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Title: The Chase of the Ruby
Author: Marsh, Richard, 1857-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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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      (Oxford University)



                                          The Chase
                                          of the Ruby



                  Seventh Edition of RICHARD MARSH'S

                         MOST STRIKING NOVEL

                With Illustrations by John Williamson

                        THE BEETLE: A Mystery

                         Crown 8vo. Price 6s.

                          *   *   *   *   *

The Speaker says: 'A story of the most terrific kind is duly recorded
in this extremely powerful book. The skill with which its fantastic
horrors are presented to us is undeniable.'

The Daily Graphic says: 'It is the kind of book which you put down
only for the purpose of turning up the gas and making sure that no
person or thing is standing behind your chair; and it is a book which
no one will put down until finished, except for the reason above
described.'

The Glasgow Herald says: 'The weird horror of this being grows upon
the reader. It is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down this book
when once begun.'

The Academy says: '"Dracula," by Mr Bram Stoker, was creepy, but Mr
Marsh goes one, oh! many more than one, better. This surprising and
ingenious story succeeds in producing that sensation of horror which
should make the flesh of even the least susceptible reader creep.'

Answers says: 'Mr Marsh's famous novel is one of the most
enthrallingly interesting narratives of the past few years. I strongly
advise all my readers to order the book at once.'

The Literary World says: 'An ingenious, weird, and thrilling story,
narrated with a clearness of style and a fulness of incident which
hold the reader's attention from first to last.'

The St James's Budget says: 'The frontispiece is a nightmare, and the
terrors are thrillingly described. One is compelled to read it to the
end.'

The Birmingham Daily Gazette says: 'A powerful and vigorous story of a
most terrible character, told with skill and ingenuity. It is even
more strange and mysterious than Bulwer's "Zanoni."'

                          *   *   *   *   *

            London: SKEFFINGTON & SON, 163 Piccadilly, W.
    _Publishers to Her Majesty The Queen and to H.R.H. The Prince_
                              _of Wales_
              And at all Libraries and Railway Bookstalls



                                 THE

                          Chase of the Ruby



                                  BY

                            RICHARD MARSH


                              AUTHOR OF

     'THE BEETLE: A MYSTERY,' 'IN FULL CRY,' 'FRIVOLITIES,' ETC.



                                LONDON
                  SKEFFINGTON & SON, 163 PICCADILLY

                 Publishers to Her Majesty The Queen
                                AND TO
                His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

                                 1900



                               CONTENTS


     CHAP.

        I. GHOSTS IN AFRICA.

       II. THE QUEST ORDAINED.

      III. MISS BROAD COMMANDS.

       IV. MR HOLLAND FAILS.

        V. A WOMAN SCORNED.

       VI. MISS BROAD COMMANDS A SECOND TIME.

      VII. THE BOTTOM DRAWER.

     VIII. THE LADY--AND THE GENTLEMAN.

       IX. THE FLYMAN.

        X. SHE WISHES THAT SHE HADN'T.

       XI. THE PURSUIT OF THE GENTLEMAN.

      XII. THE TENDER MERCIES OF TWO LADIES.

     XIII. VISITORS FOR MISS CASATA.

      XIV. WHO KNOCKS?

       XV. AN HONOURABLE RETREAT.

      XVI. THE FINDING OF THE RUBY AND THE LOCKING OF THE DOOR.

     XVII. THE FIGURES ON THE BED.

    XVIII. REINFORCED.

      XIX. STILL WITH A SMILE.

       XX. HOW THE CHASE WAS ENDED.



                        The Chase of the Ruby



                              CHAPTER I

                           GHOSTS IN AFRICA


'Upon my word, this is--' He hesitated, then chose another form of
words with which to conclude his sentence. 'This is extraordinary.'

He allowed the paper to flutter from between his fingers, stood
staring at nothing, then, stooping, picked up the sheet of blue post
from where it had fallen at his feet.

'Extraordinary!' he repeated.

He regarded it and handled it as if it had been some uncanny
thing--though, on the face of it, it was nothing of the kind. It was a
formal letter addressed to 'Guy Holland, Esq., 37A Craven Street,
W.C.' It began 'Dear Sir,' and ended 'Yr. obedt. servant, SAML.
COLLYER.' Between the beginning and the end it informed him that his
uncle, George Burton, had died at Nice on February 23, and that the
writer would feel obliged if he would call upon him at his earliest
possible convenience.

'I wonder if I saw him die?' Mr Holland knit his brows as he asked
himself the question. 'How could I, when I was in Mashonaland and he
was in Nice? Absurd!'

He laughed, as it has been written, 'hollowly'; the laugh of
uneasiness rather than mirth.

Then he went and saw the lady.

She was waiting on a seat by a certain piece of water in Regent's
Park. She must have had eyes behind, because, although she was sitting
with her back to him, directly he stepped upon the grass she sprang
up, and, as if she had been observing him all the time, went to him at
something very like a run. He advanced at quick step. They met in the
middle of the grass plot, contrary to regulations, which forbid people
to walk upon the grass. They each gave two hands, and that with an air
which suggested that if that had not been a public place they would
have given each other something else as well.

'Guy!' she exclaimed. 'I thought you were the other side of the world.
What a time you've been!'

'Coming from the other side of the world? or from Craven Street? It is
some distance from Craven Street to Regent's Park.'

'You are in Craven Street, are you? What's it mean? You're looking
well--sort of coppery colour; it suits you.'

'That's the air of the veldt; it burnishes a man's skin. You're
looking sweet. I say, it's awfully hard lines that I can't kiss you.
Mayn't I--just a little one?'

'In broad daylight, in Regent's Park, with a hundred pairs of eyes
observing us from Hamilton Terrace? Thank you; some other day. When I
had your note--what a note! "Meet me at the old place at noon"--I
wondered who I was to meet, you or your ghost. As a matter of fact, I
had a most important engagement--just at noon; but I put it off on
purpose to come and see.'

'That was very dear of you. I'm not my ghost, I'm me.'

'But--Guy, have you made your fortune? You didn't seem as if you were
going to make it at quite such a rate when you wrote last.'

He shook his head.

'Came back with less in my pockets than when I left.'

'Then--what does it mean?'

'My uncle's dead.'

'Mr Burton?'

He nodded.

'Has he left you his money? Oh, Guy!'

'As to that, I can't say. At present I know nothing. The fact is,
Letty, it's--it's a queer business. You won't laugh?'

'What at?'

'Well'--he held out an envelope--'if I hadn't found this letter
awaiting me telling me of the old man's death, I should have accused
myself of softening of the brain, or something of the kind. As it is,
I believe I've had a vision.'

'A vision! You? Guy, fancy your discovering that there are visions
about.'

'You're laughing at me now.'

'I'm doing nothing of the kind. How can you say such a thing? I'm the
soul of gravity. Do I ever laugh?'

As a matter of fact, there was a twinkle in her eyes even as she
spoke, which he perceived.

'All right; laugh it out. I don't mind. All I can say is that it's
gospel truth, and seems queer enough to me, though I daresay it's
extremely comic to anybody else.'

'What seems comic? You haven't said a word.'

'Let's find a seat, and I'll say a good many.'

They found a seat--not the one she had been sitting on, but one which
was sheltered by a tree. It was, perhaps, because it was in the shade
that they temporarily ignored the fact that they were yet in Regent's
Park. They were still pretty close together when he began to tell his
tale.

'On the 23rd of February I had had a long day in the open. It was
broiling hot, and in the evening I was glad to get back under cover.
As I sat at my tent door, too tired even to smoke, I saw, right in
front of me, my uncle.'

'Your uncle? Mr Burton? Where was this?'

'Perhaps three hundred miles north of Buluwayo.'

'But--what was your uncle doing there?'

'I told you it was a queer business, and so it was. Let me try to
explain. Straight in front of where I was sitting the plain stretched
for heaven knows how many miles right away to the horizon. There were
no buildings; scarcely a bush or a tree was to be seen; just the
monotonous level ground. All at once I perceived, certainly within a
hundred feet of where I was, a flight of steps.'

'A flight of steps?'

'Well, I had a sort of general idea that there was a building in
connection, but my eyes were fixed upon the steps. I seemed to know
them. There was a wide open door at top. I felt that I was well
acquainted with what was on the other side of that door. On the steps
my uncle was standing. Mind, I saw him as well as I see you, and,
thank goodness, I can see you pretty well. I can't tell you what he
wore, because I'm no hand at describing clothes; but I've an
impression that he had on a suit of tweeds and a bowler hat. He was
apparently lounging on the steps, watching the passers-by. He did not
see me--of that I was sure. On a sudden someone else came towards him
up the steps. He was a stranger to me, though I think I should know
him if I saw him again. He was taller than my uncle, and, I imagine,
younger. Anyhow, he was altogether a bigger and a stronger man. He had
a walking stick in his hand, with a horn handle. Directly he got
within reach, without, so far as I could judge, uttering a word of
warning, with this stick he struck my uncle with all his force across
the face. I suspect that my uncle had seen him coming before I did,
and, for reasons of his own, had stuck to what he deemed his post of
vantage on the steps, being unwilling to go and meet him, and ashamed
to run away. That he was not so taken aback by the suddenness of the
attack as I was I felt persuaded. He put out his hand to guard
himself, and, I fancy, at the last moment was disposed to turn tail
and flee. But it was too late. The blow got home. He staggered back
and would have fallen had not the stranger gripped him with his left
hand, and commenced to belabour him with the stick which he held with
his right. People came streaming out of the open door above and up the
steps from the street. My uncle made not the faintest attempt at
resistance. When the people came close enough to hamper the free
action of his arm, the stranger, giving his victim a push, sent him
head foremost down the steps. In an instant the whole thing vanished.'

Mr Holland ceased. The lady had been regarding him with wide-open grey
eyes.

'Guy!' she said.

'Wasn't it odd?'

'Odd? You must have been dreaming.'

'I was as wide awake as you are. It was a mirage, or vision, or
something of the kind. The queerest part of it was that it was so
amazingly real, and so near. When the thing had gone I kept asking
myself why I hadn't jumped up and interfered. I could have got there
in a dozen strides.'

'Then what happened?'

'I sat for a long time half dazed, half expecting the thing to come
again, or to continue from the point at which it had left off. Then I
went and told a man with whom I was chumming what I'd seen. He said
the sun had got into my eyes, advised me to have a drink--made fun of
it altogether. But I knew better; and, as it turned out, I was haunted
by my uncle all through the night.'

'Awake or sleeping?'

'Awake. I couldn't sleep. I was haunted by a feeling that he was
dying. The stranger had not killed him; but in consequence of the
thrashing he had received he was struggling with death, and kept
calling out to me to come to him; and I couldn't.'

'Poor Guy!'

The lady softly stroked the hand of his which she held between her
two.

'I wondered if I was on the verge of an attack of illness or going
mad, or what, though personally I felt as fit as a fiddle all the
time, with my senses as much about me as they are now. I kept hearing
him call out, over and over again, "Guy, Guy!" in the voice I knew so
well and wasn't particularly fond of. There was something else which
he kept repeating.'

'What was that?'

'"The ruby."'

'The ruby?'

'I haven't a notion of what he meant or what the whole thing meant,
but at least a dozen times that night I heard him referring to a
ruby,--the ruby, he called it. Long and seemingly involved sentences I
heard him utter, but the only two words I could distinguish were those
two--"the ruby"; and, as I have said, those two I heard him pronounce
certainly a dozen times. And in the morning I was conscious of an
absolute conviction that he was dead.'

'How very strange.'

'I'm not one of your clever chaps, so I don't pretend to be able to
suggest a sufficient explanation, but the entire business reminds me
of what I've heard about second sight. Although in the body I was out
there on the veldt I seemed to know and see what was taking place
heaven knows how many thousand miles away. In spite of the persuasion
which was borne in upon me that he was dead, every day, and sometimes
all day, I heard him calling out to me, "Guy, Guy!" and every now and
then, "The ruby!" It was as if he were imploring me to come to him.'

'So you came.'

'So I came. The truth is I couldn't stand it any longer. I should have
gone off my head if I had had much more of it. I was good for nothing,
my nerves were all anyhow, everyone was laughing at me. So I slipped
off by myself without a word to a creature; got down to Cape Town,
found a boat just starting, and was off on it at once. Directly the
boat was away the haunting stopped. My nerves were all right in an
instant. I told myself I was an ass; that I ought to have wired or
written, or done something sensible. Since, however, it was too late I
tried to make the best of things. I ran up to London so soon as we
reached port, meaning, if it turned out that my imagination had made a
fool of me, to go straight back without breathing a word to anyone of
my ever having come.'

'Not even to me?'

'Not even to you. You wouldn't have liked me to turn up with nothing
but a bee in my bonnet.'

'So long as you turned up, I shouldn't have cared for forty thousand
bees. The idea!'

'That's very sweet of you. As it happened, no sooner did I appear at
my old quarters than Mrs Flickers produced a letter which had arrived
for me--she did not know how long ago, and which she had not known
what to do with. It turned out to be an intimation from Collyer that
that my uncle had died on the 23rd of February, the very day on which,
out on the veldt, I had seen him assaulted by that unknown individual
upon that flight of steps.'

'Guy, is this a ghost story you have been telling me? I don't want to
be absurd, but it really does look as if it were a case of the hand of
destiny.'

'I don't know about the hand of destiny, but it does look as if it
were a case of something.'

'I shouldn't be surprised if, after all, the old reprobate has left
you some of his money.'

'Nor I. Oh, Letty, if he has! We'll be married on Monday.'

'As this is Friday, couldn't you make it Sunday? Monday seems such a
long way off. My dear Guy, first of all interview Mr Samuel Collyer.
Then you'll learn the worst.'

'I am going to. Of course I had to see you first--'

'Of course.'

'But I wired to him that I'd call this afternoon.'

'Then call.'

And Mr Holland called.



                              CHAPTER II

                          THE QUEST ORDAINED


Mr Collyer's offices were in Pump Court, first floor front. Mr Samuel
Collyer was a somewhat short and pursy gentleman of about fifty years
of age, with a clean-shaven face, and a manner which gave such a
varying complexion to the words he used as to cause it sometimes to be
very difficult to make out exactly what it was he meant; an extremely
useful manner for a solicitor to have. As with alert, swinging stride
Mr Holland entered, Mr Collyer rose, greeting him with his usual
stolid air, as if he had just looked in from across the road, instead
of from the wilds of Africa.

'Good morning, Mr Guy. You're looking very brown.'

'Yes, I--I'm feeling very brown.'

The words seemed to come from him almost before he knew it, on the
spur of the moment, as if the presence of a third person lent them a
special significance. Reclining in the only armchair the room
contained was a young gentleman of about Mr Holland's own age. He was
well dressed, good looking, very much at his ease, and he regarded Mr
Holland with a suggestion of amusement which seemed somehow to be very
much in character.

'In questions of feeling is brown the equivalent of blue?'

Mr Holland's bearing was not so genial as the other's.

'I did not expect to see you here.'

'Nor, my dear Guy, did I expect to see you. I did not even wish to.'

'That I can easily believe.'

'It is Mr Collyer's fault that I am here, not mine. I should have been
content never to set eyes on you again; and as for being in the same
room with you--'

He left his sentence unfinished, with a little airy movement of his
hand, which seemed to round it off with a sting. He continued to
smile, although Mr Holland regarded him for a moment with eyes which
were very far from smiling. The newcomer turned to the solicitor.

'I have your letter.'

'I presume, Mr Guy, that you had my letter nearly three months ago.'

'I had it this morning. I only came back from Africa last night.'

'From Africa? I was not aware you had gone so far.'

'Dear Guy is such a gadabout.'

The interpolation came from the young gentleman in the arm-chair. The
solicitor went on.

'The only address I had was the one in Craven Street. As my letter did
not come back I supposed it had reached you safely; but that, for
reasons of your own, you chose to take no notice of it. You know, Mr
Guy, that in such matters you are a little erratic.'

'I know. You needn't remind me. So my uncle is dead. Of what did he
die?'

'The immediate cause was apoplexy, brought on, it is to be feared, by
something which happened on the afternoon of his decease.'

The young gentleman in the arm-chair struck in.

'He was thrashed within an inch of his life, and very properly he was
served.'

'Thrashed! Where? On a flight of steps?'

'On the steps of the Hôtel des Anglais at Nice.'

'Good God! I thought I knew the place; of course it was the Hôtel des
Anglais; it's--it's past believing.'

The solicitor misapprehended the cause of Mr Holland's excitement.

'It does seem almost incredible; none the less it is a lamentable
fact.'

The young gentleman put in his word.

'How incredible? The dear man misbehaved himself with another man's
wife, as was his invariable custom when he had a chance. The other man
thrashed him for it. What could be more natural? or simpler?'

Mr Holland ignored the inquiry.

'What is it, Mr Collyer, which you wish to say to me?'

'It is not so much that I have anything to say to you as that I have a
duty to perform. I have to read to you your uncle's will. His
instructions were that it was to be read only in the presence of both
his nephews, his sole remaining relatives.'

'He has probably left all his money to found a hospital for cats, and
wished us both to be present, my dear Guy, so that we might enjoy each
other's discomfiture.'

Mr Holland said nothing. Mr Collyer was taking some papers out of a
metal box which stood against the wall, and on the front of which was
painted in white letters the name, 'George Burton.' Reseating himself
behind his table he held up a large white linen envelope, such as is
used in England for registered letters.

'I will read you the endorsement which is on it. "This envelope, which
he told me contained his will, was delivered to me by Mr George
Burton, on the 22nd of June 1899, and was then and there sealed by me
in the presence of my two clerks whose names are undersigned." Then
follow my own signature, and the signatures of the clerks in question,
both of whom are still in my employ, Ferdinand Murpeatt and Benjamin
Davis. Would either of you gentlemen like to see them?'

'My good Mr Collyer, we don't want to see your clerks. Your clerks be
sanctified. Why all this form and fuss? Make an end of it. Let's know
if it's cats or dogs Uncle Burton's favoured.'

'And you, Mr Guy, are you content that I should proceed at once to the
contents of this envelope?'

Mr Holland said nothing; he simply nodded. The solicitor, taking a
penknife, began to cut open the top of the envelope with a degree of
care which perhaps erred on the side of overcaution. He addressed them
as he did so.

'I may say that, beyond Mr Burton's own statement that it holds his
will, I have no notion what this envelope contains. I have no
knowledge of the purport of the will; Mr Burton never gave me the
faintest hint as to what were his testamentary intentions. You are
aware that your uncle was a man who did what he liked, in his own way;
and I say this, therefore, in order to give you to understand that
whatever form the will may take, I am not to be held responsible.'

The young gentleman in the arm-chair laughed.

'My dear Collyer, do cut the cackle, and do let's come to the 'osses.'

Mr Collyer took out from the envelope a single sheet of paper. Without
further preamble he commenced to read what was written on it, in a
slow, monotonous, sing-song voice, as if it were something sacred
which he almost felt it his duty to intone.


'"I, George Burton, of Hyde Park Terrace, London, W., do hereby
announce that this is my last Will and Testament, as written with my
own hand on June 17, 1899."

'"I have only two relatives living, viz., my two nephews, Horace
Burton, my brother's son, and Guy Holland, the son of my sister; and,
since I love them equally well, I desire to do them equal justice."'

The reading was interrupted by prolonged laughter from the young
gentleman in the arm-chair.

'The dear man!' he cried.

Mr Collyer continued.

'"I therefore give and bequeath all that I die possessed of, in real
and personal estate, to my nephew, Guy Holland--"'

'Good Lord!' exclaimed the young gentleman in the arm-chair.

Mr Holland's lips might have been closed a little tighter. The lawyer
went on unmoved.

'"Absolutely, to do with as he pleases, on condition that he recover
from May Bewicke, the actress, whom he knows, my ruby signet ring,
which she obtained from me by means of a trick on the 27th of this
last May. The ring is well known to him, and to Horace, and to my
lawyer, Samuel Collyer. The ring is to be delivered to Samuel Collyer,
whom I hereby appoint my sole executor, by my nephew, Guy, within
three months of the day of my death. Should he do so within the period
mentioned, then I do hereby name him as my sole heir and residuary
legatee. In default, however, of such delivery within the time stated,
for any cause whatever, then my whole estate, without any deduction
whatever, is to become the absolute property of my other nephew,
Horace Burton."

'"Since the chances that Guy will obtain the ring from Miss Bewicke
are not very large, that young woman preferring to keep tight hold of
anything she has once laid her hands on, in making this will I am
doing Horace even more than justice."

'"In the improbable case of the delivery of my ruby signet ring by Guy
to Samuel Collyer, within the aforementioned three months of my
decease, it is to be held by the said Samuel Collyer, and not to pass
out of his possession until his death, when it is to be sold, and the
proceeds devoted to form a Society for the Reformation of Actresses."

'"As witness my hand and signature this seventeenth day of June,
Eighteen hundred and ninety-nine. GEORGE BURTON."

'"Witnesses--"

'"John Claney, 13 Porchester Terrace, W."

'"Augustus Evans, 83 Belgrave Row, S.W."'


The reading was followed by silence, broken by a question from Mr
Holland.

'And pray what is the plain English of it all?'

'The will is plain English. You are to obtain a certain ring from a
certain lady and deliver it to me within a certain time. If you do so
you are your uncle's heir; if you do not, Mr Horace is.'

'Within three months of his death. He died on the 23rd of February.
This is the 19th of May. I have four days in which to get the ring.'

'Apparently that is the case.'

'Supposing this lady refuses to give me the ring when I ask for it,
as, so far as I can perceive, she will be perfectly justified in
doing.'

'Perfectly!'

The murmur came from Horace.

'How am I to get it from her within four days? Where is Miss Bewicke
now?'

'In London. She is acting at the Modern Theatre. I am afraid I am
unable to assist you with any advice as to how you are to procure the
ring should she refuse to hand it over.'

Mr Holland stood up.

'Is that will a good one?'

'You mean in a legal sense. I should say so, perfectly. It is just the
sort of will I should have expected your uncle to make. It is
distinctly characteristic of the man.'

'My uncle was a most delightful person. Then, if I do not succeed in
jockeying this lady out of her property inside four days I'm a
pauper.'

'At least you will not inherit under your uncle's will.'

As Mr Holland stood with knitted brows his cousin gave him a friendly
pat upon the back. Mr Holland whirled round to him in a manner which
was distinctly not friendly.

'How dare you touch me, sir!'

'My dear Guy! May not a cousin give a cousinly salutation to a cousin?
My congratulations, my dear boy. You're sure to be the heir. You
always were so clever at diddling a woman.'

The blood showed even through Mr Holland's bronzed cheeks; his
clenched fists twitched. The other, however, paid no heed to these
signs and portents.

'I believe you managed to diddle Miss Bewicke once before, eh, Guy?'
He turned upon his heels, with a little movement of his shoulders.
'Let's hope you'll succeed the second time as well as I've been given
to understand you did the first. Good-bye. Good luck, dear boy.
Collyer, I'll look in on you again.'

Mr Horace Burton strolled from the room. Presently Mr Holland followed
him.

'I, also, Mr Collyer, will talk things over when I look in again. I
don't feel equal to the task just now.' He said to himself as he was
going down the stairs, 'Nice to have to rob your old sweetheart to
keep yourself out of the gutter. He knew very well there had been
passages between us; so he set me the dirtiest job to do which he
could think of. The brute! I'd better have stayed in Africa than have
come back to this. I wonder what Letty'll say.'

The solicitor, left alone, leaning back in his chair, stroked his chin
with his hand as if to discover whether it wanted shaving.

'They don't know that Miss May Bewicke is Mr Samuel Collyer's niece. I
fancy that there are only one or two persons who are aware that he has
a niece upon the stage. George Burton certainly was not.'

He smiled as if his own thoughts tickled him.



                             CHAPTER III

                         MISS BROAD COMMANDS


They were in Regent's Park again; at the same place; on the same seat.
She said to him as he came up,--

'I told papa that you were here. I'm of age, and I suppose I'm
entitled to do as I please; but I made up my mind that I'd have no
secrecy. It's degrading.'

'Well, degrading's strong. And what did papa say?'

'I mentioned, at the same time, that your uncle was dead, and under
the circumstances he perhaps thought it advisable not to say much. At
anyrate he didn't.'

'He might have done; and he will do soon.'

Something in his tone caught her ear.

'Guy! What's the matter? You don't mean--?'

'Not exactly, though I'm not sure it isn't worse.'

She half rose from the seat.

'Has he left you nothing?'

He told her the purport of his uncle's will; she listening eager-eyed
and open-mouthed.

'Do you mean to say that you're to get this ridiculous ring out of
Miss Bewicke's possession in four days, by fair means or foul?'

He nodded.

'But it's monstrous.'

'It is a pretty tall order?'

'What do you propose to do?'

'I propose to call upon Miss Bewicke.'

In a moment, without any warning, she was standing up beside him stiff
and straight.

'I see. Now I understand. That's the idea. I've no doubt that Miss
Bewicke will find you a most persuasive person.'

'My dear Letty!'

'Weren't you and Miss Bewicke once engaged to be married? Pray don't
trouble yourself to explain. I know all about it. You need have no
fear of losing your uncle's inheritance. You are quite sure to
understand each other. She'll be delighted to give you the ring in
exchange for another. Would you like to give her mine?'

She actually began to unbutton her glove. He groaned.

'It's worth while seeing ghosts in Africa for this!'

'And what do you propose to say to Miss Bewicke when you call upon
her?'

'That's what I want you to tell me.'

'I tell you! As if you didn't know! After the stories I have heard of
her I had hoped that you would have had no more to do with Miss
Bewicke. But, of course, my wishes do not count.'

'If the stories you have heard are to Miss Bewicke's discredit, you
may take my word for it that they are libels.'

'You are sure to know. I am glad you have such a high opinion of her.
When you have seen her you might let me know what she says. That is,
if she should say anything which was not spoken in the strictest
confidence.'

She actually walked away. He went after her.

'My dear Letty, don't you want me to try to get the ring?'

'By all means act in accordance with the dictates of your better
judgment. You are so much wiser than I.'

'But, Letty, if I don't get the ring, I--I won't say I lose you,
because God knows I hope I never shall do that; but it means that I
shall have to wait for you, the Powers above alone can tell how long.
While getting it means getting you at once.'

'Guy, weren't you once engaged to be married to Miss Bewicke?'

'Yes, I was.'

'And I suppose you loved each other?'

'Letty, it's not like you to rub it in like this.'

'My dear Guy, let us look the situation fairly in the face. This
person, from whom you are going to ask this weighty favour--in effect
you are going to ask her to bestow on you a fortune--is the woman whom
once you loved, and who was once your promised wife. I don't like it;
it's no use pretending to you that I do.'

'My dear Letty, do you think I like it? If it weren't for
circumstances I'd let the ruby and the fortune go together. Listen,
the decision shall be in your hands. Shall I try to fulfil the old
man's preposterous and malignant condition? or shall I throw the whole
thing up at once, let the money go to Horace Burton, return to Africa,
and keep on pounding away in the hope of making enough to win you in
the end? Now, which is it to be? You shall say.'

'It's not fair to place the entire responsibility upon my shoulders.'

'Since this is a matter in which you are primarily interested, my one
desire is that your views should be treated with the utmost possible
deference.'

'Then get the ruby.'

'But how?'

'Tear it from her if you like; knock her down and steal it; I don't
care. Only don't make love to her under the pretence of doing me a
service. Guy, if you're even civil to her--'

She left the sentence unfinished; the air with which she spoke was
eloquent enough.

'My dear Letty, as if I should! Then do you suggest that I should go
and see her?'

'Of course. To-night.'

'To-night?'

'At once. And get the ruby from her somehow; I don't care how, but get
it. And meet me here in the morning with it in your hand.'

'But, dearest, Miss Bewicke goes to the theatre.'

'I don't care where she goes.'

'Exactly, but I can hardly interview her in the theatre; and, in any
case, she would scarcely have the ruby with her there.'

'Then see her after.'

'After the theatre?'

'Oh, Guy, don't keep asking me questions! If you only knew how I hate
the notion of your seeing her at all, especially to solicit a favour
at her hands. But since I suppose you must, you must get it over. Only
I know what took place between you before; papa knows and everybody
knows--heaps of people have told me.' A curious something came into
her voice, a sort of choking sound. It frightened Mr Holland. 'Guy,
you must see her to-night--to-night--and never again. Get the ruby
from her if you have to fight her for it, and meet me here to-morrow
morning with it in your hand.'

Without a word of warning she scurried from him down the path. He
called after her.

'Letty!'

'Don't try to stop me. I don't want to speak to you when you're going
to see that woman.'

There was that in her voice which caused him to deem it advisable to
take her at her word. He let her go. He remained behind to objurgate
fickle fortune and other things. He told himself, not for the first
time,--

'It really was not worth while to see ghosts in Africa for this. If
spectral visitations all tend this way I bar them. The next ghost I
see I'll decline to notice it. It shall lead somebody else into a
mess, not me.' He began to stroll towards the gate, kicking every now
and then at the pebbles on the path. 'Never thought Letty was such a
little spitfire. Bless her heart! I love her for it all the more. Who
can have told her about the mess I made of things with May? I'll swear
I didn't. These things will out.' He groaned. 'It's past seven. I'll
go and get something to eat. Then if food screws my courage to the
sticking point I'll go and interview Miss Bewicke a little later. But
as for taking that ruby from her _vi et armis_--oh, lord! If ever
there was a forlorn hope, I'm down for one to-night.'

Miss Bewicke had a flat in Victoria Street. A little after half-past
eleven Mr Holland addressed himself to the hall porter with an inquiry
if she was in. There was that in his bearing which suggested that the
food which he had consumed had not exhilarated him to any appreciable
extent. In fact, so melancholy was his air that one would not have
been surprised to learn that it had injuriously affected his
digestion. The porter regarded him askance.

'Do you know Miss Bewicke?'

'I have that honour.'

'Sure?'

'Tolerably sure.'

'You'll excuse my asking you, but such a lot of people, perfect
strangers, come hanging about and annoying her that my orders are not
to let anybody go up if I can help it who isn't a friend of hers. I
understand you to say that you are a friend.'

'A friend of some years' standing.'

Mr Holland sighed. The porter observed him with dubious glances, being
possibly doubtful as to the meaning of the sigh.

'I suppose it's all right if you're a friend of hers; you ought to
know best if you are. I can only say that you'll do no good if you're
trying it on. I don't know if Miss Bewicke is in; I don't think she's
returned from the theatre. But you can go up and see. I'll take you up
in the lift if you like.'

The porter took him up in the lift. On the way Mr Holland asked a
question.

'Do Miss Bewicke's unknown admirers allow their admiration to carry
them as far as her private residence?'

'I don't know about admiration. Idiots I call them; and sometimes
worse. People hang about here all day, and sometimes half the night,
trying to introduce themselves to her, and I don't know what rubbish.
Why, I've known half-a-dozen cabs follow her from the theatre to the
very door.'

'Empty cabs?'

'Not much; a fool, and sometimes two fools, in each.'

'Ah!' Mr Holland reflected. 'If Miss Bewicke had been destined to be
my wife I wonder how I should have enjoyed her being the object of
such ardent admiration. Under such circumstances a husband's feelings
must be worth dissection.'

In reply to Mr Holland's modest knock, the door of Miss Bewicke's
apartments was opened by a young gentleman well ever six feet high,
who appeared to be in rather a curious frame of mind.

'What the deuce do you want?' was his courteous salutation.

'I want Miss Bewicke.'

'Oh, you do, do you? then just you come inside.'

He took Mr Holland by the shoulder, and that individual, although a
little surprised at the young gentleman's notion of the sort of
reception which it was advisable to accord a friendly visitor,
suffered him to lead him to an apartment which was beyond. This was
apparently a sitting-room, prettily furnished, particularly with
photographs, as is the manner of ladies who are connected with the
theatre, and contained a table which was laid for two. The young
gentleman still did not release Mr Holland's shoulder. He glared at
him instead, and put to him this flattering question,--

'Are you the blackguard who has been making himself a nuisance about
the place this last week and more?'

Mr Holland's reply was mild in the extreme.

'I hope not.'

'You hope not? What do you mean by that? Don't you know you are?'

'I do not. I think the mistake, sir, is yours. May I ask who you are?
You have your own ideas of how to greet the coming guest. Does Miss
Bewicke keep you on the premises in order that you may mete out this
kind of treatment to all her friends? You should be popular.'

'You're no friend of Miss Bewicke's. Don't try to bounce me, sir. I'll
tell you in two words who I am. My name's Dumville--Bryan Dumville.
Miss Bewicke is shortly to be my wife. As her affianced husband I
consider myself entitled to protect her from the impertinent
attentions of any twopenny-ha'penny bounder who chooses to think that
because she condescends to appear upon the stage of a theatre he is at
liberty to persecute her when and how he pleases.'

'Your sentiments do you credit, Mr Dumville.'

'Don't try to soft-soap me, sir. You can speak smoothly enough to me;
but I will give you ten seconds, before I throw you down the stairs,
to explain the meaning of your presence here.'

'I think, Mr Dumville, that, if I were you, I should make it a little
more than ten seconds before, as you put it, you throw me down the
stairs. I have come to see Miss Bewicke. I am afraid I can only
explain myself to her.'

'No, you don't. That trick's been played before! It's stale; out you
go!'

'Don't be an ass, sir!'

'Ass!'

The epithet seemed to add fuel to the excitable Mr Dumville's flame.
Throwing both arms round Mr Holland, trying to lift him off the
ground, he proceeded to hustle him towards the door. Mr Holland,
unwilling to be treated in quite such unceremonious fashion, displayed
a capacity for resistance for which, possibly, the other was
unprepared. There was every prospect of a delightful little bout of
rough and tumble, when an interruption came.

'Bryan! what are you doing?'

The interruption came from a young lady who was standing at the open
door.



                              CHAPTER IV

                           MR HOLLAND FAILS


A Small young lady, daintily fashioned, with a child-like face. She
was charmingly dressed; a big feather boa was round her neck. As she
stood there, in spite of the perfection of her attire, she looked more
like a child than a woman. The men released each other. Mr Dumville
explained.

'I was only going to throw the fellow down the stairs.'

'Is that all? And what has'--there was a little hesitation; then the
word was softened by a smile--'the fellow done? And who may the fellow
be?'

'I don't know. Some bounder, I suppose.'

Mr Dumville seemed slightly disconcerted, as if the situation had not
quite shaped as he had expected. Mr Holland's hat and stick had fallen
to the floor. He stooped to pick them up. When he turned there came an
exclamation from the little lady at the door.

'Guy!'

'Miss Bewicke.'

'Whoever would have thought of seeing you? Why, this is Mr Holland, a
friend of my childish days.'

She advanced with a tiny gloved hand held out to him. Mr Dumville,
whose hands were in his trouser pockets, seemed disposed to be grumpy.

'It wasn't my fault; he should have told me.'

'You hardly gave me an opportunity.'

'My dear Bryan, I believe you're a little mad; that is, I believe
you're a little madder even than I thought you were. Guy, this is
Bryan Dumville, a gentleman who thinks that he has claims on me.
Bryan, this is Guy Holland, who was a friend of mine when I was quite
a little child; and that--how long ago that is!'

'I don't see how I'm to blame. The porter was talking about the fellow
who has been such a nuisance, saying that he has been making himself
particularly objectionable to-day, trying to force his way upstairs,
and I don't know what; and he added that he was hanging about at that
very moment, and if he turned his back he shouldn't be surprised if
the blackguard made another try to get at you. I made up my mind that
if he did I would give him what for. So, when someone knocked at the
door, and I found it was a man, I went for him.'

'Nothing could be more natural.'

If Mr Holland's tone was a little dry Mr Dumville did not seem to
notice it; but the lady regarded the speaker with laughter lighting
all her pretty face.

'Guy, you must sup with us.'

'Thank you, I have not long dined.'

'That doesn't matter; you must eat with us again.' She rang the bell.
A maid appeared. 'Bring another plate; Mr Holland will join us at
supper.' Miss Bewicke proceeded to remove her outdoor things, handing
them to Mr Dumville one by one, talking as she did so. 'Someone told
me that you were at the other side of the world--at the North Pole, I
think.'

'Not the North Pole; but I have been to Africa. I only returned last
night.'

'And you came to-day to see me? How perfectly delightful of you.'

Mr Holland winced. He was conscious that the lady might misapprehend
the situation.

'The fact is, I have something rather important which I wish to say to
you.'

'Indeed? How interesting! I like people to say important things to me.
Say it while we're at supper. That is, if it's something Bryan may be
allowed to listen to.'

'If I'm in the way I'll go.'

Mr Holland was silent. He felt that Mr Dumville was in the way, but
that he himself was hardly in a position to say so. Miss Bewicke spoke
for him.

'My dear Bryan, when you're in the way we'll let you know. Now,
people, will you please sit down?' They seated themselves at table.
'What is this very important thing?--must it out?--or will it keep?'

Mr Holland reflected. He thought of Letty, and other things. Miss
Bewicke seemed disposed to be friendly. Perhaps it was as well there
was a third person present. He decided to make the running.

'It's this way. My uncle's dead.'

'Your uncle? Mr George Burton? I hope you won't think me dreadful, but
I cannot say I'm sorry. He was not a person for whom I entertained
feelings of profound respect.'

'He--he's left rather a peculiar will.'

'I'm not surprised. I should be surprised at nothing he did which was
peculiar. I never knew him do anything which wasn't. Or worse.'

Mr Holland resolved to plunge.

'He says you have a ruby ring of his.'

'He says?--who says?'

'My uncle--in his will.'

Miss Bewicke laid down her knife and fork. 'Mr Holland, do I
understand that you intend to suggest that I have in my possession
another person's property?'

'It's like this. He had a ruby ring, I know it very well. In his will
he says you have it. He may have given it to you for all I know; he
did queer things--'

'Thank you.'

'I don't mean that.'

'It doesn't matter. Go on.'

'Anyhow, it's a condition of his will that I'm to get it back from
you, and if I don't get it back within three months of his death I'm
to lose his money.'

'I don't in the least understand you. Will you please be so good as to
make yourself quite clear.'

He made himself as clear as he could, though he did not find it easy.
Nor was his explanation well received.

'Then am I to gather that you have come to me at midnight, hot-foot
from Africa, in order to get from me--a ring; a ruby ring?'

'It doesn't sound very nice, but that's the plain truth of it.'

'It's very flattering.'

'Very!'

The chorus came from Mr Dumville, and was accompanied by a glare.

'I can only throw myself upon your mercy, Miss Bewicke, and implore
you to let me have this ring to save my inheritance.'

Miss Bewicke resumed her knife and fork, which had all this time been
lying idle. There was a change in her manner, which, though subtle,
was well defined to Mr Holland's consciousness.

'By the way, Mr Holland, the other day I heard your name associated
with a person called, I think, Broad. Was it merely idle gossip, or do
you know anything of a person with a name like that?'

'I do. I know Miss Broad, and very well. I hope she will be my wife.
She has promised that she will.'

'Ah, you and I know what is the value of such promises, don't we, Mr
Holland? Is she any relation to Broad, the teaman, in Mincing Lane?'

'She is his daughter; his only child.'

'Indeed! His only child? How delightful! Old Broad has bushels of
money. How nice for you, of all men, to be received in such a family.'

The airy insolence of the tone was meant to sting, and did, though he
endeavoured to conceal the fact.

'You haven't answered my question.'

'Haven't I? What was your question?'

'Will you let me have the ring, to save my inheritance?'

'It's such an odd question--isn't it, Bryan? So mysterious.
Melodrama's not at all my line. They say I'm too small. Do you think
that I'm too small?'

'I should imagine that you were better fitted to shine in domestic
comedy.'

His words conveyed a meaning which this time stung her, although she
laughed.

'But, my dear Mr Holland, what do you want with an inheritance when
you are going to marry a rich wife--the only child of her father, and
he a widower. I'm told that old Broad's a millionaire.'

'I'm not marrying her for her father's money; nor for her own. Nor do
I intend to go to her empty-handed.'

'How chivalrous you are! So changed!'

'Am I to have the ring?'

'Really, Mr Holland, you speak to me as if it were a case of stand and
deliver. You can hardly know how your uncle behaved or I do not think
you would broach the subject to me at all. In any case it is not one
which I can discuss with you. Talk it over with Mr Dumville. Whatever
he wishes I will do. I always act on his advice; he is so very wise.
Good-night, Mr Holland. So glad to have seen you. Come soon again.
Goodnight, Bryan, dear.'

'But you haven't had any supper.'

'Mr Holland has taken my appetite away; he has caused my mind to
travel back to events which I am always endeavouring to forget. But it
doesn't matter. Hear what he has to say, and decide for me. King will
let you both out when your discussion's finished.'

Mr Holland stood up.

'Miss Bewicke, I am very sorry if I have said anything which has given
you pain or offence. Nothing could have been further from my
intention.'

'Thank you.'

'But this matter which you treat so lightly--'

'Lightly!'

'Is to me almost one of life and death. I believe that my uncle has
left something like a quarter of a million.'

'What a sum, Bryan! Doesn't it sound nice?'

'If I can hand this ring to Mr Collyer--'

'To whom?'

'To Mr Collyer, my uncle's solicitor, the money is mine. I have only
four days left to do it in.'

'Four days! Just now you said three months.'

'The time appointed is three months after my uncle's death. He died on
the 23rd of February. I have only just become acquainted with the
terms of his will. So in four days it will be decided if I am to be a
rich man or a pauper. You see, Miss Bewicke, that my fate is in your
hands.'

'I really cannot discuss the matter with you now. It would make me
ill. The strain would be too much for me. I refer you to Mr Dumville.
Bryan, dear, I leave the matter entirely in your hands.'

'Miss Bewicke--'

Mr Dumville rose.

'Mr Holland, you have heard what Miss Bewicke has said. So far as she
is concerned the discussion is closed. My dear, let me open the door
for you.'

He opened the door for her. She passed out, with her handkerchief to
her eyes. A fact on which Mr Dumville commented.

'You see what you have done, sir--affected her to tears.'

'To what?'

'To tears!'

'Oh!'

'Well, sir, what have you to say to me?'

'To you?'

'Yes, sir, to me. You have said more than enough to Miss Bewicke. Now,
perhaps there is something which you would like to say to me, as her
affianced husband.'

'There are one or two things which I should like to say to you, but I
am inclined to think that I had better not say them to you here. Nor
do I quite see my way to ask you to come outside, though I should like
to.'

Mr Holland was savage, and unwise enough to show it. Mr Dumville,
having polished his eyeglass, replaced it in his eye so that he might
scan the speaker with a greater show of dignity.

'What on earth do you mean by talking to me like that? If that's the
kind of remark you wish to make the sooner you get away the better.'

'I am quite of your opinion, Mr Dumville. I shall always remember with
pleasure that I was able to get away from you.'

Mr Dumville strode forward.

'You be hanged, sir!'

'After you, Mr Dumville, after you.'

'You had better be careful; although I don't want to have a vulgar row
with you here.'

'Would you mind mentioning a place at which you would? I will try to
make it convenient to be there.'

Mr Dumville turned and rang the bell.

'What's that for?'

'For the servant to show you out.'

Mr Holland laughed, showing himself out without another word. He was
conscious of two things--that he had not been particularly discreet,
and that he would like to make his indiscretion greater by 'taking it
out' of somebody. It was not often his temper gained the upper
hand; when it did he was apt to be dangerous both to himself and
others.

Nor was his mood chastened by a little incident which took place as he
was about to descend the staircase. From a door which opened behind
him Miss Bewicke addressed him in mellifluous accents.

'Oh, Mr Holland, will you give my fondest love to dear Miss Broad?
It's true that I don't know her, but if you tell her what good friends
you and I used to be I'm sure that she won't mind. I hope to make her
acquaintance one of these days, and then I'll tell her how fond you
and I were of one another. Good-night.'

Before he had a chance to answer the door was closed. He went down the
stairs in a rage.

'The little cat!' he muttered. 'The little cat! who would have thought
she had such claws?'

As he was going out into the street a woman, running against him,
almost knocked him over. She was entering the house, apparently in
hot, unseeing haste; putting up her hand as if to prevent his
observation of her features; flying up the stairs as if danger was
hard upon her heels.

Mr Holland adjusted his hat, which she had knocked almost off without
offering the least apology.

'I wonder what mischief you have been up to? Women are beauties, real
beauties!'

Having indulged himself in this very cheap piece of cynicism, he,
metaphorically, shook the dust of the house from off his feet, but had
not gone a dozen paces when he found himself face to face with his
cousin, Horace Burton.



                              CHAPTER V

                           A WOMAN SCORNED


Mr Burton might have been awaiting Mr Holland. He did not seem at all
surprised to see him there, even at that hour of the night, or,
rather, morning, for midnight had long since chimed.

'How do, dear boy? So you haven't been letting the grass grow under
your feet. That's where you beat me; you are so energetic.'

And Mr Burton smiled. That smile was his most prominent feature. It
was always there. Not that it necessarily denoted mirth. Not at all.
It might mean anything, or nothing. When he was in a rage he smiled,
and when he was in the best of tempers; when he wished to be
agreeable, and when he wished to be nasty--and he could be nasty. He
was not a bad-looking man, in his way, though there was something
about him a little suggesting the worst side of the Semite, which
rather detracted from the general effect. It was difficult to say
exactly what it was. Whether it was that his nostrils were unduly
thick, or that so much of his mouth as his heavy moustache suffered to
be visible was animal, or that his eyes, which were fine of their
kind, had an odd trick of intently observing you when you were not
looking at him, and of wandering away into space when you were, it
would have needed an acute physiognomist to determine, and then that
physiognomist might have been in error. Certainly there was something
about Mr Horace Burton which nearly always caused an experienced man
of the world, on first making his acquaintance, to glance at him a
first, a second, and again a third time, and then start thinking.
Perhaps it was that, in spite of his moustache, his chronic smile
displayed his teeth, which were not nice ones; or because of his soft,
purring voice, which, when he became excited, had a squeak in it; or
because of his feline trick of touching a person, with whom he might
be conversing, with his fingertips, and stroking him, when he got near
enough to do it.

Mr Holland regarded his cousin in silence. The encounter did not
appear to astonish him, nor to add to his pleasure either. Mr Burton
continued.

'Well--have you got it?'

'Have I got what?'

'Ah--you've answered. You haven't. I see. Thanks. It was rather sharp
work to raid the girl at this hour of the night, don't you think? But
you always were so keen. Was she nice to you? She used to be, didn't
she? You've been a lucky chap. I never could make out what women saw
in you to like. A lot of them have seen something. There's Miss Broad,
for instance--'

'Don't mention that lady's name.'

'Not mention her name? My dear chap!' Mr Burton placed the finger-tips
of his right hand against Mr Holland's chest, to have them brushed
aside as if they were some noxious insect. He went on unmoved. 'She's
to be my cousin; so I'm told. Unless you've jerked her up. I hear her
father kicked you out of the house; perhaps you anticipate more
kicking; in a case like that you can't kick back again. So perhaps
you're wise to chuck the girl. I tell you what, dear boy.' The
finger-tips returned, again to be displaced. 'Marry the Bewicke girl.
Get a special license to marry the girl out of hand. Then you'll get
the ruby and the money too. It's the only way you will. Hearken to the
words of a wise man.'

'Mr Burton, although I am so unfortunate as to be a relative of yours,
I have on a previous occasion been compelled to inform you that I
decline to hold communication with, or afford you recognition of any
sort or kind. I repeat that intimation now. With my reasons you are
well acquainted; their name is Legion. Have the goodness, therefore,
to let me pass.'

'But, my dear Guy, how about our uncle's money?'

'What about my uncle's money?'

'Our uncle's; forgive the plural, Guy. Hadn't we better come to some
friendly arrangement while there still is time. You'll never get the
ruby out of the Bewicke woman; I know her; she's a daughter of the
horse-leech; she'll see you damned first. Relinquish the chase at
once--you'll have to in a few hours, anyhow--and throw yourself on my
magnanimity. There's a suggestion, Guy! Give it up; withdraw at once
from what you know is a lost game, and I'll present you with a
thousand pounds. Push the thing through to the bitter end, and you'll
get nothing.'

'A thousand?--out of a quarter of a million?'

'It would be a gift, Guy--a free gift. It isn't every man who'd
present a cousin who'd used him as you've used me with a free gift of
a thousand pounds.'

'Mr Burton, if the money is to be yours, I'll have none of it. I'm not
disposed to be beholden to your charity, nor to you in any way, as you
are aware. If it is to be mine, you'll have none of it; I know your
tastes, and will not pander to their gratification. Let me pass.'

'See how different we are. If the money is to be mine--and it will
be; it's as good as mine already--I'll give you a few coppers every
time we meet; I'll even send you some occasionally through the post.
Good-night! My love to both the ladies!'

Mr Burton hailed a passing hansom and was driven off. Mr Holland
continued his promenade, but had not gone far before he was accosted
from behind.

'Mr Holland! Mr Holland!' exclaimed a female voice, as if the speaker
were in distress for want of breath.

'Who's that?' He turned to see. A feminine figure was hastening
towards him. 'This promises to be a night of adventure. Has that
little hussy become humanised and changed her mind?'

The caller approached, holding her hand to her side.

'I wish to speak to you. You know me?'

They stood close to a lamp. Mr Holland looked her up and down.

'I seem to have seen you before. You are the person who rushed into
the house as I came out.'

'That is it; I rushed--from him!'

She threw out her hand with a dramatic gesture, pointing down the
street.

'From whom?'

'From your cousin--from Mr Horace Burton. Oh, he is a nice fellow! If
I had stayed with him much longer I should have killed him; so to save
myself from killing him I rushed away.'

'My cousin's concerns are not mine. I cannot assume responsibility for
anything he may do or have done. You are mistaken if you suppose I
can.'

'I am not mistaken; I know all that. You men are all the same; you
hang together. If your own brother drives a woman into the gutter, you
say it is no affair of yours; you pass on, you leave her there. Before
you open your mouth I know you cannot be responsible for what he has
done. But you can make me to be revenged on him.'

'Even that I cannot do.'

'You can! I say you can!'

The woman spoke, not loudly, but with such passion and intensity of
meaning that Mr Holland was conscious of a curious sensation as he
heard her. She was tall and thin, about thirty, not bad looking, but
precisely the type of woman the ordinary rake, seeking for a victim,
would, if he had his senses about him, have left severely alone. She
was distinctly not a person to be trifled with. Apparently a
foreigner, because, although she spoke fluent English, there was now
and then a slight accent and a curious idiom which betrayed her.
Written large all over her was what, to a practised eye, was
unmistakable evidence that she was of the number of those who take all
things seriously, even rakes. One could easily believe that to her a
promise was a promise, though it came from the mouth of a man; and
since there are men who regard promises made to women as a sort of
persiflage, one would have thought that gentlemen who take that
standpoint would carefully avoid an individual who eyed matters of the
kind from such an inconveniently different point of view. Mr Horace
Burton, however, was in some respects an unusual specimen even of his
class. Possibly the consciousness that he ran the risk of burning his
own fingers by playing tricks with this particular fire was the lure
which drew him on.

Anyhow, Mr Holland told himself that this time his cousin had caught a
Tartar, and became more and more convinced of it as the woman went on.

'My name is Louise Casata; I am Corsican, as he will find, your
cousin. I am the companion of Miss May Bewicke.' Mr Holland pricked up
his ears at this, which the woman, with her keen instinct, perceived.
'Now do you not remember me? I was with her when you used to make love
to her. I used to think you did it very well. But in those days you
were fond of her. Now it is of another woman you are fond. Although
you may have forgotten, do not believe she has.'

This time Mr Holland winced.

'I think that now I do remember you. You used to write letters for her
and that kind of thing.'

'All sorts of kinds of things. I do everything she tells me to; I am a
Jack-of-all-trades. I would act for her one day; I can act, but I am
too large a size. But that does not matter; nor does it matter what
your cousin has done to me, though you can guess. But you cannot guess
how he has lied and juggled.'

'I think I can.'

'Then you must know him very well. In which case you have my sympathy.
What does matter is what you are going to do to him.'

'I am going to do nothing to him.'

'We will see; you will see; they all will see. Be still! Let me speak.
He has told me about your uncle's will--about the ruby which Miss
Bewicke has. How, if you get it from her, you are to have all the
money; how, if you don't, he is to have it all. I know! Very well; you
will get the ruby. That's what you will do to him. He will be ruined,
body and soul; though, for his soul, that was lost long ago. If he
wishes to keep his body out of prison he will have to be quick out of
England. He will not find it easy. There are those who are watching
for him too well.'

'Are you sure of what you say?'

'Am I sure! Do I not know? It is only because they think he will get
his uncle's money that he has not been in prison before. I tell you
there is a convict's uniform waiting for him in more than one place.
You will fit it on his back. I shall be revenged. I will go and see
him when he is in gaol. Every three months he will be allowed to
receive a visit. I will be his visitor. To see me will give him
pleasure. I shall have such nice things to say. Oh, yes!'

Mr Holland shivered. There was that about this woman which filled him
with a sense of vague discomfort.

'I don't like your way of putting things at all!'

'What does it matter what you like? To get the ruby--that is your
affair.'

'How do you suggest that I am, as you phrase it, "to get the ruby"?'

'You will have to take it.'

'Take it?'

'She will never give it to you--never. She hates you. She also has
been looking for revenge. Now she has her chance. You behaved badly to
her. Now she will behave badly to you.'

'I deny that I behaved badly to her. If you were acquainted with all
the facts you would not judge me with such hard judgment.'

'She thinks that you behaved badly to her, and, for a woman, that is
enough.'

'Then am I to take it that you only think that Horace Burton has
behaved badly to you?'

The woman favoured him with a look which made him realise more clearly
than anything which had gone before what a Tartar his cousin had
encountered. She was silent for a moment or two. When she did speak,
she spoke quietly; but it was a quietude in which there was a quality
which was not peace.

'You think to get me in a rage. I am not such a fool. When I am in
earnest I am not so easily angered. It is no affair of yours if it is
only that I think he has treated me badly. It is your affair to get
the ruby; and I tell you that to get it you must take it.'

'I am so dull as not to understand what you mean when you say that I
must take it.'

'I will make it clear. You have four days--four only. Good! At one
o'clock to-morrow night you will come to Miss Bewicke's rooms. She
will be out. It is Saturday. She goes by the midnight train to
Brighton until Monday. All will be dark. The front door you will find
open. You will have but to push it to enter. You will go to her
bedroom; it is in front of you, the second door on the right as you go
in. That door, also, will be open. The dressing-table is before the
window on the left. It has many little drawers. In them are a great
number of her jewels. In the bottom little drawer on the right-hand
side facing the glass there is one thing only; it is your uncle's ruby
signet ring. I know. I have seen it very often. She is not proud of
the way in which she got it; she calls it "old Burton's scalp." It is
to her a trophy which she won in battle, so she keeps it all by itself
in that little bottom drawer. You have but to put your hand in; it is
yours. You go away; you close the doors behind you; for you the game
is won.'

Mr Holland stared. The matter-of-fact air with which the proposal was
made almost took his breath away.

'You are suggesting that I should commit burglary.'

She made a contemptuous movement with her head and hands.

'It is but a word; what does it matter--a word? It is a burglary of
which you will hear nothing more. I promise you that Miss Bewicke will
do nothing.'

'And the morality of the proceeding, what of that?'

'Morality!' She laughed. 'The morality! Do not talk to me such
nonsense! Bah! As if anyone cared for morality except for the sake of
a----. But I shall not contend with you; you but amuse yourself. You
understand what I have said?'

'Perfectly. Too well.'

'Very good. Then I shall see you to-morrow night at one o'clock.'

'You will do nothing of the kind.'

'No, I shall not see you, because it will be dark; but you will be
there. You will find the doors open, and everything as I have said. It
is already late; I must go. Good-bye.'

She went, fluttering from him up the street at a gait which was half
walk, half run. He stood looking after her, a little taken aback by
the abruptness of her departure.

'That woman appears to have formed a high opinion of my character. She
flatters me.'



                              CHAPTER VI

                  MISS BROAD COMMANDS A SECOND TIME


The next morning, although he was early at the rendezvous, Miss Broad
was there before him. He saw her before she saw him--or thought he
did--and, unperceived, as he fancied, stood and watched her. She was
reading a book, sitting a little sideways, so that he saw her profile
clearly. It was a brilliant morning, and she was attired for the sun.
She had on a light grey silky dress, which was covered with flowers,
and a huge hat, about a yard round, which matched the dress. He
thought how nice she looked. Of a charm so delicate. Instinct with the
essence of all things spiritual. He had been depressed as he had come
through the park. The mere sight of her dispelled the clouds. The
blood moved brisker through his veins. Seeing how engrossed she was by
what she read, thinking to take her by surprise, he began to steal
towards her across the grass--which he ought not to have done. Hardly
had he stepped over the little iron fence than a stentorian voice
bawled,--

'Come out of that!'

The invitation was addressed to him, as others, including Miss Broad,
perceived as well as he did. It was a keeper's civil method of
suggesting that he should keep off the grass, which, just there, was
fenced about. He bowed to Miss Broad with a feeble smile, she merely
nodding in return, without rising from her seat. As he advanced
towards her along the proper gravel path, he was a little conscious
that his approach had been robbed of dignity. She received him with an
air which was a little frigid--still without rising--and beginning at
once on a subject which he would have liked postponed.

'Well? Have you got it?'

'Have I got what?'

'You know very well what I mean. Have you got the ruby?--as you
promised.'

'As I promised? My dear Letty, I think that statement is--is a little
unauthorised.'

'Does that mean that you haven't got it?'

'I'm afraid it does--as yet.'

'Did you try to get it?'

'I did.'

'Did you go and see that woman?'

'I called upon Miss Bewicke.'

'And do you mean to say that she refused to let you have it?'

'If you'll allow me, I'll tell you what took place.'

He told her--a trifle lamely, but still he presented her with a
sufficiently clear picture of what actually occurred--sufficiently
clear, that is, to inflame her with indignation. She listened with
eyes which grew brighter and brighter, and lips which closed tighter
and tighter. The spiritual side of her became less obvious.

'And do you mean to say that you allowed the creature to trample on
you without a word of protest?'

'I am not aware that she did trample on me.'

'Not when, according to your own account, she treated you as if you
were a dog? I wonder you didn't take her into your hands and strangle
her.'

'My dear Letty!'

'Of course I don't mean that; but you know what I do mean. As for that
man--that Mr What's-his-name--why didn't you knock him down?'

'In a lady's room? I did suggest that if he liked to step outside I
should be happy to do him any little service which was in my power.'

'And what did he do?'

'Rang the bell and requested the servant to show me out.'

'And you went? You actually allowed this man to kick you out--for that
was what it came to--without a word.'

'Well, my dear, Miss Bewicke called out to me as I was going down the
stairs to say that she sent her love to you.'

'Guy! you dare to tell me such a thing? You allow that creature to
insult me by sending such a message, or pretending to; and then you
repeat her insolence to me. The little wretch! So you are ruined.'

'Not yet. There are still about four days between me and the worst.'

'Then do you propose to allow her to have you kicked out of her
apartments on each of those four days? Besides insulting me? I had
hardly imagined that you were that kind of person. But one learns.
Well, I suppose if you don't mind, I needn't. Though I really think
you might be better off if you returned to Africa before instead of
afterwards.'

'That is something like the advice which Horace offered.'

She sat up straighter.

'Did you also see Mr Burton last night?'

'He was waiting in the street when I came out of Miss Bewicke's. He
congratulated me on the result of my visit.'

'Really, you appear to have had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Everybody
seems to have had a kick at you. For my part, Guy, rather than allow
people to ride over me rough-shod, as you appear disposed to do,
I'd--I'd--steal the ruby.'

'You are in accordance with still another piece of advice which I
received.'

'Guy! what do you mean?' He told her of his interview with Miss
Casata. When he had finished she drew a long breath.

'Guy, I should do as she says.'

'Letty!'

'I should, I really should. So long as you get the ruby, no matter
what happens, you can't be worse off that you will be if you don't get
it. If you don't get it, you are ruined. You will have to go back to
Africa and stay there for the rest of your life, or, at anyrate, till
both of us are old; because you know you've no more chance of getting
money there than you have here, and that's none at all. And you know
you promised papa, and I promised papa, that you wouldn't marry till
you had money of your own. And that doesn't mean a pound or two; it
means a lot. He doesn't like to think you're marrying me for his
money.'

'Letty!'

'Well, he doesn't; you know he doesn't. Of course I know you're not,
or should I be sitting here talking to you now? But papa's different.
And, anyhow, we promised. If there was nothing else to be gained, I'd
like you to take it if only for the sake of spiting that actress
creature. I'll teach her to send me messages.'

'But, my dear Letty, I fancy you don't quite realise that you are
suggesting that I should commit a felony.'

'Felony! Don't talk such stuff and nonsense.' Her words reminded him
of some of Miss Casata's of the night before. For some cause he
shivered. 'Doesn't your uncle as good as say she stole it from him?
And didn't that woman tell you that she's ashamed of it herself, and
that therefore she hides it away all alone in a drawer? That shows
that she's perfectly conscious that it's as much your property as
hers. Indeed, it's much more your property. Your uncle left it to you,
and she's no right to keep you out of it a single moment. And she
wouldn't, you know very well that she wouldn't, if it wasn't for me.
You threw her over--'

'Pardon me, I did not.'

'Then did she throw you over?'

'That's nearer the mark.'

'Really, Guy, you have an agreeable way of commending yourself to me.
Then am I to understand that she regards you as her cast-off rubbish?'

'We agreed that we had made a mistake. That is the truth of the
matter. There was no throwing over on either side.'

'Now, Guy, I know more than you suppose. Do you mean to deny that she
resents the idea of your being about to marry me?'

'She congratulated me on the fact last night.'

'Did she, indeed? How very good of her. And pray how did she
congratulate you? As if she meant it?'

'I suppose she meant it.'

'You suppose! Do you dare to tell me that you don't know quite well
that her congratulations were ironical?'

'Well, I confess I had my "doots."'

'There! Didn't I say so all along? Oh, Guy, how difficult it is to get
things out of you. Now, try to be equally truthful again, and tell me,
on your word of honour, if you don't know that she would give you the
ruby without a moment's hesitation if it wasn't for me; that is, if
the fact of our being engaged to each other didn't prevent you paying
attention to her?'

'I shouldn't like to put it in that way; but I think it possible that
Miss Bewicke might prove more malleable if the circumstances were
other than they are.'

'Precisely. That is what I mean. So promise me that to-night you will
take your own.'

'My own! Letty!'

'Promise me!'

'But, my dear Letty--'

'Of course there is an alternative. You can throw me over. We, in our
turn, can agree that we have made a mistake. Then you will be able to
make yourself agreeable to her; and you will be able to get the ruby
that way.'

'But, my dear Letty, if you will only be reasonable--'

'It is you who are unreasonable. You allow an idea to mar our lifelong
happiness. Before you realise how hollow it is it will be too late.
There will be nothing in front of us but dreary years of waiting. You
let the cup of happiness be dashed from your hand even when it is
already at your lips. I release you, Guy. I will not be a clog on you,
perhaps through all eternity.'

Her tone was sombre, funereal. Mr Holland groaned.

'Oh, Lord! Your logic is as beautiful as you are. It really was worth
while seeing ghosts in Africa for this!'

She stood up.

'Then go back to Africa and see some more. You shall not stay here to
laugh at me. Goodbye.'

He caught her by the hand.

'Letty! How can you be so cruel.'

'Then you should do as I ask you. As you would do, without hesitation,
if you really had a spark of the love you pretend to have for me.'

'I will; I'll do whatever you ask, though I'm ashamed of myself when I
say so.'

'Promise that to-night you'll take your own?'

'I promise.'

She sat down again, and was as nice as she could be; he only knew how
nice that was. He would have been as happy as is possible if it had
not been for the thoughts which were at the back of his head, and the
prospect which lay in front of him.

Unfortunately, nearly all the time Miss Broad was causing him to
realise his good fortune in winning the love of such a girl as she was
he was picturing himself stealing up a flight of darkened stairs, like
a thief.



                             CHAPTER VII

                          THE BOTTOM DRAWER


That night he realised his own picture.

One o'clock was the hour suggested by Miss Casata. Twenty times before
that hour arrived he told himself that he had better return to
Africa--ghosts or no ghosts--than do this thing. It seemed to him that
dishonour hedged him round about; that whichever way he went he would
find himself among the thorns. If he did this thing he would break his
plighted word; quite possibly lose his love and his fortune too. If he
did the other he might quite possibly find himself up to the neck in a
slough of misunderstandings--to speak of nothing worse--from which he
could never emerge as clean as he went in. The choice was a pleasant
one. Yet he never hesitated as to which horn of the dilemma he would
thrust himself on. Although very much against his will, he was set on
burglary. And, being once resolved, set about the business, to all
outward appearances, as calmly as if such incidents were the mere
trivialities of his nightly life.

At a quarter after midnight he started to stroll from Charing Cross.
At the half hour he was sauntering in the Westminster Abbey Gardens.
He glanced along Victoria Street as far as he could see. An occasional
omnibus came rumbling along. Cabs flitted to and fro; sometimes
carriages. But foot passengers were few and far between. And, so far
as could be seen from the street, the buildings on either side of the
way were in darkness.

He strolled gently on, swinging his stick, smoking a cigar, as any
other gentleman might have done who enjoyed the cool night air. Under
a lamp-post stood a policeman. Mr Holland smiled.

'Good-night, officer!'

He bestowed on him a genial salutation, which the other returned in
kind.

'Good-night, sir.'

He seemed rather a youngish man, well set up, with broad shoulders and
a shrewd face. Mr Holland wondered if he should, have any professional
intercourse with him before the night was over. He laughed to himself
as he thought of it. When he had gone some distance further he stopped
and turned. The constable had vanished. Presumably his duty had led
him down one of the side streets. An omnibus was coming in one
direction, a couple of cabs in the other. Miss Bewicke's rooms were
close at hand. Should he let the vehicles pass before he came to
business? It was not yet one. He hesitated, then walked slowly past
the house, noticing as he went that the front door was closed. What
did it mean? Was he supposed to knock, calling upon the porter to let
him in? The notion was absurd. Perhaps Miss Casata had only been
playing with him after all.

At the idea he laughed again. What would Miss Broad say--and think--if
the woman had promised more than she could perform? He went nearly as
far as Victoria, then retraced his steps. As he approached the house
again Big Ben struck one; He stopped, threw away the butt of his
cigar, moved to the door. There was a handle. He turned it, it
yielded, the door was open.

So it seemed that there was some sort of method in Miss Casata's
madness.

The question was, Where was the porter? Was he within? Upstairs or
down? He peeped inside the door, or tried to. The street lamps did not
penetrate; it was pitch dark. He entered, closing the door behind him.
All was still. As he listened, seeking to peer this way and that, it
seemed to him that the darkness was like a wall on every side.

'What am I to do? I shall tumble over something if I don't look out; I
don't even know where the staircase is: Dare I strike a match? I
wonder what professionals do under circumstances such as these. I've
heard of their carrying dark lanterns, and such-like mysterious
things. Unfortunately, I haven't got so far as that, though there's no
knowing how far I shall get before I've done.'

He moved forward, and kicked against something which made a noise.

'This will never do. I shall come to grief if I don't look out. It'll
have to be a match.'

He struck one; it ignited with a spluttering noise which seemed to him
to resemble the explosion of a dynamite cartridge, fizzled, then went
out.

'This is pretty. But I caught a glimpse of the staircase. I suppose
I'll have to be content with seeing so much.'

He felt his way to the stairs, presently had his hand upon the rail,
then commenced to ascend. All at once he stopped.

'Hanged if I haven't forgotten on which floor her rooms are! That's a
comfortable state of affairs. I can't go prowling all over the place
playing a game of hide-and-seek with Miss Bewicke's rooms. There'd be
trouble. Now, what am I to do?'

The question was answered in rather a curious way. Looking up he
gradually became conscious of what looked like a gleam of light
somewhere overhead.

'I wonder if that's a hint to me, or if it's the porter. I'm off to
inquire. If it's the porter I'll have to explain.'

He chuckled to himself at the reflection of the sort of explanation he
would have to offer. He continued to ascend.

'I hope it's all right, but it seems a good way up. I didn't think she
occupied quite such an elevated position as this.'

He reached the floor on which was the light, perceiving now that it
proceeded from a door upon the right which was open but the merest
fraction of an inch.

'Is that where she resides? I wonder. At least I'll make inquiries.
I'll knock, as an honest man should do, and see who answers.'

He tapped at the panel softly with his knuckles, so softly that one
might have been excused for supposing he had no desire that his
tapping should be heard. There was no response. He tapped again; still
none. He pushed the door wider open, finding himself in what appeared,
in the dim light, to be a little hall. Another open door was on his
right. It was on the other side of this that the light was burning. He
remembered what Miss Casata had said about Miss Bewicke's bedroom;
that it was the second door on his right as he entered. Apparently she
had been as good as her word; better, indeed, for she had placed a
light to guide him. He advanced to find himself in what was evidently
a lady's bedroom.

A night light flickered on a table in the centre; it was that which
had lightened his darkness. He glanced around. Everywhere were traces
of feminine occupation; knick-knacks which no man would willingly
suffer in the chamber in which he slept; numerous examples of the
inevitable photograph. Against a wall hung a crayon portrait. He
recognised the original--the owner of the room. The pictured face
seemed to return him look for look, reproaches in its glances. He
removed his eyes, abashed.

On one side was the dressing-table of which Miss Casata had spoken.
A gorgeous piece of furniture, of some delicate light wood, with
gilt and ivory insets. Columns of drawers were on either side; a
full-length cheval glass swung between them. As he stood in front of
it he was startled by the reflection of his own image; he felt that
there was something sinister in the bearing of the man who spied on
him. The little drawers were those of which he had been told. They
contained many of Miss Bewicke's jewels. What he sought was in the
bottom drawer upon his right. Somehow, since he had entered the house,
everything seemed on his right. He stooped to open it. The drawer was
locked.

The discovery staggered him more than anything which had gone
before--that the drawer was locked. At last he was confronted with the
real nature of the errand he had come upon. Hitherto he had been able
to salve his conscience with the fact that he had simply passed
through open doors. Now, if he wished to effect an entrance he would
have to force one, like any other thief. He gave another try at the
handle. The drawer refused to budge. It certainly was locked. His eye
was caught by something which was lying upon the floor, within a foot
of him. It was a screwdriver. The juxtaposition was suggestive; the
screwdriver, and the locked drawer. Miss Casata was no half-hearted
ally; she was thorough. She was aware that, as an amateur, he might
forget to bring the proper tools; so, with praiseworthy
thoughtfulness, she had supplied, in advance, his possible omissions.

He was not so grateful as he might have been. He used strong language.

'Curse that woman! It is such as she who drive men along the road to
hell.'

None the less he took the screwdriver in his hand. He felt its edge.
It seemed sharp.

'I suppose, since I've gone so far, I may as well see the thing right
through. It's no good shying at a gnat after tackling a whale. Here
goes!'

Thrusting the chisel between the woodwork and the drawer, he proceeded
to prise it open. The lock was but a slight one. It quickly yielded.
The drawer shot out. He peered within. It contained a small white box,
apparently of deal. He took it out. Inside was a ruby signet ring. He
rose with the ring between his fingers.

As he stood up, someone came into the room. Turning, he found himself
staring at Miss Bewicke.



                             CHAPTER VIII

                     THE LADY--AND THE GENTLEMAN


Apparently each of the pair was equally surprised. Each stared at the
other as if tongue-tied; Mr Holland motionless, holding the ring a
little in front of him, as if suffering from at least temporary
paralysis; Miss Bewicke, equally rigid, with her fingers up to her
throat, just as she had raised them intending to remove the boa which
was about her neck. It was she who first regained the faculty of
speech.

'Guy!' The word came with a little gasp, as if she uttered it
unwittingly. He was still; staring at her as if he were powerless to
remove his eyes from off her face. 'What are you doing?'

Still silence from the man. His incapacity seemed to inspire her with
confidence. She removed her boa, smiling as she did so. She sauntered
here and there, eyeing things. She walked right round him, peering at
him as she went. He might have been some mechanical figure, he endured
so stolidly her ostentatious curiosity. Only he followed her with his
glance as she passed round.

She did not speak when she had finished her inspection; with apparent
indifference to his presence she took off her hat and coat. Unable,
perhaps, to endure the situation any longer he struggled to obtain
possession of his voice. It sounded harsh and husky.

'I thought you had gone to Brighton?'

'So you keep an observation on my movements, I see?' The words were
accompanied by a smile which made him clench his fists so tightly that
he drove the nails into the palms. She was folding up a veil, with a
dainty show of peculiar care. 'I ought to be at Brighton; but I'm not.
I meant to go; but I didn't. It was so late that I put off my journey
till tomorrow; so I went to see some people instead. It was painfully
slow; this promises to be better.'

Her airy manner, which seemed to him to be so pregnant with contempt,
tried him more than reproaches might have done, or rage. He was so
conscious of his position that indifference stung more than lashes. A
policeman he could have faced, but not this smiling girl. All his
self-respect had gone clean out of him; he felt she knew, and
floundered in his efforts to regain some part of it.

'Miss Bewicke, you know why I am here.'

'To see me, I suppose. So good of you, Guy. Especially as I take it
that you intended to wait for me till I returned from Brighton.'

'I came to take my own.'

'Your own?'

'This.'

He held out the ring between his finger and thumb. She came nearer, so
that she might see what it was he held, smiling all the time.

'That--that's mine!'

'It was bequeathed me by my uncle.'

'Your uncle? Impossible; it wasn't his to bequeath.'

'You know the conditions which were attached to its possession. Since
you declined to give it me--'

'I did not decline.'

'I don't know what other construction you put upon your conduct of
last night. I gathered that you declined. Therefore, since its
immediate possession was of capital importance, I came and took it.'

'How nice of you. And you waited till you thought I was at Brighton to
show your mettle? How discreet! Guy, weren't you once to have been my
husband?'

Nothing was further from his desire than to become involved in a
tangle of reminiscences, so he became a little brutal.

'I have the ruby; that is the main point.'

'Are you proud of having robbed me--the girl who was to have been your
wife?'

'You would have robbed me.'

'Even supposing that to be true, does that entitle you to throw aside
all those canons of honour to which you have always given me to
understand you were such a stickler, and become--a thief? Oh, Guy!'

'I do not propose to bandy words with you. I know of old your capacity
to make black seem white--you were ever an actress, May. How the ruby
originally came into your possession I cannot say.'

'It's not a pretty story, Guy; scarcely to your uncle's credit.'

'But you were perfectly well aware that morally it was mine. It was
nothing to you; it was all the world to me. I believe that you refused
to let me have it precisely because you knew that your refusal might
entail my ruin; and so your cup of revenge might be filled to the
full. Under those circumstances I hold that I was justified in using
any and every means to save myself from being utterly undone by the
whim of a revengeful woman.'

'I meant to let you have it.'

'That was not the impression you left upon my mind last night.'

'You took me unawares--I had to think things over.'

'Then if it was your intention that I should have it you cannot but be
pleased to find that my action has kept abreast of your intention.'

Miss Bewicke was silent. She was drawing imaginary pictures with her
finger-tip on the table by which she was standing, looking down as she
did so. His desire was to get away; it was not an interview which he
wished to have prolonged. But his departure was postponed.

'Why do you say I am revengeful?'

'You know better than I.'

'Do you think I wish to be revenged on you because once you pretended
to love me, and now you keep up that pretence no longer?'

'It was no pretence.'

'I am glad to hear that, because, Guy, I love you still.'

She looked up at him in such a way that she seemed to compel him to
meet her eyes. He shivered.

'I wish you wouldn't say such things.'

'Why? Because they're true? I like to tell the truth. I have always
loved you, and I always shall, though I shall never be your wife.'

'I thought you said you were engaged to Dumville.'

'So I am. And I daresay that perhaps one day I shall marry him. I
don't know quite why. But it certainly isn't because I love him. I
have never pretended to. Ask him; he's frankness itself; he'll
confess. Although, as you have only told me, I am a woman with
ill-regulated passions and irresponsible tendencies, I'm a woman with
only one love in her life, and you are he. Good-night, and good-bye.'

Now that she had formally dismissed him he felt that it was difficult
to go. He fidgeted instead.

'I know you think that I have behaved meanly.'

'Not at all. I suppose you have acted according to your lights.'

'I'm not so sure of that. But, the truth is, I was desperate.'

'Indeed? Is that so? Like the man with the twelve starving children,
who steals the bottle of whisky. I know. If I were you I wouldn't
trouble to explain. This sort of situation is not improved by
explanation. I think you had better pocket your booty and go.'

'As for the ruby'--he was holding it out on the palm of his open
hand--'I will give you another for it a dozen times as good as this.'

For the first time she fired up.

'You dare to do anything of the kind--you dare! Do you think I am to
be bought and sold?'

'I simply don't wish you to suffer from my action.'

'Do you think that your giving me one piece of stone in exchange for
another piece of stone will prevent my suffering? Guy, please, go.'

He placed the ring before her on the table.

'There is the ruby.'

'Take it.'

'Do you mean that?'

'I do. If it is of the slightest use to you, by all means take it.'

'You give it to me--freely?'

'Oh, yes, so freely! Only--I wish you'd go.'

Thrusting the ruby into his waistcoat pocket, he went, without another
word. Without it seemed darker even than before. He stumbled, blindly,
down the stairs. Presently the darkness lightened; a gleam descended
from above. Glancing up he perceived that Miss Bewicke was leaning
over the railing with a lighted candle in her hand. He said nothing;
attempted no word of thanks. So far as he knew she, too, was still;
but as he descended, assisted by the light she held, he felt as he was
convinced the whipped cur must feel, which sneaks off with its tail
between its legs. The candle was still showing a faint glimmer of
light as he passed into the street. He applied a dozen injurious
epithets to himself as he thought that he had not even acknowledged
the courtesy he had received. But for the life of him he could not, at
that moment, have uttered a word of thanks.

Now that he was out in the street he raged. In his first mad impulse
he would have taken what Miss Bewicke had called his 'booty' from his
pocket and hurled it from him through the night. Prudence, however,
prevailed. He told himself, again and again, that he was an ineffable
thing to allow it to remain a second longer in his possession. It
stayed there all the same. He was conscious that nothing could be less
romantic than the whole adventure; nothing more undignified than the
part which he had played in it. He had been throughout a mere
figurehead--a counter manipulated by three women--he who thought that
if he had anything on which to pride himself it was his manhood. His
rage waxed hotter as he strode along; he was angry even with Miss
Broad.

'If it hadn't been for her--' he began. Then stopped, stood still,
struck with his fist at the air--his stick, it seemed, he had left
behind him. 'What a cur I am! I try to put the blame, like some
snivelling sneak of a schoolboy, upon everyone except myself, as
though the fault was not mine, and mine alone. Am I some weak idiot
that I am not responsible for my own actions? that I do a dirty thing,
and then exclaim that someone made me? Well, it's done, and can't be
undone, and I stand, self-confessed, a hound; but, as I live, I'll
return at once and make her take the ruby back again. Then off once
more for Africa. Better to be haunted by my uncle's ghost than by my
own conscience.'

He turned, prepared to put his new-born resolution immediately into
effect, and found himself confronted by an individual by whom his
steps had been dogged ever since he left Miss Bewicke's. Had he had
his wits about him he could hardly have helped noticing the fact, the
proceedings of the person who took such a warm interest in his
movements had been so singular. To begin with, he had been on the
other side of the road. When Mr Holland first appeared he had slunk
back into a doorway, from which he presently issued in pursuit,
keeping as much as possible in the shadow. When, however, he perceived
himself unnoticed he became bolder. Until, at last, making a sudden
dash across the street, he began to follow within a few feet of the
unconscious pedestrian. He carried something, which every now and then
he gripped with both hands, as if about to strike.

The mathematical moment came when Mr Holland turned. Without giving
him a chance to speak the man swung the something which he carried
through the air, bringing it down heavily, with a thud, upon his head.
Mr Holland dropped on to the pavement. And there he lay.



                              CHAPTER IX

                              THE FLYMAN


The assailant remained, for a second or two, looking down on his
recumbent victim. He retained his grip upon his weapon, as if
anticipating the possibility of having to strike with it another blow.
But, no, the first had done its work. Mr Holland lay quite still, in
an ugly heap, as men only lie who have been stricken hard. His
assailant touched him with his foot, as if to make quite sure. Mr
Holland did not resent the intrusion of the other's boot; he evinced
no interest in it at all. The man was satisfied.

'That done him.'

It had, for sure. The fellow glanced up and down the street. No one
was in sight. That was a state of things which could hardly be
expected to continue. Time was precious; at any moment a policeman
might appear. Under certain circumstances a policeman is inquisitive.
The man, dropping on one knee, began to handle Mr Holland as if he had
been so much dead meat; indeed, a butcher might have been expected to
finger the carcase of what he had just now killed with greater
ceremony.

'I wonder where he put it.'

He appeared to be searching for something, which, at first, he could
not find. He went quickly through the stricken man's pockets, emptying
each in turn of its contents. He made no bones about putting back what
he took out, but threw everything into an inner pocket in his own
jacket. Watch, money, cigar-case, keys, various odds and ends all went
into the same receptacle. Still he did not appear to light on what he
sought.

'Suppose he never got it? That would be a pretty little game. My
crikey!'

He went through the pockets a second time more methodically; coat,
waistcoat, trousers, nothing was omitted. The result was
disappointing; they all were empty.

'Has he got it in a secret pocket?' Tearing open the waistcoat, he ran
his fingers up and down the lining. 'I can't undress the bloke out
here.' He went carefully over the lining, fingered the trousers. 'I
don't believe he's got it. If he hasn't, then I'm done. It wasn't
worth bashing him for this little lot.' The reference was, possibly,
to what he had transferred to his own jacket. 'If he hasn't got it,
there'll be trouble. Strikes me I'd better take a little trip into the
country. He might think I'd got it and done a bunk. I might get a bit
out of him like that. If he's anything to get. I wish I'd never gone
in for the job. What's that?'

All the while he had never ceased to finger the silent man, submitting
his garments to the minutest possible examination which the position
permitted. Constantly he glanced behind and in front, well knowing
that the risk of intrusion grew greater with every moment. With what
looked very like impertinence, he turned the object of his curiosity
over on to his face. As he did so his eye was caught by something
which was lying on the pavement, and which apparently had hitherto
been covered by the body of the silent man. It was a ring. He snatched
at it.

'Got it, by the living jingo! The whole time the fool was right on top
of it. If I hadn't overed him I might have gone away and thought he'd
never had it after all. That'd been a pretty how-d'ye-do. I suppose he
dropped it when I downed him, and covered it when he fell. He might
have done it on purpose, just to spite me.' He was standing up,
turning the ring over and over between his fingers. 'It's all right,
there's no mistake about that much. This is fair jam, this is. A
thousand quids into my pocket.' Something attracted his attention.
'Hollo!--sounded like a footstep--a copper's, unless I'm wrong!'

Without pausing to look behind he crossed the street, keeping well
within the shadow of the houses, and walking fast, yet not too
quickly, in the direction of Victoria. As he went he disposed of what
had proved so efficient a weapon. It was a narrow bag, about a couple
of inches in diameter, and a little over a foot in length. It was
stuffed with sand. Untying one end, he allowed the contents to dribble
out into the areas of the houses as he passed. Nothing remained but a
strip of canvas. He was cramming this into his pocket as he reached
the corner of a street into which he turned. A constable was standing
on the kerb as if waiting for him to come. His wholly unexpected
appearance might have startled a less skilful practitioner into doing
something rash. But this gentleman had had too many curious
experiences to permit himself to readily lose his wits.

'Good-night, p'liceman. Fine night!' he sang out, moving quickly on,
as if he were hastening on.

'Good-night,' returned the policeman.

He eyed the other as he passed, as if he wondered who he was, yet was
conscious of no legitimate reason why he should stop him to inquire.

The man drew in the morning air between his teeth, as if he desired to
inflate his lungs to the full.

'That was a squeak. It wasn't him I nosed. Who'd have thought that he
was there. If he'd come round the corner a minute or two ago there'd
have probably been fun. Lucky I emptied the bag before I came on him.
Hollo! He's going into Victoria Street. If he uses his eyes he'll spot
my bloke in half a minute from now. I'd better put the steam on.'

He quickened his pace, not breaking into a run, for he was aware that
nothing arouses attention more than the sight of a man running at that
hour in a London street. But for the next ten minutes he moved at a
good five miles an hour, going fair toe-and-heel. Then he slackened,
judging that for the present he was safe; and, moreover, he was blown.

By what at least seemed devious ways he steered for Chelsea, to find
himself, at last, in the King's Road. Thence he made for the river
side, pausing before a house which faced the Thames. The house was an
old one. In front was a piece of ground which was half yard, half
garden. The approach to this was guarded by an iron railing and a
gate. The gate was locked. By it was a rusty bell handle. At this he
tugged. Almost immediately a window on the first floor was opened
about three inches. A voice was heard.

'Who's there?'

'It's me, the Flyman.'

'You've been a devil of a time.'

'Couldn't be no quicker.'

The window was shut again. Presently the front door was opened
instead. A man came out. It was Horace Burton. He sauntered to the
gate.

'Have you got it?'

'You let me in and then I'll tell you.'

'Don't be an idiot! Tell me, have you got it?'

'I sha'n't tell you nothing till I'm inside.'

'You're an ass! Do you think I want to keep you out?' He fumbled with
the lock. 'Confound this key; it's rusty.'

'Your hand ain't steady; that's what's wrong with it.'

'Hang the thing!'

The key dropped with a clatter to the ground.

'You let me have a try at it; perhaps my hand ain't so shaky as
yours.'

The man outside picked up the fallen key, thrusting his hand through
the railings to enable him to do so. Soon the gate was open. When he
had entered he locked it again behind him. The two men went into the
house. When they were in the hall Mr Burton repeated his assertion.

'You've been a devil of a time. Do you think I want to stop up all
night waiting for you?'

'That's all right. I'll tell you all about it when we get upstairs.
Who's there?'

'Old Cox is there, that's who's there; and he looks to me as if he
were going to stop there the rest of his life--hanged if he doesn't.'

Possibly Mr Burton had been quenching his thirst too frequently with
the idea of speeding the heavy hours of his vigil. The result was
obvious in his speech and his appearance. At the foot of the staircase
he stumbled against the bottom stair. The newcomer proffered his
assistance.

'Steady, governor. Let me lend you a hand.'

Mr Burton was at once upon his dignity.

'Don't you touch me. I don't want your hand. Do you think I don't know
my way up my own staircase?'

He ascended it as if in doubt. The Flyman kept close behind in case of
accident. Which fact Mr Burton, when he was half way up, discovered.
Steadying himself against the banister he addressed his too-assiduous
attendant.

'Might I ask you not to tread upon my heels? Might I also ask you to
go down to the bottom of the stairs and wait there till I'm at the
top? There's too much of it.'

'All right, governor. Only don't keep me here too long, that's all.'

'You haven't kept me long? Oh, no! Not more than thirteen hours.'

When he had reached the top Mr Burton threw open the door of a room in
which the gas was lighted. In an arm-chair a gentleman was smoking a
cigar.

'This confounded Flyman thinks that he's the devil knows who. Seems to
think he owns the place. I think I'll have a drink.'

The gentleman in the arm-chair ventured on remonstrance.

'I wouldn't if I were you; at least, not till we've got this business
over.'

'Wouldn't you? Then I would. There's something the matter with this
beastly siphon.'

The matter was that while he directed the nozzle of the siphon in one
direction he held his glass in another. The result was that the liquor
did not go where he intended. So he drank his whisky neat.

While Mr Burton was having his little discussion with the siphon, the
man who had described himself as 'the Flyman' came into the room. He
was rather over the average height, slightly built, with fair hair and
moustache and very pale blue eyes. The eyes were his most peculiar
feature. He was not bad looking, with an agreeable personality; at
first sight, a likeable man, until you caught his eyes, then you
wondered. They were set oddly in his head, so that they seldom seemed
to move. He had a trick of regarding you with a curiously immobile
stare, which, even when he smiled--which was but rarely--seemed to
convey a latent threat. He was dressed like a respectable artisan, and
had such a low-pitched, clear, musical voice that it was with surprise
one observed how peculiar were his notions of his mother tongue.

As soon as he was inside the room Mr Burton repeated his former
inquiry.

'Now, then, have you got it?'

'I have.'

'Then hand it over.'

Mr Burton held out a tremulous hand.

'Half a mo. I've got a word or two to say before we come to that. I
should like you to understand how I did get it. It wasn't for the
asking, I'd have you know.'

The gentleman in the arm-chair interposed. He waved his cigar.

'One moment.'

'Two, if you like, Mr Cox.'

He was a little, paunchy man, with 'Jew' written so large all over him
that one asked oneself why he had been so ungrateful to his
forefathers as to associate himself with such a name as Cox--Thomas
Cox. He got out of his chair, which was much too large for him, so
that he could see the Flyman, who still kept himself modestly in the
background. He punctuated his words by making little dabs in the air
with his cigar.

'What we want is the ruby; that's all we want. We don't want the
schedule of your adventures. We're not interested. You understand?'

'Yes, I understand you, Mr Cox, but it don't go.'

'What do you mean, "it don't go"?'

'I'm not all alone in this. There's three of us in this game.'

'Listen to me. You say you've got the ruby. Very well, hand it over. I
will see you have what Mr Burton promised you. We'll say no more about
it, and there'll be an end of the matter.'

The Flyman's manner became a trifle dogged.

'I don't hand over nothing till you've heard what I've got to say.'

Something in the speaker's manner struck the observant Mr Cox. He
showed signs of perturbation.

'Flyman, you haven't killed him?'

'I don't know whether I have or haven't. I hit, perhaps, a bit harder
than I meant. He was as good as dead when I saw him last; anyhow,
he'll be silly for the rest of his days, or else I'm wrong. I know
what a good downer with a sand bag means. I'm a bit afraid I gave him
an extra good one. I didn't like the looks of him at all.'

'You're a fool! Why did you do it?'

'Because you told me?'

'I told you! What the devil do you mean?'

'You set me on the job--you and Mr Burton together. You said to me
there's a bloke coming out of a certain house at a certain time. He's
got something on him which you're to get. You knew very well I wasn't
going to get it out of him by asking.'

'Did anyone see you?'

'Not while I was at it, so far as I know. But a copper did directly
afterwards. For all I can tell, he's seen me before, and'll know me
again.'

Mr Cox's perturbation visibly increased.

'Did he--did he try to arrest you?'

'He didn't know what had happened then; but he was going straight to
where I'd left the bloke lying. Then, of course, he'd put two and two
together, and think of me.'

'Flyman, you're a fool! Did anybody see you come in here?'

'That's more than I can say. But somebody'll soon know I did come in
here if anything happens to me. I'm not going to be on this lay all on
my own.'

Mr Cox threw his unfinished cigar into the fireplace. It had gone out.
His attention was occupied by matters which rendered smoking
difficult. He stood knawing the finger-nails of his left hand. The
Flyman watched him. Mr Burton seemed to be endeavouring to obtain
sufficient control of his faculties to understand what the
conversation was about. Presently Mr Cox delivered himself of the
result of his cogitation.

'I tell you what, I shouldn't be surprised if a little trip abroad
would do you good.'

'I'm willing.'

'Then I'll see that you have a berth on board a boat I know of, which
leaves the London docks to-morrow for America.'

'I'm game.'

'Now, let's have the ruby.'

'Against the quids?'

'Against the quids. You don't suppose that Mr Burton and I carry a
thousand pounds about with us loose in our pockets?'

'No quids, no ruby.'

'The money shall be handed to you when you're on board the ship.'

'I'll see that the ruby isn't handed to you till it is.'

'Do you think I want to do you?'

'I'm dead sure you do, if you only get a chance. I've done a little
business with you before to-day, Mr Cox. You must think I'm soft. Why,
nothing would suit your book better than to do me out of the pieces
and get me lagged. But if you try that game, I'll see you get a bit of
it. Thank you; I don't trust you, not as far as I can see you, Mr
Cox.'

The gentleman thus flatteringly alluded to laughed, a little
mechanically.

'I'm sorry to hear you talk like that, Flyman. There's no time now to
try to induce you to form a better opinion of me; but you'll discover
that you have done me an injustice before very long. Anyhow, let's see
that you have the ruby.'

Mr Burton chose this moment to awake to the fact that he had a very
definite interest in the discussion which was being carried on. He
banged his glass against the table.

'I'm going to have that ruby! I'm going to have it now!'

'So you shall, when you've given me the thousand pounds.'

'I don't care about the thousand pounds; I'm going to have the ruby!'

'Then, I'm damned if you are!'

'I say I am. Now, then! So you'd better give it to me--before I take
it.'

The speaker staggered towards the Flyman.

'Don't you be silly, Mr Burton, or you might find me nasty; and I
don't want to have to be nasty to you.'

'Give me the ruby; it's mine.'

'That's where you're wrong. Just now it happens to be mine.'

Mr Cox placed himself between the pair.

'Pretend to be sober, Burton, even if you're drunk.'

'I am sober. I don't care that for him.' He tried to snap his fingers,
but the attempt was a disastrous failure. 'I say, I'm going to have
the ruby now, and so I am.'

'Shut it!'

Mr Cox's treatment of the intoxicated gentleman was vigorous and to
the point. He gave him a push which propelled him backwards with such
unexpected force that, before he was able to recover himself, he was
lying on the ground.

There for a time he stayed. The others paid no attention to him
whatever. Mr Cox continued the discussion on his own account.

'Let me see the ruby.'

'Let me see the quids.'

'Look here, Flyman; you say you know me. Well, I know you; I know you
for a windbag and a liar. It's quite likely that all you've been
telling us is humbug, and that you've not been within miles of what we
want. If you've got the ruby, you let me look at it; there'll be no
harm done. I'm not going to buy a pig in a poke, and I'm not going to
steal it.'

'I lay you are not going to steal it; I lay that. There it is. Now,
you can take and look at it.'

Taking a ring from his waistcoat pocket, slipping it on to his little
ringer, he held it out for the other's inspection, eyeing Mr Cox in a
very singular manner as that gentleman bent over to examine it.

'Did you get that from--the person we've been talking about?'

'I did.'

'To-night?'

'To-night. Not an hour ago--as he came out of the house.'

Mr Cox turned to Mr Burton, who was sitting upon the floor.

'Get up, you jackass! Come here and see if this is what we're after.'

Mr Burton's answer was not exactly a response to this peremptory
invitation.

'I'm not feeling--as I ought to feel.'

'So I should think. You'll soon be feeling still less as you ought to
feel, if you don't look out.' He assisted the gentleman on to his
feet. 'Now, then, pull yourself together. Come and see if what the
Flyman's got is your uncle's ring.'

As Mr Burton advanced, the Flyman dropped the hand with the ringed
finger.

'Don't you let him snatch at it, or I'll down him.'

'He won't snatch at it. You needn't be afraid of him.'

'I'm not afraid of him--hardly; only I thought I'd just give you a
little warning, that's all. There you are, Mr Burton; there's what's
worth more to you than you're likely to tell me.'

Mr Burton only bestowed upon the outstretched hand a momentary glance;
he drew back as if what he saw had stung him.

'It's not!'

'What d'ye mean?'

'It's not my uncle's ring.' The fall, or something, had sobered him.
He had become disagreeable instead. He snarled, showing his teeth to
the gums, as if he would have liked to assail the man in front of him
with tooth and nail. 'Curse you, Flyman! what's the game you're
playing?'

'What's the game you think you're playing, that's what I want to
know?'

'That's not my uncle's ring, and you know it's not. Come, out with it!
no tricks here!'

'This is your uncle's ring, and you're trying to kid me that it isn't,
thinking to do me out of what you promised. Don't you try that on, Mr
Burton, or you'll be sorry.'

The two men glared at each other with their faces close together, Mr
Burton meeting the Flyman's threatening glances without flinching. He
turned to Mr Cox.

'Cox, what he's got on his finger is no more my uncle's ring than I
am.'

'You're sure of that?'

'Dead certain. The stone in my uncle's ring was much larger, better
colour, finer altogether. It bore his crest--on that thing there seems
to be a monogram--and inside the gold mount, at the back, his name was
engraved--"George Burton."'

'We can soon settle that part of the question. Flyman, is there a name
inside that ring?'

The Flyman was already looking for himself.

'There's not; there's no name. Is this a plant between you two to do
me out of my fair due?'

'Don't you make any mistake about that, my man. If that's the ring we
want you shall have your thousand right enough. It's worth all that to
us. If it's not, then it's worth nothing, and less than nothing. Don't
let's have any error about this, Burton. You're quite sure that you
recollect what your uncle's ring was like?'

'I'd pick it out among ten thousand. I've seen it hundreds--I should
think, thousands--of times. I wore it myself for a year. It used to
amuse the old man to fool about with it, lending it to all sorts of
people. He lent it to me, and he lent it to Guy. I believe he lent it
to Miss Bewicke; and it was because, when he asked her, she wouldn't
give it him back again that he got his back up.'

'I suppose, Flyman, it was Mr Holland you tackled?'

'It was the bloke you pointed out to me this afternoon--that I do
know. Here, I borrowed these things from off him--took them out of his
pockets.' He produced a miscellaneous collection. Here's a cigar-case
with initials on it, "G. H.," and cards inside with a name on them,
"Mr Guy Holland." I should think that that ought to be about good
enough.'

'You're sure that that was the only ring he had about him?'

'I'll swear to it. I ran the rule over him quite half a dozen times.
He only had one ring--there wasn't one upon his hands--and that's it.'

'And you, Burton, are certain it's not your uncle's?'

'As sure as that I'm alive.'

'Then, in that case, we're done.'

The trio looked as if they were.



                              CHAPTER X

                      SHE WISHES THAT SHE HADN'T


Miss Broad had a very bad night. That was because of her conscience,
which pricked her. Almost as soon as Mr Holland had left her she
regretted the advice she had given him--advice, she had the candour to
admit, as applied to this case, being but a feeble word. She had
bullied him into committing burglary! It was awful to think of, or, at
least, it became awful by degrees. A sort of panorama of dreadful
imaginings began to unfold itself in front of her. She even pictured
him as being caught in the act, arrested, thrown into gaol, tried,
sentenced to penal servitude, working in the quarries--she had heard
of 'the quarries'--because of her. She did not pause to consider that,
after all, he was responsible for his own actions. He loved her; by
obedience he proved it, even to the extent of committing burglary.
Therefore, the blame of what she did was on her shoulders.

So she upbraided herself, regretting too late, as ladies sometimes do,
the line of action she had taken up with so much vigour.

'I wish I'd bitten my tongue off before I'd been so wicked. The truth
is, I really believe I'd like to kill that woman. Ellen, you needn't
pull my hair right out.'

The first two remarks were addressed to herself, the last, aloud, to
her maid. That young person, who was dressing Miss Broad for dinner,
found her mistress in rather a trying mood.

'If he was detected in the act, he would be at that woman's mercy. She
might compel him to do anything in order to avoid open humiliation and
disgrace and ruin.'

At the thought of what he might be compelled to do, she was divided
between terror, tears and rage. Since the woman had once pretended to
love him, and, no doubt, was still burning with a desire to be his
wife, she might even force him--oh, horrible!

'Ellen, you're pulling my hair again.'

Which was not to be wondered at, considering how unexpectedly the
young lady jerked her head.

She ate no dinner, excused herself from two engagements, made herself
generally so agreeable that she drove her father to remark that her
temper was not improving, and he pitied the man who had anything to do
with her. Which observation added to her misery, for she knew quite
well that her temper was her weakest point. She was a wretch, and she
had ruined him!

Throughout the night she scarcely slept. She was continually getting
off the bed to pace the room, exclaiming,--

'I wonder if he's doing it now?'

She must have wondered if he was doing it 'now' nearly a hundred
times, apparently under the impression that 'it' was an operation
which took time.

The result was that, when the morning came, she did not feel rested,
and looked what she felt, causing her father--an uncomfortably
observant gentleman, who prided himself, with justice, on being able
to say as many disagreeable things as any man--to remark that she
looked 'vinegary,' which soured Miss Broad still more.

She had an appointment with Mr Holland, at the usual place in Regent's
Park, for ten. They were to have a little conversation; then,
together, they were to go to church. She was at the rendezvous at
nine, though how she managed to do it was a mystery even to herself.
At ten minutes past she began to fidget, at the half-hour she was in a
fever, and when ten o'clock struck, and there was no Mr Holland, she
was as nearly beside herself as she could conveniently be.

'He's never been late before--never, never! Oh, what has happened?'

She went a little way along a path by which she thought that he might
come; then, fearful that after all he might come another way,
tremulously retracing her steps, she returned to the seat. But she
could not sit still, nor stand still either. She was up and down,
sitting and standing, fidgeting here and there, glancing in every
direction, like the frightened creature she was rapidly becoming.
Every nerve in her body was on edge. When the quarter struck, and
there were no signs of Mr Holland, she could restrain herself no
longer. Tears blinded her eyes; she had to use her handkerchief before
she could see. It would have needed very little for her to become
hysterical.

She knew her man--his almost uncanny habit of punctuality. She was
certain that, if nothing serious had happened to prevent him, he would
have been in time to a moment. She was sure, therefore, that something
had happened. But what?

As she vainly asked herself this question, a boy came along one of the
paths. He was a small child, about nine years of age, evidently
attired in his Sunday best. He carried something in his hand. Coming
up to her, he said,--

'Are you Miss Broad?' She nodded; she could not speak. 'I was told to
give you this.'

He handed her the envelope. She jumped to the conclusion that it came
from him. Her delight at receiving even a message from him about
scattered her few remaining senses.

'I'll give you sixpence.' She spoke with a stammer, fumbling with her
purse. 'I haven't one; I'll give you half-a-crown instead.'

The boy went off mumbling what might have been meant for thanks,
probably too surprised at the magnitude of the gift to be able to make
his meaning clear. She tore the envelope open. It contained half a
sheet of paper, on which were the words,--

'If you want Mr Guy Holland, inquire of Miss May Bewicke.'



                              CHAPTER XI

                     THE PURSUIT OF THE GENTLEMAN


That was all.

Miss Broad's first blundering impression was that somebody was having
a joke with her--that she was mistaken, had read the words askew. She
looked again.

No; the error, if error there were, was, to that extent, certainly not
hers; the words were there as plain as plain could be, and they only.

'If you want Mr Guy Holland, inquire of Miss May Bewicke.'

They were typewritten, occupying a couple of lines. The rest of the
sheet was blank--no address, no date, no signature; not a hint to show
from whom the message could have come. She looked at the envelope. The
face of it was blank; there was nothing on it, inside or out. Where
was the boy who had brought it? She turned to see. He had gone, was
out of sight. So far as she could perceive, she had the immediate
neighbourhood entirely to herself. What did it mean?

The disappointment was so acute that, as she sank back upon the seat,
the earth seemed to be whirling round in front of her. She never quite
knew whether for a second or two she did not lose her senses
altogether. When next she began to notice things, she perceived that
the envelope had fallen to the ground, and that the half sheet of
paper would probably have followed it had it not been detained by a
fold in her dress. She examined them both again, this time more
closely, without, however, any satisfactory result.

Of the typewritten words she could make neither head nor tail. Were
they meant as a hint--a warning--what? Anyhow, from whom could they
have come--to her, there, in the Park? Why had she not asked the boy
who had instructed him to give the envelope to her? What a simpleton
she had been!

'"Inquire of Miss May Bewicke." What can it mean? "Inquire of Miss May
Bewicke." Unless--'

Unless it meant something she did not care to think of. She left the
sentence unfinished, even in her own mind.

She arrived at a sudden resolution. It was too late for church, or she
told herself it was, supposing her to have been in a church-going
mood, which she most emphatically was not. Instead of church she would
go to Mr Holland's rooms in Craven Street, and inquire for him there.
Under the circumstances, anything, including loss of dignity--and she
flattered herself that dignity, as a rule, was her strong point--was
better than suspense.

She had some difficulty in finding a cab. In that district of town,
cabs do not ply in numbers on Sunday morning. By the time she
discovered one she was hot, dusty and, she feared, dishevelled. As the
vehicle bore her towards the Strand, her sense of comfort did not
increase. If he was not in Craven Street, what should she do? Ye
saints and sinners! if he were in gaol!

He was not in Craven Street.

A matronly, pleasant-faced woman opened the door to her.

'Is Mr Holland in?'

'No, miss, he's not.'

'Has he been long gone out?'

'Well, miss, he hasn't been in all night.'

The young lady shivered. The landlady eyed her with shrewd, yet not
unfriendly, eyes. She hazarded a question,--

'Excuse me, miss, but are you Miss Broad?'

'That is my name.'

'Would you mind just stepping inside?'

The landlady led the way into a front room. The first thing the young
lady saw on entering was her photograph staring at her from the centre
of the mantelshelf. A little extra colour tinged her cheeks. The
landlady glanced from the original to the likeness, and back again.

'It's very like you, miss, if you'll excuse my saying so. You see, Mr
Holland has told me all about it. You have my congratulations, if I
might make so bold, for a nicer gentleman I never want to see. I was
that pleased when I saw him come walking in the other day. Did you
expect to see him, miss?'

'I had an appointment with him. He never kept it. As he has never done
such a thing before, I scarcely knew what to think.'

'Well, miss, the truth is, I hardly know what I ought to say.'

'Say everything, please.'

'It was only his nonsense, no doubt, but when he was going out last
night I asked him if he should be late. "Well, Mrs Pettifer," he said,
"if I am late, you'd better make inquiries for me at Westminster
Police Station, for that's where I shall be; they'll have locked me
up." When Matilda told me this morning that he hadn't been in all
night, I thought of his words directly, because he'd ordered his
breakfast for eight o'clock this morning, and, as you say, he's always
so dependable--Why, miss, whatever is the matter?'

Miss Broad, who had found refuge in an armchair, was looking very
queer indeed.

'Don't you take on, miss. It was only his fun. Mr Holland's full of
his jokes. Heaps of gentlemen stay out all night; nothing's happened.'

But the young lady was not to be comforted. She had her own reasons
for being of a different opinion. That allusion to Westminster Police
Station did not sound like a joke to her. When she quitted Craven
Street, she directed the cabman to drive her to a certain number in
Victoria Street. She was staring as she went at the two typewritten
lines which the mysterious boy had brought in the mysterious envelope.

'I will inquire of Miss Bewicke. It will be better to begin there
than--at the other place. There will be time enough for that
afterwards. If--if she should have locked him up!'

The potentiality was too horrible. She could not bear to contemplate
it. Yet, willy-nilly, it intruded on her fears.

She ascended in the lift to Miss Bewicke's apartments. She knocked
with a trembling hand at Miss Bewicke's door. She had to knock a
second time before an answer came. Then the door was opened by a tall,
thin, saturnine-looking woman, to whom the visitor took a dislike upon
the spot.

'Is Miss Bewicke at home?'

'Will you walk in?' It was only when Miss Broad had walked in that she
learned that her quest was vain. 'Miss Bewicke is not at home. She
went to Brighton this morning.'

'This morning? I thought she was going last night.'

'Who told you that?'

There was something in the speaker's voice which brought the blood to
Miss Broad's cheeks with a rush. She stammered.

'I--I heard it somewhere.'

'Your information was learned on good authority; very good. Oh, yes,
she meant to go last night, but she was prevented.'

'Prevented--by what?'

'I am not at liberty to say. Are you a friend of Miss Bewicke's?'

There was something in the woman's manner which Miss Broad suspected
of being intentionally offensive. She stared at her with bold,
insolent eyes, with, in them, what the young lady felt was the
suggestion of an insolent grin. That she knew her, Miss Broad was
persuaded; she was sure, too, that she was completely cognisant of the
fact that she was not Miss Bewicke's friend.

'I am sorry to say that I am not so fortunate as to be able to number
myself among Miss Bewicke's friends. I have not even the pleasure of
her acquaintance.'

'That is unfortunate, as you say. About her friends Miss Bewicke is
particular.'

The suggestion was so gratuitous that Miss Broad was startled.

'Are you a friend of hers?'

'I am her companion; but not for long. You know what it is for one
woman to be a companion to another woman. It is not to be her friend.
Oh, no. I have been a companion to Miss Bewicke for many years; but
soon I go. I have had enough.'

The woman's manner was so odd that Miss Broad wondered if she was a
little touched in the head, or if she had been drinking. She looked
round the room, at a loss what to say. Her glance lighted on a large
panel photograph which occupied the place of honour on the
mantelpiece. It was Mr Holland. She recognised it with a start. It was
the best likeness of him she had seen. He had not given her a copy,
nor any portrait of himself, which was half as good.

Miss Bewicke's companion was watching her.

'You are looking at the photograph? It is Mr Holland, a friend of Miss
Bewicke's, the dearest friend she has in the world.'

'You mean he was her friend?'

'He was? He is--none better. Miss Bewicke has many friends--oh, yes, a
great many; she is so beautiful--is she not beautiful?--but there are
none of them to her like Guy.'

The woman's familiar use of Mr Holland's Christian name stung Miss
Broad into silence. That she lied she knew; to say that, to-day, Mr
Holland was still Miss Bewicke's dearest friend was to attain the
height of the ridiculous. That the young lady knew quite well. She was
also aware that, for some reason which, as yet, she did not fathom,
this foreign creature was making herself intentionally offensive. None
the less, she did not like to hear her lover spoken of in such fashion
by such lips. Still less did she like to see his portrait where it
was. Had she acted on the impulse of the moment, she would have torn
it into shreds. And perhaps she might have gone even as far as that
had she not perceived something else, which she liked, if possible,
still less than the position occupied by the gentleman's photograph.

On a table lay a walking-stick. A second's glance was sufficient to
convince her of the ownership. It was his--a present from herself. She
had had it fitted with a gold band; his initials, which she had had
cut on it, stared her in the face. What was his walking-stick--her
gift--doing there?

The woman's lynx-like eyes were following hers.

'You are looking at the walking-stick? It, also, is Mr Holland's.'

'What is it doing here?'

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

'He left it behind him, I suppose. Perhaps he was in too great a
hurry, or Miss Bewicke. Sometimes, when one is in a great hurry to get
away, one forgets little things which are of no importance.'

She called his walking-stick--her gift to him--a thing of no
importance! What was the creature hinting at? Miss Broad would not
condescend to ask, although she longed to know.

'As I tell you, Miss Bewicke is not at home. She is at the Hotel
Metropole at Brighton. Would you like to take Mr Holland's
walking-stick to--her?' There was an accent on the pronoun which the
visitor did not fail to notice. 'What name shall I give to Miss
Bewicke?'

'I am Miss Broad.'

'Miss Broad--Letty Broad? Oh, yes, I remember. They were talking and
laughing about you--Mr Holland and she. Perhaps, after all, you had
better not go down to Brighton.'

When the young lady was back in the street, her brain was a tumult of
contradictions. That the woman who called herself Miss Bewicke's
companion had, for reasons of her own, been trying to amuse herself at
her expense she had not the slightest doubt. That Mr Holland's
relations with Miss Bewicke were not what were suggested she was
equally certain. None the less she wondered, and she doubted. What was
his portrait doing there? Still more, what was his walking-stick? He
was carrying it when they last met. Under what circumstances, between
this and then, had it found its way to where it was? Where was Mr
Holland? That there was a mystery she was convinced. She was almost
convinced that Miss Bewicke held the key to it.

Should she run down to Brighton and find out? She would never rest
until she knew. She had gone so far; she might as well go farther. She
would be there and back in no time. The cabman was told to drive to
Victoria. At Victoria a train was just on the point of starting. Miss
Broad was travelling Brightonwards before she had quite made up her
mind as to whether she really meant to go. When the train stopped at
Clapham Junction, she half rose from her seat and all but left the
carriage. She might still be able to return home in time for luncheon.
But while she dilly-dallied, the train was off. The next stoppage was
at Croydon. There would be nothing gained by her alighting there; so
she reached Brighton, as she assured herself, without ever having had
the slightest intention of doing it. Therefore, and as a matter of
course, when the train rattled into the terminus she was not in the
best of tempers. She addressed sundry inquiries to herself as she
descended to the platform.

'Now what am I to do? I may as well go to the Metropole as I am here.
I am not bound to see the woman even if I go. And as for speaking to
her'--she curled her lip in a way which was intended to convey a
volume of meaning--'I suppose it is possible to avoid the woman, even
if I have the misfortune to be under the same roof with her. The
hotel's a tolerable size; at anyrate, we'll see.

She did see, and that quickly. As she entered the building, the first
person she beheld coming towards her across the hall was Miss May
Bewicke.

Which proves, if proof be necessary, that a building may be large, and
yet too small.



                             CHAPTER XII

                   THE TENDER MERCIES OF TWO LADIES


By way of a commencement, Miss Broad was conscious of two things--that
Miss Bewicke was looking her best; that she herself was looking her
worst; at least, she was nearly certain she was looking her worst, she
felt so hideous.

Miss Bewicke had a knack of walking--it came by nature, though there
were those who called it a trick--which gave her a curious, and,
indeed, humorous, air of importance altogether beyond anything her
stature seemed to warrant. This enabled her to overwhelm men, and even
women who were much taller than herself, with a grace which was
positively charming. She moved across that spacious hall, looking
straight at Miss Broad, as if there was nothing there; and was walking
past with an apparent unconsciousness of there being anyone within a
mile, though she brushed against the other's skirts as she passed,
which was a little more than Miss Broad could endure. She was not
going all the way to Brighton to be treated by that woman as if she
were a nonentity.

'Miss Bewicke!'

The lady, who had passed, turned.

'I beg your pardon?'

'Can I speak to you?'

'Speak to me?' She regarded the other with a smile which, if pretty,
was impertinent. 'I'm afraid I haven't the pleasure.'

'I am Miss Broad.'

'Broad?--Broad? I don't seem to remember.'

'Perhaps you remember Mr Holland.'

'Mr Holland?--Guy Holland? Oh, yes, I have good cause for remembering
him.'

'Mr Holland has spoken of me to you?'

'Oh! You are that Miss Broad! I have pleasure in wishing you good
morning.'

Miss Bewicke walked off as if, so far as she was concerned, the matter
was at an end; but so abrupt a termination to the interview the other
would not permit.

'I am sorry to detain you, Miss Bewicke, but, as I have said, I wish
to speak to you.'

'Yes. What do you wish to say?'

'Can I not speak to you in private?'

'By all means.' Miss Bewicke led the way into a sitting-room. As soon
as they were in, and the door closed, before the other had a chance to
open her lips, she herself began the ball. 'Miss Broad, before you
speak, there is something which I wish to say to you. You incited Mr
Guy Holland to commit, last night, a burglary upon my premises.'

If she expected the other to show signs of confusion, or to attempt
denial, she was mistaken. Miss Broad did not flinch.

'I did.'

'You admit it?'

'I do.'

'Are you aware that in so doing you were guilty of a criminal action?'

'As to that I know nothing, and care less.'

'I have only to send for a policeman to have you sentenced to a term
of imprisonment.'

'I understand how it is you have been so successful on the stage. You
really are an excellent actress. You bear yourself as if you were the
injured party, while all the time you know very well that it was
precisely because you had robbed him that I advised him to despoil you
of your booty.'

'You are perfectly aware that that is false.'

'On the contrary, I am perfectly aware that it is true. Where is Mr
Holland? Is he here with you?'

'Miss Broad!'

'Or did you dare to make his doing, what you know he was perfectly
justified in doing, an affair of the police?'

'I came upon Guy Holland, at dead of night, engaged in robbing me, and
I sent him from me with my blessing.'

'Then where is he?'

'I know no more than this chair.'

'Miss Bewicke, I called at your rooms this morning. I saw his
walking-stick upon your table. When I asked how it came there, the
woman who had opened the door said, in effect, that he had left it
behind in his hurry to go away with you.'

'The woman! What woman?'

'She said she was your companion.'

'Casata? Louise Casata never said anything so monstrous.'

'Not in so many words; but that was what she intended me to
understand.'

'You believed it? What a high opinion you appear to have of us! Guy
must be worse even than I imagined, or you, his promised wife, would
not judge him with such hard judgment.'

'I did not believe it; but I did believe that you called in the police
last night.'

'I didn't; I called in no one. I simply told him to go, and he went.'

'You are laughing. You know where he is. I can see it in your face.'

'Then you are indeed a seer.'

'This morning, when he did not come, as he promised he would, and
always has done, someone gave me this. What am I to think?'

Miss Broad handed Miss Bewicke the two typewritten lines, which that
lady carefully regarded.

'Someone? Who was someone?'

'A little boy. I thought it was a message from Guy. By the time I
found it wasn't, he was gone. I don't know who he was, nor from whom
he came, if it wasn't from you.'

It certainly did not come from me. Miss Broad, I begin to find you
amusing. I also begin to understand what it is Guy Holland perceives
in you to like. You are more of a woman than I am; that is, there is
in you more of the natural savage, which, to a man of his temperament,
goes to make a woman.'

'I want none of your praises.'

'I'm not going to give you any, or compliments either. I doubt if
you're in a frame of mind to properly appreciate any sort of
sleight-of-hand. Let me finish. I had an engagement for luncheon; as
you have made me late for it, perhaps you will do me the honour of
lunching with me here.'

'No, thank you.'

'Pardon me, you will.'

'Excuse me, I won't.'

'We shall see.'

Miss Bewicke touched the bell button. Miss Broad eyed her with flaming
cheeks.

'It's no use your ordering anything to eat for me, because I sha'n't
touch it. You treat me as if I were a child. I'm not a child.'

'My dear Miss Broad, we are both of us women--both of us; and there
are senses in which women and children are synonyms. Mr Holland was
once in love with me--he was, I assure you. He is now in love with
you, which fact creates between us a bond of sympathy.'

'I don't see it.'

'No? I do. You will. He appears to have got himself into, we will put
it, a rather equivocal position. It is our bounden duty, as joint
sympathisers, to get him out of it. We will discuss our bounden duty;
but I never can discuss anything when I'm starving, which I am.'

To the waiter who appeared Miss Bewicke gave orders for an immediate
lunch for two. Miss Broad kept silence. The truth was, she was not
finding Miss Bewicke altogether the sort of person she expected. That
little lady went on,--

'I'm free to confess, my dear Miss Broad; by the way, may I call you
Letty?'

'No; you may not.'

'Thank you; you are so sweet. As I was about to remark, my
dear--Letty'--the other winced, but was still--'I'm free to confess
that I think it not improbable that something has happened to Mr
Holland.'

'You know that something has happened?'

'I don't know--I surmise. I put two and two together, thus:--To begin
with, I don't think that you were the only person who egged him on to
felony.'

Miss Broad again was speechless. She remembered Mr Holland's tale of
his encounter with Miss Casata.

'There was a preciseness about his proceedings which set me thinking
at the time, and has kept me thinking ever since. I'm pretty shrewd,
you know. Now, I happen to be aware that a certain person of my
acquaintance has been on too good terms with Mr Horace Burton. You
have heard of Mr Horace Burton? I thought so. Such a nice young man!
Now, however, this certain person is on the worst terms with Mr Horace
Burton. For sufficient reasons, I assure you. She has been evolving
fantastic schemes of vengeance on the deceitful wretch; she's just a
little cracked, you know. To ruin Mr Horace Burton by assisting Guy
Holland to deprive him of his fortune would be just the kind of notion
which would commend itself to her. I fancy that that's exactly what
she did do. Didn't she, my dear?'

Miss Broad was breathing a little hard. The other's keen intuition
startled her.

'It was I who told him to take what was his own.'

'Yes, I know; but the first suggestion did not come from you. However,
so long as we understand each other, that's the point. To proceed--Mr
Horace Burton would be cautious that this certain person's sweetness
had turned to gall, and also that she was wishful to pay him out in
his own coin. He might even have a notion of the form that payment was
to take, having learned it from the certain person's own lips. If so,
you may be quite sure that he or his friends saw Guy Holland enter my
premises, if nobody else did. They saw him come out. They were to the
full as anxious to obtain possession of that ruby as ever he could be.
So they took it from him.'

'Took it from him--with violence?'

'Do you think they could take it from him without violence--that he
would hand it over practically upon request? That's not like Guy; not
the Guy I knew. He'd fight for it tooth and nail himself against a
regiment.'

'Do you think then they hurt him?'

'It looks as if they did something to him. He never went home. There
must have been some reason why he didn't. There is at least a
possibility that it was because he couldn't.'

'Do you think they--killed him?'

'Ah, now you ask too much. I should say certainly not. It would be
unintentionally if they did. That would be too big a price even for Mr
Horace Burton to pay. If they attacked him in fair fight, I should say
that he killed someone before they did him; and that when they did it
was because they had to. But the possibility is that they never let
him have a chance; that they stole on him unawares, and had him at
their mercy before he knew that danger threatened.'

'Miss Bewicke, you are so clever--so much cleverer than I--'

'My dear!'

'Come up to town with me and help me look for him, and go with me to
the police, and--'

'Set all London by the ears? I know. We'll do it; but here comes
lunch. You sit down to lunch with me, and we'll talk things over while
we lunch. You see how far talking things over has already brought us;
and after lunch we'll go to town, as you suggest, and find out what's
happened to Guy Holland, and where he is, or we'll know the reason
why. But if you won't lunch with me, then nothing remains but to wish
you good day, and, so far as I'm concerned, there'll be an end of the
matter. I'll have nothing to do with a person who won't eat my bread
and salt.'

So the ladies lunched together. Although Miss Broad declared that she
could not swallow a morsel, Miss Bewicke induced her to dispose of
several. Indeed, she handled her with so much skill that by the time
the meal was through--it was not a long one--one would have thought
that they really were on decent terms with one another, though Miss
Broad was still a trifle scratchy. But then her nerves were out of
order, and when a lady's nerves are out of order, she is apt,
occasionally, to stray from those well-defined paths which etiquette
and good breeding require her to tread; in short, she does not know
what she is doing, or what anybody else is doing either, which Miss
Bewicke quite understood, so that her guest's eccentricities,
apparently, simply amused her.

And the two young ladies went up together in the same compartment to
London to look for Mr Holland, and to call down, if necessary,
vengeance on his enemies and those who had despitefully used him.



                             CHAPTER XIII

                       VISITORS FOR MISS CASATA


Miss Casata had a razor in her hand--an open razor. She examined its
edge.

'It is very sharp. Oh, yes, how sharp! One cut; it will all be over.
Will it be over with one cut--that is it--or shall I have to hack, and
hack, and hack? That would not be agreeable.'

She stood in front of a looking-glass, regarding her own reflection.

'I am not bad looking; no, I am not. I have a certain attractiveness,
which is my own. To use the razor would be to make a mess. I should be
a horrible sight. Would he care? He would not see me. If he did, he
would laugh, I know. He has what he calls a taste for the horrible. It
would amuse him to behold me all covered with blood.'

She turned her attention to some articles which were on a table.

'Here is a revolver. The six barrels are all loaded. It would not need
them all to blow out my brains--that is, if I have any to blow. Here
is a bottle of hydrocyanic acid. What lies I had to tell to get it;
what tricks I had to play! There is enough in this little bottle to
kill the whole street. I have, therefore, the keys of death close to
my hand--painless, instant death. Three roads to eternal sleep, and I
stand so much in need of rest. Yet I hesitate to use them. It is very
funny. Is it because I am going mad--I did not use to be infirm of
purpose--I wonder?'

She handled, one after another, the three objects--the razor, the
revolver, the little bottle--as if endeavouring to make a selection.

'I am too optimistic. There is my fault--I always hope. It is an
error. I have always had in my life such evil fortune that, when
happiness came, I should have known it would not endure--that the
night would be blacker because the sun once shone; that for me,
henceforward, it would be always night. I was a fool; so happy I
forgot, so I pay for it. Well, I will take my fate into my own hands
and make an ending when I choose. I should have liked to see the
little one--my little one.' A softness came into the voice of which
one might hardly have thought it capable. 'To have held it in my arms;
to press it to my breast; to touch its lips with mine. I should,
indeed, have liked to be a mother. Yet better not; it might have been
like its father. That would have been the worst of all. Which is it to
be--steel? lead? a little drink? Why is it I cannot decide? What's
that?'

She had Miss Bewicke's dainty drawing-room to herself. An incongruous
object she seemed in it, she and her gruesome playthings. A sound
appeared to have caught her ear. She put her right hand behind her
back; in it, the three assistants of death. Moving to a door which was
on the opposite side of the room, turning the handle softly, she
passed half-way through it, then stood and listened.

'Quite still, yet. The noise did not come from there. There was a
noise. Ah!'

The interjection was in response to a rat-tat-tat on the knocker. The
room was illuminated by a dozen electric lights. Disconnecting one
after the other, she allowed but a single one to remain alight.
Comparatively, the apartment was in darkness.

'That's not Ellen's knock, nor Jane's; she is not already back again.
Besides, she also does not knock like that. Who is it?'

The knocking came again--slightly, more insistently than before.

'If it is some bothering visitors, they will have a short answer, I
promise them. When I do not open, why do they not take a hint and go?
I am not to be disturbed when I am making my arrangements to remain
undisturbed for ever.'

The knocking was repeated for a third time.

'So, they persist! Well, I will show them. They shall see.'

Cramming her trio of treasures into the pocket of her dress, where one
would have supposed them to be in uncomfortable, not to say dangerous,
juxtaposition, she strode to the door, intent on scarifying the
presumptuous caller. When, however, she perceived who stood without,
surprise for the moment made her irresolute.

The visitor was Mr Horace Burton, at whom Miss Casata stared, as if he
were the very last person she had expected to see--which, probably, as
a matter of fact, he was. Mr Burton, on the other hand, bestowed on
her his blandest smile. He sauntered past her as if he had not the
slightest doubt in the world that he would be regarded as a welcome
guest.

'Hollo, Lou! come to pay you a visit.'

His tone was light and airy, in striking contrast to her demeanour,
which was about as tragic as it could be.

'Go! Do you hear me, go, before you are sorry, and I am sorry, too!'

Her manner seemed to leave him quite unmoved.

'Now, my dear girl, don't look at me like that; it isn't nice of you.
I'm here as a friend--a friend, you understand--and something more
than a friend.'

'You are no friend of mine; no, you never can be. I tell you again to
go at once, or you will be sorry. I have warned you.'

'That's all right; you'll change your tone when you hear what I have
to say. I've come here to bring sunshine into your life, to ask for
your forgiveness, to undo the past. Be sensible; there's a good girl.'

'Sensible? Oh, yes, I will be sensible. There's someone else here.'

'Yes, that's Cox; he's a friend of mine. He's come here to see
fair-play and witness my repentance. Come in, Cox.' Mr Thomas Cox
entered, looking, if the thing were possible, less like a Thomas Cox
than ever. 'Cox, let me present you to Miss Casata, the only woman I
ever loved. There have been times when I have been forced to dissemble
my love. Hang it, Cox! you know how I've been pressed. When a man's in
such a hole as I've been in, he crushes down the love which he feels
for a woman; he has to, if there's any manhood in him. He doesn't want
to drag her down into the ditch in which he lies. But, Cox, you know
how I have loved her all the time.'

Mr Burton turned away his head--whether to hide a tear or a smile was
uncertain. He spoke with a degree of volubility which, under the
circumstances, was remarkable. As Miss Casata appeared to think, her
tone remained inflexible.

'There still is someone else.'

'Ah, that's the Flyman; he's nothing and nobody; he doesn't count. Let
him have a chair, and he can wait in the hall, Lou, till you and I
come to an understanding.'

Mr Burton's suggestion was carried out. A chair was taken into the
little hall, on which the Flyman placed himself. How long he remained
on it, when their backs were turned, was another matter. The outer
door was closed, as also, Miss Casata having entered, was the door
into the drawing-room. But that was of no consequence; the Flyman's
ears were keen.

There was a curious glitter in the lady's eyes when she confronted her
quondam lover. Now and then she touched her lips with the tip of her
tongue, as if they were dry. Her hands continually opened and shut,
apparently of their own volition. Occasionally one of them found its
way into her pocket, feeling if her treasures still were there. She
spoke as if her throat were sore.

'Well, what is it that you want? what new lie have you to tell?'

'I want to marry you; and, Lou, that's no lie.'

She was silent. One could see her bosom moving up and down. Then,
becoming conscious of the two men's scrutiny, she drew herself up
straighter, as if resolute to keep herself in hand.

'You insolent!'

'Insolent! Now, Lou, that's not nice of you. A man's not insolent who
wants to marry the woman whom he loves, and who loves him.'

'I love you? I?' She tapped her chest with her forefinger. 'I love you
so much that I would like to tear you to pieces! That is the sort of
love I have for you. You--thing!'

'Lou, you're letting your temper get the better of you. I know I
treated you badly.'

'Badly!'

She laughed--a mirthless little laugh.

'I know you've a right to feel annoyed with me--'

'Annoyed with you? Oh, no, not that!'

'But I was forced to do what I did; I couldn't help myself.'

'No doubt!'

'But now it's different altogether. I see things in a new light. I
know what a mistake I've made. I've found out that I love you even
more than I thought I did, and I've come to ask you to give me another
chance--to forgive me. You're a woman, Lou, the best of women, and
you've a forgiving heart; I know you have. Let me be your husband.
I'll treat you better in the future; really, now!'

'What does all this mean?'

'It means what I say. Doesn't your own heart tell you so?'

'Oh, yes, it tells me. It tells me all sorts of things. It is a fool
and a liar. It is of you I ask what does it all mean? It is you I want
to tell me. Never mind what my heart says; we will leave my heart
alone. I think we'd better.'

'Well, look here, I'll be candid. You're clear-sighted, whatever else
you are, and level-headed; a cleverer woman I never met. I've told you
so scores of times. With a woman of your type, candour's the best
policy, as you say. So here's the matter in a nutshell. I'm in a hole;
you're in a hole. You help me out of the hole I'm in; I'll help you
out of the hole you're in. That's what I've come to say to you
to-night. You appreciate frankness; there you have it.'

'What is the hole you are in?'

'My dear Lou, you know quite well. I've never kept it secret from you;
I've always made you my confidant. What I want is my uncle's ruby. You
tell me where it is, and help me to lay my hand upon it, and I'll
marry you in the morning. And there's the proof that I mean what I
say.'

He handed her an official-looking document, which purported to be an
announcement of the fact that notice had been given to a certain
registrar requiring him to perform the ceremony of marriage, by
special licence, between Horace Burton and Louise Casata. The lady,
however, scarcely glanced at it. She kept her eyes fixed on the
gentleman.

'Your uncle's ruby!'

'That's it. As you know, if I can get it in my possession, it means
fortune; if I can't, it may mean misfortune of a bad type. As I'm not
taking any chances, if you'll help me to lay my hand on it, I'll marry
you in the morning.'

'What a liar you are!'

'My dear Lou, all men are liars; somebody else said it before you. But
where's the lie in this particular case? You've the proof in your hand
that I mean business. Cox shall come with us and see it done. Won't
you, Cox?'

Mr Thomas Cox bowed.

'Pleased to do anything to oblige a lady.'

'There you are! If you like, you needn't lose sight of me until we're
married.'

'You say you want your uncle's ruby?'

'Of course, you know I do.'

'I know that you have it already.'

'I wish I knew as much. If I had it, I shouldn't be here to-night.
There's another piece of candour.'

'I saw him take it.'

'Him? Who?'

'The man outside whom you call the Flyman. I saw him from a window
take it last night from Mr Holland.'

Mr Burton turned to Mr Cox.

'There you are! There's one witness. How many more might there have
been? The Flyman's a fool to transact a delicate piece of business of
that description in a public thoroughfare!' He returned to Miss
Casata. 'My dear Lou, you saw him try to take it, unfortunately
without success.'

'He took everything Mr Holland had.'

'You appear to be well-informed upon the subject, though I don't know
from what quarter your information comes. Still, what you say is
pretty accurate. He did take all he could. He even took a ruby. Here
it is for you to look at. Unluckily, it's not my uncle's. Hence these
tears.'

He handed her the ruby signet ring which the Flyman, when he turned Mr
Holland face downwards on the pavement, found that gentleman had been
lying on.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                             WHO KNOCKS?


Miss Casata examined the ring with every show of interest.

'This is the ruby he took from Mr Holland.'

'It is.'

'It is the only one which Mr Holland had.'

'So the Flyman said. He ought to know. I believe, on this occasion,
he's no liar.'

'And it's not your uncle's?'

'It is not.'

'You are sure?'

'Dead.'

'Then, now I understand.'

'I wish I did share your understanding.'

'I understand why she laughed when he had gone, and why she said,
"Poor Guy, how disappointed he will be!"'

'What is it you're talking about? Would you condescend to explain?'

'Yet--I do not understand. It was the box. Wait; in a second I will be
back.'

She was back in less than a minute, bearing in her hand a small
leather-covered box. On the lid was gummed a narrow strip of paper, on
which was written, in delicate characters, 'The Burton Ruby.' Mr
Burton received it with a cry of recognition.

'It's it; but the writing's strange.'

'It is her writing.'

'It's uncle's box--the one in which he always kept the blessed thing.
There's his crest; there's where I dropped it in the ink.' He raised
the lid. 'It's empty!'

'Last night Mr Holland took from it the ring which was inside. I
always imagined that in it she kept your uncle's ruby, which was what
I said to Mr Holland, as I told you I would do.'

'You're a nice girl, Lou!'

'And you're a nice man! Are you not a nice man?'

Mr Cox interposed.

'Now, don't let's have any quarrelling. Stick to business. Time's
precious. Go on with your story.'

The lady turned and rent him.

'I will not go on with my story for you. What business of yours is my
story, you dirty Jew?'

Mr Burton smiled benignly.

'Personalities! personalities! Don't call the man a Jew, my dear. Cox
is no Jew; he's an anti-Semite. Continue your story for me, my love.'

Miss Casata complied with his request, although not in the most
gracious manner.

'Do not call me your love, or you will be sorry. As Mr Holland was
taking the ring out of the box, she came in--'

'And caught him at it? It must have been exciting. Wicked Guy!'

'He wished to give it to her back again, but she said, "Go, and take
it with you." He took it, and went. Then, when he had gone, she began
to laugh. She kept on laughing--it was true laughter, not false--as if
it was the best joke in the world, and she said, "Poor Guy, how
disappointed he will be!"'

'You notice things.'

'I am not a fool.'

'Is it possible that anyone ever mistook you for one?'

Mr Cox dug him with his elbow in the ribs, by way of a hint to him to
hold his tongue. Miss Casata went contemptuously on,--

'I perceive now that she laughed because she knew that he had not
taken with him what he supposed; but what I do not understand is,
where, then, is the ring? I know she kept it in this box.'

She examined minutely the one she held. Mr Cox put a question to Mr
Burton.

'For the last time, Burton, I suppose you're quite sure that it's not
your uncle's ring? Nice we should look if it was afterwards discovered
that you had made a mistake.'

'Don't be a silly ass! How many more times do you want to hear me
swear? I say, Cox, have you two legs, or four, and which end of you
are they? I might just as reasonably put such questions to you. I tell
you, I know.'

Miss Casata was still continuing her scrutiny.

'It is not the ring; you are right. It is not the ring which she used
to keep in the box. The stone in that, I think, was larger. It had a
crest on it, I remember. And inside there was a name engraved, "George
Burton." She showed it me one day, and she said, "I shall have to have
this stone remounted. I cannot wear a man's name upon my finger,
especially that man's name." I remember very well. Oh, no, this is not
the ring at all.'

Mr Burton turned in triumph to Mr Cox. 'You hear? Now, who's right?'

'You have seen the ring which you describe?'

'It is certain; more than once. When was the last time? Not many days
ago. It was in this box. She took it out of this box, she put it back
into the box, and the box she put into the little bottom drawer. I
remember it very well. When I heard of Mr Burton's will, I thought of
it at once.'

'Then where is it now?'

'She must have taken it out of the box and put it somewhere else.'

'But where? Think!'

'How do I know? how can I think? She must have put it with some of her
other jewels. They are everywhere--all over the place.'

Mr Cox and Mr Burton exchanged glances. The young gentleman took up
the running.

'In that case, we'll look for it all over the place.'

'What do you mean?'

'My dear Lou, I'm going to have that ruby, and before I leave these
premises. So, now, you've got it.'

'You will not touch her things?'

'I've no desire to do anything so indelicate. You tell us where it is,
or give us a hint.'

'I have not the slightest notion.'

'Then we'll investigate for ourselves.'

'You shall not touch her things!'

'Lou, you gave Guy Holland the tip. You helped him to commit a
burglary. Why should you be squeamish now?'

'That was different.'

'Of course it was. He's not attached to you like I am; he doesn't
worship the ground you stand upon. It isn't as though you were smitten
with Miss Bewicke, because you're not; you've told me so a hundred
times. She's going to play some pretty trick on her own account;
that's the meaning of her taking out the ruby, which she knew you knew
was in that box. And it's a thousand to nothing that she means to play
it at my expense. If I can help it, I don't mean to let her have the
chance. Your fortune's bound with mine; we sink or swim together. If I
don't get that ruby, and to-night, it'll probably mean that I go
under, and, if I go, you'll go too. My dear girl, you know you will.
Come, be sensible; be something like your dear own self. Do only half
for me what you did for Guy. Let me just have a look round for that
wretched ruby. By your own account, it must be somewhere close at
hand. I'm sure to get it, and, when I do get it, I'll not forget the
part you played. It'll not be my fault if I don't still make you the
best husband a woman ever had.'

'I was not here when Mr Holland came. I did not see what he did. I
knew nothing.'

'You need not see what we do. We have a little something somewhere
which will make you as unconscious of anything that may take place as
you can possibly desire. Then, if there is a bother, you will be able
to assume, with perfect propriety, the _rôle_ of injured victim. But I
don't see that there need be trouble, if you keep still. I've as much
right to that ruby as anybody else. I'm going to assert that right,
that's all. Now, be a good, kind girl. Go into another room and have a
nice little read. We're going to have a ruby hunt. Flyman!'

The Flyman appeared at the open door. At sight of him, Miss Casata
broke into a storm of exclamations.

'Not him! He shall not come in here. He killed Mr Holland! I saw him!
Mr Holland's blood is on his hands! I will not have that he come in
here!'

'My dearest girl, but that's absurd. He's the only one of the three
who understands locks. You don't want us to irretrievably ruin Miss
Bewicke's property owing to our sheer want of skill? And for a nose
for such a trifle as that ruby we are hunting for he has not his
equal. Now, you go and have a nice little read.'

He moved forward with the possible intention of taking her by the arm
and leading her from the room. If such was his design, it failed. As
he advanced, she slipped past him. Rushing to the door which led into
Miss Bewicke's bedroom, she placed herself in front of it. She took
out one of the three treasures which were in her pocket--the revolver.
Before the three men had even dreamed that she might be in possession
of such a weapon, it was pointed at their heads. Her tone when she
spoke was as significant as her attitude.

'If one of you tries to come through this door, I will shoot him dead.
Do not think this revolver is not loaded. I will show you.'

She fired, the bullet penetrating the opposite wall. Mr Thomas Cox
ducked as it passed. His companions instinctively shrank back. Her
lips parted in a grim smile. Apparently this was her idea of humour.

'You see I am not so helpless as you perhaps supposed. I am not
nervous, not at all. I am used to handle a revolver. I have won prizes
for pistol shooting, oh, several times. There are five more barrels
which are loaded. If I aim at you, I promise that I will not miss. You
shall see.'

The bearing of the trio, in its way, was comical, they were evidently
so completely taken by surprise. Mr Thomas Cox, in particular, looked
as if this were an expedition in which, under the circumstances, he
wished he had not taken part. He said as much.

'Look here, Burton, this is more than I bargained for. Before we came
I told you that I was not going to be mixed up with anything
equivocal. I have my character to consider. You said your lady friend
would listen to reason; if your lady friend won't listen to reason,
then I'm sorry, but I'm off.'

'Then you'll lose your money.'

'In that case you'll have to smart for it.'

'That won't give you your money. It's a nice little lot.'

'I know it's a nice little lot, and I can't afford to lose it; you
know I can't afford to lose it. But there's something I can afford to
lose still less, and that--that's my character.'

'Your character! Why, if you only could manage to get rid of your
character--I don't believe you yourself realise what an awful one it
is--it'd be the best stroke of business you've done for many a day, my
dear Cox!'

Mr Burton advanced, as if to tap his friend, in an affable manner, on
the shoulder. This brought him within a few feet of where Miss Casata
was standing. Laying his left hand on Mr Cox's shoulder, with his
right he snatched away that gentleman's walking-stick, swung round and
struck Miss Casata's outstretched wrist with such violence that the
revolver was driven from her grasp and sent flying across the room.
She gave a cry of pain. Her arm fell limp at her side. The blow had
been delivered with so much force that it was quite possible her wrist
was broken.

'You devil!'

'You wild cat!' returned the gentleman. 'Now, Flyman, on to her!'

The Flyman obeyed. The two gentlemen attacked the lady. Although she
fought gamely, especially considering her injured wrist, she was no
match for the pair. They got her down upon the floor, still struggling
for all that she was worth.

'Now, Flyman, where's that stuff of yours?'

'I'm getting it. She's a oner. She's bit me to the bone.'

With difficulty--he only had one hand disengaged--he evolved a tin
canister from his jacket pocket.

'Bite her to the bone! Let her have the lot!'

From the canister the Flyman managed to take a cloth--a cloth which
was soaked with some peculiar-smelling fluid. This he jammed against
the lady's face, even cramming it between her lips. She writhed and
twisted, then lay still.

As the Flyman got up, he examined the hand which she had marked with
her teeth.

'She takes a bit of doing. I shouldn't like to have to tackle her
single-handed.'

Mr Burton smiled. His clothes were a little rumpled. As he rose he
arranged his tie.

'Nice wife she'd make! What do you think?'

Mr Cox had occupied his time in picking up the revolver of which the
lady had been relieved. He seemed genuinely concerned.

'You know, Burton, I tell you again I didn't come here for this sort
of thing. I wouldn't have had this happen not--not for a good deal. I
shouldn't be surprised if we get into trouble for this.'

'My dear Cox, we should have got into trouble anyhow. We may as well
be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I'm going for the gloves.'

'Hung! Don't talk about hanging. You make a cold shiver go down my
back. You haven't--killed her?'

'Killed her? You innocent! She's the sort who take a deal of killing.
My good chap, when she comes to, she'll curse a little and go on
generally; but she'll forgive me in the end. I know her; she's a
dear!'

While the three men stood looking down at the unconscious woman, there
came a knocking at the outer door.



                              CHAPTER XV

                        AN HONOURABLE RETREAT


It was not what they expected. Their faces showed it; they were so
unmistakably startled. They looked at each other, then at the
unconscious woman, then back again at one another. Mr Burton bit his
lip.

'Who the deuce is that?'

'Servants, perhaps.'

'The suggestion was the Flyman's.'

'Then confound the servants! Why can't they take a little extra time
to-night? They know their mistress is away.'

The knocking came again--a regular rat-tat-tat.

'That's no servants. They wouldn't make that row.'

'You can never tell. Nowadays they make what row they please; they
fancy themselves. Brutes!'

'Visitors, perhaps.'

'Confound them, whoever it is!'

They spoke in whispers, an appreciable pause between each man's
speaking, as if each in turn waited for something to happen. Mr Burton
was outwardly the most self-possessed, being the kind of man who would
probably smile as he mounted the gallows. The Flyman had his eyes
nearly shut, his fists clenched, his shoulders a little hunched, as if
gathering himself together to resist a coming attack. Mr Thomas Cox
was visibly tremulous; his great head twitched upon his shoulders; he
was apparently in danger of physical collapse. It was curious to
observe the contrasting attitudes of the three men as they stood about
the recumbent woman.

The knocking was repeated, still more loudly, as if the knocker waxed
impatient.

'We shall have to let 'em in. Anyhow, we shall have to see who's
there. They'll knock the door down.'

This was the Flyman. Mr Cox suggested an alternative.

'Can't we--can't we get away? Isn't there another way out?'

Mr Burton enlightened him.

'My dear Cox, there's only one way into a flat, and there's only one
way out, unless you try the window, which means a drop of perhaps a
hundred feet. I'm not dropping. The Flyman's right; we shall have to
see who's there. There needn't be trouble, unless you give yourself
away. It depends who it is. I'll lay this dear little girl of mine
upon her bed; she'll be more comfortable there, and not so
conspicuous. I know which is her room. Then we'll see who's come to
call on you.'

Displaying a degree of strength with which one would hardly have
credited his slight figure, lifting Miss Casata off the floor, he bore
her from the room. During his absence there came the knocking for the
fourth time, this time furiously. When he returned, a marked change
had taken place in his appearance. There were signs of strange
disorder on his countenance, as if during his brief withdrawal he had
been unstrung by some overwhelming shock. The Flyman at once observed
his altered looks.

'What's happened? What's the matter?'

'Curse you, Flyman!'

'What have I done now?'

'I say, curse you!'

'Is she--dead?'

'No, she's not. I'm going to open the door. If it's the servants, I'll
send them away, pretending to give them a message from her; if it's
callers, I'll tell them a lie; if it's anybody who wants to make
himself unpleasant, you two look out. I'm not going to be bluffed out
of this before I've got that ruby.'

'Burton, be careful what you do, for all our sakes.'

This was Mr Cox. The retort was hardly courteous.

'You be hanged!'

Mr Burton reached the front door as the knocking was recommencing.
From where they were they could not see what he did, but they could
hear. They heard him open; a feminine voice inquire, in tones of
indignation,--

'What's the meaning of this? Why am I kept waiting?'

Then the front door slammed, the drawing-room door was thrown
violently open, and two young ladies came through it, one after the
other, with such extremely indecorous rapidity as to suggest that they
could scarcely be entirely responsible for their own proceedings, as,
indeed, they were not. Mr Horace Burton had propelled them forward
with his own right arm before they themselves had the least idea what
was about to happen. And, following right upon their heels, he closed
the drawing-room door, turned the key and stood with his back against
it, surveying them with his habitual, benignant smile.

It was what they call upon the stage a tableau, The smiling gentleman,
the two bewildered ladies, the two other almost equally bewildered
men, for it was an open question which were the more surprised by the
singularity of Mr Burton's behaviour--Miss Bewicke and Miss Broad or
Mr Thomas Cox and the Flyman.

The peculiar nature of her reception seemed to have driven Miss
Broad's wits completely from her. She gazed around like a woman
startled out of sleep, who has no notion of what has roused her. Miss
Bewicke had apparently retained some fragments of hers. She looked at
Mr Burton, then at Mr Cox and the Flyman, then back at the gentleman
who stood before the door. She eyed him up and down with a mixture, as
it seemed, of amusement, anger and contempt. Could a voice have stung,
hers would have stung him then. But this gentleman was pachydermatous.

'So it's you?'

'I guess it is.'

'How dare you come here?'

'That's the problem.'

'It's one which will soon be solved.'

She moved across the room. He checked her.

'It's no good your ringing the bell. There's no one to answer.'

As she turned to face him, Miss Broad spoke, with an apparent partial
return to consciousness.

'Who is this person?'

'This person is Horace Burton, of whom you may have heard. I cannot
tell you who the other persons are. They look as if they were friends
of his.'

'So this is Horace Burton?'

Miss Broad regarded the gentleman in question as if he were some
unclean thing, which, possibly, she considered him to be. He, on the
other hand, continued genial as ever.

'And you're Miss Broad--Letty, I believe? I'm pleased to meet you,
cousin that is to be.'

'Cousin--your cousin? I shall never be a cousin of yours.'

'No? That's hard on Guy. He's counting on the money.'

'You despicable creature!' She turned away, presenting him with a good
view of her back, and put a question to Miss Bewicke. 'What is he
doing here? Surely you don't allow him in your rooms?'

Mr Burton took upon himself to answer for the lady.

'I'll tell you what I'm doing here; she can't. I'm now for the first
time going to tell her also. It'll be giving her a little piece of
information which I know she'll value. Miss Bewicke, I've come here in
search of a quarter of million of money.'

'Is that so? You really are too modest! It was surely scarcely worth
your while to come for such a trifle! I need hardly say that you will
find several little sums of that amount lying loose about the
premises!'

'Indeed? Well, I want one; that's all.'

'Mr Burton, will you be so good as to leave my rooms?'

'I'll leave them on the wings of the wind, whatever that may be, when
I have my uncle's ruby.'

'When you have what?'

'My uncle's ruby. My dear cousin Guy committed burglary here last
night in quest of it, so I'm sure you won't mind my paying you a
little call this evening as a sort of sequel.'

'I suppose Louise Casata told you about Mr Holland?'

'There's no charge for supposing.'

'Probably the same person also informed you that he went away with
what he sought?'

'Did he, Miss Bewicke?'

'You had better refer to your informant.'

'I'm referring to you. I'm asking you if Guy Holland left these rooms
last night in possession of my uncle's ruby?'

'Ask Miss Casata; ask your cousin even, but don't ask me.'

'I am asking you. You've been playing some confounded trick.'

'Mr Burton!'

'I don't wish to hurt your feelings, Miss Bewicke, so I'll say you've
been amusing yourself with some dainty, delicate device, and I
shouldn't be surprised to learn that you have that ruby on your person
at this moment.'

Miss Bewicke, walking to the bell, pressed her finger against the
button, so that it kept up a continuous ringing. Mr Burton watched her
with a smile.

'You see, there's no one there. You might have taken my word.'

'Where is Miss Casata?'

'Where is she? That's the question. Where's everyone?'

'If I am unable to attract the attention of my own servants, thanks to
you, my friends in the next flat will hear the unceasing tinkling of
the bell, and guess that there is something wrong.'

'I should be sorry, Miss Bewicke, to have to seem rude to a lady--'

'On the contrary, I should imagine that few things would give you
greater pleasure; you are that kind of person.'

'At the same time, I must request you to leave that bell alone.'

He went closer to her. His moving away from it left the door
unguarded. Over her shoulder she shot a glance at Miss Broad. That
young lady, catching it, perceived the little ruse she had been
playing. Hurrying to the door, she began to turn the key, and had
already unlocked it when Mr Burton came rushing back to the post which
he had been beguiled into deserting.

'You darling!' he cried.

Seizing Miss Broad by the waist he dragged her from the door. As he
whirled her round, she struck him with her clenched fist on his right
ear, the blow being delivered with such good judgment, force and
fortune that it carried the young gentleman clean off his feet and
right over on to his back.

'Bravo!' exclaimed Miss Bewicke. 'Now, Letty, open the door!'

But Miss Bewicke was a little hasty in supposing that the road was
free. As Mr Burton fell, he prevented Miss Broad from moving by
clutching at her skirts. She struggled to release herself in vain; he
gripped too tight. And the Flyman, hastening to occupy the fallen
hero's place, confronted Miss Bewicke as she advanced.

'It's no good,' he observed. 'There's no road this way.'

She was not to be baffled without an effort.

'If you'll let me pass, I'll give you--'

'You won't give me anything, because you won't pass. Now, don't you be
silly, or you'll be sorry. You won't bowl me over with a clip on the
ear from your little fist.'

This was said because, encouraged, perhaps, by Miss Broad's success,
Miss Bewicke showed signs of actual violence. The apparent
recognition, however, of some peculiar quality on the face of the man
in front of her caused her to relinquish her purpose, if it was ever
formed. Instead, turning to Miss Broad, she took her by the hand.

'Come, quick!' she cried.

Mr Burton, reassured by the Flyman's arrival, loosed the lady's skirt
as he ascended to his feet. The quick-witted proprietress of the
rooms, taking instant advantage of Miss Broad's freedom, rushed her
towards the door through which, not long since, he had carried Miss
Casata. Divining their purpose, he tore after them as soon as he had
regained his perpendicular.

'Stop them, you fools! Move yourself, Cox!'

But Mr Cox did not move himself. He remained motionless where he was
standing, and Mr Burton, in spite of his impetuosity, was too late.
They were not only through before he reached the door, but had banged
it in his face, and turned the key on the other side. He shook the
handle in vain.

'Open, you cats!'

They were not likely to comply with his civil invitation. He addressed
himself to Mr Cox, on his face, all at once, a very peculiar look of
pallor.

'I shouldn't be surprised if you swing for this.'

'Swing? For letting them through that door? Who do you think you're
talking to?'

'I'm talking to you, my friend. What's the betting that your letting
them through that door doesn't turn out a hanging matter for you? I'll
take short odds.' He turned to the Flyman. 'Let me through there.
There's another way into where they are; I'll see if I can get at
them. You stay here, in case they try to double. Cox is no good. I'll
be even with him for this.'

Mr Burton crossed to a door, which was on the other side of the little
hall. Unlocked, it admitted him to the kitchen. From the kitchen he
passed to another room, apparently where the servants slept. On the
opposite side of this was still another door. He eyed it.

'If I remember rightly, that leads into her room.'

The door was locked; the key was in the lock upon the other side. He
stooped to see; it was in a position which prevented anything being
visible. He rattled the handle; rapped with his knuckles at the panel,
without result. All was silent.

'It is her room. I wonder what they're up to? They're very still. They
can't--'

He stopped, probably because the stillness of which he spoke was
broken by a woman's cry--a mingling of surprise, anguish, fear. He
retraced his steps towards the kitchen, whispering to himself two
words,--

'They have!'

Taking the key from one side of the lock, replacing it in the other,
he locked the door of the servants' room behind him. The key itself he
pocketed.

'Except through the drawing-room, there's only this way out, so we've
trapped you anyhow.'

As if to make assurance doubly sure, he locked the door of the kitchen
also. Again he pocketed the key.



                             CHAPTER XVI

         THE FINDING OF THE RUBY AND THE LOCKING OF THE DOOR


When Mr Burton returned to the drawing-room, he found that Mr Thomas
Cox had been having a few words with the Flyman. That worthy jerked
his thumb in the other's direction.

'Wants to sling his hook. Says he's had about enough of it.'

'Oh, he has, has he? Now, Cox, listen to me. It's through you we're
here--'

Interrupting, Mr Cox raised his hat and stick in a hasty disclaimer.

'Was there ever anything like that? It was your suggestion entirely.
You said you could twist your lady friend round your finger--'

'Let's go a little further back, my Cox. You've told me--how many
times?--that if I lose my uncle's money you'll send me to gaol. Not
being anxious to go to gaol, I'm doing my best to get my uncle's
money. So if it's not through you I'm here, I should like to know
through whom it is.'

'That's different; you're entering on other matters altogether. You've
committed--you know what you've committed; but it doesn't follow,
because you've brought yourself within the reach of the criminal law,
that I want to bring myself too.'

'You hand over those pieces of paper which you're always flicking in
my face, and you're at liberty to go through that door, and down the
stairs, and neither the Flyman nor I will ever breathe a word about
your having been connected with the evening's entertainment.'

'Do you take me for a fool? You've robbed me on your own account
already, and now you want to jockey me into robbing myself. Don't talk
to me like that!'

'No, I won't talk to you like that; I'll talk to you like this. What
there'll be to pay for this evening's proceedings I don't know; but
you'll pay your share, whatever it is. This is a game of share and
share alike, and of in for a penny in for a pound. The Flyman and I
are going to see this through. I'm going to have the ruby before I
leave, I tell you that; and you're going to be in with us right
along.'

'Burton, you're a villain!'

'Cox, you're a scoundrel! Any use our saying pretty things to each
other, you renegade Jew?'

Mr Cox was wiping his forehead with his pocket-handkerchief, as if he
felt the heat.

'I will not be spoken to like that, as if I were--as if I were a man
of your own type. Where--where have those women gone?'

'The room on the other side that door is the dining-room; beyond is
Casata's room. That's where they've gone.'

'Then--then they've found her?'

'Oh, yes, they've found her; not a doubt of it. They've found a good
many other things as well.'

His tone evidently struck Mr Cox as being disagreeably significant.

'For goodness' sake, Burton, let's go. You are so rash, don't let's
make bad worse. Let's go while we have a chance, and before anything
very serious has happened.'

'Something serious has happened.'

'What do you mean?'

'What I say.'

'You don't mean--'

'Oh, cut it! Flyman, Cox is too fond of cackle. We're losing valuable
time, my child. You stay where you are, and keep an eye on things,
while Cox and I find my uncle's ruby.'

The Flyman proposed an amendment.

'Excuse me, Mr Burton, but, if you don't mind, we'll have it the other
way about. You stay here, and Mr Cox and I will find the ruby.'

Mr Burton laughed.

'Flyman, Doubt was your sire, out of Suspicion. Still think I want to
do you?'

'Sure.' The Flyman drew his finger across his lips. 'Mr Burton, you're
cleverer than most, and a lot cleverer than me. If you once got that
there stone between your fingers, I might whistle for my thousand, and
keep on whistling. Besides, I am handier than you at looking for a
thing like that.'

'Then show your handiness; only look alive about it. We can't expect
to continue in the enjoyment of these charming rooms for ever.'

'Where shall I start looking?'

'There you are, displaying your handiness from the very beginning. How
am I to know? I'm not informed as to where she keeps her gewgaws. I
believe that the pretty lady's sleeping-chamber is on the other side
of that door; look, there.' The Flyman looked in the direction
referred to. 'Hold hard; take Cox with you.'

The Flyman gripped Mr Thomas Cox by the arm.

'You come with me.'

Mr Cox objected.

'None of your handling.'

'Who wants to handle you? You come with me, that's all.'

'Yes, Cox, that's all. You go and assist our friend in prising open
the pretty lady's jewel-boxes and dressing-cases, and so on. You know
quite well that it isn't the first time you've been at the game, dear
boy.'

'I'll have no finger in anything of the kind; and as for your
imputations, I'll make you regret them, Mr Burton.'

'You will, will you? Take care, Cox; I'm in a nasty mood. If you won't
take a hand in this game, we'll play it in spite of you. We'll count
you out. Not a farthing shall you have of my money, and I defy you to
put the law into execution against me. You know you daren't--now. The
moment you move, I'll give the police the office to keep an eye on
Thomas Cox. You've more to lose than we have.'

'You--you brutes! Don't try to bully me.'

'Bully? I don't bully, Cox. Here, I'll open that door, and you shall
go through it at once, if you please. Only I'll go with you, and at
the foot of the stairs I'll denounce you for murder. If the game is
lost, as it will be if you won't play it out, I don't care if I do
hang, so long as you hang with me.'

'What--what the devil do you mean by keeping on dropping hints
about--about murder?'

'You shall know, if you like, when you reach the foot of the stairs.
Take my earnest and well-meant advice, keep in with us, and take my
word for it that each moment you waste brings the shadow of the
gallows just a little nearer. I'll give you all the explanations you
want afterwards, if there ever is an afterwards.'

Mr Cox hesitated. He glanced from one of his companions to the other.
What he saw on their faces seemed to have on him an odd effect. He
went with the Flyman into Miss Bewicke's bedroom, looking as if he had
all at once grown older. Mr Burton followed them with his eyes, the
peculiar expression of his countenance seeming to endow his
stereotyped smile with an unusual prominence. He looked, as he had
said of himself, in a nasty mood.

'Leave the door open, Flyman. I also am interested in the proceedings,
and should like to be instantly informed when you do light upon my
uncle's precious jewel.'

He watched for a moment or two the Flyman pulling open such drawers as
were unlocked and turning over their contents.

'Don't trouble yourself to look at the frills and laces. Women don't
keep jewels among their underwear. Turn your attention to the
dressing-table, man.'

The Flyman resented the comment on his mode of procedure.

'You never know where a woman does keep her things, especially the
thing you're after, as you'd know if you'd as much experience as I
have.'

Mr Burton, laughing, lit a cigarette.

'All right, man of many felonies. You're quite justified in resenting
the criticism of the amateur. I was only telling you what was my own
idea. Only do be quick and illustrate the handiness of which you
bragged.'

He strolled towards the door which was on the opposite side of the
room, the one through which the ladies had vanished. He softly tried
the handle; it still was locked. Taking the cigarette from between his
lips, he inclined his ear towards the panel and listened.

'They're quiet. I suppose they're in her room. I wonder what they're
doing? Problem for the papers which give prizes for puzzles. Under the
circumstances, what might they be expected to be doing? Odds on that
they're doing something else. One might easily see. It wouldn't take
long to cut a piece out of this panel, or, for the matter of that, to
take the lock itself clean off. But would it be worth one's while?
They've seen enough. Ye whales and little fishes, they've seen too
much! Better carry the thing to a conclusion without unnecessary
witnesses. If they're content, we are. What's up now?'

The question was prompted by an exclamation which came from Miss
Bewicke's bedroom. Mr Cox appeared at the entrance.

'Burton, you said that all we wanted was the ruby; that the rest of
her things should go untouched.'

'Well?'

'The Flyman's pocketing her jewels.'

Mr Burton crossed the floor.

'That won't do, Flyman. We're here on an expedition of right. We're
not thieves.'

'You said yourself we might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.'

'I did; and you are aware that that is not the kind of sheep I meant.
On this occasion I really must ask you to be honest.'

'But I never saw such shiners. Who could resist them, guv'nor? She's
got enough to stock a shop. Why, if we take 'em away with us, we
sha'n't be far out, even if we don't get that blessed ruby.'

'It's the ruby or nothing; also, and nothing. Put those things back.'

'I've only nobbled one or two. I've got to look after myself.'

'I, too, have to look after you. You know what was agreed; keep to the
terms of the agreement, or, though you "nobble" every "shiner" the
lady owns, you'll be a loser. Put those things back.'

There was something about Mr Burton just then which compelled respect,
of a kind, which fact the Flyman recognised. His face darkened and, in
audible tones, he grumbled. But he produced the trinkets, as
requested, and replaced them, one by one, on their velvet beds.

'Is that all?'

'Every blooming one.'

'Cox, is that all?'

'Yes, I believe it is.' He glanced at the open jewel-case. 'No,
there's a ring still missing.'

The Flyman cursed.

'Can't a bloke have one?'

'Not unless he wishes to pay for it more than it's worth. Come, man,
look pleasant.'

The Flyman did not 'look pleasant;' but he restored the ring. Mr
Burton expressed approval.

'That's better. Now, show yourself as keen in the right direction.
Give us a proof of the "handiness" you talked about, and find that
ruby. It'll be worth to you more than all those other things.'

On this point the Flyman, from his manner, seemed to have his doubts;
but he continued his researches. Mr Cox observed that they were
strictly confined to what Mr Burton had called the 'right direction.'
Mr Burton, returning to the locked door, pursued his meditations as he
listened at the panel.

'It's odd that they're so quiet, and suggests mischief. In such a
case, surely women are not quiet. Unless--unless what? That's what I
should like to know.'

'Burton, is this the ruby?'

The words came sharply from Mr Cox, with a sudden interposition from
the Flyman.

'You give me that! Don't you lay your fingers on the thing!'

'I'm only looking at it.'

'You give it me, I say.'

'Burton!'

The cry was almost an appeal for help. Mr Burton arrived to find
something very like a tussle taking place. The Flyman was endeavouring
to obtain possession of something which Mr Cox was holding, and which
that gentleman was doing his best to keep.

'I found it!' he cried. 'Hand it over!'

'Burton! Quick! Catch!'

Mr Cox tossed something through the air which Mr Burton caught. He had
just time to see that it was a ring, set with a gleaming red stone,
when the Flyman was upon him with an emphatic repetition of the demand
he had made on Mr Cox.

'You hand it over before I down you.'

Mr Cox explained.

'I found it; he didn't. I opened the box, and it was the first thing I
saw. It had nothing to do with him.'

The Flyman paid no attention to the statement. He merely reiterated
his request.

'Now, Mr Burton, I don't want no patter. You fork up before there's
trouble.'

The young gentleman, holding his hand behind his back, was smiling in
the other's face.

'Gently, Flyman. Let's know exactly where we are before we come to
business.' The Flyman flung himself upon him without another word. Mr
Burton never for a moment seemed to lose his self-possession. 'You
ass! what do you suppose you're going to gain by this?'

While they struggled, the bedroom door was suddenly slammed to. There
was a clicking sound. The continuation of the argument was instantly
deferred. Mr Burton hurried to the door.

'They've caught us napping; it's locked. Well, Flyman, I hope you're
satisfied. Owing to your "handiness," of which we have heard so much,
in our turn we are trapped.'



                             CHAPTER XVII

                        THE FIGURES ON THE BED


'At anyrate,' remarked Miss Bewicke, as, turning the key in the lock,
she shut herself and Miss Broad inside the dining-room, 'you can't get
at us for a time.'

The two girls stood and listened. They heard the handle tried; the
rapping at the panel.

'You may knock, and knock, but it won't be opened. He's gone. That was
Horace, dear. How beautifully you knocked him down!'

'What does he want?'

'It's pretty plain. Uncle George's ruby has the attractiveness of the
Holy Grail. This is another quest for it.'

'But they'll find it if we stop here.'

'And if we don't stop here, what do you propose to do? Fight them to
the death? Nothing else will be efficacious. They're not the persons,
and they're not in the mood, to stick at trifles.'

'What a wretch he is! I've heard Guy speak of him, but I'd no idea he
was as bad as this.'

'My dear Letty, when a bad man is in a bad hole, you've no notion how
bad that man can be. The question now is, Can we get out through the
kitchen door, or can they get through the kitchen door to us?'

'Where does that door lead to?'

'Into Louise Casata's bedroom. The beauty of the average flat is that
you can always pass from any one room into any other, which,
sometimes, is convenient and sometimes isn't. I'm wondering whether
Louise is responsible for Horace Burton's presence here, and also
where she is. I've reasons for believing that it was not her intention
to go out to-night.'

'I shouldn't keep such a woman about my place, if I were you.'

'I don't intend to any longer. All the same, you've no idea how useful
she has been. There have been times when I don't know what I should
have done without her. Still, I fancy that henceforth she and I part
company.' She opened the door which led into Miss Casata's room, then
gave utterance to a startled exclamation. 'Why! what is the matter?
Letty, keep back!'

Returning to the dining-room, she leaned against the door, which she
had pulled to after her, as if she needed its support. For one who
was, as a rule, so completely mistress of herself, she showed strange
emotion. Miss Broad stared at her askance.

'What has happened now? What's in there?'

'I don't know. Don't ask me. Let me get my breath and think, and I'll
tell you all about it.'

She pressed her hand against her side, as if to still the beating of
her heart. She seemed unhinged, thrown, in a second, completely off
her balance. Her agitation was infectious. Probably, without her
knowing it, Miss Broad's voice trembled and sank.

'Tell me--what it is.'

'Wait a minute, and I'll tell you--all.'

She made an evident effort to get the better of her infirmity. Bracing
herself up against the door, the little woman looked Miss Broad
straight in the face.

'Letty, something horrible has happened.'

'What is it?'

'I don't quite know myself; I didn't stop to look.'

'Let me go and see.'

'It's Miss Casata and--a man.'

'A man? What man?'

'I can't say; I only saw it was a man. They're lying on the bed--so
still. Oh, Letty!'

'May!'

Miss Broad was probably wholly unaware that she had called her
companion by her Christian name. The unknown horror in the other room
had laid its grip on her. She was overcome by frightful imaginings,
not knowing why. She gasped out an unfinished question.

'You don't mean--'

'I don't know what I mean. I only know that there's something there.'

The two girls had been speaking in whispers, as if they stood in a
presence which compelled hushed voices. Now, suddenly, Miss Bewicke
raised her tones, extending her small palm towards the door through
which they had entered.

'Oh! you wretches! wretches!'

She broke into a passion of tears.

'May, for goodness' sake, don't cry!'

'I'm not going to. I don't know why I am so silly, but, for the
moment, I couldn't help it.' Her sobs ceased almost as rapidly as they
came. She dried her eyes. 'Letty, let's go and see what's happened.
I'm afraid Miss Casata's--dead.'

'Dead?'

'Yes; and--the man.'

'The man?'

'They're so still. Let's go and see. Give me your hand.'

Miss Broad yielded her hand. Miss Bewicke opened the door. The two
peeped through.

The room was not a large one. On one side was an ordinary French
bedstead. A brass railing was on the head and foot. On this railing
were hung feminine odds and ends. These made it difficult for anyone
standing at the door to see clearly what was on the bed. Miss Broad
perceived that on the outer edge there lay a woman.

'Who's that?'

'That's Louise Casata.'

'Perhaps she's sleeping.'

'She wouldn't sleep through all the noise.'

'She may be ill; I'll go and look at her.'

'Don't you see--that there's a man?'

Miss Broad moved further into the room. She saw what the other alluded
to. As she did so, she gave utterance to that cry which Mr Horace
Burton heard, listening in the servants' room beyond--the cry in which
there was such a mingling of emotions as they welled up to the lips
from the woman's heart.

Miss Casata lay almost on the extreme edge of the bed fully clothed.
She was on her back. One arm dangled over the side; her head was a
little aslant upon the pillow, so that from a little distance it
looked as if her neck was broken. The whole pose was almost as
uncomfortable a one as a human being could choose; indeed, the
conviction was irresistibly borne in on the beholders that it was not
self-chosen, unless she had sunk on to the bed in a drunken stupor;
but Miss Bewicke knew that she was no drinker.

However, it was not Miss Casata's plight which had drawn from Miss
Broad that involuntary cry. Beside her, outlined beneath the
bedclothes, was a figure, stiff and rigid. With the exception of one
place, it was completely covered. Some one, curious, perhaps, to learn
what the thing might mean, had drawn aside sufficient of the
bedclothes to disclose a portion of the head and face. As a matter of
fact, the curious person was Mr Horace Burton. When relieving himself
of the burden of the lady who was once the object of his heart's
affection, he had been struck by the outlined form which lay so
curiously still, and had wondered what it was, and had seen; and
because of what he had seen, had gone back to his companions with the
fashion of his countenance so changed.

Now Miss Broad saw. The man beside Miss Casata on the bed was Mr
Holland--Guy Holland--her Guy. It was when she perceived that it was
he that her heart cried out. Miss Bewicke, who had only realised that
it was a man, without recognising what man it was, came to her side
trembling, wondering. When she also knew, she also cried aloud; but
there was a material difference between the quality of her exclamation
and Miss Broad's. Hers signified horror and amazement--perhaps
something of concern; Miss Broad's betokened so many other things
besides.

The two women went running to the bed; but when Miss Broad showed an
inclination to lean over and to touch the silent man, the other, as if
fearful of what actual contact might involve, caught her by the dress.

'No, no; take care!'

Even Miss Broad shrank a little back; for Miss Casata lay between.

'Move the bed!'

The suggestion was Miss Bewicke's. In a moment it had been put into
force. The bed was wheeled more into the centre of the room, so as to
permit of passage between it and the wall, and presently the girl was
at her lover's side. She knelt and looked, but still she did not touch
him. No tears were in her eyes; she seemed very calm; but her face was
white, and she was speechless. On her face there was a look which was
past wonder, past pain, past fear, as if she did not understand what
it was which was in front of her. Miss Bewicke stood at her side, also
looking; her dominant expression seemed sheer bewilderment.

He also lay on his back. The bedclothes were withdrawn, so that his
face was seen down to the chin. No marks of violence were visible. His
expression was one of complete quiescence. His eyes were closed, as if
he slept; but if he did, it was very soundly, for there was nothing to
show that he breathed.

Suddenly Miss Broad found her voice, or the ghost of it. Her lips did
not move, and the words came thinly from her throat.

'Is he dead?'

The other did not answer; but, leaning over, she drew the bedclothes
more from off him, and she whispered,--

'Guy!' They waited, but he did not answer. She called again, 'Guy!'

Yet no response. In that land of sleep in which he was, it was plain
that he heard no voices.

The further withdrawal of the bedclothes had revealed the fact that he
was fully dressed for dinner, as he was when Miss Bewicke had seen him
last, the night before. His black bow had come untied; the ends
strayed over his shirtfront, which was soiled and crumpled. His whole
attire was in disarray. There were stains of dirt upon his coat. Now
that they were so close, they perceived that traces of dry mud were on
his face, as if it had been in close contact with the ground. About
his whole appearance there was much which was ominous.

The fact that this was so seemed to make a fresh appeal to Miss
Broad's understanding; probably to something else in her as well.

'Guy!' she cried.

Her tone was penetrating, poignant. If it did not reach the
consciousness of him to whom she called, in another direction it had a
curious and unlooked-for effect. As if in response to an appeal which
had been made directly to herself, Miss Casata, on the opposite side
of the bed, sat up. The girls clung to each other in startled terror.
To them, for the moment, it was as if she had risen from the dead.

Although she had sat up, Miss Casata herself did not seem to know
exactly why. She seemed not only stupid, but a little stupefied, and
gasped for breath, her respirations resembling convulsions as she
struggled with the after-effects of the narcotic. The two girls
observed her with amazement, she, on her part, evidently not realising
their presence in the least.

It was Miss Bewicke who first attained to some dim comprehension of
the meaning of the lady's antics.

'She's been drugged; that's what it is. Louise!'

Miss Casata heard, although she did not turn her head, but continued
to open and shut her mouth in very ugly fashion as she fought for
breath.

'Yes; I'm coming. Who's calling?'

'I! Look at me! Do you hear? Louise!'

This time, if she heard, Miss Casata gave no sign, but, sinking back
on the bed, clutched at the counterpane, making a noise, as she gasped
for breath, as if the walls of her chest would burst.

'Letty, let me go! I must do something. She'll relapse, or worse, if
we don't take care.'

Miss Bewicke hastened to the wash-handstand. Emptying a jug of water
into a basin, she took the basin in her hands and dashed the contents,
with what force she could, into the lady's face.

The salutation was effectual. Miss Casata floundered, spluttering, on
to the floor, more like herself.

Miss Bewicke confronted her, the basin still in her hands.

'Who did that?'

'I did. Louise, wake up!'

Miss Casata seemed to be endeavouring her utmost to obey the other's
command.

'What's the matter?'

'That's what I want to know. In particular, I want to know what is the
meaning of Mr Guy Holland's presence in your room?'

'Holland?' She put her hand up to her head in an effort to collect her
thoughts. She spoke as if with an imperfect apprehension of what it
was she was saying. 'He was in the street--lying--on his face--so I
brought him here--before the policeman came.'

'Before the policeman came? What do you mean? How did you know that he
was lying in the street?'

'I saw--the Flyman--from the window--knock him down--he took the
ruby.'

'The Flyman? Who is he?'

'A man--Horace knows--I knew--Horace had set him on. I didn't want him
to get into trouble, so I brought him here. It was all I could do to
carry him up the stairs--he was so heavy.'

'And do you mean to say you've had Mr Holland hidden in your room all
day and night?'

'All day--and night. He's dead. The Flyman killed him. Horace will get
into trouble--when it's known.'

Miss Casata, in her condition of semi-consciousness, said more than
she had warrant for. Mr Holland was not dead. Even as she asserted
that he was, he showed that her assertion was an error. While the
still partly-stupefied woman struggled to get out of the darkness into
the light, there came a cry from the white-faced girl on the other
side of the bed.

'May, he moves!'

Startled into forgetfulness of what it was she held, Miss Bewicke
dropped the slippery basin from her hands. It broke into fragments
with a clatter. The noise of the shattered ware seemed actually to
penetrate to Mr Holland's consciousness. Miss Bewicke would always
have it that it was her breaking the basin which really brought him
back to life. In an instant Miss Broad was half beside herself in a
frenzy of excitement.

'May! May! he lives! Guy! Guy!'

Miss Bewicke, turning, saw that he was alive, but that, apparently,
when that was said, one had said all.



                            CHAPTER XVIII

                              REINFORCED


Mr Holland had opened his eyes; he had done nothing more. The movement
might have been owing to an involuntary contraction of the muscles, so
rigid did his attitude continue to be, so apparently unseeing were the
staring pupils. But, for the instant, it was sufficient for Miss Broad
that he had shown signs of volition even to so small an extent. She
bent over the bed, addressing him by a dozen endearing epithets.

'Guy! My darling! my love! my dear! Don't you know me? It's
Letty--your own Letty! Speak to me! Guy! Guy!'

But he did not speak. Nor was it possible, to judge from any
responsive action on his part that he even heard. His continual
unnatural rigidity cooled the first ardour of the lady's joy. She
addressed Miss Bewicke. And now the tears were streaming down her
cheeks.

'May, come here! Look at Guy! Get him to speak to me!'

To enforce compliance with her wish was not so easy, as Miss Bewicke
saw, if the other did not. There was an uncanny look about Mr
Holland's whole appearance which was not reassuring. He looked far
indeed from the capacity for reasonable speech.

'He wants help. We ought to have a doctor at once.'

'Then fetch one--fetch one!'

That there was anything about the request which was at all
unreasonable, seemingly Miss Broad did not pause to consider; she was
too preoccupied with her own troubles and his. But to Miss Bewicke the
difficulty of the errand forcibly occurred.

'You forget--' she began. Then stopped, for she remembered how easy it
was, in the other's situation, to forget all things save one. She knit
her brows and thought, the result of her cogitations being a series of
disjointed sentences.

'They can hardly be such brutes, when they know. And yet it was they
who put him there. I wonder! Do I dare?'

It seemed that she essayed her courage. She went to the door, and, for
a moment, listened. Then turned the key, opened it an inch or two.
What she saw and heard increased her valour, especially what she
heard. The drawing-room was empty. Loud voices came through the open
door of the bedroom--her own bedroom on the opposite side--sounds
which did not speak of peace.

'I do believe they're fighting.'

She stole on tiptoe a foot or two into the empty room, then stopped in
a flutter as of doubt--what might not happen if they caught her?--then
tiptoed further, till she had reached the centre of the room. Again
she paused. If she was seen, it was a long way back to the haven of
comparative safety she had quitted. But the noise, if anything, grew
louder. From some of the words which reached her, she judged it
possible that they were too much occupied with their own proceedings
to pay heed to anything else. She perceived that, by some stroke of
good fortune, the key was outside the door. She screwed her courage to
the sticking-point, forming a sudden resolution. Darting forward,
thrusting the door to quickly, she turned the key, then, when the key
was turned, the deed done, the three gentlemen trapped, she leaned
against the wall, went white, seemed on the verge of fainting.

She went still whiter when the handle was turned within, and Mr Horace
Burton's voice was heard demanding that the door be undone.

'If they should get out!'

The possibility of the thing, and the fear thereof, acted on her as a
spur. She tore to the door which led out of the flat, and, throwing it
open, almost fell into the arms of the cook and housemaid who were
returning from their Sunday evening out. Seldom have domestic servants
been more heartily welcomed. She addressed them by their names.

'Wilson! Stevens! go at once for the police!'

Instead of promptly obeying, they stared at her in astonishment. Her
hat, which she had not removed during the lively incidents which had
marked the passage of the time since her arrival home, was on one
side, at that unbecoming angle which is a woman's nightmare; and there
were other traces of disarray which were not in keeping with her
best-known characteristics, for, with her, a pin misplaced was the
thing unspeakable. While the cook and housemaid stared, hesitating to
start, as they were bidden, in search of the representatives of law
and order, the lift stopped at the landing, and from it, of all
persons in the world, Mr Bryan Dumville emerged.

She flew into his arms, as, it may be safely said, she had never flown
before.

'Oh, Bryan! Bryan! I'm so glad you've come!'

As the flattered gentleman was, no doubt, about to express his
appreciation of the warmth of his reception, the lift commenced to
descend. Something else occurred to her.

'Stop! stop!' she cried. The lift returned. The porter looked out
inquiringly. 'Peters, there are thieves in my rooms! You had better
come with us at once.'

'Thieves, miss? Hadn't I better--'

She cut the porter's sentence short, relentlessly.

'No, you hadn't. You must come with us at once. Don't you hear me say
so?'

He went. They all went--the cook and the housemaid, the porter, Mr
Bryan Dumville, and Miss May Bewicke. She went last. As she went, she
shut the front and drawing-room doors behind her. She pointed towards
her bedroom.

'They're in there at this moment--three of them.'

The porter seemed to have his doubts.

'Three of them? You're sure they are thieves, miss?'

'Am I sure? Why do you ask me such a question? Do you think I'm likely
to make a mistake in a matter like that? Pray, don't be absurd.'

'In that case, if they are thieves, don't you think I'd better fetch
the police?'

Miss Bewicke's wits worked quickly. Even when circumstances seemed
against their working at all--since instructing the cook and housemaid
to do as the porter was now suggesting that he should do--she had
already been turning things over in her mind, with the result that she
was not sure that she desired official assistance after all. If the
police came, arrests would be made; she would have to see the thing
through to the bitter end. In view of such a possible consummation,
there were many points to be considered. Had she been an actress, with
a keen eye for an advertisement--a type which, it is understood, does
exist--the idea of figuring as the heroine of what the slang of the
hour calls a 'cause célèbre' might have commended itself to her
intelligence; but, as it happened, she was not that kind. If these
gentlemen did come into the hands of the police--at anyrate, on this
particular charge--it was possible that things might transpire which
she, and possibly others, would not wish to have mentioned in court
and in the papers. That the miscreants deserved all the punishment
which the law might award them, she had no doubt whatever. At the same
time, she was equally clear that they would duly, and shortly, receive
their reward, if not at her instance, then at that of others. So, on
the whole, she decided, in a twinkling, that she would take no final
step till she saw which way the cat might jump.

'When I want you to fetch the police, I will tell you.' She turned to
the housemaid. 'But there's one thing, Stevens, you might fetch, and
must, and that's a doctor. Go to the nearest, and bring him at once.'

Even as she spoke, through the dining-room door there came three
persons--Miss Broad, with Mr Guy Holland on her arm, looking the most
woe-begone figure imaginable, but still alive, and plainly walking;
behind them Miss Casata. For the second time Miss Bewicke
countermanded her instructions.

'Stay, Stevens! Perhaps the doctor won't be wanted.'



                             CHAPTER XIX

                          STILL WITH A SMILE


The five stared at the three, then, after momentary inspection, as if
for the purpose of satisfying herself on certain points by visual
inspection, Miss Bewicke moved towards Mr Holland.

'Oh, Guy, I am so glad to see you better! I do hope that you're all
right.'

The words were, perhaps, a trifle banal, possibly because, for once,
the nimble-witted lady was doubtful as to what was exactly the proper
thing to say. Apparently, however, it was of little consequence what
she said. The gentleman was still incapable of appreciating at their
just value either words or phrases. That he knew she spoke to him was
probable, for he turned and regarded her with vacant looks and glassy
eyes; but that he realised who she was, or what she meant, was more
than doubtful. Mumbled words proceeded from his stammering lips.

'All right--yes--quite all right--nothing wrong.'

Miss Broad looked at Miss Bewicke with eyes in which the tears still
trembled. She appealed to her in a whisper, in tones which quivered.

'Won't you let them fetch a doctor?'

'Let them! Stevens, fetch the man at once.'

This time Stevens went in search of medical aid.

Mr Dumville had been observing Mr Holland with undisguised amazement.
Now he clothed his thoughts with speech.

'Holland, what on earth's the matter with you? May, what does all this
mean?'

Miss Bewicke explained; that is, she told as much as she thought it
necessary and advisable that Mr Dumville should know in the fewest
words at her command. Mr Dumville professed himself to be, what he
plainly was, amazed. The tale was very far from being complete in all
its details, or he would probably have been yet more surprised, in a
direction, as things were, which he little suspected.

'And do you mean that that man Burton is still upon these premises?'

'He was in my bedroom, when I turned the key, with his two friends.'
Mr Dumville strode forward. She caught him by the arm. 'What are you
going to do?'

'Slaughter him!'

'I would rather you did not do that. It would make such a mess upon
the floor.'

'Do you think that scoundrel's behaviour is a thing to laugh at? I'll
show you and him, too, where the laughter comes in.'

'My dear Bryan, I know very well that there's nothing laughable about
Mr Horace Burton or his proceedings. He is--oh, he's all sorts of
things. I'd rather not tell you all the things I think he is.'

'I know.'

'Of course, you know. But, at the same time, when you have made sure
that neither he nor either of his friends is taking away any of my
property upon his person, I should be obliged if you would let them
go.'

'Let them go! May, you're mad!'

'Believe me, Bryan, I am comparatively sane. I will tell you all my
reasons later on. At present the thing is to get them gone. You may
take my word for it that for Mr Horace Burton the day of reckoning is
close at hand, and that it will be as terrible an one as even you can
desire.'

'That won't be the same as if I'd killed him.'

'No, it won't be the same; it will be better. Could I creep between
your arms if I knew that your hands were red with that man's blood? If
you don't mind, as I locked the door, I'll open it. Please keep your
hands off him as he comes out--for my sake, dear.'

She gave him a glance which possibly constrained him to obedience. She
was famous in the theatre for the skill with which she used her eyes.
Turning the key, throwing the bedroom door wide open, she stood before
it with a little gesture of invitation.

'Pray, gentlemen, come out.'

And they came out, the hang-dog three, for, though each endeavoured to
bear himself with an air of unconcern, in no case did the endeavour
quite succeed. As regards Mr Thomas Cox, the failure was complete. He
looked like nothing so much as the well-whipped cur which only asks to
be allowed to take itself away with its tail between its legs. The
Flyman, who was probably more habituated to positions of the kind,
succeeded a trifle better. He looked defiance, as if he were prepared
to match himself, at less than a moment's notice, against whoever
came. Mr Horace Burton it was, however, who might claim to face the
situation with the most imperturbable front. He looked about him, not
jauntily so much as calmly, with his unceasing smile.

'More visitors, Miss Bewicke, I perceive. Ah! Guy, how are you? You're
looking dicky. Louise, my dearest girl!'

Of its kind, his impudence was glorious. Mr Dumville strode up to him,
as if forgetful of the lady's prohibition.

'By gad! I'd like to kill you!'

Mr Burton, glancing up at the speaker, did not turn a hair.

'I'm afraid I haven't the honour. Miss Bewicke, may I ask you to
introduce me to the gentleman?'

'With pleasure. Mr Horace Burton, this is Mr Dumville. It is only at
my urgent request that he refrains from breaking every bone in your
body, as he easily could. But you know, and I know, that for you
there's such a very bad time coming that I feel it's quite safe to
leave you to the tender mercies of those to whom mercy is unknown.
Turn out your pockets!'

'Charmed! I quite appreciate the motive which actuates your request,
Miss Bewicke. Nothing could be more natural. But I give you my word of
honour that neither of us has anything which belongs to you.'

Notwithstanding, Mr Burton turned his pockets inside out, smiling all
the time. His companions followed suit, though scarcely with so much
grace. So far as could be seen, neither of them was in possession of
anything to which Miss Bewicke could lay claim, as she herself
admitted.

'I really do believe you, Mr Burton, when you say that you--none of
you--have property of mine. It sounds odd, and you may wonder why, but
I do. Good-night.'

'Good-night I am indebted to you, Miss Bewicke, for a pleasant
evening's entertainment.'

'Don't mention it. When the time comes to balance your accounts,
you'll find the sum-total of your indebtedness altogether beyond your
capacity to meet. Go.'

And they went. At least Mr Thomas Cox and the Flyman went--the
first-named gentleman with an undignified rush, the second not very
far from his heels; but Mr Burton lingered on the threshold to waft a
kiss on his finger-tips to Miss Casata.

'Best love, Louise.'

The lady made a dash at him, inarticulate with rage.

'You--you!'

Miss Bewicke stayed her progress.

'Louise!'

Mr Burton laughed.

'My dearest girl, you can't expect to embrace me before all these
people! Propriety forbids.'

When he had disappeared, Mr Dumville gave voice to his sentiments.

'I wish you'd let me kill him!'

Miss Bewicke nodded her head, with an air of the profoundest wisdom,
as she laid her little hands on his two arms.

'My dear Bryan, before very long he'll be wanting to kill himself;
that'll be so much nicer for us and so much worse for him.'



                              CHAPTER XX

                       HOW THE CHASE WAS ENDED


Mr Samuel Collyer was seated in his office. Spread open on the table
in front of him was Mr George Burton's will, which apparently he had
just been studying. The study seemed to have afforded him amusement.
Leaning back in his chair, he smiled. He referred to his watch.

'Twenty minutes past; they will soon be here. On these occasions,
punctuality ought to be the rule, and generally is. George Burton was
a curious man, and left a curious will. And yet I don't know. Why
should I, or anyone, call it curious? By what right? When a man has
neither wife nor children, and his only kindred are a couple of
nephews to whom he is not particularly attached, surely he has a right
to do as he likes with his own. It is his own--as yet. And if he
chooses to attach to the succession certain conditions which appeal,
we'll say, to his sense of humour, what title has anyone, lawyer or
layman, to comment adversely on the expression of his wishes? So long
as they are not in opposition to the general welfare of the body
politic, it seems to me none. In a sense, most wills are curious, when
you get right into them and understand their ins and outs. I daresay
mine will be. I'm a bachelor. Upon my word, I don't know who has the
best claim to the few pence I shall leave. Why shouldn't I ornament my
testamentary dispositions with a few characteristic touches? Why not?'

While the lawyer propounded to himself this knotty problem, two
visitors were shown in--Mr Holland, again upon Miss Broad's arm. He
still was not himself. The effects of the sand-bag, which the Flyman
had used with more enthusiasm than he had perhaps intended, had not
yet all vanished. He seemed uncertain about his capacity to steer
himself. He did not carry himself so upright as was his wont. There
was a look upon his face which it had not previously worn--of
indecision, irresolution, as if he was not quite master of his mental
faculties. That sandbag had landed on the brain. Miss Broad seemed to
regard him as if he were a child; she watched over him as if he were
one, and it must be allowed that he appeared to appreciate to the full
her tender care.

The diplomatic lawyer chose not to see the things which were patent.
His greeting was,--

'I am glad to see you, Mr Holland, looking so much yourself. I was
grieved to hear that you had had an accident.'

'Accident!' The reiteration was Miss Broad's. 'You call it accident!'

'My dear young lady, the words which lawyers use are not always
intended to bear their strict dictionary significance.'

Another visitor was announced--Mr Horace Burton, as much at his ease
as ever. Miss Broad blazed up at sight of him.

'You dare to come here!'

'Dare! Collyer, who's this young lady? Oh, it's Miss Broad, my future
cousin. May I ask, Letty--you'll let me call you Letty?--why you
should speak of my "daring" to come to my own lawyer's office? Hallo,
Guy, you look squiffy! Buck up, my boy!'

He would have saluted his cousin with his open palm upon the back had
not Miss Broad caught his arm as it was descending and flung it away.
He gazed at her with what was meant for admiration.

'You are a warm one, Letty, really now! If you propose to slang Guy,
as you seem fond of slanging me, you ought to have a pot of money to
make it worth his while. He's likely to find marriage with you an
expensive luxury, my dear.'

Mr Holland half rose from the chair on which Miss Broad had placed
him. He spoke with hesitating tongue.

'You had better be careful--what you say.'

His relative laughed.

'You'd better be careful what you say, or you'll tumble down.'

Miss Broad laid her hand on Mr Holland's shoulder.

'Never mind what he says. I don't. He's not worth noticing.'

'Do you hear that, Collyer? Isn't she severe? But let's to business.
I'm not come to engage in a tongue-match with a lady. The three months
are up. Where's the ruby?'

Mr Collyer spoke.

'May I ask, Mr Holland, if you're in possession of the ring in
question?'

It was Miss Broad who answered.

'No, he is not. Miss Bewicke calls herself his friend, and she even
pretends to be mine, but her friendship does not go far enough to
induce her to hand over property to its rightful owner which was never
hers.'

Comment from Mr Burton,--

How sad! That's very wrong of her. Shows such deplorable
moral blindness, doesn't it? She is a wicked woman, is May
Bewicke--heartless, hypocritical, selfish to the core. Well, Collyer,
anyhow that settles it. The money's mine, and I give you my personal
assurance I can do with it.'

'I have not the slightest doubt of that, Mr Burton; but, before we
conclude, there is something which I have been instructed to hand to
Mr Holland. It was for that purpose I requested your presence here.
Permit me, Mr Holland, to hand you this.'

From a drawer in his writing-table the lawyer produced a small parcel.
When Mr Holland had undone, with somewhat shaky fingers, the outer
covering, it was seen that within was a leather-covered case. Inside
was a note, which he unfolded.


'Dear Guy,' it ran, 'this is a wedding present from yours, MAY
BEWICKE.'


'This' was a ring--the ring--the famous ruby.

While they gathered round it, with a babble of voices, and Mr Burton
showed himself disposed to bluster, Miss Bewicke herself appeared at
the door with Mr Bryan Dumville. She advanced to Mr Holland and Miss
Broad.

'My dear children, how are you both? So you have the ring? That's all
right. Directly I heard of the will, I sent it to Mr Collyer--he's my
uncle, don't you know? I thought it would be safer with him than it
would be with me. A lone, lorn woman's rooms are always open to the
machinations of the most dreadful characters, and you never know what
may happen--burglaries and all sorts of things. And you see I do call
myself Guy's friend, and I even pretend, Letty, to be yours. Don't I,
Bryan, dear?'

Some of the latter words suggested that the little lady had been
listening outside the door. Mr Dumville confined his attention to Mr
Horace Burton.

'So it's you again? I shall have to kill you after all.'

Actually Mr Burton did not seem altogether at his ease.

'I suppose, Guy, you couldn't let me have a thousand pounds to get
away with?' He laughed. 'No; it's no good. You'd better let me have it
when I come out. They're waiting for me outside. A thousand would only
be a drop in the sea. They wouldn't let me make a bolt of it for
that.'

As he said, certain persons were waiting for him in the street. When
he appeared, and it was discovered that he was not to have his uncle's
money, within an hour he was arrested on a charge of forgery. It was a
remarkable case, and not a savoury one. Neither prosecutors nor
prisoner showed to advantage; but as it was clearly proved that Mr
Horace Burton had forged, and put into circulation, a large number of
acceptances and other legal documents, the jury had no option but to
find him guilty. A hard-headed judge sent him to penal servitude for
fourteen years.

The Flyman soon followed him, it was understood, to the same prison.
His was a charge of robbery with violence in the City Road. The
sand-bag again. As there were previous convictions against him, he
suffered badly.

Mr Thomas Cox is still at large. He was seen lately on the cliff at
Margate, with his wife and daughter, lounging on a chair listening to
the band. He looked well and flourishing--an illustration of a sound
mind in a sound body. But one never knows.

Mr Guy Holland and Mr Bryan Dumville were married at the same church,
at the same time, on the same day. They are the best of friends. Their
wives swear by one another. Mrs Guy Holland is convinced that Mrs
Bryan Dumville is the most charming woman on the English stage, just
as Mrs Bryan Dumville is certain that Mrs Guy Holland is the
altogether most delightful person off it.



                               THE END



                              EDINBURGH
                       COLSTON AND COY. LIMITED
                               PRINTERS





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