E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 5 out of 6
"Damn it all! I'm not obliged to go there, am I?" Heneage
Wrayson looked at him in amazement. Heneage, as a rule, was one of the
most deliberate and even-tempered of men.
"Of course not," he answered. "You won't mind telling me how the Colonel
is, though, will you?"
"I believe he is very well," Heneage answered, more calmly. "He doesn't
come up to town so often this hot weather. Forgive me for being a bit
impatient, old fellow. I've got a fit of nerves, I think."
"You want a change," Wrayson said earnestly. "There's no doubt
"I am going away very soon," Heneage answered. "As soon as I can get off.
I don't mind telling you, Wrayson, that I've had a shock, and it has
Wrayson nodded sympathetically.
"All right, old chap," he said. "I'm beastly sorry, but if you take my
advice, you'll get out of London as soon as you can. Go to Trouville or
Dinard, or some place where there's plenty of life. I shouldn't busy
myself in the country, if I were you. By the bye," he added, "there is
one more question I should like to ask you, if you don't mind."
Heneage called a waiter and ordered more drinks. Then he turned to
"Well," he said, "go on!"
"About that little brute, Barnes' brother. Is he about still?"
Heneage's face darkened. He clenched his fist, but recovered himself with
a visible effort.
"Yes!" he answered shortly, "he is about. He is everywhere. The little
brute haunts me! He dogs my footsteps, Wrayson. Sometimes I wonder that I
don't sweep him off the face of the earth."
"But why?" Wrayson asked. "What does he want with you?"
"I will tell you," Heneage answered. "When he first turned up, I was
interested in his story, as you know. We commenced working at the thing
together. You understand, Wrayson?"
"Well--after a while it suited me--to drop it. Perhaps I told him so a
little abruptly. At any rate, he was disappointed. Now he has got an idea
in his brain. He believes that I have discovered something which I will
not tell him. He follows me about. He pesters me to death. He is a slave
to that one idea--a hideous, almost unnatural craving to get his hands
on the source of his brother's money. I think that he will very soon be
mad. To tell you the truth, I came in here to-night because I thought I
should be safe from him. I don't believe he has five shillings to get in
Wrayson lit a cigarette and smoked for a moment in silence. Then he
turned towards his companion.
"Heneage," he said, "I don't want to annoy you, but you must remember
that this matter means a good deal to me. I am forced to ask you a
question, and you must answer it. Have you really found anything out? You
don't often give a thing up without a reason."
Heneage answered him with greater composure than he had expected, though
perhaps to less satisfactory effect.
"Look here, Wrayson," he said, "you appreciate plain speaking,
Wrayson nodded. Heneage continued:
"You can go to hell with your questions! You understand that? It's
"Admirably simple," Wrayson answered, "and perfectly satisfactory."
"What do you mean?"
"It answers my question," Wrayson declared quietly.
Heneage shrugged his shoulders.
"You can get what satisfaction you like out of it," he said doggedly.
"It isn't much," Wrayson admitted. "I wish I could induce you to treat me
a little more generously."
Heneage looked at him with a curious gleam in his eyes.
"Look here," he said. "Take my advice. Drop the whole affair. You see
what it's made of me. It'll do the same to you. I shan't tell you
anything! You can swear to that. I've done with it, Wrayson, done with
it! You understand that? Talk about something else, or leave me alone!"
Wrayson looked at the man whom he had once called his friend.
"You're in a queer sort of mood, Heneage," he said.
"Let it go at that," Heneage answered. "Every man has a right to his
moods, hasn't he? No right to inflict them upon his friends, you'd say!
Perhaps not, but you know I'm a reasonable person as a rule.
He broke off abruptly in his sentence. His eyes were fixed upon a distant
corner of the room. Their expression was unfathomable, but Wrayson
shuddered as he looked away and followed their direction. Then he, too,
started. He recognized the miserable little figure whose presence a group
just broken up left revealed. Heneage rose softly to his feet.
"Let us go before he sees us," he whispered hurriedly. "Look sharp!"
But they were too late. Already he was on his way towards them, shambling
rather than walking down the room, an unwholesome, unattractive, even
repulsive figure. He seemed to have shrunken in size since his arrival in
England, and his brother's clothes, always too large, hung about him
loose and ungraceful. His tie was grimy; his shirt frayed; his trousers
turned up, but still falling over his heels; his hat, too large for him,
came almost to his ears. In the increased pallor and thinness of his
face, his dark eyes seemed to have come nearer together. He would have
been a ludicrous object but for the intense earnestness of his
expression. He came towards them with rapidly blinking eyes. He took no
notice of Heneage, but he insisted upon shaking hands with Wrayson.
"Mr. Wrayson," he said, "I am glad to see you again, sir. You always
treated me like a gentleman. Not like him," he added, motioning with his
head towards Heneage. "He's a thief, he is!"
"Steady," Wrayson interrupted, "you mustn't call people names like that."
"Why not?" Barnes asked. "He is a thief. He knows it. He knows who robbed
me of my money. And he won't tell. That's what I call being a thief."
Wrayson glanced towards Heneage and was amazed at his demeanour. He had
shrunk back in his chair, and he was sitting with his hands in his
pockets and his eyes fixed upon the table. Of the two, his miserable
little accuser was the dominant figure.
"He's very likely spending it now--my money!" Barnes continued. "Here
am I living on crusts and four-penny dinners, and begging my way in
here, and some one else is spending my money. Never mind! It may be my
turn yet! It may be only a matter of hours," he added, leaning over
towards them and showing his yellow teeth, "and I may have the laugh on
both of you."
Heneage looked up quickly. He was obviously discomposed.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Sydney Barnes indulged in the graceless but expressive proceeding of
sticking his tongue in his cheek. After which he turned to Wrayson.
"Mr. Wrayson," he said, "lend me a quid. I've got the flat to sleep in
for a few more weeks, but I haven't got money enough for a meal. I'll pay
you back some day--perhaps before you expect it."
Wrayson produced a sovereign and handed it over silently.
"If I were you," he said, "I'd spend my time looking for a situation,
instead of hunting about for this supposed fortune of your brother's."
Barnes took the sovereign with hot, trembling fingers, and deposited it
carefully in his waistcoat pocket. Then he smiled in a somewhat
"Mr. Wrayson," he said, "perhaps I'm not so far off, after all. Other
people can find out what he knows," he added, pointing at Heneage. "He
ain't the only one who can see through a brick wall. Say, Mr. Wrayson,
you've always treated me fair and square," he added, leaning towards him
and dropping his voice. "Can you tell me this? Did Morry ever go
swaggering about calling himself by any other name--bit more tony, eh?"
Wrayson started. For a moment he did not reply. Thoughts were rushing
through his brain. Was he forestalled in his search for this girl?
Meanwhile, Barnes watched him with a cunning gleam in his deep-set eyes.
"Such as Augustus Howard, eh? Real tony name that for Morry!"
Wrayson, with a sudden instinctive knowledge, brushed him on one side,
and half standing up, gazed across the room at the corner from which his
questioner had come. With her back against the wall, her cheap prettiness
marred by her red eyes, her ill-arranged hair, and ugly hat, sat, beyond
a doubt, the girl for whom he had waited in the promenade.
Wrayson drew a little breath and looked back at Sydney Barnes.
"You asked me a question," he said. "I believe I have heard of your
brother calling himself by some such name."
Barnes grasped him by the arm.
"Look here," he said, "come and repeat that to the young lady over there.
She's with me. It won't do you any harm."
Wrayson rose to his feet, but before he could move he felt Heneage's hand
fall upon his arm.
"Where are you going, Wrayson?" he asked.
Barnes looked up at him anxiously. His pale face seemed twisted
into a scowl.
"Don't you interfere!" he exclaimed. "You've done me enough harm, you
have. You let Mr. Wrayson pass. He's coming with me."
Heneage took no more notice of him than he would of a yapping terrier. He
looked over his head into Wrayson's eyes.
"Wrayson," he said, "don't have anything more to do with this business.
Take my advice. I know more than you do about it. If you go on, I swear
to you that there is nothing but misery at the end."
"I know more than you think I do," Wrayson answered quietly. "I know more
indeed than you have any idea of. If the end were in hell I should not
Heneage hesitated for a moment. He stood there with darkening face, an
obstinate, almost a threatening figure. Passers-by looked with a gleam of
interest at the oddly assorted trio, whose conversation was obviously far
removed from the ordinary chatter of the loungers about the place. One or
two made an excuse to linger by--it seemed possible that there might be
developments. Heneage, however, disappointed them. He turned suddenly
upon his heel and left the room. Those who had the curiosity to follow
along the corridor saw him, without glancing to the right or to the left,
descend the stairs and walk out of the building. He had the air of a man
who abandons finally a hopeless task.
The look of relief in Barnes' face as he saw him go was a ludicrous
thing. He drew Wrayson at once towards the corner.
"Queer thing about this girl," he whispered in his ear. "She ain't like
the others about here. She just comes to make inquiries about a friend
who's given her the chuck, and whose name she says was Howard. I believe
it's Morry she means. Just like him to take a toff's name!"
"Wait a moment before we speak to her," Wrayson said. "How did you
find her out?"
"She spoke to me," Barnes answered. "Asked me if my name was Howard, said
I was a bit like the man she was looking for. Then I palled up to her,
and I'm pretty certain Morry was her man. I want her to go to the flat
with me and see his clothes and picture, but she's scared. Mr. Wrayson,
you might do me a good turn. She'll come if you'd go too!"
"Do you know why I am here to-night?" Wrayson asked.
"To meet that young woman of yours," Wrayson answered.
Barnes looked at him in amazement.
"What do you mean?" he asked quickly. "You don't know her, do you?"
His sallow cheeks were paler than ever. His narrow eyes, furtively raised
to Wrayson's, were full of inquisitive fear.
"No! I don't know her," Wrayson answered, "but I rather fancy, all the
same, that she is the young person whom I came here to meet to-night."
Barnes waited breathlessly for an explanation. He did not say a word, but
his whole attitude was an insistent interrogation point.
"You remember," Wrayson said, "that when you and I were pursuing these
investigations together, I made some inquiries of the woman at whose flat
your brother called on the night of his murder. I saw her again at Dinant
yesterday, and she told me of this young person. She also evidently
believed that the man for whom she was inquiring was your brother."
"She told me that she was to have met a gentleman to-night," he said.
"Here, we must go and speak to her now, or she'll think that
He performed something that was meant for an introduction.
"Friend of mine, Miss," he said, indicating Wrayson. "Knew my brother
well, lived in the flat just below him, in fact. Perhaps you'd like to
ask him a few questions."
"There is only one question I want answered," the girl replied, with
straining eyes fixed upon Wrayson's face, and a little break in her tone.
"Shall I see him again? If Augustus was really--his brother--where is he?
What has happened to him?"
There was a moment's silence. Sydney Barnes had evidently said nothing as
to his brother's tragic end. Wrayson could see, too, that the girl was on
the brink of hysterics, and needed careful handling.
"We will tell you everything," he said presently. "But first of all
we have to decide whether your Augustus Howard and Morris Barnes were
the same person. I think that the best way for you to decide this
would be to come home to my flat. Mr. Barnes' is just above, and I
dare say you can recognize some of his brother's belongings, if he
really was--your friend."
She rose at once. She was perfectly willing to go. They left the place
together and entered a four-wheeler. During the drive she scarcely opened
her lips. She sat in a corner looking absently out of the window, and
nervously clasping and unclasping her hands. She answered a remark of
Sydney Barnes' without turning her head.
"I always watch the people," she said. "Wherever I am, I always look
out of the window. I have always hoped--that I might see Augustus again
Wrayson, from his seat in the opposite corner of the cab, watched her
with growing sympathy. In her very conformity to type, she represented so
naturally a real and living unit of humanity. Her poor commonplace
prettiness was already on the wane, stamped out by the fear and trouble
of the last few months. Yet inane though her features, lacking altogether
strength or distinction, there was stamped into them something of that
dumb, dog-like fidelity to some object which redeemed them from utter
insignificance. Wrayson, as he watched her, found himself thinking more
kindly of the dead man himself. In his vulgar, selfish way, he had
probably been kind to her: he must have done something to have kindled
this flame of dogged, persevering affection. Already he scarcely doubted
that Morris Barnes and Augustus Howard had been the same person. Within a
very few minutes of her entering the flats there remained no doubt at
all. With a low moan, like a dumb animal mortally hurt, she sank down
upon the nearest chair, clasping the photograph which Sydney Barnes had
passed her in her hands.
For a few moments there was silence. Then she looked up--at Wrayson. Her
lips moved but no words came. She began again. This time he was able to
catch the indistinct whisper.
"Where is he?"
Wrayson took a seat by her side upon the sofa.
"You do not read the newspapers?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"Not much. My eyes are not very good, and it tires me to read."
"I am afraid," he said gently, "that it will be bad news."
A little sob caught in her throat.
"Go on," she faltered.
"He is dead," Wrayson said simply.
She fainted quietly away.
Wrayson hurried downstairs to his own flat for some brandy. When he
returned the girl was still unconscious. Her pocket was turned inside out
and the front of her dress was disordered. Sydney Barnes was bending
close over her. Wrayson pushed him roughly away.
"You can wait, at least, until she is well," he said contemptuously.
Sydney Barnes was wholly unabashed. He watched Wrayson pour brandy
between the girl's lips, bathe her temples, and chafe her hands. All the
time he stood doggedly waiting close by. No considerations of decency or
humanity would weigh with him for one single second. The fever of his
great desire still ran like fire through his veins. He did not think of
the girl as a human creature at all. Simply there was a pair of lips
there which might point out to him the way to his Paradise.
She opened her eyes at last. Sydney Barnes came a step nearer, but
Wrayson pushed him once more roughly away.
"You are feeling better?" he asked kindly.
She nodded, and struggled up into a sitting posture.
"Tell me," she said, "how did he die? It must have been quite sudden. Was
it an accident?--or--or--"
He saw the terror in her eyes, and he spoke quickly. All the time he
found himself wondering how it was that she was guessing at the truth.
"We are afraid," he said "that he was murdered. It is surprising that you
did not read about it in the papers."
She shook her head.
"I do not read much," she said, "and the name was different. Who was
it--that killed him?"
"No one knows," he answered.
"When was it?" she asked.
He told her the date. She repeated it tearfully.
"He was down with me the day before," she said. "He was terribly excited
all the time, and I know that he was a little afraid of something
happening to him. He had been threatened!"
"Do you know by whom?" Wrayson asked.
She shook her head.
"He never told me," she answered. "He didn't tell me much. But he was
very, very good to me. I was at the refreshment-room at London Bridge
when I first met him. He used to come in and see me every day. Then he
began to take me out, and at last he found me a little house down at
Putney, and I was so happy. I had been so tired all my life," she added,
with a little sigh, "and down there I did nothing but rest and rest and
wait for him to come. It was too good to last, of course, but I didn't
think it would end like this!"
Quietly but very persistently Sydney Barnes insisted on being heard.
"It's my turn now," he said, standing by Wrayson's side. "Look here,
Miss, I'm his brother. You can see that, can't you?"
"You are something like him," she admitted, "only he was much, much nicer
to look at than you."
"Never mind that," he continued eagerly. "I'm his brother, his nearest
relative. Everything he left behind belongs to me!"
"Not--quite everything," she protested.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
"You may be his brother," she answered, "but I," holding out her left
hand a little nervously, "I was his wife!"
THE MURDERED MAN'S EFFECTS
Both men had been totally unprepared for the girl's timid avowal. To
Wrayson, however, after the first mild shock of surprise, it was of no
special import. To Sydney Barnes, although he made a speedy effort to
grapple with the situation, it came very much as a thunderclap.
"You have your certificate?" he asked sharply. "You were married properly
in a church?"
She nodded. "We were married at Dulwich Parish Church," she answered. "It
was nearly a year ago."
"Very well," Sydney Barnes said. "It is lucky that I am here to look
after your interests. We divide everything, you know."
She seemed about to cry.
"I want Augustus," she murmured. "He was very good to me."
"Look here," he said, "Augustus always seemed to have plenty of oof,
"He was very generous with it, too," she declared. "He gave me lots and
lots of beautiful things."
His eyes travelled over her hands and neck, destitute of ornaments.
"Where are they?" he asked sharply.
"I've had to sell them," she answered, "to get along at all, I hated to,
but I couldn't starve."
The young man's face darkened.
"Come," he said. "We'd better have no secrets from one another. You know
how to get at his money, I suppose?"
She shook her head.
"Indeed I don't know anything about it," she declared.
"You must know where it came from," he persisted.
"I don't," she repeated. "Indeed I don't. He never told me and I never
asked him. I understood that he had made it in South Africa."
Sydney Barnes wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"Look here," he said in a voice which, notwithstanding his efforts to
control it, trembled a little, "this is a very serious matter for us. You
don't want to go back to the refreshment bar again, do you?"
"I don't care what I do," she answered dully. "I hated that, but I shall
hate everything now that he is gone."
"It's only for a day or two you'll feel like that," he declared. "We've
got a right, you and I, to whatever Morry left behind, and whatever
happens I mean to have my share. Look around you!"
It was not an inspiring spectacle. The room was dirty, and almost devoid
"All that I've had out of it so far," he declared, "is free quarters
here. The rent's paid up to the end of the year. I've had to sell the
furniture bit by bit to keep alive. It was a cheap lot, cheap and showy,
and it fetched jolly little. Morry always did like to have things that
looked worth more than he gave for them. Even his jewellery was
sham--every bally bit of it. There wasn't a real pearl or a real diamond
amongst the lot. But there's no doubt about the money. I've had the
bank-book. He was worth a cool two thousand a year was Morry--that's
five hundred each quarter day, you understand, and somewhere or other
there must be the bonds or securities from which this money came. He
never kept them here. I'll swear to that. Therefore they must be
somewhere that you ought to know about."
She nodded wearily.
"Very likely," she said. "I have a parcel he gave me to take care of."
The effect of her simple words on Barnes was almost magical. The dull
colour streamed into his sallow cheeks, he shook all over with
excitement. His voice, when he spoke, was almost hysterical. He had been
so near to despair. This indeed had been almost his last hope.
"A parcel!" he gasped. "A parcel! What sort of a parcel? Did he say that
it was important?"
"It's just a long envelope tied up with red tape and sealed," she
answered. "Yes! he made a great fuss about leaving it with me."
"Tell us all about it," he demanded greedily. "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!
"It must have been almost the very day it happened," she said, with a
little shudder. "He came down in the afternoon and he seemed a bit queer,
as though he had something on his mind. He took out the envelope once or
twice and looked at it. Once he said to me, 'Agnes,' he said, 'there are
men in London who, if they knew that I carried this with me, would kill
me for it. I was frightened, and I begged him to leave it somewhere. I
think he said that he had to have it always with him, because he couldn't
think of a safe hiding-place for it. Just as he was going, though, he
came back and took it out of his pocket once more."
"He left it with you?" Barnes exclaimed. "You have it safe?"
"I was going to tell you. 'Look here, Agnes,' he said, 'I'm nervous
to-night. I don't want to carry this about with me. I shall want it
to-morrow and I'll come down for it. To-night's a dangerous night for
me to be carrying it about.' Those were just about his last words. He
gave me the packet and I begged him to be careful. Then he kissed me
and off he went, smoking a cigar, and as cheerful as though he were
going to a wedding."
She began to cry again, but Barnes broke in upon her grief.
"Didn't he tell you anything more about it?" he demanded.
"He told me--if anything happened to him," she sobbed, "to open it."
"We must do so," he declared. "We must do so at once. There must be a
quarter's dividends overdue. We can get the money to-morrow, and
then--oh! my God!" he exclaimed, as though the very anticipation made him
faint. "Where is the packet?"
"At the bottom of my tin trunk in my rooms," she answered. "I had to
leave the house. I couldn't pay the rent any longer."
"Where are the rooms?" he demanded. "We'll go there now."
"In Labrador Street," she answered. "It's a poor part, but I've only a
few shillings in the world."
"We'll have a cab," he declared, rising. "Mr. Wrayson will lend us the
"I will come with you," Wrayson said quietly.
"We needn't bother you to do that," Sydney Barnes declared, with a
The young woman looked towards him appealingly. He nodded reassuringly.
"I think," he said, "that it will be better for me to come. I am
concerned in this business after all, you know."
"I don't see how," Barnes declared sullenly. "_If_ this young lady is my
sister-in-law, surely she and I can settle up our own affairs."
Wrayson stood with his back to the door, facing them.
"I hope," he said, "that you will not, either of you, be disappointed in
what you find in that packet. But I think it is only right to warn you. I
have reason to believe that you will not find any securities or bonds
there at all! I believe that you will find that packet to consist of
merely a bundle of old letters and a photograph!"
Barnes spat upon the floor. He was shaking with fright and anger.
"I don't believe it," he declared. "What can you know about it?"
Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.
"Look here," he said, "the matter is easily settled. We will put this
young lady in a cab and she shall bring the packet to my flat below. You
and she shall open it, and if you find securities there I have no more to
say, except to wish you both luck. If, on the other hand, you find the
letters, it will be a different matter."
The girl had risen to her feet.
"I would rather go alone," she said. "If you will pay my cab, I will
bring the packet straight back."
Wrayson and Barnes waited in the former's flat. Barnes drank two brandy
and sodas, and walked restlessly up and down the room. Wrayson was busy
at the telephone, and carried on a conversation for some moments in
French. Directly he had finished, Barnes turned upon him.
"Whom were you talking to?" he demanded.
"A friend of yours," he answered. "I have asked her to come round for a
"A friend of mine?"
The colour burned once more in his cheeks. He looked down at his attire
"I didn't want to see her again just yet," he muttered. Wrayson smiled.
"She won't look at your clothes," he remarked, "and I rather want
Barnes was suddenly suspicious.
"What for?" he demanded. "What has she got to do with the affair? I won't
have strangers present."
"My young friend," Wrayson said, "I may just as well warn you that I
think you are going to be disappointed. I am almost certain that I know
the contents of that packet. You will find that it consists, as I told
you before, not of securities at all, but simply a few old letters."
Barnes' eyes narrowed.
"Whatever they are," he said, "they meant a couple of thousand a year to
Morry, and they were worth his life to somebody! How do you account for
"You want the truth?" Wrayson asked.
"Your brother was a blackmailer!"
The breath came through Barnes' teeth with a little hiss. He realized
his position almost at once. He was trapped.
He walked up to Wrayson's side. His voice shook, but he was in
"Look here," he said, "the contents of that packet, whatever they may be,
are mine--mine and hers! You have nothing to do with the matter at all. I
will not have you in the room when they are opened."
Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.
"The packet will be opened here," he said, "and I shall certainly
Barnes ground his teeth.
"If you touch one of those papers or letters or whatever they may be, you
shall be prosecuted for theft," he declared. "I swear it!"
"I will run the risk," he declared. "Ah! Baroness, this is kind of you,"
he added, throwing open the door and ushering her in. "There is a young
friend of yours here who is dying to renew his acquaintance with you."
She smiled delightfully at Sydney Barnes, and threw back her cloak.
She had just come in from the opera, and diamonds were flashing
from her neck and bosom. Her gown was exquisite, the touch of her
fingers an enchantment. It was impossible for him to resist the
spell of her presence.
"You have been very unkind," she declared. "You have not been to see me
for a very long time. I do not think that I shall forgive you. What do
you say, Mr. Wrayson? Do you think that he deserves it?"
Wrayson smiled as he threw open the door once more. He felt that the next
few minutes might prove interesting.
THE WIDOW'S ULTIMATUM
Sydney Barnes stepped quickly forward. If Wrayson had permitted it, he
would have snatched the packet from the girl's fingers. Wrayson, however,
saw his intent and intervened. He stepped forward and led her to his
"I want you to sit down here quietly and open the envelope," he said,
switching on the electric lamp. "That is what he told you to do, isn't
it? There may be a message for you inside."
She looked round a little fearfully. The presence of the Baroness
evidently discomposed her.
"I thought," she said, "that we were going to be alone, that there would
have been no one here but him and you."
"The lady is a friend of mine," Wrayson said, "and it is very likely that
she may be interested in the contents of this envelope."
She untied the string with trembling fingers. Wrayson handed her a
paper-knife and she cut open the top of the envelope. Then she looked up
at him appealingly.
"I--I don't want to look inside," she half sobbed.
Wrayson took up the envelope and shook out its contents before her. There
was a letter addressed simply to Agnes, and a small packet wrapped in
brown oilcloth and secured with dark-green ribbon. Sydney Barnes' hand
stole out, but Wrayson was too quick for him. He changed his position,
so as to interpose his person between the packet and any one in the room.
"Read the letter," he told the girl. "It is addressed to you."
She handed it to him. Her eyes were blinded with tears.
"Read it for me, please," she said.
He tore open the envelope and read the few lines scrawled upon a half
sheet of notepaper. He read them very softly into her ear, but the words
were audible enough to all of them.
"MY DEAR AGNES,--I have just discovered that there are some people on my
track who mean mischief. I have a secret they want to rob me of. I seem
to be followed about everywhere I go. What they want is the little packet
in this envelope. I'm leaving it with you because I daren't carry it
about with me. I've had two narrow escapes already.
"Now you'll never read this letter unless anything happens to me. I've
made up my mind to sell this packet for what I can get for it, and take
you with me out of the country. It'll be a matter of ten thousand quid,
and I only wish I had my fingers on it now and was well out of the
country. But this is where the rub comes in. If anything happens to me
before I can bring this off, I'm hanged if I know what to tell you to do
with the packet. It's worth its weight in banknotes to more persons than
one, but there's a beastly risk in having anything to do with it. I think
you'd better burn it! There's money in it, but I don't see how you could
handle it. Burn it, Agnes. It's too risky a business for you! I only
hope that in a week or so I shall burn this letter myself, and you and I
will be on our way to America.
"So long, Nessie,
"from your loving husband.
"P.S.--By the bye, my real name is Morris Barnes!"
There was an instant's pause as Wrayson finished reading. Then there came
a long-drawn-out whisper from Sydney Barnes. He was close to the girl,
and his eyes were riveted upon the little packet.
"Ten--thousand--pounds! Ah! Five thousand each! Give me the packet,
She stretched out her hand as though to obey. Wrayson checked her.
"Remember," he said, "what your husband told you. You were to burn that
packet. He was right. Your husband was a blackmailer, Mrs. Barnes, and he
paid the penalty of his infamous career with his life. I shall not allow
either you or your brother-in-law to follow in his footsteps!"
She flashed an indignant glance upon him.
"Who are you calling names?" she demanded. "He was my husband and he was
good to me!"
"I beg your pardon and his," Wrayson said. "I was wrong to use such a
word. But I want you to understand that to attempt to make money by the
contents of that packet is a crime! Your husband paid the penalty. He
knew what he was doing when he commanded you to burn it."
She looked towards Sydney Barnes.
"What do you say?" she asked.
The words leaped from his mouth. He was half beside himself.
"I say let us open the packet and look it through ourselves before we
decide. What the devil business is it of anybody else's. He was my
brother and your husband. These people weren't even his friends. They've
no right to poke their noses into our affairs. You tell them so;
sister-in-law. Give me the packet. Come away with me somewhere where we
can look it through quietly. I'm fair and straight. It shall be halves, I
swear. I say, sister-in-law Agnes, you don't want to go back to the
refreshment bar, do you?"
"No!" she moaned. "No! no!"
"Nor do I want to go back to the gutter," he declared fiercely.
"But money isn't to be had for the picking up. Ten thousand pounds
Morris expected to get for that packet. It's hard if we can't make
half of that."
She looked up at Wrayson as though for advice.
"Mrs. Barnes," he said gravely, "I can tell you what is in that packet.
You can see for yourself, then, whether it is anything by means of which
you can make money. It consists of the letters of a very famous woman to
the man whom she loved. They were stolen from him on the battlefield. I
do not wish to pain you, but the thief was Morris Barnes. The friends of
the lady who wrote them paid your brother two thousand pounds a year. Her
enemies offered him--ten thousand pounds down. There is the secret of
Morris Barnes' wealth."
Sydney Barnes leaned over the back of her chair. His hot whisper seemed
to burn her cheek.
"Keep the packet, sister-in-law. Don't part!"
"Your brother-in-law," Wrayson remarked, "is evidently disposed to
continue your husband's operations. Remember you are not at liberty to
do as he asks. Your husband's words are plain. He orders you to burn
"How do I know that you are telling me the truth?" she asked abruptly.
"Undo the packet," he suggested. "A glance inside should show you."
For some reason or other she seemed dissatisfied. She pointed towards
"What is she doing here?" she asked.
"She is a friend of the woman who wrote those letters," Wrayson answered.
"I want her to see them destroyed."
There was silence for several moments. The girl's fingers closed upon the
packet. She turned round and faced them all. She faced them all, but she
addressed more particularly Wrayson.
"You are wondering why I hesitate," she said slowly. "Augustus said
destroy the packet, and I suppose I ought to do it."
"By God, you shan't!" Sydney Barnes broke in fiercely. "Morry didn't know
that I should be here to look after things."
She waited until he had finished, but she seemed to take very little, if
any, notice of his intervention.
"It isn't," she continued, "that I'm afraid to go back to the bar. I'll
have to go to work some where, I suppose, but it isn't that. I want to
know," she leaned a little forward,--"I want to know who it is that has
robbed me of my husband. I don't care what he was to other people! He was
very good to me, and I loved him. I should like to see the person who
killed him hanged!"
Wrayson, for a moment, was discomposed.
"But that," he said, "has nothing to do with obeying your husband's
directions about that packet."
She looked at him with tired eyes and changeless expression.
"Hasn't it?" she asked. "I am not so sure. You have explained about these
letters. It is quite certain that my husband was killed by either the
friends or the enemies of the woman who wrote these letters. I think that
if I take this packet to the police it will help them to find the
Her new attitude was a perplexing one. Wrayson glanced at the Baroness
as though for counsel. She stepped forward and laid her hand upon the
"There is one thing which you must not forget, Mrs. Barnes," she said
quietly. "Your husband knew that he was running a great risk in keeping
these letters and making a living out of them. His letter to you shows
that he was perfectly aware of it. Of course, it is a very terrible, a
very inexcusable thing that he should have been killed. But he knew
perfectly well that he was in danger. Can't you sympathize a little with
the poor woman whose life he made so miserable? Let her have her letters
back. You will not find her ungrateful!"
The girl turned slowly round and faced the Baroness. They might indeed
have represented the opposite poles in femininity. From the tips of her
perfectly manicured fingers to the crown of her admirably coiffured hair,
the Baroness stood for all that was elegant and refined in the innermost
circles of her sex. Agnes would have looked more in place behind the
refreshment bar from which Morris Barnes had brought her. Her dress of
cheap shiny silk was ill fitting and hopeless, her hat with its faded
flowers and crushed shape an atrocity, boots and gloves, and brooch of
artificial gems--all were shocking. Little was left of her pale-faced
prettiness. The tragedy which had stolen into her life had changed all
that. Yet she faced the Baroness without flinching. She seemed sustained
by the suppressed emotion of the moment.
"He was my man," she said fiercely, "and no one had any right to take him
away from me. He was my husband, and he was brutally murdered. You tell
me that I must give up the letters for the sake of the woman who wrote
them! What do I care about her! Is she as unhappy as I am, I wonder? I
will not give up the letters," she added, clasping them in her hand,
"except--on one condition."
"If it is a reasonable one," the Baroness said, smiling, "there will be
Agnes faced her a little defiantly.
"It depends upon what you call reasonable," she said. "Find out for me
who it was that killed my husband, you or any one of you, and you shall
have the letters."
Sydney Barnes smiled, and left off nervously tugging at his moustache. If
this was not exactly according to his own ideas, it was, at any rate, a
step in the right direction. Wrayson was evidently perplexed. The
Baroness adopted a persuasive attitude.
"My dear girl," she said, "we don't any of us know who killed your
husband. After all, what does it matter? It is terribly sad, of course,
but he can't be brought back to life again. You have yourself to think
of, and how you are to live in the future. Give me that packet, I will
destroy it before your eyes, and I promise you that you shall have no
more anxiety about your future."
The girl rose to her feet. The packet was already transferred to the
bosom of her dress.
"I have told you my terms," she said. "Some of you know all about
it, I dare say! Tell me the truth and you shall have the packet, any
one of you."
Wrayson leaned forward.
"The truth is simple," he said earnestly. "We do not know. I can answer
for myself. I think that I can answer for the others."
"Then the packet shall help me to find out," she declared.
The Baroness shook her head.
"It will not do, my dear girl," she said quietly. "The packet is
The girl faced her defiantly.
"Who says that it is not mine?" she demanded.
"I do," the Baroness replied.
"And I!" Wrayson echoed.
"And I say that it is hers--hers and mine," Sydney Barnes declared. "She
shall do what she likes with it. She shall not be made to give it up."
"Mrs. Barnes," the Baroness declared briskly, "you must try to be
reasonable. We will buy the packet from you."
Sydney Barnes nodded his head approvingly.
"That," he said, "is what I call talking common sense."
"We will give you a thousand pounds for it," the Baroness continued.
"It's not enough, not near enough," Barnes called out hastily. "Don't you
listen to them, Agnes."
"I shall not," she answered. "Ten thousand pounds would not buy it. I
have said my last word. I am going now. In three days' time I shall
return. I will give up the letters then in exchange for the name of my
husband's murderer. If I do not get that, I shall go to the police!"
She rose and walked out of the room. They all followed her. The Baroness
whispered in Wrayson's ear, but he shook his head.
"It is impossible," he said firmly. "We cannot take them from her
The Baroness shrugged her shoulders. She caught the girl up upon the
stairs and they descended together. Wrayson and Sydney Barnes followed,
the latter biting his nails nervously and maintaining a gloomy silence.
At the entrance, Wrayson whistled for a cab and handed Agnes in. Sydney
Barnes attempted to follow her.
"I will see my sister-in-law home," he declared; but Wrayson's hand fell
upon his arm.
"No!" he said. "Mrs. Barnes can take care of herself. She is not to be
She nodded back at him from the cab.
"I don't want him," she said. "I don't want any one. In three days' time
I will return."
"And until then you will not part with the letters?" Wrayson said.
"Until then," she answered, "I promise."
The cab drove off. Sydney Barnes turned upon Wrayson, white and venomous.
"Where do I come in here?" he demanded fiercely.
"I sincerely trust," Wrayson answered suavely, "that you are not coming
in at all. But you, too, can return in three days."
"At last!" Wrayson said to himself, almost under his breath. "Shall we
have a hansom, Louise, or do you care for a walk?"
"A walk, by all means," she answered hurriedly.
"It is not far, is it?"
"A mile--a little more perhaps," he answered.
"You are sure that you are not tired?"
"Tired only of sitting still," she answered. "We had a delightful
crossing. This way, isn't it?"
They left the Grosvenor Hotel, where Louise, with Madame de Melbain, had
arrived about an hour ago, and turned towards Battersea. Louise began to
talk, nervously, and with a very obvious desire to keep the conversation
to indifferent subjects. Wrayson humoured her for some time. They spoke
of the journey, suddenly determined upon by Madame de Melbain on receipt
of his telegram, of the beauty of St. Étarpe, of the wonderful
reappearance of her brother.
"I can scarcely realize even now," she said, "that he is really alive. He
is so altered. He seems a different person altogether."
"He has gone through a good deal," Wrayson remarked.
"Poor Duncan!" she murmured.
"He is very much to be pitied," Wrayson said seriously. "I, at any rate,
can feel for him."
He turned towards her as he spoke, and his words were charged with
meaning. She began quickly to speak of something else, but he
"Louise," he said, "is London so far from St. Étarpe?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I think that you know very well," he answered. "I am sure that you do.
At St. Étarpe you were content to accept what, believe me, is quite
inevitable. Here--well, you have been doing all you can to avoid me,
"Perhaps," she admitted. "St. Étarpe was an interlude. I told you so. You
ought to have understood that."
They entered the Park, and Wrayson was silent for a few minutes. He led
the way towards an empty seat.
"Let us sit down," he said, "and talk this out."
"I think--" she began, but he interrupted her ruthlessly.
"If you prefer it, I will come to the Baroness with you," he declared.
She shrugged her shoulders and sat down.
"Very well," she said, "but I warn you that I am in a bad temper. I am
hot and tired and dusty. We shall probably quarrel."
He looked at her critically. She was a little pale, perhaps, but there
was nothing else to indicate that she had just arrived from a journey.
Her dress of dull black glace silk was cool and spotless, her hat and
veil were immaculate. Always she had the air of having just come from the
hands of an experienced maid. From the tips of her patent shoes to the
fall of her veil, she was orderly and correct.
"It takes two," he said, "to quarrel. I shall not quarrel with you. All
that I ask from you is a realization of the fact that we are engaged to
She withdrew the hand which he had calmly possessed himself of.
"We are nothing of the sort," she declared.
He looked puzzled.
"Perhaps," he remarked, "I forgot to mention the matter last time I saw
you, but I quite thought that you would take it for granted. In case I
was forgetful, please let me impress the fact upon you now. We are going
to be married, and very shortly. In fact, the sooner the better."
Of her own free will she laid her hand upon his. He fancied that behind
her veil the tears had gathered in her eyes.
"Dear friend," she said softly, "I cannot marry you! I shall never
marry any one. Will you please believe that? It will make it so much
easier for me."
He was a little taken aback. She had changed her methods suddenly, and he
had had no time to adapt himself to them.
"Don't hate me, please," she murmured. "Indeed, it would make me very
happy if we could be friends."
He laughed a little unnaturally, and turned in his seat until he was
"Would you mind lifting your veil for a moment, Louise?" he asked her.
She obeyed him with fingers which trembled a little. He saw then that the
tears had indeed been in her eyes. Her lips quivered. She looked at him
sadly, but very wistfully.
"Thank you!" he said. "Now would you mind asking yourself whether
friendship between us is possible! Remember St. Étarpe, and ask yourself
that! Remember our seat amongst the roses--remember what you will of that
long golden day."
She covered her face with her hands.
"Ah, no!" he went on. "You know yourself that only one thing is possible.
I cannot force you into my arms, Louise. If you care to take up my life
and break it in two, you can do it. But think what it means! I am not
rich, but I am rich enough to take you where you will, to live with you
in any country you desire. I don't know what your scruples are--I shall
never ask you again. But, dear, you must not! You must not send me away."
She was silent. She had dropped her veil and her head had sunk a little.
"If I believed that there was anybody else," he continued, "I would go
away and leave you alone. If I doubted for a single moment that I could
make you happy, I would not trouble you any more. But you belong to me,
Louise! You have taken up your place in my life, in my heart! I cannot
live without you! I do not think that you can live without me! You
mustn't try, dear! You mustn't!"
He held her unresisting hand, but her face was hidden from him.
"What it is that you fancy comes between us I cannot tell," he continued,
more gravely. "Only let me tell you this. We are no longer in any danger
from Stephen Heneage. He has abandoned his quest altogether. He has told
me so with his own lips."
"You are sure of that?" she asked softly.
"Absolutely," he answered.
She hesitated for a moment. He remained purposely silent. He was anxious
to try and comprehend the drift of her thoughts.
"Do you know why?" she asked. "Did he find the task too difficult, or did
he relinquish it from any other motive?"
"I am not sure," Wrayson answered. "I met him the night before last. He
was very much altered. He had the appearance of a man altogether
unnerved. Perhaps it was my fancy, but I got the idea--"
"Well?" she demanded eagerly.
"That he had come across something in the course of his investigations
which had given him a shock," he said. "He seemed all broken up. Of
course, it may have been something else altogether. At any rate, I have
his word for it. He has ceased his investigations altogether, and broken
with Sydney Barnes."
The afternoon was warm, but she shivered as she rose a little abruptly to
her feet. He laid his hand upon her arm.
"Not without my answer," he begged.
She shook her head sadly.
"My very dear friend," she said sadly, "you must always be. That is all!"
He took his place by her side.
"Your very dear friend," he repeated. "Well, it is a relationship I don't
know much about. I haven't had many friendships amongst your sex. Tell me
exactly what my privileges would be."
"You will learn that," she said, "in time."
He shook his head.
"I think not," he declared. "Friendship, to be frank with you, would not
satisfy me in the least."
"Then I must lose you altogether," she murmured, in a low tone.
"I don't think so," he affirmed coolly. "I consider that you belong to me
already. You are only postponing the time when I shall claim you."
She made no remark, and behind her veil her face told him little. A
moment later they issued from the Park and stood on the pavement before
the Baroness' flat. She held out her hand without a word.
"I think," he said, "that I should like to come in and see the Baroness."
"Not now," she begged. "We shall meet again at dinner-time."
"Where?" he asked eagerly.
"Madame desired me to ask you to join us at the Grosvenor," she answered,
"at half-past eight."
"I shall be delighted," he answered, promptly. "You nearly forgot
to tell me."
She shook her head.
"No! I didn't," she said. "I should not have let you go away without
giving you her message."
"And you will let me bring you home afterwards?"
"We shall be delighted," she answered. "I shall be with Amy, of course."
He smiled as he raised his hat and let her pass in.
"The Baroness," he said, "is always kind."
He stood for a moment on the pavement. Then he glanced at his watch and
hailed a cab.
"The Sheridan Club," he told the man. He had decided to appeal to
THE COLONEL'S MISSION
Wrayson was greeted enthusiastically, as he entered the club
billiard-room, by a little circle of friends, unbroken except for the
absence of Stephen Heneage. The Colonel came across and laid his hand
affectionately on his arm.
"How goes it, Herbert?" he asked. "The seabreezes haven't tanned
"I'm all right," Wrayson declared. "Had a capital time."
"You'll dine here to-night, Herbert?"
Wrayson shook his head.
"I meant to," he declared, "but another engagement's turned up. No! I
don't want to play pool, Mason. Can't stop. Colonel, do me a favour."
The Colonel, who was always ready to do any one a favour, signified his
willingness promptly enough. But even then Wrayson hesitated.
"I want to talk to you for a few minutes," he said, "without all these
fellows round. Should you mind coming down into the smoking-room?"
The Colonel rose promptly from his seat.
"Not a bit in the world," he declared. "We'll go into the
smoking-room. Scarcely a soul there. Much cooler, too. Bring your
drink. See you boys later."
They found two easy-chairs in the smoking-room, of which they were the
sole occupants. The Colonel cut off the end of his cigar and made
"Now, my young friend," he said, "proceed."
Wrayson did not beat about the bush.
"It's about your daughter Louise, Colonel," he said. "She won't
The Colonel pinched his cigar reflectively.
"She always was a most peculiar girl," he affirmed. "Does she give
"That's just what she won't do," Wrayson explained. "That's just why I've
come to you. I--I--Colonel, I'm fond of her. I never expected to feel
like it about any woman."
The Colonel nodded sympathetically.
"And although it may sound conceited to say so," Wrayson continued, "I
believe--no! I'm sure that she's fond of me. She's admitted it. There!"
The Colonel smiled understandingly.
"Well." he said, "then where's the trouble? You don't want my consent.
You know that."
"Louise won't marry me," Wrayson repeated. "That's the trouble. She won't
explain her attitude. She simply declares that marriage for her is an
The Colonel sighed.
"I'm afraid," he murmured, regretfully, "that my daughter is a fool."
"She is anything but that," Wrayson declared. "She has some scruple. What
it is I can't imagine. Of course, at first I thought it was because we
were, both of us, involved in that Morris Barnes affair. But I know now
that it isn't that. Heneage, who threatened me, and indirectly her, has
chucked the whole business. Such danger as there was is over. I--"
"Interrupting you for one moment," the Colonel said quietly, "what has
become of Heneage?"
"He's in a very queer way," Wrayson answered. "You know he started on hot
to solve this Morris Barnes business. He warned us both to get out of the
country. Well, I saw him last night, and he was a perfect wreck. He
looked like a man just recovering from a bout of dissipation, or
something of the sort."
"Did you speak to him?" the Colonel asked.
"I was with him some time," Wrayson answered. "His manner was just as
changed as his appearance."
The Colonel was looking, for him, quite grave. His cigar had gone out,
and he forgot to relight it.
"Dear me," he said, "I am sorry to hear this. Did he allude to the Morris
Barnes affair at all?"
"He did," Wrayson answered. "He gave me to understand, in fact, that he
had discovered a little more than he wanted to."
The Colonel stretched out his hand for a match, and relit his cigar.
"You believe, then," he said, "that Heneage has succeeded in solving the
mystery of Barnes' murder, and is keeping the knowledge to himself?"
"That was the conclusion I came to," Wrayson admitted.
The Colonel smoked for a moment or two in thoughtful silence.
"Well," he said, "it isn't like Heneage. I always looked upon him as a
man without nerves, a man who would carry through any purpose he set
himself to, without going to pieces about it. Shows how difficult it is
to understand the most obvious of us."
"But after all," he said, "it wasn't to talk about Heneage that I
brought you down here. What I want to know, Colonel, is if you can help
me at all with Louise."
The Colonel's forehead was furrowed with perplexity.
"My dear Herbert," he declared, "there is no man in the world I would
sooner have for a son-in-law. But what can I do? Louise wouldn't listen
to me in any case. I haven't any authority or any influence over her. I
say it to my sorrow, but it's the truth. If it were my little girl down
at home, now, it would be a different matter. But Louise has taken her
life into her own hands. She has not spoken to me for years. She
certainly would not listen to my advice."
"Then if you cannot help me directly, Colonel," Wrayson continued, "can
you help me indirectly? I have asked you a question something like this
before, but I want to repeat it. I have told you that Louise refuses to
marry me. She has something on her mind, some scruple, some fear. Can you
form any idea as to what it may be?"
The Colonel was silent for an unusually long time. He was leaning back in
his chair, looking up through the cloud of blue tobacco smoke to the
ceiling. In reflection his features seemed to have assumed a graver and
somewhat weary expression.
"Yes!" he said at last, "I think that I can."
Wrayson felt his heart jump. His eyes were brighter. An influx of new
life seemed to have come to him. He leaned forward eagerly.
"You will tell me what it is, Colonel?" he begged.
The Colonel looked at him with a queer little smile.
"I am not sure that I can do that, Herbert," he said. "I am not sure
that it would help you if I did. And you are asking me rather more than
Wrayson felt a little chill of discouragement.
"Colonel," he said, "I am in your hands. But I love your daughter, and I
swear that I would make her happy."
The Colonel looked at his watch.
"Do you know where Louise is?" he asked quietly.
"Number 17, Frederic Mansions, Battersea," Wrayson answered.
The Colonel rose to his feet.
"I will go down and see her," he said simply. "You had better wait here
for me. I will come straight back."
"Colonel, you're a brick," Wrayson declared, walking with him
towards the door.
"I'll do my best, Herbert," he answered quietly, "but I can't promise. I
can't promise anything."
Wrayson watched him leave the club and step into a hansom. He walked a
little more slowly than usual, his head was a little bent, and he passed
a club acquaintance in the hall without his customary greeting. Wrayson
retraced his steps and ascended towards the billiard-room, with his first
enthusiasm a little damped. Was his errand, he wondered, so grievously
distasteful to his old friend, or was the Colonel losing at last the
magnificent elasticity and vigour which had kept him so long independent
of the years?
There were others besides Wrayson who noticed a certain alteration in the
Colonel when he re-entered the billiard-room an hour or so later. His
usual greeting was unspoken, he sank a little heavily into a chair, and
he called for a drink without waiting for some one to share it with him.
They gathered round him sympathetically.
"Feeling the heat a bit, Colonel?"
"Anything wrong downstairs?"
The Colonel recovered himself promptly. He beamed upon them all
affectionately, and set down an empty tumbler with a little sigh of
"I'm all right, boys," he declared. "I couldn't find a cab--had to walk
further than I meant, and I wanted a drink badly. Wrayson, come over
here. I want to talk to you."
Wrayson sat down by his side.
"I've done the best I could," the Colonel said. "Things may not come all
right for you quite at once, but within a week I fancy it'll be all
squared up. I've found out why she refused to marry you, and you can take
my word for it that within a week the cause will be removed."
"You're a brick, Colonel," Wrayson declared heartily. "There's only one
thing more I'd love to have you to tell me."
"I'm afraid--" the Colonel began.
"That you and Louise were reconciled," Wrayson declared. "Colonel, there
can't be anything between you two, of all the people in the world, there
can't be anything sufficient to keep you and her, father and daughter,
"You are quite right, Wrayson," the Colonel assented, a little more
cheerfully. "Well, you may find that all will come right very soon now.
By the by, I've been talking to the Baroness. I want you to let me be at
your rooms to-morrow night."
Wrayson hesitated for a moment.
"You know how we stand?" he asked.
"Exactly," the Colonel answered. "I only wish that I had known before.
You will have no objection to my coming, I suppose?"
"None at all," Wrayson declared. "But, Colonel! there is one more
question that I must ask you. Did Louise speak to you about her brother?"
The Colonel nodded.
"She blamed me, of course," he said slowly, "because I had never told
her. It was his own desire, and I think that he was right. I have
telegraphed for him to come over. He will be here to-night or to-morrow."
Wrayson left the club, feeling almost light-hearted. It was the old story
over again--the Colonel to the rescue!
Sydney Barnes staggered into his apartment with a little exclamation
of relief which was almost a groan. He slammed the door and sank into
an easy-chair. With both his hands he was grasping it so that his
fingers were hot and wet with perspiration. At last he had obtained
his soul's desire!
He sat there for several minutes without moving. The blinds were close
drawn and the room was in darkness. Gradually he began to be afraid. He
rose, and with trembling fingers struck a match. On the corner of the
table--fortunately he knew exactly where to find it--was a candle. He lit
it, and holding it over his head, peered fearfully around. Convinced at
last that he was alone, he set it down again, wiped the perspiration from
his forehead, and opening a cupboard in the chiffonnier, produced a
bottle and a glass.
He poured out some spirits and drank it. Then, after rummaging for
several moments in his coat pocket, he produced several crumpled
cigarettes of a cheap variety. One of these he proceeded to smoke,
whilst, with trembling fingers, he undid the packet which he had been
carrying, and began a painstaking study of its contents. A delicate
perfume stole out into the room from those closely pressed sheets, so
eagerly clutched in his yellow-stained fingers. A little bunch of crushed
violets slipped to the floor unheeded. Ghoul-like he bent over the pages
of delicate writing, the intimate, passionate cry of a soul seeking for
its mate. They were no ordinary love-letters. Mostly they were beyond the
comprehension of the creature who spelt them out word for word, seeking
all the time to appraise their exact monetary value to himself. But for
what he had heard he would have found them disappointing. As it was, he
gloated over them. Two thousand pounds a year his clever brother had
earned by merely possessing them! He looked at them almost reverently.
Then he suddenly remembered what else his brother had earned by their
possession, and he shivered. A moment later the electric bell outside
pealed, and there came a soft knocking at the door.
A little cry--half stifled--broke from his lips. With numbed and
trembling fingers he began tying up the letters. The perspiration had
broken out upon his forehead. Some one to see him! Who could it be? He
was quite determined not to go to the door. He would let no one in. Again
the bell! Soon they would get tired of ringing and go away. He was quite
safe so long as he remained quiet. Quite safe, he told himself
feverishly. Then his pulses seemed to stop beating. There was a rush of
blood to his head. He clutched at the sides of his chair, but to rise was
a sheer impossibility.
The thing which was terrifying him was a small thing in itself--the
turning of a latch-key in the door. Before him on the table was his
own--he knew of no other. Yet some one was opening, had opened his front
door! He sprang to his feet at last with something which was almost a
shriek. The door of the room in which he was, was slowly being pushed
open. By the dim candlelight he could distinguish the figure of his
visitor standing upon the threshold and peering into the room.
His impulse was, without doubt, one of relief. The figure was the figure
of a complete stranger. Nor was there anything the least threatening
about his appearance. He saw a tall, white-haired gentleman, carefully
dressed with military exactitude, regarding him with a benevolent and
"I really must apologize," he said, "for such an unceremonious entrance.
I felt sure that you were in, but I am a trifle deaf, and I could not be
sure whether or not the bell was ringing. So I ventured to use my own
latch-key, with, as you are doubtless observing, complete success."
"Who are you, and what do you want?" Barnes asked, finding his
voice at last.
"My name is Colonel Fitzmaurice," was the courteous reply. "You will
allow me to sit down? I have the pleasure of conversing, I believe, with
Mr. Sydney Barnes?"
"That's my name," Barnes answered. "What do you want with me?"
Despite his visitor's urbanity, he was still a little nervous. The
Colonel had a somewhat purposeful air, and he had seated himself directly
in front of the door.
"I want," the Colonel said calmly, "that packet which you have just
stolen from Mrs. Morris Barnes, and which you have in your pocket there!"
Barnes rose at once, trembling, to his feet. His bead-like eyes were
bright and venomous. He was terrified, but he had the courage of despair.
"I have stolen nothing," he declared, "I don't know what you're talking
about. I won't listen to you. You have no right to force your way into my
flat. Colonel or no colonel, I won't have it. I'll send for the police."
The Colonel smiled.
"No,"' he said, "don't do that. Besides, I know what I'm talking about. I
mean the packet which I think I can see sticking out of your coat pocket.
You have just stolen that from Mrs. Barnes' tin trunk, you know."
"I have stolen nothing," the young man declared, "nothing at all. I am
not a thief. I am not afraid of the police."
The Colonel smiled tolerantly.
"That is good," he said. "I hate cowards. But I am going to make you very
much afraid of me--unless you are wise and give me that packet."
Barnes breathed thickly for a moment. Coward he knew that he was to the
marrow of his bones, but other of the evil passions were stirring in him
then. His narrow eyes were alight with greed. He had the animal courage
of vermin hard pressed.
"The packet is mine," he said fiercely. "It's nothing to do with you. Get
out of my room."
He rose to his feet. The Colonel awaited him with equable countenance. He
made, however, no advance.
"Young man," the Colonel said quietly, "do you know what happened to
Sydney Barnes stood still and shivered. He could say nothing. His tongue
seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth.
"Your brother was another of your breed," the Colonel continued. "A
blackmailer! A low-living, evil-minded brute. Do you know how he came by
"I don't know and I don't care," Barnes answered with a weak attempt at
bluster. "They're mine now, and I'm going to stick to them."
The Colonel shook his head.
"He broke his trust to a dying man," he said softly,--"to a man who lay
on the veldt at Colenso with three great wounds in his body, and his
life's blood staining the ground. He had carried those letters into
action with him, because they were precious to him. His last thought was
that they should be destroyed. Your brother swore to do this. He broke
his word. He turned blackmailer."
"You're very fond of that word," Barnes muttered. "How do you know so
"The soldier was my son," the Colonel answered, "and he did not die. You
see I have a right to those letters. Will you give them to me?"
Give them up! Give up all his hopes of affluence, his dreams of an easy
life, of the cheap luxuries and riches which formed the Heaven of his
desire! No! He was not coward enough for that. He did not believe that
this mild-looking old gentleman would use force. Besides, he could not be
very strong. He ought to be able to push him over and escape!
"No!" he answered bluntly, "I won't!"
The Colonel looked thoughtful.
"It is a pity," he said quietly. "I am sorry to hear you say that. Your
brother, when I asked him, made the same reply."
Barnes felt himself suddenly grow hot and then cold. The perspiration
stood out upon his forehead.
"I called upon your brother a few days before his death," the Colonel
continued calmly. "I explained my claim to the letters and I asked him
for them. He too refused! Do you remember, by the by, what happened to
Sydney Barnes did not answer, but his cheeks were like chalk. His mouth
was a little open, disclosing his yellow teeth. He stared at the Colonel
with frightened, fascinated eyes.
"I can see," the Colonel continued, "that you remember. Young man," he
added, with a curious alteration in his tone, "be wiser than your
brother! Give me the packet."
"You killed him," the young man gasped. "It was you who killed Morris."
The Colonel nodded gravely.
"He had his chance," he said, "even as you have it."
There was a dead silence. The Colonel was waiting. Sydney Barnes was
breathing hard. He was alone, then, with a murderer. He tried to speak,
but found a difficulty in using his voice. It was a situation which might
have abashed a bolder ruffian.
The Colonel rose to his feet.
"I am sorry to hurry you," he said, "but we are already late for our
appointment with Wrayson and his friends."
Sydney Barnes snatched up the packet and retreated behind the table. The
Colonel leaned forward and blew out the candle.
"I can see better in the dark," he remarked calmly. "You are a very
foolish young man!"
THE COLONEL SPEAKS
Wrayson glanced at the clock for the twentieth time.
"I am afraid," he said gravely, "that Mr. Sydney Barnes has been one too
many for us."
"Do you think," Louise asked, "that he has persuaded the girl to give him
"It looks like it," Wrayson confessed.
"Of course," she said, "I think that you were mad to let her go before.
She had the letters here in the room. You would have been perfectly
justified in taking them from her."
"I suppose so," Wrayson assented, doubtfully. "Somehow she seemed to get
the upper hand of us towards the end. I think she suspected that some of
us knew more than we cared to tell her about--her husband's death."
Louise shivered a little and remained silent. Wrayson walked to the
window and back.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I expected some one else here
to-night who has failed to turn up."
"Who is that?" the Baroness asked.
Wrayson hesitated for a moment and glanced towards Louise.
"Colonel Fitzmaurice," he said.
Louise seemed to turn suddenly rigid. She looked at him steadfastly for a
moment without speaking.
"My father," she murmured at last.
"Yes!" he said.
"But--what has he to do with this?" Louise asked, with her eyes fixed
anxiously, almost fearfully, upon his.
"I went to him for advice," Wrayson said quietly. "He has been always
very kind, and I thought it possible that he might be able to help us. He
promised to be here at the same hour as the others. Listen! There is the
bell at last."
The Colonel entered the room. Louise half rose to her feet. Wrayson
hastened to meet him.
"Herbert," he said, with an affectionate smile, "forgive me for being a
little late. Baroness, I am delighted to see you--and Louise."
The Baroness held out both her hands, which the Colonel raised gallantly
to his lips. Louise he greeted with a fatherly and unembarrassed smile.
"I must apologize to all of you," he said, "but perhaps this will be my
He took the packet from his breast pocket and handed it over to the
Baroness. The room seemed filled with exclamations. The Colonel beamed
upon them all.
"Quite simple," he declared. "I have just taken them from Mr. Sydney
Barnes upstairs. He, in his turn, took them from--"
The door was suddenly opened. Mrs. Morris Barnes rushed into the room and
gazed wildly around.
"Where is he?" she exclaimed. "He has robbed me. The little beast! He got
into my rooms while I was out."
The Colonel led her gallantly to a chair.
"Calm yourself, my dear young lady," he said.
"Where is he?" she cried. "Has he been here?"
The Colonel shook his head.
"He is in his room upstairs, but," he said, "I should not advise you to
go to him."
"He has my packet--Augustus' packet," she cried, springing up.
The Colonel laid his hand upon her arm.
"No!" he said, "that packet has been restored to its rightful owner."
She rose to her feet, trembling with anger. The Colonel motioned her to
resume her seat.
"Come," he said, "so far as you are concerned, you have nothing to
complain of. You offered, I believe, to give it up yourself on one
She looked at him with sudden eagerness.
"Well?" she cried, impatiently.
"That condition," he said, "shall be complied with."
She looked into his face with strange intentness.
"You mean," she said slowly, "that I shall know who it was that killed
"Yes!" the Colonel answered.
A sudden cry rang through the room. Louise was on her feet. She came
staggering towards them, her hands outstretched.
"No!" she screamed, "no! Father, you are mad! Send the woman away!"
He smiled at her deprecatingly.
"My dear Louise!" he exclaimed, "our word has been passed to this young
woman. Besides," he added, "circumstances which have occurred within the
last hour with our young friend upstairs would probably render an
explanation imperative! I am sorry for your sake, my dear young lady," he
continued, turning to Mrs. Barnes, "to have to tell you this, but if you
insist upon knowing, it was I who killed your husband."
Louise fell back into her chair and covered her face with her hands. The
Baroness looked shocked but not surprised. Wrayson, dumb and unnerved,
had staggered back, and was leaning against the table. Mrs. Barnes had
already taken a step towards the door. She was very pale, but her eyes
were ablaze. Incredulity struggled with her passionate desire for
"You!" she exclaimed. "What should you want to kill him for?"
The Colonel sighed regretfully.
"My dear young lady," he said, "it is very painful for me to have to be
so explicit, but the situation demands it. I killed him because he was
unfit to live--because he was a blackmailer of women, an unclean liver,
a foul thing upon the face of the earth."
"It's a damned lie!" the girl hissed. "He was good to me, and you shall
swing for it!"
The Colonel looked genuinely distressed.
"I am afraid," he said, "that you are prejudiced. If he was, as you say,
kind to you, it was for his own pleasure. Believe me, I made a careful
study of his character before I decided that he must go."
She looked at him with fierce curiosity.
"Are you a god," she demanded, "that you should have power of life or
death? Who are you to set yourself up as a judge?"
"Pray do not believe," he begged, "that I arrogate to myself any such
position. Only, unfortunately, as regards your late husband's character
there could be no mistake, and concerning such men as he I have very
Wrayson, who had recovered himself a little, laid his hand upon the
"Colonel," he said hoarsely, "you're not serious! You can't be! Be
careful. This woman means mischief. She will take you at your word."
"How else should she take me?" the Colonel asked calmly. "I suppose her
prejudice in favour of this man was natural, but all I can say is that,
under similar circumstances, I should act to-day precisely as I did on
the night when I found him about to sell a woman's honour, for money to
minister to the degraded pleasures of his life."
The woman leaned towards him, venomous and passionate.
"You're a nice one to preach, you are," she cried hysterically, "you,
with a man's blood upon your hands! You, a murderer! Degraded indeed!
What were his poor sins compared with yours?"
The Colonel shook his head sadly.
"I am afraid, my dear young lady," he said, "that I should never be able
to convert you to my point of view. You are naturally prejudiced, and
when I consider that I have failed to convince my own daughter"--he
glanced towards Louise--"of the soundness of my views, it goes without
saying that I should find you also unsympathetic. You are anxious, I see,
to leave us. Permit me!"
He held open the door for her with grave courtesy, but Wrayson pushed him
aside. He had recovered himself to some extent, but he still felt as
though he were moving in some horrible dream.
"Colonel!" he exclaimed hoarsely, "you know what this means! You know
where she will go!"
"If he don't, let me tell him," she interrupted. "To the nearest police
station! That's where I'm off."
Wrayson glanced quickly at the Colonel, who seemed in no way discomposed.
"Naturally," he assented. "No one, my dear young lady, will interfere
with you in your desire to carry out your painfully imperfect sense of
justice. Pray pass out!"
She hesitated for a moment. Her poor little brain was struggling,
perhaps, for the last time, to adapt itself to his point of view--to
understand why, at a moment so critical, he should treat her with the
easy composure and tolerant good-nature of one who gives to a spoilt
child its own way. Then she saw signs of further interference on
Wrayson's part, and she delayed no longer.
The Colonel closed the door after her, and stood for a moment with his
back against it, for Wrayson had shown signs of a desire to follow the
woman whose egress he had just permitted. He looked into their faces,
white with horror--full of dread of what was to come, and he smiled
"Amy," he said, turning to the Baroness, "surely you and Wrayson here are
possessed of some grains of common sense. Louise, I know, is too easily
swayed by sentiment. But you, Wrayson! Surely I can rely on you!"
"For anything," Wrayson answered, with trembling lips. "But what can I
do? What is there to be done?"
The Colonel smiled gently.
"Simply to listen intelligently--sympathetically if you can," he
declared. "I want to make my position clear to you if I can. You heard
what that poor young woman called me? Probably you would have used the
same word yourself. A murderer!"
"Yes!" Wrayson muttered. "I heard!"
"When I came back from the Soudan twelve years ago, I had been
instrumental in killing some thousands of brave men, I dare say I had
killed a score or so with my own hand. Was I a murderer then?"
"No!" Wrayson answered. "It was a different thing."
"Then killing is not necessarily murder," the Colonel remarked. "Good!
Now take the case of a man like Morris Barnes. He belonged to the class
of humanity which you can call by no other name than that of vermin.
Whatever he touched he defiled. He was without a single good instinct, a
single passable quality. Wherever he lived, he bred contamination.
Whoever touched him was the worse for it. His influence upon the world
was an unchanging one for evil. Put aside sentiment for one moment, false
sentiment I should say, and ask yourself what possible sin can there be
in taking the life of such a one. If he had gone on four legs instead of
two, his breed would have been exterminated centuries ago."
"We are not the judges," Wrayson began, weakly enough.
"We are, sir," the Colonel thundered. "For what else have we been given
brains, the moral sense, the knowledge of good or evil? There are those
amongst us who become decadents, whose presence amongst us breeds
corruption, whose dirty little lives are like the trail of a foul insect
across the page of life. I hold it a just and moral thing to rid the
world of such a creature. The sanctity of human life is the canting cry
of the falsely sentimental. Human life is sacred or not, according to
its achievements. Such a one as Morris Barnes I would brush away like a
"Bentham!" Wrayson faltered.
"I killed him, sir!" the Colonel answered, "and others of his kidney
before him. Louise knew it. I argued with her as I am doing with you, but
it was useless. Nevertheless, I have lived as seemed good to me."
"There is the law," Wrayson said, with a horrified glance towards Louise.
He understood now.
The Colonel bowed his head.
"I am prepared," the Colonel answered, "to pay the penalty of all
There was a ring at the bell. Wrayson threw open the door. A small boy
stood there. He held a piece of paper in his hand.
"The lidy said," he declared, "that the white-headed gentleman would give
me 'arf a crown for this 'ere!"
Wrayson gave him the money, and stepped back into the room. He gave
the paper to the Colonel, who read it calmly, first to himself and
* * * * *
"I leave you to your conshens. He may have been bad, but he was
good to me!
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