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Title: A Master of Deception
Author: Marsh, Richard, 1857-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        A MASTER OF DECEPTION



[Illustration: "'You see, uncle--this one; as it were, death reduced
to its lowest possible denomination'" (_see page_ 99).]



                               A MASTER

                             OF DECEPTION



                                  By

                            Richard Marsh

          Author of "Twin Sisters," "The Lovely Mrs. Blake,"
                  "The Interrupted Kiss," etc., etc.



                        With a Frontispiece by
                            DUDLEY TENNANT



                       CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
               London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
                                 1913



                               CONTENTS


     CHAPTER

      1. The Inclining of a Twig.

      2. His Uncle And His Cousin.

      3. Rodney Elmore the First.

      4. The Three Girls and the Three Telegrams.

      5. Stella.

      6. Gladys.

      7. Mary.

      8. By The 9.10: The First Part of the Journey.

      9. The Second.

     10. In the Carriage--Alone.

     11. The Stranger.

     12. Marking Time.

     13. Spreading His Wings.

     14. Business First, Pleasure Afterwards.

     15. Mabel Joyce.

     16. Thomas Austin, Senior.

     17. The Acting Head of the Firm.

     18. The Perfect Lover.

     19. The Few Words at the End of the Evening.

     20. The First Line of an Old Song.

     21. The Dead Man's Letter.

     22. Philip Walter Augustus Parker.

     23. Necessary Credentials.

     24. Lovers Parting.

     25. Stella's Betrothal Feast.

     26. Good Night.

     27. The Gentleman's Departure and the Lady's Explanation.

     28. A Conspiracy of Silence.



                        A MASTER OF DECEPTION



                              CHAPTER I

                       THE INCLINING OF A TWIG


When Rodney Elmore was eleven years old, placards appeared on the
walls announcing that a circus was coming to Uffham. Rodney asked his
mother if he might go to it. Mrs. Elmore, for what appeared to her to
be sufficient reasons, said "No." Three days before the circus was to
come he went with his mother to Mrs. Bray's house, a little way out of
Uffham, to tea. The two ladies having feminine mysteries to discuss,
he was told to go into the garden to play. As he went he passed a
little room, the door of which was open. Peeping in, as curious
children will, something on a corner of the mantelpiece caught his
eye. Going closer to see what it was, he discovered that there were
two half-crowns, one on the top of the other. The desire to go to the
circus, which had never left him, gathered sudden force. Here were the
means of going. Whipping the two coins into the pocket of his
knickerbockers, he ran from the room and into the garden.

During the remainder of the afternoon the half-crowns were a burden to
him. Not because he was weighed down by a sense of guilt; but because
he feared that their absence would be discovered; that they would be
taken from him; that he would be left poor indeed. He kept down at the
far end of the garden, considering if it would not be wiser to conceal
them in some spot from which he would be able to retrieve them at the
proper time. But Mrs. Bray's was at, what to him was, a great distance
from his own home; he might not be able to get there again before the
eventful day. When the maid came to fetch him in the coins were still
in his pocket; they were still there when he left the house with his
mother.

On the eventful day his mother had to go to London. Before she went
she told Rodney that she had given the servant money to take him to
the circus. This was rather a blow to the boy, since he found himself
possessed of money which, for its intended purpose, was useless. He
had hidden the half-crowns up the chimney in his bedroom. Aware that
it might not be easy to explain how he came to be the owner of so much
cash, there they remained for quite a time. So far as he knew, nothing
was said by Mrs. Bray about the money which had gone; certainly no
suspicion attached to him.

Later he went to a public school. During the third term he went with
the school bicycle club for a spin. The master in charge had a spill.
As he fell some coins dropped out of his pocket. Rodney, who was the
only one behind him, saw a yellow coin roll into a rut at the side of
the road. Alighting, he pressed his foot on it, so that it was covered
with earth. Then, calling to the others, who, unconscious of what had
happened, were pedalling away in front, he gave first aid to the
injured. The master had fallen heavily on his side. He had sprained
something which made it difficult for him to move. A vehicle was
fetched, which bore him back to school, recovery having first been
made of the coins which had been dropped. It was only later he
discovered that a sovereign was missing. The following day a
search-party went out to look for it, of which Rodney Elmore was a
member. They found nothing. As they were starting back Rodney
perceived that his saddle had worked loose. He stayed behind to
tighten it. When he spurted after the others the sovereign was in his
pocket. Mr. Griffiths was reputed to be poor. It was Elmore who
suggested that a subscription should be started to reimburse him for
his loss. When Mr. Griffiths heard of the suggestion--while he
laughingly declined to avail himself of the boy's generosity--he took
Elmore's hand in a friendly grip. Then he asked the lad if he would
oblige him by going on an errand to the village. While he was on the
errand Rodney changed the sovereign, which he would have found it
difficult to do in the school.

At the end of the summer term in his last year Elmore was invited by a
schoolboy friend named Austin to spend part of the holidays with him
in a wherry on the Broads. Mrs. Elmore told him that she would pay his
fare and give him, besides, a small specified sum which she said would
be sufficient for necessary expenses. Her ideas on that latter point
were not those of her son. Rodney's notions on such subjects were
always liberal. Good at books and games, he was one of the most
popular boys in the school. Among other things, he was captain of
cricket. At the last match of the season he played even unusually
well, carrying his bat through the innings with nearly two hundred
runs to his credit, having given one of the finest displays of hard
hitting and good placing the school had ever seen. He was the hero of
the day; owing to his efforts his side had won. Flushed with victory,
with the plaudits of his admirers still ringing in his ears, he
strolled along a corridor, cricket-bag in hand. He passed a room, the
door of which was open. A room with an open door was apt to have a
fatal fascination for Rodney Elmore; if opportunity offered, he could
seldom refrain from peeping in. He peeped in then. On a table was a
canvas bag, tied with a string. He recognised it as the bag which
contained the tuck-shop takings. Since the tuck-shop had had a busy
day, the probability was that the bag held quite a considerable sum.
He had been wondering where the money was coming from to enable him to
cut a becoming figure during his visit to Austin. Stepping quickly
into the room, he emptied the canvas bag into his cricket-bag; then,
going out again as quickly as he had entered, he continued his
progress.

He was on his way to one of the masters, named Rumsey, who edited the
school magazine, his object being to hand him a corrected proof of
certain matter which was to appear in the forthcoming issue. He took
the proof out of his cricket-bag, which he opened in the master's
presence. Having stayed to have a chat, he returned with Mr. Rumsey
along the corridor. As they went they saw one of the school pages come
hurriedly out of the room in which, as Rodney was aware, there was an
empty canvas bag. Mr. Rumsey commented on the speed at which the youth
was travelling.

"Isn't that young Wheeler? He seems in a hurry. I wish he would always
move as fast."

"Perhaps he's tearing off on an errand for Mr. Taylor."

As he said this Rodney carelessly swung his cricket-bag, being well
aware that the coins within were so mixed up with his sweater, pads,
gloves, and other accessories that they were not likely to make their
presence audible. At the end of the corridor they encountered Mr.
Taylor himself. Mark Taylor was fourth form master and manager of the
tuck-shop. Nodding, he went quickly on. Mr. Rumsey was going one way,
Rodney the other. They lingered at the corner to exchange a few
parting words. Suddenly Mr. Taylor's voice came towards them down the
corridor.

"Rumsey! Elmore! Who's been in my room?"

"Been in your room?" echoed Mr. Rumsey. "How should I know?" Then
added, as if it were the result of a second thought: "We just saw
Wheeler come out."

"Wheeler?" In his turn, Mr. Taylor played the part of echo. "He just
came rushing past me; I wondered what his haste meant. You saw him
come out of my room? Then---- But he can't have done a thing like
that!"

"Like what? Anything wrong?"

"There seems to be something very much wrong. Do you mind coming
here?"

Retracing their steps, Mr. Rumsey and Elmore joined the agitated Mr.
Taylor in his room. He made clear to them the cause of his agitation.

"You see this bag? It contained to-day's tuck-shop takings--more than
ten pounds. I left it, with the money tied up in it, on the table here
while I went to Perrin to fetch a memorandum I'd forgotten. Now that
I've returned, I find the bag lying on my table empty and the money
apparently gone. That's what's wrong, and the question is, who has
been in my room since I left it?"

"As I told you, Elmore and I just saw Wheeler making his exit rather
as if he were pressed for time."

"And I myself just met him scurrying along, and wondered what the
haste was about; he's not, as a general rule, the fastest of the
pages. The boy has a bad record; there was that story about Burge
minor and his journey money, and there have been other tales. If he
was in my room----"

"Perhaps he was sent on an errand to you."

"I doubt it, from the way he was running when I met him. And, so far
from stopping when he saw me, if anything, he went faster than ever.
It looks very much as if----"

He stopped, leaving the sentence ominously unfinished.

"Master Wheeler may be a young rip, but surely he wouldn't do a thing
like that."

This was Rodney, who notoriously never spoke ill of anyone. Mr. Taylor
touched on his well-known propensity.

"That's all very well, Elmore; but you'd try to find an excuse for a
man who snatched the coat off your back. This is a very serious
matter; ten pounds are ten pounds. The best thing is for you to bring
Wheeler here, and we'll have it out with him at once."

Rodney started off to fetch the page. It was some little time before
he returned. When he did he was without his cricket-bag, and gripped
the obviously unwilling page tightly by the shoulder. That the lad's
mind was very far from being at ease Mr. Taylor's questions quickly
made plain.

"Wheeler, Mr. Rumsey and Mr. Elmore just saw you coming out of my
room. What were you doing here?"

Wheeler, looking everywhere but at his questioner, hesitated; then
stammered out a lame reply.

"I--I was looking for you, sir."

"For me? What did you want with me? Why did you not say you wanted me
when you met me just now?"

Wheeler could not explain; he was tongue-tied. Mr. Taylor went on:

"When I went I left this bag on the table full of money. As you were
the only person who entered the room during my absence, I want you to
tell me how the bag came to be empty when I returned?"

"The bag was empty when I came in here," blurted out Wheeler. "I
particularly noticed."

To that tale he stuck--that the bag was empty when he entered the
room. His was a lame story. It seemed clear that he had gone into
the room with intentions which were not all that they might have
been--possibly meaning to pilfer from the bag, which he knew was
there. The discovery that the bag was empty had come upon him with a
shock; he had fled. As was not altogether unnatural, his story was not
believed. The two masters accused him point-blank of having emptied
the bag himself. A formal charge of theft would have been made against
him had it not been for his tender years, also partly because of the
resultant scandal, perhaps still more because not a farthing of the
money was ever traced to his possession, or, indeed, to anyone else's.
What had become of it was never made clear. Wheeler, however, was
dismissed from his employment with a stain upon his character which he
would find it hard to erase.

Rodney Elmore had an excellent time upon the Broads, towards which the
tuck-shop takings, in a measure, contributed. The Austins, who were
well-to-do people, had a first-rate wherry; on it was a lively party.
There were two girls--Stella Austin, Tom Austin's sister, and a friend
of hers, Mary Carmichael. Elmore, who was nearly nineteen, had already
had more than one passage with persons of the opposite sex. He had a
curious facility in gaining the good graces of feminine creatures of
all kinds and all ages. When he went he left Stella Austin under the
impression that he cared for her very much indeed; while, although
conscious that Tom Austin, believing himself to be in love with Mary
Carmichael, regarded her as his own property, he was aware that the
young lady liked him--Rodney Elmore--in a sense of which his friend
had not the vaguest notion. Altogether his visit to the Austins was an
entire success; he had won for himself a niche in everyone's esteem
before they parted.

When he was twenty Rodney Elmore entered an uncle's office in St.
Paul's Churchyard. Soon after he was twenty-one his mother died. On
her deathbed she showed an anxiety for his future which, under other
circumstances, he would have found almost amusing.

"Rodney," she implored him, "my son, my dear, dear boy, promise me
that you will keep honest; that, under no pressure of circumstances,
you will stray one hair's breadth from the path of honesty."

This, in substance, though in varying forms, was the petition which
she made to him again and again, in tones which, as the days, and even
the hours, went by, grew fainter and fainter. He did his best to give
her the assurance she required, smilingly at first, more seriously
when he perceived how much she was in earnest.

"Mother, darling," he told her, "I promise that I'll keep as straight
as a man can keep. Ill never do anything for which you could be
ashamed of me. Have you ever been ashamed of me?"

"No, dear, never. You've always been the best, cleverest, truest, most
affectionate son a woman could have. Never once have you given me a
moment's anxiety. God keep you as you have always been--above all, God
keep you honest."

"Mother," he said in earnest tones, which had nearly sunk to a
whisper, "God helping me, and He will help me, I swear to you that I
will never do a dishonest thing, never! Nor a thing that is in the
region of dishonesty. Don't you believe me, darling?"

"Of course, dear, I believe you--I do! I do!"

It was with some such words on her lips that she died; yet, even as
she uttered them, he had a feeling that there was a look in her eyes
which suggested both fear and doubt. In the midst of his heart-broken
grief the fact that there should have been such a look struck him as
good.



                              CHAPTER II

                       HIS UNCLE AND HIS COUSIN


Mrs. Elmore's income died with her. She had sunk her money in an
annuity because, as she had explained to Rodney, that enabled her to
give him a much better education than she could have done had they
been constrained to live on the interest produced by her slender
capital. But her son was not left penniless. She had bought him an
annuity, to commence when he was twenty-one, of thirty shillings a
week, to be paid weekly, and had tied it up in such a way that he
could neither forestall it nor use it as a security on which to borrow
money. As clerk to his uncle he received one hundred pounds a year.
Feeling that he could no longer reside in Uffham, he sold the house,
which was his mother's freehold, and its contents, the sale producing
quite a comfortable sum. So, on the whole, he was not so badly off as
some young men.

On the contra side he had expensive tastes, practically in every
direction. Among other things, he had a partiality for feminine
society, mostly of the reputable sort; but a young man is apt to find
the society of even a nice girl an expensive luxury. For instance,
Mary Carmichael had a voice. Her fond parents, who lived in the
country, suffered her to live in town while she was taking singing
lessons. Tom Austin, although still an undergraduate at Oxford, made
no secret of his feelings for the maiden, a fact which did not prevent
Mary going out now and then with Rodney Elmore to dinner at a
restaurant, and, afterwards, to a theatre, as, nowadays, young men and
maidens do. On these occasions Rodney paid, and where the evening's
entertainment of a modern maiden is concerned a five-pound note does
not go far. Then, although Miss Carmichael might not have been aware
of it, there were others. Among them Stella Austin, who had reasons of
her own for believing that Mr. Elmore would give the world to make her
his wife, being only kept from avowing his feelings by the fact that
he was, to all intents and purposes, a pauper. Since she was the
possessor of three or four hundred a year of her own, with the
prospect of much more, she tried more than once to hint that, since
she would not mind setting up housekeeping on quite a small income,
there was no reason why they should wait an indefinite period, till
Rodney was a millionaire. But Rodney's delicacy was superfine. While
he commended her attitude with an ardour which made the blood grow hot
in her veins, he explained that he was one of those men who would not
ask a girl to marry him unless he was in a position to keep her in the
style a husband should, adding that that time was not so distant as
some people might think. In another twelve months he hoped--well, he
hoped! As at such moments she was apt to be very close to him, Stella
hoped too.

The young gentleman was living at the rate of at least five or six
hundred a year on an income of a hundred and eighty. He did not bother
himself by keeping books, but he quite realised that his expenditure
bore no relation to his actual income. Of course, he owed money; but
he did not like owing money. It was against his principles. He never
borrowed if he could help it, and he objected to being at the mercy of
a tradesman. He preferred to get the money somehow, and pay; and,
somehow, he got it. Very curious methods that "somehow" sometimes
covered. He was fond of cards; liked to play for all sorts of stakes;
and, on the whole, he won. His skill in one so young was singular;
sometimes, when opportunity offered, it was shown in directions at
which one prefers only to hint. His favourite games were bridge,
piquet, poker, and baccarat, four games at which a skilful player can
do strange things, especially when playing with unsuspicious young men
who have looked upon the wine when it was red.

Rodney's dexterity with his fingers was almost uncanny. He could do
wonderful card tricks, though he never did them in public, but only
for his own private amusement. When reading "Oliver Twist," he had
been tickled by the scene in which Fagin teaches his youthful pupils
how to pick a pocket. He had made experiments of his own in the same
direction upon parties who were not in the least aware of the
experiments he was making. His success amused him hugely, while the
subjects of his experiments never had the dimmest notion as to how or
where their valuables had gone.

In very many ways Rodney Elmore obtained sufficient money to enable
him to keep his credit at a surprisingly high standard. Everyone spoke
well of him; he was a general favourite. Nor was it strange; he looked
a likeable fellow--indeed, ninety-nine people out of a hundred liked
him at first sight. Over six feet in height, slightly built, he did
not look so strong as he was in reality. Straight as an arrow, head
held well up, there was something almost feminine in the lightness
with which he seemed to move. Many girls and women had told him to his
face that he was the best dancer they had ever had for partner.
Indeed, in a sense, he flattered his partners, having a knack of
making a girl who danced badly think she danced well. He had light
brown hair, which seemed as if it had been dusted with golden sand;
grey eyes, which, with the pleasantest expression, looked you right in
the face; an Englishman's clear skin; mobile lips, which parted on the
slightest pretext in a sunny smile; just enough moustache to shade his
upper lip. Altogether as agreeable looking a young gentleman as one
might hope to meet. And his manners bore out the promise of his
appearance. Always cool, easy, self-possessed, ready to perform little
services for women, the aged, the infirm, in a fashion which, so far
as our present-day young men are concerned, is a little out of date.
With the pleasantest voice and trick of speech, no chatterer, it
seemed impossible for him to say a disagreeable or an unkind thing
either to or of anyone. It was a standing joke among his intimates
that, when scandal-mongering was in the air, Elmore would spoil the
fun by pointing out the good qualities of those attacked and refusing
to see anything else but them. He had ever an excuse to offer for the
most notorious sinner. It was not wonderful that everybody liked him.
On his part, he seemed incapable of disliking anyone. He might rob his
friend of all that he had, but he would not regard him as less his
friend on that account.

To this rule, so far as he knew, there was only one exception, and as
time went on this exception surprised him more and more. There was
only one person who he felt sure disliked him, and why he disliked him
was beyond his comprehension. This person was the uncle in whose
office he was a clerk--Graham Patterson. Mr. Patterson was Mrs.
Elmore's brother. Rodney quite understood that his uncle had not
offered him the position he held, but had only received him at his
mother's particular request. There had been that in his uncle's manner
which had struck him as peculiar from the first, as if he were
prejudiced against him before they met, regarding him with suspicion
and dislike. As, for some reason which he would have liked to have had
explained, he had never seen his uncle till he entered his office, his
relative's attitude struck him as distinctly odd; but, in his
light-hearted way, he told himself that he would gain his uncle's
esteem before they had been acquainted long. However, they had been
acquainted now nearly three years, and he was conscious that his uncle
esteemed him as little as ever. He wondered why.

Mr. Patterson's appearance was against him; he was big and bloated. A
City merchant of the old school, he was addicted to the pleasures of
the table and fond--for one of his habit of body unduly fond--of what
he called a "glass of wine." He liked half a pint of port with his
luncheon and a pint for his dinner, he being just the kind of person
who never ought to have touched port at all. Nor, when his health
permitted, was his daily allowance of stimulants by any means confined
to his pint and a half of port. The result was that he suffered both
in mind and body. The "governor's temper" was a byword in the office.
When, to use his own phrase, he was "a little below par" he would fly
into such fits of passion about the merest trivialities that those
about him used to regard his "paddies" as part of the daily routine;
so soon as he was out of his "paddy" he had forgotten all about it.

Although his methods were a little old-fashioned, he was still an
excellent man of business. The staple of his trade was silk, but
latterly he had added other lines. In these days of shoddy the quality
of his goods was above suspicion; he did a remunerative trade in
everything he touched. In the trade no man's commercial integrity
stood higher than Graham Patterson's; whoever dealt with him could be
sure that everything would be all right. His books showed every year a
comfortable turnover at fair rates of profit. There were those in his
employ who were of opinion that if only a younger and more pushing man
could have a voice in the management of affairs, the business might
rapidly become one of the finest in the city of London.

Rodney Elmore had not been long in his uncle's office before this
opinion became emphatically his. He was conscious of commercial
abilities of the most unusual kind, and was convinced that if he could
only get a chance he would double both the turnover and the profits in
so short a space of time that his uncle could not fail to be
gratified. Since he was the nephew of his uncle, and, indeed, his only
male relative, he did not see why he should not have a chance. When he
first went to St. Paul's Churchyard he had hopes, but these hopes had
grown dimmer. His perceptions on such matters were keen; few persons,
no matter what their age, could see farther into a brick wall than he.
He felt certain that his uncle only kept him at all because Mrs.
Elmore had wrung from him a promise that he should have a place, of
sorts, in his office. So far from having an eye to his nephew's
advancement, it seemed to Rodney that his uncle even went out of his
way to let him have as little as possible to do with the conduct of
his business. It was true that he had a room for his separate use,
and, though it was but a tiny one, on this foundation, at the
beginning, he built much. But before long he understood that what he
had reared were castles in the air. It seemed to Rodney before long
that it must have been Mr. Patterson's intention to keep him apart
from the others in order that he might know nothing of what was going
on. His own work was of the simplest clerical kind; occasionally he
was sent on an errand of no importance. He seemed free to come when he
liked, and leave when he chose; nobody appeared to care what he did,
or left undone. For these onerous labours he had been paid the first
year eighty pounds, the second a hundred, then a hundred and twenty;
now, after three years, he wondered what was going to happen next.
Obviously an office boy could do what he had to do for five shillings
a week.

Under the circumstances, the fact that he had acquired such an insight
into the ins and outs, the pros and cons, of his uncle's business
transactions spoke volumes for his keenness and acumen. He often
smiled to himself as he pictured the expression which would come on
his uncle's rubicund countenance if he guessed what an intimate
knowledge his office boy had of his affairs. Rodney was perfectly
aware that the expression would not be one of pleasure; that his
knowledge would not be regarded as the fruit of promising zeal, but as
something which could only be adequately described by a flood of
uncomplimentary adjectives. What was at the back of Graham Patterson's
mind the young man, with all his shrewdness, had still no notion. He
was one of the few men he had met who puzzled him. But of this much he
was clear--that, while for his sister's sake Mr. Patterson was willing
that his nephew should have a seat in his office, the less active
interest the young man took in the duties he was, presumably, paid to
perform the better pleased his employer would be. Elmore was of a
hopeful disposition, willing to persevere if he saw even a remote
chance of ultimate gain. But so convinced was he that his uncle, if he
could help it, would never, on his own initiative, advance him to a
position of trust that, before this, he would have cast about for a
chance of improving his prospects--had it not been for a young lady.

He had already been more than two years in his uncle's employment, and
was meditating leaving it at a very early date, when one afternoon,
Mr. Patterson being out, he heard an unknown feminine voice speaking
in the outer office, and unexpectedly the door of his own den was
opened, and someone entered--a girl. Slipping the papers he was
assiduously studying into his desk with lightning-like rapidity, he
rose to greet her.

"Are you Rodney Elmore?" He smilingly owned that he was. "Then you're
my cousin. How are you?"

His cousin? He did not know that he had such a relative in the world.
She held out her hand. Almost before he knew it he had it in his;
whether willingly or not, she left it in his quite an appreciable
space of time. He admitted his ignorance.

"I didn't know I had such a delightful thing as a cousin."

"Isn't that queer? I didn't till the other day. I'm Gladys Patterson;
your uncle's my father."

For once in his life Rodney was taken by surprise. His researches into
his uncle's affairs had been confined to their commercial side. He
knew practically nothing of his private life. He had never heard
it spoken of, and had asked no questions. He had a vague idea
that his uncle was a bachelor. He knew that he lived in rooms,
and--accidentally--had learnt that he had relations with certain
ladies of a kind which one does not associate with a family man. That
he had ever had a wife and, still less, a daughter he had never
guessed. Even in the midst of his surprise he reproached himself for
his stupidity that such an important point should have escaped him! As
he regarded the girl in front of him he perceived that she was her
father's child.

She was about his height, he being short and fat. One day, if
appearances were not misleading, she also would be plump. Already she
had something of her father's rubicund countenance; her cheeks were
red, even a trifle blotchy. She had dark hair and eyes, both her mouth
and nose were a little too big. Yet he did not find her disagreeable
to look at. On the contrary, there was something about her which
appealed to him, just as he was conscious that there was something
about him which appealed to her. Where a girl was concerned it was
strange how some subtle instinct told him these things. He was moved
to audacity.

"If you're my cousin, oughtn't I to kiss you?"

Her eyes lit up. Her lips parted, showing her beautiful teeth; if they
were a little large, they were very white and even.

"As I've had no experience of cousins, how can I say?"

"I shouldn't like you to feel that I'm beginning by evading what, for
aught either of us can tell, might be my duty."

Stooping, he kissed her on the mouth. Though it was little more than a
butterfly's kiss, her lips seemed to meet his with a gentle pressure
which he found agreeable.

"You are a cousin!" she exclaimed.

"I'm glad you are," he replied.

"Didn't you really know you had a cousin?" He shook his head. "Nor I;
isn't it queer? I only found it out the other day by the merest
accident; in some respects dad is the most secretive person. I've been
abroad for the last five years. How old do you think I am?"

There was a frankness, a friendliness about this cousin which amused
him. In that sense she could not have been more unlike her sire.

"Twenty-two."

"I'm twenty-five--isn't it awful? How old are you?"

"I regret to say that I am only twenty-three. I'm afraid you'll regard
me as only a kid."

"Shall I? I don't think I shall. You don't look as if you were 'only a
kid.' I've been what papa calls 'finishing my education.' Fancy! at my
time of life! If my mother had been living I shouldn't have stood it;
but, as you know, she died when I was only a tiny tot; and I knew
dad--so I lay, comparatively, low. I've been living here and there and
everywhere with the queerest duennas, though they really have been
dears; and now and then I have had a good time, though I've had some
frightfully dull ones. But at last I have struck. You know we've got a
house in Russell Square?" Again he shook his head. "What do you know?"

"So far as you are concerned--nothing. I know that I'm clerk to my
uncle, and that's all."

"Well, we have got a house in Russell Square. It's been shut up all
these years--papa's been living in rooms. But I've made him refurbish
it, and he's made it really nice--when he does undertake to do a thing
he does it well--and I'm installed in it as mistress. Of course, I
know Russell Square's out of the way, but they are good houses, and,
if I can only manage dad, I'm going to have a real good time."

"Did he tell you about me?"

"Not he. Don't I tell you that I only discovered your existence by the
merest accident? Do you remember a boy named Henderson who was at
school with you?"

"Alfred Henderson--very well; we moved together from form to form."

"I know his sister Cissie; we were at school together, years ago,
and she knows you. She told me the other day that you were in your
uncle's office in St. Paul's Churchyard, and that his name was Graham
Patterson, and was he any relation of mine. I nearly had a fit. When
dad came home I bombarded him with questions---- What have you done to
offend him?"

"Nothing of which I'm conscious. Ever since I've been in the office
I've been aware that he dislikes me, though I assure you that I've
done my best to please him and give him no cause of complaint."

"Well, he does not like you, and that's a fact. He as good as forbade
me to make your acquaintance; but, as he wouldn't give any reasons, I
decided to find out for myself what sort of person you were, and--then
be guided by circumstances. The truth is, I've had enough of obeying
dad, and that's another fact. If I'm not careful I shall end my days
in a convent, and the conventual life has not the slightest attraction
for me. I've got a will of my own, and when a girl is twenty-five it's
about time that she should let such a very unreasonable parent as mine
seems to be know it. I'm sure Cissie Henderson is a girl who knows
what she is talking about, and as she said all sorts of nice things
about you, and nothing else but nice things, I made up my mind that,
since I had a cousin, I'd find out for myself what kind of cousin my
cousin was. There is dad. Now you see how I manage him."

A heavy step and a loud voice were heard without; then the door was
thrown back upon its hinges.

"Gladys! What does this mean?"

"I've come to see my cousin, dad, as I told you I should do."

"Come into my room."

"Directly, dad. I want Rodney to come and dine with us to-night."

Her father perceptibly winced at his daughter's use of the Christian
name.

"To-night? Impossible! I'm engaged."

"Are you? Then in that case he can come and keep me company while you
are out. We ought to have heaps of things to say to each other. Do you
mind?"

The question was put to Elmore. Mr. Patterson glared.

"Gladys, I want you to come with me to the theatre to-night."

"My dear dad, this is the first time I've heard of it--and, if you
don't mind, I'd much rather not. One can go to the theatre any night,
but one can't discover that one has a cousin, and meet him for the
first time, every day. I'd much rather Rodney would come to dine.
Won't you?"

Again the question was put to Elmore.

"I'd be very glad to come--with Mr. Patterson's permission."

"You hear, dad? He'll come, with your permission. Nothing would please
you more than that he should come, would it?"

The father looked into the daughter's eyes, seeming to see something
in them which kept him from uttering words which were at the tip of
his tongue. He spoke gruffly.

"Perhaps he has an engagement."

"Have you?"

"Not any."

"And if you had, you'd throw it over to dine with us, wouldn't you?"

"I certainly would."

"You see, papa, what a compliment he pays you. Come, since it seems
that he doesn't regard my invitation as sufficient, will you please
ask him to dine with us to-night?"

Again the father eyed his daughter. The observant youth, as he glanced
from one to the other, was struck by the unmistakable evidence that
this young woman was her father's child. He did not doubt that she had
more than a touch of the paternal temper. He saw that Mr. Patterson,
fearful of an exhibition of it then and there, as the lesser of two
evils, yielded, not gracefully.

"He can come if he likes."

"Thank you, papa. You haven't a very pretty way--has he?--but as my
invitation couldn't possibly be warmer, I'm sure you'll regard dad's
endorsement as more than sufficient. So you will come?"

"I shall be only too delighted."

"Now, then, Gladys, come to my room. I want to speak to you."

"Coming, dad. Remember, Rodney, our address is 90, Russell Square, and
we dine at eight; but if you come any time after half-past seven
you'll find me ready. You can't think how dad and I will look forward
to your coming."



                             CHAPTER III

                       RODNEY ELMORE THE FIRST


That was a curious dinner party. Elmore quite expected that when he
had rid himself of his daughter his uncle would come and tell him that
he was not to regard the invitation as having been seriously intended,
and that he was not to present himself in Russell Square. But nothing
of the sort occurred. He saw and heard no more of Mr. Patterson until
he quitted the office, and just before a quarter to eight he entered
the drawing-room at No. 90. Miss Patterson, who was its sole occupant,
rose as he entered.

"It's very good of you," she said, while she continued to allow her
hand to remain in his, "to take the hint, and come early. Dad never
shows till dinner's served, so that I shall have a chance of finding
out before he comes what is the meaning of the extraordinary attitude
he is taking up towards you. He simply poses as the father who has got
to be obeyed, and as that sort of thing appears to be ridiculous, as I
ventured to tell him, I expect you to tell me all about it."

He told her all he had to tell, which was very little, in such fashion
that inside fifteen minutes they were on terms almost of intimacy. He
was one of those men who have a natural attraction for contrasting
types of women; emphatically for that type of which Gladys Patterson
was an example. The master of the house did not enter till dinner was
served, and by the time they were seated at table Elmore was already
aware that his cousin offered a pleasant and promising field for such
experiments as he might choose to devise.

Conversation was almost entirely confined to the two younger members
of the party, the initiative being taken by Gladys, Elmore acting as a
sort of chorus. The meal was of the solid, plentiful, well-cooked
order, which one felt would appeal to the host. Beyond replying
shortly to an occasional inquiry addressed to him by his daughter, Mr.
Patterson's whole attention was given to his food, and wine. When
dessert was on the table his daughter asked him:

"Going out to-night, dad--as usual?"

"No," he responded briefly, "I'm not."

The young woman looked at her cousin with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Dad follows the good old-fashioned custom of sitting over his wine.
He thinks that a glass of port gives a proper finish to a meal. If you
don't think so you can come into the drawing-room with me."

"He'll stay here," observed the sire succinctly.

But the damsel was equal to the occasion.

"Very well, dad; then I'll stay too. And since this table really is
too big for three, I think, Rodney, it would be more comfy if I were
to bring my chair closer to yours. Are you fond of the theatre?"

Having brought her chair to within a foot of Elmore's she entered with
him into an animated discussion on the subject of favourite plays and
players, while the host, practically speechless, sat at the head of
his board drinking more port than was good for him. Elmore, who could
be abstemious enough when he liked, had followed his cousin's lead,
and drank nothing but mineral water. At last the young lady used his
self-denial as a pivot to gain her own ends.

"Really, dad, as Rodney won't join you in drinking, it's absurd our
stopping here, especially as I want some music, so please, sir, will
you come with me at once into the drawing-room?"

Before the slow-witted host, whose brains had not been rendered more
active by his libations, had awoke to the meaning of his daughter's
proposition, she had borne the guest with her from the room. They were
alone together in the drawing-room for more than half an hour. If the
music of which Gladys had spoken was not much in evidence, their
acquaintance moved at a rate which was only possible in the case of a
young man who was willing--nay, eager--to take advantage of the
peculiarities of a young woman's temperament. So that when his uncle
did appear, with eyes a little dulled and feet a little unsteady,
Rodney was quite ready to make his adieux and his cousin to excuse
him.

The acquaintance, thus commenced, not only continued, but advanced by
leaps and bounds. Mr. Patterson's habits being those of a bachelor of
a not too strait-laced kind rather than those of a family man, he did
not find his daughter's society so congenial and satisfying as he
might have done. Being desirous of doing as he liked, he left her with
more freedom than he himself was perhaps aware of. She would even have
not been without justification had she chosen to regard herself as
neglected. But for what seemed to her to be sufficient reasons, she
was content that her parent should amuse himself as he liked, though
his doing so resulted in his practically overlooking her altogether.

Rodney Elmore never went again to the house in Russell Square as his
uncle's guest, but he went there more than once as his daughter's, and
that sometimes at hours and under circumstances which were, to say the
least, unconventional. More frequently their meetings were not in
the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury. Mr. Patterson had a fondness for
week-ending, without informing his daughter with whom he spent his
time or where. It was not strange if, during such absences, his
daughter did her best to avoid being too much alone. More than one
such Sunday she and Rodney spent together from quite an early hour to
quite a late one. Before long they were on terms which certainly could
not have been more intimate had they been an engaged couple. But they
were not, on that point they supposed that they understood each other
thoroughly. Gladys had less than two hundred a year of her own, left
her by her mother; and Rodney was pretty sure that if she married him
her means would not be materially increased for many a day to come--if
ever. He was by no means sure that he cared for her enough to marry
her if all he got with her in marriage was her person; no one could be
clearer than he was that she would not make the sort of wife who would
be likely to be in any way whatever of assistance to a struggling
husband. Her attitude was almost equally practical. That she liked him
much more than he liked her was sure; there was hardly anything he
could ask of her which she would not be willing to give. She believed
in him much more than he believed in her; in her eyes he was nearly a
hero. But, not being quite blind, she realised that, as things were,
marriage for them was out of the question. She knew her father, and
was aware that while up to a certain point she could do with him as
she liked, if on a matter of capital importance he bade her not to do
such and such a thing, and she did it, he would cut her as completely
out of his life as if she had not been in it, and never miss her. She
was conscious that she was as unfitted for love in a cottage as Elmore
was; was, perhaps, even dimly alive to the fact that in such a
position her plight would be worse than his was. So that their
association was based on that quite up-to-date article of faith which
sets forth that though a young man and a young woman can never be
husband and wife, they may still be "pals."

Elmore's position in the office was not improved by the incident of
his having been a guest in Russell Square. Though his uncle never
spoke to him upon the subject--nor, indeed, if he could help it, on
any other--his nephew's acute perception realised that he had not
grown to like him any more. As time went on a doubt began to grow up
within him as to whether his uncle had not some inkling of the
relations which existed between him and his daughter. That his doubt
was well founded he was ultimately to learn. One morning, soon after
his uncle's arrival, a request came to him to go to him at once in his
room. When he went in he was struck, not by any means for the first
time, by certain points about his uncle's appearance. He felt
convinced that his relative's was not, from the insurance point of
view, a good life. Rodney Elmore knew little of medicine, yet he
hazarded a private opinion that Graham Patterson was a promising
subject for an apoplectic stroke--the kind of man who, at any moment
of undue stress, might have cerebral trouble from which he might not
find it easy to recover. He caught himself wondering whether if, by
any mischance, his uncle became the victim of such a catastrophe, it
might not be worth his while to marry his cousin, if, indeed, that
would not be the lady's own point of view. Were Graham Patterson to
have such a stroke, it was at least within the range of possibility
that he might never again be in a condition to manage his own affairs;
in which case who would be so likely to be appointed administrator as
the husband of his only child?

While such gruesome imaginings occupied his mind, the subject of them
continued to regard him with a stolid silence which at last struck him
as singular.

"I was told, sir, that you wished to speak to me."

He said this with the little air of pleasant deference of which he was
such a master and which became him so well. His uncle still said
nothing, but continued to glare at him with his bloodshot eyes as if
he were some strange object in an exhibition. He really looked so odd
that Rodney began to wonder if that stroke was already in the air. He
tried again to move him to speech.

"I trust, sir, that nothing disagreeable has happened."

Yet some seconds passed before his uncle did speak. When he did it was
with a hard sort of ferocity which his listener felt accorded well
with the singularity of his appearance.

"You took my daughter to the Palace Theatre last night."

Rodney wondered from whom he had learned the fact, being convinced
that it was not from his daughter. However, since he could scarcely
ask, he tried another line, one which he was conscious went close to
the verge of insolence.

"I hope, sir, that the Palace is not a theatre to which you object.
Just now it has one of the best entertainments in London."

Only in a very narrow sense could his uncle's response be regarded as
a reply to his words.

"You're an infernal young scoundrel!"

Rodney did not attempt to feign resentment he did not feel. His
quickly-moving wits told him that he was at last brought face to face
with a position which he had for some time foreseen, and that for him
the best attitude would probably be one of modest humility--at least,
to begin with.

"I don't think, sir, you are entitled to use such language to me on
such slight grounds."

"Don't you? You--you--beauty!"

Obviously Mr. Patterson had substituted a different word for the one
he had intended to use. Taking a slip of paper out of the drawer of
the writing-table at which he was seated, he held it out towards
Rodney.

"You see that?"

"I do, sir."

"You know what it is?"

"It appears to be a cheque."

"You know what cheque it is."

"If you will allow me to examine it more closely I shall perhaps be
able to say."

"You can examine it as closely as you please so long as it is in my
hands. I wouldn't trust it in your hands for a good deal."

"Why do you say that?"

"You impudent young blackguard!"

"And that, sir?"

"I say it, you brazen young hypocrite, because that cheque happens to
be a forgery, and you are the man who forged it."

"Sir! I know that you are used to allow yourself a large license in
the way of language, but this time, although you are my uncle, you go
too far."

"I intend to go much farther before I've done--and don't you throw the
fact that I'm your uncle in my face, the most decent men have
blackguards for relatives. This cheque was originally made out for
eight pounds. I told you to ask young Metcalf to get cash for it.
Between this room and Metcalf's desk you altered it to eighty pounds.
It was easily done--especially by an expert like you. He brought you
eighty pounds; you gave me eight, and kept seventy-two. You were aware
that Metcalf was leaving the office that day to join his brother in
Canada; you calculated that probably before the thing was discovered
he would be on the high seas, and that, therefore, since everyone
knew how much he was in want of cash, I should lay the guilt at his
door--you dirty cur! But I didn't, never for one instant; the instant
I saw the cheque I recognised your hand."

"You recognised my hand? What do you mean by that, sir?"

Mr. Patterson took something else out of his writing-table drawer,
which, this time, he handed to his nephew.

"Look at that."

It was a portrait--the photograph of a man in the early prime of life.

"Don't you think it might be yours?"

Rodney felt that, allowing for the changes made by a few superimposed
years, the resemblance to himself was striking, so striking that it
was startling. The eyes looked at him out of the portrait with an
expression which he recognised as so like his own that it bewildered
him.

"That's the portrait of your father. You don't remember him?"

"Not at all."

"I knew him all his life. You are so like what he was at your age that
more than once when I have looked at you I have had an uncomfortable
feeling that he had come back again to haunt me. Never was son more
like his father, in all things."

Rodney winced, scarcely knowing why. His uncle went on.

"Your mother never spoke to you of him?"

"Never."

"She had what she supposed to be sufficient reasons for her reticence;
she wished to hide from you, if possible, the knowledge of what manner
of man your father was, thinking that the knowledge of the heritage of
shame which he had left behind might drive you to walk in his
footsteps. I was of a different opinion. I held that if you had in you
any of the makings of a decent man, the knowledge of the sort of man
your father was would serve you as a warning to keep off the path he'd
followed. However, you were your mother's child, not mine, thank God;
she had her way, though I warned her that the time would probably come
when I should have to tell you the story she would rather have bitten
off her tongue than tell."

Mr. Patterson paused, keeping his eyes fixed on the young man in front
of him. There was a quality in his gaze which made Rodney conscious of
a sense of discomfort to which he had been hitherto a stranger.

"You are so like your father that you even have his Christian name.
Rodney Elmore the first was one of those creatures who sometimes come
into the world, who could not run straight if they tried--and they
never try. He was one of Nature's thieves; a born scamp; a lifelong
blackguard. Your mother was my only sister; the only relative I had. I
did not understand him so well before she married him as I did
afterwards, but I understood him well enough to have kept her from
marrying him if I could. But he was one of those hounds who, if they
cannot get what they want by fair means, will not hesitate to get it
by foul; he even won his wife by foul means, taking advantage of her
girlish innocence so that she had to become his wife to save her good
name. She lived for six years with him in hell. Then he was detected
in a series of frauds which would probably have resulted in his being
sent to penal servitude for life. Rather than face the music, he
committed suicide."

Again Mr. Patterson paused, and his nephew, on his side, kept still.
It seemed to him that his uncle's voice was the voice of doom; he was
aware of a sensation of actual physical pain as he listened, as if
sentence had not only been pronounced, but punishment also begun. He
had wondered vaguely more than once what manner of man his father was,
and, since she had volunteered no information, had put questions on
the subject to his mother. But she had staved them off in a fashion
which suggested--since even in the days of his boyhood his mental
processes were sufficiently acute--that there was not much to be told
about him which redounded to his credit. So, as years brought wisdom,
his curiosity became less and less; a feeling grew up in his bosom
that perhaps the less he knew about his father the better it might be.
Never, however, had his most pessimistic imaginings come near the
reality as portrayed by his uncle. He, the son of a lifelong rogue,
who had only escaped the penalty of his misdeeds by self-destruction!
He began to apprehend the meaning of the attitude his uncle had taken
up towards him. His uncle did his best to assist him to a clearer
comprehension.

"I never would have anything to do with you. I had suffered too much
from your father to be willing by any overt act to acknowledge your
existence, especially as a relative of mine. I resented your
existence. I am not more superstitious than the average man, but I had
a strong conviction that with you it would be a case of like father
like son. The paternal qualities were too strong, too ingrained, too
much the very essence of his being not to be transmitted. When your
mother came and begged me to take you into my office I asked her
point-blank if you were not your father's son. She denied it. I
believed then that she lied; now I know it. I have no doubt that she
had detected you over and over again in acts which recalled your
father."

Rodney wondered if that really was the case. She had never hinted
anything of the sort to him. He understood now why, with her dying
breath, she had entreated him to be honest. Did she realise at the
very portals of death what a broken reed his promise was? He shivered
at the thought.

"So soon as you came into this office I knew that I had been right,
and that you were every inch your father's son. You are clever; don't
suppose that I don't appreciate the fact. I am not so clever, which
fact you have taken rather too much for granted. You have overlooked
one quality I have, and that is--a nose for a thief. I owe to it a
good deal of such success as I have had--in a sense, I can smell a
thief so soon as he comes near me. Of course, in your case I had your
father's record to help me; but I think that, without it, I should
have scented you, your odour was so pungent. You had not been in the
place a month before you began to play your little tricks. I do not
flatter myself that I found you out in all of them, but I did in a
good many. I said nothing, but I made a note of each, and have the
complete record in a certain volume which will possibly be produced
one day in a court of assize. Then there came the incident of the
cheque--the eight pounds which you turned into eighty. When I saw that
cheque I realised that immunity had given you courage, and that you
were beginning to fly at higher game. I am, as I believe you and other
gentlemen in the office are aware, a regular old fogey, a dray-horse
sort of man. I never, if I can help it, arrive at a hasty decision. I
put that cheque aside and waited; you see, although you live to the
age of Methuselah, a thing like this is always up against you--you can
never get away from it. I was in no hurry."

Again Mr. Patterson paused. Leaning back in his chair, he smiled.
Rodney told himself that he resembled an ogre who was enjoying, in
anticipation, the meal he proposed to make of him.

"After all, my lad, although you are so clever, you're a fool--indeed,
your cleverness is folly. If you had to be dishonest, hadn't you sense
enough to gratify your instincts on less dangerous lines? You have
made a serious mistake in underrating me; perhaps that's because your
experience of men is small. I've been watching you; you've been living
in a fool's paradise--your conscience has never pinched you because
you have never feared discovery. Yet, if you had troubled yourself to
think, you must have known that, sooner or later, discovery was bound
to come, and that, when it did, I had you. You were a fool, my lad, a
fool."

The speaker's smile grew more pronounced. To his nephew's thinking it
became more and more like an ogre's grin. But when he went on it not
only vanished, but its place was taken by something which was
unpleasantly like a snarl.

"Then my daughter came on the scene. There, again, you were at fault,
because it so happens that I understand my daughter almost as well as
you do. She may think herself romantic, but she isn't--there's no more
romance about her than there is about me. She's a healthy, vigorous
female animal, with her father's blood in her veins, and her father's
fondness for the good things of this life of all sorts and kinds.
She's seen little of men, especially young men, and I quite appreciate
the fact that you're just the sort of young man at whose head she
would fling herself--with a little delicate encouragement from you.
But she won't, don't you make any mistake, my lad. I haven't forgotten
how your father won your mother; and I promise you you shan't win my
daughter in the same way. On the day on which I suspected you of any
such intention you'd be branded as a gaol bird, and for the whole
remainder of your life you'd be passing in and out of prison gates.
I'm asking for no promise, being aware that you're one of Nature's
liars, I know that not the least reliance is to be placed on any word
you utter, but I'm giving you a promise. You can make any excuse to
her you like--I'm sure you're a whale at excuses; if you ever speak to
her again, even to tell her that you're not to speak; if you ever
write to her; if you ever hold any communication with her whatever,
you'll pass into the hands of the police, and I'll tell her your story
and your father's. My girl has another thing in common with her
father--she's honest, she hates a rogue. And if she knew that you were
a common kennel thief, as your father was before you, she'd have no
more truck with you if you were twenty times her husband, and I don't
believe she'd move a finger to save you from penal servitude. I'm not
going to turn you away; you're going to continue to occupy your
present position in my office, so that I can keep my eye on you, so
don't you try to turn tail and run. Now we understand each other. I
have my morning letters to attend to, but I thought I'd better have
this little explanation with you first. Now you can go; take my
advice--if you can--steal no more. If you keep along the same path
you'll find at the end what your father found, he was no more anxious
to find it than you are--suicide."



                              CHAPTER IV

                    THE THREE GIRLS AND THE THREE
                              TELEGRAMS


His uncle's words were in Rodney's ears for days afterwards. Was it
conceivable that he, to whom life was so sweet a thing, could under
any circumstances seek refuge in a suicide's grave? It was horrid that
his father should have been that sort of man; it was hard on him. His
mother ought to have told him; at least he would have been on his
guard. No wonder his uncle had been prejudiced against him; had his
mother not been so unkindly silent, he might--well, he might have
framed his conduct, so far as his uncle was concerned, on different
lines. How could he have guessed that his uncle was observing him with
almost unnatural keenness; while, all the time, he supposed him to be
purblind? It was a most unfortunate position for a young fellow to be
placed in; a word from his mother would have been of such assistance.
He was always reluctant to blame anyone; yet he could not but
feel that his parents had not used him well; with that moral
colour-blindness, which was one of his most striking characteristics,
he was already beginning to lump them together, though he knew
perfectly well, of his own knowledge, that, in all things, his mother
had been the soul of honour.

He was most awkwardly placed as regards his cousin; he had engagements
with her which he was aware she would resent his breaking; and her
father had even forbidden him to explain. Not that he could think of
any explanation which would meet the case from her point of view; she
was apt to be quick-tempered where he was concerned, and he was most
anxious to keep in with her; one never knew what might happen. He had
been cramming up the subject of apoplexy, both from books, and from
the lips of medical acquaintances; and he felt sure, from certain
little things he had noticed, that it was quite possible that his
uncle might have a stroke at any second; and, of course, if he did,
the situation would be entirely altered. But, at the same time, that
could not be counted on; and, in the meanwhile, there was Gladys both
to consider and conciliate. Still, he managed; his dexterity in such
matters was remarkable. He contrived that a communication should reach
his cousin to the effect that her father had forbidden him to meet
her, on pain of instant dismissal, and that, to save her from the
paternal anger, he had promised that he would not even write to her.
He counselled her, however, to be patient, expressing his conviction
that this state of things was not likely to continue, and that before
long they would be more than compensated for the brief period during
which they would be separated one from the other.

Then he went to his uncle in his room at the office, and telling him,
what was quite true, that Gladys had written asking for an explanation
of his sudden cessation of their intimacy, requested him, for
everybody's sake, since he had ordered him not to write to her, to
inform her himself of the prohibition he had laid upon his nephew.
This, grimly enough, Mr. Patterson undertook to do, and doubtless did.
And for more than a fortnight Rodney Elmore had quite a dull time.
Then a sequence of events came crowding on him so rapidly that within
a period of some eight-and-forty hours the whole course of his life
was changed.

The sequence began on a certain Saturday morning. Before he was yet
out of his bedroom he was informed that Mr. Austin had called; and,
indeed, the words were hardly spoken before Tom showed himself in.
Rodney was unfeignedly glad to see him. He had always liked Tom,
who was the antipodes of himself; a red-headed, freckle-faced,
simple-minded youth, who was not likely to set the Thames on fire, and
who, in fact, had no desires in that direction. He had "cut" college
for a few days, but had to hurry back by an early train; which
explained the matutinal hour he had chosen for a call. He brought news
that Stella was in town, staying with some people over Kensington way;
and suggested, as he rather thought that Stella found it dullish, that
he should look her up, if possible that very afternoon, and take her
somewhere. Rodney declared that he would be only too glad to have the
chance; he would get away early from the office, and go straight to
her, and would let her have a wire at once to let her know that he was
coming.

Then, when they adjourned to breakfast, a meal at which the visitor
expressed his readiness to assist, Tom volunteered the information
that he had been down to see Mary Carmichael, who was staying with an
aunt at Hove. She was quite well, was Mary, and, if anything, prettier
than ever; and he rather thought that, at last, he had fixed things up
with her. As he said this he flushed a red which was not at all the
same shade as his hair.

"You know," he observed, "how she's always refused to take me
seriously, and what a job I've had to get her to do it, and how she's
always ragged me, pretending that I was too young to know my own mind,
and all that sort of rot. Well, this time I rather fancy that I've
convinced her that I do know my own mind; and, what's more, I fancy
that I've found out what's in hers too. You know, she's always stuck
out that she'd have nothing to say to me about--you know what, till
I'd taken my degree. Of course, I ought to have taken the beastly
thing ages ago; there's no need for anyone to tell me that; but this
time I am going to do the trick--you see. Everyone will tell you that
I've been working like blazes, and even my tutor has hopes. Mary as
good as told me last night that if I once got the thing the banns
could go up inside three months--honestly, she did. Of course, she was
only laughing; you know how she does laugh at a fellow; but I believe
she meant it, all the same. I say, this ham of yours is top hole; I'll
have another whack."

While Tom helped himself to the other "whack," his friend said with a
sigh:

"You're a lucky beggar to be able to think of marriage at your time of
life."

"Don't I know it? For that I've got the pater to thank; he's been
making more piles. All he really wants is that I should settle down;
nothing would please him better than to see me married; he'd be almost
as glad as I should to have Mary as a member of the family. Isn't it
queer that while I've liked Mary all her life I've liked her more and
more as time went on, until--well, if I do get her I shall have got
all I want."

"Then, with all my heart, I hope you get her."

"I've decided hopes, old man--decided. I say, you know, Stella's not a
bad sort, although I am her brother."

"Do you think that I don't know it?"

"You're the best pal I have in the world, and--I don't think she
objects to you."

"Tom, dear old chap, don't say another word--please. I'm never going
to ask a girl to marry me until I'm in a position to keep her as my
wife should be kept."

"That's sound enough in a general way; but as regards this particular
case it's all tuppence. Stella has money, and the pater, if properly
worked, would supply more; I happen to know that he's quite willing
she should marry anyone she likes, so long as it's a decent chap--and
he knows you're that. Why, if it comes to that, he could slip you, as
easy as winking, into a much better berth than the one you have at
your uncle's."

"Tom, I know you're the best chum a man ever had, and one day I'm
going to prove it. I haven't your happy knack of baring my heart, even
to myself; I'm a more secretive kind of brute; but, like you, I have
my dreams, and before very long I hope to have good news for you. But
now, please, don't say anything more about it."

And Tom said nothing; he changed the subject to Oxford gossip,
chattering away light-heartedly while Rodney glanced at the letters
which the morning post had brought. Among them was one in a bold,
slashing hand, which he knew well.


                                   "90, Russell Square.

                                                    "Friday.

"DEAR OLD BOY,--The dad's gone off weekending without notice, and I
never found out what he was going to do till it was too late to get at
you, or I would have got; so here am I in this great mausoleum of a
house all on my lonesome. To-morrow, early, I've an engagement with
Cissie Henderson, but in the evening--and no nonsense, sir!--you'll
have to dine me in some quiet place, where there are no prying eyes;
and afterwards you can amuse me as you like. No excuse will be
accepted; I want to spend to-morrow evening in your society, and I'm
going to--and the dad can go hang! So mind you send me a wire directly
you get this to let me know where I'm to meet you--at seven, sir!--and
don't let there be any mistake about it. Until we do meet,

                                                 "Yours, G."


As he read this characteristic note of an up-to-date young woman a
chord was touched somewhere in Rodney's being which made him conscious
of a pleasant little thrill. Even while Austin chattered he was
telling himself that he also would let the lady's "dad go hang," and
that she should spend the evening in his society, be the consequences
what they might.

When the visitor departed it was understood that Rodney would send a
wire on his way to the office to let Stella know at what time she
might expect him. Scarcely had Austin left the house than there came a
telegram for Elmore. He opened it, supposing it to be from the
impatient lady in Russell Square; but he was wrong. The message ran:


"Do come down to-morrow and cheer me up. Aunt is going out. I shall be
alone. I have had Tom as companion for three whole days, so am in need
of a tonic. Wire train. Be sure and come.

                                             "MARY."


Mary? For a moment he wondered who Mary was. Then he saw that the
message had been handed in at a Brighton post-office, and he
understood. Mary? Mary was Mary Carmichael. At the thought of her his
eyes sparkled and his spirits rose. After a fashion Mary Carmichael
was the feminine creature in all the world that he liked best. Not
only was she pretty, and dainty, and bright, and smart and clever, but
just as Gladys Patterson appealed to him in one direction so Mary
Carmichael did in another. Her telegram suggested what that direction
was; in a way they were birds of a feather. Tom Austin had been her
life-long admirer, slave, her avowed wooer; quite probably one day she
would become his wife; yet she was not averse to being "cheered up" by
his bosom friend, after confessing, by telegram, that she had been
bored by three days of his society. Rodney chuckled at the thought of
it; the thing seemed to him to be so amusing. Just now Tom had been
telling him, with boyish candour, in single-hearted confidence in his
integrity, that he had come away from Brighton under the impression
that he was shortly to be made the happiest of men; and here was the
girl who was to make him happy so anxious for an antidote to his
society, begging him to do what Tom clearly had not done--cheer her
up--and adding, as a peculiar inducement, that she would be alone.
Poor old Tom! what a fool he was--and what a little minx was pretty
Miss Mary!

On his way to the office Rodney sent three telegrams. One to Stella
Austin, at Kensington, to say that he would be with her as near to two
o'clock as possible, and that he hoped she would come out with him;
one to Gladys Patterson, in Russell Square, asking her to meet him at
a restaurant in Jermyn Street at seven sharp; one to Mary Carmichael,
at Hove, informing her that he would arrive in Brighton to-morrow
morning by the train due at noon. It was a female clerk to whom he
handed these three messages; when she had scanned them she glanced up
at him, as he felt, with a species of curiosity; he had a suspicion
that she smiled.



                              CHAPTER V

                                STELLA


On the whole, Rodney Elmore spent a pleasant afternoon with Stella
Austin. He took her to the Zoological Gardens, which was a place she
liked. Beyond doubt she enjoyed herself immensely. She was very fond
of animals, even of the most savage kind. In the wild-beast house,
confronting the lions and the tigers, with Rodney at her side, she
wondered, with a little shudder, what would happen if the creatures
all got out. Drawing her arm in his, he pressed it closely; she liked
that, too.

From his point of view, the pleasure with which she greeted him on his
arrival at the house in Kensington was almost pathetic. He reproached
her gently for not having told him she was coming to town. She replied
that it had only been decided at the last moment, and that she was
just going to write to him when Tom, appearing on the scene, offered
to take the news in person. The way in which she took it for granted
that he was as glad to see her as she was to see him appealed to his
sympathy so strongly that he was nearly moved to take her in his arms
and kiss her there and then. But he refrained. He never had kissed
Stella, even in the old days. He had always had a feeling that a kiss
would mean so much more to her than it did to him; indeed, that was
one of her faults in his eyes, that everything meant so much more to
her than it did to him. Often he would have liked to kiss her; having
brought matters to a point at which a kiss was the next thing which
might have been expected, he felt sure that she had expected it. But
he kept himself sufficiently in hand to stop on the very edge, having
it in his mind that it might be as well for him to be able, some day,
if need be, to assert with truth that he had never gone beyond it.

Ordinarily he would have had no scruples on such a point. Oddly
enough, in a sense, he was afraid of Stella, recognising in her an
essential purity with which he himself had nothing in common. Her
standard of life was so infinitely above his own that he was always
conscious of a sense of strain after being some time in her company;
it came from his attempting to sustain himself in the rarefied
atmosphere in which she moved with ease. He would have been willing to
hold her in his arms; he would have loved to; but he would not have
liked to know that she was his superior in all essentials; and he
would have to know. Sooner or later she might discover what kind of
creature he was; but, though he believed that in such a plight she
would keep her own counsel, none the less he would resent the
discovery she had made.

Then, again, his taste in women was fastidious; he was not sure that
she filled all his requirements. She was pleasant enough to look at;
had pretty eyes, a fresh complexion, a tender smile--sometimes when
she smiled he loved her so that it was all he could do to keep from
committing himself utterly. But she was short and broad for her
height; to his thinking her figure lacked dignity. He had the modern
young man's notion that if you look at the mother you will see what
the daughter is going to be. Mrs. Austin was plump and matronly; he
feared that before long Stella would be the same. He did not care for
matronly women; he liked them tall and slim. Then he was particular
about the way in which a woman dressed; he liked those whom he
favoured with his society, as he put it, to do him credit. He had
felt, only too often, that Stella was almost dowdy; she was never
really smart. Her clothes were good of their kind, but they suggested
the provinces; or she had not the knack of showing them off to
advantage. He liked a girl's foot to be cased in what he called a
pretty stocking, and a smart shoe with a Louis heel; Stella wore
serviceable shoes with low heels, and the plainest of stockings. With
these things in his mind he had ventured, once, to hint that he would
like to have the dressing of her. She had been silent for some
seconds, and had then replied, scarcely above a whisper, and with
downcast eyes:

"Perhaps one day you will."

He was perfectly conscious that that "one day" was the day of which
she was always dreaming. He was not sure that he was so willing it
should come as she was.

But that afternoon he was not disposed to be critical. He was really
glad to see her. It was some time since they had met; he was nearly
surprised to find what a jolly girl she was; her smile was unusually
tender. As they quitted the monkey-house she spoke of Tom and Mary.

"Did Tom tell you that he has nearly brought that hard-hearted Mary of
his to the promising point?"

"He did seem to be sanguine."

"Poor old Tom! I believe if she'd promise quite he'd pass straight
off; it's anxiety which causes him to be ploughed. I've written to
Mary telling her just what I think, and informing her that she's to
keep him no longer suspended between heaven and earth, but that she's
to marry him at once. Mamma wants it, papa wants it, I want it, Tom
wants it--everybody wants it. She's the dearest girl in the world; but
she's a goose."

"Because she hesitates?"

"Why should she? Tom will make her the best husband in the world--you
know he will."

"Perhaps every girl doesn't want 'the best husband in the world.'"

"Are you trying to say something clever? If she has a husband, of
course she does. Do look at those two in front; I've been watching
them. She keeps putting out her hand to feel for his, or he puts out
his to feel for hers. Do you think they're newly married?"

"Is that how you mean to behave when you're newly married?"

"It depends."

"On what?"

"Oh, it depends."

"You said that before. On what does it depend?"

Suddenly a glimpse he caught of the smile which lighted up her face
started him off at a tangent--without waiting for her answer.

"It seems ages since I saw you last; it's awfully nice to see you
again--especially as you're looking prettier than ever."

"Do you like this frock that I've got on? You ought to, I had it made
specially for you--you are so critical about my clothes."

"Oughtn't a man to be critical about the girl he--he cares for?"

"Do you care for me?"

"You know I do."

"How much?"

"More than I--dare tell you."

"Rodney."

"Stella."

"I hope one day, before very long, you'll find courage enough."

The challenge was a direct one. In such matters he was such a creature
of impulse that it set his pulses galloping. They had reached a spot
where they had for sole society some queer-looking birds who peered at
them through the wires which confined them to their runs.

"Stella, you mustn't tempt me. If you only knew what I'd give to be
able to take you in my arms."

"Rodney, it isn't fair of you to talk like that. You say that sort of
thing, and make me feel as if the world were whirling round and round,
and then you go no farther."

"You know why I go no farther."

"I don't! I don't!"

As she turned and looked at him he saw how her cheeks were flushed;
that tears were in her pretty eyes; how her lips were twisted as by
physical pain. He really was so fond of her that the sight of her
suffering moved him almost beyond endurance. Careless of spectators
who might come at any moment to look at the birds, he took both her
hands in his.

"Stella!"

He paused; he was conscious how pregnant with meaning the pause was to
her, how she waited for his words. He let them come.

"Stella, will you be my wife?"

"You know I will! How long have you known it, sir? How long have you
been aware that you had only to ask to have? I go all over shame when
I think of it. I don't--I really don't--think you've used me quite
fairly, sir. Because, you know, you oughtn't to keep on telling a girl
that you care for her, and--then say nothing more. I've even sometimes
wondered if you were playing with me--I have! Were you?"

"Never. How could you think it?"

"I had to think something, hadn't I? And--what could I think? Then you
do really and truly care for me?"

"With the whole force of my being."

She drew a long breath, as if it were a sigh of pleasure.

"And you really and truly want me to be your wife?"

"As Tom said of Mary--if I get you I get all that I want in the
world."

"Then, why didn't you try to get me before?"

"Stella, every man has his own standard. You have money; perhaps one
day you'll have more; I have no money; perhaps I never may have. Under
those circumstances, though I worshipped the ground you stood on, I
had, and have, no right to ask you to be my wife. I have held out
against the temptation to do so over and over again, but--I could hold
out no longer. You must forgive me."

"For what? For having what you call 'held out'? I am not sure that I
do. You can't have wanted me so very, very much, or you wouldn't have
held out so long. That's what I feel."

"Stella, if you only knew!"

"And if you only knew!"

"The days I've thought of you, and the nights I've dreamed!"

"And do you suppose that I can't think--and dream?"

"Sometimes, after I've left you with the words unuttered, and thought
of what I should feel if I had you in my arms, it was pretty hard to
bear."

"Rodney!--I wonder if anyone is coming? After all your holding out,
you have--chosen a funny place."

Heedless of anyone coming, he put his arm about her waist and drew her
quickly to the comparative shelter of a fairly grown tree.

When Rodney Elmore had started out with Stella Austin nothing had been
farther from his mind than any intention of asking her to be his wife.
He was amazed to find, now that the thing was done, how pleasant it
had been. The whole episode had been delightful--so delightful that he
was loth to bring it to a close. The rubicon being passed, another
Stella was revealed. The simple question he had put to her might have
been some magic formula, so great a change had it wrought in the
maiden. He had never credited her with the capacity to be so
delicious; for she was delicious in a dozen unsuspected ways. He had
been fond of her before he asked her to be his wife; in less than half
an hour! afterwards he was in love with her. The new Stella had
bewitched him; to such a degree that he would have been willing to
stay with her in the Zoological Gardens for an indefinite period of
time, had he not had a previous engagement. It was with a feeling of
distinct disgust that he realised that he would have to tear himself
away. Nor was the parting rendered easier by the lady's attitude. She
could not be brought to see that any engagement was of such importance
that, on that day of all days, he was forced to leave her so
summarily. Nor would he have left her, could he have helped it. He
assured her, with perfect truth, that he would have only been too
happy to spend the evening with her at the house of her friends in
Kensington, had he dared, but he did not dare. She asked him why,
being now entitled to ask such questions. He did not tell her that it
was because he was conscious that it might be almost more dangerous to
disappoint his cousin than to rob her father. He fabricated instead an
ingenious lie, which convinced her against her will.

Then there arose the question of the morrow. Being Sunday, of course
he would be able to spend the whole of it with her. There, again, a
previous engagement blocked the way. He explained that, never having
anticipated the delightful footing on which he stood with her, he had
made the engagement long ago. Would she have him break his word? It
depended, she said, to whom his word was pledged; she did think that
he might spend that first Sunday with her. Then he spun a yarn about
an old friend of his mother who had begged him again and again to
visit her, to whom he had promised to go at last. He knew that she had
made all sorts of preparations for his reception; now, if he were to
throw her over she would feel, with justice, that he had treated her
very badly. He could not bear that she should feel that. She was his
mother's dearest friend. Her name was Staples. She lived in a little
village the other side of Dorking. Stella supposed that, anyhow, he
would not have to stay there late. As to that, he could not say. The
Sunday trains to Dorking were very awkward. But this he promised, at
the earliest moment at which with decency he could get away, he would;
and if the hour of his return to town were not frightfully late he
would rush over to Kensington, if it were only for half a dozen words.
But of this she might be quite certain; he would spend the whole of
Monday evening with her if she would let him; he would come straight
to her from the office.

So, finally, on that understanding, they parted; that he would come to
her on Sunday, if only for a minute or two, and that, anyhow, he would
revel in her dear society for so much of Monday as was left after his
office work was done. But, for him, between that and Monday, the world
was to be turned upside down.



                              CHAPTER VI

                                GLADYS


Hurry as he might, it was nearly half-past seven before Rodney Elmore
reached that restaurant in Jermyn Street at which he was due at seven.
The fault was Stella's. Had she not spun out the parting to such an
unconscionable length, he would have been able to be there in time.
But he could not explain this to Gladys Patterson, who had never heard
of the girl. She rose, as he came in, from a seat in the vestibule,
with a face which mirrored the anxiety she had felt.

"Whatever is the matter? I thought that something had happened, and
you weren't coming."

"My dearest child, I've been the victim of a series of accidents; I
was beginning to wonder myself if I should ever get here."

Then he told another lie--invented on the spur of the moment. He had
not troubled to prepare one on the way; he was not sure of the mood in
which he might find her; one story might suit one mood another
another. With him, to lie was as easy as to breathe; he himself was
often hardly conscious he was lying, he lied so like truth.

"So you see, I've been half off my head, and in a deuce of a stew.
Perhaps you'll tell me what you'd have done in my position. But, thank
goodness, I'm here at last. The worst of it is, I haven't ordered
dinner, or reserved a table; we shall have to take pot-luck; let's
hope that the _table d'hôte_ is worth eating."

It so chanced that there was a table, and that the _menu_ of the set
dinner read quite well. Presently they were fronting each other at a
little table in a corner of the room, each in the best possible frame
of mind. She had forgotten the strain of waiting in her delight that
he had come, while he was charmed to find her in so good a temper.
Indeed, he seemed to be in the very highest spirits, and when he was
that no one could be better company. Then the food was good; that was
a point on which they both were excellent judges. On the occasion of
that first dinner in Russell Square each had played on the other a
pleasant comedy; to make a good impression on the strange cousin, who
might have views on such matters, Gladys had drunk nothing but water,
and, for some similar reason, Rodney had done the same. It was only
when, later, they were on more intimate terms, that they learned that
neither was a teetotaller. It was rather funny. As a matter of fact,
so far as the pleasures of the table were concerned, Gladys was in
very truth her father's child; not only could she appreciate good food
well cooked, but she was by way of being a connoisseur of certain
wines; and in such respects Rodney was an excellent second.

Before the dinner was half way through she was looking at him with
something in her eyes which spoke to a similar something which was in
his. He had forgotten the episode of the afternoon as if it had never
been. This was the sort of girl he loved to have in front of him on
the other side of a table--one who would eat what he ate, drink what
he drank, do as he did; to whom he could say whatever he pleased. They
joked on the subject of the absent Mr. Patterson.

"I wonder," she said, "what would happen if he walked in here at this
very moment."

Rodney also wondered, for a second, in silence.

"For one thing, he'd spoil our evening, because he'd start you
straight away off home."

"Would he? I should take some starting. I never am particularly afraid
of him, and I'm not in the least when I've had two glasses of
Montebello--rattling good bottle, this is. Thank you; that's the
third. What beats me is why you're afraid of him. You don't strike me
as being a person who's afraid of much. What would it matter if he did
give you the key of the street, so far as his office is concerned?
You'd easily find a better one. There's a mystery somewhere. Don't
imagine, my dear old man, that I don't know so much. Why has he such
an objection to you? And why are you so much in awe of him? Now's your
time--out with it. Make a clean breast of it--between this glass and
the next."

"I can't tell you why he objects to me, but I can assure you that I
don't stand in awe of him."

"Rubbish! If you don't, why have you kept away from me in the way you
have done?--you exasperating boy! I console myself with the reflection
that if I'm losing your society you're losing mine; because I'll bet a
trifle that you're just as fond of seeing me every other day or so as
I am of seeing you."

"You're right there. If I saw you all day and every day I shouldn't
mind."

"I'm not so sure of that; there's a limit. It might be all right for a
time; but, my hat! wouldn't you get bored after a month of nothing
else but my society!"

"What price you--after a month of nothing else but me?"

She seemed to reflect before she answered.

"You see, it's like this; if you and I were alone together for a
month, or longer----"

"I'd be willing to make it longer."

"Would you?"

She looked at him with shining eyes.

"Rodney, you're a dear. If we were to be alone together for so long as
that, we should have to alter the pace. I fancy that where a man and a
woman are concerned it's the pace that kills."

"What do you mean by that, oh, wise one?"

"If you had one pound of chocs to eat you might gobble them down as
fast as you please, and no harm would be done."

"You've tried it?"

"Perhaps! But if you had a ton you would have to go, oh so carefully,
or you would be so sick. But we meet so seldom that when we do we want
to gobble; I know that, so far as I am concerned, I want to get as
much of you as I possibly can during the short time we are together."

"Same here--only more so."

They smiled at each other across the little table. Then, glancing
down, she transferred her attention to what was on her plate.

"But, of course, if we weren't to part for a month--or more--it would
be different."

"True, oh, queen! And suppose we were to marry!"

"I don't think I'd mind."

"I'm pretty nearly sure I shouldn't."

"That's very sweet of you to say so. Only--there's dad!"

"There's very much dad!"

"He can forbid my seeing you, and that kind of thing, if he pleases;
and if he finds out that I've been disobedient he'll make himself
extremely disagreeable. Still, I fancy I could manage him. But if I
were to marry you against his wishes, I don't believe I'd ever get
another penny from him, living or dead; and as you have no immediate
promise of becoming a millionaire, that would be awkward for both of
us."

"It would. All the same, don't you think it would be comfy if we were
secretly engaged--in the event of anything happening to him?"

"What's going to happen?"

"Anything--living the sort of life he does."

"Are you hinting that there's anything the matter with his health?"

"My dear girl, you've only to use your eyes to be aware that a doctor
would tell him that he's the kind of man who ought to swear off
everything. And does he?"

"You make me feel all shivery. You talk as if you expected him to die
right off."

"We've all had sentence of capital punishment pronounced against us,
and, though we don't know when it will be put into execution, in such
a case as his it's possible to guess that it mayn't be very long
postponed."

"Rodney! I don't like to hear you talk like that. He's fond of asking
me questions about you; I hate telling lies; if we were engaged, and
he were in one of his cross-examining moods, I might find myself in a
fix."

He played with his knife while a waiter was bringing another course.

"Consider something else. Let me put a hypothetical case. Suppose a
girl were to make a dead set at me, I might like to be able to tell
her that I'm engaged already."

"Who's the girl?"

"The girl, like the case, is hypothetical; but I can conceive of
circumstances in which I should like to feel that we were engaged."

"You've changed your mind. A short time ago you were all the other
way."

"I've been considering matters. Say, for example, that your father
puts his foot down, and that we don't see each other again for an
indefinite period. Do you not think that then I should not like to
feel that we were engaged?"

"You can feel that we're engaged all you want to, without our setting
it down in black and white. Aren't you as sure of me as if I were your
wife already? Don't you know that if circumstances permitted I would
become your wife? Do you wish me to understand that I'm not as sure of
you?"

"Gladys, you're a goose. So far as I'm concerned, I'm inclined to the
opinion that I'd like you to be my wife to-night."

"It's you who are the goose. As if we didn't understand each other far
too well to render it necessary to have things placed on a ceremonious
footing. We can do without formulas."



                             CHAPTER VII

                                 MARY


On the Sunday Rodney Elmore kept his engagement with the third young
woman, with the punctiliousness on which, in such matters, he prided
himself. He went down to Brighton on the Pullman, Limited, and was met
at the station by Mary Carmichael. He exclaimed, at sight of her:

"You angel!--to come and meet me!"

"I'm not quite sure that I did come to meet you, in the strict sense.
I'd nothing to do; I've always a feeling that the queerest lot of
people come by this train, the oddest sort of week-enders--didn't you
notice how the platform reeked of perfume?--so that its arrival's
generally worth seeing. Besides, between ourselves, I'd a kind of
notion that Tom might come by it. If he had I should have ignored you
utterly, and should have explained that something within told me he
was coming, and that was why I was here. Wouldn't he have been
enraptured?"

As he listened--and, in his observant way, took in the details of her
appearance--Rodney was conscious, not for the first time, of how
beneficent Providence had been in making girls in such variety.
Stella, emblematic of the domestic virtues; Gladys, for physical
pleasure; Mary, suggestive of the arch in the sky, which, though a man
may walk for many days, he shall never find the end of. To his
thinking she was as many-tinted as a rainbow; as beautiful, as
elusive. He doubted if the average man were her husband whether he
would have any but the dimmest comprehension of her at the finish; she
had a knack of surprising even him. He had known her a good long time,
yet he admitted to himself that in many respects she was still wholly
beyond his comprehension, and he prided himself, not without reason,
on his gift for understanding persons of the opposite sex.

They went down towards the Hove lawns in a fly, and were still in
Queen's Road when she said:

"So you've done it at last."

He turned towards her as if a trifle startled.

"Done what?"

"Asked Stella to be your wife."

"How on earth do you know that?"

"My simple-minded babe, aren't I the very dearest friend Stella has in
the world? And didn't she, directly you left her yesterday afternoon,
send me a telegram conveying the news? Do you think she would keep it
a moment longer than she could help from me, especially as she is
perfectly well aware that I've been on tip-toe for it for goodness
alone knows how long? And aren't I expecting a letter of at least half
a dozen pages to-morrow morning to tell me all about it? I wired my
congratulations to her at once, and I almost wired them to you; then I
thought I'd keep them till you came this morning. My congratulations,
Rodney, dear."

He was more taken aback than he would have cared to own. What an idiot
he had been! Had he had his senses about him he would have given
Stella to understand that the new relationship between them must be
kept private till it suited him to make it public. That she should
have telegraphed to Mary the moment he had left her! Could anything be
more awkward? If to Mary, why not to others? To her mother, her
father, her brother, her cousins, and her aunts; and she had crowds of
dearest friends. Possibly by now the news was known to fifty people;
they would spread it over the face of the land. Had he foreseen such a
state of things he would have torn his tongue out rather than have
said what he did in Regent's Park. Imbecile that he was; he had
forgotten altogether that that was just the tale a girl of a sort
loves to tell. Had he had his wits about him he might have known that
she would be all eagerness to proclaim her happiness to her friends.
To have had a private understanding with Stella might have been fun.
He might have lied to her; played the traitor; done as he pleased--it
would not have mattered if her heart was broken so long as she
suffered in silence. But the affair assumed quite a different
complexion if her confounded relations were to have their parts in it.
He would have to endure all kinds of talkee-talkee from her mother.
That oaf Tom might want to thrust his blundering foot into what was no
concern of his. Worst of all, there was her father. Rodney was quite
certain that he would want to regularise the position at once; that he
himself would be helpless in his hands. Mr. Austin would require a
clear statement of his intentions; having got it, he would see that it
was adhered to. Being opposed to long engagements, he would want to
fix the wedding day--and he would fix it. Rodney was uncomfortably
conscious that he had made such a conspicuous ass of himself that,
being delivered into her father's strong hands, almost before he knew
it he might find himself the husband of Stella Austin.

He shuddered at the thought--a fact which was observed by the young
lady at his side.

"Whatever is the matter? You shook the fly! You haven't thanked me for
my congratulations, nor do you seem so elated as I expected. You know
I'm not sure that it was quite nice of you to propose to another girl
on the very day before the one on which you knew you were coming down
to me. For all you could tell, I was expecting you to propose to me."

"If I'd only thought there was the slightest chance, wouldn't I have
loved to."

"I suppose for the sake of practice."

"Well--there are girls with whom one would like to practice
love-making."

"That's a nice thing to say, and you an engaged man of less than
four-and-twenty hours' standing. There's a taximeter--stop him! Pay
the driver of this silly old cab and let's get into the taxi."

The transfer was effected, the driver of the "silly old cab"
expressing himself on the subject with some frankness. When they were
in the taxi the lady set forth the idea which had been in her mind.

"I don't want to go on to the horrid lawns and see the stupid people
in their ugly dresses; I can't take you to aunt's house, because, as
you know, she's away, and I don't want the servants to talk; I don't
want to lunch at either of the hotels, because I hate them all; I do
want to go where we can be all by ourselves, so I suggest the Devil's
Dyke. This taxi will romp up; it's the most vulgar place I know, so we
go where we please and do as we choose--everybody does up there."

So it was the Devil's Dyke. The taxi did "romp up." They had lunch at
the hotel, and afterwards went out on to the downs, Rodney carrying a
rug which he had borrowed from the hotel over his arm. They had not to
go far over the slopes before they had left the few people who were up
there behind, and were as much alone as if they had the world to
themselves. Rodney spread the rug on the grass at the bottom of one of
those little hollows shaped like cups which are to be found
thereabouts by those who seek. On it they reclined; the gentleman lit
a cigar, the lady a cigarette. They were as much at home with each
other as either could desire. Their conversation was frankness itself.

"When I feel like liking it," observed the lady, "this is just the
sort of thing I do like. You're engaged, and I'm engaged, so we ought
to be nice to each other. Do you mind my kissing you?"

"Not a bit."

She leaned over and kissed him on the lips, he removing his cigar to
enable her to do it. Then she blew her cigarette smoke in his face and
laughed. He said nothing; he was thinking that there was a good deal
to be said for being on such terms with three nice girls. After all,
there might be something in the Mohammedan's idea of paradise. She was
silent for a moment; then inquired:

"Why did you ask Stella after all? Because you knew she'd like you
to?"

He considered his reply.

"No; not altogether. Of course, at the beginning I never meant to,
then all of a sudden I felt as if I had to. I had a sort of feeling
that it would be such fun."

"And was it fun?"

"Distinctly; I wouldn't mind going through it all over again."

"Wouldn't you? Now you'll have to marry her."

"Shall I?"

"Don't you want to marry her?"

"I do not."

"That's unfortunate, because you certainly will have to."

"We'll see."

"Stella'll see--or, rather, her family will. If it were any other but
the Austin family I should have said that a person of your eel-like
slipperiness----"

"Thank you."

"Might have wriggled away; but if you wriggle away it will be out of
the frying-pan into the fire. For ever so long the family has been
expecting you to ask Stella to marry you; you've fostered the
expectation, and now that you have asked her, if you try to sneak out
of your engagement, Mr. Austin will make things so uncomfortable that
you'll find it easier to make Stella Mrs. E."

"And do you want to marry Tom?"

"I do not. All the same, I expect I shall."

"Why? If you don't want to?"

Miss Carmichael sent a cloud of smoke up into the air.

"A girl's position is so different from a man's. I must marry someone,
and, so far as I can see, it may as well be Tom."

"Why must you marry someone?"

"Don't be absurd! Can you conceive me as a spinster? Rather than be an
old maid I'd--marry you; I can't say anything stronger."

"You've a friendly way of paying compliments."

"My dear young fellow; as a--chum, when I'm in the mood, you're
ripping, simply ripping; but as a husband--good Lord, deliver us! If
Stella understood you only a quarter as well as I do she'd be only too
glad to let you go the very first moment you showed the faintest
inclination to bolt."

"And, pray, what sort of wife do you think you'll make?"

Again a pause, while more cigarette smoke went into the air.

"Depends on the man."

"I presume to what extent you can fool him."

"I can imagine a man to whom I would be all that a wife could be, the
whole happiness of his whole life."

"I can't."

"That's because you don't understand me as well as I do you."

"What sort of wife do you think that you'll make Tom?"

"Oh, he'll be content."

"Poor devil!"

"I'm not so sure; it's a good thing to be content. Each time I put my
arms about his neck he'll forgive me everything."

"So far as I gather, the difference between me as a husband and you as
a wife consists in this: that while I'm going to be found out, you're
not. I don't see why you should be so sure of the immunity you refuse
to me."

"I admit that in this world one never can be sure of anything. I quite
credit you with as much capacity to throw dust in a woman's eyes as I
have to throw dust in a man's. Still, there is a difference between us
of which I'm conscious, though just now I'm too lazy to attempt an
exact definition. I really can't see why you object to Stella; she'll
make you a good wife."

"Hang your good wives!"

"My child! Do you want a bad one? You should have no difficulty in
being suited."

"Is a sinner likely to be happy if mated to a saint?"

"Would he be happier if mated to another sinner? In that case you
might do well to marry me--which I doubt."

"I don't. I'm disposed to think that ours would be an ideal union."

"I wonder."

"Neither would expect the other to be perfect; each would allow the
other a wider range of liberty for purely selfish reasons.

"I say, wouldn't it be rather a joke if you were to throw over Stella
and I were to throw over Tom and we were to marry each other?"

"I'd do it like a shot if it weren't for one drawback--that we both of
us are penniless."

"That is a nuisance, since we are both of us so fond of what money
stands for. If you had five thousand a year perhaps I might marry you
after all."

"I'm sure you would."

"Pray why are you sure? You've a conceit!"

"I am sure."

"If--I say if--I were to marry you, would you give me a good time?"

"The very best--a time after your own heart."

"Would you? Lots of frocks?"

"All the frocks your soul desired."

"Everything I wanted?"

"That's a tall order. I'm only human."

"That certainly is true. I shouldn't be surprised if you were more
generous even than Tom."

"I don't call that sort of thing generosity. A man gives things to a
woman he cares for because he has a lively sense of favours to come."

"That's candid. You've given me one or two trifles already. Has that
been with a lively sense of favours to come?"

"Perhaps."

"You wretch! Would you care for me a little?"

"I care for you more than a little now, as you are perfectly well
aware."

She turned and whispered something in his ear. He smiled, but kept
silent. Presently she said aloud:

"It would be rather a joke if we were to marry. Now that the idea's
got into my head I can't get it out again. It makes little thrills go
all over me--dear little thrills. I hope that if ever you do marry me
it will be before I have had to resort to any of women's aids to
beauty. I should like you to have me just as I am, while I am really
at my best and while I can still bear the most searching
investigation. My complexion's my own; I use no powder, rouge, or
pencil. I haven't a false tooth in my head or even a stopped one. I've
only a weeny pad on the top of my head, which is rendered absolutely
necessary by the present style of hairdressing--everything about me's
true."

"Outside."

"Sir! I dare say we shouldn't make such a very bad pair. Would
you--like to marry me?"

"Given an assured position, I would marry you."

"Well, then, I'll tell you what we might do. You might marry Stella,
and--dispose of her with some nice painless thing like chloral; and I
might marry Tom, and--delicately dispose of him. Then we should both
of us have an assured position, and--we could marry."

"There's more in the idea than meets the eye."

She threw the fag-end of her cigarette away from her and laughed.

"You're simply ripping!" she exclaimed.



                             CHAPTER VIII

              BY THE 9.10; THE FIRST PART OF THE JOURNEY


Rodney Elmore returned by the 9.10 to town. He had meant to travel by
the Pullman, but as he entered the station the train was drawing clear
of the platform. Being informed that another express was starting in
ten minutes, he had to be content with that. Beyond doubt the Pullman
had been crowded; as he found himself the sole occupant of a
first-class carriage, he was inclined to think that he had not lost
by the exchange. He was in a mood for privacy. Events had followed
each other so quickly; he had so many things to consider that he was
glad of an opportunity for a little solitary self-communion. He was
not pleased, therefore, when, just as the signal had been given to
start, someone came rushing along the platform, the door was thrown
open by an officious guard, and a passenger was hoisted into his
compartment while the train was already in motion; nor was his
pleasure enhanced by the discovery that the intruder was his uncle,
Graham Patterson. In such disorder had Mr. Patterson been thrown that
it was some seconds before he even realised that he had a companion.
Uncovering, he wiped first his brow, then the lining of his hat. He
panted so for breath that his critical nephew said to himself that
if he had run a little further, or even a little faster, he might
have panted in vain; he had never seen a man in such difficulty with
his breathing apparatus. His face was purple, his eyes seemed to be
bulging out of their sockets.

The train had passed Preston Park station before Mr. Patterson had
sufficiently recovered himself to become alive to the fact that he was
not alone. But that he still did not recognise his companion his words
showed.

"I'm not exactly--of the build--to--run after trains."

The moment he spoke Rodney became aware that Mr. Patterson had been
drinking. Not enough, perhaps, to affect his speech--the hyphenated
form of the remark he had just made was owing to the trouble he still
had to breathe--but sufficient to place him at the point which divides
the drunk from the sober. Elmore was still; possibly because he was
unwilling to spoil what he felt was the grim humour of the situation.
His silence apparently struck the other as odd. Presently Mr.
Patterson glanced round as if to learn what manner of person this was
who offered no comment on his observation. Then he perceived who his
companion was.

The discovery seemed to fill him with amazement which approached to
stupefaction. His jaw dropped, his eyes bulged still farther out of
his head, his face assumed a darker shade of purple; he looked like a
man who was on the verge of a fit. His nephew felt that he had never
seen him present so unprepossessing a spectacle. His surprise was so
great that an appreciable space of time passed before he could find
words to give it expression. Then they were of a lurid kind.

"By gad!--it's you! Well, I'm damned!"

"I'm sorry, sir, to hear it."

The retort was so obvious that it had slipped from Rodney's lips
almost before he was aware. Its effect on Mr. Patterson was so great
that for some moments his nephew was convinced that that apoplectic
fit which he had so often seen threatening was hideously close. Mr.
Patterson himself seemed conscious of the risk he ran. He made a
perceptible effort to regain self-control--a painful one it evidently
was. He put his finger to his collar as if to loosen it; one could see
that his hand shook, his lips trembled, beads of sweat stood on his
brow. Probably more than a minute had passed before he felt himself in
a condition to speak again. Still his voice was a little hoarse, his
utterance not quite clear.

"My lad, if I could have got at you this morning I should have killed
you."

"Should you, indeed, sir. Pray why?"

The young man had been observing his senior's plight with a sense, not
only of amusement, but of positive relish. He was conscious that a
spirit of malice had entered into him. He was prepared to return
insolence with insolence. This bloated relative of his should this
time not find him disposed to cringe.

Still with his finger to his neck, as if he would have liked to loosen
his collar, Mr. Patterson went on, yet a little huskily:

"Luckily I didn't get at you, because I'll do worse than kill you,
now."

"I thank you for your kind intentions, sir. You have not yet told me
what I have done to deserve them."

"You've been getting at that girl of mine again."

"You use unpleasant phrases, sir. I'm afraid you have been drinking."

"You young swine! In spite of what I told you, last night you took her
out with you again to dinner."

"Premising that I don't see why you should so resent my showing little
courtesies to members of your family, may I ask on what grounds your
statement is based?"

"You young word-twister! You've your father's tongue. Do you deny it?"

"That I've my father's tongue?"

"That you took my girl to dinner?"

"It's for you to prove; not for me to disprove."

"A man came to me on the front this morning and said that he saw my
daughter dining last night in Jermyn Street with a young man. He
described the fellow; from his description I knew that it was you. If
I could have got at you then and there I'd have broken my stick across
your back! I'd have--I'd have---- Are you going to tell a lie, and say
it wasn't you?"

"It was."

"It was?"

"It was. Why not? We had a most agreeable evening, much more
agreeable, perhaps, than you have any notion of. Possibly, if you ask
Gladys, she herself will tell you so."

"You--you----!"

"Steady--go slow! If you don't take care you'll have a fit--you know
you have been drinking."

Possibly because he had given way to such a sudden access of rage, Mr.
Patterson again went through all his former disagreeable physical
experiences, while his nephew smiled. He sat inarticulate and gasping,
incapable alike of speech or movement. When, after a prolonged
interval, the faculty of speech returned, his voice had grown huskier
than ever; he spoke slowly, with a pause between each word.

"All right, my lad--laugh, but you won't laugh last. You're not going
to put me in the cart, as your swindler of a father did; I'm going to
put you there. I warned you what would be the result of your
attempting to have any more traffic with my girl, so you've yourself
to thank for whatever happens."

He stopped, as if he found a difficulty in saying much at once. When
he continued, while his tones were a little clearer, they were more
bitter.

"Directly I get home I'm going to tell my girl what kind of man you
are, and what kind of man your delectable father was. When she knows,
I'll wager you a trifle that she never willingly speaks to you again;
she'll despise herself for ever having spoken to you at all; she'll
treat you in the future as if you had never been. She has her faults,
but she resembles her father on one point--she has no use for a thief,
and especially for a thief who is the son of a thief."

Another pause; this time, apparently, not so much for the sake of
gaining breath as to enable his words to have their full effect on the
smiling young man at the other end of the carriage. If he looked for
some sign of their having touched him on a sensitive spot, he found
none; the young man continued to smile. Possibly because he suspected
that it might be the other's intention to irritate, he kept himself
the more in hand. Leaning back in his seat, laying his parti-coloured
silk handkerchief across his knee, for the first time he wore an
appearance of ease, and he also began to smile.

"However, since I'm a cautious man, and you never can be certain what
trick a blackguard will play upon a girl, I'll make assurance doubly
sure; I'll take steps which will render it impossible for you to play
a trick on my girl. The first thing to-morrow morning I'll take out a
warrant for your arrest as a forger and a thief, and I'll give
instructions to have it executed at once; so, you see, I'm better than
my word, as I generally am. I warned you that if you dared to force
yourself upon my girl again I'd have you gaoled, and I will. But I
didn't undertake to give you a chance to show the police a clean pair
of heels; yet I'm giving you one. If, between this and to-morrow
morning--say, at ten--you can make yourself scarce, you can. But
you'll have to be spry, because I give you my word that if the police
do let the scent go cold it won't be for want of my urging them after
you. You may run to earth if you like, but they'll dig you out. Don't
you flatter yourself on your dodging powers; they'll get the handcuffs
on your wrists."

Picking up his handkerchief with his finger-tips, Mr. Patterson let it
fall again across his knee, smiling broadly as if in the enjoyment of
a joke.

"And don't you flatter yourself that you'll come under the First
Offenders Act--you won't, I'll take care of that. I've a list locked
up in a drawer at the office the details of which, when they are
produced in court, will surprise you. No jury will recommend you to
mercy after hearing that, and no judge will listen to them if they do.
You'll be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment as sure as you are
sitting there. You'll be branded as a felon for the rest of your life.
I'll teach you, you thief, to try to associate as an equal with that
girl of mine."

Again he picked up his handkerchief; on this occasion to wipe his
lips. But this time he did not return it to his knee; he continued to
hold it in his hand--indeed, he waved it affably towards Elmore.

"I owed your father one--such a one! But he never gave me a chance of
paying him. Now I owe you one--also such a one--and I'll pay you both
together--by gad, I will! Oh, you may keep on smiling, you brassbound
blackguard; I hope you'll find the reality as amusing as you seem to
find the prospect. When you feel a policeman's hand upon your shoulder
and handcuffs on your wrists, then you'll stop smiling. Make no
mistake; for you there's only one way of escape, and that's your
father's--suicide."

Stopping, Mr. Patterson thrust his handkerchief into the outer
breast-pocket of his coat in such a fashion that the hem protruded.
There was silence, broken only by the rushing noise made by the train.
All at once Rodney Elmore, rising, moved along the carriage and placed
himself on the seat immediately in front of his uncle.



                              CHAPTER IX

                              THE SECOND


Mr. Patterson glared at his nephew as if he had been guilty of a gross
liberty in placing himself where he had done--indeed, he said as much.

"Go back to your own end of the carriage at once, you young scoundrel.
How dare you come so close to me? Isn't it sufficient contamination to
have to breathe the air of the same compartment, without being
polluted by your immediate neighbourhood?"

Rodney was not at all abashed, nor did he show any sign of an
intention to return whence he came. On the contrary, leaning a little
forward, he smiled at his uncle blandly.

"Softly, sir, softly! If you allow yourself to become excited you may
do yourself a mischief--excitement is the worst possible thing for
you."

"None of your insolence, you young hound; don't you think I'll allow
you to be insolent to me! Are you going back to the other end of the
carriage?"

"No, sir; I am not."

"Then----"

Mr. Patterson made as if to move, then checked himself. Rodney asked:

"What were you going to do?"

"If you don't go back to the other end of the carriage at once I'll
pull the communication cord and stop the train."

"And then?"

"I'll give you into custody before the whole trainful of passengers."

"Into whose custody?"

"The guard will take charge of you till we get to a station; he won't
let you go till he has seen you safe in the hands of a policeman. You
won't have a chance of running; you'll sleep in gaol tonight. Are you
going back to your own seat?"

"I propose to remain where I am."

"Then I'll stop the train!"

He made as if to do as he said, but Rodney, rising first, laid his
hand upon his shoulder to such effect that he found himself unable to
move. Indignation brought back the purple to Mr. Patterson's face.

"You dare to touch me? You infernal young villain--take away your
hand!"

"I don't intend to allow you to touch the communication cord."

"You don't intend! We'll see about that."

They did see, on the instant. The black knob of the alarm bell was
over the centre seat in front of Mr. Patterson. Putting out his
strength, evading Rodney's grip, he gained his feet. Elmore took him
by the shoulders with both his hands. There was a scuffle--sharp, but
brief. For a moment it looked as if the elder man might be a match for
the younger, but for a moment only. On a sudden Mr. Patterson
collapsed on to his seat as if the stiffening had gone all out of him
and left him but a mass of boneless pulp. He could only gasp out
words.

"You shall smart for this!"

"If you're not very careful, sir, you'll smart first--my dear uncle."

"Don't you call me your dear uncle."

"My dear uncle."

"Damn you, you----"

A flood of vituperation poured from the elder man's lips, which, when
he had finished, left him an even darker shade of purple. Rodney never
ceased to smile. So soon as the flood had stopped he repeated the
endearing form of address.

"My dear uncle"--Mr. Patterson was panting, for the moment he was
speechless--"turn and turn about's fair play, and fair play's a jewel.
You've had your say, now I'm going to have mine--you'll find mine as
interesting as I found yours. To begin with, I'm going to ask you one
or two questions."

"I'll answer no questions of yours."

"Oh, yes, you will, when you find what they are. In the first place,
am I to understand that you are really serious--weigh your words, my
dear uncle!--in saying that you'd tell Gladys--what you said you'd
tell her?"

"So soon as I get home I'll tell her everything--everything--about
you, and your rascally father, too."

"Will you?"

"I will--as sure as you are living!"

"So surely as that? And are you prepared to take your oath that you'll
take out that warrant you were speaking of, or--was that intended for
a jest?"

"Oath! I'll take no oath to you--you Nature's gaol-bird! But of this I
assure you, you'll sleep in a prison cell to-night, and many and many
another night to come."

Mr. Patterson, dragging the silk handkerchief from his breast pocket,
used it to wipe away the perspiration which again bedewed his brow.

"Shall I?"

"You will."

"Oh, no, I won't; nor will you tell Gladys those unkind things about
me and my father."

"Who the devil's going to stop me?"

"I'm the devil who's going to stop you."

Rodney was leaning a little forward. His uncle stopped in the process
of wiping his brow to stare at him, as if there were something in his
manner which struck him as peculiar. About the young gentleman's lips
was the same easy, unconcerned smile which had been there all the
time; there was a smile also in his eyes--it was, apparently, this
latter which gave him the odd expression which had struck his uncle.
Mr. Patterson glanced about him as if in search of something he would
have liked to find. Rodney sat perfectly still. As he put a query to
him his uncle's pursy lips showed a tendency to twitch.

"How are you going to stop me?"

"Can't you guess how I am going to stop you?"

"I can do nothing of the kind. You can't stop me, or anyone. I am
going to do my duty to my daughter and to society, and nothing can
stop me."

"You know better than that. From something which has just come upon
your face I can see that already you know better."

Mr. Patterson gave what he doubtless meant to be a spring towards the
alarm bell opposite; but, for reasons which were beyond his control,
his movements were slower than they should have been--the younger man
was much too quick for him. Gripping him again by both his shoulders,
exerting greater strength than on the first occasion, he forced him
back upon his seat with a degree of violence which seemed to drive the
sense half out of him. As Rodney, remaining on his feet, stood
towering above him, one perceived more clearly that his was the build
of the athlete, and how great were the probabilities, if they came to
grips, that the big man would be helpless in his hands. He addressed
his uncle as an elder person might have spoken to a mutinous child.

"My dearest uncle--you really must permit me to lay stress upon your
avuncular relationship on what will probably be my last chance of
doing so--you are not going to pull the alarm bell, you are not going
to stop the train. You have no more chance of doing either than you
have of flying to the moon, so get that into your drink-sodden brain.
Nor are you going to libel me to Gladys, nor commit me to the mercy of
a ruthless police. Presently you will see that as clearly as I do
now."

Rodney resumed his seat, still keeping his glance fixed on his uncle,
in whose demeanour a change seemed to have taken place which was both
mental and physical. Possibly his nephew had used more violence than
he supposed. The vigour had gone all out of him; inert, he stared at
Rodney with bloodshot eyes, as if drink had taken sudden effect and
bemused his brain. The young man's smile became more pronounced, as if
he found the singularity of the other's appearance amusing. The tone
of his voice, when he spoke, was genial and pleasant.

"My dear uncle, if you, the only relative I have in the world, had
treated me, when first I entered your office, as you might have been
expected to do, I might have become an affectionate and worthy
nephew."

"Not you. You started robbing me before you'd been in the place a
week."

"Is that so? So soon as that? Perhaps you have never known what it is
to be in want of ready cash."

"When I was eighteen I was keeping myself on fifty pounds a year, for
which I was working anything up to sixteen hours a day."

"Indeed! It might have been better if that period of your life had
lasted longer. You wouldn't have been in the rotten condition you
are."

"What's the matter with my condition? I never had a day's illness in
my life."

"My dear uncle, if you weren't in a rotten condition you'd have rung
that alarm bell before this, wouldn't you? But, although it's only
within a foot or two, you'll never ring it--never, because you are
rotten."

Mr. Patterson glanced towards the black knob. Rodney shook his head.

"It's no good, uncle. You won't be able to get at it--you know that.
What an illustration you are of the desirability of keeping oneself
fit! It seems that from the first you kept a sharper eye on me than I
suspected."

"I'm not the fool you took me for."

"Aren't you? That remains to be seen. Do you think that it was the
part of wisdom to threaten me as you have been doing when you and I
were alone together in a compartment of a railway train which doesn't
stop, at least, till it gets to Croydon?"

"I've not been threatening you; I wouldn't condescend. I've only been
telling you what you may expect."

"That's all; and by doing so you've made the issue a simple one. If
you reach town alive, to all intents I shall be dead; whereas, if you
reach town dead, I--shall be on velvet, because you see, my dear
uncle, I'm Gladys' lover; and she loves me, if possible, even more
than I do her. I've proofs of it. Since she is your only child, when
you are dead everything you have will be hers, which is tantamount to
saying that it will be mine, which is just what I should like. So you
will at once perceive how--from every point of view--very much to my
advantage it would be that you should be dead."

"You young hell-hound! Unfortunately for you, I'm not dead, and I'm
not likely to die."

"Oh, yes, you are, very likely--unfortunately for you. You told me
that my father only found one way to escape trouble--suicide. You
hinted in your most affectionate manner that some time, in my turn, I
might only find one way. Your kindly hint made such an impression on
me that I actually made preparations, so that I might never be at a
loss if ever that time should come. Those preparations are contained
in this dainty little box."

Rodney took from his waistcoat pocket what might have passed as a
silver needle-case or receptacle for pins. He held it out in front of
his uncle, who was as much moved by the sight of it as if it had been
some object of horror.

"You--you're not going to make away with yourself before my eyes?
You--you don't suppose I'll let you do it?"

"How would you propose to stop me?"

Again Mr. Patterson mopped his brow with his silk handkerchief of many
colours. He presented a pitiable spectacle. His lips twitched, his
hand trembled, and his whole huge frame seemed to shiver like a mass
of jelly. His voice was broken and husky, he stammered in his speech.

"Elmore, you--you're quite right; I'm--I'm not very well. I--I've had
a great deal to put up with lately, and it's unhinged me. Give me that
infernal thing you've got there--I don't know what is in it, or if
you're playing a trick with me, but--you give it me."

"I'm going to--shortly."

The young man's airy self-possession was in almost painful contrast to
the elder's agitation. He glanced at his watch, holding the slender,
round case between the finger and thumb of his other hand.

"Nearly half-past nine. What was that station we passed? Was it
Hayward's Heath? I fancy we do stop at Croydon, so that there's not
much time to spare. I'm going to act on your suggestion, uncle--with a
difference. I am not going to commit suicide, but you are!"

"I am?--you young fool!--what do you mean?"

"In fact, you practically have committed suicide already."

"The man's mad."

"Possibly--but not on this particular point. When you told me in such
very coarse language what I might expect, you practically committed
suicide, as--I'm about to prove. You remember the case of the eminent
financier who, within five minutes of being sentenced to a long term
of penal servitude, was in a room which was immediately outside the
court in which he had received his sentence, from which he was
instantly to be haled to gaol, under the very noses of his warders
slipped something between his lips and--escaped. You will probably
remember the case better than I do, since at the time I was only a
boy; yet I have studied it to such purpose that within this pretty
little box are--shall we call them tabloids?--which are in all
essentials identical with the one he swallowed. They kill as by a
flash of lightning. Whoever has one of these within his reach no man
shall stay him from--escaping. You are going to swallow one of these
tabloids, uncle--this one."

Unscrewing the top of his silver box, Rodney removed the cap, and took
from it what looked like a small peppermint lozenge, holding it up
between his finger and thumb.

"You see, uncle--this one; as it were, death reduced to its lowest
possible denomination."

At that moment Rodney seemed to be exercising over his uncle some of
the fabulous qualities attributed to the serpent. Beyond doubt Mr.
Patterson recognised with sufficient vividness that this young man in
front of him was much more dangerous than he had supposed; that he had
underrated his capacity for evil; that he might as well have shut
himself in with a tiger as with his sister's son. But the recognition
came too late. The very force of it had the effect of destroying his
few remaining powers of volition. In face of the deadly purpose with
which he perceived that his nephew was filled, he was as one
paralysed. He could only grow purpler and purpler, and splutter.

"Don't--don't you play any of your infernal tricks on me, you--you
villain! Curse it, why can't I get at that bell!" He made as if to
rise, but, seemingly, was as incapable of movement as if he had been
glued to his seat. As if conscious that his peril was imminent, he
raised his voice to a raucous scream.

"Don't--don't you dare to lay your hands on me! Don't--don't you dare
to touch me! Help!"

As the uncle opened his mouth to cry for aid the nephew caught him by
the throat and slipped between his lips the tiny white lozenge which
he had taken from the silver box. Then he struck up his jaw with a
click and held it shut, so that he could not put it out again. Forcing
back his head, he gripped him tight. His uncle was seized with a
convulsion which seemed to Rodney as if it must have shaken the
carriage. Almost at the same instant it was as if all vitality had
gone clean out of him. The nephew was gripping a limp corpse.



                              CHAPTER X

                        IN THE CARRIAGE--ALONE


Graham Patterson, in the agony of that last convulsion, had nearly
slipped off the seat, so that, with a very little, he would be on the
floor. His nephew, who hitherto had not for a moment lost his presence
of mind, and who kept it then, was at a loss. Would such an attitude
be recognised as proper for a suicide? Would, that is, a doctor--any
doctor--be prepared to assert that a man who had killed himself with
potassium cyanide might, under the circumstances, quite conceivably
die in such an attitude, or assume it after death? To Rodney's
supernaturally keen vision there were trifles about his uncle's
appearance which scarcely marked this as inevitably a case of suicide.
The collar was a little crumpled; the tie a little disarranged; he
even fancied that there were prints of his fingers on the skin of
the throat. He was conscious that he had gripped him with great
force--perhaps a little clumsily; he certainly ought to have avoided
contact with the collar and the tie, but no doubt the prints would
wear off. Indeed, as he bent closer he was not sure that they did not
exist only in his imagination; the light was not good; he could not
be certain. With dexterous fingers he smoothed the collar, he
rearranged the tie--so deftly that he felt convinced that no one
would notice that anything had been wrong with him. He raised the
body a little, so that it was in what seemed to him to be a more
natural position, on the edge of the seat; he felt that it would
look better. He was surprised to find how heavy his uncle was--it
required quite an effort on his part to lift him.

He turned the contents of the silver box on to his hand. There were
seven tiny lozenges. He returned three to the box, and laid it on the
seat; the other four he placed beside it. Taking an envelope out of an
inner pocket of his jacket, he tore off a corner. In it he placed the
four tabloids, carefully folded it, and put it in his waistcoat
pocket. Then he balanced the cap of the box on the arm of the seat
beside his uncle; the box itself he placed between the fingers of his
uncle's left hand, with--in it--the other three tabloids. So tightly
were the fingers clenched that Rodney had to use force to open them
sufficiently to enable him to insert the box. Then, seating himself
opposite, he looked his uncle carefully over with an artist's eye for
detail. In his present attitude, with that open box with its tell-tale
contents held tightly between his stiffened fingers, it seemed to
Rodney that a coroner would be bound to instruct his jury that suicide
was the only possible explanation of Graham Patterson's death. Having
satisfied himself on which point, he withdrew to the opposite end of
the carriage, being, in spite of himself, conscious of a feeling that
the dead man's too immediate neighbourhood was not a thing to be
desired.

Seated in his original place, he took out his white cambric
handkerchief, and with it delicately wiped his fingers, having an
uncomfortable notion that something disagreeable had adhered to them
which it would be better to remove. Then he set himself to consider
the position. A great smoker of cigarettes, absent-mindedly and as a
matter of course he took out his case, and was about to light one when
it occurred to him that it might be a dangerous thing to do. It was
not a smoking carriage; if, when the discovery was made, it smelt
strongly of smoke--and nothing lingers like a cigarette--it might be
shown that his uncle had not been smoking, and the question might
arise--who had? He returned the case to his pocket. As he did so the
train rushed past a signal-box. He remembered reading of the strange
things which signalmen see in trains as they rushed past them. When
his uncle was found, exhaustive inquiries would be set on foot. Quite
conceivably some signalman had seen them struggling, or something
which had piqued his curiosity as it had caught his eye. His uncle
would be found alone. The signalman's story might suggest that at one
period of the journey someone had been in the carriage with him. What
had become of that someone? The mere question might start a hue and
cry. Rodney recalled, with quite a little sense of shock, that his
uncle had been partly pushed into the carriage by an official on the
Brighton platform. Graham Patterson was a noticeable-looking person;
he must have presented a striking spectacle as he had come hurrying
along the platform. When discovery came about, the official would
recollect the incident and recognise him beyond a doubt.

Had he noticed that somebody was already in the carriage when he was
thrusting the fat man in? Rodney was compelled to admit that the
probabilities were that he had. So far as he himself was concerned,
Rodney recalled the whole sequence of events. How he had rushed up to
the ticket inspector just as the Pullman was moving; how the man,
slamming the gate in his face, had informed him that another train was
due to start in ten minutes. The young gentleman had a suspicion that
the fellow had looked him up and down as he was explaining. There were
others about who might also have looked him up and down. Rodney had an
uneasy feeling that, in his way, he was perhaps as noticeable a figure
as his uncle--so tall, so upright, so well groomed, so handsome, with
something about his appearance which almost amounted to an air of
distinction. He had walked a few paces to another platform, as
directed; the man at the gate, in his turn, had looked him up and down
as he clipped his ticket; he had strolled leisurely along the
platform, which he had had almost entirely to himself; when he reached
a carriage which he thought would suit him, he stood for a second or
two at the open door--as he remembered, right in front of the official
who, later, had helped his uncle in.

He sat up very straight as that little fact came back to him. He
remembered very well eyeing the man, whom, certainly, he would know
again anywhere. No doubt the man had eyed him, and had his likeness in
his mind's eye. The fellow had seen him enter the compartment and shut
the door; a few minutes later he had opened the door again to admit
his uncle, well knowing that he was already within. The accident might
prove very awkward for the nephew later on; no one could have
appreciated the possibilities of the position more clearly than he
did.

As he pondered the matter he was inclined to think that he had made a
mistake in doing what he had done. Such a fuss is made about a thing
of that sort that, in any event, one runs a risk. Had he had more time
to appreciate exactly what would be the nature of the risk in his own
case he might have--hesitated. If he had he would have been deposed
from his cousin's good graces, and--to adopt her sire's rather
melodramatic language--have been "branded as a felon," so that he
would not have been much better off. Looking at it philosophically the
result of what he had done was this: that whereas, if he had let his
uncle have his own way, ruin was certain, as things were he had at
least a fighting chance of postponing the evil day--perhaps to an
indefinite period. More; in the meanwhile he could have a rattling
good time. And he would have it. He smiled as he made himself that
promise.

All the same, though he smiled, he realised that if he proposed to
have a good time he must not continue to take his ease where he
was--with his uncle on the seat at the other end. If he seriously
wished the world to take it for granted that Graham Patterson had
committed suicide, he must not be found in the same compartment. That
was sure. He had been told by someone, or had read somewhere, that
every express train, though assumed to be "non-stopping," stopped at
least once, because a signal was against it, or at least slowed down
sufficiently to enable an agile passenger, with safety, to alight. So
far that train had neither stopped nor slowed. His watch told him
that it was about twenty to ten--ten minutes ago his uncle had been
alive. It seemed longer ago than that. He had a fair knowledge of
the line by daylight; it was different at night. Objects--even
stations--were difficult to distinguish. He peered through the open
window without thrusting out his head. They seemed to be running
through open country, possibly on the top of the ballast. He could
make out lights, though they were few and far between; they seemed to
be passing a number of trees, with a big building beyond. They
crashed through a station--it was Earlswood; they had just passed
Earlswood Asylum. Immediately they would be on the new part of the
line, which avoids the South-Eastern station at Redhill. There was no
station between this and Purley. He might leave the train anywhere
with comparative safety if it would only slow a little. To attempt to
alight while it was moving at that rate through the darkness would be
equivalent to committing suicide. At the best he could not hope to
avoid serious injury. He must wait--till it slowed.

The whistle on the engine sounded; the train began to slow. Instantly
he was leaning forward, his fingers on the handle, which was inside
the door. The train slowed still more; it entered a tunnel, slowing
all the while; in the heart of the tunnel it stopped--dead. The gods
were on his side. Yet not for an instant did he lose his presence of
mind. The signal was against them--that was why they had stopped. Was
it on the left or the right? On the signal side the guard would
possibly have his head out of the carriage with an eye for it;
possibly some of the passengers might be observing it also. It would
be fatal to get out on that side; his door would be seen opening; he
might be seen to alight; he would be jumping out of the frying-pan
into the fire; all sorts of consequences might accrue. He looked out
of his own window; there was no signal in front or behind. Then it was
on the other side, on the left, against the wall of the tunnel. He
looked on to the six-foot way. He could see the whole length of the
train; not a sign of a head at any of the windows. He had already
turned the handle, opening the door just wide enough he stepped on to
the footboard, closed the door, and dropped on to the permanent way.
He had left his uncle to continue his journey alone. Lest his
upstanding figure might be visible to someone, he crouched as close as
he could to the ground. The train began to move very slowly. The door
of the compartment next to that which he had just left was opened, a
figure came on to the footboard, closed the door, sprang on to the
ballast while the train was already in motion. For a moment Rodney was
the victim of a gruesome delusion; to him it was as if the door of his
own compartment had been opened; as if Graham Patterson had alighted
at his side. He pressed the tips of his fingers into his palms to keep
himself from exclaiming.



                              CHAPTER XI

                             THE STRANGER


The train went slowly rumbling by; who looked out of the windows
Rodney neither knew nor cared. He was conscious of the guard's van
passing, then the train had gone. He could see the tail lights moving
quicker and quicker through the darkness. He himself continued
motionless. He had realised by now that it was not his uncle who had
alighted; that it was the door of the next compartment which had been
opened. He could not believe that his own movements had been observed.
He doubted if they could have been seen by a person who had not
actually got his head out at the moment--even by his next door
neighbour. He was certain that no head had been out. The thing had
been a coincidence--a strange one, but nothing more. Someone also had
reasons for wishing to quit the train in an unusual manner; someone
who was unaware that he was out already. The chances were that he had
not been noticed; that, if he kept quite still, he would not be
noticed. The stranger would blunder along without ever becoming
cognisant of his near neighbourhood; whichever way the stranger went,
he would go the other.

Now that the train had left, it was very still in the tunnel; the air
was close, full of smoke, which was bad both for the throat and the
eyes. Something had dropped once or twice on Rodney's shoulder. He had
heard that it was sometimes damp in tunnels; possibly it was moisture
dropping from the brickwork overhead. He would have liked to move so
as to avoid it, but was reluctant to make a sound--till the stranger
had moved. He wondered what the stranger was doing; silence continued
for what seemed to him to be a preternatural length of time. Possibly,
less fortunate than himself, the stranger had been hurt in alighting,
which explained the stillness. If that were so, his own position might
be difficult. If he moved first the stranger might claim his help,
might make a fuss if he refused it--such a fuss that the fact that he
had left the train would be discovered.

Still not a sound. Momentarily the situation was becoming more
delicate. He could not remain crouched down like that for ever, with
big drops of something falling on to his shoulder. What should he do?
The question was answered for him.

"Caught you!"

The words were whispered close to his ear. He stood straight up
suddenly, startled half out of his wits. His impulse was to
fly--anywhere, anyhow. Then that wonderful presence of mind of his,
which never left him long, came back; he realised that haste on his
part might involve disaster. He stood bolt upright, quite still, with
fists clenched, prepared for anything.

Something came; fingers were laid upon his coat-sleeve. He showed no
sign of resenting their coming, their touch was so soft that it hardly
suggested danger. A voice came to him through the darkness, the one
which had so startled him by whispering in his ear.

"That was a capital idea of yours--capital."

To Rodney's acute sense of hearing there seemed to be a curious
quality in the voice; he was not sure if it belonged to a man or a
woman. It came again.

"Have you ever been in a tunnel before? I haven't."

The last two words were spoken with a snigger which was certainly a
man's, though he still felt that the voice itself might be either
masculine or feminine. He had a fastidious taste in voices; apart from
the circumstances under which he heard it, that one affected him
unpleasantly. It continued, and his distaste grew.

"Do you know that our getting out here in the tunnel has proved
something which I have always held as an article of faith; that I have
cat's eyes--positively? Isn't it droll? I can see you--not plainly,
but sufficiently well. Now I dare say you can't see me at all!"

Rodney could not; he did not believe that the stranger could see him.
Darkness was about them like a wall.

"Come!"

He felt the fingers which had rested on his sleeve slipped under his
arm.

"I will guide you; let me turn you round. We will go this way, towards
the signal. You see?--it is set at danger. Some people would say that
we are in rather a dangerous position."

Again that unpleasantly sounding snigger.

"I hope you're not feeling nervous; you needn't. That signal is not
far off, and when we reach it we are out in the open. I know exactly
where we are; this is Redhill tunnel. Not only can I see in the dark,
dimly, but still see, but I also have, in a curious degree, the bump
of locality. With me it amounts almost to an additional sense. I
always know where I am, even when I am in a strange place; in a place
in which I have been before I have an incredible perception of my
surroundings. For three years I lived quite close to this--in
Earlswood Asylum, as a patient."

Earlswood Asylum! Then the creature was a lunatic. That explained the
singularity of his voice, of his manner, his proceedings. An idea came
into Rodney's head. The creature was small; he felt, as he moved
beside him with his hand under his arm, that he probably did not reach
to his shoulder. It would be easy to leave him in the tunnel. Who
cares what happens to a lunatic?

"I shouldn't if I were you; it wouldn't pay."

The words were so apposite that, despite himself, Rodney started. He
had not spoken. Could the creature read what was passing through his
brain?

"There are times when I can read people's thoughts just as plainly
as if they had spoken them out loud, even when I can't see their
faces--really! Isn't it odd? Oh, I am quite gifted. My argument always
has been that, in a general way, a lunatic is merely abnormal, nothing
more. At intervals a cloud settles on my brain; I can see, I can
feel it coming; then, for an indefinite period, I am on the lap
of the gods. When it passes my senses are more acute than other
people's--abnormally acute, I know it as a fact. Now you see, as I
told you, we are out in the open--look! the stars are shining. Look
back at the tunnel; isn't it a horror of blackness? Like the horror I
know. If we scramble up that bank we shall probably find a gap in the
hedge at the top; platelayers often do leave a gap in a hedge close
to the wall of a tunnel that they may descend to the line. As I told
you, here's our gap; now, over the fence, and the rest is easy
sailing."

It seemed to Rodney that since he had quitted the train something must
have happened to him mentally; it was as if, all at once, he were
playing a part in a dream. In silence, without offering the least
remonstrance, he had suffered the stranger to pilot him out of the
tunnel, up the steep bank beyond--to dominate him wholly. Now, except
that they seemed to be standing in an open space of considerable size,
he had not the dimmest notion of their whereabouts; but to the
stranger it all seemed plain.

"That big building on our right's an orphanage--St. Anne's; I believe
we're on their ground. If we keep straight on to our left we shall
come to the high road, from which it is only a few minutes to Redhill
station, whence we shall continue our journey to town. Quite an
interesting episode this has been, has it not? I am indebted to you
for much entertainment. I have seldom had so much enjoyment in a
train, Mr. Elmore."

The creature knew his name! How? Who was he? What did it mean? Again
he was conscious of an impulse to take him by the throat and--resolve
the question in his own fashion. How came the creature to know his
name? Although he had uttered no articulate sound, he had his answer.

"The explanation is simple, explanations often are. I heard your uncle
address you by your name in a most audible tone of voice just towards
the close. Most people have no idea how thin the partition really is
which divides one compartment from another. Do you know I have heard
that in some instances it is made of papier-mâché--fancy! You can
always hear if a conversation is taking place in an adjoining
compartment--it is surprising how much you can hear if you try,
especially if your hearing is as good as mine is--that's another of my
gifts. I had my ear glued to the partition most of the time. Of
course, I could not hear everything--and I should very much have liked
to see, but I gathered enough to enable me to form a general idea,
particularly when you began to use violence towards your uncle and to
hurl him back into his seat--it amounted to hurling. You see, I was
his side. And, of course, when you both raised your voices I could
hear a very great deal. I was not in the least surprised at the
silence which followed. I understood--oh, I understood! At least, I
think I understood. It was perfectly plain that only one person was
left in the compartment who counted, and, of course, I knew that was
you. I said to myself: 'Now, I wonder how long he'll stay there all
alone? He's sure to take advantage of the first opportunity of getting
out if the train stops or slows, and if he gets out I'll get out too.'
Wasn't it lucky that it stopped in a tunnel, and that, therefore, we
were both of us able to get out without being observed? Quite a stroke
of fortune! Here we are, right on the high road, with the station a
little more than a stone's throw in front of us."

Rodney listened to what the stranger had to say as, side by side, they
tramped across the uneven ground with feelings which he would not have
found it easy to clothe with words. Beyond all doubt this was a
lunatic; but of what an uncomfortable kind! He had been wiser to have
acted on his first impulse and to have left him in the tunnel. Now it
was too late; it would not be the same thing to--leave him there. Yet,
if he continued in his company, how should he muzzle him? With what
would he make him dumb? By what means could he keep him from blurting
out the whole story to the first person they might meet? Once more,
though he had uttered not a syllable, there came an answer.

"You run no risk of my blabbing, I am not that kind of person--at
least, while the cloud is yet afar off. Afterwards, believe me, no one
pays any heed to what I say. I play the part of audience only. I am
not, like you, one of Nature's criminals; but I am indifferent, which
is about the same. What A does to B is A's business and B's, not mine;
that I always shall maintain. Here we are at the station. It's been
altered since my time; they've given it a new front. When is the next
train to town?"

He put the question quite naturally to a porter who was standing
about.

"Ten-forty; nearly half an hour to wait--that is if she is punctual,
which she's not always of a Sunday night."

The stranger addressed himself to Elmore.

"That, perhaps, is fortunate, since that will enable me to offer you a
little refreshment, of which I dare say both of us stand in need."

Rodney, always speechless, walked beside the stranger to the
refreshment bar. Now he could see him plainly. A notion which had been
fluttering at the back of his head took flight; there was no
suggestion of a detective police official about him. He was shorter
even than he had imagined, probably scarcely over five feet high; a
mean-looking, ill--shapen fellow, with one shoulder higher than the
other, which gave him an appearance of being one-sided. Badly dressed
in an ill-fitting suit of rusty dark-grey tweed, clumsily shod, tie
disarranged, doubtful collar, old tweed hat shaped like a billycock,
about him the air of one who was not over fond of soap and water.
Probably between fifty and sixty, a round, hairless, wizened face, all
wrinkles, flat, snub nose, curiously small mouth--Rodney wondered if
the peculiarity of his voice was owing to its coming through so
small an aperture; queer, big, oval, ugly eyes--small pupils floating
in a sea of yellow. The young gentleman was conscious of what an
ill-assorted couple they must appear. He would have liked very much to
put a termination to the association then and there, but--he could
not, it was too late.

The stranger on his part seemed sublimely unaware of there being
anything odd in their companionship. He gave his order to the young
lady on the other side of the counter.

"One brandy, two Scotch whiskies, and a small soda divided."

The young lady looked as if she was not quite sure that she had caught
what he said.

"I beg your pardon."

"I said one brandy, two Scotch whiskies, and a small soda divided.
You've quite right, there are only two of us; I take brandy and whisky
together--I'm a lunatic."

Two young men at the other end, with whom the young lady had been
talking, looked at each other and smiled. The young lady also smiled,
under the apparent impression that, somewhere, there was a joke.

"It is rather unusual, isn't it?"

"Not at all--with lunatics."

It was not easy for standers-by to decide whether or not he was in
earnest. Rodney was in doubt; indeed, the man's words and manner
started him wondering to what extent, in all he had been saying, the
fellow had been "pulling his leg."

The young lady passed three glasses to their side of the counter. The
stranger, taking two, emptied one into the other. He held it up
towards Rodney.

"Your very good health, and the next time we meet may you afford me as
much entertainment."

Swallowing the contents of the glass at a single gulp, he replaced it
on the counter.

"The same again, miss; one brandy, one Scotch whisky; lunatics don't
take long over a drop like that."

She looked at him doubtfully for a moment; then gave him what he
ordered, saying, as she passed him the glasses:

"Two shillings, please."

As again he emptied one into the other he nodded to Rodney.

"Pay her; I've no money--lunatics never have."

Rodney drank what was in his glass, placed a florin on the counter,
and left the place without a word. Hardly had he reached the door when
he found the little man again at his side. He commenced pacing up and
down the dimly lit platform; the little man paced also, two of his
short steps being the equivalent of one of Rodney's strides. He asked
himself if he could do nothing to shake the fellow off; with his usual
singular intuition the other replied to his unspoken thought.

"Not nice, being in the company of one who knows as much as I do?
Perhaps not; yet I don't see why. I'm incapable of giving evidence; if
I weren't I wouldn't say a word to spoil the fun; I am as good as a
dead man. You'll have a dead man for constant companion--why not me?"

Again he gave vent to the snigger which so jarred on the young man's
nerves. When the train entered the station they were still pacing to
and fro; Rodney not having yet uttered a single word. The little man
followed him into the empty first-class compartment which he had
selected, saying as he drew the door to behind him:

"Isn't it confiding of me to trust myself alone in a carriage with
you--after what has happened? But I am not in the least afraid. I am
sure you won't care to repeat your experiment to-night. And I shall
find it so amusing to sit and watch you, and see what is passing
through your mind; because, do you know, it will all be just as plain
to me as if you said everything aloud."

While crediting the stranger with unusual perceptive powers, Rodney
doubted if in his assertion he did not go too far. If he had the
dimmest insight into the tangled network of thought with which the
young man's brain was filled, then he was a marvel indeed. Elmore,
leaning back in his seat, remained perfectly still, with his face
towards the window, to all outward seeming as oblivious of the other's
presence and occasional remarks as if he were not there. When they
reached Croydon a person approached the carriage window whom the
stranger plainly recognised; a pleasant-faced, brown-skinned and
brown-haired young man with a slight moustache, with something in his
bearing and expression which suggested reserve. Coming into the
carriage, he said to the stranger, as he sat beside him, half
smilingly, half chidingly:

"So it is you, is it? I hope you've enjoyed your little trip."

The stranger seemed to regard his coming with an air of not altogether
pleased surprise.

"You're a most extraordinary man."

The other replied:

"One has to be a little that way if one is responsible for you."

The new-comer's good-humoured curtness seemed to disturb the
stranger's equilibrium.

"Responsible for me, indeed! Upon my word, you are the most
extraordinary man."

In his own fashion the stranger introduced the new-comer to Rodney.

"This is Dr. Emmett, my medical attendant. I left him behind me in
Brighton because I am sick and tired of his society; yet here he is at
Croydon before I am. How he does these things I do not understand.
He's a most extraordinary man."

Then, also after his own fashion, he made Rodney known to the
new-comer.

"Emmett, this is a valued friend of mine, whom I have met for the
first time to-night. I know all about him, except his voice; and, do
you know, he's never spoken once."

Rodney, observing the new-comer, perceived, from something which was
in the glance he gave him in exchange for his, that the position had
altered. Rising, he moved out of the carriage, still without a word.
The stranger made as if to follow him, but the doctor put out a
detaining hand. The train started just as Rodney, having gained the
platform, was closing the door. The last he saw of the interior of the
compartment was that the stranger seemed to be warmly expostulating
with his medical attendant. At Redhill Rodney had got into the front
part of the train--which was for London Bridge--because he felt that
between the City and Notting Hill he might have an opportunity of
shaking the stranger off. Now, as the London Bridge coaches glided out
of the station, he passed to the Victoria half of the train, which
awaited an engine, lower down the platform. The doctor's fortuitous
arrival on the scene had saved him, at least temporarily, from what
might have been a serious predicament.



                             CHAPTER XII

                             MARKING TIME


Rodney Elmore's rooms were within a short distance of Paddington
Station. As his cab drew up at the house he saw that another hansom
was already at the door. Since it was past midnight, its presence was
suggestive; it betokened a visitor. The house being a small one, there
was only one other lodger besides himself, and he occupied a modest
"bed-sitting-room" on the upper floor. His instinct told him that the
visitor was for himself. At that hour on Sunday night the fact was
portentous. Opening the door with his latch-key, as he stepped inside
a girl came hastening towards him from a room at the back,
noiselessly, as if she did not wish to be overheard, rather a pretty
girl, with fluffy, fair hair. She spoke in a whisper:

"There's someone to see you--a lady. She would wait, although I told
her I didn't know when you would be in."

"What's her name?"

"She said Miss Patterson."

He understood--he had been making certain mental calculations as he
came along. No doubt his uncle would have his name and address upon
him; his identity would be discovered so soon as they searched the
body. There had been time to carry the news to Russell Square; this
was the result. Nodding to the fluffy-haired girl, he passed quickly
into his sitting-room, which was on the left, in the front of the
house. Gladys was standing by the table. As she came towards him he
knew by the look which was on her face that his guess had been
right--that already she knew at least part of the story.

"Where have you been?" she exclaimed. "I thought you were never
coming."

Taking both her hands in his, he drew her to him.

"My dear child! how could I guess that you were here? What does it
mean?"

She looked at him with a curious sombre something in her big dark
eyes, which reminded him of a child who is about to cry. Her lips
trembled.

"Rodney, dad's dead."

His tone was eager, gentle, sympathetic; instinct with surprise.

"Dead! You--you don't mean it!"

"In the train."

"In the train! What train?"

She told her tale, he listening with interest, anxiety, tenderness,
which were sufficiently real.

"I was just going to bed."

"Dear, you're shivering. You'd better sit down."

"I'd rather stand--close to you."

He put his arms about her and held her tight. He kissed her.
"Sweetheart," he whispered. He could feel her trembling; tears were
beginning to shine in her eyes.

"I was in my bedroom, and--and--I was thinking about you "--about the
corners of her lips was the queerest little smile--"when there was a
ringing at the front door. I thought it was dad, who had forgotten his
key; but they came and told me that there was a gentleman downstairs
who wished to see me very particularly about my father, and that it
was most important. So I slipped on a dressing-jacket and went down to
him. It was someone from the railway company. They had found dad in
the carriage of a train which had come from Brighton. He was dead--now
he was at Victoria Station--he had committed suicide."

"Suicide!"

Rodney started; it could not have been better done if his surprise had
been genuine.

"It's--it's incredible!"

"I can only tell you what the man told me. He said of course there
would have to be an inquiry, but all the indications pointed at that.
He had poisoned himself; in his hand they had found a box in which
were some more of the things with which he had done it."

"I can only say that to me it seems--it does seem impossible. I should
have said he was the last person to do anything like that."

"You never can tell what sort of person will do a thing like that.
I once knew a girl who went straight up after dinner to her bedroom
and--did it; no one ever knew why. I went with the man to Victoria,
and--saw dad; I've come right on from there. I felt that I couldn't
go home till I had seen you. I believe I should have stayed here all
night if you hadn't come."

"You poor little thing!--sweetheart mine!--you only woman in the
world!"

"You--you will be good to me, Rodney?"

"Never was man better to a woman than I will try to be to you."

"Suppose--suppose dad did it because he was ruined?"

"My dear girl, as you are aware, I was not in your father's
confidence--still, I am pretty nearly certain that, commercially, it
will be found that he was all right. Yet, should it turn out that he
was even worse than penniless, it will not make a mite of difference
in my love for you."

"You are sure?"

"Absolutely. Aren't you?"

"I do believe you care for me a little, or--I shouldn't be here."

"A little! You--you bad girl; you dearest, sweetest of darlings!
Between ourselves, if it does turn out that you're no richer than I
am, I shan't be sorry. He never did want you to have anything to do
with me. I might have won him over if he had lived; you know, I
believe he was commencing to like me a little better. I'm not sure
that I wouldn't sooner have you without his money; I should feel as if
I were playing the game."

"It will be horrid if he has left nothing; it will perhaps mean a
scandal, and things are bad enough as they are."

"I see what you have in your mind, but I assure you you need not have
the slightest fear. I'll stake my own integrity that in all matters of
business your father had the highest sense of honour. I'll be willing
to write myself down a rogue if it can be shown that he ever deviated
in any particular from the highest standard of commercial rectitude."

"I hope you're right."

"I am right, on that point you may rest assured."

"You know, Rodney, you're all I have in the world--now."

The use of the adverb, in that connection, tickled him. The idea that,
so far as she was concerned, her father ever had been much of a
personal asset was distinctly funny. However, he allowed no hint of
how her words struck him to peep out; never a more ardent lover, a
more present help in the time of a girl's trouble. He escorted her to
what bade henceforward to be her lonely home in the cab which still
waited at the door. When he returned to Paddington it was very late.
As he moved to his bedroom up the darkened staircase a door opened on
the landing. The fluffy-haired girl looked out. She was in a state of
considerable _déshabillé_.

"You are late," she whispered. "I thought you never were coming back."

"You goose."

He put his arms about her and kissed her with the calmest proprietary
air.

"To think that you should be still awake."

"You knew I should sit up; you knew mother wasn't coming back
to-night, and you said you'd be in early."

She spoke with an air of grievance. He smiled.

"It's been a case of man proposes. I have had many things to contend
with--all sorts of worries. Now, as I want breakfast early, I'm going
to bed, and, I hope, to sleep, if you aren't."

"You don't care for me a bit."

He kissed her again.

She waited on him at breakfast, which, as he had forewarned her, he
had unusually early. She was his landlady's daughter; her name was
Mabel Joyce. Among his letters was one from Stella Austin. He opened
it as she placed before him his bacon and eggs; as he glanced at
Stella's opening lines Miss Joyce talked.

"So you went to Brighton yesterday--by the Pullman, too."

He looked up at her as if surprised.

"Did I? Who told you that?"

"Didn't you?"

"You say I did. Pray, from what quarter did you get your information?"

"Oh, there are plenty of quarters from which I can get
information--when I like. And your uncle was in Brighton. It doesn't
look as if he had a very pleasant day there, as he committed suicide
in the train on the way back to town. I dare say you had a pleasanter
day than he did."

"I presume you got that information either from this morning's paper
or else from listening last night outside the door."

"As it happens, I haven't seen a paper, and, as for listening, if you
don't know I wouldn't do a thing like that it's no use my saying so."

"Then who was your informant?"

"That's my business. There is a little bird which sometimes whispers
in my ear. Did you come back in the Pullman?"

He replied to her question with another.

"What's the matter with you, Mabel?"

"What should be? Nothing's the matter; I was only thinking that if you
did, your uncle must have been in the train just behind you. If you'd
have known what he was doing you'd have felt funny. Still, if you did
come by the Pullman, considering that it's due at Victoria at ten, and
yesterday was quite punctual, since you had promised to be in early,
and knew that I was all alone in the house, I think you might have
been back before midnight."

He eyed the girl. She was pretty, in a pink-and-white sort of way;
fonder of him than was good for her. He had never seen her in this
shrewish mood before.

"My dear Mabel, if I could have got back earlier I would have done so;
but I couldn't. I was the sufferer, not you."

"I dare say! I suppose that Miss Patterson was your cousin. Are you
going to marry her?"

"Really! you jump about! How do you suppose a fellow in my position
can tell whom he's going to marry--on twopence a year?"

"I dare say she's got money, especially now. Since directly she heard
of her father's death she came tearing round to you, at that time of
night, it looks as if you ought to marry her if you don't!"

Miss Joyce flounced out of the room. For some moments he sat
considering her words. Who told her that he went to Brighton, on the
Pullman? Was it a lucky guess? Hardly; probably someone had seen him.
People's eyes were everywhere. He would have to be careful what tale
he told. It was odd how gingerly one had to walk when one was in a
delicate position; there were so many unseen strings over which one
might stumble.

As he ate his breakfast he read Stella's letter. It was a girl's first
letter to her lover; which is apt to be a wonderful production, as in
this case. He had not supposed that a letter from Stella could have
stirred him as that one did. It suggested the perfect love which
casteth out fear. She bared her simple heart to him in perfect trust
and confidence, showing in every line that, to her, he was both hero
and king, that man of men,--her husband that was to be. Tears actually
stood in his eyes as he realised the pathos of it all; how sweet to
hold such innocence in his arms. He was not sure that he had not been
over-hasty in concluding that here was no wife for him. The picture
which, as he read on, quite unwittingly she presented to his mind's
eye, of the two wandering hand in hand down the vale of years, to the
goal of venerable old age at the end, moved him to the depths. It was
sweet to be so trusted; he would have loved to have her with him at
the breakfast-table then. It was so dear a letter that he kissed it as
he folded it, and slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat.

Then he set himself to thinking. Part of the point of Stella's letter
lay in the fact that she expected him to go to her that night, and
wished him to know all the things she set down in black and white, so
that they might be able to talk about them when he came. The
misfortune was that he was not going. He would have liked to
go--truly. He felt that after what had happened lately an evening
spent with Stella would be delicious. So strongly did he feel this
that he cast about in his mind for some means of ensuring himself
even a few fleeting minutes in her society; but could hit on none.
Accident might befriend him, but he doubted if Gladys would give
accident much chance. He had promised that he would go from the
office straight to her; it might go ill with him if he did not. Once
with her, she was not likely to let him go again till it was too
late to think of Stella.

How appease the maiden for her disappointment? He could think of
nothing but laying stress on the dreadful thing which had happened to
his uncle, and putting all the blame on that. He had never mentioned
his cousin to Stella, or to Mary, or to anyone, being of those who, if
they can help it, do not like their first finger to know what their
thumb is doing. Stella did not know he had a feminine relative; it
might be inconvenient to acquaint her with the fact just now; quite
possibly her soft heart might move her to go and offer the orphaned
Gladys consolation. He smiled as the droll side of such a possibility
tickled his sense of humour. Possibly the time might come when the two
young women would have to know of each other's existence, but--perhaps
it might be as well to put it off for awhile.

He scribbled a hasty note to Stella, speaking of the rapture her
letter had given him, and dwelling, in lurid hues, on the tragedy of
his uncle's end; then suddenly remembered that, from her point of
view, he ought not to have heard of it. What a number of trifles one
did have to think of. He had not seen a paper; he did not propose to
tell her of his trip to Brighton; she had heard nothing of Gladys; she
might ask some awkward questions as to how he came to know about it so
early in the day. He tore the note up and made a bonfire of the
pieces. Then he scribbled another, in which he only spoke of his
rapture and of the ecstatic longing with which he looked forward to
seeing her after his office work was done, and of how the intervening
seconds would go by like leaden hours--he felt that a poetic touch of
that sort was the least that was required. Then, when he reached the
office, he might wire her the dreadful tidings in an agitated
telegram, and, later, in a still more agitated telegram, inform her
that one awful consequence of the upheaval which had followed the
hideous tragedy was that he would be unable to come to her to-night.
The tale would be much more effective told like that. Whatever her
feelings were, he did not see how a loophole would be left to her to
lay blame on him.



                             CHAPTER XIII

                         SPREADING HIS WINGS


A disagreeable surprise awaited him when he reached St. Paul's
Churchyard. Taking it for granted that everything would now belong to
Gladys, he was prepared to act as her representative and sole
relative, and, if needs be, carry things off with a high hand--above
and beyond all else, he was desirous of gaining access to certain
documents whose existence constituted a peril to him. To that end he
arrived before his usual time, being conscious that this was an
occasion on which it might be an advantage to be first on the field.
To his disgust he found that at least two persons were in front of
him, and that they were both in what had been his uncle's private
room. One was Mr. Andrews, the managing man, the other was a
square-jawed individual, whose blue cheeks pointed to a life-long
struggle with a refractory beard. He was seated, as one in authority,
in his uncle's own chair behind his uncle's own table. They were
busily conversing as Rodney came unannounced into the room, but
paused to stare at him.

"This," explained Mr. Andrews to the man in the chair, "is Mr. Rodney
Elmore--the nephew I was telling you about."

There was a lack of deference in the speaker's tone which the young
gentleman resented, and had resented in silence more than once in the
days which were past; but the time for silence was gone. He had been
making up his mind on that point on his way to the City. Recognising,
from the bearing of the two men in front of him, that a new and,
as yet, unknown factor bade fair to figure on the scene, with
characteristic readiness he arrived at an instant resolution. Ignoring
Andrews, he addressed himself to the man in the chair.

"May I ask, sir, who you are?"

The stranger's penetrating eyes were set deep in his head; he fixed
them on the young gentleman's face with a steady stare of evident
surprise. Rodney returned him stare for stare.

"You may ask, young gentleman, and, though I seriously doubt if
you are entitled to ask, I don't mind telling you. My name is
Wilkes--Stephen Wilkes; I am your late uncle's legal adviser, and
am here to safeguard the interests he has left behind."

"Then, Mr. Wilkes, be so good as to get out of that chair."

Mr. Andrews looked at the speaker in shocked amazement.

"Mr. Elmore! You forget yourself! How dare you speak like that to a
gentleman in Mr. Wilkes's position."

For answer, Rodney turned to the managing man, addressing him as
curtly and peremptorily as if he had been some menial servant.

"Andrews, leave the room!"

The other's eyes opened still wider; probably he had never been so
spoken to before, even by his late master in his most irascible moods.
He drew up his spare and rather bowed figure with what he perhaps
meant to be a touch of dignity.

"Mr. Elmore, the consequences will be very serious if you talk to me
like that."

"The consequences will be very serious if you don't obey my orders."

"Your orders?"

"My orders. Are you going to leave the room, or am I to put you out?"

"Steady, young gentleman, steady. I have been your uncle's legal
adviser for perhaps more years than you have been in the world, and
am, therefore, intimately acquainted with his wishes. I am here to see
those wishes carried out. I understand that you occupied a very humble
position in this office, and, though accident made you his relative,
you were not in possession of your uncle's confidence. Your position
is in no way altered by his death, and you have no right to issue what
you call orders here--emphatically not to Mr. Andrews. If there is any
question as to who is to leave the room, it is certainly not Mr.
Andrews who must go, but you."

"Mr. Wilkes, I do not propose to bandy words, and when I have once
pointed out that you entirely misapprehend the situation on that
subject I have done. All that Mr. Patterson had is now his daughter's,
including this business and all that it implies. I am here as Miss
Patterson's representative."

"Indeed! By whom appointed?"

"By Miss Patterson. I may inform you that Miss Patterson will shortly
be my wife."

"Is that so? This is news. Since when has that arrangement been made?"

"Your words imply a sneer and an impertinence. That being so, I
decline to enter into any further details with you beyond a bare
statement of the fact."

"Are you not taking too much for granted in asserting that everything
is left to Miss Patterson?"

"I have not a doubt of it; with the exception, possibly, of some small
legacies. He left a will?"

"He did."

"Is it in your possession?"

"It is."

"Then I must ask you to produce it at once."

"Produce it? To whom?"

"To me. Miss Patterson has instructed me to request you to hand it
over at once to my keeping."

"Then, if that is so, I am afraid that, for the moment, I have no
choice but to ignore the young lady's request. I will see Miss
Patterson."

"Miss Patterson will decline to see you."

"She will decline to see me? On what grounds?"

"It is not necessary that she should state any grounds. Any
communication you wish to have with Miss Patterson must be through me
or her solicitor. Do I understand that you finally refuse to do as she
requests, and hand me her father's will?"

"If you were not a very young man, Mr. Elmore, I should say that you
were a foolish one; but possibly youth is your extenuation. The will
will be produced at the proper time, in the proper place, to the
proper person; it will certainly not be handed to you."

"Then Miss Patterson's solicitor will at once take steps which will
compel its instant production."

"Miss Patterson's solicitor? You really are a remarkable young man! I
am Miss Patterson's solicitor. It was her father's wish that I should
continue to act for her, as I acted for him."

"You will do nothing of the kind. If Mr. Patterson has left any legal
powers to that effect, his daughter will resort to every process of
law to effect your removal; your refusal to withdraw will not redound
to your credit. You say you have been his legal adviser for more years
than I am old. Mr. Patterson was a bad husband and a bad father. He
utterly neglected his daughter; he did nothing to show that he had any
of a parent's natural feelings; although she respected his every wish
and he had no complaint to make of her, he was wholly indifferent to
both her welfare and her happiness; he saw as little of her and did as
little for her as he could. In many respects he was to her both a
reproach and a shame, the sole object of his existence being his own
gross physical enjoyment. Without being, perhaps, what is called an
habitual drunkard, he habitually drank too much, and was frequently
intoxicated in her presence. He was an evil-liver--with his relations
with notorious women you are probably better acquainted than I am;
she, unfortunately, has good reason to know that they were of a
discreditable kind. To crown an ill-spent career he has taken his own
life, under circumstances which can hardly fail to be the cause of
scandal, which may leave a brand on her for the remainder of her life,
though she is still only a girl. You apparently pride yourself on
having been confidential adviser to such a man through a great number
of years. Is it strange, therefore, that she would rather that
somebody else should advise her? Think it over; you will yourself
perceive that it is not strange; I am sure that will be the feeling of
a court of law. Now, Mr. Wilkes, I must again ask you to get out of
that chair."

"And if I refuse?"

Rodney moved to the other side of the table, took Mr. Wilkes--who was
not a big man--by either elbow, lifted him as if he were a child, and
deposited himself on the chair in his place. The solicitor, who had
made not the slightest show of resistance, stood ruefully rubbing his
arms.

"I believe you have put both my elbows out of joint, you young
ruffian."

Rodney was placidity itself.

"Have you never heard of Jiu-jitsu, Mr. Wilkes? You know even better
than I do that you are a trespasser on these premises, and that a
trespasser is a person towards whom one is entitled to use all
necessary force."

Taking a bunch of keys out of his jacket pocket, he inserted one in
the lock of the drawer which was in front of him. Mr. Wilkes surveyed
the proceeding with obvious surprise.

"What keys are those?"

"These are my uncle's keys. They were handed to me by Miss Patterson,
with instructions to go through her father's private papers and
documents, and so ensure their not being tampered with by persons who
certainly have not her interest at heart."

"If you take my earnest advice, young gentleman, you will not touch
anything which is in those drawers. If you are not careful you will go
too far."

"I will not take your advice, Mr. Wilkes--whether earnest or
otherwise. I observe, Andrews, that you are still there. There are one
or two remarks which I wish to make to Mr. Wilkes in private. Once
more, are you going to leave this room?"

The managing man looked at the lawyer as if for advice and help in the
moment of his hesitation.

"Perhaps," said Mr. Wilkes, replying to his unspoken question, "you
had better go. You will commit yourself to nothing by going."

"Whereas," observed Elmore, with his smiling glance fixed on the
managing man, "you will commit yourself to a good deal by not going,
because I shall not only put you out of this door, but into the
street. So far as this office is concerned, that will be the end of
you. I will take steps which will ensure your never entering it
again."

After another brief moment of hesitation, with a glance of what was
very like reproach towards the lawyer, Andrews quitted the room, with
the air of one who was both bewildered and hurt. So soon as he had
gone Mr. Wilkes observed:

"Mr. Elmore, you are taking a very great deal upon yourself; you
certainly have the courage of youth, but be warned by me, don't take
too much. If it is shown that your uncle's depositions are not what
you are taking it for granted they are, your position will be rendered
more difficult by the attitude you are now taking up."

"I care nothing for any warning which comes from you, Mr. Wilkes. Why
did my uncle commit suicide?"

"What do you mean by asking me such a question? Do you imagine that if
I knew I should tell you?"

"Does that mean that you know?"

"It means nothing of the sort; but it does mean that if I had any such
secret knowledge, the only person to whom I should breathe a word of
it would be his daughter."

"That you certainly would not do. Miss Patterson's heartfelt prayer is
that she may never know. That he had some shameful reason is plain; if
it can be kept from her it shall be; if it reaches her through you,
you will deserve to be whipped."

"Mr. Elmore, I knew your father."

"That's more, Mr. Wilkes, than I ever did."

"His end was like your uncle's."

"So I learned from my uncle before--he ended. And it is because the
shame of what he did seems to rest on me, in the mouths of such as
you, that I am resolved to shield my cousin--if I can. I imagine that,
in a strictly scientific sense, you are, in part, responsible for my
uncle's fate."

"How do you arrive at that--somewhat startling conclusion?"

"You aided and abetted him in what he did."

"Indeed! As how?"

"I happen to know that you were more than once his companion when he
was in the society of certain notorious women, with whose character
you were undoubtedly as well acquainted as he was."

"And if I was--what then?"

"If, on more than one occasion, A is in the company of B when B is in
the act of committing a crime, what is the inference we draw as
regards A?"

"You really are a remarkable young man!"

"More. On more than one occasion you have borrowed money from Mr.
Patterson."

"We have had business relations for many years."

"Did he ever borrow money from you?"

"No; because he did not do the class of business I did."

"Exactly. At this moment you are his debtor in a considerable sum."

"I don't know from whom you get your information, but if it is from
your uncle you must be perfectly well aware that the whole matter is
on a proper footing, and that there can be no reasonable doubt as to
my fulfilling my engagements both in the letter and the spirit."

"Still, you have been in the habit of borrowing money from your
client, sometimes, I believe, to save yourself from a difficult
position. Possibly his will contains a clause relieving you of your
indebtedness; possibly, also, a court of law will see its way to
relieve Miss Patterson from any obligation to accept your services. I
will not detain you any longer, Mr. Wilkes. Good morning. Please don't
gossip with the employés as you go out."

Mr. Wilkes looked as if he would have said a good deal; but Mr. Elmore
had already begun to write a letter--there was an air of complete
indifference about him which apparently brought him to the conclusion
that it might perhaps be as well to say nothing. He took his hat off
the table and went out in silence. Presently Rodney, ringing the bell,
said to the lad who answered:

"Take that letter to the address which is on the envelope at once, and
bring me an answer; also tell Mr. Andrews that I wish to speak to
him."

Shortly the managing man appeared in the doorway. One felt that he had
hesitated whether or not to come, and that he was oppressed by
something like a sense of shame at the thought of having yielded. The
young gentleman, leaning back, regarded him with the pleasant little
smile which, so far, had not left him--it was odd of what a number of
subtle inflections his manner was capable without once disturbing the
smile.

"Sit down, Andrews; take this chair."

The other did as he was told, sitting on the extreme edge, leaning
slightly forward, his long legs crooked in front of him, his hands
resting on his knees.

"How old are you, Andrews?"

Instead of replying to the question, the managing man started off on a
line of his own.

"Mr. Elmore, you must excuse my remarking that, so far as I am
concerned, I don't understand the position at all."

"You will, Andrews, shortly. I always have felt that your mental
processes were perhaps a trifle slow."

"I have been in this office, boy and man, practically my whole life
long; I'm older than your uncle was, and I was here before he came. He
was with Harding and Fletcher before he took this business over, and,
so to speak, he took me with it. It was a solid business then, and
it's a solid business still--indeed, it's even better than it was. I'm
almost--if not quite--as well known in the City as he was; he would
have been the first to tell you that with the continued success I have
had something to do. He was, in some ways, a difficult man to deal
with; but no man had a better head for business--if he gave his
confidence, you might be sure it was deserved, and he had entire
confidence in me."

"Hear, hear! Go on; I like to hear you."

"When he said a thing he meant it. It's always been a joke among those
who knew him that Graham Patterson's word was as good as a bank-note.
He has told me more than once that when he was gone----"

"He anticipated going?"

"Not more than other men; only, he was methodical and liked to have
everything in order, and, if he could help it, leave nothing to
chance. He has told me, as I have said, more than once, that when he
was gone--since he only had a daughter--he had arranged that the whole
management of the business should be in my hands, and that he had left
me a small share in it. He said, frankly, some time ago that he would
give me a share in it then and there; if it weren't that he was the
kind of man who never would get on with a partner; and that was the
case--often he was difficult. I am sure, from what he told me, that it
will be found that he has left the management of the business in my
hands, as well as a share. What I don't understand, therefore, is on
what grounds you are taking up the position you appear to be doing. I
am far from wishing to have any unpleasantness with you, Mr. Elmore,
but I do not understand."

"I represent Miss Patterson."

"But I represent the business--which was her father's, not hers."

"But it's hers now, you yourself admit that you only expect to be left
a small share."

"But I'm left the management."

"That's--I am far from wishing to have any unpleasantness with you,
Mr. Andrews, but--you must know that that's all tuppence."

"Pray, Mr. Elmore, what do you mean by that? A will's a will; its
terms are not to be lightly set aside."

"You have not told me how old you are, Mr. Andrews, but you have told
me that you are my uncle's senior."

"So far as head for business goes, I am as young as ever I was."

"I will not contradict you. I am inclined to think that you are as you
were--thirty, forty years ago--that is, in a commercial sense, a
thousand years behind the times."

"You have no right to say that. What do you know about business--a
young man like you?"

"I am a man of business, Mr. Andrews."

"I was not aware of it until this moment."

"You will be more clearly aware of it before long. I was prepared to
marry my cousin had she been penniless, as only the other day--if she
married me--she bade fair to be. In that event I would have made her
fortune, and my own, as sure as you are sitting there. As events have
turned out, so far from being penniless, she is, shall we say, the
three-fourths proprietor of a flourishing business, with, probably,
all the capital at her command which is needed for its development.
Under such circumstances, why should I not devote my energies to the
aggrandisement of her business? If I do, do you suppose for one
instant--will or no will--that the management of affairs will be in
your hands? That you will lead, and I shall follow? Absurd, Andrews;
the business has reached a stage at which it can branch out
advantageously in a dozen different directions."

"I believe there's something in what you say--if it's in the hands of
the right man."

"I am the right man! In the case of equipment of the modern man of
business, if he has a head upon his shoulders, youth is his strongest
card--it assures his being abreast of the procession. I know what can
be done with this business, and it shall be done; I'll do it. In ten
years it shall rank among the greatest of its kind in the City of
London--in the world; if you live till then you'll own it."

"I'm a bachelor. I've saved enough to keep me in comfort. The business
has been to me both wife and child, I could not love it better if it
were my own. If I were sure that it would grow and flourish, always on
a solid basis, I shouldn't care so much about myself; but it would
break my heart, if, for any cause whatever, it were to go to pieces."

"It won't; you'll see. We'll talk about it again when the exact
conditions of my uncle's will are known. Whatever they turn out to be,
I shouldn't be surprised if you and I get on better together than at
this moment you may suppose--you'll find that I like to get on with
everyone. By the way, there is one disagreeable matter which, if we
are to arrive at a perfect understanding, I ought to speak to you
about. Are you aware that during the last few years various small acts
of dishonesty have taken place in this office?"

"Mr. Elmore! I never heard of it."

"My uncle knew; he was speaking to me on the subject only a day or two
ago. I fancy he even knew who the culprit was. He told me that there
were proofs of what he more than hinted at locked up in one of his
drawers. It was because of what he said that I was so anxious to go
through his papers before anyone else could get at them."

"I hope, Mr. Elmore, you are not imputing dishonesty to me?"

"To you, my good Andrews! Do you think I don't know an honest man when
I see one? In that respect I am like my uncle. I am as sure as I am
sure of anything that you are as honest a man as I am--rest quite easy
on that score. I only wished to point out that while you supposed
yourself to be keeping a sharp eye on everything, and that nothing
which took place in the office escaped your notice, these
irregularities were taking place beneath your very nose. However, on
that subject also I may have to speak to you again later. Still
another point. The inquest on my uncle is to be held to-day at
Victoria Station. As you will readily understand, Miss Patterson is
not in a condition to appear at such an inquiry, if her presence can
be dispensed with; we are advised it can. She wishes me to ask you if
you will appear at the inquiry, and give such formal evidence as may
be required. I don't know what questions will be asked you. Frankly,
can you throw any light on any cause which may have induced his rash
act? I take it he had no financial reason?"

"Absolutely none, of that I'm convinced. He had all the money he
wanted, and there was nothing wrong with the business. It's a mystery
to me."

"I fancy it will remain a mystery. Why some men and women make away
with themselves is a mystery which only they themselves could have
solved."

"I don't understand why you and he didn't get on better together."

"Nor I; to me it was a great disappointment. As you have said, he was
difficult. He may have felt that my ideas on business matters were
different from his, and didn't like it."

"Perhaps if he had lived it would have been different."

"We shall never know what, in that case, might have happened. May I
take it that, in the matter of the inquest, you will do as Miss
Patterson asks?"

"I will--certainly."

"Thank you. You increase the debt which she is conscious she owes you
as her father's right-hand man, and which, whatever the terms of his
will may be, she will never forget."

The lad entered to whom he had entrusted the letter.

"Mr. Parmiter has come back with me, sir; he's outside."

"Good; show him in. I think, Mr. Andrews, that, as the inquest is
timed for noon, you had better be starting."

The old man went out, and a young one came into the room--a young man,
with a student's face and fair hair. Although his cheeks were pale,
his appearance was not unprepossessing. Elmore greeted him with
outstretched hands.

"Clarence, old man, it's very good of you to come right away like
this. I hope it's not seriously inconvenienced you."

"Not a bit. Between ourselves, I was sitting in the office twiddling
my thumbs and wondering what I should do now I'd finished reading the
paper."

"I'll give you something to do. Sit down. You've heard what's happened
to my uncle?"

"I remember your telling me you were with an uncle, but I don't know
how many uncles you have nor to which of them you're referring."

"I have, or, rather, had, only one uncle, and last night he committed
suicide in the Brighton train."

"Great Scott! Whatever for?"

"That's it. I'll tell you in as few words as possible what the
position is. He's left a daughter, an only child, who is now an
orphan, to whom I'm engaged to be married. To her he was not--well,
all that a father might have been; he drank, and he womanised."

"Did he? Nice man!"

"That's precisely what he was not--a nice man. She knew very little
about his private affairs, though quite as much as she wanted. He may
have killed himself because he was financially wrong, though,
personally, I doubt it, or for any one of a score of reasons. You'll
guess the state of mind she's in."

"Naturally; in a case like that it's those who are left who suffer
most."

"Of course. She's anxious, before all else, to know where she
stands--that is, to know the worst. His affairs were in the hands of
a solicitor named Wilkes."

"I know him--Stephen Wilkes; he's an able man."

"Maybe. But she doesn't want him for her solicitor all the same for
that, for reasons on which, later, I may enlarge. She's asked me if I
knew anyone who would act for her. I suggested you."

"Thank you, Rodney. You always were a fellow who'd do a chap a good
turn if you would."

"Nonsense! Do you think that I don't know you--even in the old
schooldays? You're as clever a man as you'd be likely to meet in a
long day's journey, and as dependable. You mayn't have the largest
practice in London to-day, but you will have. What's more, I'd trust
you with my bottom dollar, which is more than you can say of the
general run of solicitors nowadays. I told her so."

"I'll try my best to prove worthy of your commendation."

"I've no fear of that, not the least. You may consider Miss Patterson
your client, and me; and we may both of us turn out to be quite good
clients before we've done. I've asked you to come here in order to
give you your first instructions."

"I'm all ears."

"Mr. Wilkes is in possession of my uncle's will; he himself says so.
Miss Patterson wanted him to hand it over to me to pass on to her, but
he declined. Can't you persuade him, acting on Miss Patterson's
behalf, to produce the will at the earliest possible moment--say this
afternoon at four, in her house in Russell Square--and make known its
contents then and there? She'll not sleep till she knows the worst."

"I can try what my persuasive powers will do. Presumably he knows its
contents?"

"Presumably, since it is even probable that he drew it up."

"By it he may be appointed to some office of trust."

"Exactly. That's one of the things she wants to know; because, if he
is, she'll leave no stone unturned to get him out of it. His relations
with her father were such that she'll not be induced to have relations
of any kind with him."

"I see; that's how it is. Persons may be interested whose presence he
may think desirable at the reading and who are not accessible at such
short notice."

"There's nothing in that, Clarence. Candidly, some woman may be
interested; it's only surmise on my part, but it's possible, and her
presence would neither be essential nor advisable. There's the feeling
that whatever her father may have done, Wilkes will not be considering
her interests only--that's why she wants you. Get him to attend this
afternoon in Russell Square with the will; that'll prove to her that I
knew what I was about in suggesting you."

"I'll do my utmost, but you clearly understand that I can't force the
man. There's an etiquette in such matters; he'll be perfectly in order
if he stands on it."

"Do your best, Clarence--that's all I ask, and, if possible, let me
know how it's going to be inside an hour. I want to keep Miss
Patterson posted in what is taking place. If you only knew what a
state of mind she's in!"

When Mr. Parmiter had gone, Rodney, having given instructions that, if
it could be avoided, he was not to be disturbed, subjected the
contents of the drawers in his uncle's writing-table to a thorough
examination. He came across some interesting items. There was a small
leather-bound memorandum-book, which was locked. He opened it with a
key which was on his uncle's private bunch. In a flap attached to the
cover were some cheques which had been duly presented and paid and
some other papers. A glance at the contents of the book showed that
they principally related to him, after a fashion which occasioned him
surprise, blended with amusement. He had no idea that in his uncle the
detective instinct had been so strongly developed. He tore the cheques
and other papers into tiny bits, made a bonfire of them on an iron
shovel, and ground the ashes into powder. The book itself he slipped
into his jacket pocket. In one of the drawers was a canvas bag,
containing quite a number of gold coins, while in a letter-case were
several bank-notes. He put the bag into another of his pockets, just
as it was, and transferred the notes to a letter-case of his own. He
chanced just then to be hard pressed for ready cash, as, indeed, was
his every-day condition. Should certain eventualities arise, the
possession of that money might, prove to be of the very first
importance. In still another drawer he found an envelope which was
endorsed, in his uncle's handwriting, "Draft of my Will." He studied
the sheet of ruled foolscap which he took out of it with every
appearance of absorbed interest. It was not a very lengthy document.
When he had read it he laid it on the table, drew a long breath, and
smiled.

"That's all right! It mayn't be all that Gladys would have liked it to
be, but it might have been so much worse; it will serve. A good deal
may depend on the exact wording; but, anyhow, between us we ought to
be able to shape a will like that so that it shall mean, in the not
very far-off future, that I shall be a millionaire--unless I'm a
greater fool than I suppose. I'd like to wager a trifle that in me
there's the stuff that goes to the making of a modern millionaire, and
if the will as it stands is on those lines, it ought to give me at
least an outside chance of proving it. Here's to you, Uncle P., and,
if people can see from the other side, how happy the knowledge that
your daughter and your business are in such capable hands should make
you."

A lad came in with an envelope.

"A messenger boy has just brought this, sir."

The note within ran:


"DEAR RODNEY,--I have carried out your first instructions to the
letter, so I have begun well. Mr. Wilkes will be in Russell Square
this afternoon at four with the will. Unless I hear from you to the
contrary, I shall be there at half-past three--to be introduced to
Miss Patterson, to receive any further instructions, and to be at hand
in case I am wanted generally. You might let me have a message by
bearer.--Yours sincerely,

                                   "CLARENCE PARMITER."



                            CHAPTER XIV

                 BUSINESS FIRST, PLEASURE AFTERWARDS


That afternoon there were five persons in the drawing-room of the
house in Russell Square. Miss Patterson, who was already attired in
garments of orthodox hue, in which Rodney felt that she did not look
her best. It is your fair, slender women who appear to advantage in
black--she was too big and dark. There was Rodney, who was also in
mourning, which did become him; but, then, anything became him. He was
one of your tall, graceful, well-set-up, debonair, handsome young
fellows whom any tailor might find it worth his while to dress at
reduced prices for the sake of the advertisement. The other three men
also were in black: Mr. Wilkes's dark blue cheeks almost matching his
attire; Mr. Parmiter's light hair and pale face standing out in marked
relief; Mr. Andrews's general air of colourlessness causing his sombre
attire to make him seem older than it need have done. The proceedings
were short--unexpectedly short--and to the point. Mr. Wilkes had met
Miss Patterson before, and while her almost sullen manner suggested no
fondness for him, his brusqueness hinted at no particular attachment
for her. The keen-eyed Rodney, observing their demeanour, told himself
that the lawyer had been too much the father's friend to care overmuch
for the child, which was, perhaps, as well, since it might make things
easier.

The inquest was already over. Mr. Wilkes had been present, and had
taken with him a physician whom he was aware that Graham Patterson had
consulted. He testified that Mr. Patterson was suffering from a malady
which would certainly have grown more painful as time went on, and was
probably incurable. This statement, since it supplied the motive,
caused the inquiry to assume briefer limits than it might have done;
the obvious inference was that the knowledge of his parlous state had
prompted Graham Patterson to take his fate into his own hands. Nothing
could have been clearer to such men of the world as the coroner and
his jury. All else that was said and done was mere formality. The
doctor who had conducted the autopsy, Mr. Andrews, a police officer
connected with the railway company, the guard of the train--all these
gave formal evidence. The latter said that he had seen the deceased
man come running down the platform at Brighton station just as the
train was about to start; that he had noticed him getting into a
carriage; that he recognised him when, at East Croydon, his attention
had been called to him by the ticket collector, who, going to collect
his ticket, found him sitting up in the corner of the carriage, dead.
In view of the physician's evidence, the whole affair was so
transparently simple that no one thought of asking if anyone was in
the compartment when he entered it at Brighton station. One of the
jury did inquire if the train stopped between Brighton and East
Croydon. When he was informed that it did not, it was generally felt
that there was nothing more to be said. The hackneyed verdict was
recorded as a matter of course--suicide while temporarily insane.

The whole affair struck Rodney, when he learnt all the particulars
from Andrews, as distinctly droll. He realised that he owed Mr. Wilkes
a debt of gratitude of which that gentleman had no notion. The
physician had been an unknown quantity; Rodney, who, through devious
channels, had heard of a good many things, had never heard of him. Had
not the lawyer brought him on to the scene the situation might easily
have become very much more difficult--for him. He would not be so hard
on Stephen Wilkes as he had meant to be, but in his treatment of him
would recognise that, as Parmiter had put it, he was an able man.

The will was the usual wordy, legal document. Stripped of its verbiage
it was plain enough. It began with the legacies. A sufficient sum was
to be set apart to buy an annuity of one hundred pounds a year for
Agnes Sybil Armstrong, of an address at Hove. She was also to have
five hundred pounds in cash and the furniture of the house in which
she was residing.

Gladys, who had been warned by Rodney that she might expect something
of the kind, pursed her lips together and looked at her cousin.
Sitting with expectant eyes fixed on her, he had been waiting for her
look, and greeted it with a reassuring smile.

Various legacies were left to servants in Russell Square, to clerks in
St. Paul's Churchyard, and to certain trade charities. Five thousand
pounds was left to Stephen Wilkes, in recognition of a life-long
friendship and of valued services--the lawyer's voice was a trifle
hesitant as he read this clause. One thousand pounds in cash and a
tenth share in the business were left to Robert Fraser Andrews; and,
since the testator's only child was a daughter, he directed that the
said Andrews should be appointed manager of his business, under the
conditions which followed.

The whole residue of his estate, real and personal, he left to his
daughter, Gladys, unreservedly. At this point the cousins again
exchanged glances. Andrews was to manage the business for five years;
at the end of that period, or in the event of his death, Gladys might
appoint his successor, or dispose of the business, whichever she
chose. No radical change in the conduct of the business was to be made
without consulting her, and she was to have the right of veto. She was
to have access to the accounts at all times, with right of comment.

The testator went on to say that Stephen Wilkes had acted as his legal
adviser for many years, and to express a strong wish that he would
continue in that capacity for his daughter. He hoped that she would
consult him freely, both in the conduct of the business and in her
affairs generally, and act on his advice. He appointed Robert Fraser
Andrews and Stephen Wilkes his executors.

So soon as he had finished the reading of the will Mr. Wilkes
observed:

"In order to avoid misunderstanding, I wish to state that, since I
have reason to believe that my services would not be welcome--and,
indeed, learn that another solicitor has already been retained, whom I
see present--I wish to withdraw at the earliest possible moment from
all connection with Mr. Patterson's estate and affairs, and also that
I renounce administration. I will not act as executor."

When the lawyer stopped, Mr. Andrews had his say:

"I'm very much in the same position as Mr. Wilkes. If Miss Patterson
would rather I did not act as manager, I have not the slightest wish
to press my claim. I'm given to understand, Miss Patterson, that Mr.
Elmore here is likely to become your husband. From a conversation I
had with him this morning, I--I'm inclined to think that I am older
than I supposed, and that it would be to your advantage and to the
advantage of the business that the management of affairs should be in
his hands. Also, if you wish it, so as not to be a clog on you in any
way, I will not act as executor."

Rodney answered for his cousin:

"You must act as executor, Mr. Andrews; Miss Patterson will very
unwillingly release you from that duty. The other point she will
discuss with you later; you will find that she is as anxious to
consider your wishes as you are to consider hers. I may remark to you,
Mr. Wilkes, as well as to Mr. Andrews, that Miss Patterson is grateful
for the delicate thought which prompts your proposed action, and she
will endeavour in all she does to show that she appreciates at its
full value all that you have done for her father, and, by consequence,
for her. I think, gentlemen, that, at present, that is all."

The meeting was dissolved. The three gentlemen dismissed. The cousins
were left together. Kneeling before the armchair on which Miss
Patterson was seated, Rodney drew her towards him and kissed her with
a sort of mock solemnity.

"My congratulations, lady! if I may venture to kiss one who is now a
person of property and importance. I hope you won't mind, but I almost
wish, for my sake, that you hadn't quite so much money."

She put out her hand and softly stroked his hair.

"That's nonsense. How much money have I got?"

"Roughly, I suppose that the business brings in four or five thousand
a year, and you've forty or fifty thousand pounds in what represents
cash. You're a rich woman."

"Then, if you do marry me, you'll be a rich man."

"There's one thing--put the business at its highwater mark, say that
in its best year it brings in five thousand pounds--in ten years it
shall bring in fifty thousand."

"Rodney, don't be too speculative. We've enough to get along with;
let's be sure of having a good time with what there is."

"My dear lady, I'm no speculator--not such a fool; but I don't want to
see a gold-mine producing only copper. You've twice the head your
father had, and keener, because younger, eyes. Shortly I shall hope to
lay my ideas before you; when you have assimilated them, you will be
able to judge for yourself whether or not they're speculative. You'll
see, what even old Andrews already sees, that you're the possessor of
a gold-mine--a veritable gold-mine--which hitherto has been worked as
if it were merely a copper-mine. When you begin to work it as a
gold-mine, in less than ten years it will be bringing you in fifty
thousand pounds a year; I shouldn't be surprised if it brings you
twice as much--honestly."

"A hundred thousand pounds a year, Rodney!"

"Wait--you'll see! This is the age of miracles, which, when you look
into them, have the simplest natural causes. Seriously, Gladys,
there's no reason why, properly handled, the business of which
you are now the sole proprietress--because you can easily get rid of
Andrews--should not make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Wilkes
has been quick in taking the hint, hasn't he?"

"I don't like him--I never did. I think I shall like Mr. Parmiter much
better."

"I'm sure you will. He's an awfully good sort and as clever as they
make them--and straight! He'll make your interests his own."

There was a momentary pause. The gentleman was still kneeling in front
of the armchair, and the lady was still stroking his hair. There was a
look on her face which was half comical and half something else as she
changed the topic.

"Rodney, who's Agnes Sybil Armstrong?"

"I don't know, and don't you ask. Let her have her hundred a year, and
go hang!"

"Does every man have an Agnes Sybil Armstrong?"

"Emphatically no; only--I was going to say only men like your father,
but perhaps you wouldn't like it."

"I wonder--will you ever have one?"

"Gladys! Lady, if a man loves one woman, that's all the feminine kind
he'll ever want, especially--if she's a woman like you. Doesn't your
instinct tell you that when you're my wife, I'll--be satisfied, in
every sense?"

"I hope so. If you weren't, I--I shouldn't like it."

"I should say not. May I hope that there is some possibility of your
being my wife?"

"I have some ideas in that direction now, though on Saturday I thought
I never should. How prophetic you were? You almost foretold what has
happened--almost as if you saw it coming. Did you know that he was
ill?"

"I had a shrewd suspicion; but you don't suppose I foresaw what
actually did happen?"

"I dare say that yours was not the prophetic vision quite to that
extent. I wonder why he didn't like you?"

"I'm nearly sure that with him it was a case of Dr. Fell--the reason
why he couldn't tell. When you came on the scene he hated me because
you didn't."

"Didn't you do anything to ruffle him--to rub him the wrong way?"

"Never--consciously. I've a notion--it's only a notion, but my notions
are apt to be pretty near the mark--that he had some idea of marrying
you to Mr. Stephen Wilkes."

"Rodney! Good gracious! What a notion!"

"As I remarked, it's only a notion; but I can put two and two
together, and something in the gentleman's manner this morning put the
crown on my suspicions."

"I'd rather have died."

"Or married me? Well--do! How soon could you make it convenient?"

"How soon would you like it to be?"

"This is Monday. Say Thursday--next?"

"Rodney! How can you?"

"Then make it Friday--if you've no prejudice against the day."

"I'll never be married on a Friday."

"Then postpone it to that far-off date, Saturday, or even Monday. I
don't know if you want a smart wedding; if you do, what indefinite
postponement may the conventions require?"

"I don't want a smart wedding."

"That sounds hopeful. You're all I want; I don't know if I'm all you
want."

"Well; you are one thing."

"Am I? Thanks--you have a nice way. I tell you what, I'll get a
special licence--hang the expense--and we'll be married on Monday."

"I won't be married in black, and I will have one bridesmaid; I'll
have Cissie Henderson. She's my particular friend; she likes you;
she's been on our side all through; and she'll strain a point--when
I've put it to her as I shall, she'll have to. As a matter of fact, I
believe she'll love to."

"And Clarence Parmiter shall be my best man, and old Andrews shall
give you away."

"I don't know about old Andrews."

"Then old Andrews shan't! So long as I get you I don't care who gives
you away; if it comes to that, we'll make it worth the verger's while.
Then we'll go off for a whole month, and have a rare old spree."

"That sounds inviting."

"And while we're away Andrews and Parmiter between them shall get
things ship-shape; and when we come back, under her majesty's
directions I shall put my shoulder to the wheel and start making her
the richest woman in the world--and the happiest."

"The conceit of him! Mind you do make me happy. Will you?"

"Don't you think I shall?"

"If I hadn't hopes in that direction you--wouldn't be where you are."

"Where shall we go to?"

"Wherever you like."

"Then----"

He leaned forward and whispered in her ear. She put her arms about his
neck and drew him to her.



                              CHAPTER XV

                             MABEL JOYCE


When Rodney Elmore got back to his rooms it was somewhat late. Some
letters were, on the table in his sitting-room, and a telegram from
Stella Austin. One of those voluminous telegrams which women send when
they are in no mood to consider that each unnecessary word means
another halfpenny. It was, indeed, a little letter, in which she
expressed both sympathy and disappointment. She was so sorry to hear
the bad news about his uncle, and assured him--with apparent disregard
of the fact that the message might possibly pass through several
persons' hands--that he had much better come to her if he was able,
since she would console him as nobody else could.

"I shall be terribly disappointed if you do not come," it went on, "so
please do come. There are heaps of things I wish to say to you--simply
heaps. So mind, Rodney, dear, you are to come some time this evening,
and you are to let nothing keep you away from your own Stella."

It was a love-letter which this young lady had flashed across the
wires at a halfpenny a word, evidently caring nothing if strangers
learned what was in her heart so long as he did. He was still
considering it when Miss Joyce came into the room with a decanter and
a glass upon a tray.

"Miss Austin's been to see you," she observed. "I suppose that
telegram's from her."

"Did she tell you it was from her?"

"She came in and looked about her at pretty nearly everything, and saw
it lying on the table, and said she'd sent you a telegram, and
supposed that was it. I thought she was going to walk off with it, but
she didn't. I expected she'd want to stop till you came in, as Miss
Patterson did last night, but I told her I knew you'd an important
engagement in the City, and knew you wouldn't be in till very late; so
she went."

"Thank you; I'm glad she didn't stay."

"I thought you would be. She asked me if I was the servant. I don't
think she liked the look of me."

There was something in his attitude which suggested that he was
expecting her to leave the room, and would have liked her to. When she
showed no sign of going he commented on her last remark.

"That was rather bad taste on her part."

"Wasn't it?"

Having done with the telegram, he began to examine the letters. She
watched him with an expression in her pale blue eyes which, if he had
been conscious of it, might have startled him. It was plain from his
manner that he intended to offer her no encouragement either to
continue the conversation or to remain in the room. After a
perceptible interval, she said, with an abruptness which was a little
significant:

"I was at the inquest."

He glanced up.

"You were where? At the inquest? Oh! What was the attraction? And how
did you get in?"

"I believe the public are admitted to inquests. They're supposed to be
public inquiries, aren't they? Also, I had a friend at court; and,
anyhow, I wasn't the only person there. I suppose Miss Patterson is a
rich woman now."

"She'll have money."

"Are you going to marry her?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Or are you going to marry Miss Austin?"

"Pray why do you ask that?"

"When Miss Patterson was here last night I thought there was an air
about her as if she considered you her property; when Miss Austin was
here this evening I thought the same thing of her. Odd, wasn't it?"

"The only thing odd about it, my dear Mabel, is that you should have
such a vivid imagination. Both these ladies are old friends of mine."

"Old friends, are they? In what sense? In the sense that I'm an old
friend?"

"No one could be nicer than you have been."

"I see. Have they been nice to you like that?"

"My dear Mabel, in what quarter sits the wind? Where's Mrs. Joyce?"

"Mother's out; she's going to stay at aunt's till to-morrow. You and I
are alone together."

"Good business! Come and give me a kiss."

"No, don't touch me; I won't have it."

"There is something queer about the wind! What's wrong? Is there
anything wrong?"

"I'm trying to tell you. It's not easy, but I'm going to tell you if
you'll give me a chance."

"You've some bee in your bonnet. Let me get it out."

"You give me a chance, I say! I tried to tell you last night, but I
couldn't. But I'm going to tell you now; I've got to!"

"Have you? Couldn't you tell me a little closer, instead of standing
all that distance off?"

"I wouldn't come nearer for--for anything."

"Mabel! After all these years!"

"Yes, after all these years! How long have you been here?"

"I never had a memory for dates."

"More than four years you have been here."

"So long as that? And it hasn't seemed a day too long."

"I was a kid in short skirts when you first came."

"And a very pretty kid you were. Almost as pretty even then as you are
now."

"Rodney, have you ever cared for me a little bit?"

"Have I ever cared? Haven't I shown it?"

"Shown it? You call that showing it? My word!"

"What is the matter with the girl? I've never seen you like this
before."

"Suppose--something was going to happen?"

"Well, isn't something always going to happen? What especially awful
thing are you afraid is going to happen?"

"Suppose--something was going to happen--to me--because of you?
Suppose--I was going----"

Her voice died away, her eyes fell.

"You don't mean that----"

"I do."

"Good God! It's--it's impossible!"

"Why is it impossible? It's true."

"But, my--my dear girl, it can't be."

"Why can't it be? It is."

"But--you're not sure. How can you be sure? You know, my dear Mabel,
how you do fancy things. I'll bet ten to one that you're mistaken."

"Do you suppose that I haven't tried to make myself think that I'm
mistaken? I wouldn't believe it. But it's no use pretending any
longer; it's sure. What are you going to do?"

"What am I going to do? That's--that's a nice brick to aim at a fellow
without the slightest warning."

"I'm sorry; I can't help it; I must know. What are you going to do?"

"My dear girl, you know that you've no more actual knowledge on such a
subject than I have. I hope--and I think it's very possible--that you
are wrong. Let's, first of all, make sure."

"Very well--we'll make sure. And when we've made sure what are you
going to do--if it is sure?"

"We'll discuss that when we've made sure. Give me a chance to think;
you've had one. It seems that you've guessed, goodness knows how long.
Give me a chance to get my thoughts into order."

"I can't wait; I must know now. What are you going to do--if it is
sure?"

"I'll do everything that a man can do--you know that perfectly well.
You've knocked the sense all out of me! Do give me a chance to think!
Don't look at me with that stand-and-deliver air! Come here, old lady,
and let me kiss those pretty eyes of yours; I can't bear to have them
look like that."

"Don't touch me--don't dare! You say you'll do everything a man can
do. Does that mean you'll marry me?"

"Marry you! Mabel!"

"Don't you mean that you will marry me?"

"My dear girl, it's--it's impossible!"

"Why is it impossible? Are you married already?"

"Good Lord, no!"

"Then why can't you marry me?"

"As if you didn't know!"

"What do I know?"

"As if there weren't a thousand reasons! As if you weren't almost as
well posted in my financial position as I am myself! As if you didn't
know how hard I've found it to pay my way--that, in fact, I haven't
paid it! If I were to marry you, financially there'd be an end of me;
and in every other way! Not only should I be worse than penniless, but
there'd be absolutely no prospect of my ever being anything else."

"I shouldn't be worse off as your wife than I am now."

"Oh, wouldn't you? You would; don't you make any error! I've never
said a word to you about marriage."

"That's true, nor should I have said it to you if it hadn't been for
this."

"There you are--that's frank. There's been no deception on either
side. After all that there's been between us don't let's have any
unpleasantness, for both our sakes. I'm as sorry for the position to
which we've managed to bring things as you can be; you must know I am.
At present I'm stony, but shortly I hope to have the command of plenty
of money."

"Are you going to get it from Miss Patterson or Miss Austin?"

"What does it matter where it comes from?"

"So far as I'm concerned it matters a good deal."

"It'll be my own money."

"If you'll have so much money of your own why can't you marry me?"

"If I do marry you I'll have no money?"

"Are you going to get it with your wife? Which wife?"

"I can understand how you're feeling, so I'll try not to mind your
being bitter, though it isn't like you one scrap. I can only implore
you to trust me, to leave it all to me; I'll arrange everything. If
you're right in what you fear you'll find a place ready for you when
the time comes, in which you'll be comfortable, in which you'll have
everything you want, and when it's over, if you like you can come home
again, and no one will be one whit the wiser, and you won't be an atom
the worse. It's done every day."

"Is it? And the child--what about the child?"

"The child? If it is my child----"

"If? if? if? What do you mean by 'if'? You'd better be careful,
Rodney, what you are saying. What do you mean by 'if'?"

"My dear girl, it was only a way of speaking."

"Then don't you speak that way. 'If it is your child! When you knew me
I was innocent, and I'm innocent now except for you. Don't you dare to
say if! You know it is your child!"

"My dear girl, of course I know it's my child. You won't let a fellow
finish what he is going to say. I was only going to say that the child
shall want for nothing; it shall have everything a child can have. So
shall you; you'll be much better off than if you were my wife."

"If the child is born, and I am not your wife, I'll kill myself--and
it. Or, rather, if I'm not going to be your wife, I'll kill myself
before it's born, as sure as you are alive."

"Mabel, don't talk like that--don't! I can't bear it. If you only knew
how it hurts!"

"Hurts! As if anything hurts you! Nothing could hurt you, nothing;
you're not built that way. Do you suppose that I don't know what kind
of man you are--that you're an all-round bad lot?"

"To say a thing like that, after pretending to care for me!"

"Pretending! There wasn't much pretence about my caring; I proved it.
You wouldn't let me rest until I did. Not only did I care for you, but
I do care for you; and I shall continue to care for you as long as I
live. No other man can ever be to me what you have been."

"That's more like the Mabel I know."

"But don't imagine that I'm under any delusion about you; you'll know
better by the time I've done. You're the kind of man who's not to be
trusted with a girl. You make love to every woman you meet--what you
call love! You're entangled with no end of women. I know! I don't know
how many think you're going to marry them, but I shouldn't be
surprised if Miss Patterson and Miss Austin both think you are. If I
were to go and tell them, do you think they'd marry you? Not they;
they're not that sort."

"But you won't tell them. You're not that sort either. I, perhaps,
know you better than you know yourself."

"It's this way. Even you mayn't know who you're going to marry, but I
do. You're going to marry me."

"I wish I were. I'll admit so much. But--we can't always do what we
wish, my dear."

"You can, and do; that's what makes you dangerous--at first to others,
in the end to yourself. Rodney, I don't want to say something which
will change the whole face of the world for both of us, but I'll have
to if you make me. Don't you make me! Say you'll marry me."

"My dear child----"

"Don't talk like that to me; don't you do it! You're duller than I
thought, or long before this you'd have seen what I was driving at.
Now, you listen to me; I'll tell you. To-day I was at the inquest."

"That fact, I assure you, in spite of my dullness, I have appreciated
already. What I still fail to understand is what the attraction was."

"Attraction! You call it an attraction! You wait. I've always
thought that an inquest was to find out the truth, not to hide it up.
The idea of that one seemed to be to conceal, not to reveal. The
coroner was an old idiot, as blind as a bat. He'd got a notion into
his head, and as there wasn't room for more than one at a time--why,
there it was! I went there knowing nothing, guessing nothing,
suspecting nothing. The inquest hadn't hardly begun before I saw
everything, knew everything, understood everything. But the coroner,
the jury, and the witnesses--they knew less at the end than the
beginning."

"Your words suggest that nature erred in making you a pretty girl, and
therefore incompetent to be a coroner."

"According to the guard of the train, your uncle was found sitting up
in a corner of the carriage, with a box in his hand, in which were
some of the things with which he is supposed to have poisoned himself.
The box was handed round for the coroner and jury to look at. Directly
I saw it I knew it."

If Elmore changed countenance it was only very slightly, and the
change went as quickly as it came; yet one felt that for an instant it
had been there.

"Is that so? What sort of box was it? It must have been something
rather out of the common run of boxes for you to have recognised it at
what, I take it, was some little distance."

"I was close enough, close enough to take it in my hand if I had
wanted; and it was all that I could do to keep my hand from off it.
And it was very much what you call out of the common run of boxes. It
was a silver box, Chinese, with Chinese engraving on it, about an inch
and a half long, round, and a little thicker than a fountain pen."

"You seem to have observed it pretty closely."

"It was not the first time I'd seen it. The first time I saw it it was
on your dressing-table."

Again, if Elmore's expression altered, it was only as if a flickering
something had come and gone in his eyes.

"You may have seen a box like it on my dressing-table. You certainly
never saw the one you saw this morning."

"The box was on your dressing-table. I picked it up and asked you what
it was. You said you believed it was a Chinese sweetmeat box. I said
that if it was it did not hold many sweets. You laughed and said it
was very old, and that you believed it came from Pekin, and that some
of the carvings on it were Chinese characters, but you didn't know
what they meant. I opened it. Inside it were some of the white things
which were in it when they handed it round this morning. I asked you
if they were sweets. You said that those who wanted a long, long sleep
would find them sweet enough; and you took the box from me as you said
it. I thought there was something queer about you and the box, and
when you put it down for a moment I picked it up again, and, with
some scissors which were on the table, scratched some marks on the
bottom--I myself hardly know why. But when I saw that box this morning
it was all I could do to keep from asking the coroner if they were on
the bottom. I could describe them perfectly; I should know them again.
I can see them now."

"What a vivid imagination you have, and what powers of observation!
Even granting that, by some odd coincidence, that box was my box,
what's the inference you draw from it, when the simple explanation is
that it was a present to my uncle from his affectionate nephew?"

"I daresay it was a present, but not in the sense you mean. You went
to Brighton yesterday by the Pullman, but you didn't come back by it."

"Pray, who is your informant, and what's the relevancy to your
previous remarks?"

"George Dale, who has the bed-sitting-room upstairs, and who cares for
me in a different way to what you do, because he wants me to be his
wife."

"Then why the--something don't you oblige him? Isn't he respectable?"

"Oh, he's respectable."

"Then could there be a sounder proposition? A man who loves you, who
would be all that a husband ought to be! I tell you what, on the day
you marry him an unknown benefactor will settle on you a thousand
pounds--something like a fortune."

"You can talk to me like that, knowing what you know! After what
you've done to me you want to pass me on to someone else. That
finishes it! Now you listen. George Dale's a booking clerk at Victoria
Station. He recognised you, though you didn't him."

"Quite possibly, if he was on the other side of the peep-hole, and
seeing that I've only seen him two or three times in my life."

"He gave you your ticket for the Pullman. All the seats are numbered;
he made a note of your number. Your ticket wasn't among those which
were given up by the passengers who came back by the Pullman, but it
was among those which were collected from the train which reached
Victoria at 11.30. The guard saw you get into the train at Redhill
Station. You got into a first-class compartment with a little man. You
two were the only first-class passengers who got in at Redhill, so he
took particular notice. You were in the London Bridge part of the
train. At East Croydon someone else got into your compartment. You got
out and went back to the Victoria part. The guard, shutting your
carriage door, took particular notice of you again."

"Your friend the guard appears to be as quick to observe as he is to
impart the fruits of his observation."

"He wasn't my friend, only Mr. Dale introduced me to him, and he was
kind enough to answer a question or two. Mr. Dale also introduced me
to the guard of the train in which your uncle was. I asked him if it
stopped anywhere. He thought a bit, and then said that it did once,
for about a minute, in Redhill tunnel, because the signal was against
it. I haven't made inquiries yet, but I shouldn't be surprised if
someone saw you get into your uncle's train at Brighton. As that train
stopped in Redhill tunnel, it's not hard to understand how, or why,
you got into another train a little later at Redhill Station."

"You surprise me, Mabel. I hadn't a ghost of an idea that you had such
a genius for ferreting."

"It's easy enough. If that coroner hadn't had a notion in his head
when he started, he might have got at the facts as easily as I have."

"And, from what you call the facts, what is the inference you draw?
What dreadful charge against me have you been formulating in your
mind?"

"Rodney, a wife can't give evidence against her husband in a charge of
murder."

"I believe I have heard as much. And then?"

"I'm the only creature in the world who has any suspicion. If you
marry me you're safe."

"You, pretending to love me, can marry the sort of man you believe I
am?"

"It is because I do love you that I am willing to marry you, knowing
you to be the kind of man you are.

"Your standard of morality is not a high one."

"It's what you've made it."

"Mabel, while you have got parts of your story right, the inferences
you draw from it are all wrong; but I'm not going to attempt any
denials."

"I shouldn't; lies won't help you--not with me."

"So you also think that I'm a liar?"

"I'm sure of it; you're a born liar. Sometimes I don't believe you
know yourself if you are speaking the truth."

"One thing I've learnt this evening--that you're a born actress. I am
speaking the absolute truth when I assure you that I never for one
second dreamt that you had the opinion of me you seem to have."

"I never really began to understand you myself till last night. Just
before you came in Mr. Dale had gone to bed. He told me, as he went
upstairs, that your uncle had been found dead in the Brighton train,
and that you had gone to Brighton in the Pullman; and he wondered,
laughing, if it was you who had killed him. Then Miss Patterson came
with her air of owning you, and you came and went out with her again
as with one whom you were going to make your wife, and something
happened inside my head and I began to understand. All night I
scarcely slept for thinking, and in the morning, somehow, I knew; and
all day I have been learning much more, until now I know you--for the
man you are."

"My dear Mabel, one thing I do see plainly, that you're not very well,
that your nerves are out of order, and play you tricks. Let's both
turn in. I, for one, am tired, and I'm sure that a good night's rest
will do you good; and to-morrow we'll continue our talk where it left
off."

"Rodney, you'll give me at once a written promise of marriage, or I'll
communicate with Inspector Harlow, and in the morning you'll be
charged with murder."

"Do you wish me to suppose that you are speaking seriously?"

"We'll be married at a registrar's--it doesn't matter where, so long
as we are married, and at a registrar's it's quickest. You can get a
licence for £2 3s. 6d.; I'll get it, I've enough money for that, and
then the day after you can be married. If I get the licence to-morrow
we can be married on Thursday--and we will."

"We can be married on Thursday, can we, you and I? This sounds like
comic opera, and, as the song says, 'When we are married, what shall
we do?'"

"You can do as you please. I shall have my marriage lines, and that's
all I care about."

"So you propose to haul me to the registrar, and chain me to you, and
souse me in the gutter, and ruin my career, and render life not worth
living, not because you've any special ambition for yourself, nor even
because you crave for the sweets of my society, but in order that you
may have somewhere locked up in a drawer what you call your marriage
lines. This seems to me like using a steam hammer to crack a nut."

"I've got a sheet of paper; you sit down and write what I tell you."

She laid on the table a sheet of paper which she had taken out of her
blouse. As he looked at it he laughed.

"Stamped--a sixpenny stamp, as I'm a sinner! Do you know, my dear,
that this is a bill form which you've got here, good for any amount up
to fifty pounds. Wherever did you get the thing? And what use do you
suppose it is to you? What a practical-minded child it is! And I never
guessed it till now! Tis a wonderful world that we live in!"

"You get a pen and write."

He took a fountain pen and a blotting pad from a table at the side,
and spread out on the latter the crumpled bill stamp.

"Here we are. Now for the writing. 'Three months after date I promise
to pay.' Is that the sort of thing I'm to write?"

"You write what I tell you."

"Tell on; I'm waiting."

"Write: 'I, Rodney Elmore, promise to marry on Thursday next Mabel
Joyce, who is about to bear a child of which I am the father.' Have
you got that? Why aren't you writing?"

"Before I start I want to see the finish; that is, I want to know all
that I am to write."

"Except your signature and the date, that is all."

"Rather a considerable all, eh? What use do you suppose this will be
to you when you've got it?"

"That's my business."

"What do you propose to do with it?"

"Nothing. If you marry me I'll give it you before we leave the
registrar's."

"And if I don't?"

"You'll be in gaol."

"I see; that's it. If I don't write I'm in the cart, and if I do write
and don't marry I'm also in the cart."

"I'm fighting for my life."

"And I lose mine either way."

"How do you make that out? Who's there to be afraid of except me?"

"If I do marry you I might as well be dead, and if I don't you'll do
your best to bring my death about."

She was silent. They eyed each other, she standing at one side of the
table, he sitting at the other. In the white-faced woman, with the
rigid features and close-set lips, who looked at him with such
unfaltering gaze, he scarcely recognised the pretty, dainty, blue-eyed
girl whom it seemed only yesterday he had wooed and won. He was
sufficiently a physiognomist and student of character to be aware that
this woman meant every word she said. As this knowledge was borne more
clearly in on him a curious something came into his own eyes--the
something which had been there last night in the train. He spoke very
softly.

"Mabel?"

Her voice fell as his had done.

"Well?"

"We are alone together in the house, you and I."

"We are; as you were alone with your uncle in the railway carriage."

"Why shouldn't I serve you as you persist in hinting that I served
him? What reason is there?"

"None."

"Then--why shouldn't I?"

"You can."

"I can--what?"

"Kill me."

"Knowing me, as you pretended to know me, you're not afraid?"

"I shall never be afraid of you."

"You seem to flatter me all at once."

"I don't care what you do to me. I'd rather you killed me than not
marry me--much."

"You wouldn't be so easy to explain. You'd want a lot of explaining if
they found you dead."

When he stopped she was still looking at him with eyes which never
flinched. He went on:

"You wouldn't be difficult to manage."

"I shouldn't resist. If you broke my head to pieces with the poker I
wouldn't make a sound."

"The poker? Not such a fool! He would be sanguine who hoped to explain
a poker."

He had been sitting back in his chair; now, leaning forward, he rested
his arms on the table.

"Suppose I had another of those things which were in the silver box.
If I gave it to you would you take it?"

"No."

Her face had become all at once so pale that her very lips seemed
white.

"I should have to go through the form of making you."

"You would have to do to me what you did to your uncle."

"And if I did, what then?--what then?"

If he expected an answer it did not come. She stood confronting him,
so immobile that she scarcely seemed to breathe. The smile was on his
face which had seemed the night before to give it such unpleasant
significance, as if unholy thoughts were chasing each other through
his mind.

"I'll be frank with you."

If he expected her to speak he was again disappointed.

"If I could explain you--I'd do it, but I don't see how I could. How
can I? Suggest an explanation."

"You won't kill me; you dare not. You only killed your uncle because
you thought you wouldn't be found out."

"You think that was the only reason? You don't think that I had a
choice of evils, and that I merely chose what seemed to be the
lesser?"

"I wonder why you killed him?"

"In your case you wouldn't wonder?"

"Was it because of Miss Patterson?"

"As how?"

"Because you've treated her as you've treated me, and her father found
out. If I thought--if I thought---- Take that paper and write on it
what I told you--now! now! now!"

"And if I don't?"

"If you don't kill me--and you won't, you're afraid--I'll have you
hanged!"

"So with you also it is a choice of evils."

"Write what I told you--write it----"

She had raised her voice nearly to a scream. All at once she was
still, leaving her sentence unfinished. There were sounds without of a
key being put in a lock, of a door being opened, of steps in the
passage. She spoke in a whisper, hurriedly, eagerly, and the fashion
of her countenance was changed:

"That's Mr. Dale come back from the station. If you don't write what I
told you now, I'll call him in--I will!"

He also spoke in a whisper, and in some subtle fashion his countenance
was also changed:

"Mabel, don't--don't be hard on me."

"Then write, write what I told you; write it now. If I do call him in
it'll be too late. Write!"

He drew the bill stamp towards him and picked up the fountain pen. His
air was more than a trifle sullen.

"What am I to write?"

"You know perfectly well. Write: 'I, Rodney Elmore, promise to marry
on Thursday next Mabel Joyce, who is about to bear a child of which I
am the father.' Write that. Now sign it, put your name at the bottom,
and the date. I'll blot it."

Drawing the pad to her she blotted what Elmore had written; then,
after a glance at what was on it, began to return it to her blouse,
while the young gentleman sat and watched.

"I'm going to put this into an envelope with a note I'm going to
write, and give it to Mr. Dale, and tell him to keep it for me till I
ask for it; and if I don't ask for it he'll know why."

"So, in writing that, I have not only put myself in your power, but
also in Mr. Dale's."

"I tell you that if you do marry me on Thursday I'll give it you again
before we leave the registrar's; but if for any cause you don't, even
if you put me out of the way, Mr. Dale will see that you are made to
smart."

A voice was heard calling to her without:

"Miss Joyce."

She replied to it.

"All right, Mr. Dale. You'll find your supper all ready for you in the
parlour; I'm coming now."

She went, the bill form inside her blouse. Mr. Elmore was left to his
own reflections. He remained just as she had left him, leaning
forward, his arms upon the table, looking with unblinking eyes
straight in front of him, as if he hoped to find in space an answer to
a problem which was difficult to solve.



                             CHAPTER XVI

                        THOMAS AUSTIN, SENIOR


Miss Joyce came into Mr. Elmore's bedroom the next morning before he
was out of it. As a matter of fact, he was arranging his tie before
the looking-glass with that nice care which is becoming to a young
gentleman of looks.

"There's a gentleman come to see you--a Mr. Austin. I should say from
the look of him that he's the father of the Miss Austin who was here
last evening."

"The thing is possible."

"I don't know what he's come about."

"It's conceivable that you soon will know if you keep your ear close
enough to my sitting-room door. Mr. Austin has rather a hearty way of
speaking."

"Don't you talk to me like that! You know I've never played the spy on
you yet, and you know I never will. But don't you make any mistake
about last night. Mr. Dale's got that paper you wrote and my letter in
a sealed envelope, and if you don't turn up on Thursday you'll be
sorry."

"Thank you so much for the information. Now, let me clearly
understand. If, as you put it, I do turn up on Thursday, what is going
to happen--after the ceremony?"

"All I want is my marriage lines. I'm coming straight back home; you
can do as you like."

"If I like can I go through a similar ceremony with Miss Jones or Miss
Brown?"

"If I thought you were going to be up to any game of that sort
I'd--I'd----"

"Yes--you'd what?"

"I'd go and talk to your Mr. Austin to begin with. Don't you get any
ideas of that kind in your head; don't you try it on."

"I've no intention of, as you again put it, 'trying it on,' not I. I
only wondered. Then, at least, you won't insist on the position being
made instantly public?"

"I don't care if it's made public or not. All I want is my marriage
lines--when the time comes."

"And you quite understand that, whatever the relations may be, from
the legal point of view, in which we stand to each other, you'll get
no money out of me, for the sufficient reason that I shall have none
to give you."

"I don't want your money. I don't want anything from you except that
one thing; and--and--mind you do turn up!"

"I've been thinking things over in the silent watches of the night,
and I've quite decided that I will turn up."

"Mind you do!"

"I will, I will; be assured I will. Now I believe I'm ready. I was
thinking of troubling you to tell Mr. Austin that I'll be with him in
a second, but I'll save you that trouble."

"Mind----"

Standing by the door she was beginning a sentence. He cut her short.

"All right, my dear; I'll mind. Would you mind getting out of the
way?"

She moved aside to let him pass. He went down the stairs to his
sitting-room below, quickly, lightly, humming a tune as he went, as if
he had not a care in the world; and with a face which was all sunshine
he entered his visitor's presence.

"My dear Rodney, this is an unconventional hour at which to pay a
call, but I didn't think that in my case you'd mind about conventions,
and I thought that, as I didn't get a chance of speaking to you last
night, I'd have a few words with you before you started for the City.
I suspect that I needn't tell you that I was glad to hear the news
from Stella."

The speaker was a short, sturdily-built, fresh-coloured man, probably
somewhere in the fifties, whose neatly trimmed beard was a shade
whiter than his hair. A pair of bright eyes looked out from behind
gold-rimmed spectacles; about his whole appearance there was a
suggestion of health, vigour, and clean living. He took both the young
man's hands in his, looking up at him as at one whom he both esteemed
and liked.

"You're on the tall side. Stella always did like six-footers. I
shouldn't wonder if that's the main reason why she's contracted a
fondness for you."

Rodney laughed.

"It's very good of you, sir, to look me up in this unceremonious way.
You must join me at breakfast."

"On this occasion I've been an earlier bird than you--I've
breakfasted--but I will join you in a cup of coffee."

Rodney rang the bell. Miss Joyce entered with the breakfast on a tray.
As she was placing the various articles on the table the two men
scarcely spoke. The young man was examining the outsides of three or
four letters which the morning post had brought; the elder, who had
taken up his position before the fireplace, was for the most part
observing Miss Joyce. When she had gone he said:

"That's not a bad-looking young woman. Who is she?"

"She's the landlady's daughter."

"Don't they keep a servant?"

"I fancy they do at intervals, someone who does the rougher work; but
I'm out all day, and I never see her. So far as I'm concerned, either
the mother or the daughter does the waiting."

"Are you the only lodger?"

"Oh, no; there's another man upstairs, who's by way of being a booking
clerk or something. I rather fancy he has an eye in her direction."

"Is that so? Then perhaps that's what worries her. I never saw a young
girl with a whiter face, or one with such an odd look in her eyes. It
quite troubled me."

"How are you, sir? Though I don't think I need ask."

"No, you needn't. As always, I'm in the enjoyment of vulgar health;
nothing ever seems to ail me, though in saying so perhaps I ought to
touch wood. When I heard from Stella yesterday morning I made up my
mind that I would come up to town at once and say what I had to say by
word of mouth, instead of putting it on paper. I arrived in the
afternoon, hoping to see you in the evening; but I didn't. I can tell
you that Stella was very badly disappointed. I think she was
unreasonable; but girls are! You'll have to make your peace to-day. I
daresay you won't find it very difficult. This is very bad news about
your uncle. I see the inquest is in the morning's paper."

"Is it, sir? As yet I haven't seen a paper."

"From what I can gather he was suffering from some form of malignant
disease, and, it seems, in a fit of despair, took his own life. Poor
fellow! It's easy to judge such cases, but I often feel that God, who
is love, understands and pardons. I hope I'm saying nothing that I
ought not to say. Mrs. Austin will have it that I oughtn't to talk
like that, but that's how I do feel. Will his death make any
difference to you?"

"Do you mean has he left me anything? No, sir; not a penny."

"What becomes of the business?"

"According to the will it's to be carried on by the managing man for
the benefit of those mentioned in the will."

"Of whom you're not one?"

"No, sir, I am not."

"Then that makes what I have to say all the easier. I am glad to hear
that you're going to be Stella's husband; Mrs. Austin is glad to hear
it; I'm sure Tom will be glad to hear it--in fact, we're all of us
glad to hear it."

"It's very kind of you to say so, sir, considering what an ineligible
son-in-law I am. Here is a letter from Tom this morning. Shall I open
it and see what he says?"

"You needn't. I've no doubt it conveys his congratulations in his own
vernacular. I know Tom and his letters. There are some things about
the governance of this world which I don't understand, which shows I
am not omniscient. Experience teaches me that when a man has a son and
a good business the son will have none of it, and can with difficulty
be brought to believe that the business offers a good opening for him;
whereas if a man has a son and no business, the son is apt to look
upon it almost as a grievance that his father has no business in which
to give him an opening. Instances of the kind are so common that I've
nearly come to look upon them as illustrations of a general rule. Now,
here am I, and there is Tom, and there's the business, producing, even
in these competitive days, quite a comfortable number of thousands a
year. Tom's a born optimist. The only time Eve seen him at all
pessimistic is when I've suggested that those thousands might as well
find their way into his pockets; then he's pessimism gone mad. He'd
sooner raise sheep in Australia, or ranch in Manitoba, or do some
other ridiculous thing. In fact, he once told me--in such matters he's
frankness itself--that he'd rather sweep a crossing than be what he
called imprisoned for life in the warehouse at Leicester. I'll do him
this justice--that I believe his instincts are right, because I've
never seen anything about him to lead me to suppose that in him are
the makings of a business man. That's a pretty quandary for a man to
be in who has a good business and an only son. Now, Rodney, I've
always liked you. It's true that I've sometimes felt that a
decent-looking young fellow occasionally finds it difficult to steer
clear of quicksands which are represented by nice-looking persons of
the opposite sex; but I've never had any tangible or serious charge
to bring against you, and I've no doubt that when you're married
there'll be only one woman in the world to you, and she will be your
wife."

As the speaker paused, apparently with the intention of giving the
other an opening, Rodney said with a smile:

"I'm at least glad, sir, that you've no tangible or serious charge to
bring against me."

"Well, no, I haven't. At the same time--however, we'll let bygones be
bygones. I daresay I'd an eye for more than one pretty girl before I'd
a Mrs. Austin. I do know you're clever, with great charm of manner. I
sometimes wonder if your manners are not almost too charming; but
then, I come of a stocky school--no one's ever accused an Austin of
having a charming manner, and I quite realise that, as things are, in
business personal charm's a valuable asset; and I've been frequently
struck by the fact that you're the possessor of a singularly quick
perception. I think you have what is in reality an instinct, but what
is called on the Stock Exchange a 'nose.' Again, a thing which in a
business man is well worth having."

"You seem to have been observing me with unexpectedly flattering
attention, sir."

"Oh, I've had an eye on you for quite a while. I want you, when you
are Stella's husband, to come into my business. If you turn out as I
hope and expect, I'll make you a partner. I've been imprisoned in the
warehouse all my life, so, as I would like to see more of the world,
soon as you're ready to take my place I should like you to take it.
How would that meet your views?"

"Nothing could please me better, sir. I don't know where I shall find
words with which to thank you even for the suggestion."

"I want no thanks; I want deeds. I'm hopeful that the arrangement will
turn out to our mutual advantage. Now, Rodney, tell me candidly do you
love my girl?"

"Let me put question for question. Do you think I'm the kind of man
who would ask her to be my wife if I didn't?"

"Then why didn't you ask her before?"

"Mr. Austin, you're not quite fair to me."

"How am I unfair?"

"I've loved Stella ever--ever since we were boy and girl together.
I've tried to break myself of loving her, but I haven't succeeded.
I've never been able to dream of anyone but her as wife. You were a
rich man; I was not only penniless, but without prospects. Over and
over again I've been on the point of telling her what I felt, but I've
checked myself. It hasn't been easy, but I've done it. I meant to wait
till I'd some shadow of a right to ask her to be my wife, but last
Saturday, when I saw her dear face, I--I couldn't hold myself in any
longer, and that's the truth."

"I'm glad you couldn't. While I'm quite aware that your sentiments do
you honour, all the same I rather wish that you'd shown a little more
of the perception with which I've credited you. Rodney, is there any
reason why the marriage should be postponed?"

"Mr. Austin, I haven't at the moment five pounds in the world to call
my own. That's the only reason, so far as I'm concerned; but some
fathers would think it a quite sufficient one."

Mr. Austin's eyes twinkled behind his glasses as he settled his
spectacles on his nose.

"I suppose they would, if you look at it in that way. You don't paint
your position too attractively."

"It couldn't be worse than it is."

"You're not in debt?"

"Oh, I'm not in debt; I don't know who'd give me credit if I wanted
it. I've just enough to live on, as it were, from hand to mouth; but,
with all the goodwill in the world and all the management, I don't see
how it's going to be enough for two."

"I see. You put the position with some clearness. As you say, some
fathers would think it a sufficient reason for postponement, but I'm
not one of them. As you perhaps know, Stella has some means of her
own."

"Isn't that one of the reasons why I--I kept quiet for so long?"

"And on her marriage I shall settle a further sum on her, besides
making other arrangements. For instance, I shall, as I have said, be
glad to receive you in my business, giving you at the commencement a
salary which will enable you to contribute towards some of the
expenses of a wife, with the prospect of a partnership in the early
future. Now, do you see any reason why there should be any
postponement so far as you're concerned?"

"I shall be only too delighted to marry Stella next week."

"Next week is a little early perhaps; but what do you say to next
month?"

"If I'm Stella's husband next month I shall be the happiest man in the
world."

He looked and sounded as if he meant it.

"You understand that in matters of this sort it is the lady who has
the final word, but you have my authority to tell Stella that if she
can see her way to stand with you at the altar in a month or earlier,
she will make her mother and father happy, to say nothing of you. Now
suppose you come and spend the day with us?"

"My dear sir! I must go to the City."

"Meaning to your late uncle's office? Why? Can't you scribble a note
as soon as you've finished breakfast, and make an end of that?"

"It's impossible; I must go to-day."

"Very well. Go to-day, and say you're not coming to-morrow, or ever
again. Say good-bye."

"I'm afraid that that wouldn't be playing the game. I ought to go, at
any rate, till the end of the week."

"Very well. Perhaps you're right in not wishing to leave them in the
lurch, if the departure of such a junior clerk as I understand you are
would be leaving them in the lurch. Then on Saturday you'll come down
with me to Leicester, and on Monday I'll introduce you to the
warehouse. It will be just as well that you should have a look round
before you're actually installed."

Here was Mr. Austin mapping out everything for him, as he had foreseen
long ago would be the case if he ever committed himself to Stella;
treating him as a puppet who would be content to dance when he pulled
the strings. He had no doubt that Mrs. Austin would be ready to play
the same motherly part in the management of his domestic affairs. He
smiled as he thought of it. His would-be father-in-law went on:

"I'm going to write to Mrs. Austin and wire to Tom; I want to arrange
a little dinner for to-morrow in honour of a certain auspicious event.
Stella tells me she wants you all to herself to-night, and I'm not to
interfere. I don't know what she wants you for, I'm sure, but I've
promised not to interfere. She'll pull a face when she sees you've not
returned with me, so you come early; after disappointing her twice--on
Sunday and last night--she'll think that you can't come too early."

"I'll leave the office as early as I can--trust me for that!--rush
back here, dress, and come right on."

"Dress! You needn't dress! They're homely folk at Kensington, and
Stella will excuse you; she won't want you to waste, in dressing,
valuable time which might be spent with her. You come straight on from
the office in your toil-stained garments. She'll want to know what
time. Shall I say five? I dare say, at a pinch, you can manage to be
in Kensington by five."

Rodney considered. If he did go straight on from the office he would
at least escape the risk of another heated discussion with Miss
Joyce--that would be something.

"Very well, sir; if Stella will forgive me coming as I am, as you say,
all toil-stained, I'll try my best to be with her as near as possible
to five."



                             CHAPTER XVII

                     THE ACTING HEAD OF THE FIRM


Mr. Austin and Rodney left the house together, and so disappointed
Miss Joyce, who was waiting to have one or two last words with Mr.
Elmore. Having parted from Mr. Austin, Rodney paid a few calls on his
way to St. Paul's Churchyard.

To begin with, he went into a jeweller's shop, and bought a ring set
with pearls and diamonds--a simple, inexpensive trifle, which cost six
pounds. It was designed for Stella's finger, and was to be her
engagement ring.

"It won't do," he said to himself, "for it to cost too much, for one
of her inquiring family will want to know where I got the money from.
She'll value it none the less because 'I can no more, though poor the
offering be.'"

Then he looked in at the offices of the White Star Steamship Company,
and paid a deposit on a berth which he booked on a steamer which was
to sail from Liverpool to New York on the following Thursday, booking
it in the name of John Griffiths; then into the offices of the Royal
Mail Steam Packet Company, where he booked a berth for the following
Friday, from Southampton to Buenos Ayres, in the name of Charles
Dickinson; then to the Cunard offices, where he booked for Saturday to
New York, in the name of Adolphus Ridgway. Afterwards he visited the
Bishop's Registry, in Doctors' Commons, and there, having made certain
affidavits, received, in exchange for two sovereigns, a strip of paper
which authorised him to marry Gladys Patterson, spinster, at any
church in the London diocese. Thus prepared, as one might suppose, for
more than one emergency, he paid still another call before proceeding
to St. Paul's Churchyard--on Clarence Parmiter, solicitor. From him he
wanted to know what forms it would be necessary to go through to
enable Miss Patterson to draw on her late father's banking account.
Mr. Parmiter explained that to do this it would be necessary, first of
all, to prove Mr. Patterson's will--and it was not usual to do that,
at any rate, till after the testator was buried. When, Mr. Parmiter
asked, was the funeral to take place. In spite of himself, his visitor
smiled; so fast had events come crowding on him that the fact that the
dead man would have to be put into his grave had entirely escaped his
notice--so far as he was aware, no arrangements for the funeral had
been made of any sort or kind. Mr. Parmiter looked as if he felt that
the smile with which this announcement was made was a little out of
place. He said that probably Rodney would find that the matter had
been arranged by one of the executors, or by Miss Patterson herself.
If cash was wanted in the interim; if Miss Patterson and Mr. Andrews,
as executor, would attend with him at a bank with which Mr. Patterson
had an account, he did not doubt that arrangements might be made which
would provide the lady with such advances as she required; and, of
course, if she chose, she might instruct the bank to honour any
cheques which he--Rodney Elmore--might draw, acting on her behalf.

Mr. Elmore left his friend's chambers with a feeling strong upon him
that the business of getting his uncle's money out of the bank was not
going to be as simple as he had hoped it would be. Clarence Parmiter
even told him that the bank would not now honour any cheque which
Graham Patterson might have drawn while still alive. This he did feel
was unreasonable; it rendered even forgery futile. If he could wait he
did not doubt that matters would be perfectly all right; but--could he
wait? If only certain difficulties could be smoothed away, and he was
given time, he did not doubt that he would be able to load himself
with money; but could they be smoothed away, even for a week? Danger
threatened from so many quarters; he really had been such an utter
fool. If he had only realised what a fool, he would have taken
precious good care to walk more warily; he would have been a wiser and
a better man. But wisdom after the event was easy; what he needed was
to be ready at a moment's notice for whatever came. He had planned
escape in three different directions on three following days--if
he could only get away with enough money to count! There was that
nest-egg which he had found in his uncle's drawer, but what was that
to a man in his plight? What he wanted was ten, or even, say, five
thousand pounds. With five thousand pounds he might do very well on
the other side of the world.

As, strolling leisurely along, he considered the matter in all its
bearings calmly, it appeared to him that nothing worth calling money
could be got at least until the morrow. In the morning he would meet
his cousin at the bank, with Parmiter and Andrews; the arrangements
would be made of which Parmiter had spoken; then, immediately after,
he would be free to lay hands on as much ready cash as the
arrangements permitted. He had no doubt that everything would be all
right until to-morrow--he would so manage that it should be; all the
same, he would have liked to have had a good supply of coin at his
command, in case. However, it was no use grizzling at what might not
be. He smiled as he arrived at this conclusion; he was still smiling
when he reached the office. He marched, as a matter of course, to the
room which had been his uncle's own particular sanctum, and this time
no one even as much as hinted nay. Indeed, he was presently followed
by Andrews, who informed him, with a countenance of decent solemnity,
that he had made arrangements, which he hoped would meet with his and
Miss Patterson's approval, for the interment of Mr. Patterson's
remains in the family vault at Kensal Green, the interment to take
place upon the morrow--Wednesday. Tickled by certain thoughts of his
own, Rodney smiled as he listened; but this time, as his face was bent
over the table, it is possible that the smile went unnoticed. He
expressed himself as greatly obliged by what Andrews had done, and was
certain that his feelings would be shared by Miss Patterson. Indeed,
he was convinced that Miss Patterson would be willing to leave
everything in his charge, since she would feel assured that everything
he did would be right and proper and for the best. Mr. Andrews put his
hand up to his mouth and coughed--the cough of one who was sensible
that he deserved the compliment which was paid him.

He wanted to know if Mr. Elmore did not think it would be well to
close the office for the whole of to-morrow, so as to give the staff
an opportunity of at least attending at the graveside. They had all
been remembered in the will, and would like to show the last tokens of
respect for their dead master. Rodney, to whom the notion of marking
such an occasion as a sort of holiday was novel, informed Andrews that
the idea was excellent, and that he was at liberty to act in the
matter as he thought was right. Andrews then wanted to know if Miss
Patterson would be present, or if he--Rodney Elmore--would represent
her as chief mourner. The suggestion moved Rodney in a way he would
not have cared to admit. He had had no intention of attending his
uncle's funeral at all--and as chief mourner! He to represent his
cousin in such a capacity! That would be indeed to mock the dead. He
was conscious of a feeling which surprised himself; he had not
supposed he was so sensitive.

"I think," he told Andrews, "we must leave these points till later. I
will consult with Miss Patterson and--observe her wishes. There is
another matter," he went on. "Access to Mr. Patterson's banking
account is not so easy as I imagined. My acquaintance with the
procedure in these cases is nil; I don't know what yours amounts to."

"I know no more than you; this is the first time I find myself in such
a position. Two payments of some importance are to be made this week;
I was wondering how they would be met. Of course, if representations
are made, time will be given."

"But, all the same, you would rather the payments were made? Exactly
my feelings, Andrews; I want everything to be done in due order. I am
going to arrange for Miss Patterson to meet you and Mr. Parmiter at
the bank to-morrow morning, when I am advised that it will be possible
to make arrangements which will enable us to meet all liabilities as
they fall due. By the way, I believe that the trading account
pass-book is in your charge; you might let me look at it."

Rodney examined the book when it was brought to him with great
attention. He was already posted in certain figures which had to deal
with his uncle's private account. Customers were brought in to him;
some who had called in the ordinary course of business, others who had
come to offer condolences, and so on. Their being brought straight to
him showed a frank acceptance on Andrews' part of the fact that he was
to be acting head of the firm; none the less, therefore, he was
careful that Andrews was present at each of the interviews, referring
certain matters to him with a little air of deference which won, as it
was intended to win, the managing man's heart. The customers were
favourably impressed, agreeing, as they went out, that Graham
Patterson's mantle had descended on to capable shoulders.

"I shouldn't wonder," declared Mr. Brailson North as he shook hands
with Mr. Andrews at the outer door, "if he turns out to be every bit
as good a man as his uncle."

This, coming from a member of one of the largest firms in the City,
was praise indeed. The managing man's eyes glistened. Anything which
suggested a compliment to the business, so wrapped up in it was his
whole existence, was a compliment to him. Since yesterday his ideas on
the subject of Mr. Elmore had changed.

"Mr. North," he addressed the visitor in a confidential whisper, "Mr.
Patterson was a good man, an excellent man of business in his way,
sound and discreet; but between you, me, and this doorpost, I
shouldn't wonder if the young one was better, with all his uncle's
soundness and discretion, together with something that his uncle
hadn't got. He's surprised me! You mark my words, I shouldn't be
surprised if the house of Graham Patterson--there's going to be no
alteration in the title--takes its place among the greatest City
houses--mind you, in the front rank."

Mr. North laughed.

"There's no reason why your prophecy shouldn't come true. This is the
day of the young man. Your young man has evidently got a head on his
shoulders; he's a good foundation to build on. If he has grit,
steadiness, caution, and knows just what sort of structure he would
raise on it, there's no reason that I know of why he shouldn't build
anything he likes. I agree with you in thinking that it is possible
that the house of Graham Patterson is destined to be, in all respects,
one of the finest in the City of London."

While these things were being said in his praise Rodney Elmore was
writing to Miss Patterson. He enclosed for her inspection the marriage
licence he had bought, asked in what church she would like the
ceremony to take place on Monday, and added that he hoped to be able
to make all final detailed arrangements with her to-morrow after the
funeral. He told her of the difficulty which had arisen about getting
money, asked her to meet him at the bank in the morning at 11.30;
hoped that afterwards they might lunch together, pointing out that he
never had lunched with her yet. Since after to-morrow he looked
forward to being able to spend most of his time with her till Monday,
and then for ever and a day--and that wouldn't seem a day too
long!--he said that he felt that it would be better to devote the
evening to doing certain little things of his own, which, sooner or
later, would have to be done. By doing them he would clear the decks
for action, so that, when the time for action came, he would be able
to devote the whole of his time and, indeed, the whole of his life
to her. All of which meant that he would not be able to tell her,
except on paper, that he loved her till they met at the bank
to-morrow morning.

Before actually slipping it into the envelope, together with this
edifying epistle, he read the marriage licence carefully through. The
perusal started him on what, for him, was an unwonted train of
thought. Already, while still in the first flush of youth, he had
spoilt his life, brought it to final wreck and ruin. What an extremely
silly thing to have done! It was characteristic of this young
gentleman that he never could bring himself to look at anything
through serious eyes--even death. Whatever his first impulse might be,
his second was to smile. Life, with all that appertained thereto, was
such a funny thing. Here was he, with a career on either hand, each of
which would lead at least to fortune; yet he might have neither. That
did seem droll. Each was represented by a woman; personally he would
have preferred that which was represented by Gladys, if only because
he had no doubt that ere long he would be master not only of the
business but of her. He was not so sure of Stella. In her he suspected
an obstinate streak which he feared might be congenital. He had always
felt that the Austins were, as the head of the house had put it,
"stocky." He would find them more inclined to manage than to be
managed. One thing he did know of himself: that he never could be
managed. He might not put up an open fight--open fighting was not
precisely in his line--but, if a sustained attempt were made to manage
him, he would slip away--somehow, that was sure. Therefore, if only
for the sake of peace and quietude, it would be better to avoid the
risk. All the same, there was something about Stella which did appeal
to him. With a sudden smile, slipping the licence and the letter into
the envelope, he closed the flap.

Then, with pen in hand, as he was about to write the address, he
started again to think. It was women--girls--who had brought him to
his present pass, that was how he put it to himself. What Mabel Joyce
said was perfectly true: he could not be alone with a girl without
making love to her. It was a physical impossibility; he did not know
why, but it was. The mischief was that his instinct had not warned him
they were dangerous, hence his horrid situation. Indeed, it was hard
that they should be dangerous; they were so pleasant to make love to.
There were men who cared nothing for women, who went through life
without making love--real love!--to a single one. How they managed he
could not think. To him life under such conditions would not be worth
living. He was a Sybarite. Life meant to him its good things; were
there better things than women? He doubted it. He thought little of
men; he had a very high opinion of women; he doubted if he had ever
met one in whom there was not something to be desired.

Take Mabel Joyce. She was showing him a side of her character whose
existence he had not suspected. Yet he understood her, quite believed
her when she said that she was fighting for her life. No one could
have been sweeter to him than she had been; then she was such a pretty
little thing, from the tips of her little pink toes to the top of her
fluffy little head. It could hardly be set down to her as a fault if
she was sweet no longer. Let him be just! Then there was Gladys, a
girl of quite a different type; but that was the charm about women,
there were so many types. He was persuaded that they would have the
best possible time together, if the fates could only manage to be
kind. He would make her a model husband, he really would; he rather
wondered what it would feel like to be a husband, but he did not doubt
that it would be all right. A little cramped, perhaps; but he would
study her, and her interests, in every possible way. She should never
regret the father she had lost, who was precious little loss after
all. He would be better to her than a father; he should rather think
so! Then there was Mary Carmichael; but at the thought of Mary
Carmichael his pulses began to dance--that any man should be ass
enough to care nothing for women when there was Mary Carmichael! Also,
let him not forget little Stella--why, what an idiot he was; she was
waiting for him now! He glanced at his watch. Great Scott! how the
time had flown! And that poor child was longingly waiting for him to
put his arms about her and stifle her with kisses. That he should be
brute enough to let her wait!

He addressed the envelope, rang the bell, bade the lad who answered
take it at once to Russell Square, took his hat off its peg, and,
after a few hurried words to Andrews as he went out, started off for
Kensington.



                            CHAPTER XVIII

                          THE PERFECT LOVER


Stella, opening the door for him herself, was at him like a small wild
thing.

"I thought you were never coming!"

"Why, it's not yet half-past five."

"Half-past five! when I expected papa to bring you with him, and he
said you'd be here by five! Come in here; I'll talk to you!"

She took from him his hat and stick and gloves, and placed them on a
table in the hall; then she led him by the sleeve of his coat into a
room on the left, and shut the door, and drew a long breath.

"Oh--h--h! So you've come at last, my lord! Let me look at you, to
make sure that it is you. Oh, Rodney, why have you been so long in
coming?"

She put her arms about his neck and drew him down to her and kissed
him. He said, softly:

"I do believe you have grown shorter."

"You wretch! To let a thing like that be your first word to me!"

"It's such a long way down, though it's well worth stooping for."

He kissed her again, tenderly, on her pretty lips--he was an expert in
the art of kissing. Because he did it so well, she, not knowing that
such skill came of practice, had him kiss her again and again and
again, till the breath had half gone out of her body and she was all
rapturous palpitation.

"If you only knew what ages it seems since I saw you!"

"Stella, what do you think it has seemed to me? If you only knew what
I have gone through!"

"Poor boy! I suppose you have had to bear a good deal."

"You have no notion what I've had to bear."

That was true enough, or she would not have been as close to him as
she was.

"It was bad enough when you didn't come on Sunday. I suppose you
didn't get back from that Mrs. What's-her-name, your mother's friend,
in time?"

"My dear, I had a chapter of accidents, and nearly missed the last
train; I'll tell you all about it some day, and you'll laugh. I didn't
feel like laughing then, I can tell you that."

"And I didn't feel like laughing, and I can tell you that. In fact,
I--I cried."

"Stella!"

"I did; it seemed so awful. That was the longest Sunday I ever knew;
and then when the evening came I kept expecting you every moment; I
kept rushing out of the front door to look for you. Every footstep in
the street I thought was yours, and every vehicle the hansom which was
bringing you; when it kept getting later and later, and still you
didn't come, I--I fancied all sorts of things, and I simply had to
cry."

"My darling, I would infinitely rather have been with you than where I
was."

That again was true enough; part of the time he had been in the
tunnel--a gruesome time.

"What time was it when you did get back?"

"Frightfully late; but--Stella, you won't tell anyone if I tell you
something? Promise!"

"Of course I promise. What--what is it?"

"You can laugh if you like; I don't mind your laughing a little bit;
but I don't want them to laugh."

"Why should they laugh?"

"I did come to see you--after I came back."

"Rodney!"

"At least, I came as far as the outside of the house. I dismissed the
cab at the corner; then I walked--or rather sneaked--along the
pavement; if a bobby had seen me he'd have been all suspicion--till I
reached the house. It was all in darkness; there wasn't a glimmer of
light anywhere."

"What time was it?"

"About one, perhaps later."

"Rodney, I'd been in my room hours and hours; but I wasn't asleep; I
was crying in bed."

"Stella! You were crying! Great Scott! if--if I'd only known it,
I'd--I'd have done something."

"What would you have done?"

"I'd--I'd have done something if--if I'd had to break a window!"

"But what good would your breaking a window have done me?"

"Anyhow, it would have been a beginning; but, you see, I didn't even
know which your room was--whether you were at the front or the back."

"I'm on the second floor in the front; my window's over the hall
door."

"I kept staring at it all the time; I had a sort of feeling--I swear I
had a sort of feeling! If I'd only been sure I'd have whistled."

"Whistled! At one in the morning! What would have been the good of
that?"

"Suppose, say, I'd whistled 'The Devout Lover'--or what I should have
meant for 'The Devout Lover'--you'd have heard."

"I probably should have heard; Miss Claughton would probably have
heard also."

"Oh, hang Miss Claughton!"

"Rodney! Miss Claughton's a dear--and your hostess!"

"Miss Claughton may be an absolute angel for all I know--you know what
I mean--so long as you heard I shouldn't have cared who heard. Then
you'd have wondered who was kicking up that awful row."

"Do you think I should?"

"Certain! I can't whistle for nuts. Then you'd have got out of bed,
crossed the room with your dear little bare feet----"

"Rodney!"

"And lifted the corner of the blind."

"I might."

"When you'd seen me hanging on to the railings for all I was worth,
trying to get my breath and whistle at the same time; you'd have
stopped crying, whatever else you did."

"Rodney, how absurd you are! Fancy your hanging on to the railings for
all you were worth! What did you really do?"

"Oh, I hung about and hung about, and then I slunk off home. Wasn't it
silly to come and see you at that time of night? I knew you'd laugh!"

"If I'd known you were there I shouldn't have cried. The idea, you
darling! But, Rodney, why didn't you manage to get a peep at me the
whole of yesterday?"

"Do you think I didn't try?--but I couldn't; it was a day of horrors!
Just as I was wondering if I couldn't manage to get at least a kiss by
making out that Kensington was on the way to the City, the news came
of what my uncle had done. That was a facer, for a man to get news
like that just as he was finishing his breakfast."

"But I thought you didn't get the news till you reached the City? You
sent your first telegram from there."

"I got the news before, but I didn't understand; I didn't want to
understand, I didn't dare to understand. Then I had to go to the
inquest."

"Did you? It doesn't say anything in the paper about you being there."

"Of course not; my evidence wasn't wanted after all, but we all of us
had to be there. It was awful!"

"You poor, poor boy! Afterwards why didn't you come straight to me?"

"I couldn't; I had to rush off to the City."

"But why?"

"Everything was in the most frightful confusion; no one knew why he
had done it."

"But there was the verdict!"

"The verdict? My uncle was not a man to kill himself for a shadow;
there might be a better reason. Say nothing to your father; I wish to
impute nothing against my uncle's credit; but at one time it seemed
just possible that he had done it, because he knew he was ruined, to
save himself from shame, dishonour. We had to find out, to be certain,
to make sure; we went all through the books; we went through
everything; we were at it till the small hours of the morning."

"My dear! Did they tell you I had called?"

"Did they not! When I heard it I wished that I could have flown to you
on a flying machine; but it was impossible."

"But papa tells me that you talk about going to the office every day
this week."

"Stella, let me put a case. Suppose Mr. Austin were my uncle, and he
had done what my uncle did, and everything were at sixes and sevens,
and all the help was wanted that could be got, what would you think of
me if I were to cut and run--it would amount to that!--even for the
sake of the best and sweetest and prettiest and dearest girl in the
world--meaning you?"

"That's all very well, Rodney; but I asked papa if he thought you
really had to go--if you ought to go; and he said that so far as he
could make out there wasn't the least necessity why you should ever
set foot in the office again."

"Your father said that?"

"And I believe he's been making inquiries."

"Has he? When I see your father I shall have to tell him that this is
a matter in which I am afraid I shall have to use my own judgment."

"At least you can get one day off to take me out--say to-morrow."

"To-morrow! It's my uncle's funeral."

"Well? There's no reason why you should go to it, if it is. Who
expects you to go?"

For a moment it seemed as if the question had left the ready-tongued
young gentleman nonplussed; but it was only for a moment.

"My dear Stella, isn't it sufficient answer to say that my uncle was
the only relative I have in the world?"

"My dear Rodney, I don't wish to comment on your sudden sensitiveness
where your uncle is concerned. I never dreamt that you felt for him
what you seem to feel; but I suppose your connection with him will
cease when he is buried?"

"In a sense, certainly."

"In all senses?"

"My dear Stella, I have already told you."

"To whom has he left his business?"

"Until the contents of the will are known who can say--positively?"

"Has he left it to you?"

"That I am quite sure he hasn't."

"Has he left you anything?"

"There again, till the will is read, who can be sure?"

"When is the will to be read?"

"To-morrow, after the funeral."

"Where?"

"At his house in Russell Square."

"Are you invited to be present?"

"'Invited' is scarcely the correct word; instructions have been issued
that the whole staff is to attend. That rather looks as if he may have
left something, possibly some trifle, to everyone who was actually in
his employ at the time of his death."

"I see. That explains why you want to be present at the funeral. And
afterwards, when the will has been read, will you--dine with us? Papa
wants me to dine, I think, at the Savoy, to what he calls 'celebrate'
our engagement."

"You may be sure I'll come if I can."

"'If'! It's again 'if.' Is it to be all 'ifs '?"

"My dearest Stella, what do you mean?"

"It doesn't matter. Shall we go to the drawing-room? I think we shall
find that the Miss Claughtons and papa are waiting for us there."

The young lady turned as if to leave the room. He caught her by the
arm.

"Stella, is it possible, is it conceivable, that you can imagine that
what has happened is in the least degree, in any sense my fault? Can
you suppose that I would not ten thousand times rather spend every
hour of every day with you than do what I have done, what I may still
have to do?--that my heart, my thoughts, are not with you every
instant I have to spend in that confounded City?"

"Rodney, I am very anxious to believe that there are sufficient
reasons which compel you to spend all the time you seem to spend in
the City; but you don't manage to make it very clear what they are."

"Stella! Stella! How can you talk like that? What shall I say? What
can I do?"

"You can promise to dine with us to-morrow night."

"I gladly promise it--gladly."

"There's no 'if' about the promise?"

"No 'if'! If you only knew how I shall look forward to coming, what
pleasure I shall give myself in coming! My dear, if you only knew how
I am looking forward to dining with you all the days of all the year!"

"And, Rodney, papa understand that you are coming into his business;
is that what you understand?"

"Rather! You bet it is, if he'll have me. Do you think I'd throw away
a chance like that?"

"Nothing that may be in your uncle's will will make any difference?"

"You goose! What do you suppose will be there? The probability is that
there will be nothing of the slightest interest to me--at the most
some trivial legacy--a hundred, fifty, five-and-twenty pounds! But let
me tell you this, that in the present state of my exchequer even the
latter sum will be a godsend. You don't know what it is to be in a
chronic state of impecuniosity--a little millionaire like you!"

"I, a millionaire!"

"You don't appreciate the situation; you really don't. Entirely
between us, I wonder that I ever had the courage--the cheek!--to
tell you how much I love you; how dear to me is the ground under
your small feet; how I long to have you in my arms--you, with the
Bank of England at your back; and I! But--Cæsar's ghost!--what am I
dreaming about? The sight of you, the touch of you, the sound of you,
has so--so got into the very bones of me that I'd clean forgotten.
Why--Stella!--what's this?"

He took a small, round, leather-covered box out of his waistcoat
pocket.

"My dear Rodney--how should I know what it is?"

As she looked at the outside of the box her eyes began to sparkle--as
if she did not know!

"There! Why, it's a ring!"

"What a pet."

"Give me your hand!"

"That's not the proper hand."

"Isn't it? Which is the proper hand?"

"Rodney! How ignorant you are!"

"My dear, have I had your experience?"

"My experience!--silly! I thought everybody knew on which hand the
engagement finger was--there!--that is the finger!"

She held out to him a finger which, if it was small, was slim and
daintily fashioned. He bent and kissed it.

"Dear digit!--salutation! Now, you unclothed midget, I'll clothe you
with this ring."

"Oh, Rodney, what--what a darling!"

She pressed it to her lips.

"Does it fit?"

"As if it were made for me."

"Isn't that wonderful, when I only guessed?"

"Thank you--thank you, Rodney."

"It's only a poor little ring--a love token, to mark you as my
own--that's all. But one day I'll give you the finest ring that money
can buy, and you can put it in the place of this."

"As if I ever would--or could! Rodney, this is the most beautiful ring
I have ever seen--ever, ever, ever! And it always will be the most
beautiful ring in the world--to me. No other will ever take its
place."

Her voice fell as she moved a little closer to him.

"I shall hope to be still wearing it when I am lying in my grave."

"Dear love!"

He took her in his arms and kissed her again, as it were, solemnly. He
was practised in all varieties of the art. And they were silent.



                             CHAPTER XIX

               THE FEW WORDS AT THE END OF THE EVENING


There were five of them at dinner--the lovers, the lady's father, her
two hostesses--the Misses Claughton. These were cousins of her mother.
Miss Claughton was tall and straight and prim; Miss Nancy Claughton,
the younger sister, was stout and tender. Both ladies were disposed to
make a fuss of Rodney, to invest him with a sort of halo, as if, in
asking Stella to be his wife, he had done something which marked him
out as an unusual young man. Mr. Austin's inclination was towards
jocosity. Rodney had long since decided that a sense of humour was not
that gentleman's strongest point. Dry he could be, he had rather an
effective trick of it; but funny--no. His persistent efforts to be
funny did not improve the flavour of what, from the young gentleman's
point of view, was a sufficiently homely repast. The soup was
doubtful, one could not be sure if it was meant to be clear or thick;
the cod was boiled to rags--and, anyhow, he hated cod; the mutton was
overdone; the sweets were suited to the nursery. Under the
circumstances it was perhaps as well that, between Mr. Austin's jokes,
the question chiefly discussed was where they should dine on the
morrow. It was some consolation, Rodney felt, that there was a
prospect of a decent meal after the passage of another four-and-twenty
hours. The gentlemen did not remain at table when the feast was done;
Mr. Austin was a teetotaller, and Rodney, when he had tasted Miss
Claughton's claret, wished he was; so there was no temptation to
linger over the wine. In the drawing-room they had "music." Stella
played and sang. Rodney, whose taste in music was as fastidious as in
other things, would have been content had she done neither. She had
not got a bad little voice; from the point of view of those who liked
little voices of the kind; but he had always been of opinion that it
was worth more to the professors of singing than to anybody else.
Still, she sang straight at him, and for him only; so it was not so
bad. Presently Mr. Austin vanished, and the Misses Claughton followed.
So he put his arm about Stella's waist, and that was better. She was
even more disposed to be made love to after dinner than before, and
somehow she seemed prettier and sweeter and more desirable to him.
Under such conditions he was the kind of young man who was bound to
shine.

After a while--quite an agreeable while--he led the conversation on to
the subject which Mr. Austin had broached in the morning. The lady
lent a complacent ear.

"Stella, I have a very serious question which I wish to put to you."

"What is it? If you can be serious."

"You will find I can when you have heard my question; I pray you
incline your little pink ears unto my question. Will you marry me?"

"Perhaps, some day--silly!"

"When is 'some day'?"

"When would you like it to be?"

"This day; to-night."

"Rodney, you--you really mustn't talk like that."

"Why mustn't I?"

"You only proposed last Saturday."

"Well. Allow a week for that fact to get fixed firmly in your mind,
another for preparation, why shouldn't 'some day' be Saturday week?"

"Don't be ridiculous."

"It's you who are ridiculous. If you keep me waiting long I shall kiss
you all away."

"Am I the only girl you've ever kissed?"

"Yes."

"That's a fib; I saw you kiss Mary."

"Gracious! When?"

"Have you been so much in the habit of kissing Mary that you need ask
when?"

"If by Mary you mean Miss Carmichael, I don't remember to have ever
kissed her once."

"Well, I remember. And let me tell you something, sir: there have been
times when--I've been jealous of Mary."

"Good gracious me! what an extraordinary child! Miss Carmichael's sole
recommendation to me has been that she's your friend; besides, hasn't
Tom an eye on her?"

"Oh, Tom! Tom never would see anything--like that; but I see.
Honestly, don't you think Mary's very pretty?"

"She's not bad, in a way; but she's not to be compared with you."

"That she certainly isn't; you don't imagine that you can make me
believe that I'm--a tenth part as pretty as Mary? Do you take me for a
perfect goose?"

"Stella, do you remember what you said before dinner about the ring.
You said--I don't know if you meant it."

"I meant every word I said, Rodney."

"Well, sweetheart, you said it was the most beautiful ring you had
ever seen. Just as you said that, and meant it, I say and mean that
you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen; and, to me, you will
be the most beautiful girl, as long as I live."

"Do you really mean that? Really?"

"By the time we're--Darby and Joan, you'll know I mean it. Now, young
woman, I'm as one who speaks with authority. I'm authorised to inform
you that if you will stand with me at the altar inside a month you
will make your mother happy and your father happy, to say nothing of
me. So which day next month is it to be? Shall I put it at the first?"

"Who told you to say that?"

"Your own father, this morning as ever was."

"Was--was the idea yours or his?"

"My very dearest--small one----"

"I'm not so small as all that! You're not to call me small!"

"Well, all-that-my-heart-desireth, which you are, I will tell you with
such precision as is in me. I said to him: 'I want her! I do want her!
Oh, I want her badly! But, if I have to earn her, I'll have to wait
for her, I dare not think how long.' Then he said to me--exactly what
I've told you; and my heart sang. Do you doubt? Ask him! To me the
point is: shall we say the first?"

"Rodney, do try to be sensible! You're a man, and you can't
understand."

"Is that so? So long as you do."

"To a girl her wedding day is the day of her life."

"Some girls manage to have several wedding days, so I suppose they
have two or three days in their lives."

"There will be only one wedding day in my life. Whatever happens I
want that to be, in every sense, a wonderful day; I want mine to be a
pretty wedding."

"With you as bride that's assured."

"A really pretty wedding can't be arranged at a moment's notice; it
takes time."

"Half an hour--or three-quarters?"

"Don't be so silly! Mamma's coming up to town to-morrow. I'll consult
her; then I shall have some idea how long a time it will take."

"You mean how short a time! Do mean how short a time!"

"Well, how short a time. Rodney, how many bridesmaids would you like
me to have?"

"Bridesmaids? My dear! What are bridesmaids to me, so long as I've the
bride? All--all--all I'm going to be married to is the bride!"

"You are--a perfect----"

"Yes? A perfect--what?"

"Oh, I don't know! Rodney?"

She hid her face upon his shoulder.

"I always wondered what there was in a kiss to make a fuss about.
Now--I know."

When he left it had been practically settled that the wedding should
take place on the earliest possible day of the ensuing month.

He walked home, by way of Kensington High Street and the Park. And as
he walked he mused, and more than once his musings moved him to
something very much like laughter, out there in the solitude and the
dark. Was ever man before in such a complication--promised at three
weddings as bridegroom? As he tried to puzzle out how it all had come
about it struck him as quite inconceivably comical. If he told the
story to the ladies themselves they could scarcely fail to see how
funny it was--at least, he hoped they would. The position would be
simple enough if, as is still the custom in some of the more civilised
countries of the world, a man could have wives galore. But if it came
to choosing, why, there would be the rub. Mabel had her points; who
knew it better than he? While as for Stella, he had never dreamed she
was so charming. With her kisses still on his lips, her soft voice
still in his ears, her pretty eyes still looking into his, how could
he help but love her! Dear little Stella! A week all alone with her,
even a fortnight--he would like to have the chance of it. Perhaps,
after a fortnight, a little relaxation might be desirable, a sort of
change of air. But why look so far ahead? Then there was Mary--but he
dare not think of Mary Carmichael, even then. If he had ten thousand a
year, and freedom, he would choose Mary Carmichael before all the
girls he had ever met. But that was out of the question; he had better
put her out of his mind. Things were already sufficiently complicated
without adding her. On the whole, the circumstances being what they
were, considering the position with the judicial calmness which was
becoming, he plumped for Gladys; and--the business in St. Paul's
Churchyard. Gladys Patterson should be his wife; yes, she should be
his wife, on all accounts; on all!--if--if it was not necessary to
take a voyage to foreign parts.

In that room on the second floor of the house in Kensington, Stella
Austin, in her nightdress, her pretty hair hanging in two long plaits
down her back, was on her knees beside her bed, seeming such a child.
She was thanking God for all His goodness to her--she always began her
prayers by thanking God. She thanked Him for many things, but chiefly,
and beyond all else, for having given her so thoughtful, so tender, so
true a lover. God knew how happy He had made her, and how full her
heart was of gratitude to Him. And she prayed that God would make her
worthy of the lover He had given. She knew how, in so many ways, he
was above her, above anything she might ever hope to be; she prayed
God that He would give her strength and grace, so that she might be at
least a little more deserving. She had been unkind to-night, and--and
wickedly jealous; she knew she had. Please God make her kinder and
less selfish! And, when the time came, please God, make her a good
wife, a good wife!

At this point articulate utterance ceased, her face fell forward on
the coverlet because her eyes were streaming with tears. It was to her
such a solemn and beautiful thought that she would before very long be
Rodney Elmore's wife that she trembled with the very rapture of it, so
that she could no longer even go on with her prayers.


                           *   *   *   *   *


When Mr. Elmore reached his lodgings, with the exception of the light
in his sitting-room, the house was in darkness. But if that signified
that the household had retired to rest, it did not follow that
everyone was asleep, as he was presently to learn. He had only been in
his room a couple of minutes when the door opened noiselessly--to
admit Miss Joyce. Coming right in, she stood with her back to the
door, which she closed behind her. She was in a state of undress which
did not become her ill. As he eyed her Rodney compared her, mentally,
with Stella; not to her disadvantage. She really was a good-looking
girl; only--he did not like the look which was on her white face and
in her eyes. He felt sure someone would notice it, and questions would
be asked.

She spoke in so faint a whisper that what she said was only just
audible; his voice was lowered in sympathy with hers.

"Mother's come back."

"Has she? That's good hearing. I hope she had a good time at your
aunt's."

"I've got the licence."

"The----? Oh, have you? That also is good hearing."

"It cost me two pounds four and six."

"Did it? I hope you consider it to be worth the money."

"I've fixed it for Thursday at noon."

"Noon? Isn't that--rather an unfashionable hour?"

"Mind you're there! You've promised! I've got your promise."

"Am I likely to forget--the circumstances under which you got my
promise?"

"If you're not there you'll be sorry."

"Honestly, Mabel, I think we shall both of us be sorry."

"You will! There's--there's another thing; I--I want to warn you."

"Warn me? Haven't you done that once or twice already?"

"I--I want to warn you against Mr. Dale."

"Against Mr. Dale? Why?"

"I believe he suspects."

"Suspects? What? About you and me?"

"About--your uncle."

"What does he suspect about my uncle?"

"He's been finding out things. Ssh! there's someone moving. Perhaps
it's mother; she mustn't find me here, like this."

She flitted from the room as noiselessly as she had entered, shutting
the door without its making a sound. He stood and listened. Perhaps it
was her conscience which had made her fancy noises--all seemed still.
If she had ascended to her room on the landing, a ghost could not have
moved more silently.



                              CHAPTER XX

                    THE FIRST LINE OF AN OLD SONG


Rodney Elmore had the unusual attribute of seeming at his best in the
morning, as if calm, unruffled sleep, having removed the cobwebs from
his brain, returned him rested and buoyant to a world in which there
were no shadows. When, on the Wednesday morning, he came downstairs
with light steps and dancing eyes, he found among the letters on the
breakfast table one which was addressed in a familiar hand. He gave it
pride of place.


"MY DEAR R.,--I don't know what possesses me, but I feel that I simply
must write and tell you that I wish you were within kissing distance.
Isn't that a ridiculous feeling to have, especially where you're
concerned? Do you think that I don't know? I have been conscious of
the most extraordinary sensations since Sunday. I made a mistake
in asking you to come and console me. You did it so effectually
that--well, I would like you to continue the treatment. There's a
dreadful thing to say! Aren't I a wretch? Poor dear Tom! I know he has
all the good qualities I haven't, and that he'll make me the best
husband in the world, but as for his consoling me--oh, dear! oh, dear!
oh, dear! I don't like the idea at all! I'm nearly sure that, after
all, the best husband in the world is not the one I'm looking for.
What makes me feel so all over pins and needles when I'm with Tom,
and so comfy when I'm with you? Isn't it odd? Have you any feeling of
the kind where I'm concerned? I know you'll say so, but have you?
You'd say anything to anyone, but, all the same, I've a feeling
somewhere that, if I chose, I could have you on a little bit of
string. I daren't ask you to come here again, I simply daren't; but,
if you do come, mind you give me proper warning. What would you say
if I ran up to town? Should I see Stella at the corner of every
street? Sweet Stella! Aren't I a cat? I suppose you couldn't rob a
bank or something? If you and I were starting off to-morrow together,
ever so far, for ever so long--I dare not think of it, and that's
the honest truth. Aren't I insane? No one but you would ever guess
it.--M.

"Mind you tear this up the very moment you have read it, and you're to
forget that you ever did read it!

"By the way, by which train did you go up on Sunday? You weren't sure
that you could catch the Pullman, and, if you did miss it, did you go
by the 9.10? In that case you must have been in the same train as your
uncle. When I saw about it in the paper it gave me quite a shock.
Fancy if he was in the next carriage to yours? I suppose the dear man
hasn't left you a millionaire? If he only had! You would--wouldn't
you?

"Tear it up!"


He had just finished reading this somewhat interjectional epistle when
Miss Joyce came in, the bearer of his morning meal. He greeted her as
if he were really pleased to see her.

"The top of the morning to you, Baby! How moves the world your way? Do
you feel like dancing on your pink toes?"

When he called her Baby, the pet name he had for her, she glanced up
at him, almost as if she were startled.

"Did you understand what I said to you last night?"

"Perfectly; I've been thinking it all over, and I've come to a
decision. I think you're quite right in what you wish me to do. As
this isn't Leap Year, let me regularise the position. Mabel, I would
like you to be my wife. Will you take me for your husband?"

"You say that because you know you can't help yourself."

"You are mistaken. If I didn't want to be your husband, nothing you or
anyone could say or do could make me, rest assured of that. I won't
pretend that, if things had turned out differently, I--should have
suggested it; but, as they are, please, Mabel, let me do the
proposing--say you will be my wife."

"I'm going to be your wife; to-morrow, Thursday, at noon, and don't
you make any mistake. There's the address of the registrar's office at
which you're going to be married, and mind you're there to time."

"Baby--you are only a baby, after all--don't talk like that; don't
let's enter the matrimonial state as if we wished to cut each other's
throats; let's start afresh on the old terms. I hope that when we're
being married you won't have those white cheeks and unhappy eyes, or
the registrar will think that I'm frightening you into being my bride,
and you know that will be wrong."

"Rodney, do you care for me a little bit?"

"My dear Mabel, I care for you in an altogether different fashion from
that which you suppose, as I hope to be able to prove to you before
very long. Come, let's be friends."

"Don't touch me--don't! Mother's waiting for me. She wants me for
something; she told me not to be long. I--I want to speak to you
before I go. I--I want to warn you against Mr. Dale."

"You said something to that effect last night. Is Mr. Dale so
dangerous?"

"He's jealous of you."

"Well, does that constitute him dangerous?"

"He always has been throwing out nasty hints about you."

"To whom? Surely not to you? You wouldn't listen to what you yourself
call nasty hints about me coming from a man like Dale?"

"It wasn't so much that I listened as that he was always at it
whenever he came near me. I couldn't stop him. I suppose that my
asking him about your going to Brighton on Sunday, and my going to the
inquest, and such-like, made him--made him----"

"Yes? Made him what?"

"Started him thinking. Anyhow, he's--he's been finding out things,
and--I don't know that he hasn't found out. You take care of him!"

"My dear Mabel, in what sense am I to take care of him? I'm inclined
to think that I should rather like to have a talk with your friend Mr.
Dale."

"You'll do no good by that."

"Shan't I? We'll see. Where is he to be found--in the booking office
at Victoria Station?"

"One week he goes early and comes back about six; the next he has his
dinner first and doesn't come back till after one--this is his late
week. He hasn't had his breakfast yet; he's still up in his room."

"Is that so? I'm afraid I can't stop to talk to him just now, but I
certainly will take the first chance which offers."

"Don't you say anything to him to make him nasty!"

A feminine voice was heard calling the young lady's name.

"There's mother calling. She'll give me a talking to! Mind, to-morrow
at noon; and there's the address upon that piece of paper."

"My dear Mabel, I'm making arrangements which will permit of my
placing the whole of to-morrow at your service. I promise that you
shall have something like a wedding day."

When the lady had gone the gentleman poured himself out a cup of
coffee with the air of one who was in the enjoyment of an excellent
joke. He propped Miss Carmichael's letter up against the coffee-pot
and read it through again. The second reading seemed to add to his
sense of enjoyment.

"Rob a bank? Quite as heinous crimes have been committed for the sake
of a woman. I've always had a kind of fancy that you're the type of
girl for whom it would be worth one's while to do such things. If I
were to ask you to start upon that little trip at which you hint, I
wonder what you'd say--if you knew. Hullo! what's this?"

He was staring at a sheet of paper which he had taken out of one of
the three or four envelopes which were lying on the table. On it were
a couple of typewritten lines:


"If you take a friend's advice you will get clean away while you have
still a chance."


He regarded the words as if in doubt as to whether they were intended
to convey to him an esoteric meaning.

"No signature, no address, no date; the first anonymous communication
I ever have been favoured with. Postmark on the envelope, Kew,
dispatched from there last night at eight o'clock, which doesn't
convey much intelligence to me. So far as I'm aware I have no
acquaintance who resides at Kew; and I suppose an anonymous
correspondent, if he had his head screwed on, is scarcely likely to
reside in the district from which he sends his letter. It's very good
of a friend to make a friendly suggestion, but quite what he means I
do not know; nor have I the very dimmest notion who the friend may be.
Come in!"

Someone had tapped at the door. In response to his invitation a young
man entered of about his own age; not tall, but sturdily built, with
close-cut black hair, small dark eyes, and a somewhat voluminous
moustache. There was that in his manner which hinted that he was in a
state of some excitement; that, indeed, he was an excitable young man.
He came right up to the table, with a billycock hat in one hand and a
bamboo cane in the other. He looked at Elmore with what were scarcely
friendly eyes. When he spoke it was in what evidently were lowered
tones and with a curious, staccato utterance, as if he wished to throw
his words into the other's face.

"You'll have to excuse my coming in like this, but I'm going out, and
I want to speak to you before I do go."

"That's very good of you. I believe you are Mr. Dale."

"My name is Dale--George Dale, as you very well know."

"Pray sit down, Mr. Dale. I don't remember to have had the pleasure of
being introduced to you before."

"Thanking you all the same, I won't sit down, and as to being
introduced to you, I never have been. It's only for your sake I'm
speaking to you now. I want to ask you a question to begin with."

"Ask it, Mr. Dale."

"What are your intentions as regards Miss Joyce?"

"Really, Mr. Dale, I don't know if you are joking in putting such a
question. If you aren't I certainly don't know what you mean."

Rodney smiled at his visitor pleasantly; but the smile, instead of
affording Mr. Dale gratification, not only caused his scowl to deepen,
but induced him to use language of unexpected vigour.

"You're a liar! That's what you are--a liar! You're a liar, because
you know quite well what I mean. I'm not afraid of you. You're a
bigger man than I am, but I can use the gloves. You wouldn't knock me
out so easy as you think. I'd mark you first! But I haven't come here
to fight you."

"That, at least, is gratifying intelligence, Mr. Dale."

"Oh, you can sneer--you're one of the sneering sort; but sneers won't
do you any good. You take my tip and get as far away from this as
you can--out of England, if you can!--between now and this time
to-morrow!"

Rodney regarded his visitor with an air of placid amusement, which
certainly did not seem to have a soothing effect.

"Mr. Dale, am I indebted to you for this?"

He held out the sheet of paper on which were the two typewritten
lines. Mr. Dale eyed it askance.

"What's that? Where did you get it from?"

"It came by this morning's post--from you?"

"That I'll swear it never did; what's more, I don't know who it does
come from. That looks as if there were more than one in it. I'll
commit myself to nothing. I've got myself to think of as well as you;
but, although this didn't come from me, and I don't know anything at
all about it, you do what it says here--get clean away while you have
still a chance."

Without another word, or giving Rodney a chance to utter one, Mr. Dale
bolted from, rather than left, the room; within ten seconds of his
going the slamming of the front door announced that he had left the
house. For some seconds Elmore sat still; then, getting up from his
chair, began to fill a pipe with tobacco. Miss Joyce put her head into
the room, noiselessly, unexpectedly, as she seemed to have a trick of
doing.

"Was that Mr. Dale? I thought it might be you. Has he been in here?"

"He has. You come in and take away the breakfast things; I've had all
I want to eat."

Coming in, she began to do as he had said, talking, as she put the
things together, in a half whisper which recalled Mr. Dale's staccato
undertones. It seemed to be a house of whispers.

"What did he say to you?"

"He came to offer me a tip."

"A tip?"

"He said that if I took his tip I shouldn't stand upon the order of
my going, but go at once, and go as far as possible between now and
to-morrow."

She put both hands to her left side, as if unconscious that she had a
plate in one and a teaspoon in the other.

"Rodney! Then--then--what are you going to do?"

"Nothing."

"But if he tells?"

"Tells what?"

"He said to me last night that if anyone knows that--that someone has
killed a person, and doesn't at once inform the police, that's being
an accessory after the fact."

"Well? He was merely acquainting you with what I take is a legal
truism."

"Then he said that, whatever I might choose to do, he did not mean to
be an accessory, either before the fact or after. Then he looked at me
in such a way--I knew what he meant--and he went right off to bed
without saying another word."

"What had you been talking about?"

"About--your uncle."

"Had he introduced the subject or had you?"

"He had; he would keep talking about it. Rodney, he knows, and--he's
going to tell."

"Then, in that case, it looks as if you will gain little by becoming
my wife, and that I shall gain nothing."

"Rodney, I want you to get out of your head what I said the other
night. I don't want to force you to marry me, and I never did."

"Then you've rather an unfortunate way of expressing yourself, don't
you think so, my dear Mabel?"

"I--I didn't know how else to do what I wanted to do. It's quite true
that if I'm not going to be your wife I'll kill myself; but that
doesn't matter--I'd just as soon die as live. But I do want to save
you, and the only way I can do it is for you to marry me."

"That may keep you from playing the tell-tale, but how is it going to
affect Mr. Dale?"

"He won't tell if I'm your wife."

"Won't he? Why? I should have thought, if your story's correct, that
he'd have told all the more, that disappointment would have inflamed
him to madness."

Rodney, as he said this, struck a match to light his pipe, and
laughed. Nothing could have seemed less like laughter than the girl's
white face and haunted eyes.

"He'd tell to keep me from being your wife, but if I were your wife
he'd never tell. I know him; he'd suffer anything rather than do
anything which would give me pain or bring me to shame; if I were your
wife he'd never tell. You're a gentleman, Rodney, and I'm not a lady,
and I don't suppose I ever shall be; I'm just a girl who has let you
do what you like with her, and you're cleverer than I am--much, much
cleverer; but, in this, do be advised by me--do, dear, do! There is
something here, something which makes me sure that the only way out of
it, for you, is for you to make me your wife. I know you don't want to
do it, that you never meant to do it, and I can quite understand why;
but you'd better have me for your wife than--than that; don't you see,
dear, that you had? I shan't be able to tell, and George Dale won't,
and no one else knows, and instead of trying to find out more he'll
keep others from finding out anything; he'll be on your side instead
of against you, for my sake. Rodney, I implore you--for your own sake,
dear, your own sake!--to do as you promised, and marry me."

She pleaded to be allowed to save his life as if she were pleading for
her own life. He turned to shake the ash from his pipe into the
fender, and so remained, for some moments, with his back to her; while
her eyes looked as if they were crying out to him. When he turned to
her again he was pressing the tobacco down into his pipe before
restoring it to his lips, smiling as he looked at her.

"My dear Mabel, I'm not certain that I follow your reasoning, but do
make your mind easy; I've promised to marry you to-morrow, and I
will--on the stroke of noon--to the tick, for my sake as well as for
yours. And, though the fates don't seem over propitious at the moment,
I dare say we shall be quite as happy as the average married folk--at
least, I'll marry you."

"You mean it?"

"I do--unreservedly; please understand that once more, and once for
all. You shall have something like a wedding day."

"I wish--I wish it were to-day; I'm afraid--of what may happen--before
to-morrow."

"Of whatever you may be afraid, I'm afraid that it couldn't be to-day.
It's my uncle's funeral to-day."

"Rodney! You--you're not going!"

"I am; as chief mourner."

"Rodney, you--you can't do a thing like that! You--you mustn't!"

As she spoke an elderly woman came into the room, of a somewhat portly
presence--the lady's mother. Seemingly she was in a mood to be
garrulous.

"What mustn't he do? Excuse me, Mr. Elmore, for coming in like this,
but really, Mabel, I don't know what you are thinking about. I'm sure
Mr. Elmore wants to go to his business, and here's all the work at a
standstill----"

"All right, mother; Mr. Elmore doesn't want to hear you grumbling at
me, I know."

Without waiting for her mother to continue her observations, Miss
Joyce bustled out of the room with the breakfast tray in her hands.
Left alone with him, the landlady addressed her lodger.

"What's the matter with the girl I can't think; I never saw anything
like the change that's come over her the last few days; she looks more
fit for a hospital than anything else--and her temper! She never says
anything to me; I suppose you don't know what's wrong?"

"Mrs. Joyce, I'm not your daughter's confidant; she certainly says
nothing to me in the sense you mean. Why do you take it for granted
that anything's wrong?"

"Because I've got two eyes in my head, that's why. She's not the same
girl she was; that something's wrong I'm certain sure; but she snaps
my nose off directly I open my mouth. I know she thinks a lot of you.
I wondered if she'd said anything to you."

"Absolutely nothing."

"Then I can't understand the girl, and that's flat!"

With that somewhat cryptic utterance Mrs. Joyce went out of the room
as impetuously as she had entered. Rodney stood looking at the door
for a moment or two, as if in doubt whether she would return. He tore
the sheet of paper on which were the two typewritten lines into tiny
scraps and dropped them into the fireplace. Re-reading Miss
Carmichael's epistle, he obeyed her injunctions, a little tardily,
perhaps, and sent the fragments after the others, repeating to himself
as he did so a line from an old song:


                "Of all the girls that are so sweet!"


Then he took an oblong piece of paper out of a letter-case and studied
it.

"'Steamship _Cedric_.--John Griffiths, passenger to New York, cabin
forty-five, berth A.' I wonder if it will be occupied, or if the
money's wasted. That's for to-morrow, or is it to be Buenos Ayres on
Friday, or New York on Saturday?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows if it is to be either?"

He had left the house and was descending the steps when a telegraph
boy approached, with a yellow envelope in his hand.

"Who's it for?" he asked.

"Rodney Elmore, sir."

"I am Rodney Elmore. Wait and see if there's an answer."

The telegram which the envelope contained was a lengthy one; it
covered the whole of the pink slip of paper. He read it through once,
then again. As he read it the second time he whistled, very softly, as
if unconsciously, the opening bars of "Sally in Our Alley."

"There is an answer. Give me a form."

He spread the form the boy gave him out upon his letter-case, then he
seemed to consider what to say; then read the telegram he had received
a third time, as if in search of light and leading. Arriving at a
sudden decision, he wrote on the form the name and address of the
person to whom the message was to be sent, and then one word, "Right."
He added nothing which would show who the sender was; evidently he
took it for granted that it would be recognised that the message came
from him. As he watched the lad mount his bicycle and pedal away, he
said to himself, always with that characteristic air of his, as of one
who appreciates a capital jest:

"That settles it! Now the plot does begin to thicken."



                             CHAPTER XXI

                        THE DEAD MAN'S LETTER


The final understanding had been that those who were to go to the
bank, in order that arrangements might be made which would give them
immediate access to the funds of the late Graham Patterson, were to
meet at the office in St. Paul's Churchyard. On the way to the City
Rodney paid two or three calls. When he entered the office the outer
rooms were empty; there was a notice on the outer door to the effect
that business was suspended on account of Mr. Patterson's funeral. Mr.
Andrews came out of what had been the late proprietor's own sanctum to
greet him.

"Mr. Wilkes is here, Mr. Elmore, and particularly wishes to see you."

Rodney said nothing, but his look suggested that he resented something
which he noticed in the other's manner, as well as the fact that he
had come out of that particular room. Passing on in silence to the
private office, he found Mr. Wilkes seated, not in his uncle's own
chair, as he had been on Monday, but in one close to it. He did not
rise as the young man entered, but contented himself with nodding
slightly. Rodney, scenting something antagonistic in the other's
presence there as well as in his attitude, did not even nod. He
marched straight to the chair behind the writing-table, which he chose
now to regard as his own, and which was within a yard of that on which
the other was seated, and, remaining standing himself, looked down on
the lawyer.

"To what am I indebted, Mr. Wilkes, for your presence to-day? Did you
not notice the intimation on the door, informing all and sundry that
these offices are closed? If it is a business matter on which you have
called, I must ask you to postpone it, at any rate until to-morrow."

Instead of showing any disposition to take himself off, as the other
so plainly suggested, the dark-visaged lawyer, leaning back in his
chair, looked up at the young man with something in his glance which
was not exactly complimentary.

"I have come, Mr. Elmore, a good deal against my own wish, in
consequence of a communication which I have received from Mr.
Patterson."

"From--what do you mean, from Mr. Patterson?"

"A letter came to my office yesterday evening, after I had left, which
was placed in my hands this morning. Before proceeding to take other
steps, I thought it might perhaps save unpleasantness, and be fairer
to you, if, in the first instance, I acquainted you with its
substance."

"From whom is the letter?"

"From your late uncle, Graham Patterson."

"You say it reached you last night? I don't understand."

"Nor I, as yet, quite; I can only form a hypothesis. It seems that the
letter was written at Brighton some time on Sunday. Clearly, from the
postmark, it was posted at Brighton on Sunday. It ought to have
reached me, of course, on Monday, but the presumption is that, owing
to some vagary of the Post Office, it went astray, so that it has been
more than two days on the road, instead of only a few hours. Under the
circumstances that seems rather a curious accident. Here is the
letter. I warn you that you will not find it a pleasant one."

"Is it absolutely necessary, then, that I should know its contents? My
relations with Mr. Patterson were not of a kind to lead me to expect
any pleasantness from him, either on paper or off it."

"The position is this. It is my duty to place this letter
before--someone else, when very serious consequences may ensue; but,
by taking a certain course, you may relieve me of the duty."

"In that case, let me know what is in the letter."

"I had better read it to you, so that you may understand that the
language is the writer's, not mine."

Mr. Wilkes withdrew a letter from an envelope which he took from his
pocket; the envelope he held out to Rodney.

"You see? The address is in your uncle's hand; it was post-marked at
Brighton on Sunday evening, so there can be no doubt about the date on
which it was dispatched."

The lawyer proceeded to read the letter out loud, with a dryness which
seemed to give it peculiar point.


"'DEAR STEPHEN' [my Christian name, I may remind you, is Stephen],--'I
want you to draw up a codicil to my will, and to have it ready for my
signature to-morrow--Monday afternoon.

"'It is to be to the effect that if my daughter marries my nephew,
Rodney Elmore, then all that portion of my will which refers to her is
to be null and void--she is not to have a penny. All that would have
been hers is to be divided equally among the following charities.'
[Then follows a list of them; there are eight. Then the letter goes
on]: 'I hope that's clear enough. Between ourselves, Master Elmore is
an all-round scoundrel; I swear to you that I'm convinced that no
rascality would be too steep for him. He is a liar of the very first
water, a thief, and a forger; so much I can prove. I would sooner have
my girl dead than his wife; the damned young blackguard is after her
for all he knows. But I am going to clear him out in charge of a
constable when I get back to the office; I doubt if he has got tight
enough hold of my girl to induce her to marry a convict--it will be a
clear case of penal servitude for him.

"'I know you will think I am writing strongly, but that is because I
feel strongly. When I tell you the whole story you will admit that I
am justified.

"'Mind you have that codicil ready, on the lines I have given; I will
call in on my way back from the office and sign. I know you do not
touch criminal business as a rule, but you will have to make an
exception in my case. I want you to instruct counsel in the matter of
Master Elmore, for reasons which I will make clear to you when we
meet. Sincerely yours,

                                 "'GRAHAM PATTERSON.'"


When the lawyer had done reading he lowered the letter and glanced up
at the young man, who still stood towering above him. If he expected
to find on his face any signs of confusion, still less of guilt or
shame, his expectation was not realised. There was a look rather on
Rodney's countenance of scorn, of confidence in himself, of contempt
for whoever might speak ill of him, which became him very well. His
remarks, when they came, possibly scarcely breathed the spirit the
solicitor had looked for.

"Have you read that letter to Mr. Andrews?"

"I have not."

"Have you made him acquainted with its contents?"

"I have dropped no hint to him of its existence."

"I have no pretensions to knowledge of the law of libel, but it is
pretty clear that no action can be brought against the man who wrote
that letter. With you the case is different. It was written, I
presume, in confidence to you. If you bring it to the notice of
anybody else you make yourself responsible for the statements it
contains--you publish them. If you call my honour in question by
publishing such a farrago of lies about me I will first of all thrash
you, as they have it, to within an inch of your life, and then, if
needs be, I will spend my last penny in calling you to account in a
court of law. You shall not shelter yourself behind a dead man."

"You use strong language, Mr. Elmore."

"Could I use stronger language than that letter?"

"I understand that you deny the statements it contains?"

"Do I understand that you associate yourself with your correspondent
so far as to require a denial?"

"You misapprehend the situation; whether wilfully or not I don't know.
I have no personal concern in this matter at all; eliminate that idea
from your mind. Graham Patterson was my client living; in a sense he
is still my client dead. I have no option but to continue to do my
duty to him without fear or favour."

"I presume in return for a certain fee, Mr. Wilkes?"

"You forget yourself, sir."

"In this room, Mr. Wilkes, eliminate from your mind all legal
fictions. Don't, for your own sake, drive the fact that you are acting
as my uncle's bravo too far home. In the face of that letter I begin
to understand why he committed suicide. He was either drunk or mad
when he wrote it. When sobriety or sanity returned, realising the
situation in which he had placed himself, rather than face the
consequences of what he had done, he took his own life. Don't you show
yourself to be in possession of the dastard's courage which he
lacked."

"You take up an extraordinary position, Mr. Elmore."

"What is the position you take up?"

"Here is a letter from a man to his lawyer, in which he gives him
instructions to make certain alterations in his will, stating reasons
why he wishes those alterations to be made. It is signed, dated; its
authenticity can be readily established. I am not sure that it has not
a certain testamentary value."

"Are you suggesting that that letter in any way affects my uncle's
will?"

"I am not prepared to give a definite opinion; but this I will say,
that if its existence were to come to the knowledge of the societies
herein mentioned, they would be justified in taking counsel's opinion,
and quite possibly he would advise their taking further action."

"You are, of course, at liberty to take any steps with regard to that
tissue of libels you please, especially as I have made it, I think,
perfectly clear to you that you will do so at your own proper peril."

"Evidently your uncle was averse to your marrying his daughter. Am I
to take it that you admit so much?"

"Oh, I admit so much; he always was averse to that."

"Then, in that case, you will at once resolve the difficulty by
withdrawing all pretensions to Miss Patterson's hand."

"Damn your impudence, sir."

"Is that your answer?"

"It is; with this addition--that I hope, and intend, to marry Miss
Patterson at the earliest possible moment."

"Then, in that case, you leave me no option but to place this letter
before Miss Patterson."

"Is that meant for a threat?"

Andrews appeared in the doorway to announce that Mr. Parmiter was in
the outer office.

"Show Mr. Parmiter in at once for a few minutes, Andrews, if you
please."

As the young solicitor came in Rodney advanced to greet him.

"Hallo, Parmiter! you come in the very nick of time--you see Mr.
Wilkes has favoured me with his company again. Mr. Wilkes, read to Mr.
Parmiter the letter you just now read to me."

"I shall certainly do nothing of the kind. With all possible respect
to Mr. Parmiter, this is a matter in which he has no _locus standi_,
and in which I cannot recognise him at all."

"Why not? He is my solicitor; he advises me. When you have made known
to him the contents of that letter, don't you think it possible that
he may give me the advice which, apparently, you would like him to
give?"

While he was still speaking the door opened to admit Miss Patterson.
He moved to her with both hands held out.

"Now, here is someone whom, I presume, you will recognise--the very
person. Gladys, here is Mr. Wilkes. He has something which he very
much wishes to say to you."

Returning the letter to its envelope, Mr. Wilkes rose from his chair.

"My hands are not going to be forced by you, Mr. Elmore, don't you
suppose it. In making any communication to Miss Patterson which I may
have to make, I shall prefer to choose my own time and place."

"That's it, is it? I quite appreciate the reasons which actuate you,
Mr. Wilkes, in wishing to make what you call your communication to
Miss Patterson behind my back; and I think that Miss Patterson will
appreciate them equally well. Mr. Wilkes has in his hand what he
claims to be a letter from your father. If you take my advice you will
insist on his showing it to you at once."

Miss Patterson was quick to act on the hint which her lover gave her.
She moved close up to the lawyer.

"Mr. Wilkes, be so good as to let me see the letter to which my cousin
refers."

"With pleasure, Miss Patterson, at--if you will allow me to say
so--some more convenient season; the sooner the better. For instance,
may I have a few minutes' private conversation with you this
afternoon? The matter on which I wish to speak to you is for your ear
only."

"You have spoken of it to my cousin?"

"Oh, yes; he has spoken of it to me."

"Then, why can you not speak of it to me in his presence?"

"I will write to you on the subject, Miss Patterson, and will
endeavour to make my reasons clear."

He made as if to move towards the door. She placed herself in front of
him.

"One moment, Mr. Wilkes. Any letter from you will be handed to Mr.
Elmore, unopened. I will have no private communication with you, nor,
if I can help it, will I have any communication with you of any sort
or kind."

"I regret to hear you say so, Miss Patterson, and can only deplore the
attitude of mind which prompts you to arrive at what I cannot but feel
is a most unfortunate decision."

"You are impertinent, Mr. Wilkes."

The lawyer, with his dark eyes fixed on the lady's face, raised the
hand in which was the envelope which contained the letter with the
intention of slipping it into an inner pocket of his coat. Her quick
glance recognised the handwriting of the address.

"It's from dad!" she cried. "It's a letter from dad!"

She had snatched the letter from between the lawyer's fingers before
he had the faintest inkling of what she was about to do.

"Miss Patterson," he exclaimed, "give me back that letter."

She retreated, as he showed a disposition to advance. Mr. Elmore
interposed himself between the lawyer and the lady.

"Steady, Mr. Wilkes, steady. You told me that it would be your duty to
place that letter in Miss Patterson's hands. It is in her hands. What
objection have you to offer?"

Whatever protest the lawyer might have been inclined to make he
apparently came to the conclusion that, at the moment, it would be
futile to make any. He withdrew himself from Elmore's immediate
neighbourhood, and observed the lady, as she read the letter. She read
it without comment to the end. Then she asked:

"When did you get this letter?"

"It reached my office last night, and me this morning; but, as you
see, it was written on Sunday, and would appear to have been delayed
in the post."

She turned to Rodney.

"Have you read this letter?"

"It has been read aloud to me, which comes to the same thing."

"You know--what he says at the end?"

"I do; Mr. Wilkes took special care of that."

"Is it true?"

"It is absolutely false. There is not one word of truth in it. It
comes to me as a complete surprise. Never by so much as a word did
your father lead me to suppose that he had such thoughts of me. I
cannot conceive what can have been the condition of his mind when he
wrote in such a strain. But that letter enables me to begin to
understand that something must have happened to him mentally, and that
when he committed suicide he actually was insane."

Miss Patterson tore the letter in half from top to bottom. The lawyer
broke into exclamation.

"Miss Patterson! What are you doing? You must not do that! Not only is
it not your letter, but it is a document of the gravest legal
importance."

Paying him no heed whatever, the girl continued in silence the
destruction of the letter, going about the business in the most
thorough-going manner, reducing it to the tiniest atoms. When she had
finished with the letter itself, she proceeded to dispose of the
envelope, Mr. Wilkes expostulating hotly all the time, but kept from
active interference by the insistent fashion with which Mr. Elmore
prevented him from getting near the lady. Compelled at last to own
that it was useless to attempt to stay her, he called upon his
colleague to take notice of the outrage to which the letter was
subjected, to say nothing of himself.

"Mr. Parmiter, you are witness of what is being done. This young lady,
with the connivance and, indeed, assistance of this young man, is
destroying a document of the first importance, which is not only in no
sense her own property, but which was obtained from me by what is
tantamount to an act of robbery, accompanied, in a legal sense, by
violence. Of these facts you will be called upon, in due course, to
give evidence."

Mr. Parmiter was still, but the lady spoke.

"Are you not forgetting that Mr. Parmiter is my solicitor, and that a
solicitor cannot give evidence against his own client? I am sorry to
have to seem to teach you law, Mr. Wilkes. Rodney, have you a match?
If so, will you please burn these?"

She held out the fragments of the letter. Mr. Wilkes made a final
attempt at salvage.

"Miss Patterson, I implore you to give me those scraps of paper. It
may still not be too late to piece them together, and so save you from
consequences of whose gravity you have no notion."

Once more the young gentleman interposed.

"Steady, Mr. Wilkes, steady!"

"Remove your hand from my shoulder, sir! You are only making your
position every moment more and more serious!"

Again the lady spoke.

"To use a phrase of which you seem to be rather fond, Mr. Wilkes, in a
legal sense, I believe this is my room. I must ask you to leave it at
once."

"Not before you have given me those scraps of paper, Miss Patterson!"

"If you won't go, I shall reluctantly have to ask Mr. Elmore to put
you out, and, in doing so, to use no more violence than is necessary."

"I entreat you, Miss Patterson, to accept sound advice, and to do
something which may permit of my repairing the mischief you have
caused. Give me those scraps of paper."

"Rodney, will you please put Mr. Wilkes out? But please don't hurt
him!"

The young man put the lawyer out, doing him no actual bodily hurt. He
conducted him through the outer office to the landing, then addressed
the astonished Andrews.

"Andrews, this is Mr. Stephen Wilkes; I believe you know him. Give
instructions that, under no pretext, is he to be admitted to these
offices again. I shall look to you to see that those instructions are
carried out. Good-day, sir."

Shutting the door in the lawyer's face, he audibly turned the key on
the inner side.

"Now, Andrews, would you mind coming into the other room?"

Miss Patterson greeted her cousin with the request she had already
made. She still had the fragments of the letter between her fingers.

"How about that match, Rodney? Please burn these."

He made a little bonfire of them on the hearth, while she went on:

"I don't suppose you will be very eager now to attend my father's
funeral in the capacity of mourner."

"I am not. I would much rather not go at all, if you will pardon the
abstention."

"I would much rather you did not go either--so, Andrews, that is
settled. Also, be so good as to understand that I should prefer that
the funeral should not start from Russell Square."

Mr. Patterson's body had been removed from the station to the
undertaker's, where it at present reposed in a handsome example of the
undertaker's art. The idea had been to bring it in a hearse to Russell
Square, whence the funeral cortège was to start. It was this
arrangement which Miss Patterson wished to have altered. The managing
man silently acquiesced; there was still time to give instructions
that all that was left of his late employer was to be taken straight
from the undertaker's to the cemetery.



                             CHAPTER XXII

                    PHILIP WALTER AUGUSTUS PARKER


The four of them went together to the bank, which was within a
minute's walk. There, the necessary forms being quickly gone through,
a sum of two thousand pounds was credited to Miss Patterson, power
being given to Rodney Elmore to draw on her account for such sums as
were needed for the proper conduct of the business, it being tacitly
understood that he would draw only such sums as were needed for the
business. That matter being settled, they separated; Mr. Andrews and
Mr. Parmiter going their own ways, Miss Patterson and Mr. Elmore
departing together in a cab to lunch. The cab had not gone very far
before the young gentleman made a discovery.

"I've left my letter-case on the table in the bank?"

"Your letter-case? Did you? What a nuisance; I never noticed it. Are
you sure it was on the table?"

"Quite; I remember distinctly; it was under a blotting-pad. What an
idiot I am! I'm frightfully sorry, but I'm afraid I shall have to go
back and get it."

"Of course, we will go back."

The cab returned to the bank. The lady remained inside; the gentleman
passed through the great swing doors--through first one pair, then a
second--it was impossible to see from the street what was taking place
beyond. Once in the bank, the young gentleman said nothing about his
letter-case--it had apparently passed from his memory altogether; but
he presented at the counter a cheque for a thousand pounds, with his
own signature attached. He took it in tens and fives, and a hundred
pounds in gold. If the paying clerk thought it was rather an odd way
of taking so large a sum, he made no comment. He came back through the
swing doors with a letter-case held in his hand.

"I've got it," he explained.

He emphatically had, though she understood one thing and he meant
another. When they had gone some little distance in the direction of
lunch she observed:

"I wish I were not in mourning. I've half a mind to go back and
change."

He observed her critically--he was holding one of her hands under
cover of the apron.

"My dear Gladys, I can't admit that you do look your best in
mourning."

"Do you think that I don't know that?"

"But you look charming, all the same."

"No, I don't; I look a perfect fright."

"I doubt if you could look a fright even if you tried; I'm certain you
don't look one now. In fact, the more I look at you the harder I find
it to keep from kissing you."

"I dare say! You'd better not."

"That's a truth of which I'm unpleasantly aware. Still, if you did
look like anything distantly resembling a fright, I shouldn't have
that feeling so strong upon me, should I?"

"You're not to talk like that in a hansom!"

"I'm merely explaining. I suggest that if you do feel like changing,
you should lunch first, and change afterwards."

"You're coming back with me to Russell Square?"

"Rather!"

"I won't wear mourning--people may say and think what they choose--I
declare I won't. Did you ever see anything like that letter?"

"It was by way of being a curiosity."

"But, Rodney, he said you were--he said you were all sorts of things!
What did he mean?"

"Your father was one of those not uncommon men who always use much
stronger language than the occasion requires--it was a habit of his.
For instance, when, in spite of his very positive commands, I showed
an inclination to continue your acquaintance, he as good as told me I
was a murderer--he said that it was his positive conviction that for
the sake of a five-pound note I'd murder you."

"Did he really?"

"He did. And I dare say that when you showed no desire to cut me dead,
he said one or two nice things to you."

"Oh, he did--several. He made out that I was everything that was bad."

"There you are--that's the kind of man he was."

"But didn't he say something about a policeman--and giving you in
charge?"

"I am sure that he would have given me in charge to twenty policemen
if he could, and that nothing would have pleased him better than to
have had me sent to penal servitude for life."

"What I can't make out is--why did he dislike you so?"

"My dear, I'm afraid the explanation is simple--too simple. I don't
want to hurt your feelings, but I've a notion--a very strong one--that
he didn't like you. He regarded you as a nuisance; you know how he
kept you in the background as long as he could; you interfered with
the sort of life he liked to live; you were in his way."

"He certainly never at any period of his life or mine, showed himself
over-anxious for my company."

"When you did become installed in town, he had formed his own plans
for your future. What precisely was the arrangement between them I
don't pretend to know; but I dare say I shall find out before long--it
won't need much to induce Wilkes to give himself away; but I am
persuaded that it was his intention that you should become Mrs.
Stephen Wilkes."

"But what makes you think so? It seems to me so monstrous. Fancy me as
Mrs. Stephen Wilkes!"

"Thank you, I'd rather not. It's only a case of intuition, I admit,
but I'm convinced I'm right, and one day I may be able to give you
chapter and verse. He was not over-fond of me to begin with, but when
you appeared on the scene, and he saw that his best laid plans bade
fair to gang agley, he suddenly began to develop a feeling towards me
which ended as it has done. It's not a pretty one, but there's my
explanation. But, sweetheart, that page is ended; let's turn it over
and never look back at it; and all the rest of the volume--let's try
our best to make it happy reading."

They ate a fair lunch, considering, and enjoyed it, and afterwards
returned together in a taximeter cab to Russell Square, feeling more
tenderly disposed to each other, and at peace with all the world. When
Miss Patterson had ate and drunk well she was apt to discover a turn
for languorous sentiment which appealed to Mr. Elmore very forcibly
indeed. Since, therefore, it was probably their intention to spend an
amorous afternoon, the shock was all the greater when, on their
arrival at No. 90, they were greeted in the hall by a tall upstanding,
broad-shouldered, soldierly-looking man in whom Gladys recognised the
officer of police who had brought her the news of her father's tragic
fate.

"Inspector Harlow," she exclaimed. "What--what are you doing here?"

It was perhaps only natural that, drawing away from the policeman
towards her lover, she should slip her hands through his arm as if she
looked to him for protection from some suddenly threatening danger.
Rodney pressed his arm closer to his side, as if to assure her she
would find shelter there; though, as she uttered the visitor's name,
he glanced towards him with a look which, as it were, with difficulty
became an odd little smile. The visitor's manner, when he spoke,
suggested mystery.

"Can I say half a dozen words with you, Miss Patterson, in private?"

She led the way to the first room to which they came, which chanced to
be the dining-room, she entering first, then Rodney, the inspector
last. When he was in he shut the door and stood up against it.

"I said, Miss Patterson, in private."

The inspector had an eye on Rodney.

"We are in private; you can say anything you wish to say before this
gentleman. This is Mr. Elmore, to whom I am shortly to be married."

"Mr. Elmore?"

As the officer echoed the name the two men's glances met. In the
inspector's eyes there was an expression of eager curiosity, as if he
were taken by surprise; Rodney's quick perceptions told him that while
his name, and probably more than his name, was known to the other, for
some cause he was the last person he had expected to see; the man was
studying him with an interest which he did not attempt to conceal. The
young man, on his side, was regarding the inspector as if he found him
amusing.

"Well, inspector, when you have quite finished staring at Mr. Elmore,
perhaps you will tell me what it is you have to say."

The girl's candid allusion to the peculiarity which it seemed she had
noticed in his manner had the effect of bringing the officer back to a
consciousness of what he was doing.

"Was I staring? I beg Mr. Elmore's pardon--and yours, Miss Patterson.
I was only thinking that, under the circumstances, it is a fortunate
accident that Mr. Elmore should be present."

"You have omitted to state what are the circumstances to which you
allude."

"I will proceed to supply that omission at once, Miss Patterson. You
will probably think that they are strange ones; and, indeed, they are;
but you will, of course, understand that I am only here in pursuance
of my duty. I have come in consequence of a letter which I received
this morning. I will read it to you."

He took an envelope from a fat pocket-book.

"It bears no address, and is not dated; but the envelope shows that it
was posted last night at Beckenham.


"'To Inspector Harlow.

"'Sir,--Mr. Graham Patterson did not commit suicide; he was murdered.

"'If you can make it convenient to be at Mr. Graham Patterson's late
residence, No. 90, Russell Square, to-morrow, Wednesday, afternoon at
3.30, I will be there also, and will point out to you the murderer.

                          "'Your obedient servant,

                          "'Philip Walter Augustus Parker.'"


Silence followed when the inspector ceased to read. The officer was
engaged in folding the letter and returning it to its envelope; Gladys
looked as if she were too startled to give ready utterance to her
feelings in words. Rodney was possibly trying to associate someone of
whom he had heard with the name of Parker--and failing. His memory did
not often play him tricks; he was pretty sure that no one of that name
was known to him. The inspector was the first to speak.

"You will, of course, perceive, Miss Patterson, that the probabilities
are that this letter is a hoax; the signature, Philip Walter Augustus
Parker, in itself suggests a hoax. Then there is the absence of an
address. And, of course, we have the verdict of the coroner's jury,
and the evidence on which it was found. I am quite prepared to learn
that I have come to Russell Square, and troubled you with my presence,
for nothing. But at the same time, in my position, I did not feel
justified in not coming, on the very off-chance of making the
acquaintance of Philip Walter Augustus Parker. It is now on the stroke
of half-past three; we will give him a few minutes' grace, after
which--if, as I expect will be the case, there are still no signs of
him--I'll take myself off, with apologies, Miss Patterson. But should
he by any strange chance put in an appearance, I would ask you to have
him at once shown in here."

Hardly had the inspector done speaking than there was the sound of an
electric bell and a rat-tat-tat at the front door. The trio in the
dining-room could scarcely have seemed more startled had they been
suddenly confronted by a ghost. The inspector's voice sank to a
whisper.

"If the name's Parker, would you mind asking the servant--in here?"

A gesture supplied the words he had omitted in his sentence. He held
the door open so that Gladys could speak to the maid who was coming
along the hall. She did so, also in lowered tones.

"If that's a person of the name of Parker show him at once in here."

She withdrew; the inspector shut the door; there was a pause; no one
spoke; each of the three stood and listened. They could hear the front
door opened and steps coming along the hall. Then the dining-room door
was opened by a maid, who announced:

"Mr. Parker."

There entered the little man who had followed the example set by
Rodney of getting out of the train in Redhill Tunnel.



                            CHAPTER XXIII

                        NECESSARY CREDENTIALS


The moment he appeared Rodney knew that he had been expecting him;
that somewhere at the back of his mind there had been a feeling that
it was he who was coming. His impulse was to take him by the throat
and crush the life out of him before he had a chance of saying a word;
which was the impulse of a badly frightened man. But he seldom lost
his presence of mind for long; and, on that occasion, he had it again
almost as soon as it had gone; indeed, within the same second he was
smiling at himself for having allowed himself to be disposed towards
such crass folly.

So far as Rodney was able to judge the little man was clad just as he
had been on Sunday evening--in the same shabby tweed suit, the old
unbrushed boots, with the same suggestion about him that he might
easily have been improved by a more intimate acquaintance with soap
and water. He had his hat in one hand, and with the other he rubbed
his scrubby chin. No one could have seemed more at his ease. Without
offering any sort of greeting he immediately proceeded to address the
inspector, while the maid was still closing the door, in that thin,
unmusical, penetrating voice which Rodney had so much disliked.

"So you are there, Harlow, are you? I wondered if you'd have sense
enough to come."

He rounded off his sentence with the snigger which had so jarred on
the young man's sensitive nerves, and which affected Gladys so
unpleasantly that, with what seemed to be a start of repulsion, she
moved closer to her lover's side. The stranger noted the movement, and
commented on it--again with the uncomfortable snigger.

"That's right; get as close as you can; he'll keep you safe; anyone
will be safe who gets close enough to him. You're Miss Patterson; I
could tell you anywhere by your likeness to your father. You're not
the kind of girl I care about, any more than he was the kind of man.
Who's the youngster? Now, there is someone worth looking at; why, he's
as handsome as paint, and of quite unusual force of character for so
young a man. Miss Patterson, the girl who gets him for a lover will
have a lover of a kind of which she has no notion. He's a most
remarkable young man."

"With a view, perhaps, of checking the stranger's volubility, the
inspector administered what was possibly meant for a rebuke.

"If you would confine yourself to the business which has brought you
here, sir, it would be as well. Are you Mr. Parker?"

"I am; Philip Walter Augustus Parker--a lot of name for a man of my
size."

"You sent me a letter last night from Beckenham?"

"I did."

"Stating that Mr. Graham Patterson did not commit suicide."

"Exactly."

"But was murdered?"

"He was."

"You went on to say that if I were here this afternoon you would point
out to me the murderer."

"I will."

"Point him out."

"I am."

"I thought so."

"I knew you did. I saw on your intelligent visage that you knew what
was coming. You have some experience of cranks who accuse themselves
of crimes of which they are innocent; you take it for granted that I
am one of them, which shows what a dunce you are. I am a lunatic.
That's right, Harlow, smile again. I knew that would tickle you. A
policeman's sense of humour is his own."

"It is necessary, Mr. Parker, that I should warn you that anything you
say will be taken down and used against you."

"Quite right, Harlow; take it down; but as for using it against me,
that's absurd. The law does not punish lunatics; whatever they may do
it holds them guiltless. I'm an example of the inadequacy of the law
to protect the public from what I may describe as the lunatic at
large. It is not sufficiently recognised that there is an order of
dementia which may at any time develop into homicidal mania, and that,
therefore, a lunatic, unless he is kept in safe keeping, may kill,
with impunity, whom he pleases--as I have done. I have killed Graham
Patterson; yet no one may venture to kill me. My life is more sacred
than that of a sane man in the eyes of the law."

The inspector looked at the girl significantly.

"I think, Miss Patterson, that I had better deal with Mr. Parker
alone."

"And, Miss Patterson, I think not. What I am about to say will be
found of interest not only by you, but also by--that extraordinary
young man. Harlow, your duty is to take down what I am about to say in
writing; don't exceed it. Shut the door. Miss Patterson will stay
where she is."

The inspector looked at the lady, as if for instructions. As she gave
no sign, beyond drawing a little closer to her lover, he shut the
door, which he had opened a few inches. Mr. Parker beamed at him with
a grotesque little air of triumph.

"There, Harlow--you see! Now attend to me. Suppose, before I go any
further, we all sit down; my tale may take some minutes; I don't want
anyone to get tired of standing. You won't? Very good--then stand.
There are plenty of chairs, and very comfortable some of them seem;
but, of course, I don't propose to force you to occupy them if you
would rather not. Now--attention! To begin at the beginning."

Again he indulged in the uncomfortable sort of laughter which, more
than anything else, revealed the disorder of the creature's mind.

"On Sunday evening I bolted from my keeper, one Metcalf, in whose
charge I have been for six or seven months, and of whom I was tired to
extinction--an unclubable fellow who never talks unless he has
something to say. I left Brighton station on the 9.10 train. Until the
train started I was the sole occupant of a first-class carriage, at
which I was not displeased. I had some idea of committing suicide
myself. Life, I assure you, has little to offer me. I am just sane
enough to know that I never shall be saner. There's a wall--a wall
which I shall never climb, and which shuts me out--from I don't know
what. If I were left alone--I so seldom am; they won't leave me
alone!--here would be an excellent opportunity to consider the best
way out of it. You may fancy, then, what my feelings were when, just
as the train was starting, another passenger entered--bundled in by an
extremely officious porter. He would never have caught the train if it
hadn't been for the porter--in which case he would have been still
alive--so that one may say, logically, the porter killed him. The
fellow certainly ought to be punished."

He waved his hat with a gesture which was possibly intended to
represent the execution of the porter in question.

"The man who had entered my compartment, Miss Patterson, was your
father--in every respect a most objectionable person, combining in
himself nearly everything that I most object to--bloated, overfed,
nearly drunk, horrible to contemplate. He sat there perspiring,
puffing, panting, gasping for breath; I half expected he would have a
fit. But, instead of having a fit, before the train had gone very far
he was asleep, fast asleep. Could any conduct have been more
disgusting?--drunken sleep! With a man of my stamp at the other end
of the carriage, could anything have been more insulting? And he
snored--such snores! I declare to you he made more noise than the
train did; if that extraordinary young man had been in the next
compartment he'd have heard him. And his jaw dropped open--it was
that gave me the idea. Who is it says that trifles light as air lead
to I don't know what? It was that trifle which led to my killing your
father, Miss Patterson."

Again the cackling giggle, which made the girl try to draw still
nearer to her lover, as if the thing were possible.

"Some time before I had come into possession of quite a quantity of
potassium cyanide; I won't say how--I had. The artfulness of lunatics
is proverbial, and I'm as artful as any of them; on that point I refer
you to Metcalf, as well as to others who have had me in their charge,
both in asylums and out of them--they'll tell you! It was in the form
of tabloids, looking just like sweeties, in a nice little silver box;
enough to kill a street. I had meant to use it to kill myself, but at
the sight of that dreadful man, with his bulging mouth, I thought--why
not use it to kill him? Pop one into his mouth, and the trick was
done! I moved inch by inch and foot by foot along the seat towards his
end of the carriage; he still snored on, paying no attention of any
sort to me; he was a horrid, vulgar man. At last I was right in front
of him; I might have been ten miles away for all he knew. How he
snored, and how his jaws did gape! I had the silver box in one hand
and a tabloid between the finger and thumb of the other, and I leaned
forward and popped it into his open mouth."

Mr. Parker illustrated his words by his gestures, with the air of one
who was telling an amusing tale.

"Oh, what a change came over him! You should have seen it! He snored
the tabloid right down his throat, and he gave a great gasp and was
dead. He had not even waked; I am sure that he never knew I was on the
seat in front of him, or that I was in the carriage at all. There was
his huge carcase bolt upright in front of me, and I knew that he would
never snore any more. It made me feel quite odd; it was all so sudden
and so funny. I daresay it would have made that extraordinary young
man feel odd, eh?"

He looked up at Rodney with a leer which made his mean, wrinkled face
all at once seem bestial. But he never faltered in his story, which he
told with a sniggering relish which lent it a quality of horror which
no display of dramatic, conscience-stricken intensity could possibly
have done.

"My idea had been to tell the porters all about it the first time the
train stopped; it would have been funny to see the fuss they'd have
made; I shouldn't have cared. But it so happened that the signal was
against us, and the train stopped in the middle of Redhill tunnel."

The inspector allowed no hint to escape him of what he knew or did not
know. He kept his eyes fastened on the little man, as if his wish were
not so much to follow his actual words, but to see something which
might be behind them.

"When it stopped I had another idea, quite as brilliant as the first.
Why should I go through the nuisance of a trial for murder? With a
little management, if this objectionable person were found in a
carriage by himself, it might be taken for granted that he had
committed suicide, which would be too funny. So I put the silver box
open in his fingers, slipped out of the carriage into the tunnel--in
the darkness no one saw me--waited for the train to go, then walked
after it, out of the tunnel, up the banks, across the fields to
Redhill Station; had a drink or two, which I was in want of; went on
by the 10.40, until at Croydon I was joined by Metcalf, who had got
there first. For the rest of the tale refer to him."

Continuing, Mr. Parker seemed to address his remarks particularly to
Rodney:

"You never would have thought that it could be so easy to kill a man,
and have it brought in as suicide, would you? When I read the report
of the inquest in the papers, I was amazed to find how easy it
really was. Then it occurred to me that as, of course, he had been
murdered--I knew that--why shouldn't I communicate with the police,
after all? No harm would come to me; lunatics are protected by the
law. It would be different if he had been murdered by--you; you would
quite certainly be hung. I shall go to Broadmoor. I have rather a
fancy for Broadmoor. I am told that they are all of them lunatics
there; I should like to see. At any rate, they have all of them done
something; no lunatic I've met ever did anything worth doing. They
must be interesting people. But certain credentials are necessary for
Broadmoor, and now I think I've earned them. If the part I've played
in this little affair of Graham Patterson doesn't qualify me for
Broadmoor, then I should very much like to know what would. Eh, young
man, eh?"



                             CHAPTER XXIV

                            LOVERS PARTING


Inspector Harlow having gone, with Mr. Parker as close companion, the
lovers being again alone together, it was pretty plain that they were
conscious that, since entering the house, the situation had materially
changed. Rodney, try how he might, could not erase from his mind, so
quickly as he wished, the impression that he had been assisting at
some hideous nightmare. He had supposed, at the sight of the little
man, that his accuser had come into the room. His nerves were strained
in the expectation that every moment the charge would be made. Even as
the instants passed, and he began to see the drift of the tale which
the man was telling, inventing it as he went on, he had a feeling that
he was only playing with him as a cat does with a mouse, and that,
just when it seemed least likely, he would right-about-face and,
perhaps with that diabolical snigger of his, place the onus of the
guilt on him. Now that the fellow had actually gone, a self-accused
prisoner in the inspector's charge, the feeling that he was still
taking part in some fantastic drama seemed stronger than ever.

Gladys, on her side, when at last she broke the curious silence, which
prevailed longer than either of them supposed after they had been left
together, quickly showed that she was obsessed by a mood in which he
did not know her, in which, as it were, she had slipped out of his
reach.

"Rodney, do you think that what that man said is true?"

"He seemed to give chapter and verse for most of it."

"But if it's true--dad didn't take his own life!"

"If it's true."

"But don't you see what a difference that makes?"

"Of course it makes a difference; but in what sense do you mean?"

"In every sense--every sense! Do you think--that while he's being
buried--I should be here--if I had known that he was murdered? He was
my father."

"In any case he was that."

"Not in any case, not in any case! I may have got him all wrong! I may
have misjudged! I may--I don't know what I mayn't have done. There's
the letter!"

"What letter?"

"To Mr. Wilkes. You said, when he wrote it, he was mad, and that
taking his own life proved it. I thought so. But, if he didn't take
his own life, what then?" Rodney made an effort to regain his
self-possession, and partially succeeded.

"My dear Gladys, the whole business is a bad one, whichever way you
look at it. We are to be married on Monday."

"Monday? Married--to you?"

The knowledge of women on which he was apt to pride himself ought to
have warned him that this was not the same girl as the one with whom
he had come back from lunch in the cab. But at the moment he was not
yet quite himself; his perception was at fault. He made a mistake.

"My dear Gladys, you are perfectly well aware that the arrangement, as
it stands at present, is that we are to be married on Monday. I was
merely about to suggest that, as it would seem that this whole
unfortunate affair is likely to prove too much, we should be married
to-morrow instead, and then we shall be able to get out of this
unpleasant atmosphere at the earliest possible moment."

"Stop! stop!"

She shouted at rather than spoke to him.

"Perhaps I shall not be married to you at all."

He stared at her in genuine amazement.

"Gladys! What are you talking about? What do you mean?"

"I don't know what I mean; I almost hope I never may know."

"My dear child; that wretched man."

"Have you ever seen him before?"

"Seen whom?"

"You know quite well. That--wretched man."

"So far as I'm aware, never in my life. What makes you ask such a
question?"

"Are you sure? Do you swear it?"

"How can a man swear to a thing like that? But I do swear that, to the
best of my knowledge and belief, I have never seen him before."

"Then how came it that he knew you so well?"

"Knew me so well? Gladys! What are you dreaming about? Why, he never
even addressed me by name."

"No, I noticed that; but he addressed you all the same. Most of what
he said was especially addressed to you, as if he knew that you would
understand."

"What are you driving at?"

"What's more, he saw that I was afraid of you."

"Afraid? You? Why, you could hardly have snuggled closer."

"That was because I was afraid to let you know how afraid of you I
was."

"Gladys! Has that creature turned your brain?"

"I--I don't know. Oh, if I could only say a few words to dad--if I
only could!"

"What would they be?"

"I would--ask him--how--he died."

"You have two stories offered for your choice. Are you content with
neither?"

"Rodney, if my father were standing here now, and his spirit may be,
would you tell me, in his presence, that you don't know why he
disliked you?"

"Are you going into that all over again? To what end?"

"What does that man know of you? What does he know?"

"How can I tell what a half-witted man knows of me, or thinks he
knows? Certainly he knows nothing to my discredit."

"Rodney--don't."

"Don't what?"

"You know! You do know! I can see in your eyes you know! Please go!"

"Sweetheart!"

"Don't--speak to me--like that--now. Go!"

"You surely are not in earnest. You cannot wish me to leave you before
this extraordinary misunderstanding which has so inexplicably sprung
up is cleared away. Tell me what is in your mind--frankly, all! I
quite understand how this wretched man, Parker, may have turned your
thoughts into unexpected currents and filled you with miserable
doubts. I assure you he has upset me more than I care to tell you."

"I know that he upset you! I felt you were upset when I was so close
to you. I can see it now."

If for the moment he was disconcerted--and the lady's manner was
disconcerting--he slurred it over with creditable skill.

"Come, Gladys; let's try to get back to where we were--to perfect
understanding. Tell me your doubts, no matter how insoluble they may
seem to you. I promise you I'll solve them."

"I'm sure you will; I feel you could solve anything, but I am afraid
of your solution."

Before he had an inkling of her intention she had passed rapidly
across the floor and from the room.

"Gladys!" he exclaimed.

But it was too late; she had gone. He stood staring at the door
through which she had vanished, irresolute. Should he follow her,
possibly to her bedroom, and entreat her for a hearing? For once in
his life he had been taken wholly unawares; he had not suspected that
this Gladys was in the Gladys he had known. Often a man lives to a
ripe old age, ignorant how many women are contained in the one woman
he knows best. Then, as if unwittingly, his fingers strayed to the
pocket in which were the proceeds of the cheque he had cashed while
Gladys, without in the cab, had supposed him to have gone into the
bank for his letter-case. Apparently the touch decided him; often a
little thing brought him to an instant decision. Without making any
further effort to gain the lady's ear, he buttoned his coat across his
chest, took his hat and stick from off the table, and quietly left the
house.



                             CHAPTER XXV

                       STELLA'S BETROTHAL FEAST


That evening Rodney Elmore was at a dinner given at a famous
restaurant in honour of his engagement to Stella Austin, quite a
different sort of meal from that at which he had assisted at the
Misses Claughton's house in Kensington. If in his manner there was an
unusual touch of nervousness, it was not unbecoming; the bride that
was to be was not entirely herself. He met her as, with her father and
mother, she entered the hall. She said to him, as he fell in by her
side:

"I did hope, Rodney, that you would have come to fetch me."

"My dear, it's only by the skin of my teeth that I've got here myself!
Do you think that I wouldn't have come if I could?"

She said nothing in reply, but as she passed towards the ladies'
cloak-room there was a look on her face which almost suggested tears.
Her mother's manner, as she greeted him, was not too genial:

"So you are here? Well, I suppose that's something!"

Mr. Austin, as he deposited his hat and coat with the attendant,
seemed very much in the same key.

"We should have been here some minutes ago, only Stella would have it
you were coming to fetch her; we should have been waiting for you
still if she had had her way. How was it you didn't come? She's quite
disappointed; rather a pity that the evening should have begun with a
misunderstanding of that sort."

Rodney drew the gentleman aside.

"I take it, Mr. Austin, that you haven't heard the news?"

"To what news do you refer?"

"It is now stated that my uncle did not commit suicide, but was
murdered."

"But I thought the coroner's jury had returned a verdict of suicide."

"That is so; but this afternoon a man named Parker gave himself up to
the police, on his own confession, as having murdered my uncle. You
will understand that I--I have had rather a trying day."

"On his confession? Is the man a lunatic?"

"That's just it; he is, yet it seems only too likely that--he did what
he says he did."

"But how came he to make his confession in your presence? Do you know
the man?"

"Not I; he's an entire stranger to me; but I'll tell you all about it
later. I don't want you to say anything to the ladies or anyone; I
only mention it to you because I want you to understand how it is that
I am not in such--such good fettle as I might be for an occasion of
this kind; and also because I want you, if needs be, to help me with
Stella."

"My dear boy, of course I will. It is only natural that, at a time
like this, a girl should think that there's nothing of much
consequence except her own affairs; but I'll stand by you, never fear.
I rather wish that the whole thing had been postponed, but Stella
wouldn't hear of it. There's Tom not at all himself; he wanted Mary
Carmichael to come, and Stella wanted her to come, in fact, we all
wanted her to come, but she hasn't. I've been told nothing, but I can
see there's some trouble there. Altogether the evening doesn't look as
if it were going to be quite such a merry one as I had hoped it would
have been; however, we must make the best of it. Cheer up, lad; put
your troubles behind you for this night only."

That was a prescription which at any rate the prescriber's son did not
seem at all disposed to follow, as Rodney quickly learnt when Tom
appeared a little tardily. Tom's naturally good-humoured face wore an
expression of unwonted gloom, and there was that in his air and
general bearing which accorded ill with a time of feasting and making
merry.

"You know, old chap, I oughtn't to be here, I really didn't. I shall
queer the whole show. Unless I drink too much, and put my spirits up
that way, I shall give everyone the hump; and when I start on that lay
I'm apt to get my spirits up a bit too much, so I don't know that that
will have a good effect either."

Rodney laughed as he put his hand on the speaker's shoulder.

"Why, Tom, what's wrong?"

"I don't know what's wrong, but something's wrong. I do know that.
When the governor told me about this kick-up to-night, I wrote to Mary
and told her all about it, and asked her to come up, and so on, and
said I'd run down to Brighton this morning to bring her up, and told
her the train I'd come by, and asked her to meet me at the station.
She didn't meet me at the station--that was shock number one; and then
when I got to the house, if you please, the servant didn't want to let
me in--she wanted to make me believe that Mary was out. I wasn't
taking that; I would go in, and I saw her old aunt--she's an old dear,
she is. After a while, and she'd told no end of them, she owned up
that Mary was in all the time she'd been telling them. She was up in
her bedroom, and had given word that if I called she wouldn't see me.
You might have bowled me over with an old cork."

"The lady wasn't well."

"Her health was all right; the old girl owned as much. She said Mary
was perfectly well, but beyond that she wouldn't say anything; and she
made out that she couldn't; and she wouldn't send a message up, or a
note, or anything. She said that she knew her niece well enough to be
sure that that would be no use. But when she saw that I was set, she
said that if I chose I might go up and try my luck. So, if you please,
up I went, and rapped at her bedroom door."

"Summoned her to surrender, quite in the good old style; and she did?"

"Not much she didn't. I spoke to her through the bedroom door, I
called out to her, I as nearly as possible howled; I daresay I rapped
as many as twenty times--I know I made my knuckles sore But she took
not the slightest notice, not a sound came from the other side; she
might have been stone deaf or dead. In fact, I wanted to tell her that
I felt sure that something dreadful had happened, and that if she
wouldn't speak I should have to break down the door to see what was
wrong. But the old girl wouldn't have it. She said that she had had
enough of that folly, and when I talked about camping out on the
door-mat she marched me off downstairs, feeling all mops and brooms,
and all over the place. Then it came out that when I was at the front
door she had told the old girl that she wouldn't see me, and nothing
would make her see me, and had rushed up to her bedroom and locked
herself in. So I came back from Brighton all alone, and the wonder is
I didn't start to drink and keep on at it; only I had a sort of
feeling that if I began by being squiffy when I got here things
wouldn't be so very much brighter; besides, there's always time to
start that sort of thing if you are set on it."

"My dear old chap, you've done something to upset the lady's
apple-cart; you'll have a letter telling you all about it in the
morning."

"I hope so, but I doubt it; I might have known I was feeling too much
bucked up. You know she never said exactly yes; she sort of let me
take it for granted, and perhaps I took it a little too much for
granted; I feel that perhaps that's how it is. But if she's off with
me, I'm done--clean. She could make a man of me, even the kind of
article the governor thinks a man; but no one else could. If she won't
have me, I shall emigrate, that's what I shall do; I shall go to one
of those cheery spots where you get knocked out by blackwater fever,
or sleeping sickness, or something nice of that sort, three months
after you've landed."

Notice being given that dinner was ready, Rodney led Stella into the
private room in which it was to be served cheerfully enough, bestowing
on her admiring glances and whispering what he meant to be sweet
things into her pretty ear as they went.

"My hat! that's a duck of a frock you're arrayed in; you do look
scrumptious."

"I'm glad you think so."

The maid's manner was a trifle prim; she plainly wished him to
understand that she was still a little out with him. He smiled at her.

"I don't know what you're laughing at."

"Would you rather I cried?"

"I'm afraid poor Tom feels like crying. Isn't it strange Mary not
coming, and sending no message, or anything--nothing to explain? Have
you heard how she treated Tom?"

They had reached the dinner-table, and were settling themselves in
their places.

"Stella, be so good as to understand, once for all, that there's only
one subject to-night, and that's you. All other subjects are tabooed.
Are you quite comfortable? Don't put your chair too far off; so that,
if you feel like it, you can put your baby foot out towards mine and
with your wee slipper crush my favourite corn."

"Rodney, I'm glad you are going to talk to me at last, though I don't
suppose you have thought of me once all day."

"Shall I tell you what I've been looking for ever since I came?"

"I expect for somewhere to smoke."

"I've been looking for--say, a curtained nook, where I can have you
alone for about five minutes, and have a few of those kisses of which
I have been dreaming this livelong day."

"If you had come and fetched me you might have had one kiss--in the
cab."

"I'll have one kiss when I take you back--one!"

"Oh, you are going to take me back?"

"I am; and I'm going to eat you on the way; then you'll understand
what you escaped by my not fetching you."

"You're not to talk like that; people will hear you."

"Let 'em. Fancy if you'd arrived here with that lovely frock all
crumpled--two in a cab! People would have wondered what you had been
doing."

"Rodney, if you will talk like that I shall crush your favourite
corn."

"Crush it!"

"Please pass me the salt."

Whether, while he passed her the salt, she did crush it, there was
nothing to show.

The feast passed off better than, at one time, it had promised to do.
There were about twenty people present. Mr. Austin had whipped up, at
a moment's notice, various relations, and also certain persons who
were intimately connected with the firm of which he was head; he
desired to introduce to them not only his future son-in-law, but also
the probable partner in his business. Most of these people were very
willing to be entertained, simple souls, easily pleased, and the
dinner was a good one. Even Tom, who found himself next to a girl with
mischievous eyes and a saucy tongue, was inclined to shed some of his
melancholy before the menu was half-way through.

"I never did meet a girl who says such things as you do," he told her,
with a frankness which was perhaps meant for laudation. "You are quite
too altogether."

"You see," she said, with her eyes fixed demurely on her plate, "it
doesn't matter what one does say to some people, does it?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Of course some people don't count, do they?"

"By that I suppose you mean that I'm a----"

She did not wait for him to finish.

"Oh, not at all."

She looked at him with innocence in her glance, which was too perfect
to be real.

"How many times have you been ploughed?"

"Who's been telling you tales about me?"

"I was only thinking that it doesn't matter if one hasn't brains so
long as one has looks, and you have got those, haven't you?"

Tom's face, as the minx said this, in a voice which was just loud
enough to reach his ears, would have made a good photographic study.
Beyond a doubt he was in a fair way to lose some of his sadness, at
least for the time.

When the cloth had been removed the giver of the feast, getting on to
his feet, made the usual half jovial, half sentimental references to
the occasion which had brought them together; and, in wishing the
young couple well, made special allusion to the fact that he was not
only welcoming a son, but also a colleague. The toast he ended by
proposing could not have been better received. Then, while the young
maiden sat blushing, the young man stood up, and, in a brief yet deft
little speech, told how happy they all had made him, how the hopes
which he had cherished for years had at last been realised, how dear
those hopes had been to him, how unworthy he was of all the good gifts
which had descended on him. But of this they might be sure, that if he
had health and strength--and at present he was very well and pretty
strong, thanking them very much--he would do his very best in the
years to come to prove that he could at least appreciate those things
which Providence had bestowed on him. The young man sat down on quite
a pathetic note, and the girl by his side pressed his hand and looked
as if this were indeed one of those moments of which she had dreamed.

Then there were other speeches and all sorts of kind things were said,
which, at such times, one takes it for granted should be said. The
young man was made much of, and the maiden, if possible, even more.
And when the feast was really ended, and all the good wishes had been
wished again and again, and there came the time of parting, even Mr.
Austin was obliged to confess to himself that everything could
scarcely have gone off better. His wife was radiant, some of the
shadows had gone from Tom's face; apparently the young lady with the
mischievous eyes had in some subtle way, the secret of which she only
possessed, acted the part of the sun in dispelling the clouds; Stella
could not by any possibility have looked happier or Rodney prouder.
Tom, it is believed, saw the young lady with the mischievous eyes home
in one cab, and it is certain that Rodney was with Stella in another.
What took place during that journey in the cab between the restaurant
and Kensington it is not perhaps easy to determine precisely, but
beyond a doubt Rodney had that one kiss which had been spoken of, and
probably others; for when the house in Kensington was reached, and the
young lady ran up the steps to the front door, she was in a state of
the most delightful agitation. And in the house there was the final
parting, which occupied a considerable time, for they had to say to
each other the things which they had already said more than once, and
which Rodney at least could say so well and to which the girl so loved
to listen.

"I think that, after all, to-night has made up for to-day. Do you
know, Rodney," and she looked up into his face with something shining
in her pretty eyes, "that to-day I have had the most curious fancies?
I was actually frightened; I don't know at what, but I do know that
somehow it was because of you. Wasn't it silly?"

"I am not sure that it's ever silly for you to be frightened because
of me; I'm in the most delicious terror all day, and sometimes all
night, because of you; but you are a goose."

Then he held her perhaps a little closer, and whispered:

"It has been something of a night, hasn't it? For the first time in my
life I feel as if I were a person of some importance. You couldn't
have your betrothal feast again to-morrow, could you?"

She smiled.

"I doubt it; but we might have a silver betrothal feast as well as a
silver wedding. Hasn't that sort of thing ever been done?"

He laughed at the conceit, and when the parting really did come she
was looking forward as through a dim mist, towards that silver time at
which he had hinted; and when she went upstairs she prayed that after
five-and-twenty years of married life she might be as happy as she was
then. And all night she slept sweetly, dreaming the happiest dreams of
all that took place during the passage of the years, through which she
walked with the husband whom she loved so dearly, ever heart in heart
and hand in hand. That night was to her a halcyon time.



                             CHAPTER XXVI

                              GOOD NIGHT


When Rodney Elmore went home, as his cab drew up in front of his
lodgings a man came quickly across the road and stood so that he was
between him and the entrance to the house.

"Mr. Rodney Elmore?"

Rodney looked him up and down. It was not a very good light just
there, but it was clear enough for him to recognise the man who had
greeted him. For the first time in his life a feeling that was
something very like dizziness went all over him, so that he all but
reeled; but that self-control which so seldom quitted him except for
the briefest instant was back before it had actually gone. He did not
reel, but stood quite still, and, with a smile upon his face, looked
the man fairly and squarely in the eyes.

"That is my name--I am Rodney Elmore; but you, sir--pray, who are
you?"

"My name is Edward Giles. But I don't think that that can mean much to
you, Mr. Elmore."

"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Giles, but, as you say, your name
does convey absolutely nothing to me. What is it that I can have the
pleasure of doing for you at this latish hour?"

The man was silent for a moment. Then a curious smile flitted across
his face as he came a half-step nearer.

"Think, Mr. Elmore. I shouldn't be surprised if you had rather a good
memory. Don't you remember me?"

"Not the least in the world, Mr. Giles."

"It isn't so very long ago since you saw me."

"Indeed! I presume it was on rather a special occasion, Mr. Giles,
since you appear to be rather anxious to recall it to my
recollection."

"It was rather a special occasion for you, Mr. Elmore; and a still
more special occasion--for Mr. Patterson."

"My uncle?"

"Yes, Mr. Elmore, your uncle. Don't you remember last Sunday evening
at Brighton station?"

Rodney hesitated.

"Why do you ask?"

"You do remember, Mr. Elmore, and so do I. I can see you still, coming
sauntering down the platform smoking a cigarette and looking into the
first-class carriages to see which of them would suit you best. You
chose one, and then stood for a moment or two at the door, looking up
and down the platform, to see, as it were, if there was anything which
caught your eye. Then you got into the carriage, and took the seat at
the farther end, facing the engine. You thought you were going to
journey up all alone, but just as the train was starting a stout,
elderly gentleman came bustling along. Yours was the only carriage
door that was open, and I helped him in. I shut the door, and you went
out of the station together. Don't you remember that? Look at me
carefully. Don't you remember that I was the party who helped your
uncle into your carriage? Just look at me and think."

Again Rodney hesitated, and seemed to think. Then he said, in a tone
the indifference of which was perhaps a trifle studied:

"Really, Mr. Giles, I don't quite know what it is you expect me to
say."

The man gave a little laugh.

"Anyhow, Mr. Elmore, you've said it."

Without an attempt at a farewell greeting, he walked quickly back
across the street, to where, as Rodney had been aware, another person
had been waiting.

The pair walked briskly off together side by side, and Rodney went up
the steps into the house. He knew that, as he had expected, the
presence of that platform inspector was going to prove awkward for
him; more awkward than he cared to think. But he did think, as he
turned into his sitting-room; and still stood thinking as the door was
gently opened and Mabel Joyce came in. Her agitation was almost
unpleasantly evident. One could see that her hands were trembling,
that her lips were twitching, and that, indeed, it was all she could
do to keep her whole body from shaking. She came quickly towards the
table, and leaned upon the edge; plainly it was a very real assistance
in aiding her to stand. And her voice was as tremulous as her person.

"Did--did you see him?"

"My dear Mabel, did I see whom?"

She seemed to clutch the table still more tightly.

"Rodney, don't! It's no good. Do you think I don't know? What's the
good of pretending with me, when you know--I know? What cock-and-bull
story is this about some man, some fool, some lunatic, who says--he
did it? Do you think that I don't know, that Mr. Dale doesn't
know, that they all don't know? Rodney," and her voice trembled so
that it was with pain she spoke at all, "there'll--there'll--be a
warrant--out--in the morning. Oh, my God! my God!"

And the girl threw herself forward on the table, crying and trembling
as if on the verge of a convulsion.

"What on earth, Mabel, is the use of spoiling your pretty face like
this? I am a little worried to-night, and that's the truth. If there's
anything you want to say to me, old girl, say it, and have done with
it."

He sighed. She raised herself from the table, and looked across at
him.

"Rodney, it won't be any use our marrying." There was a big sob. "That
won't save you--now. God knows what will."

"It's really very good of you to worry about the sort of man that I
have been to you; take my tip, my dear, don't worry. I'll win
through."

"But how? How? You don't understand! This--this fool, whoever he is,
who pretends he did it, has only made them all the keener. They--they
mean to have you now."

"They? And who are _they?_"

"There's Dale, and Giles, and Harlow, and--and don't ask me who
besides. They're all wild because--because you tricked them; because
they made such idiots of themselves at the inquest."

Rodney raised his arms above his head, and stretched himself, and
yawned, as if he were a little weary.

"They were a trifle premature; coroner, and jury, an eminent
specialist, and Harlow, and all--the whole jolly lot of them. I don't
wonder they feel a trifle wild. But why with me?"

"You know, Rodney--you know! You know! Oh, don't--don't pretend!"

"On my word of honour--if it's any use employing that pretty figure of
speech with you--I am not pretending. I've still another trick in the
bag; that's all. And that's what you don't give me credit for, my
dear."

"What--what trick's that? You've too many tricks--you're all tricks!
It's--Rodney, it's--it's too late for tricks!"

"But not for this pretty trick of mine. Mabel, it's such a pretty one!
But now you listen to me for a moment. Pull yourself together. Stand
up; let me see your face."

She did as he bade her, and stood, leaning on the table with both her
hands, looking at him with eyes from which the tears were streaming.

"Mabel, you asked me to marry you. I said I would, and I will."

"But--what's the use of it now? You don't understand."

"Oh, yes, I do; I don't know if I can get you to believe me, but I do
understand much better than you suppose; and, indeed, I rather fancy
even better than you do. Anyhow, the supposition is that we're to be
bride and bridegroom, dear, to-morrow; let's for goodness' sake be
friends to-night. Let's try to say, at any rate, one or two pleasant
things, as, not so very long ago, we used to do. What's going to come
of it all you seem doubtful, and I can hardly pretend that I'm quite
sure. I don't suppose, Mabel, that you ever read Dante, or, perhaps,
even heard of him. But, in a tolerably well-known poem by Dante, there
is this story. He goes down, with a party named Virgil, into one of
the lowest depths of hell, and there he meets a poor devil who seems
to be having an uncommonly bad time. They ask him what he has done
that he should suffer so, and he answers something to this effect. He
has it that his creed was a very simple one. He believed, and he acted
on his belief, that one moment of perfect bliss was worth an eternity
of hell, He had that perfect moment, the lucky bargee! And now for
ever he's in hell. Yet, do you know, he isn't sorry; he thinks that
moment was worth the price he paid. That's a moral story, and I don't
pretend that I've got it quite right; but that's what it comes to;
and, upon my word, I'm sometimes half disposed to think that that
man's creed is mine. I guess it would be rather too much to ask you to
make it yours; but--this you'll grant--we have had our moments of
bliss, which was nearly perfect. Now, haven't we?"

"I--I don't know why you're talking to me like this. I--I know we
have. Oh, Rodney, how--how I wish we hadn't!"

"Well, I don't--and I rather fancy I'm in a worse fix than you. But,
as I live, when I think of the fun we've had, I don't care--that." And
he snapped his fingers. "They can do as they please, but they can't
take from me my memories; and if I'm face to face with hell--I'll
carry them there."

He held out his hands to her with a little gesture of appeal. "Lady,
talking will do no good, so let's say pretty things. Sweetheart, I'll
be shot if I won't call you sweetheart, look you never so sourly at
me!"

"Oh, Rodney, I--I don't want to look sourly at you! Sourly! Oh, my
dear, if you only knew!"

"I do know, and that's just it. I want you to know. Sweetheart, good
night!"

He still held out his hands to her. As she looked at him, with
straining eyes, she seemed to waver.

"Rodney!"

"Good night. Come here and say it--or shall we meet half-way?"

He moved towards her round the table, and she, as if she could not
help it, moved towards him. And they said good night.



                            CHAPTER XXVII

        THE GENTLEMAN'S DEPARTURE AND THE LADY'S EXPLANATIONS


In the morning early Mabel Joyce knocked at the door of Mr. Elmore's
bedroom with a jug of shaving water in her hand; knocked softly, as if
she did not wish to rouse the sleeper too abruptly from his rest. When
no answer came she clung to the handle of the door, as a tremor seemed
to pass all over her; then, presently, knocked again. Still no reply.
She bent her head towards the panel, listening intently. Then,
suddenly, decisively, rapped three times and waited. Still no reply.
With a quick movement she turned the handle and passed into the room;
and, when in, closed the door rapidly behind her, standing with her
back against it, in an attitude of one who was afraid. She looked
towards the bed. It was empty; the sleeper had awaked himself from
slumber, had risen, and had gone. Putting the jug beside her on the
floor, she passed quickly towards the bed; leaning over it, she stared
at something which caught her eye upon the pillow. On the white slip
was a dark red stain. She put out her hand, clutched it with her
finger, withdrew her finger, and looked at it. Part of the redness
had passed from the pillow to the tip of her finger. All at once
she dropped on to her knees beside the empty bed, and, bowing her
head upon the coverlet, stayed motionless. Then rose again to
her feet, looking round her. Her glance caught something on the
dressing-table--an envelope. Moving towards it, she snatched it up.
It was addressed, simply, "Mrs. Joyce." Although it seemed scarcely
likely that such an address was intended for her, she ripped open
the flap, and took out the sheet of paper it contained.


"DEAR MRS. JOYCE,--I'm off, to another world--the world beyond the
grave. I'm more of a coward than I thought; and yet I don't know that
it's quite that. I have tried to cut my throat in bed--your bed; but
my hand bungled. I have made rather a mess--and then I stopped. It
seemed rather a pity to spoil your bedclothes, and I did not like to
feel the razor. I am going to do it another way--outside your house,
in a place I know of, where I hope no one will ever find me. I want no
coroner to sit upon my body, and I want no jury to make me the subject
of their silly verdicts.

"I have heaps of reasons--I dare say you'll hear enough about them
before long. I'd rather you heard of them than other people heard of
them, when I am not here. It is because I am so anxious that the
hearing should take place behind my back that I am going. I don't
quite know what I owe you, but I believe I'm a little in arrears.
You'll find ten pounds on the table; it should more than pay you, and
even make up for the week's notice which I have not given. All my
possessions that I leave behind--and there are quite a number of
decent suits of clothes--are yours. Do as you like with them. If you
sell them, and get the price you ought to get, you should not do
badly.

"Tell everybody what I have told you, and, if you like, show them this
letter. You have not been a bad landlady; I don't suppose I shall be
better suited where I am going; nor have I been a bad lodger; if you
get a better you'll be in luck.

"Say good-bye to Mabel. There is a portrait of a kind in the locket
which you will find near this envelope. I think I should like her to
have it, as one to whom I am indebted for many favours.--Your one-time
lodger,

                                      "RODNEY ELMORE.

"Do you think I shall find it lonely where I am going? I wonder!"


The girl, having read this letter to the end, caught up an
old-fashioned locket; doubtless the one referred to. Opening it, there
looked out at her the young man's face--a miniature, not ill-done. She
pressed it to her lips, not once, nor twice, but again and again and
again. Then, shutting it, slipped it inside her blouse. She gave
another rapid glance about the room, moved hither and thither as if to
make sure that there was nothing left which might tell more than need
be told; then, passing hastily from the room, went not downstairs to
her mother but upstairs to the lodger overhead. At his door she also
knocked. Response was instant.

"Who's there? Come in!"

She went in. Mr. Dale was sitting up in bed She stayed close to the
door.

"He's gone!" she said.

Mr. Dale, although he seemed but recently roused from sleep, seemed to
grasp her meaning in a moment.

"Gone where?"

"He's left this."

She tossed the letter she had been reading so dexterously that it fell
just before him on the bed. He caught it up and read.

"What's it mean?" he asked. She seemed to consider for a moment.

"You know as well as I do."

"I suppose I do--when you come to think of it. He's a beauty--a
shining star!" He stared at the letter. "What does he mean?"

"At any rate, he means one thing--he's gone." Mr. Dale leaned back,
looking at the girl as if he were endeavouring to find something on
her face which should give him a hint what to say next. When he spoke
again it was slowly, as if he measured his words; yet bitterly, as if
behind them was a meaning which scarcely jumped to the eye.

"Look here, Mabel, this isn't going to be an easy thing to do. I'm
going to have all my work cut out if it's to be managed. You know what
I mean by managed. And, as I'm alive, I don't want to do it for
nothing--and I don't mean to."

"What do you mean?"

"If the tale's not to be told--you know what tale--it must be on
terms. I won't ask what this chap's been to you, because I believe I
know. He's been--a blackguard; that's what he's been to you; and, on
my word I believe you women like a man who's a blackguard. But I don't
want to talk about that now."

"I shouldn't, especially as I expect mother will be calling me before
you've done."

The shade of sarcasm in the girl's tone made the man regard her with
knitted brows.

"Never you mind about your mother; I know all about her. For once in
your life you'll just listen to me. Mr. Rodney Elmore has gone,
vanished from the scene--he's dead; here's this letter to prove it
to anyone who doubts it." The speaker grinned. "I'm not dead; I'm
alive--very much alive; and I want you to take a particular note of
that."

"Do you think I don't know that you're alive?"

Mr. Dale's tone grew suddenly fierce.

"I haven't got Mr. Rodney Elmore's pretty tone, nor his pretty
manners, nor his pretty words; but I do care for you." He laughed.
"Care for you! Why, I'd eat the dirt you walk on; and you've made me
do it more than once. Mabel, if I keep my mouth shut, and get others
to keep theirs shut, will you stop treating me as if I were dirt, and
treat me as if I were a man?"

"I'll treat you as you like; I'll do whatever you like; I'll be your
slave, if--if you do that."

She stood close up against the door, with both hands pressed against
her breast, and her words seemed to come from her in gasps. As he saw
that in very truth she suffered, his whole bearing underwent a sudden
change. He all at once grew tender.

"Mabel, I'll make no bargain; I'll do it--for your sake; and--I'll
trust to you for my reward."

With odd suddenness she turned right round, so that her back was
towards him, and her face pressed against the panel of the door. Her
pain seemed to hurt him.

"For God's sake don't--don't do that! I'd rather--do what he's only
pretended to do than give you pain. Cheer up--just try hard to cheer
up, if it's only just enough to help you to know what ought to be done
next."

The suggestion affected her in a fashion which perhaps took him a
little aback. She turned again as suddenly as she had done before,
this time towards him. Her eyes blazed; the words came swiftly from
her lips.

"Do you think that I don't know what I'm going to do next? Do you
think it hasn't been in my mind all night? Why, I've got it all cut,
and planned, and dried. Leave that to me; all I want is for you to
see"--her voice fell--"the tale's not told."

"It sha'n't be if I can help it; and I think I can."

The words still came swiftly from her.

"Say nothing to mother, say nothing to anyone; leave me to do all the
telling--you know nothing; that's all you've got to know. You
understand?"

His voice as he replied was grim.

"Oh, yes, I understand."

"Then, for the present, it's good-bye."

She opened the door. He checked her.

"I shall see you to-night when I come in."

"You shall; if--if nothing's been told."

She went from the room to her own on the landing below, put on her
hat, her coat, and her gloves, and went quickly down the stairs.
Seldom was a pretty girl ready more quickly for the street. She
already had the front door open when her mother called to her.

"Mabel, what to goodness is the matter with you? Where are you going?"

The girl seemed for a moment to be in doubt whether or not to let her
mother's question go unheeded; then decided to vouchsafe her at least
some scraps of information.

"Mother, I believe Mr. Elmore's gone."

"Gone? Mr. Elmore? What's the girl talking about?"

"His bedroom's empty, and there's ten pounds on the dressing-table,
and I'm going straight off to the City to see."

"To the City!"

The astonishment of the lady's voice was justified; she came quickly
along the passage as if to learn what might be the significance of the
mystery which she felt was in the air. But her daughter did not wait
for her approach; she was through the door, had shut it with a bang,
before her mother had realised what it was she meant to do.

Miss Joyce did not go to the City; she went instead to No. 90, Russell
Square. There she inquired for Miss Patterson. She was told the lady
was at breakfast.

"Tell her--tell her that I'm Miss Joyce, and that I must see her--at
once."

She was in the hall, and looked so strange as she leaned against the
wall, with her white face and frightened eyes, that the maid looked at
her as if she could not make her out at all.

"Miss Joyce, did you say the name was?"

"Yes--Joyce--Mabel Joyce; tell Miss Patterson that Miss Joyce must see
her at once."

The maid went into a room upon the right--the dining-room--presently
reappeared, with Miss Patterson behind her. Gladys came out into the
hall.

"Miss Joyce! You wish to see me? On what business?"

"Somewhere--somewhere where we'll be private."

Gladys observed her with curious eyes; then she held open the
dining-room door.

"I'm at breakfast; but, if you don't mind, you'd better come in here."

Mabel went in, Gladys followed. The stranger, now that they were
alone, presented such a woebegone picture that, in spite of herself,
Gladys was moved.

"You don't seem well--are you ill? Hadn't you better sit down?--here's
a chair."

She pushed the chair towards her visitor, but Mabel would none of it.

"No, it doesn't matter, I'd--I'd rather stand. My mother was Mr.
Elmore's--landlady."

"Joyce? Oh, yes, of course, I thought I knew the name; I remember."
Perhaps unconsciously to herself, Gladys's tone hardened; she drew
herself a little straighter, she even moved a little away. In spite of
her obvious trouble, Mabel noticed.

"You needn't be afraid of me--I shan't bite."

"I was not afraid that you would bite. What is it you wish with me,
Miss Joyce?"

"That."

She stretched out towards the other a letter. Gladys eyed it askance,
almost, one might have thought from her demeanour, that she feared
that it might bite.

"What's that?"

"If you take it--you'll see. You're right this time in being afraid;
you've cause to be more afraid of that than of me. But it's written by
somebody you know well, and--you'd better read it."

Still doubtfully, as if she really were in awe of what the sheet of
paper might portend, she took it gingerly from the other's fingers.
Then she read it. And as she read, a curious change came over, not
only her countenance, but her whole bearing. When she had reached the
end her hands dropped to her side, she stared at the girl in front of
her as she might have done at a visitant from another sphere.

"What--does this letter mean?"

For answer, Mabel took another piece of paper from that woman's
universal pocket--her blouse. She held it out to Gladys, and, even
more cautiously than before, Gladys took it with unwilling fingers.
This time, as she read it, it was with an obvious lack of
comprehension.

"What on earth is this?"

"Can't you see? Isn't it plain enough? It's a marriage licence--now
can you see?"

Gladys seemed to make an effort to achieve steadiness, not with entire
success. As if to hide her partial failure, she went down the room to
the seat which she had been occupying at the other end of the table.
Resting her hand on the top of the chair, raising the paper again, she
re-read it. Her back was towards Mabel, her face could not have been
more eloquent, one saw a spasm pass right across it. She was still;
there was a perceptible interval; she turned towards her visitor. Her
face seemed to have aged; one saw that as she grew older she would not
grow better-looking.

"I see that this purports to be a licence of marriage--I don't know
much about these things, but I take it that the marriage was to be
before a registrar--between Rodney Elmore, who, I presume, is my
cousin----"

"He's your cousin right enough."

"And--Mabel Joyce. Are you the Mabel Joyce referred to?"

"I am; we were to have been married to-day--at noon sharp; the
registrar--he'll be waiting for us, but he'll have to wait. Mr. Rodney
Elmore, that's your cousin and my husband that was to be, he's
bolted."

"Bolted? I see. Is that what this letter means?"

"That's just exactly what it means."

"It doesn't mean that--he's--he's killed himself?"

"Not much it doesn't; I know the gentleman. It simply means that, for
reasons of his own--I'm one of them and I daresay you're another--he's
cut and run."

Gladys's tone could scarcely have been more frigid or her bearing more
outwardly calm; unfortunately both the frigidity and the calmness were
a little overdone.

"I see. I'm much obliged to you for bringing me--this very interesting
piece of news. I believe this is yours. I scarcely think I need detain
you longer."

She returned to Mabel both the licence and the letter. Enclosing them
one in the other, the girl passed from the room out of the house.
Gladys stood staring at the door through which she had left, exactly,
if she could only have known it, as Rodney had stared when she had
vanished the afternoon before. Then she clenched her fists and shook
them in the air.

"To think that I should ever have been such a fool! That I should ever
have let him--soil me with his touch! Dad was right; what a fool he
must have thought me! If I'd only listened, what might not--have been
saved!"

Shortly afterwards she entered the office at St. Paul's Churchyard.
Andrews advanced to greet her.

"Mr. Elmore has not yet arrived."

"I know he hasn't; I wish to speak to you."

She led the way towards her father's private room; as he followed
Andrews seemed to recognise something in her carriage which recalled
his master. There could be no doubt that this was his daughter. When
they were in the room and the door was closed, Miss Patterson seated
herself in her father's chair. She looked the managing man in the
face, with something in her glance which again recalled her sire.

"Andrews, I suppose you can observe a confidence?"

Andrews smiled; he rubbed his hands together; one felt that he could
not make out the lady's mood, still less achieve a satisfactory guess
at what was in the air.

"I hope so, Miss Patterson, I'm sure. Your father reposed many and
many a confidence in me, and I never betrayed one of them--I'm not
likely now to betray yours."

"Right, Andrews, I believe you. I believe my father knew the kind of
man who may be trusted; he trusted you, and I will. Shake hands." She
offered him her hand. As if doubtful whether or not he was taking a
liberty, he took it in his. They gravely shook hands.

"It's very good of you, Miss Patterson, I'm sure, to say so; but what
you do say is true--your father trusted me, and so can you."

She eyed him for some seconds as if debating in her mind what to say
to him and just how to say it. Then it came from her, as it were, all
of a sudden.

"Andrews, I told you that my cousin, Rodney Elmore, and I were engaged
to be married. I was mistaken--we are not. Stop! I don't want you to
ask any questions; that's the confidence I'm reposing in you, I want
you to ask none, I simply tell you we're not. Another thing. You told
me when I came in just now that Mr. Elmore had not come yet. Andrews,
he never will come again--to this office."

"Indeed, miss! Is that so, miss?"

The girl smiled--gravely.

"There, again, Andrews--my confidence! You are to ask no questions.
Neither you nor I will see Mr. Elmore again--ever. Still one other
thing. You remember what my father said in his will about leaving the
conduct of his business in your hands? I echo my father's words; I
want you to manage it for me on my father's lines."

The old man was evidently confused. He stood staring at the girl and
rubbing his hands, as if he found himself in a quandary from which he
sought a way out.

"I'm sure, Miss Patterson, that I'm very gratified by the confidence
you place in me, and I want to do my best to ask no questions,
but--but there's one remark I ought to make." He bent over the table
as if he wished the remark in question to reach her ear alone. "I
don't know, Miss Patterson, if you are aware that yesterday morning
Mr. Elmore drew a thousand pounds from the bank."

"Yesterday morning? When did he do that? Not when we were there?"

"It appears that he returned directly after we had left, and cashed a
cheque for a thousand pounds across the counter, took it in tens and
fives and gold--rather a funny way of taking a cheque like that."

The girl said nothing; just possible she thought the more--it is still
more possible that hers was disagreeable thinking. It came back to
her; she understood; the letter-case which had been left behind; her
sitting in the cab while he had gone into the bank to fetch it.
Letter-case? So the letter-case was a cheque for a thousand pounds;
and while she'd been sitting in the cab he had been putting her money
into his pocket. What a pretty fellow this cousin was, this lover
of--how many ages ago? Could she ever have cared, to say nothing of
loved, a thing like this? This girl had a sense of humour which was
her own; at the thought of it she smiled--indeed, suddenly she leaned
back in her chair and laughed outright.

"Cashed a cheque for a thousand pounds, did he? Well, Andrews, dad
left him nothing in his will--I wonder why. How funny! Then there's
still another thing to tell you, Andrews. Let them understand at the
bank, as quickly as you can, that they're not to cash any more of Mr.
Elmore's cheques which are drawn on my account. Now, Andrews, will you
be so very good as to send someone to Mr. Wilkes, and give him my most
respectful compliments, and say, if he can possibly spare a moment, I
should like very much indeed to see him here at once."

When Miss Joyce got home she found, waiting in the sitting-room which
had so recently been Rodney's, Mr. Austin. The gentleman regarded her
as she came in with an air of grave disapprobation.

"You are, I believe, the landlady's daughter."

Mabel nodded.

"I have just had a few words with your mother, who appears to be an
extraordinary woman, and who has told me an extraordinary tale."

"My mother's not in the habit of telling extraordinary tales to
anyone."

"Then, what does she mean by--by talking stuff and nonsense about Mr.
Elmore's having gone, and--and I don't know what besides?"

Miss Joyce drew a long breath, and seemed to nerve herself for an
effort. She had had a good deal to bear that morning, and to retain
even a vestige of self-command needed all her efforts.

"Mr. Austin, Mr. Elmore has gone, and he's left a letter behind him in
which he pretends that he has committed suicide; but he hasn't, I know
better. But here's the letter; you might like to look at it."

He read the letter with which we are already familiar; and it had a
very similar effect on him to that which it had had on others, only in
his case he read it over and over again, as if to make sure that its
meaning had not escaped him, yet that its meaning had escaped him his
words made plain.

"You--you may understand this letter, young woman, but I certainly do
not. What--what does this most extraordinary, and, as it seems to me,
inconsequent, letter mean?"

"I'll tell you just as shortly as I can exactly what it means. And,
perhaps, when I have told you you won't ask any more questions than
you can conveniently help, because--I've had just about as much to
bear as I can manage. Rodney Elmore--I'm not going to call him Mr.
Elmore, I've as much right to call him Rodney as anybody in this
world; he's got himself into a mess, and I'm one of them. Why, he
promised to marry me to-day at twelve o'clock."

"He--promised! Young woman!"

"Here's the licence to prove it; but--I suppose he daren't face it; so
he's gone, and he's done me, and I'm not the only one he's done. Has
he done your daughter?"

"Your question, put in such a form, I entirely decline to answer."

"You needn't; I know. And, mind you, I don't believe he's gone alone
either, wherever it is he has gone to. What's the name of that girl
down at Brighton that he was so thick with, and your son's
sweetheart?"

Mr. Austin started as if something had stung him. He stared at the
girl with growing apprehension.

"You can't mean----?"

"Yes, I can. Wasn't her first name Mary? I have heard the other--it's
a queer one--and I forget it. But you ask your son, if he cares for
the girl, to make inquiries, and if she's missing, and he wants her
new address, to find out Rodney Elmore's, and--he'll find hers."



                            CHAPTER XXVIII

                       A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE


There are few worse half-hours in life than that in which a man finds
that the one person whom he has liked, and respected, and trusted, and
believed in before all others, is a scamp, a liar, and a cur. As Mr.
Austin sat cowering in the corner of his cab it was to him almost as
if he had been these things, instead of Rodney Elmore. He ascended the
steps of the Kensington house a little stiffly, a little bowed, a
little shorn of his full height; he bore himself, indeed, as if he
were ashamed; it was with a sense of shame that he spoke to his son,
who was apparently just about to go out as he went in.

"Tom, I want to speak to you."

The lad looked at his father with a look of surprise.

"Why, pater; what's wrong?"

The father closed the door of the room into which he had preceded his
son. There was something shifty in his bearing; he seemed unwilling to
meet the youngster's glances.

"Tom, what was that you were saying about--about Mary Carmichael?"

The lad smiled, ruefully enough; there was an awkwardness about his
manner. He turned away, as if on his side he had no wish to meet his
father's eyes.

"All I can make out is that she has gone. It seems that while that old
aunt of hers was out yesterday afternoon--she vanished. She just left
a note behind her to say that she was going, and that they weren't to
bother, because she wasn't coming back; but they'd hear from her some
day--she couldn't say just when."

"Tom, she's gone with Rodney Elmore."

The lad swung round as on a pivot.

"Pater! What do you mean?"

The father told the story as he knew it, the lad listening--first as
one in a dream, and then as one in a rage. Then, with a gasp as of
astonishment, he blurted out:

"But what about Stella?"

"Yes; what about Stella? Stella's here, and--why, where's Rodney? I
thought, father, he'd come with you."

Miss Austin had come running into the room eagerly, happily,
laughingly, taking it for granted that her lover was within. As she
looked from her father to her brother, and noted the oddity of their
manner, her eyes grew wider open.

"Father, where--where is Rodney?"

Then the father told the tale to her; it was the hardest task he had
ever had to perform. The girl first scorned him, then laughed, then
doubted, and then, in a fit of what was very like fury, announced her
intention of going in search of Rodney, whom she declared she believed
to be cruelly aspersed, and learning the truth from his own lips. It
was with difficulty she was stayed. When she, at last, was brought to
understand, she was already another Stella to the one her father had
known. She was not to be comforted. And when her mother came, and
heard the story, too, she put her arm about her daughter's waist and
led her to her room, and there remained alone with her an hour or
more. When she came out she also was another woman; and her daughter
was in her room, alone.

And that, to all intents and purposes, so far as it is known, is the
end of the story, though the real end is not yet. Such stories take a
long time ending. Sometimes they are continued in the generation which
comes after, and never end. Mr. Philip Walter Augustus Parker was
tried for the murder of Graham Patterson, and, apparently to his
complete satisfaction, was found guilty. The law plays such pranks
oftener than is commonly supposed. The story he told was so well put
together, all the joints fitted so well. As the judge instructed the
jury they really had no option; on the evidence there was only one
possible verdict; and that was returned. Mr. Parker earned his
credentials; he was sent, as he desired, on a lengthy visit to
Broadmoor. The whole story might have fallen to pieces and his visit
to Broadmoor indefinitely postponed had the platform inspector at
Brighton station--Edward Giles--given his evidence in another way. A
few questions would have changed the whole face of affairs, but they
were not asked. He told that it was he who had helped Graham Patterson
into the carriage, and also that there already was someone in it when
the dead man entered. At that point the questions which were put to
him went awry. He was asked if the prisoner was that other person; he
replied that he did not recognise him, but as, when the witness had
entered the box, Mr. Parker had greeted him with that unpleasant
little chuckle of his, and had proclaimed that he recognised him, even
before he opened his mouth, as the porter, as he put it, who had been
of assistance to Mr. Patterson, for the judge, as for the jury, that
was sufficient. Giles himself was evidently taken aback, and while he
declared that he did not recognise the prisoner, he admitted that if
Parker had not been the man in the carriage, he could not understand
how he recognised him. So Mr. Parker had his wish.

Mr. Andrews is still the managing man, as well as a partner, of the
firm of Graham Patterson, which continues to thrive on the same sound
old lines. And Gladys Patterson is the wife of Stephen Wilkes--that
strikes even her, when she thinks of it, as queer. How it came about,
she has told her husband more than once, she does not understand; she
wonders sometimes, so she tells him, if her father could ever have had
it in his mind that that was the match he would have chosen. She is
thinking of Rodney's words. Her husband laughs, and assures her that
to the best of his knowledge and belief her father never dreamt of
anything of the kind. Whereat she thinks all the more of Rodney's
words, having a dim suspicion hidden in her somewhere that it was
because of what he said that this strange thing had happened, and, in
what she feels is in quite an uncanny way, that it was he who brought
it all about.

Mabel Joyce is Mrs. George Dale, fairly happy, as the average wife's
standard of happiness goes, and Dale is happy too; but there is about
him a suggestion of solicitous anxiety, as if he would be glad to be
as certain of her satisfaction with the way that things have turned
out, as of his own.

Stella is still unmarried, and likely to remain so. She is not quite
the ordinary type of girl. When she gave her heart to Rodney Elmore,
it was given for ever; although she would probably be the last person
in the world to admit it, he has it still. As, she declares, she will
never marry save where her heart is, her prospects of remaining Stella
Austin are stronger than either her father or her mother care to own.
Tom is married; was married within six months of his heart being
finally broken--to the girl with the mischievous eyes. And he is happy
as a man may be; and he is a man, even up to his father's standard of
manhood. He is practically the head of his father's firm, and a
sufficiently effective and energetic head he makes. He declares that
it is his wife who has done it, and that she has been and still is and
ever will be the only woman in the world to him. He forgets; men--and
women--sometimes do.

Nothing definite has ever been heard of Rodney Elmore; but among those
who knew him in his youth there is a profound conviction that he still
lives. One day, a month or so after his marriage, there came a
postcard to Tom Austin from one of the northern States of America,
with just these words on the back:


"Congratulations--good wishes--am delighted!

                                              "M."


He was the only person who ever saw the card. He tore it up and burnt
it. About him for nearly a week afterwards there was, at odd moments,
an unusually reflective air. His wife asked him what he was thinking
about.

"Why," he told her, "what should I think about but you."

He was thinking, wondering, how close to "M." was Rodney Elmore--his
boyhood's friend!--as one result of what was very like a conspiracy of
silence.



                           *   *   *   *   *
Printed By Cassell & Company, Limited, La Belle Sauvage, London, E.C.





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