E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 1 out of 6
Online Distributed Proofreading Team
BY E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
"The Master Mummer," "A Maker of History," "The Malefactor," "The Lost
Leader," "The Great Secret," Etc.
I. A MYSTERIOUS VISITOR
II. THE HORROR OF THE HANSOM
III. DISCUSSING THE CRIME
IV. UNDER A CLOUD
V. ON THE TELEPHONE
VI. ONE THOUSAND POUNDS' REWARD
VII. THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER
VIII. THE BARONESS INTERVENES
IX. A BOX AT THE ALHAMBRA
XI. FALSE SENTIMENT
XII. TIDINGS FROM THE CAPE
XIII. SEARCHING THE CHAMBERS
XIV. THE DEAD MAN'S BROTHER
XV. THE LAWYER'S SUGGESTION
XVI. A DINNER IN THE STRAND
XVII. A CONFESSION OF LOVE
XVIII. AN AMATEUR DETECTIVE
XIX. DESPERATE WOOING
XX. STABBED THROUGH THE HEART
XXI. THE FLIGHT OF LOUISE
XXII. THE CHÂTEAU OF ÉTARPE
XXIII. A PASSIONATE PILGRIM
XXIV. AN INVITATION TO DINNER
XXV. THE MAN IN THE YELLOW BOOTS
XXVI. MADAME DE MELBAIN
XXVII. THE SPY
XXVIII. THE SCENE IN THE AVENUE
XXIX. A SUBSTANTIAL GHOST
XXX. THE QUEEN OF MEXONIA
XXXI. RETURNED FROM THE TOMB
XXXII. AT THE HÔTEL SPLENDIDE
XXXIII. A HAND IN THE GAME
XXXIV. AN ILL-ASSORTED COUPLE
XXXV. HIS WIFE
XXXVI. THE MURDERED MAN'S EFFECTS
XXXVII. THE WIDOW'S ULTIMATUM
XXXVIII. INEFFECTUAL WOOING
XXXIX. THE COLONEL'S MISSION
XLI. THE COLONEL SPEAKS
XLII. LOVE REMAINS
"THERE PLASHED ACROSS HER FACE A QUIVER, AS THOUGH OF PAIN"
"AT THE SIGHT OF THE TWO MEN, THE BARONESS STOPPED SHORT"
"HE WAS THERE ON HIS KNEES, WITH HIS ARMS AROUND THE TERRIFIED WOMAN"
"'TO THE NEAREST POLICE STATION! THAT'S WHERE I'M OFF.'"
A MYSTERIOUS VISITOR
The man and the woman stood facing one another, although in the uncertain
firelight which alone illuminated the room neither could see much save
the outline of the other's form. The woman stood at the further end of
the apartment by the side of the desk--his desk. The slim trembling
fingers of one hand rested lightly upon it, the other was hanging by her
side, nervously crumpling up the glove which she had only taken off a few
minutes before. The man stood with his back to the door through which he
had just entered. He was in evening dress; he carried an overcoat over
his arm, and his hat was slightly on the back of his head. A cigarette
was still burning between his lips, the key by means of which he had
entered was swinging from his little finger. So far no words had passed
between them. Both were apparently stupefied for the moment by the
other's unexpected presence.
It was the man who recovered his self-possession first. He threw his
overcoat into a chair, and touched the brass knobs behind the door.
Instantly the room was flooded with the soft radiance of the electric
lights. They could see one another now distinctly. The woman leaned a
little forward, and there was amazement as well as fear flashing in her
soft, dark eyes. Her voice, when she spoke, sounded to herself unnatural.
To him it came as a surprise, for the world of men and women was his
study, and he recognized at once its quality.
"Who are you?" she exclaimed. "What do you want?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"It seems to me," he answered, "that I might more fittingly assume the
role of questioner. However, I have no objection to introduce myself. My
name is Herbert Wrayson. May I ask," he continued with quiet sarcasm, "to
what I am indebted for this unexpected visit?"
She was silent for a moment, and as he watched her his surprise grew.
Equivocal though her position was, he knew very well that this was no
ordinary thief whom he had surprised in his rooms, engaged to all
appearance in rifling his desk. The fact that she was a beautiful woman
was one which he scarcely took into account. There were other things more
surprising which he could not ignore. Her evening dress of black net was
faultlessly made, and he knew enough of such things to be well aware that
it came from the hands of no ordinary dressmaker. A string of pearls, her
only ornament, hung from her neck, and her black hat with its drooping
feathers was the fellow of one which he had admired a few evenings ago at
the Ritz in Paris. It flashed upon him that this was a woman of
distinction, one who belonged naturally, if not in effect, to the world
of which even he could not claim to be a habitant. What was she doing in
his rooms?--of what interest to her were he and his few possessions?
"Herbert Wrayson," she repeated, leaning a little towards him. "If your
name is Herbert Wrayson, what are you doing in these rooms?"
"They happen to be mine," he answered calmly.
She picked up a small latch-key from the desk.
"This is number 11, isn't it?" she asked quickly.
"No! Number 11 is the flat immediately overhead," he told her.
She appeared unconvinced.
"But I opened the door with this key," she declared.
"Mr. Barnes and I have similar locks," he said. "The fact remains that
this is number 9, and number 11 is one story overhead."
She drew a long breath, presumably of relief, and moved a step forward.
"I am very sorry!" she declared. "I have made a mistake. You must please
accept my apologies."
He stood motionless in front of the door. He was pale, clean-shaven, and
slim, and in his correct evening clothes he seemed a somewhat ordinary
type of the well-bred young Englishman. But his eyes were grey, and his
mouth straight and firm.
She came to a standstill. Her eyes seemed to be questioning him. She
scarcely understood his attitude.
"Kindly allow me to pass!" she said coldly.
"Presently!" he answered.
Her veil was still raised, and the flash of her eyes would surely have
made a weaker man quail. But Wrayson never flinched.
"What do you mean by that?" she demanded. "I have explained my presence
in your room. It was an accident which I regret. Let me pass at once."
"You have explained your presence here," he answered, "after a fashion!
But you have not explained what your object may be in making use of that
key to enter Mr. Barnes' flat. Are you proposing to subject his
belongings to the same inspection as mine?" he asked, pointing to his
"My business with Mr. Barnes is no concern of yours!" she exclaimed
"Under ordinary circumstances, no!" he admitted. "But these are not
ordinary circumstances. Forgive me if I speak plainly. I found you
engaged in searching my desk. The presumption is that you wish to do the
same thing to Mr. Barnes'."
"And if I do, sir!" she demanded, "what concern is it of yours? How do
you know that I have not permission to visit his rooms--that he did not
himself give me this key?"
She held it out before him. He glanced at it and back into her face.
"The supposition," he said, "does not commend itself to me."
He looked at the clock.
"You see," he declared, "that it is within a few minutes of midnight. To
be frank with you, you do not seem to me the sort of person likely to
visit a bachelor such as Mr. Barnes, in a bachelor flat, at this hour,
without some serious object."
She kept silence for several moments. Her bosom was rising and falling
quickly, and a brilliant spot of colour was burning in her cheeks. Her
head was thrown a little back, she was regarding him with an intentness
which he found almost disconcerting. He had an uncomfortable sense that
he was in the presence of a human being who, if it had lain in her
power, would have killed him where he stood. Further, he was realizing
that the woman whom at first glance he had pronounced beautiful, was
absolutely the first of her sex whom he had ever seen who satisfied
completely the demands of a somewhat critical and highly cultivated
taste. The silence between them seemed extended over a time crowded and
rich with sensations. He found time to marvel at the delicate whiteness
of her bosom, gleaming like polished ivory under the network of her black
gown, to appreciate with a quick throb of delight the slim roundness of
her perfect figure, the wonderful poise of her head, the soft richness of
her braided hair. Every detail of feature and of toilet seemed to satisfy
to the last degree each critical faculty of which he was possessed. He
felt a little shiver of apprehension when he recalled the cold brutality
of the words which had just left his lips! Yet how could he deal with her
"Is this man--Morris Barnes--your friend?" she asked, breaking a silence
which had done more than anything else to unnerve him.
"No!" he answered. "I scarcely know the man. I have never seen him except
in the lift, or on the stairs."
"Then you have no excuse for keeping me here," she declared. "I may be
his friend, or I may be his enemy. At least I possess the key of his
flat, presumably with his permission. My presence here I have explained.
I can assure you that it is entirely accidental! You have no right to
detain me for a moment."
The clock on the mantelpiece struck midnight. A sudden passion surged in
his veins, a passion which, although at the time he could not have
classified it, was assuredly a passion of jealousy! He remembered the man
Barnes, whom he hated.
"You shall not go to his rooms--at this hour!" he exclaimed. "You don't
know the man! If you were seen--"
She laughed mockingly.
"Let me pass!" she insisted.
He hesitated. She saw very clearly that she was conquering. A moment
before she had respected this man. After all, though, he was like
"I will go with you and wait outside," he said doggedly. "Barnes, at this
hour--is not always sober!"
Her lips curled.
"Be wise," she said, "and let me go. I do not need your protection or--"
She broke off suddenly. The interruption was certainly startling
enough. From a table only a few feet off came the shrill tinkle of a
telephone bell. Wrayson mechanically stepped backwards and took the
receiver into his hand.
"Who is it?" he asked.
The voice which answered him was faint but clear. It seemed to Wrayson to
come from a long way off.
"Is that Mr. Wrayson's flat in Cavendish Mansions?" it asked.
"Yes!" Wrayson answered. "Who are you?"
"I am a friend of Mr. Morris Barnes," the voice answered. "May I
apologize for calling you up, but the matter is urgent. Can you tell me
if Mr. Barnes is in?"
"I am not sure, but I believe he is never in before one or two o'clock,"
"Will you write down a message and leave it in his letter-box?" the
voice asked anxiously. "It is very important or I would not trouble you."
"Very well," Wrayson answered. "What is it?"
"Tell him instantly he returns to leave his flat and go to the Hotel
Francis. A friend is waiting there for him, the friend whom he has been
"A lady?" Wrayson remarked a little sarcastically.
"No!" the voice answered. "A friend. Will you do this? Will you promise
to do it?"
"Very well," Wrayson said. "Who are you, and where are you ringing up
"Remember you have promised!" was the only reply.
"All right! Tell me your name," Wrayson demanded.
No answer. Wrayson turned the handle of the instrument viciously.
"Exchange," he asked, "who was that talking to me just now?"
"Don't know," was the prompt answer. "We can't remember all the calls we
get. Ring off, please!"
Wrayson laid down the receiver and turned round with a sudden sense of
apprehension. There was a feeling of emptiness in the room. He had not
heard a sound, but he knew very well what had happened. The door was
slightly open and the room was empty. She had taken advantage of his
momentary absorption to slip away.
He stepped outside and stood by the lift, listening. The landing was
deserted, and there was no sound of any one moving anywhere. The lift
itself was on the ground floor. It had not ascended recently or he must
have heard it. He returned to his room and softly closed the door. Again
the sense of emptiness oppressed him. A faint perfume around the place
where she had stood came to him like a whiff of some delicious memory. He
set his teeth, lit a cigarette, and sitting down at his desk wrote a few
lines to his neighbour, embodying the message which had been given him.
With the note in his hand he ascended to the next floor.
There was apparently no light in flat number 11, but he rang the bell and
listened. There was no answer, no sound of any one moving within. For
nearly ten minutes he waited--listening. He was strongly tempted to open
the door with his own key and see for himself if she was there. Then he
remembered that Barnes was a man whom he barely knew, and cordially
disliked, and that if he should return unexpectedly, the situation would
be a little difficult to explain. Reluctantly he descended to his own
flat, and mixing himself a whisky and soda, lit a pipe and sat down,
determined to wait until he heard Barnes return. In less than a quarter
of an hour he was asleep!
THE HORROR OF THE HANSOM
Wrayson sat up with a sudden and violent start. His pipe had fallen on to
the floor, leaving a long trail of grey ash upon his waistcoat and
trousers. The electric lights were still burning, but of the fire nothing
remained but a pile of ashes. As soon as he could be said to be conscious
of anything, he was conscious of two things. One was that he was
shivering with cold, the other that he was afraid.
Wrayson was by no means a coward. He had come once or twice in his life
into close touch with dangerous happenings, and conducted himself with
average pluck. He never attempted to conceal from himself, however, that
these few minutes were minutes of breathless, unreasoning fear. His heart
was thumping against his side, and the muscles at the back of his neck
were almost numb as he slowly looked round the room. His eyes paused at
the door. It was slightly open, to his nervous fancy it seemed to be
shaking. His teeth chattered, he felt his forehead, and it was wet.
He rose to his feet and listened. There was no sound anywhere, from above
or below. He tried to remember what it was that had awakened him so
suddenly. He could remember nothing except that awful start. Something
must have disturbed him! He listened again. Still no sound. He drew a
little breath, and, with his eyes glued upon the half-closed door,
recollected that he himself had left it open that he might hear Barnes go
upstairs. With a little laugh, still not altogether natural, he moved to
the spirit decanter and drank off half a wineglassful of neat whisky!
"Nerves," he said softly to himself. "This won't do! What an idiot I was
to go to sleep there!"
He glanced at the clock. It was five minutes to three. Then he moved
towards the door, and stood for several moments with the handle in his
hand. Gradually his confidence was returning. He listened attentively.
There was not a sound to be heard in the entire building. He turned back
into the room with a little sigh of relief.
"Time I turned in," he muttered. "Wonder if that's rain."
He lifted the blind and looked out. A few stars were shining still in a
misty sky, but a bank of clouds was rolling up and rain was beginning to
fall. The pavements were already wet, and the lamp-posts obscured. He was
about to turn away when a familiar, but unexpected, sound from the street
immediately below attracted his notice. The window was open at the top,
and he had distinctly heard the jingling of a hansom bell.
He threw open the bottom sash and leaned out. A hansom cab was waiting at
the entrance to the flats. Wrayson glanced once more instinctively
towards the clock. Who on earth of his neighbours could be keeping a cab
waiting outside at that hour in the morning? With the exception of Barnes
and himself, they were most of them early people. Once more he looked out
of the window. The cabman was leaning forward in his seat with his head
resting upon his folded arms. He was either tired out or asleep. The
attitude of the horse was one of extreme and wearied dejection. Wrayson
was on the point of closing the window when he became aware for the first
time that the cab had an occupant. He could see the figure of a man
leaning back in one corner, he could even distinguish a white-gloved hand
resting upon the apron. The figure was not unlike the figure of Barnes,
and Barnes, as he happened to remember, always wore white gloves in the
evening. Barnes it probably was, waiting--for what? Wrayson closed the
window a little impatiently, and turned back into the room.
"Barnes and his friends can go to the devil," he muttered. "I am
off to bed."
He took a couple of steps across the room, and then stopped short. The
fear was upon him again. He felt his heart almost stop beating, a cold
shiver shook his whole frame. He was standing facing his half-open door,
and outside on the stone steps he heard the soft, even footfall of
slippered feet, and the gentle rustling of a woman's gown.
He was not conscious of any movement, but when she reached the landing he
was standing there on the threshold, with the soft halo of light from
behind shining on to his white, fiercely questioning face. She came
towards him without speech, and her veil was lowered so that he could
only imperfectly see her face, but she walked as one newly recovered from
illness, with trembling footsteps, and with one hand always upon the
banisters. When she reached the corner she stopped, and seemed about to
collapse. She spoke to him, and her voice had lost all its quality. It
sounded harsh and unreal.
"Why are you--spying on me?" she asked.
"I am not spying," he answered. "I have been asleep--and woke up
"Give me--some brandy!" she begged.
She stood upon the threshold and drank from the wineglass which he
had filled. When she gave it back to him, he noticed that her fingers
"Will you come downstairs and let me out?" she asked. "I have looked
down and it is all dark on the ground floor. I am not sure that I
know my way."
He hesitated, but only for a moment. Side by side they walked down four
flights of steps in unbroken silence. He asked no question, she attempted
no explanation. Only when he opened the door and she saw the waiting
hansom she very nearly collapsed. For a moment she clung to him.
"He is there--in the cab," she moaned. "Where can I hide?"
"Whoever it is," Wrayson answered, with his eyes fixed upon the hansom,
"he is either drunk or asleep."
"Or dead!" she whispered in his ear. "Go and see!"
Then, before Wrayson could recover from the shock of her words, she was
gone, flitting down the unlit side of the street with swift silent
footsteps. His eyes followed her mechanically. Then, when she had turned
the corner, he crossed the pavement towards the cab. Even now he could
see little of the figure in the corner, for his silk hat was drawn down
over his eyes.
"Is that you, Barnes?" he asked.
There came not the slightest response. Then for the first time the
hideous meaning of those farewell words of hers broke in upon his brain.
Had she meant it? Had she known or guessed? He leaned forward and
touched the white-gloved hand. He raised it and let go. It fell like a
dead, inert thing. He stepped back and confronted the cabman, who was
rubbing his eyes.
"There's something wrong with your fare, cabby," he said.
The cabby raised the trap door, looked down, and descended heavily on to
"Well, I'm blowed!" he said. "Here, wake up, guv'nor!"
There was no response. The cabby threw open the apron of the cab and
gently shook the recumbent figure.
"I can't wait 'ere all night for my fare!" he exclaimed. "Wake up, God
luv us!" he broke off.
He stepped hastily back on to the pavement, and began tugging at one of
"Push his hat back, sir," he said. "Let's 'ave a look at 'im."
Wrayson stood upon the step of the cab and lifted the silk hat from the
head of the recumbent figure. Then he sprang back quickly with a little
exclamation of horror. The lamp was shining full now upon the man's face,
livid and white, upon his staring but sightless eyes, upon something
around his neck, a fragment of silken cord, drawn so tightly that the
flesh seemed to hang over and almost conceal it.
"Throttled, by God!" the cabman exclaimed. "I'm off to the police
He clambered up to his seat, and without another word struck his horse
with the whip. The cab drove off and disappeared. Wrayson turned slowly
round, and, closing the door of the flats, mounted with leaden feet to
the fourth story.
He entered his own rooms, and walked without hesitation to the window,
which was still open. The fresh air was almost a necessity, for he felt
himself being slowly stifled. His knees were shaking, a cold icy horror
was numbing his heart and senses. A feeling of nightmare was upon him, as
though he had risen unexpectedly from a bed of delirium. There in front
of him, a little to the left, was the broad empty street amongst whose
shadows she had disappeared. On one side was the Park, and there was
obscurity indefinable, mysterious; on the other a long row of tall
mansions, a rain-soaked pavement, and a curving line of gas lamps.
Beyond, the river, marked with a glittering arc of yellow dots; further
away the glow of the sleeping city. Shelter enough there for any
one--even for her. A soft, damp breeze was blowing in his face; from
amongst the dripping trees of the Park the birds were beginning to make
their morning music. Already the blackness of night was passing away, the
clouds were lightening, the stars were growing fainter. Wrayson leaned a
little forward. His eyes were fixed upon the exact spot where she had
crossed the road and disappeared. All the horror of the coming day and
the days to come loomed out from the background of his thoughts.
DISCUSSING THE CRIME
The murder of Morris Barnes, considered merely as an event, came as a
Godsend to the halfpenny press, which has an unwritten but immutable
contract with the public to provide it with so much sensation during the
week, in season or out of season. Nothing else was talked about anywhere.
Under the influence of the general example, Wrayson found himself within
a few days discussing its details with perfect coolness, and with an
interest which never flagged. He seemed continually to forget his own
personal and actual connection with the affair.
It was discussed, amongst other places, at the Sheridan Club, of which
Wrayson was a member, and where he spent most of his spare time. At one
particular luncheon party the day after the inquest, nothing else was
spoken of. For the first time, in Wrayson's hearing, a new and somewhat
ominous light was thrown upon the affair.
There were four men at the luncheon party, which was really not a
luncheon party at all, but a promiscuous coming together of four of the
men who usually sat at what was called the Colonel's table. First of all
there was the Colonel himself,--Colonel Edgar Fitzmaurice, C.B.,
D.S.O.,--easily the most popular member of the club, a distinguished
retired officer, white-haired, kindly and genial, a man of whom no one
had ever heard another say an unkind word, whose hand was always in his
none too well-filled pockets, and whose sympathies were always ready to
be enlisted in any forlorn cause, deserving or otherwise. At his right
hand sat Wrayson; on his left Sydney Mason, a rising young sculptor, and
also a popular member of this somewhat Bohemian circle. Opposite was
Stephen Heneage, a man of a different and more secretive type. He called
himself a barrister, but he never practised; a journalist at times, but
he seldom put his name to anything he wrote. His interests, if he had
any, he kept to himself. In a club where a man's standing was reckoned by
what he was and what he produced, he owed such consideration as he
received to a certain air of reserved strength, the more noteworthy
amongst a little coterie of men, who amongst themselves were accustomed
to speak their minds freely, and at all times. If he was never brilliant,
he had never been heard to say a foolish thing or make a pointless
remark. He moved on his way through life, and held his place there more
by reason of certain negative qualities which, amongst a community of
optimists, were universally ascribed to him, than through any more
personal or likable gifts. He had a dark, strong face, but a slim, weakly
body. He was never unduly silent, but he was a better listener than
talker. If he had no close friends, he certainly had no enemies. Whether
he was rich or poor no man knew, but next to the Colonel himself, no one
was more ready to subscribe to any of those charities which the
Sheridanites were continually inaugurating on behalf of their less
fortunate members. The man who succeeds in keeping the "ego" out of sight
as a rule neither irritates nor greatly attracts. Stephen Heneage was
one of those who stood in this position.
They were talking about the murder, or rather the Colonel was talking and
they were listening.
"There is one point," he remarked, filling his glass and beaming
good-humouredly upon his companions, "which seems to have been entirely
overlooked. I am referring to the sex of the supposed assassin!"
Wrayson looked up inquiringly. It was a point which interested him.
"Nearly all of you have assumed," the Colonel continued, "that it must
have taken a strong man to draw the cord tight enough to have killed that
poor fellow without any noticeable struggle. As a matter of fact, a child
with that particular knot could have done it. It requires no strength,
only delicacy of touch, rapidity and nerve."
"A woman, then--" Wrayson began.
"Bless you, yes! a woman could have done it easily," the Colonel
declared, "only unfortunately there don't seem to have been any women
about. Why, I've seen it done in Korea with a turn of the wrist. It's
Wrayson shuddered slightly. The Colonel's words had troubled him more
than he would have cared to let any one know.
"Woman or man or child," Mason remarked, "the person who did it seems to
have vanished in some remarkable manner from the face of the earth."
"He certainly seems," the Colonel admitted, "to have covered up his
traces with admirable skill. I have read every word of the evidence at
the inquest, and I can understand that the police are completely
Heneage and Mason exchanged glances of quiet amusement whilst the
Colonel helped himself to cheese.
"Dear old boy," the latter murmured, "he's off on his hobby. Let him go
on! He enjoys it more than anything in the world."
Heneage nodded assent, and the Colonel returned to the subject with
avidity a few moments later.
"This man Morris Barnes," he affirmed, "seems to have been a somewhat
despicable, at any rate, a by no means desirable individual. He was of
Jewish origin, and he had not long returned from South Africa, where
Heaven knows what his occupation was. The money of which he was
undoubtedly possessed he seems to have spent, or at any rate some part
of it, in aping the life of a dissipated man about town. He was known
to the fair promenaders of the Empire and Alhambra, he was an _habitué_
of the places where these--er--ladies partake of supper after the
exertions of the evening. Of home life or respectable friends he seems
to have had none."
"This," Mason declared, leaning back and lighting a cigarette, "is better
than the newspapers. Go on, Colonel! Your biography may not be
sympathetic, but it is lifelike!"
The Colonel's eyes were full of a distinct and vivid light. He scarcely
heard the interruption. He was on fire with his subject.
"You see," he continued, "that the man's days were spent amongst a class
where the passions run loose, where restraint is an unknown virtue, where
self and sensuality are the upraised gods. One can easily imagine that
from amongst such a slough might spring at any time the weed of tragedy.
In other words, this man Morris Barnes moved amongst a class of people
to whom murder, if it could be safely accomplished, would be little more
than an incident."
The Colonel lit a cigar and leaned back in his chair. He was enjoying
"The curious part of the affair is, though," he continued deliberately,
"that this murder, as I suppose we must call it, bears none of the
hall-marks of rude passion. On the contrary, it suggests in more ways
than one the touch of the finished artist. The man's whole evening has
been traced without the slightest difficulty. He dined at the Café Royal
alone, promenaded afterwards at the Alhambra, and drove on about
supper-time to the Continental. He left there at 12.30 with a couple of
ladies whom he appeared to know fairly well, called at their flat for a
drink, and sent one out to his cabby--rather unusual forethought for such
a bounder. When he reappeared and directed the man to drive him to
Cavendish Mansions, Battersea, the driver tried to excuse himself. Both
he and his horse were dead tired, he said. Barnes, however, insisted upon
keeping him, and off they went. At Cavendish Mansions, Barnes alighted
and offered the man a sovereign. Naturally enough the fellow could not
change it, and Barnes went in to get some silver from his rooms,
promising to return in a minute or two. The cabby descended and walked to
the corner of the street to see if he could beg a match for his pipe from
any passer-by. He may have been away for perhaps five minutes, certainly
no more, during which time he stood with his back to the Mansions. Seeing
no one about, he returned to his cab, ascended to his seat, naturally
without looking inside, and fell fast asleep. The next thing he remembers
is being awakened by Wrayson here! So much for the cabby."
"What a fine criminal judge was lost to the country, Colonel, when you
chose the army for a career," Mason remarked, turning round to order some
coffee. "Such coherence--such an eye for detail. Pass the matches,
Wrayson. Thanks, old chap!"
The Colonel smiled placidly.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I should never have had the heart to
sentence anybody to anything, but I must admit that things of this sort
do interest me. I love to weigh them up and theorize. The more
melodramatic they are the better."
Heneage helped himself to a cigarette from Mason's case, and leaned back
in his chair.
"I never have the patience," he remarked, "to read about these things in
the newspapers, but the Colonel's _résumé_ is always thrilling. Do go on.
There won't be any pool till four o'clock."
The Colonel smiled good-naturedly.
"It's good of you fellows to listen to my prosing," he remarked. "No use
denying that it is a sort of hobby of mine. You all know it. Well, we'll
say we've finished with the cabby, then. Enter upon the scene, of all
people in the world, our friend Wrayson!"
"Hear, hear!" murmured Mason.
Wrayson changed his position slightly. With his head resting upon his
hand, he seemed to be engaged in tracing patterns upon the tablecloth.
"Wrayson knows nothing of Barnes beyond the fact that they are neighbours
in the same flats. Being the assistant editor of a journal of world-wide
fame, however, he has naturally a telephone in his flat. By means of that
instrument he receives a message in the middle of the night from an
unknown person in an unknown place, which he is begged to convey to
Barnes. The message is in itself mysterious. Taken in conjunction with
what happened to Barnes, it is deeply interesting. Barnes, it seems, is
to go immediately on his arrival, at whatever hour, to the Hotel Francis.
Presumably he would know from whom the message came, and the sender does
not seem to have doubted that if it was conveyed to Barnes he would obey
the summons. Wrayson agrees to and does deliver it. That is to say, he
writes it down and leaves it in the letter-box of Barnes door, Barnes not
having yet returned. Now we begin to get mysterious. That communication
from our friend here has not been discovered. It was not in the
letter-box; it was not upon the person of the dead man. We cannot tell
whether or not he ever received it. I believe that I am right so far?"
"Absolutely," Wrayson admitted.
"Our friend Wrayson, then," the Colonel continued, beaming upon his
neighbour, "instead of going to bed like a sensible man, takes up a book
and falls asleep in his easy-chair. He wakes up about three or four
o'clock, and his attention is then attracted by the jingling of a hansom
bell below. He looks out of window and sees a cab, both the driver and
the occupant of which appear to be asleep. The circumstance striking him
as somewhat unusual, he descends to the street and finds--well, rather
more than he expected. He finds the cabman asleep, and his fare
scientifically and effectually throttled by a piece of silken cord."
Wrayson turned to the waiter and ordered a liqueur brandy.
"Have one, you fellows?" he asked. "Good! Four, waiter."
He tossed his own off directly it arrived. His lips were pale, and the
hand which raised the glass to his lips shook. Heneage alone, who was
watching him through a little cloud of tobacco smoke, noticed this.
"Have you finished with me, Colonel?" Wrayson asked.
"Practically," the Colonel answered, smiling, "unless you can answer one
of the three queries suggested by my _résumé_. First, who killed Morris
Barnes? Secondly, when was it done? Thirdly, where was it done? I have
left out a possible fourth, why was it done? because, in this case, I
think that the motive and the man are practically identical. I mean that
if you discover one, you discover the other."
Heneage leaned across the table towards the Colonel.
"You are a magician, Colonel," he declared quietly. "I glanced through
this case in the paper, and it did not even interest me. Since I have
listened to you I have fallen under the spell of the mysterious. Have you
The Colonel's face fell a little.
"Well, I am afraid not," he admitted regretfully. "To be perfectly
interesting the affair certainly ought to present something more definite
in the shape of a clue. You see, providing we accept the evidence of
Wrayson and the cabman, and I suppose," he added, laying his hand
affectionately upon Wrayson's shoulder, "we must, the actual murderer is
a person absolutely unseen or unheard of by any one. If you are all
really interested we will discuss it again in a week's time after the
"I, for one, shall look forward to it," Heneage remarked, glancing across
towards Wrayson. "What about a pool?"
"I'm on," Wrayson declared, rising a little abruptly.
"And I," Mason assented.
"And I can't," the Colonel said regretfully. "I must go down to Balham
and see poor Carlo Mallini I hear he's very queer."
The Colonel loved pool, and he hated a sick-room. The click of the
billiard balls reached him as he descended the stairs, but he only sighed
and set out manfully for Charing Cross. On the way he entered a
fruiterer's shop and inquired the price of grapes. They were more than he
expected, and he counted out the contents of his trousers pockets before
"A little short of change," he remarked cheerfully. "Yes! all right, I'll
He marched out, swinging a paper bag between his fingers, travelled third
class to Balham, and sat for a couple of hours with the invalid whom he
had come to see, a lonely Italian musician, to whom his coming meant more
than all the medicine his doctor could prescribe. He talked to him
glowingly of the success of his recent concert (more than a score of the
tickets sold had been paid for secretly by the Colonel himself and his
friends), prophesied great things for the future, and laughed away all
the poor fellow's fears as to his condition. There were tears in his eyes
as he walked to the station, for he had visited too many sick-beds to
have much faith in his own cheerful words, and all the way back to London
he was engaged in thinking out the best means of getting the musician
sent back to his own country, Arrived at Charing Cross, he looked
longingly towards the club, and ruefully at the contents of his pocket.
Then with a sigh he turned into a little restaurant and dined for
UNDER A CLOUD
Exactly one week later, six men were smoking their after-dinner cigars at
the same round table in the dining-room at the Sheridan Club. As a rule,
it was the hour when, with all the reserve of the day thrown aside,
badinage and jest reigned supreme, and the humourist came to his own.
To-night chairs were drawn a little closer together, voices were subdued,
and the conversation was of a more serious order. Not even the pleasant
warmth of the room, the fragrance of tobacco, and the comfortable sense
of having dined, could altogether dispel a feeling of uneasiness which
all more or less shared. It chanced that all six were friends of Herbert
The Colonel, as usual, was in the chair, but even on his kindly features
the cloud hovered.
"Of course," he said, "none of us who know Wrayson well would believe for
a moment that he could be connected in any way with this beastly affair.
The unfortunate part of it is, that others, who do not know him, might
easily be led to think otherwise!"
"It is altogether his own fault, too," Mason remarked. "He gave his
"And his movements that night, or rather that morning, were certainly a
little peculiar," another man remarked. "His connection with the affair
seemed to consist of a series of coincidences. The law does not look
favourably upon coincidences!"
"But, after all," the Colonel remarked, "he scarcely knew the fellow!
Just nodded to him on the stairs, and that sort of thing. Why, there
isn't a shadow of a motive!"
"We can't be sure of that, Colonel," Heneage remarked quietly. "I wonder
how much we really know of the inner lives of even our closest friends? I
fancy that we should be surprised if we realized our ignorance!"
The Colonel stroked his grey moustache thoughtfully.
"That may be true," he said, "of a good many of us. Wrayson, however,
never struck me as being a particularly secretive sort of chap."
"Unfortunately, that counts for very little," Heneage declared. "The
things which surprise us most in life come often from the most unlikely
people. We none of us mean to be deceitful, but a perfectly honest life
is a luxury which few of us dare indulge in."
The Colonel regarded him gravely.
"I hope," he said, "that you don't mean that you consider Wrayson
"I wasn't thinking of Wrayson at all," Heneage interrupted. "I was
generalizing. But I must say this. I think that, given sufficient
provocation or motive, there isn't one of us who wouldn't be capable of
committing murder. A man's outer life is lived according to the laws of
circumstances and society: his inner one no one knows anything about,
except himself--and God!"
"Heneage," Mason sighed, "is always cynical after 'kümmel.'"
Heneage shrugged his shoulders and lit a cigarette.
"No!" he said, "I am not cynical. I simply have a weakness for the truth.
You will find it rather a hard material to collect if you set out in
earnest. But to return to Wrayson. Let me ask you a question. We are all
friends of his, more or less intimate friends. You would all of you scout
the idea of his having any share in the murder of Morris Barnes. What did
you make of his evidence at the inquest this afternoon? What do you think
of his whole deportment and condition?"
"I can answer that in one word," the Colonel declared. "I think that it
is unfortunate. The poor fellow has been terribly upset, and his nerves
have not been able to stand the strain. That is all there is about it!"
"Wrayson has been working up to the limit for years," Mason remarked,
"and he's not a particularly strong chap. I should say that he was about
due for a nervous breakdown."
A waiter approached the table and addressed the Colonel--he was wanted on
the telephone. During his absence, Heneage leaned back in his chair and
relapsed into his usual imperturbability. He was known amongst his
friends generally as the silent man. It was very seldom that he
contributed so much to their discussions as upon this occasion. Perhaps
for that reason his words, when he spoke, always carried weight. Mason
changed his place and sat beside him. The others had wandered off into a
discussion upon a new magazine.
"Between ourselves, Heneage," Mason said quietly, "have you anything at
the back of your head about Wrayson?"
Heneage did not immediately reply. He was gazing at the little cloud of
blue tobacco smoke which he had just expelled from his lips.
"There is no reason," he declared, "why my opinion should be worth any
more than any one else's. I think as highly of Wrayson as any of you."
"Granted," Mason answered. "But you have a theory or an idea of some
sort concerning him. What is it?"
"If you really want to know," Heneage said, "I believe that Wrayson has
kept something back. It is a very dangerous thing to do, and I believe
that he realizes it. I believe that he has some secret knowledge of the
affair which he has not disclosed--knowledge which he has kept out of his
"A--guilty--knowledge?" Mason whispered.
"Not necessarily!" Heneage answered. "He may be shielding some one."
"If you are right," Mason said anxiously, "it is a serious affair."
"Very serious indeed," Heneage assented. "I believe that he is
The Colonel came back looking a little disturbed.
"Sorry, boys, but I must be off," he announced. "Wrayson has just
telephoned to ask me to go down and see him. I'm afraid he's queer! I've
sent for a hansom."
"Poor chap!" Mason murmured. "Let us know if any of us can do anything."
The Colonel nodded and took his departure. The others drifted up into the
billiard-room. Heneage alone remained seated at the end of the table. He
was playing idly with his wineglass, but his eyes were fixed steadfastly,
if a little absently, upon the Colonel's empty place.
ON THE TELEPHONE
It was a little hard even for the Colonel to keep up his affectation of
cheerfulness when he found himself alone with the man whom he had come to
visit. His experience of life had been large and varied, but he had never
yet seen so remarkable a change in any human being in twenty-four hours.
There were deep black lines under his eyes, his cheeks were colourless,
every now and then his features twitched nervously, as though he were
suffering from an attack of St. Vitus' dance. His hand, which had lain
weakly in the Colonel's, was as cold as ice, although there was a roaring
fire in the room. He had admitted the Colonel himself, and almost dragged
him inside the door.
"Did you meet any one outside--upon the stairs?" he asked feverishly.
"No one upon the stairs," the Colonel answered. "There was a man lighting
his pipe in the doorway."
Wrayson shivered as he turned away.
"Watching me!" he declared. "There are two of them! They are watching me
all the time."
The Colonel took off his coat. The room seemed to him like a furnace.
Then he stretched out his hands and laid them upon Wrayson's shoulders.
"What if they are?" he declared cheerfully. "They won't eat you. Besides,
it is very likely the dead man's rooms they are watching."
"They followed me home from the inquest," Wrayson muttered.
The Colonel laughed.
"And if I'd been living here," he remarked, "they'd have followed me
home just the same. Now, Herbert, my young friend," he continued,
"sit down and tell me all about it like a man. You're in a bit of
trouble, of course, underneath all this. Let's hear it, and we'll
find the best way out."
The Colonel's figure was dominant; his presence alone seemed to dispel
that unreal army of ghosts and fancies which a few moments before had
seemed to Wrayson to be making his room like the padded cell of a lunatic
asylum. His tone, too, had just enough sympathy to make its cheerfulness
reassuring. Wrayson began to feel glimmerings of common sense.
"Yes!" he said, "I've something to tell you. That's why I telephoned."
The Colonel rose again to his feet, and began fumbling in the pocket of
"God bless my soul, I almost forgot!" he exclaimed, "and the fellows
would make me bring it. We guessed how you were feeling--much better to
have come up and dined with us. Here we are! Get some glasses, there's a
A gold-foiled bottle appeared, and a packet of hastily cut sandwiches.
Wrayson found himself mechanically eating and drinking before he knew
where he was. Then in an instant the sandwiches had become delicious, and
the wine was rushing through his veins like a new elixir of life. He was
himself again, the banging of anvils in his head had ceased; he was
shaken perhaps, but a sane man. His eyes filled with tears, and he
gripped the Colonel by the hand.
"Colonel, you're--you're--God knows what you are," he murmured. "All the
ordinary things sound commonplace. I believe I was going mad."
The Colonel leaned back and laughed as though the idea tickled him.
"Not you!" he declared. "Bless you, I know what nerves are! Out in India,
thirty-five years ago, I've had to relieve men on frontier posts who
hadn't seen a soul to speak to for six months! Weird places some of them,
too--gives me the creeps to think of them sometimes! Now light up that
cigar," he added, throwing one across, "and let's hear the trouble."
Wrayson lit his cigar with fingers which scarcely shook. He threw the
match away and smoked for a moment in silence.
"It's about this Morris Barnes affair," he said abruptly. "I've kept
something back, and I'm a clumsy hand at telling a story that doesn't
contain all the truth. The consequence is, of course, that I'm suspected
of having had a hand in it myself."
The Colonel's manner had for a moment imperceptibly changed. Lines had
come out in his face which were not usually visible, his upper lip had
stiffened. One could fancy that he might have led his men into battle
looking something like this.
"What is it that you know?" he asked.
"There was another person in the flats that night, who was interested in
Morris Barnes, who visited his rooms, who was with me when I first saw
The Colonel shaded his face with his hand. The heat from the fire
"Why have you kept back this knowledge?" he asked.
"Because--it was a woman, and I am a fool!" Wrayson answered.
There was a silence. Then the Colonel pushed back his chair and dabbed
his forehead with his handkerchief. The room was certainly hot, and the
handkerchief was wet.
"Tell me about it," he said quietly. "I expected something of the sort!"
"On that morning," Wrayson began, "I returned home about twelve o'clock,
let myself in with my own latch-key, and found a woman standing before my
open desk going through my papers."
"A friend?" the Colonel asked.
"A complete stranger!" Wrayson answered. "Her surprise at seeing me was
at least equal to my own. I gathered that she had believed herself to be
in the flat of Morris Barnes, which is the corresponding one above."
"What did you do?" the Colonel asked.
"What I should have done I am not sure," Wrayson answered, "but while I
was talking to her the telephone bell rang, and I received that message
which I spoke about at the inquest. It was a mysterious sort of
business--I can hear that voice now. I was interested, and while I stood
there she slipped away."
"Is that all?" the Colonel asked.
"No!" Wrayson answered with a groan. "I wish to God it was!"
The Colonel moved his position a little. The cigar had burnt out between
his fingers, but he made no effort to light it.
"Go on," he said. "Tell me the rest. Tell me what happened afterwards."
"I wrote down the message for Barnes and left it in his letter-box.
There seemed then to be no light in his flat. Afterwards I lit a pipe,
left my door open, and sat down, with the intention of waiting till
Barnes came home and explaining what had happened. I fell asleep in my
chair and woke with a start. It was nearly three o'clock. I was going to
turn in when I heard the jingling of a hansom bell down below. I looked
out of the window and saw the cab standing in the street. Almost at the
same time I heard footsteps outside. I went to the door of my flat and
came face to face with the girl descending from the floor above."
"At three o'clock in the morning?" the Colonel interrupted.
"She was white and shaking all over," he continued rapidly. "She asked
me for brandy and I gave it to her; she asked me to see her out of the
place, and I did so. When I opened the door to let her out and we saw
the man leaning back in the cab, she moaned softly to herself. I said
something about his being asleep or drunk--'or dead!' she whispered in
my ear, and then she rushed away from me. She turned into the Albert
Road and disappeared almost at once. I could not have followed her if I
would. I had just begun to realize that something was wrong with the man
in the cab!"
"This is all?" the Colonel asked.
"It is all!" Wrayson answered.
"You do not know her name, or why she was here? You have not seen
Wrayson shook his head.
"I know absolutely nothing," he said, "beyond what I have told you."
The Colonel struck a match and relit his cigar.
"I should like to understand," he said quietly, "why you avoided all
mention of her in your evidence."
Wrayson laughed oddly.
"I should like to understand that myself," he declared. "I can only
repeat what I said before. She was a woman, and I was a fool."
"In plain English," the Colonel said, "you did it to shield her?"
"Yes!" Wrayson answered.
The Colonel nodded thoughtfully.
"Well," he said, "you were in a difficult position, and you made a
deliberate choice. I tell you frankly that I expected to hear worse
things. Do you believe that she committed the murder?"
"No!" Wrayson answered. "I do not!"
"You believe that she may be associated with--the person who did?"
"I cannot tell," Wrayson declared.
"In any case," the Colonel continued, "you seem to have been the only
person who saw her. Whether you were wise or not to omit all mention of
her in your evidence--well, we won't discuss that. The best of us have
gone on the wrong side of the hedge for a woman before now--and damned
glad to do it. What I can't quite understand, old chap, is why you have
worked yourself up into such a shocking state. You don't stand any chance
of being hanged, that I can see!"
Wrayson laughed a little shamefacedly.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I am beginning to feel ashamed of
myself. I think it was the sense of being spied upon, and being
alone--in this room--which got a bit on my nerves. I feel a different man
since you came down."
The Colonel nodded cheerfully.
"That's all right," he declared. "The next thing to--"
The Colonel broke off in the midst of his sentence. A few feet away from
him the telephone bell was ringing. Wrayson rose to his feet and took the
receiver into his hand.
"Hullo!" he said.
The voice which answered him was faint but clear. Wrayson almost dropped
the instrument. He recognized it at once.
"Is that Mr. Herbert Wrayson?" it asked.
"Yes!" Wrayson answered. "Who are you?"
"I am the person who spoke to you a few nights ago," was the answer.
"Never mind my name for the present. I wish to arrange a meeting--for
some time to-morrow. I have a matter--of business--to discuss with you."
"Anywhere--at any time," Wrayson answered, almost fiercely. "You cannot
be as anxious to see me as I am to know who you are."
The voice changed a little in its intonation. A note of mockery had
stolen into it.
"You flatter me," it said. "I trust that our meeting will be mutually
agreeable. You must excuse my coming to Battersea, as I understand that
your flat is subjected to a most inconvenient surveillance. May I call at
the office of your paper, at say eleven o'clock tomorrow?"
"Yes!" Wrayson answered. "You know where it is?"
"Certainly! I shall be there. A Mr. Bentham will ask for you.
Wrayson's unknown friend had rung off. He replaced the receiver and
turned to the Colonel.
"Do you know who that was?" he asked eagerly.
"I can guess," the Colonel answered.
"To-morrow, at eleven o'clock," Wrayson declared, "I shall know who
killed Morris Barnes."
ONE THOUSAND POUNDS' REWARD
But when the morrow came, and his visitor was shown into Wrayson's
private office, he was not quite so sure about it. Mr. Bentham had not in
the least the appearance of a murderer. Clean-shaven, a little slow in
speech, quietly dressed, he resembled more than anything a country
solicitor in moderate practice.
He bowed in correct professional manner, and laid a brown paper parcel
upon the table.
"I believe," he said, "that I have the honour of addressing Mr. Wrayson?"
Wrayson nodded a little curtly.
"And you, I suppose," he remarked, "are the owner of the mysterious
voice which summoned Morris Barnes to the Francis Hotel on the night of
"It was I who spoke to you," Mr. Bentham admitted.
"Very well," Wrayson said, "I am glad to see you. It was obvious, from
your message, that you knew of some danger which was threatening Morris
Barnes that night. It is therefore only fair to presume that you are also
aware of its source."
"You go a little fast, sir," Mr. Bentham objected.
"My presumption is a fair one," Wrayson declared. "You are perhaps aware
of my unfortunate connection with this affair. If so, you will understand
that I am particularly anxious to have it cleared up."
"It is not at all certain that I can help you," his visitor said
precisely. "It depends entirely upon yourself. Will you permit me to put
my case before you?"
"By all means," Wrayson answered. "Go ahead."
Mr. Bentham took the chair towards which Wrayson had somewhat impatiently
pointed, and unbuttoned his coat. It was obvious that he was not a person
to be hurried.
"In the first place, Mr. Wrayson," he said, "I must ask you distinctly to
understand that I am not addressing you on my own account. I am a lawyer,
and I am acting on behalf of a client."
"Who is he?" Wrayson asked. "What is his name?"
The ghost of a smile flickered across the lawyer's thin lips.
"I am not at liberty to divulge his identity," he answered. "I am,
however, fully empowered to act for him."
Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.
"He may find it necessary to disclose it, and before very long," he
remarked. "Well, go on."
Mr. Bentham discreetly ignored the covert threat in Wrayson's words.
"My mission to you, Mr. Wrayson" he declared, "is a somewhat delicate
one. It is not, in fact, connected with the actual--tragedy to which you
have alluded. My commission is to regain possession of a paper which was
stolen either from the person of Morris Barnes or from amongst his
effects, on that night."
Wrayson looked up eagerly.
"The motive at last!" he exclaimed. "What was the nature of this
Mr. Bentham's eyebrows were slowly raised.
"That," he said, "we need not enter into for the moment. The matter of
business between you and myself, or rather my client, is this. I am
authorized to offer a thousand pounds reward for its recovery."
Wrayson was impressed, although the other's manner left him a
"Why not offer the reward for the discovery of the murderer?" he asked.
"It would come, I presume, to the same thing."
"By no means," the lawyer answered dryly. "I am afraid that I have not
expressed myself well. My client cares nothing for Morris Barnes, dead or
alive. His interest begins and ends with the recovery of that paper."
"But isn't it almost certain," Wrayson persisted, "that the thief and the
murderer are the same person? Your client ought to have come forward at
the inquest. The thing which has chiefly troubled the police in dealing
with this matter is the apparent lack of motive."
"My client is not actuated in any way by philanthropic motives," Mr.
Bentham said coldly. "To tell you the truth, he does not care whether the
murderer of Morris Barnes is brought to justice or not. He is only
anxious to recover possession of the document of which I have spoken."
"If he has a legal claim to it," Wrayson said, "he had better offer his
reward openly. He would probably help himself then, and also those who
are anxious to have this mystery solved."
"Are you amongst those, Mr. Wrayson?" his visitor asked quietly.
Wrayson started slightly, but he retained his self-composure.
"I am very much amongst them," he answered. "My connection with the
affair was an extremely unpleasant one, and it will remain so until the
murderer of Morris Barnes is brought to book."
"Or murderess," Mr. Bentham murmured softly.
Wrayson reeled in his chair as though he had been struck a violent
and unexpected blow. He understood now the guarded menace of his
visitor's manner. He felt the man's eyes taking merciless note of his
"My client," the lawyer continued, "desires to ask no questions. All that
he wants is the document to which he is entitled, and which was stolen on
the night when Mr. Morris Barnes met with his unfortunate accident."
Wrayson had pulled himself together with an effort.
"I presume," he said, "from your frequent reiteration, that I may take
this as being to some extent a personal offer. If so, let me assure you,
sir, that so far as I am concerned I know nothing whatever of any papers
or other belongings which were in the possession of my late neighbour. I
have never seen or heard of any. I do not even know why you should have
come to me at all."
"I came to you," Mr. Bentham said, "because I was very well aware that,
for some reason or other, your evidence at the inquest was not quite as
comprehensive as it might have been."
"Then, for Heaven's sake, tell me all that you know!" Wrayson exclaimed.
"Take my word for it, I know nothing of this document or paper. I have
neither seen it nor heard of it. I know nothing whatever of the man or
his affairs. I can't help you. I would if I could. On the other hand, you
can throw some light upon the motive for the crime. Who is your client?
Let me go and see him for myself."
Mr. Bentham rose to his feet, and began slowly to draw on his gloves.
"Mr. Wrayson," he said quietly, "I am disappointed with the result of my
visit to you. I admit it frankly. You are either an extremely ingenuous
person, or a good deal too clever for me. In either case, if you will not
treat with me, I need not waste your time."
Wrayson moved to the door and stood with his back to it.
"I am not at all sure," he said, "that I am justified in letting you go
like this. You are in possession of information which would be invaluable
to the police in their search for the murderer of Morris Barnes."
Mr. Bentham smiled coldly.
"And are not you," he remarked, "in the same fortunate position--with the
unfortunate exception, perhaps, of having already given your testimony?
Of the two, if disclosures had to be made, I think that I should prefer
my own position."
Wrayson remained where he was.
"I am inclined," he said, "to risk it. At least you would be compelled to
disclose your client's name."
Mr. Bentham visibly flinched. He recovered himself almost immediately,
but the shadow of fear had rested for a moment, at any rate, upon his
"I am entirely at your service," he said coldly. "My client has at least
not broken the laws of his country."
Wrayson stood away from the door.
"You can go," he said shortly, "if you will leave me your address."
Mr. Bentham bowed.
"I regret that I have no card with me," he said, "but I have an office,
a single room only, in number 8, Paper Buildings, Adelphi. If you should
happen to come across--that document--"
Wrayson held open the door.
"If I should come to see you," he said, "it will be on other business."
* * * * *
Wrayson lunched at the club that morning, and received a warm greeting
from his friends. The subject of the murder was, as though by common
consent, avoided. Towards the end of the meal the Colonel received a
telegram, which he read and laid down upon the table in front of him.
"By Jove!" he said softly, "I'd forgotten all about it. Boys, you've got
to help me out."
"We're on," Mason declared. "What is it? a fight?"
"It's a garden party my girls are giving to-morrow afternoon," the
Colonel answered. "I promised to take some of you down. Come, who's going
to help me out? Wrayson? Good! Heneage? Excellent! Mason? Good fellows,
all of you! Two-twenty from Waterloo, flannels and straw hats."
The little group broke up, and the Colonel was hurried off into the
Committee Room. Wrayson and Heneage exchanged dubious glances.
"A garden party in May!" the latter remarked.
"Taking time by the forelock a little, isn't it?"
Wrayson sighed resignedly.
"It's the Colonel!" he declared. "We should have to go if it were
THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER
After all, the garden party was not so bad. The weather was perfect, and
the grounds of Shirley House were large enough to find amusement for all
the guests. Wrayson, who had made great friends with the Colonel's
younger daughter, enjoyed himself immensely. After a particularly
strenuous set of tennis, she led him through the wide-open French windows
into a small morning-room.
"We can rest for a few minutes in here," she remarked. "You can consider
it a special mark of favour, for this is my own den."
"You are spoiling me," Wrayson declared, laughing. "May I see those
"If you like," she answered, "only you mustn't be too critical, for I'm
only a beginner, you know. Here's a bookful of them you can look through,
while I go and start the next set."
She placed a volume in his hand and swung out of the room, tall, fresh,
and graceful. Wrayson watched her admiringly. In her perfect naturalness
and unaffected good-humour, she reminded him a good deal of her father,
but curiously enough there was some other likeness which appealed to him
even more powerfully, and yet which he was unable to identify. It puzzled
him so that for a moment or two after her departure he sat watching the
door through which she had disappeared, with a slight frown upon his
forehead. She was undoubtedly charming, and yet something in connection
with her seemed to impress him with an impending sense of trouble.
Everything about her person and manners was frank and girlish, and yet
she was certainly recalling to his mind things that he had been
struggling all the afternoon to forget. Already he began to feel the
clouds of nervousness and depression stealing down upon him. He struck
the table with his clenched fist. He would have none of it. Outside was
the delicious sunshine, through the open window stole in the perfume of
the roses which covered the wall, and mignonette from the trim borders,
and stocks from the bed fringing the lawn. The murmur of pleasant
conversation was incessant and musical. For a time Wrayson had escaped.
He swore to himself that he would go back no more into bondage; that he
would dwell no more upon the horrors through which he had lived. He would
take hold of the pleasant things of life with both hands, and grip them
tightly. A man should be master of his thoughts, not the slave of
unwilling memories. He would choose for himself whither they should lead
him; he would fight with all his nerve and will against the unholy
fascination of those few thrilling hours. He looked impatiently towards
the door, and longed for the return of his late companion that he might
continue his half-laughing flirtation. Then he remembered the album still
upon his knee, and opened it quickly. He had dabbled a little in
photography; he would find something here to keep his thoughts from the
forbidden place. And he did indeed find something--something which set
his heart thumping, and drew all the colour, which the sun and vigorous
exercise had brought, from his cheeks; something at which he stared with
wide-open eyes, which he held before him with trembling, nerveless
fingers. The picture of a woman! The picture of her!
It had lain loose in the book, with its back towards him. Only chance
made him turn it over. As he looked he understood. There was the
likeness, such likeness as there may be between a beautiful woman, a
little sad, a little scornful, with the faint lines of mockery about her
curving lips, the world-weary light in her distant eyes, and the fresh,
ingenuous girl with whom he had been bandying pleasantries during the
last few hours. He had felt it unknowingly. He realized it now, and the
thought of what it might mean made him catch at his breath like a
drowning man. Then she came in.
He heard her gay laughter outside, a backward word flung to one of the
tennis players, as she stepped in through the window, her cheeks still
flushed, and her eyes aglow.
"We really ought to watch this set," she declared. "That is, if you are
not too much absorbed in my handiwork. What have you got there?"
He held it out to her with a valiant attempt at unconcern.
"Do you mind telling me who this is?" he asked.
She glanced at it carelessly enough, but at once her whole expression
changed. The smile left her lips, her eyes filled with trouble.
"Where did you find it?" she asked, in a low tone.
"In the album," he answered. "It was loose between the pages."
She took it gently from his fingers, and crossing the room locked it
in her desk.
"I had no idea that it was here," she said. "It is a picture of my
eldest sister, or rather my step-sister."
The change in her manner was so apparent that, under ordinary
circumstances, Wrayson would not have dreamed of pursuing the subject.
But the conventions of life seemed to him small things just then.
"Your step-sister!" he exclaimed. "I had no idea--shall I meet her this
"No!" she answered, gravely. "What do you say--shall we go out now?"
She took up her racket, but he lingered.
"Please don't think me hopelessly inquisitive, Miss Fitzmaurice," he
said, "but I have really a reason for being very interested in the
original of that picture. I should like to meet your step-sister."
"You will never do so here, I am afraid," she answered. "My father and
she disagreed years ago. He does not allow us to see or hear from her. We
may not even mention her name."
"Your father," Wrayson remarked thoughtfully, "is not a stern parent by
"I should think not," she answered, smiling. "Dear old dad! I have never
heard him say an unkind word to any one in my life."
"And yet--" Wrayson began, hesitatingly.
"Do you mind if we don't talk any more about it?" she interrupted simply.
"I think you can understand that it is not a very pleasant subject. Do
you feel like another set, or would you rather do something else?"
"Tennis, by all means, if you are rested," he answered. "We will find our
old opponents and challenge them again."
Wrayson made a supreme effort, and his spirits for the rest of the
afternoon were almost boisterous. Yet all the time the nightmare was
there behind. It crept out whenever he caught sight of his host moving
about amongst his guests, beaming and kindly. His daughter! The Colonel's
daughter! What was he to do? The problem haunted him continually. All the
time he had to be pushing it back.
The guests began to depart at last. By seven o'clock the last carriage
was rolling down the avenue. The Colonel, with a huge smile of relief,
and a large cigar, came and took Wrayson's arm.
"Good man!" he exclaimed. "You've worked like a Trojan. We'll have one
whisky and soda, eh? and then I'll show you your room. Say when!"
"I've enjoyed myself immensely," Wrayson declared. "Miss Edith has been
very kind to me."
"I'm glad you've made friends with her," the Colonel said. "She's a
harum-scarum lot, I'm afraid, and a sad chatterbox, but she's the right
sort of a person for a man with nerves like you! You're looking a bit
white still, I see!"
Wrayson would have spoken then, but his tongue seemed to cling to the
roof of his mouth. He had been asked to bring his clothes and dine, and
in the minutes' solitude while he changed, he made a resolute effort to
face this new problem. There was not the slightest doubt in his mind that
the girl whom he had surprised in his rooms, ransacking his desk, and
whom subsequently he had assisted to escape from the Mansions, was
identical with the original of this portrait. She was the Colonel's
daughter. With a flash of horror, he remembered that it had been the
Colonel himself who had pointed out the possibility of a woman's hands
having drawn that silken cord together! Half dressed he sat down in a
chair and buried his face in his hands.
The dinner gong disturbed him. He sprang up, tied his tie with trembling
fingers, and hastily completed his toilet. Once more, with a great
effort, and an almost reckless resort to his host's champagne, he
triumphed over the demons of memory which racked his brain. At dinner his
gayety was almost feverish. Edith Fitzmaurice, who was his neighbour,
found him a delightful companion. Only the Colonel glanced towards him
now and then anxiously. He recognized the signs of high-pressure, and the
light in Wrayson's eyes puzzled him.
There were no other men dining, and in course of time the two were left
alone. The Colonel passed the cigars and touched the port wine decanter,
which, however, he only offered in a half-hearted way.
"If you don't care about any more wine," he said, "we might have a smoke
in the garden."
Wrayson rose at once.
"I should like it," he said abruptly. "I don't know how it is, but I seem
They passed out into the soft, cool night. A nightingale was singing
somewhere in the elm trees which bordered the garden. The air was sweet
with the perfume of early summer flowers. Wrayson drew a long, deep
breath of content.
"Let us sit down, Colonel," he said; "I have something to tell you."
The Colonel led the way to a rustic seat. A few stars were out, but no
moon. In the dusky twilight, the shrubs and trees beyond stood out with
black and almost startling distinctness against the clear sky.
"You remember the girl--I told you about, whom I found in my flat, and
afterwards?" Wrayson asked hoarsely.
The Colonel nodded.
"Certainly! What about her? To tell you the truth, I am afraid I--"
Wrayson stopped him with a quick, fierce exclamation.
"Don't, Colonel!" he said. "Wait until you have heard what I have to say.
I have seen her picture--to-day."
The Colonel removed his cigar from his mouth.
"Her picture!" he exclaimed. "To-day! Where? My dear fellow, this is very
interesting! You know my opinion as to that young--"
Again Wrayson stopped him, this time with an oath.
"In your house, Colonel," he said. "Your daughter showed it to me--in
The Colonel sat like a man turned to stone. The hand which held his cigar
shook so that the ash fell upon his waistcoat.
"Go on!" he faltered.
"I asked who it was. I was told that it was your daughter! Miss Edith's
step-sister! Forgive me, Colonel! I had to tell you!"
The Colonel seemed to have shrunk in his place. The cigar slipped from
his fingers and fell unheeded on to the grass. His mouth trembled and
"My--my daughter Louise!" he faltered. "Wrayson, you are not serious!"
"It is God's truth," Wrayson answered. "I would stake my soul upon it
that the girl--I told you about--was the original of that picture! When I
look at your daughter Edith I can see the likeness."
The Colonel's head was buried in his hands. His exclamation sounded
like a sob.
"My God!" he murmured.
Then there was silence. Only the nightingale went on with his song.
THE BARONESS INTERVENES
The Baroness trifled with some grapes and looked languidly round the
"My dear Louise," she declared, "it is the truth what every one tells me
of your country. You are a dull people. I weary myself here."
The girl whom she had addressed as Louise shrugged her shoulders.
"So do I, so do all of us," she answered, a little wearily. "What would
you have? One must live somewhere."
The Baroness sighed, and from a chatelaine hung with elegant trifles
selected a gold cigarette case. An attentive waiter rushed for a match
and presented it. The Baroness gave a little sigh of content as she
leaned back in her chair. She smoked as one to the manner born.
"One must live somewhere, it is true," she agreed, "but why London? I
think that of all great cities it is the most provincial. It lacks what
you call the atmosphere. The people are all so polite, and so deadly,
deadly dull. How different in Paris or Berlin, even Brussels!"
"Circumstances are a little against us, aren't they?" Louise remarked.
"Our opportunities for making acquaintances are limited."
The Baroness made a little grimace.
"You, my young friend," she said, "are of the English--very English.
Quite Saxon, in fact. With you there would never be any making of
acquaintances! I feel myself in the bonds of a cast-iron chaperonage
whenever I move out with you. Why is it, little one? Have you never any
desire to amuse yourself?"
"I don't quite understand you," her companion answered dryly. "If you
mean that I have no desire to encourage promiscuous acquaintances, you
are certainly right. I prefer to be dull."
The Baroness sighed gently.
"Some of my dearest friends," she murmured, "I have--but there, it is a
subject upon which we disagree. We will talk of something else. Shall we
go to the theatre to-night?"
"As you will," Louise answered indifferently. "There isn't much that we
haven't seen, is there?"
"We will send for a paper and see," the Baroness said. "We cannot sit and
look at one another all the evening. With music one can make dinner last
out till nine or even half past--an idea, my Louise!" she exclaimed
suddenly. "Cannot we go to a music-hall, the Alhambra, for example? We
could take a box and sit back."
"It is not customary," Louise declared coldly. "If you really wish it,
though, I don't--I don't--"
Her speech was broken off in a somewhat extraordinary manner. She was
leaning a little forward in her chair, all her listlessness and pallor
seemed to have been swept away by a sudden rush of emotion. The colour
had flooded her cheeks, her tired eyes were suddenly bright; was it with
fear or only surprise? The Baroness wasted no time in asking questions.
She raised her lorgnettes and turned round, facing the direction in
which Louise was looking. Coming directly towards them from the further
end of the restaurant was a young man, whose eyes never swerved from
their table. He was pale, somewhat slight, but the lines of his mouth
were straight and firm, and there was not lacking in him that air of
distinction which the Baroness never failed to recognize. She put down
her glasses and looked across at Louise with a smile. She was quite
prepared to approve.
The young man stopped at their table and addressed himself directly to
Louise. The Baroness frowned as she saw how scanty were the signs of
encouragement in her young companion's face. She leaned a little forward,
ready at the first signs of an introduction to make every effort to atone
for Louise's coldness by a most complete amiability. This young man
should not be driven away if she could help it!
"I have been hoping, Miss Fitzmaurice," Wrayson said calmly, "that I
might meet you somewhere."
She shrank a little back for a moment. There flashed across her face a
quiver, as though of pain.
"Why do you think," she asked, "that that is my name?"
"Your father, Colonel Fitzmaurice, is one of my best friends," he
answered gravely. "I was at his house yesterday. I only came up this
morning. I beg your pardon! You are not well!"
Every vestige of colour had left her cheeks. The Baroness touched her
foot under the table, and Louise found her voice with an effort.
"How did you know that Colonel Fitzmaurice was my father?" she asked
"I found a picture in your sister's album," he answered.
The answer seemed somehow to reassure her. She leaned a little towards
him. Under cover of the music her voice was inaudible to any one else.
"Mr. Wrayson," she said, "please don't think me unkind. I know that I
have a great deal to thank you for, and that there are certain
explanations which you have almost a right to demand from me. And yet I
ask you to go away, to ask me nothing at all, to believe me when I assure
you that there is nothing in the world so undesirable as any acquaintance
between you and me."
Wrayson was staggered, the words were so earnestly spoken, and the look
which accompanied them was so eloquent. He was never sure, when he
thought it over afterwards, what manner of reply he might not have made
to an appeal, the genuineness of which was absolutely convincing. But
before he could frame an answer, the Baroness intervened.
"Louise," she said softly, "do you not think that this place is a
little public for intimate conversation, and will you not introduce to
me your friend?"
Wrayson, who had been afraid of dismissal, turned at once, almost
eagerly, towards the Baroness. She smiled at him graciously. Louise
hesitated for a moment. There was no smile upon her lips. She bowed,
however, to the inevitable.
"This is Mr. Wrayson," she said quietly; "the Baroness de Sturm."
The Baroness raised her eyebrows, and she bestowed upon Wrayson a
comprehending look. The graciousness of her manner, however, underwent no
"I fancy," she said, "that I have heard of you somewhere lately, or is
it another of the same name? Will you not sit down and take your coffee
with us--and a cigarette--yes?"
"We are keeping Mr. Wrayson from his friends, no doubt," Louise said
coldly. "Besides--do you see the time, Amy?"
But Wrayson had already drawn up a chair to the table.
"I am quite alone," he said. "If I may stay, I shall be delighted."
"Why not?" the Baroness asked, passing her cigarette case. "You can solve
for us the problem we were just then discussing. Is it _comme-il-faut,_
Mr. Wrayson, for two ladies, one of whom is almost middle-aged, to visit
a music-hall here in London unescorted?"
Wrayson glanced from Louise to her friend.
"May I inquire," he asked blandly, "which is the lady who is posing as
being almost middle-aged?"
The Baroness laughed at him softly, with a little contraction of the
eyebrows, which she usually found effective.
"We are going to be friends, Mr. Wrayson," she declared. "You are
sitting there in fear and trembling, and yet you have dared to pay a
compliment, the first I have heard for, oh! so many months. Do not be
afraid. Louise is not so terrible as she seems. I will not let her send
you away. Now you must answer my question. May we do this terrible
thing, Louise and I?"
"Assuredly not," he answered gravely, "when there is a man at hand who is
so anxious to offer his escort as I."
The Baroness clapped her hands.
"Do you hear, Louise?" she exclaimed.
"I hear," Louise answered dryly.
The Baroness made a little grimace.
"You are in an impossible humour, my dear child," she declared.
"Nevertheless, I declare for the music-hall, and for the escort of your
friend, Mr. Wrayson, if he really is in earnest."
"I can assure you," he said, "that you would be doing me a great kindness
in allowing me to offer my services."
The Baroness beamed upon him amiably, and rose to her feet.
"You have come," she avowed, "in time to save me from despair. I am not
used to go about so much unescorted, and I am not so independent as
Louise. See," she added, pushing a gold purse towards him, "you shall pay
our bill while we put on our cloaks. And will you ask afterwards for my
carriage, and we will meet in the portico?"
"With pleasure!" Wrayson answered, rising to his feet as they left the
table. "I will telephone for a box to the Alhambra. There is a wonderful
new ballet which every one is going to see."
He called the waiter and paid the bill from a remarkably well-filled
purse. As he replaced the change, it was impossible for him to avoid
seeing a letter addressed and stamped ready for posting, which occupied
one side of the gold bag. The name upon the envelope struck him as being
vaguely familiar; what had he heard lately of Madame de Melbain? It was
associated somehow in his mind with a recent event. It lingered in his
memory for days afterwards.
Louise and the Baroness left the room in silence. In the cloak-room the
latter watched her friend curiously as she arranged her wrap.
"So that is Mr. Wrayson," she remarked.
"Yes!" Louise answered deliberately. "I wish that you had let him go!"
The Baroness laughed softly.
"My dear child," she protested, "why? He seems to me quite a personable
young man, and he may be useful! Who can tell?"
Louise shrugged her shoulders. She stood waiting while the Baroness made
somewhat extensive use of her powder-puff.
"You forget," she said quietly, "that I am already in Mr. Wrayson's debt
The Baroness looked quickly around. She considered her young friend a
"I find you amusing, _ma chère_," she remarked. "Since when have you
Louise turned towards the door.
"You do not understand," she said. "Come!"
A BOX AT THE ALHAMBRA
The Baroness lowered her lorgnettes and turned towards Wrayson.
"There is a man" she remarked, "in the stalls, who finds us apparently
more interesting than the performance. I do not see very well even
with my glasses, but I fancy, no! I am quite sure, that his face is
familiar to me."
Wrayson leaned forward from his seat in the back of the box and looked
downward. There was no mistaking the person indicated by the Baroness,
nor was it possible to doubt his obvious interest in their little party.
Wrayson frowned slightly as he returned his greeting.
"Ah, then, you know him," the Baroness declared. "It is a friend,
"He belongs to my club," Wrayson answered. "His name is Heneage. I beg
your pardon! I hope that wasn't my fault."
The Baroness had dropped her lorgnettes on the floor. She stooped
instantly to discover them, rejecting almost peremptorily Wrayson's aid.
When she sat up again she pushed her chair a little further back.
"It was my clumsiness entirely," she declared. "Ah! it is more restful
here. The lights are a little trying in front. You are wiser than I, my
dear Louise, to have chosen a seat back there."
She turned towards the girl as she spoke, and Wrayson fancied that there
was some subtle meaning in the swift glance which passed between the two.
Almost involuntarily he leaned forward once more and looked downwards.
Heneage's inscrutable face was still upturned in their direction. There
was nothing to be read there, not even curiosity. As the eyes of the two
men met, Heneage rose and left his seat.
"You know my friend, perhaps?" Wrayson remarked. "He is rather an
The Baroness shrugged her shoulders.
"We are cosmopolitans, Louise and I," she remarked. "We wander about so
much that we meet many people whose names even we do not remember. Is it
not so, _chérie_?"
Louise assented carelessly. The incident appeared to have interested her
but slightly. She alone seemed to be taking an interest in the
performance, which from the first she had followed closely. More than
once Wrayson had fancied that her attention was only simulated, in order
to avoid conversation.
"This ballet," she remarked, "is wonderful. I don't believe that you
people have seen any of it--you especially, Amy."
The Baroness glanced towards the stage.
"My dear Louise," she said, "you share one great failing with the
majority of your country-people. You cannot do more than one thing at a
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