from such a character, Mark would be there to protect
her. She could trust him to know how to deal with the Russian, whose true
nature must now be apparent to him.
But Mark, to her astonishment, had not drawn away from Julia with the
repugnance and disgust that were to be expected. Instead, he was looking
at her, strangely, indeed, but almost eagerly.
"It was you, then, who moved the body! To think that I never guessed!" he
murmured, half to himself. "If I had known, I might have spared myself
the trouble to--" Then more loudly he reproached his companion.
"And you have never said a word to me! Oh, Julia, you didn't trust me."
He shook his head at her mournfully.
"Trust you!" she retorted. "Did you trust me? But I would have trusted
you," she added, gazing fondly into his eyes, "if I had dared risk the
punishment that will surely be meted out to me if it is known I have done
so. You don't know how rigid the rules of our society are. But you
haven't told me yet if you have the list."
"Not I," he said. "I never heard of its existence. I suppose that
anonymous letter that came addressed to Uncle Douglas after his death had
something to do with that."
"Did a letter come from Paris? They sent them to him from time to time.
It prevented his suspecting me. But you will give me the list if you find
it, won't you? It means everything to me."
"Of course I will," he promised. "It is no earthly good to me, so far as
I know. But you, when you were looking for it, did you, among all the
papers you examined, ever come across such a thing as a will?"
"No, never," she replied. "Mrs. Clutsam told me it could not be found.
You may be sure, if I had discovered one which did not leave you
everything, I should have destroyed it."
"Dear little Julia!" Mark drew her to him and kissed her. "How sweet you
are. There is no one like you!"
"Really? Do you really love me, Mark?"
"Darling, of course I do."
"Will you always? Are you quite, quite sure that I am the one girl in all
the world for you, as you are the one man for me?"
"Darling, you are the only one in the world I have ever so much as
"Would you never, never forget me, or marry anyone else, no matter what
"Never," he assured her, "never."
She sighed contentedly.
"What should I do if you forgot me, Mark? I should die. But," she added
in a different tone, "I think I should kill you first!"
Mark laughed a little uneasily.
"Hush, hush," he said, "you mustn't talk so much about killing. A minute
ago you were talking of killing my poor old uncle. If I took you
seriously what should I think? It is lucky I love you as I do, otherwise
doesn't it occur to you that it might get you into trouble to talk in
this wild way?"
"You can take me as seriously as you like," she answered gravely. "I am
serious enough, God knows. But I shouldn't talk about it, even to you, if
I didn't _know_ it was safe. You see, I know you are like me."
"Like you? I'm dashed if I am! How do you mean? I am like you?"
She looked at him squarely, and nodded.
"Yes," she said, "you are like me. You would not hesitate to kill if you
thought it necessary. You think just the same as me on that subject. Only
you have gone farther than I have--yet."
"Julia," he cried, "what do you mean?"
"I mean that I know all about you, Mark," she replied gravely. "I know
what you think you have kept secret from me. I know it was you who killed
With a muffled cry Mark shook himself free, and sprang away from her.
"What are you saying?" he whispered hoarsely. "You are mad, girl! But I
won't have such lies uttered, I won't have it, I tell you."
With terrified amazement Juliet saw his face change, become ugly,
distorted. But Julia showed no sign of alarm.
"Why get so excited?" she asked calmly. "What does it matter? Do you
imagine I would betray you? I, who would sell my soul for you! I know you
did it. It is no use keeping up this pretence of innocence to me, who had
more right to kill him than you. Why shouldn't you kill who you wish? But
don't say you didn't do it. It is foolish. I saw you."
"It is a lie. You can't have seen me," Mark declared again, but with less
assurance. "You were in the drawing-room all the time. Lady Ruth and
Maisie Tarver both said so. The drawing-room doesn't even look out on the
garden. There is no room that does, except the library, and you weren't
there then, anyhow."
"I didn't see you fire the shot," said Julia, "but I saw you afterwards
when you went to put back your rifle in the gun-room. I told you that
after the first search in the grounds was over, and everyone had gone
up to bed, I slipped out of the house by the door near the gunroom, and
came round to the library to see if Lord Ashiel had carried the list on
him. When I came back, I let myself in quietly by the door which I had
left unbolted, and had just got half-way up the back stairs when I
heard footsteps in the passage below, and crouched down behind the
banisters. I saw you come along the passage, carrying an electric
lantern in one hand and your rifle in the other. I saw you look round
anxiously before opening the gun-room door and going in. When you had
vanished, I hurried on up to my room, for it was not the time or place
to tell you what I had seen, but I left a crack of my door open, and
after rather a long while saw you pass along the passage to your own
room; this time without your gun. I knew, of course, that you had been
cleaning it and putting it away."
She spoke with the indifference with which one may refer to a regrettable
but incontrovertible fact, and Mark seemed to feel it useless to deny
what she said.
"You had no right to spy on me," he exclaimed angrily when she had done.
"Oh, Mark," she cried, dismayed, "I wasn't spying. It was the merest
accident. And I think it's horrid of you to mind my knowing. Why didn't
you tell me all about it before. I might have helped you, I'm sure."
But he would have none of her endearments, and threw off the hand she
laid upon his arm with a rough gesture.
"Mark, oh, Mark," she wailed, "don't be angry with me! You know I can't
bear it. I can bear anything but that. Don't, don't be angry with me."
She had but one thought; it was for him, and he who ran might read it
shining in the depths of her great eyes. After a few minutes of sulking,
"No one could be angry with you for long, Julia," he declared.
Instantly she was once more all smiles.
"Don't ever be angry with me again," she urged, her hands in his. "And
now that you have forgiven me, tell me all about it. What made you do
such a dreadful thing, Mark? You must have had some good reason, I know.
I never would doubt that."
"There's nothing much to tell," he said unwillingly. "I had a good
reason, yes. I must have money. It is for your sake, darling, that I must
get it. I can't marry you without it. I hadn't meant to kill him, if I
could get it without. He was ill, and had left his fortune to me. I
thought I should get it in time, by letting Nature take her course. It
was that or ruin, and I really had to do it for your sake, darling. I
didn't want to hurt the old boy. Why should I? It's not a pleasant thing
to have to do. But I had no choice--there was no other way of getting
enough money, and I simply had to get it. It was his life or mine. You
don't understand. I can't explain. It just had to be done, and there's an
end of it. Everything was going wrong. That girl, that Byrne girl, I
imagined he was going to marry her. You know we all did. That would have
spoilt everything. At first I thought she could be got out of the way,
but she seemed to bear a charmed life."
"What?" cried Julia, "did you try to kill her too?"
"Why, if anyone had to be got rid of," he admitted defiantly, "it seemed
better to go for a stranger, like her, than for my own uncle. Come, you
must see that, surely! She was nothing to me, and, anyhow, my hand was
forced. It's very hard that I should have been put in such a position.
I'm the last person to do harm to a fly, but one must think of oneself."
Since it was no use denying the murder, he seemed to find some sort of
satisfaction in telling Julia of his other crimes. And yet, though he
tried hard to speak with an affectation of indifference, it was plain
that he kept a watchful eye upon his listener, and was ready to fasten
resentfully upon the first sign of horror, or even disapproval. For all
his efforts, the tone of his disclosures was at once swaggering and
suspicious; but he need have had no anxiety as to the spirit in which
they would be received. It was clear that Julia brought to his judgment
no remembrance of ordinary human standards of conduct. To her he was
above such criticisms, as the Immortals might be supposed to be above
the rules that applied to dwellers upon earth. What he did was right in
her eyes, because he did it, and she admired his brutality, as she adored
the rest of him, whole-heartedly, without reservation.
"I had a shot at her," he went on, "one day on the moor when she was with
David; but I missed her. It was a rotten shot. I can't think how I came
to do it. Then when she fell into the river--I saw her standing by it as
I came home from stalking.... I had walked on ahead, and where the path
runs along above the waterfall pool I happened to go to the edge and look
over. There she was on a stone right at the edge, by the deepest part. It
looked as if she'd been put there on purpose, and I should have been a
fool to miss such a chance. It's no good going against fate. As a matter
of fact I thought I'd got her sitting this time. I caught up the nearest
piece of rock and dropped it down on her. That was a good shot, though I
say it, but it hit her on the shoulder instead of the head as luck would
have it, which was bad luck for me. However, in she went, and I thought
all was well and lost no time in getting away from the place. If it
hadn't been for that meddling fool Andy!... Well, then, at dinner, Uncle
Douglas came out with the news that she was his daughter, not his
intended, and everything looked worse than ever. Afterwards when she went
to talk to him in the library, and passed through the billiard-room where
I was knocking the balls about and feeling pretty savage, I can tell you,
I happened, by a fluke, to ask her if she knew where David was. She said
he'd gone into the garden.
"Then I saw my chance, and it seemed too good to miss. Why should I let
my inheritance be stolen from me? I ran off to the gun-room for a gun. I
meant to take David's rifle, but I found he hadn't cleaned it, so I left
it alone and took mine, as the thing was really too important to risk
using a strange gun unless it was absolutely necessary, and his is a
little shorter in the stock than I like. I nipped back and let myself out
of the passage door into the enclosed garden. It was a black night,
though I knew my way blindfolded about there. But the curtains of the
library were drawn, and I couldn't see between them without stepping on
the flower bed. I knew too much to leave my footmarks all over them, but
I had to get on to the bed to have a chance of getting a shot. So I got
the long plank the gardeners use to avoid stepping on the flower beds
when they're bedding out, from the tool-house behind the holly hedge
where I knew it was kept, and put it down near the hedge. It is held up
clear of the ground by two cross pieces of wood, one at each end, you
know, so there would be no marks left to identify me by.
"When I walked to the end of the plank, I could see straight into the
middle of the room; but they must have been sitting near the fire, for no
one was in sight. I could see the writing bureau and the chair in front
of it, and dimly in the back of the room I could make out the face of the
clock, but that was all.
"Well, I stood there for what seemed a long while. You've no idea how
cramping it is to stand on a narrow plank with no room to take a step
forward or back, for long at a time. And I don't mind telling you I got a
bit jumpy, waiting there. If anyone chanced to come along, what could I
say by way of explanation? I couldn't think of anything the least likely
to wash. And somehow, in the dark, one begins to imagine things. I saw
David coming at me across the lawn every other minute. And it seemed so
hideously likely that he should come. I knew he was somewhere out in the
grounds. By Jove, if he had, he'd have got the bullet instead of Uncle
Douglas! But he didn't come. Those beastly shadows and shapes and
whisperings and rustlings that seemed to be all round me, hiding in the
night, turned out to be nothing after all. But when I didn't fancy him at
my elbow, I imagined he was in the gunroom, wondering where the dickens
my rifle had got to.
"Oh, I had a happy half-hour among the roses, I tell you! A rifle is a
heavy thing too. I leant it up against a rose-bush and tried to sit down
on the plank, but it wouldn't do, and I saw I must bear it standing, or
Uncle Douglas might cross in front of the slit between the curtains
without my having time to get a shot. You must remember I'd been on the
hill all day, so that I was very stiff to begin with. It got so bad that
I began to think it was hardly worth the candle at last--and it's a
wonder I didn't miss him clean--when, just as I was on the point of
giving the whole thing up and going in again, he came suddenly into my
field of vision, and actually sat down at the table.
"I took a careful aim and fired. I saw him fall forward, and then I
jumped off the plank and hurled it back under the hedge before I ran for
the house. I had left the door ajar, and I just stayed to close it, and
then darted into the empty billiard-room and thrust my rifle under a
sofa. It was a quick bit of work. I had counted on Juliet Byrne waiting a
moment or two to see if she could do anything to help him before she
roused the house, or it roused itself, and she was rather longer than I
expected. I don't mind owning I got into a panic when minutes passed and
no one appeared, and I began to think I must have missed the old boy
altogether. I was within an ace of going to make certain, when the door
opened and in she came. Oh well, you know all the rest. That silly old
ass, David, was still mooning about in the garden, thinking of her, I
suppose, which was very lucky for me."
Julia had listened with absorbed interest.
"I think it is wonderful," she said, "that you should have gone through
all that for my sake. I shall always try to deserve it, my dear. Was it
all, all for me, that you did it, truly?"
"Yes," Mark assured her, gruffly monosyllabic.
"But how was it," she asked caressingly, "that Sir David's footprints
were found all over the rose-bed. What was he doing there?"
"That was an afterthought," Mark admitted. "It was a tophole idea. After
every one had gone upstairs, I crept down and got my Mannlicher from
where I had hidden it, and took it to the gun-room, where I cleaned it
and put it in its usual place. It was lucky for me that David had left
his weapon dirty. It was jolly unlike him to do it. I was thinking what a
good thing it was, and how well things looked like turning out--for I
thought I could manage the girl if she was able to prove that she really
was a McConachan--and it struck me I ought to be able to contrive that
the business should look a bit blacker against poor old David. Every one
knew he'd had a row with Uncle Douglas about his beastly dog, and if I
could only manufacture a little more evidence against him I knew I should
be pretty safe, one way and another. I was going back to the garden to
put by the gardener's plank, when I thought of using his boots. It didn't
take long to find them among all the boots used that day by the
household, which were ranged in a row in the place where they clean them
in the back premises. His bootmakers' name was in them. I took them, and
when I got to the garden door I put them on, and went out and trampled
about among the roses till I was pretty sure that even the blindest
country bobby couldn't fail to notice the tracks I'd left, though of
course I couldn't see them myself in the dark. Then I got the plank out
of the hedge and put it away where I'd found it. After that, I took the
boots back, and went to bed; and very glad I was to get there. Now you've
heard the whole story."
"How clever you are," murmured the girl. "There's no one like you," she
said, "no one." Mark smiled rather fatuously. He evidently shared her
opinion that his brains were something slightly out of the way. "And
everything happened just as you'd planned," she went on admiringly. "They
suspected Sir David from the first. I should have, myself, if I hadn't
known it was you who had done it."
"Yes," said Mark, "they suspected him, the silly idiots! They might have
known he hasn't the initiative to do a thing like that. And the girl
can't prove her relationship to Uncle Douglas, just as I expected. I
thought there might be some difficulty about that. But I wish I could
find the will he made in her favour. I should feel safer then, for she
told me he said he'd worded it so that she should get the money whether
she was proved his daughter or not. And who knows what other mad clauses
he may have put in it. Lately, for some reason I could never make out, I
felt sure he had changed towards me. He let fall a hint one day that his
legacies to me were conditional on my good behaviour. I don't feel easy
about it at all. Some one must have been telling him things--poisoning
his mind. But I've hunted high and low, and found nothing. I'm sick of
looking over musty old bills."
"Oh, we shall find it between us now," said Julia hopefully. "I wish I
had some idea where the list I want is, though," she added.
"There's that detective, too," pursued Mark. "That fellow Gimblet. I'm
rather fed up with him. Not that he seems any use at his work, though
he's supposed to be rather first-class at it, I believe."
"Gimblet! Is that who it is? Mrs. Clutsam told me a London detective
was here, but I didn't know who it was. I have met him before, and
found him very easy to manage. I don't think you need be afraid of
anything he may do."
"I shall be glad when he's off the place, anyhow," said Mark.
"I shall be glad when the whole business is over and forgotten," Julia
rejoined. "I wish we could be married at once, Mark darling. But why
can't it be given out that we are engaged. I don't understand why we
should keep it a secret now. I can't stand seeing so little of you as I
have these last few days."
"Be patient, darling, wait just a little longer. There are reasons, as I
have told you. I must get my financial affairs straight, for one thing,
before I allow you to tie yourself to me. Suppose I turn out to be a
beggar? I couldn't let you marry me then, you know."
"Mark!" Julia's voice was full of reproach. "You know perfectly well how
little I care about your money. I would be only too glad to marry you if
you hadn't a penny. But perhaps you mean that if you were poor you
wouldn't want to burden yourself with a wife?"
"You know how I adore you, Julia. How can you suggest such a thing? I
couldn't even dream of a life without you. You show how little you know
me. But, believe me, it is wisest to wait a short time longer before we
are publicly engaged. You must take my word for it, and not made me
unhappy by imagining such cruel things. Come, let us look for this list
of yours. What were you doing--searching among the books?"
"Yes," said she, rising, as he went towards a bookshelf, and following
him. "I thought it might be hidden between the leaves of one of these old
volumes. One reads of such things."
"I wonder," he said absently. "The will, too, may be here. Is there a
Bible anywhere? I believe that's a favourite place of concealment. Then,
when the heir is virtuous and reads his Bible, he gets the legacy, you
know; while, if he isn't, he doesn't. A sort of poetic justice is meted
out. If I find it in that way I shall take it as a sign that I am really
the virtuous one and that Heaven absolves me from all blame."
He spoke mockingly, but Julia answered very seriously:
"Of course you ought to have it; and if I don't blame you, why should
"Well," he said after a pause, "at all events I mean to get it, whether
or no, if I have to pull down every stone of the place. That reminds me,"
he added, "where is the secret entrance you use? Through this old clock?
Who would have thought it?"
In a moment Juliet realized that she was going to be caught. She had
been so absorbed in listening to the dreadful revelations that had been
made during the last half-hour that not till now had she considered how
dangerous was her position.
As he spoke, Mark threw open the door of the clock case. Too late, she
turned to fly; he caught her by the arm and, with a stifled oath, dragged
her into the room.
"How long have you been there?" he cried, and fell to swearing horribly;
while Julia stood by, not speaking, but looking at Juliet with an
expression which frightened her more than all his violence.
It did not occur to Juliet to deny that she had overheard their talk. She
had been found in the act of spying on them, and it was inconceivable
that they should believe she had not done so. Besides, she was raging at
the thought of what she had heard, and her anger gave her a courage she
might otherwise have found it hard to maintain.
"I have been there all the time," she declared stoutly. "I heard all you
said, you wicked, wicked man. A murderer! Oh, how horrible it all is!"
Julia laid a hand on Mark's arm.
"She will tell what she knows," she said, trembling.
"She shall not," Mark stammered furiously. He seemed to be half
suffocating with rage. "She shall not go unless she swears to say
nothing. Swear it, I say!"
He seized Juliet by the shoulder and shook her violently to emphasize
"I won't swear anything of the kind," she retorted, trying to break from
his grasp. "Do you suppose you can kill me, too, without being found out?
There is a detective here now, and Sir David Southern is not at hand to
lay the blame on. You coward! How dare you touch me!"
The truth of her words seemed to strike home to Mark, for he left go of
her suddenly, and stood, biting his nails and scowling, the picture of
irresolution and malignance.
Juliet lost no time in following up any advantage she might have gained.
"I can't help knowing that you care for him," she said, addressing
herself to Julia, "though I wouldn't have listened to that part if I
could have helped it. But how can you? How can you? I can't understand
how you can feel as you do about killing people, but at least if you did
such a thing you would imagine it was for the good of your country, while
this man thinks of nothing but his own selfish ends. Money, that is all
he wants! How can you condone such a crime as his? To kill Lord Ashiel,
that good, kind man who had treated him like a son all his life, who did
everything for him. And just for the sake of money! It's not even as if
he wanted it really. He's not starving. He had everything, in reason,
that he wanted. If he needed more, urgently, I believe he had only to
tell his uncle, and it would have been given to him. Oh, it is beyond all
words! He must be a fiend."
Indignation choked her. She spoke in bursts of trembling anger, her words
sounding tamely in her own ears. All she could say seemed commonplace and
inadequate beside the knowledge that this man was her father's murderer.
Even Julia, indifferent to every aspect of the case that did not touch
upon her relations with her lover, was shaken by the scornful disgust
with which the broken sentences were poured forth; and, if her
infatuation for Mark was too complete to allow her to consider any
action of his unjustifiable, still she realized, perhaps for the
first time, the feelings with which other people would view the thing
that he had done.
"You don't understand him," she faltered. "He didn't want money for
himself alone. It was for me he did it. He was too proud to ask me to
marry a poor man. You could never understand his love for me. How can I
blame him? How many men would run such risks for the girl they loved? I
am proud, yes proud, to be loved like that!"
"You believe his lies," Juliet cried contemptuously. "You believe he
loves you so much? Why it is not two days since he came to me and asked
me to marry him."
"What!" Julia spoke in a panting whisper. Her face had suddenly lost
every particle of colour. "Say it's not true," she begged, turning
miserably to the man.
He made an effort to deny the charge.
"Of course. Not a word of truth in it. Damned nonsense," he blustered.
But his eyes fell before Juliet's scornful gaze, and Julia was not
"It can't be true, oh, it can't," she moaned. "No man could be so vile."
"No other man could," Juliet amended. In spite of herself she was sorry
for the girl, whose stricken face showed plainly the anguish she was
undergoing. "Forget him, Julia; he is not worthy to tie your shoe-lace.
He came to me after they had taken David away, and asked me first if I
would take his inheritance even though I couldn't prove my birth, which
he must have known perfectly that I should never dream of doing, and then
proposed I should marry him, saying that he was very fond of me, and that
in that way justice would be done as regards Lord Ashiel's money,
however things turned out for me. I thought it honourable and generous at
the time, and so did Lady Ruth when I told her--oh yes, she knows about
it and can tell you it is true--but now I see that all he wanted was to
be on the safe side, and, if I had accepted him and had turned out to
have no claim upon his uncle's fortune, he would have broken the
engagement on some easy pretext. Can you deny it?" she demanded of Mark.
But he could not face her, though he made an effort again to
brazen it out.
Every word she had spoken seemed to strike Julia like a blow. She shrank
quivering away, and threw herself down on to a chair, her face hidden in
her hands. Juliet went to her and touched her gently on the shoulder.
"Don't think of him any more," she said. "Presently you will hate
yourself for having cared for a murderer. Just now, I know, your love for
him makes you gloss over his crimes, but when you are yourself you will
see how odious they are. Poor Julia, I hate to hurt you so, but it is
better, isn't it, that you should know? You will forget this madness. He
is not worth your wasting another thought on. Think how shamefully he has
deceived you. Think of all his lying words, of how he told you he had
never looked at another woman."
Julia raised her head and showed a face, white as chalk, in which the
great brown eyes seemed to burn like fires of hatred.
"Yes," she said in a hard, even voice. "I am thinking of it. I shall not
forget him. No. Instead, I shall think of him day and night, be sure of
that. I shall laugh as I think of him; laugh at the thought of him in
his place in the dock, or in his prison cell. I shall laugh when I give
my evidence against him, and most of all I shall laugh on the day when he
is hanged. If his grave is to be found, I shall dance upon it. Oh, it
will be a merry day for me, that day when the cord is tightened round his
She went near to Mark, and hissed the last words into his face, leaning
forward, with one hand on her own throat. But he seemed to shrink less
before her vindictive passion than he had under the colder scorn of
"Come, Juliet," said Julia, calming herself a little, although hate was
still blazing in her eyes, "let us leave this place. We must send for
"Julia," said Mark, stepping forward, and speaking with some of his
former assurance, "you condemn me unheard. Why should you believe this
girl before me? It is not like you, Julia. It is not like the girl I
love. For I do love you, darling, in spite of what you may think; and,
till a few moments ago, I thought you loved me too. But I see now what
your love is. One whiff of suspicion, one word of accusation, and without
proof or evidence you condemn me, and your so-called affection
disappears. Julia, I think you have broken my heart."
Juliet gave vent to a derisive sound which can only be called a snort;
but it was plain that his words, and more especially the manner of sad
yet tender reproach in which they were uttered, were not without their
effect on the other girl. Her eyes wavered uneasily; she twisted and tore
at her handkerchief.
"I have heard what you have to say," she murmured. "I saw that you could
not deny what Juliet told me."
"I did deny it. But what is the use of talking to you when you are in
such a state? You are determined beforehand to disbelieve me. And I have
no wish to justify myself to Miss Byrne, though I am willing to swallow
my pride and do so to you."
"Well," she said after a moment's hesitation, "justify yourself if you
can. No one shall say I would not listen. God knows I shall be glad
enough if you can clear yourself."
"To begin with," said Mark, "I admit that, superficially, there is truth
in what you have heard. But only superficially, for the person I deceived
was not yourself but this young lady. I certainly, as she suggests, never
had the slightest intention of marrying her. For one thing I was
absolutely certain she would refuse me, but it seemed a good
precautionary move to make what might appear a generous proposal, and at
the same time get a sort of mandate from the possible heiress herself to
stick to my uncle's fortune. You may be sure I should never have given it
up, in any case, but it is as well to keep up appearances. The business
was only a move in the game I am playing, and no more affects the
sincerity of my love for you than any of the social equivocations we all
find necessary from time to time. I love you, Julia, and you alone. How
can you doubt it? I love you so much that I am willing to overlook your
want of confidence in me, and to forgive the cruel things you said just
now. Darling, how can I tell you, before a third person, what I feel for
you? You are everything to me; and, if you no longer love me, I don't
care what happens. Give me up to the police if you like. The gallows is
as good a place as another, without your love."
Long before he had finished, all traces of resentment had vanished. When
he ceased speaking, she gave in completely, and threw herself upon his
breast, sobbing passionately, and begging his forgiveness for having
doubted him for an instant, while he soothed and comforted her in a low
tone. Juliet did not know what to do or which way to look. The two stood
between her and the door, and she felt an absurd awkwardness about trying
to pass them. Was it likely she would be allowed to go out free to
denounce them? She was afraid of trying.
At last Julia was calm again, and there came a silence, during which the
pair glanced at Juliet and then at each other.
"What's to be done?" Julia asked at length, and then suddenly, without
waiting for an answer, "I have an idea, Mark, that will save you. If her
mouth can be stopped for a time, will you be able to get clear away?"
"I shall have to try, I suppose," he replied, with a trace of his former
sulkiness. "To think that everything should miscarry because of a slip
of a girl!"
"You had better go to Glasgow and get on board some ship there which will
take you to a place of safety. I shall have to stay behind till the
matter of the list is settled one way or the other. But then, when I have
reported to my superiors, I can join you, and we can begin life together
in some far-off country. I shall be as happy in one place as in another
with you, Mark; are you sure you will be, too, with only me?"
Mark hastened to reassure her on that point, but his tone as he said it
did not carry conviction to Juliet. Julia, however, seemed satisfied.
"Miss Byrne can choose," she continued. "Either she swears not to say a
word till we are both safe away, or else we can shut her in the dungeon
of the castle. I know where it is, in the wall of this tower. She will
never be found there, and I can take her food from time to time till I am
ready to join you. Isn't that a good plan?"
"I don't think we will give her the option of swearing not to tell," he
"As if I would ever promise such a thing!" Juliet interrupted, indignant.
"But," he went on, ignoring this outburst, "otherwise I think your idea
is good. Where is this dungeon? We may be disturbed at any minute, and
enough time has been wasted already."
"I will go first and show the way," said Julia. "I have an electric
torch," and she stepped into the clock and lowered herself through the
Mark motioned to Juliet to follow.
"Ladies first," he said with a sneer.
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