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Title: In Queer Street
Author: Hume, Fergus
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Queer Street" ***

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Haithi Trust Org. --images digitized by Google (original
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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source: Haithi Trust Org. images digitized by Google
        (original from University of Wisconsin)



IN QUEER STREET


BY
FERGUS HUME
AUTHOR OF
"THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB," "THE PINK SHOP,"
"ACROSS THE FOOTLIGHTS," "SEEN IN THE SHADOW,"
ETC., ETC.



LONDON
F. V. WHITE & CO., LTD.
17, BUCKINGHAM STREET, STRAND, W.C.
1913



CONTENTS

CHAP.
I.      THE BOARDING-HOUSE
II.     OLD SCHOOL-FELLOWS
III.    MAN PROPOSES
IV.     THE ADVERTISEMENT
V.      THE NEXT STEP
VI.     SEEKING TROUBLE
VII.    AN AMAZING DISCOVERY
VIII.   FAMILY HISTORY
IX.     GWEN
X.      VANE'S AUNT
XI.     MACBETH'S BANQUET
XII.    CUPID'S GARDEN
XIII.   DANGER
XIV.    AT BAY
XV.     A FRIEND IN NEED
XVI.    EXPLANATIONS
XVII.   BLACKMAIL
XVIII.  HENCH'S DIPLOMACY
XIX.    A DENIAL
XX.     REAPING THE WHIRLWIND
XXI.    THE SUNSHINE OR LIFE



IN QUEER STREET



IN QUEER STREET



CHAPTER I
THE BOARDING-HOUSE


"Here," explained the landlady, "we are not wildly gay, as the serious
aspect of life prevents our indulging in unrestrained mirth. Each one
of us is devoted to an ideal, Mr. Spruce."

"And what is the ideal, Mrs. Tesk?" asked the twinkling little man who
was proposing himself as a boarder.

"The intention of gaining wealth in virtuous ways, by exercising the
various talents with which we have been endowed by an All-seeing
Providence."

"If you eliminate the word 'virtuous,' most people have some such
ideal," was the dry reply of Mr. Spruce. "I want money myself, or I
shouldn't come to live here. A Bethnal Green lodging-house isn't my
idea of luxury."

"Boarding-house, if you please," said Mrs. Tesk, drawing up her thin
figure. "I would point out that my establishment is most superior.
Brought up in scholastic circles, I assisted my father and my husband
for many years in teaching the young idea how to shoot, and----"

"In plain English, you kept a school."

"Crudely put, it is as you say, Mr. Spruce," assented the landlady;
"but habit has accustomed me to express myself in a more elegant way.
My husband and my father having been long numbered with the angelic
host, I was unable to continue successfully as a teacher of youth. A
learned friend suggested to me that an excellent income might be
derived from a high-class boarding-house. Therefore I rented this
mansion for the purpose of entertaining a select number of paying
guests."

"Paying guests! How admirably you express yourself, Mrs. Tesk."

"It has always been my custom to do full justice to our beautiful
language, Mr. Spruce. Even my establishment has a name redolent of
classic times. It is called--and not unfittingly I think--The Home of
the Muses."

"So I observed in your advertisement. Why not call this place
Parnassus? Then one word would serve for five."

"The suggestion is not without merit," said the former
school-mistress. "I perceive, Mr. Spruce, that you have some knowledge
of the classics."

"I was educated at Winchester and Cambridge, Mrs. Tesk. The Home of
the Muses--what a delightful name and how very appropriate."

Poor Mrs. Tesk having no sense of humour, did not understand that this
last remark was ironical, and smiled gravely in full approval. Spruce
screwed in his eye-glass, and glanced with a shrug at his
surroundings. These were scarcely calculated to satisfy a sybarite,
being extremely ugly, inartistic, well-worn and dingy. The room, of no
great size, was over-crowded with clumsy furniture made in the early
years of the nineteenth century, when solidity was much more valued
than beauty. What with six ordinary chairs, two armchairs, a
horse-hair sofa to match, a sideboard, a bookcase, and a fender-stool
all of mahogany, to say nothing of an Indian screen and a rosewood
piano, there was scarcely room to move. And everywhere appeared
patterns;--on the carpet, on the wall-paper, on the curtains and on
the table-cloth: the eye ached to find some plain spot, which was not
striped, or spotted, or scrolled, or dotted. The sole redeeming
feature of the dreadful apartment was that many years and constant use
had mellowed everything into a sober congruity, so that the whole
looked comfortable and homely. As the Home of the Muses, it was an
entire failure; as the sanctum of the sedate middle-aged woman in the
worn black silk gown, it was quite successful. And as there were many
out-of-date educational volumes in the bookcase, and as the walls were
decorated with samplers, water-coloured drawings, geographical maps,
and even with framed specimens of hand-writing, it could be easily
guessed that the apartment belonged to a retired school-mistress.
There was something quite pathetic in Mrs. Tesk's flotsam and jetsam,
which she had saved from the dire wreck of her superior fortunes.

And the landlady was as suited to the room as her visitor was
unsuited, for there could not be a greater contrast than the two
presented to one another. Mrs. Tesk belonged to a bygone age,
while Spruce had to do with the very immediate present. In her
shabby-genteel gown, which clothed a thin bony figure, and with a
severe parchment-coloured face, the former teacher of the young looked
very respectable indeed. Her mittens, her be-ribboned cap, her long
gold chain, her large brooch containing locks of hair, and her cloth
boots suggested the stories of Emma Jane Worboise and Mrs. Henry Wood.
She was prim, pedantic and eminently genteel, the survival of an epoch
when women wore full skirts and believed that their duty was to keep
house, rather than to smash windows. Spruce stared at her through his
eye-glass as he would have done at a prehistoric animal.

The would-be boarder was the last expression of man, as representing
the lily of the fields which toils not. He resembled a cherub and was
dressed like a Nut, that last variety of the masher, the swell, the
dandy and the buck. With his clean-shaven pink and white face, his
mild blue eyes, his smooth fair hair, little hands, little feet, and
general well-groomed aspect, he looked like a good boy thoroughly
acquainted with the Church Catechism. But his extravagant attire
suggested Piccadilly, music-halls, the Park and afternoon teas. He
wore a pale-green suit, the coat of which was made to show his waist,
and turned-up trousers, which revealed purple socks and brogues of
russia leather. His waistcoat was cut low, revealing a lavender-hued
shirt and a purple scarf painted with a portrait of a famous dancer;
and he held a green Trilby hat in his gloved hands, together with a
gold-headed cane and an unlighted cigarette, which he did not dare to
smoke in the severe presence of Mrs. Tesk. On the whole, Mr. Cuthbert
Spruce was a thing of beauty, and wore as many colours as Joseph did
when he put on his famous coat. He was the kind of male doll that
virile men long to kick but dare not lest they should smash the thing.

When he had completed his survey of the room and of Mrs. Tesk, the Nut
explained himself glibly. "I have come down here for a few months in
order to study character for a book. Until I write that book I am
rather hard up, so I should like to know if your terms are----"

"Twenty-five shillings a week," interrupted Mrs. Tesk solemnly. "No
one, not even the most captious, can call such terms expensive or
prohibitive."

"I certainly don't. In fact you ask so little that I am not sure if
you can make me comfortable at the price."

"Good food, a good bed and genteel society, Mr. Spruce. What more does
mortal man require, save a fire, which is not necessary, seeing that
summer is with us in all its annual glory?"

"I don't think much of its annual glory comes to Bethnal Green, Mrs.
Tesk. However, your terms will suit me, and I'll bring my boxes this
afternoon. I can have a bath, I suppose?"

"Sixpence extra if cold and one shilling if warm."

"A cold bath will suit me as it is summer. Have you a valet in the
house?"

"No, Mr. Spruce. Such a menial is only to be found in the houses of
the rich, as I understand from the perusal of novels read for
recreation. Here you will find plain living and high thinking. My cook
is an old servant, who is able to roast and boil healthy viands.
Amelia, who is sixteen, attends to the house-work, and there is the
boy, Simon Jedd--commonly called Bottles, which is a facetious
appellation given to him by a paying guest inclined to merriment. Such
is my staff."

"And the paying guests?" asked Spruce, who began to think that five
and twenty shillings was quite the top price to ask for such board and
lodging.

Mrs. Tesk coughed. "Our circle is limited at present to a chosen few,
as London is rather empty just now, on account of the summer season,
which attracts people to the green woods and the sounding sea. There
is Madame Alpenny, who is of Hungarian extraction, but who married an
Englishman; together with her daughter, Zara, a dancer of repute at
the Bijou Music-hall. I hesitated to accept the daughter as a paying
guest," added Mrs. Tesk loftily, "as my education scarcely permits me
to approve of the profession of Terpsichore."

"She was one of the Muses, you know," Spruce reminded her; "and as
this is the Home of those ladies----"

"Quite so," interrupted Mrs. Tesk in her most stately fashion. "That
fact may have biassed me in my permitting her to reside under my roof.
Also, not having many paying guests at present, the money was a
consideration, and humanity interdicted me from parting mother and
child; although I am bound to say that Madame Alpenny refused to come
if I did not take her daughter also. Finally I consented, and since
seeing Zara dance I have not regretted my yielding. She exhibits the
poetry of motion in a high degree and is quite respectable."

"Any other paying guests?"

"Mr. Edward Bracken--ordinarily termed Ned,--who plays the violin in
the Bijou orchestra with great delicacy, and Mr. Owain Hench, who is
at present absent, and will not return for a week."

Spruce rose and looked surprised. "Owain Hench. Will you spell his
first name, Mrs. Tesk? I fancy I know him."

Mrs. Tesk spelt the name slowly. "It is a. Welsh title!" she said as
if Hench was a member of the House of Lords, "and the spelling is
peculiar. In history we are told of Owen Tudor, and Owen Glendower,
who signed their Christian appellations somewhat differently."

"It is the proper Welsh spelling," said Spruce, smiling. "He must be
the same fellow I used to know at Winchester. We used to rag him about
the queer way in which he spelt his name. Fancy Hench in this
galley"--and he looked disdainfully round the shabby room--"I thought
he was rich."

"I am not acquainted with the financial affairs of Mr. Hench," said
the landlady stiffly; "but I am quite certain that he is by no means
endowed largely with specie. Nevertheless he is a kind-hearted and
estimable young man, who will yet achieve fame and fortune, although
in what particular direction it is at present hard to say. He has
resided here for six months, so I can speak of his qualities with some
knowledge."

Spruce walked to the door. "I shall be glad to see Hench again," he
remarked lightly. "Well, Mrs. Tesk, you may expect me and my luggage
by four o'clock."

"I understand." Mrs. Tesk folded her hands and bowed graciously. "You
will be in time for afternoon tea, when I shall have the pleasure of
introducing you to Madame Alpenny, Mademoiselle Zara, and to Mr.
Edward Bracken. You will find us a happy family, Mr. Spruce, and I
trust you will never regret coming to stay in The Home of the Muses."

Spruce stifled a laugh and went out, lighting his cigarette and
putting his hat on in the hall. He was immensely amused with the
stately old-fashioned airs of the ex-school-mistress, and promised
himself some fun in drawing her out. He did not anticipate a rosy time
in the boarding-house, which was much too shabby and poor and
sordid for one of his pleasure-loving nature; but he felt that the
companionship of his old schoolfellow would enable him to pass the
time fairly pleasantly. In his explanation to Mrs. Tesk as to his
reason forcoming to Bethnal Green, Mr. Spruce had not been entirely
truthful, but the excuse of gathering material for a book would serve
his purpose. The truth was that the Nut had been mixed up in a
gambling affair with which cheating had been connected, so he had
wisely determined to obliterate himself for a few months. Not being
able to go abroad or into the country by reason of a lean purse, he
had made up his mind to rusticate in Bethnal Green, and hoped that when
the scandal was ended he could return to the West End. In the meantime,
he was safe from observation, as no one would ever suspect that he was
in London, so near and yet so far from civilization. He intended to give
to Hench the same excuse as he had already given to Mrs. Tesk, and had
no doubt but what it would be accepted. Hench, as he considered, was
smart in many ways and the reverse in a few. While at Winchester he
had been considered clever, but always over-confident that others were
as honourable as himself, a belief which led to his being taken
advantage of on many occasions. Spruce had never been intimate with
Hench, as he belonged to a different set, but he was quite ready to be
intimate with him now in such a dull locality as Bethnal Green. The
cherubic little man by no means cared for the plain living and high
thinking to which Mrs. Tesk had alluded, as he preferred high living
and plain thinking, the latter having to do with thoughts of how to
kill time by amusing himself. It was not likely that Hench would be of
the same opinion, as from what Spruce remembered he had always been a
solid sort of chap. Of course, it was eight years since the Nut had
seen the young man, but if living in The Home of the Muses denoted his
status, it was probable that he would be more solid than ever. And
solid in the opinion of Mr. Spruce meant woeful dullness and
pronounced common-sense. Therefore he scarcely anticipated that Hench
would prove to be an ideal companion.

However, owing to the trouble in the West End, Spruce had to make the
best of things, and duly arrived at the appointed time with his five
boxes. People did not usually come to Mrs. Tesk's establishment with
so much luggage, but Spruce being a Nut, and eminently fashionable,
required many clothes to set off his rather mean little person.
Amelia, the maid-of-all-work, and Jedd, who was facetiously called
"Bottles," helped the cabman to carry up the many trunks to the
new-comer's bedroom, and looked upon him with awe as the owner of such
costly paraphernalia. Mr. Tesk was also pleased in her stately
fashion, as the arrival of such a quantity of luggage imparted dignity
in some mysterious way to her establishment. By four o'clock the new
paying guest had taken possession of his new abode, and was on his way
to the drawing-room to meet those already assembled under Mrs. Tesk's
hospitable roof. To do honour to the occasion, and to produce a good
impression, Spruce had changed into a brand-new suit, and looked like
Solomon-in-all-his-glory when he entered the stuffy apartment
grandiloquently termed the drawing-room. It was tolerably large and
less crowded with furniture than the sanctum of the landlady, but the
windows being closed and the day being warm, Spruce gasped when he
ventured in. It was like entering the coolest room of a Turkish bath.

"Allow me," said Mrs. Tesk in her deepest and most genteel voice. "Mr.
Spruce, permit me to introduce you to Madame Alpenny, to Mademoiselle
Zara Alpenny and to Mr. Edward Bracken. Madame Alpenny, Mademoiselle
Alpenny and Mr. Edward Bracken, permit me to introduce you to Mr.
Spruce, our new companion."

During the landlady's long-winded introduction the Nut bowed to the
several people mentioned and swiftly noted their outward looks. The
Hungarian lady, who had married an Englishman, was a very stout woman,
slightly taller than Spruce himself, which was not saying much, and
the remains of former beauty were apparent in her face if not in her
figure. It is true that her complexion was sallow and her hair an
unpleasant red, but she had finely-cut features and splendid eyes,
dark, eloquent and alluring. She wore a dark dress spotted with orange
circles, a loose black velvet mantle trimmed with beads, and a large
floppy picture-hat, together with many costly bracelets, rings,
chains, brooches and lockets. Evidently she carried her fortune on her
person for security, and looked like a walking jeweller's shop. Spruce
saw at a glance that she was a lady, although why she should wear such
shabby clothes and live in such a shabby place when she possessed such
valuable ornaments he could not say. Privately he decided that she
looked interesting, and determined to find out all about her during
his stay in the boarding-house.

"You will find us very quiet here," observed Madame Alpenny in
excellent English, and smiling with very white teeth at the
new-comer's resplendent appearance; "it will be dull in these parts
for a young gentleman."

"Oh, I can make myself at home anywhere, Madame," replied Spruce,
accepting a cup of very weak tea from Mrs. Tesk. "My visit here is
only to collect material for a novel."

"I read the stories of my countryman, Maurus Jokai," said Madame with
a nod. "You write like him. Is it not so?"

"By no means. I know nothing of Maurus Jokai."

"Gaszynski! Morzycka! Zmorski! Mukulitch! Riedl! Vehse?" the foreign
lady ran off these difficult names of Polish, Russian and Hungarian
authors still smiling; "you know them. Eh? What?"

"Never heard of them Madame. They sound like names out of the Book of
Numbers to me. I am a very ignorant person, as you will find."

"Ah, say not so, Mr. Spruce. You like amusement perhaps. The dance,
the cricket, the five o'clock tea? Tell me."

"All those things are more in my line. I hear from Mrs. Tesk that your
daughter dances?"

"Ah, yes. Zara?"

"I am at the Bijou Music-hall just now in a Fire-dance," said the girl
in an indifferent manner, for Spruce had not made the same impression
on her as he had on her mother; "and Mr. Bracken here is in the
orchestra."

"Second-violin," growled Bracken, who was paying great attention to
the thin bread and butter. "Hard work and bad pay"--he stole a glance
at the dancer--"but I have my compensations."

The look was sufficient to make Spruce understand that the young man
was in love with Zara, just as the frown of Madame Alpenny, who had
intercepted the look, showed him the mother's disapproval. The dancer
was a tall and rather gaunt girl, handsome in a bold gipsy flamboyant
way, with flashing dark eyes and a somewhat defiant manner, while the
violinist was roughly good-looking, and seemed to pay very little
attention to his dress. Evidently a romance was in progress here, and
Spruce promised himself some amusement in watching the efforts--which
he was sure were being made--of the mother to keep the lovers apart.

"You see," said Mrs. Tesk complacently, "we have many talents
assembled here, Mr. Spruce. Mademoiselle Zara indulges in the light
fantastic toe; Mr. Bracken is devoted to the noble art of music, and
Madame Alpenny is conversant with the literature of foreign nations,
which is natural considering her nationality. In my own person, I
represent the English element of letters, and if you enjoy heart to
heart talks, I am prepared to discuss poetry with you from Dan Chaucer
down to Robert Browning."

"Thanks very much," said the new guest hastily and scarcely relishing
the prospect; "but my doctor won't let me read much, as my health is
not very good. But I daresay," he added, glancing round at the queer
set he found himself amongst, "we can get up a game of bridge
occasionally."

"Ah, but certainly," cried Madame with vivacity and her splendid eyes
flashed; "for my part I delight in cards!"

"My preference is for Patience," said Mrs. Tesk solemnly. "I find it
relieves the strain on my mind. So long as the stakes are not very
high, Mr. Spruce, I shall be delighted to join you and Madame and
Mademoiselle Zara in a friendly game. Oh, you will not find us dull, I
think. And when Mr. Owain Hench returns he will be able to inform you
about many parts of the world not usually accessible to the ordinary
person."

Spruce rather resented Mrs. Tesk calling him an ordinary person, as he
considered that he was head and shoulders above the assembled company.
However, he did not allow any sign of annoyance at her density to
escape him, but uttered a little chuckling laugh of acquiescence.
"I'll be glad to see Hench again. He was always a good chap."

"Ah!" Madame glanced at her defiant  daughter and then at Spruce; "it
appears, then, that you know Mr. Hench?"

"We were at school together."

"So! He is a charming young man."

Zara laughed meaningly. "With money mamma thinks that he would be
still more charming," she said significantly, and the sallow face of
Madame grew red.

"It is true," she admitted frankly. "When one has a daughter, one must
be careful of charming young men who are not rich. What do you say,
Mr. Spruce?"

"Well, I never had a daughter, so I can't say anything," replied the
little man, who was rapidly understanding many things. "And your
opinion, Mr. Bracken, if I may ask it?" He put the question advisedly,
as the mention of Hench's name had brought a scowl to the face of the
violinist.

"Money isn't everything," growled Bracken, passing his hand through
his rough hair, which he wore a trifle long, after the fashion of
musicians. "Hench is a good fellow, and being clever will be rich some
day."

"Ah! no"--Madame Alpenny shook her head vehemently--"he is too--what
you call--careless of money. He is idle; he is a mystery."

Spruce opened his pale blue eyes at the last word, and put in his
monocle to stare at the Hungarian lady. "There never was any mystery
about Hench at school," he observed rather puzzled. "He was always
rather a commonplace sort of chap."

"There is a mystery," insisted Madame more vehemently than ever. "I
have seen him before, but where--no, it is impossible to say."

"You don't mean to say that he is wanted by the police?" asked
Bracken.

"Don't speak like that!" cried Zara with a frown. "Mr. Hench is the
most honourable man in the world. There is nothing mean about him."

"He is all that is agreeable and polite," said her mother gravely;
"and but for one thing I have no fault to find with him. Still, I have
seen him somewhere, that young gentleman; he has a history!"

"History! mystery! You jump to conclusions, mamma."

"Zara, my father was a diplomatist, and I am observant."

"Suspicious, I should say," remarked Bracken under his breath.

But low as he spoke the woman heard him. "Of some people I am,"
she said with a dark glance, which revealed that she was not so
good-humoured as she looked.

Zara rose with a swing of her skirts and looked as graceful and as
dangerous as a pantheress. "I am going to lie down," she observed
rather irrelevantly. "I always lie down, Mr. Spruce, so as to prepare
for the fatigues of the night. If you ask Mr. Bracken he will take you
to the smoking-room."

"Oh, thanks," gasped Spruce, who did not wish to remain in the company
of the violinist, whom he privately termed a bounder; "but I am going
to my room to write letters."

"Fancy staying in to write letters on this beautiful day. Mr. Bracken
will be wiser, I am sure, and take a walk."

"You've hit it," said Mr. Bracken, taking out a well-worn briar pipe.
"I'm off for a breather." And he escorted Zara out of the room without
noticing Spruce, to whom he had taken a dislike.

Madame Alpenny half arose when she saw the two departing in company,
but sat down again with a frown. In a few minutes she walked to the
window and drew a sigh of relief on seeing Bracken standing on the
pavement lighting his pipe. Spruce guessed by this by-play that she
did not approve of the violinist being with her daughter, and became
more certain than ever that the romance he had conjectured existed.
Zara had got rid of Bracken, it was evident, so as not to leave him in
the company of her mother. Hence her mention that the violinist would
show Spruce the smoking-room, and her suggestion of a walk for Bracken
when the new guest refused the offer of tobacco. However, Madame now
seeing that the two were parted, returned to her seat satisfied, and
resumed her talk about Mr. Hench.

"You must tell me of your old schoolfellow," she said graciously; "he
is a young man I greatly admire. I study his character."

"An admirable character," said Mrs. Tesk loftily.

"I cannot help you, Madame, as I haven't seen Hench for years," said
Spruce.

"Ah indeed! You will find him very mysterious!" And she nodded
significantly.



CHAPTER II
OLD SCHOOL-FELLOWS


Mr. Spruce found The Home of the Muses less dull than he expected it
to be, in spite of its ridiculous name. For six days he amused himself
very tolerably in contemplating the novelty of his surroundings, and
in getting what amusement he could out of the same. Desiring
"something new," after the fashion of the Athenians, he explored
Bethnal Green more or less thoroughly, and learned that the seamy side
of life here exhibited had attractions for a keen-witted observer, as
he truly was. People in the West End were always on the look-out for
money with which to indulge their fancies; people in this
neighbourhood hunted likewise for the nimble shilling, but used it
when obtained to keep a roof over their heads and bread in their
mouths. But the excitement of the money-chase was always the same, and
Spruce watched the same with great interest. In fact he took part in
the hunt for dollars himself, as he also had to live in such comfort
as his depleted purse could command.

That Destiny had not dealt lavishly with Spruce was due to his own
crooked way of propitiating the whimsical goddess, since he disliked
honest toil. On leaving college and entering the great world, he had
enjoyed a fair fortune nursed for years by jealous guardians, which
ought to have kept him in luxury for the whole of his useless life.
But the Nut, thinking he possessed the purse of Fortunatus, dipped
into it too freely, and like the earthen pot at once smashed when the
brass pots dashed against him. He entered a fast set, fascinating and
expensive, whose members gambled heavily, who flirted freely with
free-lance ladies and who ran up bills on every occasion. A few years
of this life reduced Spruce to living on his wits, and as these were
sharp enough, he managed to scramble along somehow and keep his head
above water.

But not making money fast enough honestly, he attempted to cheat at
cards, and therefore was expelled from his profligate paradise. For
this reason he had come to rusticate in Bethnal Green, and intended to
return as soon as he could make sure of being tolerated in his former
haunts and by his former associates. But as he had committed the one
crime which society, however rapid, will never condone, the prospect
of his being whitewashed was not very promising. However, the little
man knew that money covers a multitude of sins, and would go far to
excuse the particular sin of cheating, which had ruined him. He
therefore looked here, there and everywhere during his retirement in
the hope of making money, so that he could return with full pockets to
the West End. But it must be admitted that Bethnal Green was not
exactly Tom Tiddler's ground, and little gold and silver did Spruce
pick up.

The Nut certainly won a certain amount of money from Madame Alpenny,
who was a born gambler, and staked her jewellery when coin was
wanting. She was always hard up, as she frankly informed Spruce when
she came to know him better, and had long since turned what money she
possessed into the costly ornaments she wore. Zara earned enough to
keep her mother and herself at the boarding-house, but otherwise spent
her earnings on herself, knowing, as she did, that Madame Alpenny
would only gamble away what was given her. Therefore the old woman
sometimes had to sell a brooch or a bracelet in order to get funds for
her gambling. She was clever at cards, but scarcely so clever, and it
may be added unscrupulous, as Spruce, so by the end of the week her
person was not quite so lavishly decorated with jewellery as it had
been when the Nut first set eyes on her. But in spite of her bad luck,
the Hungarian lady always behaved amiably towards Spruce, as she took
him at his own valuation and believed him to be a rich young man
indulging in the fantastic whim of living in Mrs. Tesk's house. It did
not take much time for the Nut to see that Madame Alpenny's agreeable
demeanour was due to the hope she entertained that he would make love
to Zara, and perhaps become her son-in-law. Spruce had about as much
idea of courting the dancer as of flying, but he allowed the lady to
think that he admired her daughter so that she might continue to
gamble. Being quite deceived as to his real status and his real
intentions, she did; so Spruce found himself much better off in pocket
by the end of the week, and about the time when Owain Hench was
expected back.

The little man was waiting for Hench, as he greatly desired to see if
any money could be made out of him. People who travelled about the
world, as Hench apparently did, often found gold-mines, or knew of
some hidden treasure, or had an idea of how to make money in large
quantities. Spruce was very vague as to how he could exploit Hench to
his own advantage, as he had not seen him for eight years and did not
know his possibilities. However, he was assured that while residing
under the same roof as Hench he would soon be able to learn if he was
worth making a friend of, and so waited anxiously for the young man's
return. Meanwhile he gambled with Madame Alpenny; made himself
agreeable to the ex-school-mistress, whom he found a frightful bore;
and went several times to the Bijou Music-hall to see Mademoiselle
Zara dance. To his surprise he found that she was really a very
brilliant artist, who was entirely thrown away on a Bethnal Green
audience, and asked himself quite seriously if it would not be worth
while to marry her and secure for her an engagement at the West End.
If she made a success there--as he was sure she would do--then she
could support him in luxury and the old woman could be got rid of
somehow. Oh, Spruce found many ideas in The Home of the Muses which
might result in the gain of money, although he saw plainly that to
bring the same to fruition time was necessary. At all events, he was
making a living out of Madame Alpenny; foresaw possibilities in Zara's
dancing with the chance of profit to himself, and always kept in his
scheming little mind that Hench might prove to be a valuable
acquaintance. Therefore, the six days prior to the young man's return
proved to be amusing and profitable and promising. As Spruce had
become an adventurer and a picker-up of unconsidered trifles, after
the fashion of Autolycus, he was quite content with the progress he
had made so far in his new camping-ground. For that it was, since
Spruce had no idea of having a home, and disliked domesticity.

It was on Sunday afternoon that Hench returned. Madame Alpenny was
lying down for a rest, as she always did on the seventh day; Zara had
slipped out for a walk with Bracken; and Mrs. Tesk was laboriously
reading a religious book, which she found extremely dull, but
considered the correct thing to peruse on the Sabbath. Spruce being
left very much to his own devices, had amused himself by sorting his
wardrobe, and towards five o'clock was beginning to find time hang
heavy on his hands. With a yawn he descended to the smoking-room to
idle away an hour with a cigarette and the Sunday papers. In the bleak
little apartment devoted to the goddess Nicotine--a goddess unknown to
the Olympians, it may be remarked--he came suddenly upon a tall young
man who was puffing his pipe and listlessly staring out of the window.
Rather from intuition than from positive knowledge, the Nut guessed
that this was the returned wanderer.

"Hullo, Hench, and how are you?" was his greeting, and he advanced
with a gracious smile and an outstretched hand.

The young man rose slowly, looking very much astonished, but
mechanically accepted the proferred grasp. Apparently he did not
recognize that this resplendent being was his old schoolfellow, and
hinted as much in a rough and ready fashion. "Who the deuce are you?"
he demanded with a puzzled expression.

"Cuthbert Spruce!" replied the Nut, nettled as a vain man would be by
the want of recognition.

"Cuthbert Spruce! Well?" Hench still appeared to be ignorant and
waited for some light to be cast upon the subject of this hearty
greeting.

"Oh, come now, you are an ass, Hench. Don't you remember Winchester,
and the day you picked me up when I got lost during the hare and
hounds run?"

Hench stared at the pink and white cherubic face and a smile broke
over his face, as he shook the little man's hand heartily. "Of course.
Little Spruce, isn't it?"

"I have already said as much," retorted the mortified Nut dryly.

"Well, I didn't see much of you at Winchester, you know," confessed
the stalwart young man, sitting down for a chat; "you were in a
different set, anyhow. And I don't fancy I cared much for your set,
such as it was. H'm!" Hench stared hard at the other and pulled hard
at his pipe. "Yes. Little Spruce, of course, commonly called The
Cherub. And by gad, Spruce, you're a cherub still."

"No one could call you so, Hench," said Spruce affably, sitting down
and producing a dainty cigarette-case; "you are more like Hercules,
big and stolid and dull and honest."

"What a mixture of depreciation and compliment," said Hench coolly.
"Well, I am glad to see you, in spite of your somewhat free speech.
After all, one's heart warms to a chap from the old school."

"Rather!" agreed the Nut, whose heart never warmed towards any one or
anything. "It's queer meeting you here. Let's have a look at you."

Hench laughed and shifted his position, so that the light from the
window fell full upon him. A woman would have thought, as women did
think, that he was well worth looking at, since he was tall and
stalwart, undeniably handsome and possessed of great strength. With
his well-built figure and upright carriage he looked more like a
soldier than anything else. His hair, closely cropped, was brown, as
were his eyes, and he had a full spade-shaped beard which added to his
virile looks. The two men formed a marked contrast, and the small,
dainty, over-dressed Nut looked like a doll beside the big, handsome,
carelessly attired man. And it was on this attire that Spruce's eyes
were fixed, as it hinted at many things. A well-worn blue-serge suit,
a woollen shirt and mended brown boots did not suggest money, any more
than the presence of Hench in this cheap boarding house intimated a
good income. The Nut began to think that his dreams of making use of
Hench were purely visionary. There was no wealth to be extracted from
such an obvious pauper. Nevertheless, Spruce, who never threw away a
chance, behaved very cordially and paid compliments.

"But for that beard you are just the same as you were at Winchester,"
he remarked. "You were always big and heroic-looking. What are you
doing here?"

"Marking time!" said Hench laconically.

"In the hopes of what?"

"Of making my fortune."

"Hum!" Spruce looked dissatisfied, as he did not care about meeting
old schoolfellows who required help; "you do look down on your luck."

"Not more than usual. I always make sufficient to keep my head
above water by writing articles and stories for cheap newspapers
and journals. But that is a poor state of things for a man of
twenty-five."

"There isn't much pie-crust about it, I admit, Hench. Why, I thought
you were rich. I know at school the fellows always talked about your
father being a Duke of sorts constantly on the move."

"My father travelled a great deal on the Continent, certainly, and
when I left school I joined him. But he died five or six years ago and
left me with very little money. Since then I have been voyaging round
the terrestrial globe to find money, and so far have not achieved
success. But I say"--Hench broke off to re-fill his pipe--"why make me
egotistical? My affairs don't interest you."

"Oh yes, they do," Spruce protested, then baited his hook with a
minnow to catch a possible whale. "And if you will allow me to be your
banker----"

"No! No! It's awfully good of you. But I have enough for my needs."

"Well, when you haven't, come to me. Old schoolfellows, you know,
should help one another at a pinch."

"You're a good chap, Spruce," said the big man, gratefully.

Spruce smiled graciously in response to the compliment, and privately
considered that Hench was as trusting as he always had been, taking
men at their own valuation, instead of putting a price on them
himself. However, he had gained the good-will of the man by his
delicate offer--which he by no means intended should be accepted--and
therefore hoped, should Hench prove to be worth powder and shot, to
benefit by his artful diplomacy. "Oh, that's all right, old fellow,"
he said airily and blowing rings of smoke; "since we're in the same
galley we may as well renew our old friendship."

"Begin a friendship, you mean," said Hench very directly. "We weren't
pals at school, so far as I can recollect."

"No! that's true enough. But you picked me up out of that ditch and
played the part of a Good Samaritan, so I have reason to be friendly."

"Thanks! I'm with you, Spruce. While we camp here I daresay we'll see
a lot of one another, and I shan't forget your kind offer to help. I'm
not quick to make friends, you know, as I find most people jolly well
look after themselves to the exclusion of every one else."

"I do, myself," said the Nut coolly. "Don't think that I go about
playing the part of the Good Samaritan haphazard. But an old
schoolfellow, you know----"

"Yes! I understand. There's something in having been at the same desk,
isn't there. But I say, Spruce, what are you doing here? Now that I
cast my memory back, you were supposed to be very well off."

"Oh, I am still," lied the Nut in a most brazen way; "that is I have
enough money on which to live comfortably, although not a millionaire.
But the fact is, I have literary ambitions, and wish to write a book.
Some fellow said that Bethnal Green had never been written up since
the time of the celebrated beggar, so I thought I'd come down and
gather material. I spotted Mrs. Tesk's advertisement in the papers and
the name of the house attracted me."

Hench laughed. "The Home of the Muses! It's rather a queer title to
give a house in this poverty-stricken neighbourhood; but then Mrs.
Tesk, bless her, is queer herself. She's a good sort though, all the
same. Well, you've come to the right place to get material for a sort
of Charles Dickens book. We all live in Queer Street here, Spruce."

"Queer Street, which, like Bohemia, is nowhere and yet is everywhere,
Hench."

"You are epigrammatic. That won't do for a book of the Dickens type."

The Nut shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what sort of book I'll
write, and that's a fact. In Queer Street, which I take it comprises
the whole of Bethnal Green, there are many interesting people, for I
have been walking about and have kept my eyes open. But those I find
most interesting are under this roof."

"Madame Alpenny?"

"Yes! She's quite a character with her jewellery and her gambling. By
the way, you won't find her so decked out Hindoo fashion as hitherto.
During the week of my stay here, I have won two bracelets, several
rings and a pair of ear-rings."

Hench looked displeased. "You shouldn't encourage her love of
gambling," he said strongly. "I'm not a saint, but it doesn't seem
right for a well-to-do man such as you are to win Madame Alpenny's
jewellery."

"Why not? She has the same chance of winning my money. We play quite
fairly, you know, Hench, and one must pass the time somehow. But I
quite understand why you don't wish me to loot the lady."

"Oh, do you." Hench grew red and smoothed his beard. "Well?"

"I have listened and looked and questioned and considered while I have
been here," explained the Nut coolly, "and by doing so I have found
out your romance."

"My romance!"--the big man bit his nether lip and thought that it was
like the cheek of this finicky little devil to meddle with what did
not in any way concern him--"what the deuce are you talking about?"

"About your romance; about Bracken's romance; and about Mademoiselle
Zara, who is the subject of both romances."

"You are talking through your hat, Spruce."

"By no means. I can give you chapter and verse for my surmises. Zara
Alpenny is a handsome gipsy, although to my fancy she is a trifle
gaunt and fierce, as any one can see. Her mother being poor, intends
that her daughter shall be the wife of a wealthy man. You have fallen
in love with this divinity of the Bijou Music-hall, and so has that
bounder of a violinist. Madame Alpenny, knowing your circumstances,
will have nothing to do with either of you as sons-in-law, preferring
yours truly."

"You!" Hench sat up and stared indignantly at the smooth speaker. "Now
what the dickens do you mean by that rubbish?"

"What I say. You understand King's English, I take it. But you need
have no fear so far as I am concerned. Mademoiselle Zara is not my
sort, and I have no intention of forwarding Madame Alpenny's
matrimonial aims. But you----"

Hench rose, looking considerably irritated. "I wish you would mind
your own business," he said sharply. "You have found a mare's nest."

"Oh, well," observed Spruce lazily, "if that is the case I may as well
change my mind and become a suitor for Zara's hand."

"You shall do nothing of the sort."

"Why not? You don't love her, if I am to credit your mare's nest
parable."

Hench found that the Nut was too sharp for him and sat down with a
defeated air. "I admire the girl, rather than love her," he admitted
reluctantly. "She's a good sort and would make a good wife--something
of a comrade, you know."

"I don't think that fierce-eyed girl would care for a marriage of the
comrade sort, Hench. She wants love of the most pronounced and
romantic kind, and that kind she is getting from Bracken. He worships
her, and will carry off the prize if all you can give is cautious
admiration."

"It's none of your business, anyway," fumed the big man.

"No. I admit that! But suppose I make it my business by asking Madame
Alpenny for her daughter's hand. She believes me to be rich and----"

"And you are not. Come, be honest."

Spruce saw that he had overshot the mark and retreated dexterously. "I
have already been honest, as I told you that I was not a millionaire
but only well off. Anyhow, I am a better husband for Zara so far as
money is concerned than you or that bounder."

"But hang it, man, you can't love her. You've only known her a week."

"I never said that I did love her, or could possibly come to love her.
Still, Zara is handsome and clever, so why shouldn't I make her my
comrade-wife, since you suggested the same kind of half-baked alliance
with yourself."

"Look here, Spruce," stated the other very seriously, and irritated by
the nimble wit of his schoolfellow, "you have proved yourself to be a
decent sort by offering to help me. For that offer I thank you, and
because of it I am willing that we should be friends. But if you make
love to Zara we are sure to quarrel."

"Aren't you rather a dog-in-the-manger, Hench?"

"No. I admire the girl."

"She wants love, which you evidently can't give her," retorted Spruce
in an emphatic manner. "Now, if I can love her----"

"You said that she wasn't your sort."

"She isn't. Still, she is handsome, and one might pick up a worse
wife."

"But not a worse mother-in-law. So far as I am concerned it doesn't
matter, as I have neither kith nor kin to my knowledge, and, moreover,
I am a vagabond upon the face of the earth. But with your family
connections and position and money, the marriage would not be a
success, seeing that it entails your taking Madame Alpenny to the West
End. There she would scarcely do you credit."

Spruce rocked with laughter, and wondered what Hench would say if he
knew the true position of affairs which had been so carefully withheld
from him. "I give in, old fellow," he said, wiping his eyes with a
mauve silk handkerchief and wafting a perfume about the room. "I was
only codding you. I don't want to marry the girl. But Bracken does."

"And so do I," rejoined Hench tartly.

"H'm! I'm not so sure of that. Yours is a cold-blooded wooing. The
girl asks you for the bread of love and you give her the stone of
admiration."

"She doesn't ask me for love," said the tall young man with a sigh. "I
am not so blind but what I can see that she loves Bracken."

"Then why don't you sheer off?"

"I don't like any man to get the better of me."

"There speaks the buccaneer, the cave-man, the prehistoric grabber.
Lord! what a weird state of things, and how simple you are, Hench, to
place all your cards on the table. I can teach you a thing or two."

"I am quite sure you can," said Hench dryly, and disliking the wit of
this effeminate little creature, which was so extremely keen; "but I
go my own way, thank you, and dree my own weird. It is probable
that I will ask Madame Alpenny if I can marry Zara, and if Zara is
agreeable----"

"Which by your own showing she won't be," put in Spruce
parenthetically.

"----I'll marry her. If not, I'll go away and let Bracken make her his
wife."

Spruce rose with a yawn. "I fancy Madame Alpenny will have a word or
two to say to that, my dear fellow. Why don't you skip now?"

"Because I admire Zara and mean to give her the chance of accepting or
rejecting me," said Hench doggedly. "Also, I can't leave London for a
few weeks, as I have to interview my father's lawyers."

"What about?"

"I can't tell you. My father left certain papers with his lawyers
which were to be given to me when I attained the age of twenty-five.
My birthday arrives shortly, and then I'll see what is to be done."

"It sounds like a mystery," yawned Spruce, apparently in a listless
manner, but secretly all agog to learn what the lawyers of his friend
knew; "Madame Alpenny says you are a mystery."

"Me!" Hench laughed scornfully; "why, there's nothing mysterious about
me. As you said just now, I am a simple person who places all his
cards on the table."

"Yes"--Spruce nodded--"more fool you. Now, if you will only allow that
old woman to think that there really is a mystery connected with
you--and there seems to be so far as this legal interview is
concerned--she may give you a chance of becoming her daughter's
husband."

"Perhaps! But why does she think me a mystery?"

"I can't tell you. She was very vague about the matter. She declares
that she has seen you somewhere and that you have a history."

"History be hanged. My father had sufficient money to travel about and
put me to school at Winchester. When I left I joined him, and we went
through Europe to this place and that until he died and was buried in
Paris. What mystery is there about that?"

"None. But your family----?"

"I haven't got any save my father, who is dead. And he told me very
little about himself or his belongings. We are a Welsh family, I
believe."

"Hench isn't a Welsh name."

"Owain is, anyhow, and the spelling is old Welsh," retorted the other.

"True. We used to rag you about the spelling at school. Well, with
such a name as that, you might find out the truth about your family."

"I'm not curious."

"You should be then, as I would be if I were in your shoes. For all
you know there may be a title and money waiting for you."

"Oh, rubbish! Well, you can tell Madame Alpenny what I have told you.
No. On second thoughts, I'll tell her myself. She and her mystery,
indeed!" and with a scornful nod Hench left the bleak smoking-room.

Spruce reflected that Hench was a simpleton to be so frank about his
private affairs, and had not changed, so far as trusting people went,
since his school-days. "Also there is a mystery," he mused. "I'll
search it out."



CHAPTER III
MAN PROPOSES


Everyone, without exception, was glad that Hench had returned, for he
appeared to be a favourite with all. And not the least pleased to see
him was the boy Simon Jedd, commonly called "Bottles." He was a
freckled, red-haired, laughing youngster of fifteen, with a wide mouth
and a snub nose, not by any manner of means handsome, but genial and
cheerful and extremely honest. He helped Amelia with the house-work,
ran errands, waited at table, cleaned the boots of the paying guests,
and earned his scanty wages by making himself uncommonly useful on all
and every occasion. But being a restless youth, and much given at odd
moments to reading books of highly-coloured adventure in the form of
penny stories, he had a soul above his drudgery, and longed with all
his heart to face dangers of the most pronounced kind. Such a lad was
bound to have some sort of actual hero to worship and adore.

In Hench, Bottles saw exactly the pioneering type, which was his ideal
of perfect manhood, and he looked upon the young man as the model of
all the virtues which most appealed to him. This being the case, he
never could do enough to prove his devotion. No bed was so well made
as that of Hench; no room was kept so spotlessly clean, and no boots
were so highly polished. Half amused and half touched by this genuine
hero-worship, Hench lent the boy books of travel, told him about his
adventures in far lands, gave him odd shillings to patronize the local
picture palace and music-hall, and generally treated him in a way
which made the heart of the boy swell with pride. It was no wonder
that Bottles adored him and could never do enough for him.

On the morning after his return, Hench found his clothes well brushed,
his bath ready, and a cup of tea at his elbow, while Bottles hovered
round the room wondering what else he could do to show his rejoicing
spirit. In his shabby patched clothes, and wearing an apron of green
baize, Bottles grinned respectfully when Hench sat up in bed to drink
his tea. He also supplied him with small-beer chronicles concerning
events which had taken place in The Home of the Muses during his
hero's absence. Hench cared very little for such gossip, but allowed
Bottles to prattle on because it pleased the lad. And certainly Master
Jedd might have been a detective, so full and clever was his report.
In the course of his narrative he arrived at Spruce. Then Hench really
did listen, for, simple as he was, he began to wonder if the Nut had
given his true reason for this visit to Bethnal Green.

"Such a swell as he is, ain't he?" babbled Bottles, who was now
slipping links and studs into Hench's shirt. "I never did see a cove
come with so many boxes, sir. Must be rich, I think, though he ain't
free with his money. Says he knew you at school, sir, he does. True,
ain't it?"

"Quite true, Bottles!" replied Hench, nodding. "I haven't seen him for
eight or more years."

"And you don't like him now you do see him, do you, sir?"

"Why should you say that?"

"Well, sir"--Bottles scratched his scarlet poll--"he don't seem to me
to be quite your style. There ain't no Buffalo Bill, Pathfinder
business about him. If you don't mind my saying so, sir, I don't think
it's cricket his winning all that foreign lady's jewellery at cards,
nohow."

"That's none of your business, Bottles."

"Sorry, sir. But I can't help seeing and thinking when I do see. And
what's a swell like him doing down here, I'd like to know?"

"You'd better ask him."

"And get a clip on the ears for my pains, sir. Not me. Though I dessay
he ain't the cove to hit out."

"Too kind-hearted?" asked Hench, amused.

"Well," said Bottles slowly, "I shouldn't use them words myself. Mr.
Spruce is the kind of feller who'd trip you up when you wasn't
looking; but I don't think he'd meet any one's eye straight. Seems to
me as he might have done a glide, if you take me, sir."

"I don't take you, Bottles?"

"Bolted, mizzled, cut away," explained the boy earnestly. "Swells
don't come to this place for fun."

"Don't be a fool, boy. Mr. Spruce has only come here to gather
material for a book he is writing."

"Oh, he says that, do he, sir? Well, I don't think! Ho! I'll keep my
eye on all the illustrated papers and see if his picture's in 'em."

"Why should his picture be in them?"

Bottles shook his head mysteriously and skipped lightly towards the
door. He saw that Hench did not approve of his groundless suspicions,
so made up his mind to say no more. All the same, having got the idea
that Spruce had "done something" into his head, which came from
reading too many penny-dreadful romances, he made up his mind to watch
the Nut. This he did not tell his hero lest he should be forbidden to
"follow the trail," as he put it. Therefore he held his tongue and
removed himself swiftly.

While Hench took his bath and dressed slowly, he wondered if by
chance the boy had hit the mark. It did appear to be strange that a
well-to-do and fashionable young man should come and live amidst such
sordid surroundings. Spruce's story of gathering material for a novel
was plausible enough, yet somehow it did not ring true. Hench, as the
Nut thought with some degree of truth, was a very simple and
unsuspicious person, but he was not quite such a fool as Mr. Spruce
imagined him to be. Affable as the young man had been, and pleased as
he was with his old schoolfellow's offer of pecuniary aid, he could
not bring himself to like the Cherub. His dandified dress, his
mincing ways, his gorgeous array and use of perfume, irritated the
rough-and-ready manhood of Hench. He sensed something poisonous about
the little man, and resolved very rightly to be wary in his dealings
with him. Moreover, Spruce was altogether too curious about matters
which did not concern him, though why he should be so Hench was unable
to say. The Nut had made himself acquainted with the affairs of every
one in the house since his arrival, and knew much which could not
possibly interest him. However, if he had come to Bethnal Green to
plot and contrive, it would be a case of diamond cut diamond, for
Hench guessed that Bottles would keep his eye on the little man's
doings. And the eye of Bottles was sharp, while the brain of Bottles
was keen; so the schemes of Mr. Spruce would be baffled in the end,
always presuming that he really had any.

"But it's all bosh," said Hench aloud to himself, as he made ready to
go down to breakfast. "Spruce has come here to write a book, and it's
silly of me to make a mountain out of a molehill. I daresay he'll
grow tired of this dull life here and cut away back to the West End.
Upon my word I shan't be sorry when he goes. Strange that Bottles
should dislike him so thoroughly. He's a sharp lad, is Bottles, and
doesn't usually make mistakes."

Having unloaded his mind in this soliloquy, Hench descended to
breakfast and enjoyed that meal all alone, as he was late and every
one was out. Spruce, indeed, was having breakfast in his room, and of
this Hench was glad, as he always liked to read the newspaper while
drinking his coffee. This would have been impossible had such a
chattering magpie as the Nut been present. But he did not escape the
attentions of his old schoolfellow entirely, for Spruce made his
appearance just as he finished eating. The Nut wore a suit of
cream-coloured serge with a black necktie, black boots, black gloves,
and a black hat of soft felt. Hench stared.

"I say, you look like a negative," he remonstrated. "Don't go out in
that get-up or you'll be mobbed."

"Oh, no," said Spruce smoothly; "only pointed at. I'm accustomed to
that, as I have put on a different suit every day since coming here.
It must be a pleasure for these Bethnal Green rotters to see a
well-dressed man."

"I don't mind a fellow being well dressed," retorted Hench with
emphasis, "but I do object to over-dressing."

Spruce shrugged his shoulders. "You never did care to look decent."

"I'm decent enough; confound your impudence!"

"What with that shaggy beard and shabby clothes, and----"

"There! There! Keep off the grass, Spruce. My clothes are well enough,
although I do admit my beard is a trifle out of place. But when I
returned from South America six months ago I never bothered to shave.
Too much trouble."

"Well, if I were a good-looking chap such as you are, I would pay more
attention to my appearance. Coming out for a walk?"

"No. Not with you in that get-up!"

Spruce laughed. "Rum sort of chap you are to object to a fellow
dressing decently. However, have it your own way. I'll see you this
afternoon."

Hench nodded absently and filled his pipe, while Spruce departed to
delight the jeering inhabitants of Bethnal Green. And they did jeer,
in what Spruce considered their coarse, common, vulgar way, but did
not manage to upset him in the least. He was much too conceited to
think that he could possibly be wrong in his selection of clothes. And
it must be confessed that, as the day was hot even for July, he looked
wonderfully cool and comfortable in his white garb. The men jeered,
but for the most part the women admired him, and so long as he gained
admiration from the fair sex Spruce was wholly content. So he screwed
in his eye-glass and strutted and smiled, and made a progress through
the main streets of Bethnal Green with a heroism worthy of a better
cause. And it was heroism in a way to venture amongst the great
unwashed in such fantastic clothes, although in Spruce it took the
form of absolute vanity, and a certainty that he was "a thing of
beauty and a joy for ever."

As the day was warm and sunny the Nut did not return to luncheon, but
enjoyed that meal in a City restaurant. He did not risk travelling
beyond Fleet Street, lest he should stumble against some former friend
who certainly would not be amiably disposed. Like the Peri, Spruce
stood at the Gates of Paradise, but did not dare to venture in, so
after a long look up the Strand, which was closed to him, he returned
gloomily to Bethnal Green. But by the time he reached The Home of the
Muses, he felt much better, as his nature was too shallow for him to
be impressed strongly by any emotion--sorrowful or joyful. It was late
in the afternoon when he entered the dingy drawing-room, and here he
found Hench and Madame Alpenny enjoying the regulation tea. Zara,
it appeared, was lying down to refresh herself for the evening's
performance, and Bracken was attending a rehearsal. As for Mrs. Tesk,
her mind was engaged with the approaching dinner, and she was
consulting the cook in the kitchen.

As soon as Bottles, who was attending to the meal, saw Spruce stepping
in he became at once upon the alert, and devoured him with his light
blue eyes. Hench, noticing this espionage, sent the lad away to get
fresh tea, as he did not approve of Bottles watching and listening to
what did not concern him. Madame Alpenny smiled blandly when Spruce
entered and complimented him on his cool looks. She was hot herself,
and this was little to be wondered at, as she wore her constant black
dress with the orange spots, her picture hat and her heavy bead
mantle. The Nut wondered if she had any other clothes, as she never
seemed to wear another garb.

"You are just in time, Mr. Spruce," said Madame Alpenny in her lively
way, and after she had paid her compliment. "Tell me what you know of
Mr. Hench here."

Spruce stared. "Why do you ask me that?"

"Indeed you may well ask," said Hench with a frown, "as you cannot
answer the question. But Madame here will not permit me to pay
attention to Mademoiselle Zara until she knows more about me."

"I am a good mother, you see, and must consider my daughter's
happiness," was the reply of the Hungarian lady, as she took the
freshly filled teapot from Bottles and sent him out of the room again.

"If that is the case," said Spruce politely, "then you must allow her
to become Mrs. Bracken."

"Certainly I shall not. Ah, but you are smiling."

"Indeed, I think your daughter will only be happy with Bracken,"
insisted the Nut lightly. "He loves her, and I think that she loves
him."

"In that case," commented Madame with a shrug and glancing at Hench,
"there is no chance for you."

"I admire Mademoiselle Zara and wish to make her my wife," said Hench
steadily. "I am young and strong, and will soon make a fortune."

"So far you have been unsuccessful," she replied dryly; "and for my
daughter I prefer a ready-made fortune." Her eyes rested on Spruce as
she spoke. The little man did not take the hint, but chuckled softly
in his hateful fashion, so she was obliged to go on. "Tell me, Mr.
Spruce, what do you know of Mr. Hench?"

"Only that he is the best fellow in the world."

Hench frowned. "I don't see how you can swear to that, seeing we have
not met for eight years."

"Oh, you were always a good sort of chap," said Spruce gaily. "If you
don't mind my saying so, you haven't enough brains to be wicked. It
takes a clever person to sin properly."

"Ah, but you will amuse yourself with this talk," broke in Madame,
smiling. "I want a good man for my daughter."

"Take Bracken, then. He's a bit of a bounder, but decent enough."

The old woman pursed up her lips and shook her head. After a few
moments of reflection she spoke freely. "My daughter must marry money,
and neither you, Mr. Hench, nor Mr. Bracken have any money. I will not
allow you to pay your addresses to her. Nor will Zara receive them.
She is a good girl and loves her old mother."

"Well, Hench," said Spruce, when this speech was ended, "now you know.
Are you not heart-broken?"

"No!" retorted Hench sharply. "Nor am I defeated. Zara will decide."

"She will decide what I order her to decide!" cried Madame Alpenny
furiously. "And my daughter is not for you, Mr. Hench!"

"I should prefer to discuss that question privately," said the young
man in a stiff, haughty way; "there is no need for Mr. Spruce to be
present."

"Oh, don't say that," chimed in the Nut reproachfully; "I may be able
to help you, old fellow. You don't go the right way to work."

"It's my own way," snapped Hench restlessly, and objecting to
interference.

"Then it's the wrong way," snapped Spruce in his turn. "Remember that
Madame Alpenny thinks you are a mystery. Use that to help you."

"In what way?" Hench opened his brown eyes.

"Mysterious persons are always interesting, and if Madame here finds
that you may turn out to be some one great, who knows but what she may
change her mind?"

"Are you something great?" asked the lady, addressing Hench quickly.

"No. I am nobody, and will remain nobody. Why should you think that I
am, what you call, a mystery?"

"It is hard to say," she answered dreamily and staring hard at him.
"I have seen eyes like yours somewhere. They are connected with a
story--a kind of family mystery. But I can't remember to whom those
eyes belonged."

"Perhaps you have met our friend here before," suggested the Nut
eagerly.

"No!" said Madame positively, and Hench also shook his head. "I met
him here for the first time. The person who had eyes like him I
met--or I fancy I met--some twenty years ago. But it is all vague and
uncertain. Yet I feel that the story I allude to is here"--she touched
her forehead--"a mere word will bring it back to my memory."

"Then let us try and find the magic word," cried the irrepressible
Spruce. "I am desperately curious myself to fathom a mystery which the
person concerned in it does not guess."

"Meaning me," said Hench tartly. "You are talking rubbish."

"Sense, sense, common-sense. When the mystery is discovered you may be
able to marry Mademoiselle Zara."

"There is no mystery about me, I tell you."

"Well, I am not so sure of that," remarked the little man, in spite
of his friend's frown. "You don't know anything about your family, as
you admitted to me. Yet I dare swear that those papers you are to
inspect at your lawyers' in a few weeks, when you arrive at the age of
twenty-five, may contain a history which will astonish you."

"Papers at your lawyers'," echoed Madame Alpenny, looking excited; "is
that so?" Hench reluctantly admitted that such was the case. "But I
don't suppose that anything I don't know will come to my knowledge."

"Who knows," observed the old lady thoughtfully. "Mr. Spruce is right.
This hint of mystery interests me in you and makes me more ready to
entertain your proposal to marry Zara. If you turned out to be
wealthy----"

"I never will, I tell you," insisted Hench crossly.

"Then why are these mysterious papers in existence? No! believe me,
they have a story to tell. I am better disposed towards you because of
those papers, as who knows to what they may lead. Mr. Spruce is right
about a mystery interesting me, and I congratulate Mr. Spruce. He
ought to be in the diplomatic service. His knowledge of human nature
does him credit."

Evidently both Madame and the Cherub were bent upon building a castle
in the air, as Hench could not think that the papers in question were
likely to make him a rich man. His father had never been rich, and
knowing the sybaritism of his deceased parent, the young man was
pretty certain that if there had been any money about, the elder Hench
would have obtained it to waste. "You are both wrong," he said
gloomily. "There is not likely to be a fortune waiting for me when I
read those papers. My name is a commonplace one, and I have every
reason to believe that my family is commonplace also. My father never
gave me any information about his parents. All I know is that his name
was Owain Hench, as mine is, and that he once or twice remarked that
his youth had been passed in some Welsh place, called Rhaiadr!"

The effect of this last word on Madame was astonishing. She turned
quite pale with sudden emotion, her large dark eyes blazed into vivid
life and she clapped her hands loudly. "Rhaiadr! Owain of Rhaiadr! The
word means water tumbling over a rock--a waterfall. Ah, yes, and so
they call a torrent in the barbarous country of Wales."

Hench stared at her, not understanding this outburst, but Spruce, much
more alive to what was meant, laughed and nodded. "We have hit upon
the magic word, it seems," he observed, all on the alert for
knowledge. "Tell us who was the owner of the eyes which were like
those of Hench's, Madame?"

"Your father had such eyes," said Madame, turning to the astonished
man.

"My father!"--Hench started to his feet--"you have never met my
father. Why, he died about five years ago."

Madame nodded complacently and signed that he should seat himself
again. "Ah, is that so? He is dead, then. Oh, but I did meet him, Mr.
Hench. Some twenty years back--it was in Buda Pesth. I remember it
all"--she pressed her jewelled fingers to her forehead--"it all comes
back to me."

"Tell us about it, then," suggested Spruce eagerly. "Bah!" said Hench
rather rudely, "it's all imagination."

"Indeed it is not," protested Madame, gesticulating. "If it were so,
how would I know that Rhaiadr meant a waterfall and was in Wales, a
country I know nothing about? Owain of Rhaiadr!--that is what your
father called himself."

"Owain is my Christian name, and was my father's before me. But we
don't live in the Middle Ages, when a man was known by his first name
being connected with a town, or village, or county, or country. Owain
Hench of Rhaiadr, if you like, Madame."

The woman shook her head and her eyes sparkled like diamonds. "Ah, but
it is not so. Owain of Rhaiadr was what your father said. I remember
we were sitting on the terrace of the hotel, and feeling ill, he
sought my sympathy. Ah, my friend, and more than my sympathy. He
wished to marry me."

"Marry you!" Hench stared at the withered old woman in amazement.

"Why not? I was a handsome young widow in those days and had some
money. Afterwards I lost it, being unlucky at cards."

"Well, let us hope that to make up for your loss you were lucky in
love," said Spruce affably.

"No! I did not wish to marry again, as I was devoted to the memory of
my English husband. But I liked your father, Mr. Hench, even though I
refused to become his wife. He was not rich, you understand, so it was
useless for me to marry a poor man. But I liked him because he was
well-bred and sympathetic in many ways. How it all comes back to me. I
told him of my daughter, who was with her nurse in the gardens below
the terrace, and he informed me that he had a son of four or five, who
was in England being looked after by strangers."

"By strangers," echoed Hench bitterly; "that is true. All my life I
have had to do with strangers."

"Ah, but, my friend, it was not the fault of your good father," said
Madame in a hurried tone. "His young wife--your mother--died early,
and it was impossible for your father to travel about the Continent
with a baby--as you were."

"A baby of over four years old could have travelled well enough," said
Hench in a sombre tone; "but my father never cared about me over-much.
He----" here the young man checked himself, as he did not wish to
discuss his father in the presence of Spruce, although he might have
done so with Madame Alpenny, since he desired to marry her daughter.
After a pause he continued: "Well, did my father tell you his family
history?"

It was quite one minute before the old lady answered this question.
She reflected deeply, with her eyes searching his handsome face, then
shook her head sadly. "No! We were not so confidential as that. We met
several times again, but as I refused to marry him, your father went
away to Paris. I never saw him again, but the memory of his eyes
remained, and those same eyes you now use to look at me suggested my
old romance."

"They would not have done so but for the magic word Rhaiadr," said
Spruce in brisk tones. "Well, Hench, you see that there is a mystery."

"There is not," declared the young man sharply and much vexed. "Your
mystery resolves itself into what Madame here calls her romance. My
father asked her to marry him and she refused. Very wisely, I think,"
he added, as if to himself--"she would never have been happy."

Madame overheard him, shrugged her shoulders, and rose, looking more
shapeless in figure and more untidy in dress than ever. "In any case,
I have never been happy," she said sadly, "so it does not matter. But
I am now inclined to consider your proposal to pay attentions to
Zara."

"He is not yet rich, remember," put in Spruce, grinning.

"Mind your own business," said Hench vehemently.

"No"--Madame's tone was peculiar--"and perhaps he never may be rich.
But if Zara likes you, I am not sure but what I will not allow you to
marry her. No, I have not yet quite made up my mind. Give me time to
think"--she moved ponderously towards the door. "Owain of Rhaiadr! Ah,
if you were only able to call yourself that. Well, who knows," and
with a mysterious nod she disappeared.

"Queer thing, coming across an old flame of your father's in Queer
Street," said the Nut affably. "What do you think?"

"I think," said Hench in anything but an amiable tone, "that you had
better mind your own damned business."

Spruce was by no means offended. "As you will, although you should be
sensible enough to use my brains to help you with your family
mystery."

"There is no mystery. How often am I to repeat that?" And Hench walked
away fuming with rage at the little man's persistence.



CHAPTER IV
THE ADVERTISEMENT


Hench felt annoyed with himself for talking so freely about his
private affairs in the presence of Spruce, yet he could not see how he
could have done otherwise. Madame Alpenny, disregarding the obvious
fact that his proposal for her daughter's hand was not for public
discussion, had appealed to the little man for information concerning
the suitor, and in this way the Nut had been drawn into the
conversation. If was not that Hench affected reticence, as he was a
singularly frank man; or that there was anything to conceal in his
past life, since that was free from punishable misdeeds. But it
irritated him that Spruce should meddle, as the man appeared to have a
finger in everybody's pie, and Hench saw no reason why he should have
anything to do with this particular pastry. For this reason he gave
his old schoolfellow the cold shoulder.

Spruce objected to this, as it was his aim to ingratiate himself, with
a view to possible happenings which would place him in possession of
money. At the outset Hench's friendship had not appeared to be worth
cultivating, as he was poor, aggressively honest, and not at all a man
to be exploited by the unscrupulous. But after Hench's confidence
regarding the papers at the lawyers', Spruce scented a mystery which
might be profitable. His suspicions, which at the outset were of the
very faintest description, received colour and were rendered more
substantial by the knowledge that Madame Alpenny had been acquainted
with the young man's father. Spruce had noted her hesitation in
replying to the question concerning the telling of the family history,
and was satisfied in his own mind that she knew more than she would
admit. The fact that after the conversation in the drawing-room she
was willing to consider the proposal of marriage to Zara, implied that
there was something in the wind. Having regard to Madame Alpenny's
poverty and to her desire that Zara should marry a wealthy man, that
something undoubtedly had to do with money. As yet Spruce was very
vague about the whole matter, as his information was not accurate
enough to enable him to act. But the key to the mystery, whatever it
might be, was in the possession of Madame Alpenny, therefore the Nut
watched her carefully. If she was agreeable that Zara should become
the wife of Hench, there was certainly money to be gained by her as
the result of the marriage; and if Hench was likely to possess riches,
Spruce made up his mind to share in the same.

For this reason he ignored the young man's bearish manner and scant
civility, which otherwise he would not have tolerated. Spruce was
amiability itself, and went out of his way to amuse the paying guests,
so that Mrs. Tesk looked upon him as quite an acquisition. He played
the piano, he sang songs, he performed conjuring tricks, and made
himself generally agreeable. Also he escorted Zara to the Bijou
Music-hall and there became acquainted with the management, with the
stage hands, and with the hangers-on of the profession. In a week he
was quite at home behind the scenes, and even became friendly with
Mrs. Jedd, who was the mother of Bottles, and the wardrobe mistress.
In fact, he ingratiated himself with every one and was highly popular;
meantime watching Madame Alpenny with the ardour of a cat at a
mouse-hole, and giving his best attentions to Hench. These were so
coldly received that finally  he remonstrated in a most plaintive
manner.

"I don't see why you should be so confoundedly disagreeable," he
said after seven days of hard work to be polite; "we are two gentlemen
who are stranded here, and may as well chum up for the sake of
company."

"I don't wish to chum up, as you call it, with any one," retorted
Hench coldly.

"Not with Zara?" Spruce could not help giving his friend the dig.

"That is my business."

"I never suggested otherwise. But I would point out that Madame
Alpenny's resolve to consider your marriage proposition favourably is
due to me. Had I not guided the conversation as I did, she would never
have remembered her meeting with your father. It is the romance of
that which has inclined her to permit your wooing."

"Madame Alpenny would have remembered without your help."

"I think not. You have been here along with her for six months and
have had endless conversations. But until I made a third----"

"An inconvenient third."

"Oh, as you will. But until I made a third, she did not recollect the
adventure of her youth which has softened her towards you. This being
the case, I don't see why you should hold me at arm's length."

"I am not taking the trouble to consider you in any way," said Hench
in his most freezing manner. "We were never chums at school, and I see
nothing in you to make me more friendly now. It is true that you
offered to help me with money, but as I don't require your help in
that way, I lie under no obligation to you. Why the dickens can't you
go back to the West End?"

"I shall go back," lied Spruce, "when I gather sufficient  material
for my proposed book. Meanwhile, my friend----"

"Meanwhile," repeated Hench, cutting him short, "suppose you mind your
own business and leave mine alone."

"Had I left your business alone, Madame Alpenny would not now be so
agreeable to you, old fellow," said Spruce, persistently polite.
"However, since you object, I shall meddle no more. All the same, if I
can do you a good turn I am perfectly willing to do so."

"Don't be worthy and pose as a bed-rock Christian!"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," sighed the little man, who knew
perfectly well what was implied; "but as you are bent upon making
yourself disagreeable, you will be pleased to hear that I am returning
to the West End to-morrow for a few days."

"I hope you'll stay there," growled Hench wrathfully, and quite unable
to get rid of this gadfly. "I prefer to be alone."

"You will be more alone than you think," retorted Spruce tartly.
"Madame Alpenny is going away also for a few days. She told Mrs. Tesk,
who told me."

"Just like you, to go interfering with other people's business,
Spruce. Madame Alpenny can go away without the world coming to an
end." He paused, then asked a question which he immediately regretted
having put. "Where's she going?"

"Ah!" Spruce chuckled cynically, "you are curious in spite of your
pretended dislike to meddle with what doesn't concern you. Well, she
is going to see if any West End manager will come to see Zara dancing
at the Bijou Music-hall, with a view to getting her daughter a better
engagement."

"I hope she will succeed," said Hench heartily. "Zara is a rare dancer
and well deserves better luck."

"If she goes, you will be parted."

"Oh, hang your interference!" cried Hench, and walked out of the
smoking-room.

"Better make hay while the sun shines," Spruce called out after him,
and, after his usual manner, chuckled when the door banged by way of
reply.

There appeared to be a perfect exodus from The Home of the Muses, for
Bracken also became conspicuous by his absence. He went to see his
mother at Folkestone, who was a widow, as news came that her health
was not what it might be. But the greatest surprise was when Bottles
came to Hench on the morning of the exodus, dressed in his best
clothes and smiling all over his freckled face. He was blushing also,
which was a rare thing for the imp to do, and made a request which
accounted for the same.

"Would you mind, sir--I mean, am I asking too much--that is, if you
won't think it sauce on my part," he stumbled amongst his words and
blushed deeper.

"Out with it, Bottles! What is it? Speak straight and to the point."

Jedd did so and very bluntly. "I want you to lend me five shillings,
sir. Oh, I'll pay it back out of my wages at sixpence a week, see if I
don't"--the boy went through a pantomine--"that wet; that dry; cut my
throat if I tell a lie."

Hench, who had every reason to trust Bottles, and who considered him
to be a lad with a future if clever wits went for anything, produced a
couple of half-crowns from his slender resources. "There you are! You
needn't pay me back."

"Oh, but I will, sir, thanking you all the same," said Bottles,
pocketing the cash. "Mother's brought me up proper, she has, and
always told me never to borrer. But I can't help borrering this time;
it's business."

"What business?"

"Private," said the lad stiffly; "but the five bob shall be paid back,
honest, Mr. Hench."

"Well, Bottles, I admire your principles and will accept the sixpence
a week repayment. But why are you so excited and why this splendour of
dress?"

"I'm going down the country to see my brother, sir."

"Your brother. I never knew you had a brother."

"Oh, yes sir, please. We're twins, we are, and I'm the elder by half
an hour, as mother always says. Peter's a page in a lady's house in
the country, and Mrs. Tesk allows me to go and see him sometimes. I
asked her if I could go to-day, and she said that as Mr. Spruce and
Mr. Bracken and Madame Alpenny were away for a few days, and there
wouldn't be much work, that she would let me go."

"Well," said Hench with a good-natured laugh, "I hope you'll enjoy
yourself, my lad. So you are Simon and your brother is Peter. Eh?"

"Yes, sir. Called after the Chief Apostle, sir. Mother reads her
Bible even though she's only looking after the clothes at the Bijour
Music-hall. I'm going to stay away for two days, Mr. Hench, and p'raps
three. But I won't waste my time; oh no, not much, you bet, sir."

"What do you mean?" asked his patron, considerably mystified.

"I'll tell you some day, sir, as you've a right to know."

"Know what?"

"What I've got up my sleeve. It may be rot, and it may be something
else. All I can tell you, sir, is, that when the time comes, you'll
know. S'elp me Bob, I'll tell you everything," and Bottles panted with
excitement.

"Bottles, you've muddled your brain with your adventure and detective
penny-dreadful yarns. Well, go on your Sexton Blake errand, and mind
you have a good time. I shall miss your attentions, though," ended
Hench kindly.

"I hope you won't miss 'em very much, sir. I've told Amelia to see as
you get everything you want. She's only a gal, but she'll do her best
for my sake, sir," ended Bottles grandly. "She and me's going to marry
when we're rich."

"Go away, you precocious imp, and don't talk nonsense."

"There's many a true word spoke in nonsense, as mother says, sir.
She's great on proverbs, is mother!" and with this parting shot
Bottles rapidly disappeared, grinning amiably and very much excited.
Hench wondered at the boy's mysterious hints and could not for the
life of him see how they could have anything to do with his own
affairs. However, thinking that Bottles was merely drawing on his
imagination, he dismissed the matter from his mind.

And, indeed, for the next few days, and until the return of the
absent, the young man found his hands full enough. Zara being alone,
with neither her mother nor Bracken at her elbow, Hench thought that
he might as well take advantage of the opportunity to carry on an
uninterrupted wooing. He escorted Zara to the music-hall and escorted
her home again. He took her sundry walks, gave her sundry meals in
restaurants, and provided her with cheap amusements in the form of
cinematograph entertainments. Zara, who really liked Hench, was very
grateful for his attentions, but she resolutely refused to allow him
to make love to her. With the dexterity of a woman she managed to keep
him at arm's length; but one evening while he conducted her to
business the young man managed to get nearer to his divinity.
Certainly the crowded streets, flaring with gas-lights, were unfit
surroundings for love-making. But Hench had to carry on his romance as
best he could, since Zara was so clever in throwing obstacles in his
way. On this occasion, however, he broke through them.

"You are very cruel to me," he remarked, after many minutes of
desultory conversation, and seizing the opportunity when the pair
turned down into a quiet side street, "very cruel indeed."

The handsome girl was silent for a moment or so. "It's no use my
pretending to misunderstand you, Mr. Hench," she said at length.
"What's the time?"

Rather surprised by the irrelevance of the question, Hench looked at
his very cheap watch. "Eight o'clock."

"Well, I'm not on until a quarter to nine, and although I do take a
long time to dress, I can give you ten minutes."

"Oh, thank you, Zara. You are----"

"Don't make any mistake, Mr. Hench. I won't have those ten minutes
spent in love-making, which would bore me and waste your time."

"No time spent upon you is wasted, Zara."

"There you are wrong. It is time we had an explanation. So long as
mother objected to you as she does to Ned----"

"To Ned?"

"I mean to Mr. Bracken," said Zara, colouring and wincing. "Well then,
so long as she was in that frame of mind, I let things slide. But now
mother seems inclined to consider you as a possible son-in--law, and I
must appeal to you."

"Command me in any way."

"Then don't worry me with attentions. Oh, I don't mind your behaving
like a gentleman, as you have been doing, to pass the time while
mother is away. I am very grateful to you for the amusement you have
given me. But"--added the girl, leaning against the railings of a
convenient dwelling-house--"I am not in love with you, no more than
you are with me."

"I do love you," said Hench, frowning; "what's the use of saying
otherwise?"

"You don't love me, I tell you," insisted Zara petulantly. "Trust a
woman to understand the exact state of a man's heart. You like me, you
admire me, you think me a good sort, but love"--she shook her
head--"you don't understand love as Ned--I mean, Mr. Bracken--does."

"Oh, call him Ned by all means," said Hench quietly. "I see you are
friendly enough with him to do so."

"I am engaged to him."

"With your mother's consent?"

"No. You know very well that mother wants me to marry a rich man, and
Ned is poor, although he does hope to get a few hundred pounds now
that his mother is dying. I love him and I intend somehow to marry
him."

"That is unpleasant hearing for me, Zara."

"Indeed, it isn't, Mr. Hench. I know quite well what has led you to
propose marriage to me----"

"I never have proposed as yet," interpolated Hench quickly.

"No. But you intended to. If I had not prevented you from going too
far these last few days you would have proposed. Come now, isn't that
the truth?"

"Yes! And to make you understand me fully I ask you now to be my
wife."

"Then I refuse. I love Ned, and Ned only, even though he's but a poor
violinist in the orchestra and earns little money. He loves me also,
and in a way which you cannot comprehend."

"Why not?"

"Because your heart has never been touched either by me or by any
other woman. It's no use your saying that it has been. I know you
better than you do yourself, Mr. Hench."

The young man felt slightly mortified. "You appear to have a bad
opinion of me, Mademoiselle."

"Indeed, I have a most excellent opinion of you. Make no mistake about
that, Mr. Hench. You are an honourable gentleman; you are extremely
kind-hearted and you will be an admirable husband--to the woman you
love."

"You are the woman, believe me!" cried Hench impetuously.

Zara shook her proud head, smiling, and looked less fierce than usual.
"Oh, what children men are. They want a toy and cry when they don't
get it, yet break it when it is in their possession. I am the toy, Mr.
Hench, and you are the child who wants it."

"And if I got the toy I would break it. Eh?"

"Yes," said the dancer frankly, and began to walk on slowly, as the
ten minutes were nearly up, "and I'll tell you why. You are a lonely
man, who has no home, no relations, no centre in life, if I may put it
so. Having an intensely domestic nature--that nature which makes an
admirable husband, a devoted father, and which is domestic in its
essence--you want a wife to create a centre round which you can
revolve. I happen to be passably good-looking, to have some good
qualities, and to be an agreeable companion. Therefore, liking me, you
mistake that liking for love, and offer me a respectable but dull
future. Any other woman, decently kind and presentable, would suit you
just as well as I would, and with her you would believe yourself to be
in love as you think you are with me. But a happy marriage is not
built up upon such a foundation, Mr. Hench, believe me. A woman wants
love, she wants a heart. You can give me neither."

"And Mr. Bracken can?"

"Yes! Otherwise I wouldn't marry him. If mother is successful and can
get me a West End engagement, I daresay I'll have plenty of men
fluttering about me, and can pick and choose amongst lovers of higher
rank and with more money than poor Ned has. But I won't find one who
loves me as he does."

"I don't quite understand the kind of love you mean," murmured Hench,
perplexed.

"Of course you don't, for the very simple reason that you require an
explanation. True love comes from within and not from without. When
you really feel the passion you require no explanation. Come and tell
me when you really fall in love, Mr. Hench, if I am not right."

"Where did you learn how to talk in this way?" asked Hench, who was
beginning to see that she was right.

"Experience has taught me, and experience is a great teacher. I am
older than you think, Mr. Hench."

"You are only three and twenty. Your mother told me so."

"I am older in experience, for you know that a woman is always twice
as old as a man in the ways of the world. However, here is the Bijou,
and I must go in to get ready for my work. You understand what I mean,
don't you?"

"Yes. I daresay my love is of a very feeble quality."

"Don't be bitter and don't pity yourself, Mr. Hench. Your liking for
me is perfectly honourable, and I am sure you would make a kind
husband. But love--you know nothing of love. I said that before, I
fancy, and I say it again." She offered her gloved hand. "Come! Let us
be friends, nothing nearer, nothing dearer. Otherwise you will make me
unhappy."

Round the corner of the music-hall, where no one was about, Hench bent
over Zara's hand and kissed it. "Let it be as you say," he said
firmly; "all the same, I envy Bracken his future wife."

"You will meet a woman who will suit you better than I will," Zara
assured him, and her great black eyes shone. "When you do, come and
tell me how wholly correct I have been. And another thing, Mr. Hench,
don't let mother bully me about you."

"There's no chance. I am too poor to be your husband so far as Madame
Alpenny is concerned, even though she likes me better than she did."

Zara looked at him curiously. "Are you sure that you are poor?" she
asked in an enigmatic tone, and then ran into the music-hall, through
the dark stage door, before he could reply.

Hench strolled home leisurely, wondering what she meant by her last
speech. Of course he was poor. She knew it; so did Madame Alpenny; so
did every one in the boarding-house. Yet she implied a doubt.
Resolving to ask for an explanation when occasion served, the young
man dismissed this particular matter from his mind, and thought of his
misfortune in losing Zara. He had always admired her, and now that she
had spoken to him so eloquently he admired her more than ever.
Hitherto more or less silent, she had never displayed the common-sense
qualities of her mind before. Therefore Hench saw that she was not
only a handsome woman and an accomplished girl, but had considerable
mental powers. Otherwise she could scarcely have placed the truth so
plainly before him as she had done. And with a sigh the pseudo-lover
confessed that it was the truth. What he felt was not love, for,
although he regretted his dismissal from the wooing of a noble woman,
he by no means felt broken-hearted, as Bracken would have done. Hench
recognized that his desire for Zara was only a strong wish for a home
and a wife and a family, and--as she put it--for a centre round which
his life could revolve. Having arrived at this conclusion he decided
to leave the girl alone, and wait until fortune brought him to the
feet of his true mate. "And I must have some sort of mate in the
world, anyhow," added Hench to himself, by way of comfort.

Henceforth the relations of the two were much more unembarrassed, for
it was a brother and sister connection--frank and markedly
comfortable. During the remainder of Madame Alpenny's absence, Hench
took Zara about as usual, and she confided in him her love for
Bracken, her plans for the accomplishment of that love, and her many
difficulties with her mother. Madame Alpenny, it seemed, was by no
means an angel, as she possessed a furious temper, and wasted all her
money in gambling. She was an ill woman to cross, since her nature was
vindictive and eminently determined to have its own way. Zara gave
Hench to understand that if she could marry Bracken and pension her
mother she would be truly happy. At present she was very miserable,
and only the hope of escaping from her mother's clutches in the manner
described enabled her to endure trouble. Hench, in his new character
of her brother, consoled her, and promised to do what he could to
forward her aims. But he did not see at the present moment how he
could do anything.

Madame Alpenny returned on the third day, but the other absentees
still remained away. The old woman looked very satisfied with herself,
and hinted that she had done good business which would improve Zara's
position. She was markedly civil to Hench, and encouraged him greatly
to pay attentions to her daughter. As the two now understood one
another, to do this was easy--both for Hench to pay them and for Zara
to receive them--but Madame Alpenny remained in the dark as to the
true meaning of their comedy. Then, on the second day after her
return, a surprising thing happened, with which she had to do. What it
was Hench learned while sitting at a lonely breakfast. Madame Alpenny,
who always took that meal in her own room, came down unexpectedly
arrayed in a greasy dressing-gown and flourishing a newspaper in her
hand. "Rhaiadr! Rhaiadr!" she called out excitedly. "What does it
mean?" Hench looked at her in surprise. "Tumbling water, you told me,"
he said, after an astonished pause. "Don't you remember----?"

"No! No! I don't mean that." She clapped _The Express_ on the table
before him, and pointed with one chubby finger at an advertisement. "I
mean, what do you make of that? Rhaiadr! No one can have anything to
do with that word but your father--and you."

Hench, more puzzled than ever by her excitement, read the
advertisement upon which her finger rested. "If Rhaiadr," he read
aloud, "will come to the Gipsy Stile at Cookley, Essex, at eight
o'clock on the 1st of July, he will hear of something greatly to his
advantage."

"There!" said Madame Alpenny triumphantly, and looking more shapeless
than ever in her dressing-gown; "what do you think of that?"

"It has nothing to do with me," said Hench, with a shrug.

"Nothing to do with you!" she screamed. "Why, the name Rhaiadr shows
that it has everything to do with you. Go there and see what it means.
Ah, I always said that you were a mystery; now I am sure of it." And
she rubbed her hands.



CHAPTER V
THE NEXT STEP


Hench could not help admitting that the mention of the peculiar Welsh
word "Rhaiadr" in the newspaper had something to do with him.
Undoubtedly he was the person whom the unknown advertiser wished to
meet; but the whole matter was so strange and unexpected that he
determined to think it over carefully before taking any steps. For
this reason he said little to the excited Hungarian lady, who was
rather annoyed by his reticence. But he did not take any notice of her
hints, and retired as speedily as possible to his own room. There he
lighted his pipe, sat by the window and read the advertisement twice
and thrice again, after which he laid down the newspaper so that he
might think more freely. And his thoughts had to do with his past life
when travelling with his father.

The record of earlier days was bare enough, as Hench decided when he
recalled the same. His father had paid strangers to look after him
immediately after the death of Mrs. Hench, and when Owain was only
five years of age. For years the lad saw very little of his parent,
who was always moving from one place to another after the fashion of
the Wandering Jew. Then came his education at a private school, and
afterwards the wider training at Winchester. Later, Owain had expected
to go to Oxford, but his father, finding the need of some one to lean
upon in his old age, had summoned the boy to Berlin unexpectedly.
Owain's mysterious parent proved to be an aristocratic-looking
gentleman, perfectly dressed, perfectly acquainted with the motley
Continental world, and perfectly heartless. Hench senior frankly
acknowledged that he cared for no one but himself, and turned his son
into a kind of superior servant. The two travelled all over Europe in
moderately good style, as Mr. Hench always seemed to have enough to
keep him in comfort if not in luxury. But this last he also obtained
by gambling, as he frequently won large sums of money, which were
always squandered in extravagant whims and fancies. If Owain had not
possessed a sterling thoughtful nature he would have been ruined by
this hand-to-mouth existence, which was distinguished by continual ups
and downs. But the young man had his own views of leading a decent
life, and when unhampered by his spendthrift father determined to
carry them out. The opportunity did not come to him until he was
twenty years of age, when Mr. Hench died in Paris and was buried
without parade in Pere La Chaise. Cold-hearted and selfish to the end,
he passed away without suggesting how his son, to whom he had given no
profession, was to exist. He simply told him to go to Gilberry &
Gilberry, solicitors, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, on his twenty-fifth
birthday, when certain papers would be handed to him. Thus it can be
seen that the young man had little reason to regret the demise of so
egotistic a parent, who had been a curse rather than a blessing.

What the papers in charge of Gilberry & Gilberry might contain, Owain
could not guess, nor had his dying father enlightened him, but he
fancied that they might have something to do with proving the identity
of the dead man. Owain had always suspected, from the strict silence
preserved by his father about his past, that Hench was an assumed
name, and hoped that the mysterious documents might afford some clue
to the family history. The sole clue which the young man had to guide
him to knowledge of any sort or description was the mention of his
father of Rhaiadr as the place where he had passed his youthful days.
Yet the word had proved to be of some value, for its mention had
evoked a memory of Madame Alpenny's early romance, although that story
had proved to be more interesting than useful. Now it appeared that
the talismanic word was being used to lure him to meet a stranger,
who--as the advertisement put it--would tell him of something greatly
to his advantage.

Owain, having reached this point of his meditations, rose to pace the
room and consider the position. He was of two minds about answering
the summons, since an open-air meeting seemed scarcely business-like
or even reasonable. Also it was now the last week in June, and the
appointment was arranged for the first day of July. But on the tenth
day of that month came Owain's birthday, when he would be placed in
possession of the papers for which he had waited so long. The young
man considered, prudently enough, that it would be just as well to
curb his curiosity for nine days, as the documents might throw some
light on the admittedly odd advertisement. If he obeyed the summons to
the Gipsy Stile, Cookley, Essex, on the first of July, he would be at
the disadvantage of being in the dark, since he would know nothing,
while the person who met him would know much. The rough-and-tumble
life which he had led since the death of his father inclined Owain to
prudence, as he knew from dire experience what tricky people there
were in the world. Therefore he determined to take no notice of the
advertisement--at all events for the present, since he had a week to
think over the matter--and calmly wait until he became possessed of
the papers on his twenty-fifth birthday. Finally, he resolved to say
nothing to Spruce, who, luckily, had not yet returned, and to ask
Madame Alpenny to keep the Nut in ignorance of the advertisement. He
certainly would have to be more or less frank with the Hungarian lady,
since she had drawn his attention to the notice in _The Express_.

Madame Alpenny was full of curiosity when she met Hench at afternoon
tea, and, as they had the room to themselves, she immediately
proceeded to ask questions. Hench baffled her as well as he could, but
found it difficult to do so. She appeared to be certain that he was
more of a mystery than ever, and insisted upon scenting a fortune in
the same. Naturally, as Zara's mother, she was anxious to know if her
belief was correct, as then Hench could make the girl his wife and
supply a meritorious mother-in-law with ample funds. As usual, she
wore her eternal orange-spotted dress, her shabby bead mantle and her
flamboyant picture hat, looking quite a merry old blackguard of an
adventuress. Hench had long since decided that she was such a one.

"Of course you'll keep this appointment," said Madame Alpenny eagerly,
when she handed Hench his tea.

"I'm not sure. You see, I may not be the person wanted."

"Pfui!" said the woman contemptuously, and her large, dark eyes
sparkled. "Why, the word Rhaiadr proves conclusively that you are the
person. It is strange, Mr. Hench," she continued with great vivacity,
"that I should have heard the word from you only a few days before
this advertisement appeared."

"It's very strange," assented the young man, with his eyes searching
her face. "You know nothing about the advertisement, I suppose?"

"Eh, but why should I?" she asked in amazement. "Only by chance did I
see the name Rhaiadr, and immediately brought the paper to you,
remembering our conversation of some days back. I presume, sir," she
went on, with a shrug, "that you do not think I put in the
advertisement?"

"Oh, no; by no means," said Owain hastily; "but you might have
mentioned the Welsh name to some one else."

"No," said Madame Alpenny decidedly. "That is, I mentioned it only to
Zara, and she took little notice of what I mentioned. Of course, there
was Mr. Spruce, who was in this room when we talked about my meeting
with your father. But he is not likely to have asked you to meet him
in Essex, when he can see you here any day; also he probably has not
seen the advertisement."

"Oh, I don't suspect Spruce, Madame; and that reminds me, it will be
as well to say nothing to Spruce about the matter."

"Am I a chatter-box, or a fool?" asked Madame fiercely, and with a
lowering look on her face. "Certainly I will say nothing to Mr.
Spruce. But you must tell me all that takes place when you meet
whosoever you are to meet."

"I am going to meet no one," retorted Hench resolutely; "there is no
need for me to do so."

"But, my friend, you will hear of something greatly to your advantage,
as it said in the newspaper," expostulated the woman, frowning.

"I mean to wait until I get the papers from my lawyers on the tenth of
July, Madame. They may tell me of the something greatly to my
advantage without my going on a wild-goose chase into Essex."

"But I don't understand your objection."

"It is this. If I go now, I am quite in ignorance of my family history
with which this appointment has to do, as I shrewdly suspect. If I go
after the tenth of July I will be in a better position to deal with
the matter, as I think the papers at my lawyers' will tell me much
about my father."

Madame Alpenny nodded. "There is something in that. All the same, this
advertisement concerns you and not your father, who is dead and
buried."

"It and the papers also concern my father's past life, and therefore
concern my present," argued Hench seriously. "And I have waited so
long for light to be thrown on the past that I can easily wait a few
days longer."

"You have made no attempt to get at the past up till now?"

"Oh, yes. After my father's death I went to my lawyers"--Hench did not
intend to tell Madame Alpenny the name of the firm--"and asked about
the papers. They admitted that they had them, and promised to deliver
them on my twenty-fifth birthday. Otherwise they would say nothing."

"And you--what did you do?"

"What could I do save go away and do my best to keep myself alive for
five years. I went as a sailor on a tramp vessel and met with many
adventures. I found that I had a talent for writing, and in San
Francisco I managed to get a short story of mine accepted, printed and
paid for. Then I went to Peru, and afterwards to the South Seas,
coming back to England through Australia, China, India and Persia.
Rather a roundabout way of progression, I admit. But I was like a leaf
blown by the winds of fortune--and bitter winds they were. In one way
and another, chiefly by writing short adventure tales, I managed to
keep myself afloat. This year I came here, six months ago, to wait for
the tenth of July. Here I met you----"

"And Zara," said Madame quickly.

Hench looked at her with a peculiar expression, and raked his brown
beard with outspread fingers. It was on the tip of his tongue to
relate how he had been refused by the girl, but on second thoughts he
refrained. According to Zara her mother had a quick temper, and if all
was told the girl might suffer from that temper. Also Madame Alpenny,
being given a clue, might learn that Zara and Bracken were engaged,
which knowledge would assuredly lead to trouble. On the whole,
therefore, Hench decided to be silent, and replied evasively. "Ah,
yes, I met your charming daughter, of course."

"And admired her?" persisted Madame, not finding his speech
sufficiently ardent in tone.

"And admired her to the extent of asking your permission to propose to
her. But, of course, when you refused me that, because I am poor, I
have changed my mind. As a gentleman I can do no less."

"As a lover you can do much more," retorted the old woman, with a look
of annoyance. "And remember that I was favourable to your proposal
when I learned that you were the son of the man who wished to marry me
so long ago."

"Yet I am still poor," said Hench ironically.

"That has yet to be proved," rejoined Madame bluntly. "Oh, don't look
so astonished, my friend. I am old and I am shrewd, and I have learned
by experience that two and two make four. Those papers you mention,
together with this advertisement which plainly refers to you, appear
to me proof that you will inherit money."

"I don't see that, Madame, unless, of course, my father gave you some
hint that there was money in the family."

"Mr. Hench gave me no hint," said the lady sharply and hastily. "He
explained that he had a small income, and frequently won large sums at
cards. On the whole, he gave me to understand that if I married him
there would be no lack of money. But he never said a word about a
fortune coming to him."

"Then why should you think that a fortune is likely to come to me?"
asked Hench very naturally.

"I have intuition, my friend, and intuition tells me that those papers
and that advertisement mean money." Madame Alpenny paused, and then
continued after some thought: "You say that you had great difficulty
in getting money after your father's death?"

"That is so. I had to earn every penny."

"Strange, when he had a sufficient income to keep him comfortable."

"That was an annuity. He told me so shortly before he died."

"And told you that the papers with your lawyers would place you in
possession of money?"

"No." Hench shook his head. "He never even hinted at such a thing."

Madame Alpenny nursed her pointed chin and frowned at the carpet. "I
am sure there is money," she mused, loud enough for the young man to
overhear. "Your father gave you no profession or trade with which to
earn money, and it is not likely that he would have behaved so unless
he knew that the future held a fortune in store for you."

Hench's lip curled. "I am sorry to destroy any illusion about my
father," he said with a shrug; "but I don't think he cared two straws
about my future."

"Then why should he tell you about the papers?" asked Madame, as sharp
as a needle. "Believe me, those papers refer to a fortune."

"Well"--Hench rose and stretched himself--"I shall know all about that
when I see the lawyers on the tenth of July."

"Or when you meet this unknown person in Essex on the first of July."

"I am not going to meet the person," said Hench coldly; "and I have
given my reasons for not meeting him."

"Him!" Madame Alpenny laughed. "It may be a woman, for all you know."

Hench wheeled round to face her searchingly. "Why do you think it is a
woman?"

"Oh," she answered smoothly, "I only surmise. I don't say that the
person is a woman, for I know no more about the matter than you do.
All I do say is, that if you wish to marry my daughter you will have
to learn about this fortune as quickly as possible. I hope that I have
managed to get an engagement for Zara in the West End, and there she
may meet with some one wealthy who will make her his wife."

"You don't appear to take Mademoiselle Zara's feelings into
consideration."

"Feelings!" echoed Madame Alpenny vehemently. "What are feelings of
any sort compared with poverty? I have little money myself, and what I
have is all in these things." She touched her rings, bracelets and
brooches. "Zara does not earn what her talents demand. We want money,
and the sole way in which we can get it is for her to marry money.
Failing you there are others."

"Quite so," said Hench, thinking of Bracken, and smiling slightly.
"But a man who has no wealth may wish to marry her."

"Referring to yourself, I suppose," said Madame Alpenny dryly, and
quite mistaking his meaning. "Well, you won't marry her unless you
prove through those papers and that advertisement to be possessed of a
fortune. Until then, I hope you will be circumspect with regard to
Zara. Don't be too attentive to her, and turn the poor child's head."

"There is no fear of my doing that," said Hench equally dryly, "but to
make things safe I propose to remove myself from temptation. To-morrow
I shall leave this place."

"For how long?"

"For ever."

"Oh,"--Madame Alpenny looked as black as thunder, as this proposal by
no means suited her scheme of getting a rich son-in-law,--"don't do
that."

"Why not? After all, there is nothing to keep me here."

"Zara!"

"But you will not let me pay attention to Zara with a view to
matrimony." Madame Alpenny looked uneasy and puzzled. "You place me on
the horns of a dilemma, Mr. Hench. I can't let you become engaged to
my daughter until I am sure you have money. But of course"--she
brightened up--"if what I suspect is true, and money comes, you can
return and marry her."

This frank suggestion placed Hench on the horns of a dilemma, but he
managed to evade binding himself in a most dexterous way. "If
Mademoiselle Zara is really able to return my love, and thinks that
she will be happy as my wife, I shall certainly return and renew my
suit. But remember, Madame, she must become my wife of her own free
will, and not because you insist."

"Oh, that's all right," said the old lady easily. "Zara is a good girl
and will obey her mother to whom she owes so much."

"That is the very thing I don't wish her to do," insisted Hench,
sharply; "it is no question of filial obedience. If she accepts me of
her own free will, and without coercion from you, I marry her;
otherwise I will not."

"I am not in the habit of coercing my daughter," said Madame Alpenny
loftily, and, as usual, evading the main point; "and I shall expect
you to return with all information about your family. Then we can
talk. I look upon you as a man of honour, Mr. Hench, so much so that I
do not even ask you to give me any address. If you get money you will
marry Zara."

"And if I do not?"

Madame Alpenny shrugged her fat shoulders. "In that case she will
marry another person who has money."

"You are very business-like," said Hench, highly disapproving of this
mercantile way of looking at things.

"I always am," she assured him coolly; "it saves trouble!"

Owain said no more at the moment, nor did he have any conversation on
the subject again with the Hungarian lady prior to his departure.
Madame Alpenny evidently had full confidence in his love for her
daughter, and believed that Zara's beauty would lure him back again
with gold in his pockets. Had she had any idea of the interview
between the two young people, and the new relationship of brother and
sister which that interview had suggested, she might have been less
easy in her scheming mind. But Hench held his tongue and so did Zara,
therefore Madame Alpenny was kept in a kind of fool's paradise. The
young man reported the conversation hurriedly to the girl, and being
clever, she knew exactly how to act so as to keep her mother in
ignorance, until such time as she could declare her own mind and
choose her own mate.

Meanwhile; Hench got to work expeditiously and packed his
scanty luggage, after paying Mrs. Tesk what he owed her. The
ex-school-mistress was very sorry to lose him, not only from a
financial point of view but because she really had a regard for him.
Still, as she intimated, they were both leaves floating on the river
of life, and the currents of circumstances were parting them. She
hoped that he would enjoy himself and prosper wherever he was going,
but if Fortune proved unkind, he was to remember that a refined abode
always waited for him as a haven in adversity. All this and much more
said Mrs. Tesk, who had a warm heart and hospitable nature. Hench was
quite sorry to leave her, as he liked the quaint old lady and her odd
ways. And just when Owain finished his business in her sanctum he
emerged to run against Spruce, who looked more like a fashion-plate
and less like a man than ever.

"Just got back," said the Nut airily; "had a topping time. Wish you
had been with me, instead of wasting your sweetness on the desert air
hereabouts."

"I was not going to waste it any longer," said Hench dryly. "I am
leaving this house this afternoon."

"Oh, I say,"--Spruce looked disappointed and uneasy,--"for how long?"

"For ever! There is nothing to keep me here that I know of, and as I
told you long ago, I am more or less of a bird of passage."

"What about Mademoiselle Zara?"

"Oh, that's all right; and may I remind you it's none of your
business?"

"Well, don't get in a wax," protested Spruce amiably. "I never saw
such a chap for jumping on a fellow."

"If you think so, you must be glad that I am going away."

"No, I'm not," confessed the Nut frankly. "You're a gentleman and so
am I, and in this hole you're the only chap I can chum up with."

"We have not chummed up, as you put it," said Hench frigidly. "Well,
that isn't my fault. I am always willing to be friendly, and if you
won't be it's your loss, not mine. Where are you going?"

"That, again, is my business. I may be going abroad, or I may stay in
London, or I may be going to the moon."

"You're crazy enough for that last, anyhow, if lunatics live there as
some one said," fumed Spruce, who was growing angry. "And you're silly
to make an enemy of me, you know."

"I don't want you as a friend, and I don't care if you are my enemy
five times over," said Hench very straightly. "What the deuce do you
mean by that threat? What harm can you do me?"

"I never said that I could or would do you any harm," protested
Spruce, feeling uncomfortable; "but some day I may be able to do you a
good turn."

Hench looked at the spic and span little man, and felt rather sorry
for him, as he seemed to mean well, in spite of his irritating
curiosity. "Let us part friends," he said, holding out his hand.
"After all, you are an old schoolfellow and have got your good points.
But oil and water don't mix. See?"

Spruce gave the extended hand a feeble shake and dropped it. "I can't
help seeing, when you put things so straightly. It's a difference of
temperament, I suppose--you're clay and I'm china. But I tell you
what," cried Spruce, with his pale blue eyes flashing maliciously,
"you'll be glad enough some day for me to come and help you!"

"I always make a point of seeking no one's assistance," said Hench
coldly, and walked up to his room, wondering what Spruce meant, since
there was a significance in his tone which intimated that he quite
expected to meet his enemy again.

Spruce looked after the tall, straight form of the young man, and bit
his nether lip with anything but an amiable look. He greatly regretted
that Hench should go away thus suddenly, as the unexpected departure
upset his plans for making money out of him. He still clung to the
idea that the mysterious papers at the lawyers' had something to do
with a fortune, and determined not to lose sight of Hench, come what
may. Therefore he also retired to his own room to plot and plan and
devise schemes whereby he could entangle his prey in invisible nets.
But this he could not do without the aid of Madame Alpenny, since she
was the mother of Zara, whom Hench loved. So to Madame Alpenny the Nut
went and had quite a long conversation with her, which conversation
resulted in his quitting the house at the hour of Hench's departure.
Owain was relieved when the time came for him to go to find that
Spruce was not at his elbow with his disagreeable civilities. He never
could bring himself to like Spruce.

It was Bottles who helped the taxi-cab driver to carry down the trunk
and portmanteau which formed his hero's luggage. The boy had returned
on the morning of the day when Hench departed and was desperately
sorry to hear of the exit. Hench gave him a sovereign and comforted
him with a promise that on some future occasion they would meet again.
Then Bottles proffered a request that Hench would give him some
address to write to, and strange to say, the young man supplied him
with the information he asked for. He felt that he could wholly trust
Bottles.

"But you won't have anything to write to me about," he said, when the
written address was handed over.

Bottles looked up with a shrewd smile on his freckled face. "The mouse
helped the lion, sir, as mother told me, and I may help you."

"What do you mean by that? How can you help me?"

"Least said is soonest mended, as mother says," retorted Bottles
wisely. "And it ain't for nothing as I've read detective stories. I
won't give any one the address, sir. I'm yours till death!" and he
folded his arms with a noble air.

Hench drove away rather bewildered. "The boy is mad," he said. But the
boy was not.



CHAPTER VI
SEEKING TROUBLE


It was for two reasons that Hench left The Home of the Muses and
vanished--so far as the paying guests were concerned--into the
unknown. In the first place, he wished to render Zara's position more
easy; in the second he desired to have nothing more to do with Madame
Alpenny; and also there was a third and less important reason, which
had to do with Cuthbert Spruce. While Owain drove westward in the
taxi, he amused himself by surveying his position.

With regard to the girl, Hench was beginning to grasp the fact that he
really did not love her, or he would have been more moved by her frank
confession of love for Bracken. What she had said was quite true, as
he now acknowledged. He admired her, and being lonely, wished for a
companion, so as to make a centre in life round which he could
revolve. It was an odd comparison but a very true one. Any other
woman, handsome, kind-hearted and affectionate, would have done as
well as Zara to bring about the desired end, and Owain confessed to
himself that to propose such a business-like scheme to a girl was
rather a cold-blooded way of looking at love. She was--he confessed
this also--quite right to refuse him, and to accept the offer of a man
who adored her. This being the case, Hench decided that it only
remained for him to go away, since his presence would more or less
embarrass her, in spite of the brother-and-sister compact. Finally,
being very human, Owain felt that it was impossible to stay, and
witnessing Bracken triumphing where he had failed. On the whole,
therefore, he was well pleased to escape from Bethnal Green, and his
feelings suffered very little from the exile.

The second reason, which had Madame Alpenny for its excuse, was also
connected more or less indirectly with Zara's refusal. Since the idea
of money coming to him had occurred to the Hungarian lady, she had
been more amiably disposed towards Hench with regard to his
half-hearted wooing of her daughter. Yet, as she was still uncertain
that Owain would be rich, she had not--according to the slang
phrase--forced the pace. But if fancy became fact and the mysterious
papers really did place him in possession of a fortune, Hench felt
tolerably convinced that Madame Alpenny would worry him and worry Zara
until she brought about the marriage. Under the circumstances this was
not to be thought of, as apart from the fact of his readjusted
relations with the girl, Madame Alpenny was by no means desirable as a
mother-in-law. She was poor, inquisitive, scheming and decidedly
dangerous; always on the alert to make what she could out of others,
and--as Hench believed--unscrupulous in her methods of gaining what
she desired. Already he had told her more about his private affairs
than was altogether wise, more or less against his will, as it would
seem, since she had wormed her way into his confidence with remarkable
dexterity. It struck him forcibly that he was wise to avoid her by
leaving the boarding-house, and he congratulated himself on his
promptitude in dealing with the situation. And as he had done so
judiciously, it was unlikely that Madame Alpenny would ever trouble
him again.

It was when the taxi was sweeping down a quiet street near the British
Museum that Owain came to the third and minor reason, which concerned
Spruce. The Nut, also, was much too curious about affairs which
nothing to do with him in any way, and seemed to take a pleasure in
meddling. He was just the kind of person to read other people's
letters, give unasked advice and take a thousand liberties out of
pretended good-nature. All the same, Hench firmly believed that all
this interference was intended, in the end, to benefit Spruce himself.
But Owain could not see how his old school-friend could in any way
make capital out of him. Nevertheless, instinct warned him to avoid
the man as something dangerous. By leaving Mrs. Tesk's establishment
he had avoided him, and he was as unlikely to meet him again as he was
to meet with Madame Alpenny. Taking everything into consideration,
Hench alighted at his new abode with the conviction that he had
escaped from some danger--he could not put a name to it--just in time.

Owing to some unexpected good fortune in connection with gold-mining
shares, Hench possessed quite one hundred pounds, which was sufficient
to keep him in comfort and even in luxury until he could call on
Gilberry & Gilberry. That visit he expected would result in throwing
light on his somewhat dark path, and perhaps would bring him wealth.
Yet, being cautious, he husbanded his resources lest his expectations
should be disappointed. Therefore the hotel he came to was a quiet and
cheap hostel in Burney Street, Bloomsbury, chiefly patronized by
country people. It was a much better class establishment than that of
Mrs. Tesk, and Hench found it very comfortable. He had been there on a
former occasion when in England, and found very little change. The
manageress was the same, the staff had not been altered, and on the
whole Owain felt that the place was more home-like than any he had
been in. Also, having risen out of the submerged tenth, the young man
brushed up his apparel, had his hair cut and his beard trimmed, and
got out his scarcely-worn suit of dress clothes. For the next week he
amused himself in a quiet way, generally sauntering in the Park,
exploring the Museum, enjoying the theatres and music-halls, and
taking what quiet inexpensive pleasures came in his way. All he wished
to do was to pass the time pleasantly until his twenty-fifth birthday,
when he intended to call on Gilberry & Gilberry. Then he would learn
his fate, and his future career would be ordained by the contents of
the papers.

But all the time Hench was haunted by an uneasy feeling regarding the
advertisement brought to his notice by Madame Alpenny. Had he stayed
at the boarding-house, he assuredly would not have obeyed the request
for a meeting, as the woman would have become aware that he had done
so. This he did not wish her to do, since he regarded her as
dangerous, and did not know what the result of his errand to Cookley
would be. But now that Madame Alpenny belonged to the past, Owain was
inclined out of sheer curiosity to keep the appointment for the 1st of
July, and learn why the word "Rhaiadr" had been used. Of course, as he
had already recognized, the papers at Gilberry & Gilberry's might
place him in possession of details which would enable him to deal more
openly with the person who wished to meet him at the Gipsy Stile. But
it wanted ten days to his birthday, and by brooding over the
advertisement Hench became so curious that he finally decided to take
the journey into Essex. There was a spice of adventure about the
matter, which appealed to his pioneering spirit, and, moreover, as he
had nothing to do, he thought that he might as well employ his mind
and time in satisfying his curiosity. According to Dr. Watts, "Satan
finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do," and never was the
line so exemplified as by Hench's action. Although he did not know it,
he was going out to seek trouble, when he left the hotel for Liverpool
Street Station.

Besides being haunted by the advertisement, Hench during his week in
Bloomsbury had been also haunted by a feeling that Madame Alpenny was
somewhere in his vicinity. Twice or thrice he had fancied she was at
his elbow, and had as many times made sure that he had caught a
glimpse in the distance of her orange-spotted frock, her bead mantle
and picture hat. As he walked to the railway station this feeling was
insistently strong, and Hench found himself searching the crowds here,
there and everywhere for the sinister face and red hair of the old
woman. But he saw no one who resembled her, until he was descending
the stairs after taking his ticket to Cookley. Then he was positive
that in the throng moving below he recognized her shabby garb. Of
course, he did not find her when he mingled with the mob, and laughed
at the trick which his eyesight had played him. Why he should be so
haunted by the woman--in his thoughts that is, as he did not believe
that there was any ground for his suspicions--he could not say. But it
was not until he was seated in a third-class smoking compartment that
he shook off the feeling of her near presence. It was all a case of
nerves, he assured himself, and by the time he was well on his journey
he thoroughly convinced himself of this fact. At all events, as the
train gradually left London behind, Owain quite got rid of his
nightmare.

Cookley is slightly over thirty miles from the metropolis, so Hench,
having left the latter at five o'clock, arrived at his destination
somewhere about half-past six o'clock. The appointment at the Gipsy
Stile was precisely at eight, So he had an hour and a half to wait.
This time he employed in learning the whereabouts of the rendezvous,
as he had not the least idea of the direction in which it lay. As
there was no hurry, he took things easy and sauntered leisurely out of
the local station and down the long road which led to the village.
After a lengthy period spent in a smoky city, the pure air and rural
sights of the country were exceedingly pleasant.

The village was not large, but decidedly picturesque, being one of
those somnolent old-world hamlets beloved of artists and wondered at
by tourists. Formerly no strangers came near it, but since the advent
of the ubiquitous motor-car it had become quite a centre of interest.
This was mainly owing to its squared-towered Norman church, a
venerable and stately structure, which was much too large for so small
a place. Also there was a Saxon cross on the village green and sundry
Roman remains in an adjacent field. Archæologists and antiquarians,
together with tourists, chiefly American, frequently came to inspect
these objects of interest, and artists often took up their quarters in
the Bull Inn to paint the church, the ancient cottages and the
surrounding country. It was quite the nook which a student would have
loved, but much too quiet for a restless young man such as Owain Hench
assuredly was. The quicksilver in his veins never allowed him to
remain long in one place, yet even he confessed to feeling the charm
of Cookley.

No one took much notice of him, for which slight he was thankful. In
his shabby suit of blue serge, his woollen shirt and ragged Panama
hat, he looked like an ordinary tramp, and those gentry of the road
were much too common in Cookley to be even glanced at. Also the night
was closing in, and in the soft warm twilight the young man passed
almost unheeded, a fact upon which he afterwards had reason to
congratulate himself. After wandering through several crooked streets,
he emerged into the gracious spaces of the village green and made for
the Bull Inn--easily recognized by its gigantic sign--where he treated
himself to a tankard of beer in the tap-room. Owain really did not
require the drink, but ordered it so as to give some excuse for his
questions. The ancients of the village were already gathered for their
evening symposium, and the room was filled with the blue haze of
tobacco-smoke. It was none too well lighted by a solitary oil lamp,
and Hench sat down in a secluded corner to enjoy his briar and sip his
ale. Also, when occasion served, he asked the buxom wench who attended
to thirsty customers where the Gipsy Stile was to be found. She looked
at him in surprise.

"Why, every one hereabouts knows where that be."

"I am a stranger here."

"One of them tramps, ain't you?" said the girl, tossing her head.
"Well, you can't miss the Gipsy Stile. There's a path leading out of
the churchyard, across the meadows, and that takes you into the heart
of the wood, where you'll find it right in your way."

"Oh, it's in a wood, is it?" questioned Owain, secretly wondering
again, as he had wondered before, why such a rendezvous had been
chosen.

"Why, yes. Parley Wood, it is called, and lies long-side Squire Evans'
old house. There's only a red brick wall divides the wood from the
park."

"Thank you," said Hench politely, and attended to his beer and pipe,
while the villagers talked politics and crops and local gossip, and he
amused himself by listening to their crude views.

In the old days and before Cookley had been brought into near contact
with the outer world, the stranger would have been more closely
observed and the conversation would have been listened to. But so many
tourists now came to the village that the inhabitants paid little
attention to them. In his dark corner Owain sat for close upon an
hour, wondering at the narrow limits of the Cookley intellect. Still,
he was interested in the old-fashioned views of the labourers, and
time passed quicker than he noticed. A glance at his watch showed him
to his surprise that it was a few minutes to eight, so he rose hastily
to seek his destination. As he had already paid for his beer, there
was nothing to detain him, and he was speedily passing through the
green on his way to the square tower of the church, which stood up
blackly in the luminous twilight. So far as Owain could guess there
was no danger of his losing his way.

A narrow lane, sloping slightly upward to the lychgate, conducted him
to the churchyard, and he soon found himself surrounded by tombstones
old and new, dotted irregularly amongst the long grass of the
enclosure. Keeping to the gravelled path, he made a circuit of the
vast church, and finally  came to a stile set in the stone wall
girdling the place. On climbing over this, he found his feet treading
a well-defined path, which meandered across a wide meadow to enter
into Parley Wood, which was visible some distance away. Owain, with
the aid of a match, found that it was eight o'clock, and the chimes of
the church again assured him of the fact. Fearing lest he should be
late, he hurried quickly, and his long legs soon took him under the
shade of ancient trees. Here it was somewhat dark, but Hench had eyes
like a cat, and could very easily follow the path, which wound
deviously through the woodland. Around him, in the fragrant dark, life
was stirring, and he heard the piercing song of the nightingale, the
occasional hoot of an owl, and became aware that sundry creatures were
moving more or less noiselessly amongst the undergrowth. At times he
moved across a dell where the light was stronger, and then again he
would plunge into the gloom of the trees. The young man enjoyed the
adventure apart from the reason which had led him to undertake it, as
he had a great love of Nature, and enjoyed her beauty.

At length he emerged into a wide clearing across which ran a ragged
fence of time-stained wood overgrown with woodbine and more or less
buried in nettles, darnels, shrubs and young trees. In the centre of
this there was an old-fashioned stile, which Owain took to be the
place of meeting. Beyond the open ground stretched for some distance,
and faintly in the warm twilight he could see a tall wall and beyond
it the thick foliage of oaks, beeches and elms. This was undoubtedly
the place, as he remembered how the girl at the Bull Inn had assured
him that the wood lay long-side the park of the squire, and no great
distance from a red brick wall. Therefore Owain walked briskly up to
the stile, taking off his straw hat for the sake of coolness, and
looked all round the place to see if the person who had advertised was
waiting. He saw no one.

A glance at his watch after lighting a match showed him that he had
been fifteen minutes walking from the church to the stile, so he
wondered if the person had grown tired of waiting. But that was
unlikely, since he was not so very much behind his time. The man--he
presumed that it was a man--who had advertised would certainly wait
longer when he had taken so much trouble to bring about the meeting.
Hench therefore believed that something had detained the person in
question, and sat down on the stile to wait. Already the moon was well
up in the cloudless sky and her silver radiance flooded the whole
solemn woodland. Owain admired the mingled beauty of light and shade,
listened to the distant nightingale singing triumphantly, and stared
every now and then round about to make sure that he would not miss his
man, since he did not know from which quarter he would appear. Then
came a surprise, and a highly unpleasant one.

In the course of his glancing here, there and everywhere, he became
aware that in the long grass some distance beyond the stile, and some
distance away from the meandering path, lay a dark object. At first
Hench thought it was merely the trunk of a tree, but as the moonlight
grew stronger and the outlines of the object more distinct, he began
to believe that it was a man. Doubtless, as he concluded hastily, some
tramp had thrown himself down to sleep in the safe cover of the wood,
where no policeman would rouse him from his slumbers. But Hench knew
that it was scarcely wise to sleep in the moonbeams, so clambered over
the stile and walked towards the man with the intention of awakening
him. Shortly he was bending over the presumably sleeping tramp, and
then became aware with a shock of surprise that the man was clothed in
evening-dress, over which a dark, loose cloak had been thrown. With a
vivid feeling of fear Hench turned the man over--he was lying on his
face--and started back with an ejaculation of horror. The stiff white
shirt-front was red with blood, and in the man's heart was buried a
knife with a horn handle. Owain struck a match to assure himself of
the truth, although the moonlight was so strong that he scarcely
needed to take such trouble. But while he held the match with shaking
hand over the dead face, its wavering light showed him very plainly
that he was right. The man was dead--the man had been murdered--and
there he lay mysteriously done to death in the heart of a lonely wood.

Of course, Hench's first impulse, which was the impulse of an ordinary
human being when brought face to face with crime, was to run back to
Cookley village and give the alarm. But even as he turned to fly, he
halted, struck with a sudden thought which made the blood freeze in
his young veins. He had been lured to this place by means of the
advertisement, and here he found the dead body of a man not long
stabbed to the heart. Was it a trap? Had he been brought to this
solitary spot to be entangled in a crime? It seemed very like it, and
swiftly thinking over the matter, Hench did not see how he could
exonerate himself should he give the alarm. With a feeling of absolute
terror, he bent over the dead so as to make himself acquainted with
the appearance of the poor creature. There was no doubt that the man
was a gentleman, since he was in evening-dress and was wearing studs
and sleeve-links of gold, together with a silk-lined overcoat, or
rather cloak. His face was clean-shaven, with an aquiline nose and
thin compressed lips, decidedly that of a handsome man. From his
lined countenance and white hair, Owain took him to be about sixty
years of age, although being dead there was an astonishing look of
youth about him. Even as Hench stared, the lines on the old face
seemed to fade away and leave it young and smooth. Yes, he was a
gentleman, as was apparent from the well-bred, disdainful face. It did
not need the evening-dress, the silk-lined cloak, the silk socks or
the patent-leather shoes to show the man's station in the world. Here,
as it occurred to Owain, was a gentleman, who had strolled into the
wood after dinner, there to meet with a terrible death at the hands of
some unknown person.

Starting to his feet, the young man remembered how the girl at the inn
had talked of Squire Evans' estate lying long-side the wood and
divided therefrom by a brick wall. Here was the wood, yonder the wall
in question; so it came strongly into Hench's mind that the dead man
was Squire Evans. But who had killed him and why had he been killed?
Hench looked round searchingly into the shadow of the trees, but could
see no lurking form. Whosoever had struck the blow had done so shortly
before Hench arrived, as the body was still warm and still supple.
After all, the man was dead, sure enough, and it would be useless to
run to the village for succour. In fact it would be dangerous, as
Owain thought with fear knocking at his heart, for how could he prove
his innocence of the crime. There was no motive for him to kill this
unknown man, certainly; not even the motive of robbery, as the studs
and sleeve-links had not been taken by the assassin. Hench wavered
between a desire to consult his own safety by flight and a wish to
rouse the village and hunt hot-footed for the murderer. For two long,
long minutes he pondered over the horrible situation, then, without a
backward glance, raced at top speed along the unknown path leading
into the further recesses of the wood. And while he ran his heart beat
tumultuously, the perspiration beaded his forehead, and his body
shivered with cold, in spite of the warm night. Safety was what he
made for, and he tore onward as if the officers of justice were
already on his track. An innocent man--yes, he was an innocent
man--yet the circumstantial evidence might hang him in spite of that
same innocence.

Instinct led Hench to avoid returning to London by passing through the
village and boarding the train at Cookley Station. Already--and he
thought of the possibility with terror--his face and figure might be
remembered by some keen-sighted yokel. There was the conversation with
the girl in the tap-room. He had talked long enough with her to be
remembered, even though the atmosphere, hazy with smoke, had only been
illuminated by one dingy lamp. Then, again, he had spoken about the
Gipsy Stile; he had asked where it was, and at the Gipsy Stile the
murder had taken place. Then there was the advertisement; the police
would be sure to find that out, and if there was any reward offered,
Madame Alpenny might speak to the authorities about the same. Then he
would be linked with the crime, and run the risk of arrest. When
confronted with the girl at the inn, she would probably recognize him.
Then what possible defence could he make to an accusation of murder?

These and many other thoughts buzzed like distracting bees through
Owain's brain as he fled from that awful place. All his idea was to
get away, to reach some other railway station, to hide in London,
and remain quiet until he saw what the police would do. But on the
face of it, he would be safe nowhere; yet with the instinct of
self-preservation he plunged onward through the wood in the hope of
escape. Hench was a brave man, and had faced many dangers, but to be
hanged for a crime which he had not committed, to be entangled in
circumstances over which he had no control, made him choose the least
of two evils. Once or twice he halted in his headlong flight wondering
if it would not be best to return and give himself up to the village
policeman, as, after all, he had no motive to kill the man and
moreover could produce the advertisement. But the resolution was
momentary. He simply could not face the trouble, even though he did
his best to screw up his courage to the sticking point. Wiping his
forehead, he drew a long breath and strode onward. It was too late now
to think of returning, as the body might already have been found. All
he could do was to walk on and on and on, in the hope of leaving
terror behind.

After leaving the wood, Hench found himself traversing other meadows
similar to that near Cookley church, These bordered a narrow lane,
into which a stile afforded him access. From this lane he gained the
high-road, and from a sign-post learned that it would conduct him to
London. At first Owain intended to walk on until he arrived at the
nearest railway station, for there was yet time to catch a late train
to town. But on reflection he decided to use his legs, as there would
be less danger in solitary pedestrianism than in venturing to ask for
a ticket at a local station, where his appearance might be observed.
Also the night was warm, the moon gave her full light, and the journey
to London would be more pleasurable on foot than it would be were he
cooped up in a train. Besides, he was much too agitated by what he had
gone through to sit quiet under the gaze of fellow-travellers.
Innocent though he was, conscience made a coward of him, and he knew
that every careless eye cast upon him would make him wince. He was
safer to walk, so walk he did.

Owain never forgot that thirty odd miles tramp through the lovely
summer night, when--as the saying goes--he saw a bird in every bush.
Certainly he was guiltless of any crime, yet fate had connected him
with one, and he felt like Cain, so strong was the power of his
imagination. Again and again he asked himself if it would not have
been wiser to dare the worst, trusting in God's justice and his own
innocence. But again and again came the reply that innocent men have
been hanged ere now on purely circumstantial evidence, and that he had
done right to fly the danger of a judicial death. Hench cursed himself
for not having waited until his twenty-fifth birthday. Had he taken no
notice of the advertisement, as he originally intended to do, he would
not now be in this plight. But it was too late to blame himself now.
He had come to the rendezvous, he had found a dead body, he had fled
like a true criminal from the spot, so it was no use crying over spilt
milk. Whatever was in store for him he would have to face it. As he
had sown, so would he have to reap.



CHAPTER VII
AN AMAZING DISCOVERY


Owain reached his hotel in the early hours of the morning, and finding
no one about but the sleepy night-porter, who was just leaving, had no
difficulty in getting to his bedroom almost unobserved. Once in that
haven he drew a long breath of relief, and wearied by his long tramp,
threw himself on his bed without undressing. Notwithstanding his
anxiety, which had increased instead of lessening, he speedily fell
fast asleep into a heavy dreamless slumber, which resembled lethargy
rather than natural repose. It was high noon when he woke, feeling
much refreshed and as hungry as the proverbial hunter. Considering the
trouble in which he was involved, it was fortunate that travel had
steadied his nerves to face the worst, if needs be. The result of his
experience of danger led him to prepare for possibilities. He
therefore took a cold bath to brace himself, dressed more carefully
than usual with great deliberation, and went down to make an excellent
breakfast. As yet the hue and cry was not out against him, so he had
ample time to consider his position.

Over a pipe in the smoking-room, he glanced at several of the daily
papers, but naturally found therein nothing about the murder in Parley
Wood at Cookley. It was more than probable that the evening news would
contain an account of the finding of the body, and--for all Hench
knew--a description of himself as the criminal. Of this, however, he
was uncertain, since he had not been noticed closely in the twilight,
and his conversation with the girl of the Bull Inn had taken place in
a darkish and smoky room, dimly lighted by a solitary lamp. Of course
the girl would say that a man had asked her where the Gipsy Stile was
to be found, and the person she had conversed with would be suspected.
But the questioner assuredly could not be described, unless the
serving-wench was sharper than Owain gave her credit for being. Only a
very inquisitive and observant person would have examined him closely
enough to give a fair word-picture of him to the authorities. And
Owain's experience led him to believe that few people ever did observe
with much degree of accuracy. So far as the girl at the inn and the
inhabitants of Cookley were concerned he felt tolerably safe. But
there was another person to consider in connection with his adventure,
and that was Madame Alpenny. The Hungarian lady certainly knew that he
was the man required to meet the advertiser at Cookley, as the use of
the word "Rhaiadr" had enlightened her on that point. Therefore it was
probable that, when the details of the murder were made public, she
would inform the police about the matter. But the woman did not know
that he had kept the appointment, as he had given her to understand
very plainly that he did not intend to do so. Assuredly the feeling
that she was at his elbow had haunted him when he had set forth on his
errand, and he had fancied that she had been lurking about Liverpool
Street Station. But even then he had set down the faint belief to
imagination, so there was no reason why he should conclude that she
actually had been spying on him. In fact he did not see how she
possibly could have done so, since he had not given her his address.
Only Bottles knew that, and Bottles--as Hench felt sure--was to be
thoroughly trusted.

So far the young man could see no cause for alarm, but an hour's
reflection made him resolve to make things doubly sure against
discovery. Thanks to the twilight and the dimly-lighted tap-room,
Hench made sure that any description given of his appearance would be
more or less vague, and was not likely to be recognized by any one in
the hotel when it appeared in the newspapers. Nevertheless, so as to
place the matter beyond all doubt, he paid his bill, packed his
luggage and took his departure late in the afternoon for Victoria
Station. Here he left his box and portmanteau in the cloak-room, and
went down to South Kensington in search of quiet lodgings. But before
venturing to inquire for the same, Owain sought out a barber's shop in
Brampton Road and had his heavy brown beard removed. He would rather
have shaved himself, so as to do away with the possibility of the
barber noticing any description in the newspapers, even though the
same was vague and inaccurate. But to do this was impossible. He could
not change his appearance before leaving the Bloomsbury Hotel without
exciting remark, and he did not wish to present himself at his new
lodgings in any degree like his old self, as it was known to the
paying guests of Mrs. Tesk's establishment. Therefore he was obliged
to risk a barber's razor and a barber's curiosity.

One thing was certain, that when he emerged from the shop, no one
would have recognized him for the man who had entered. The removal of
his beard altered him wonderfully, making him look years younger, and
improving his good looks in a marked degree. Owain sat in the barber's
chair a bearded colonist of the type dear to penny fiction, he rose
from it looking like the Hermes of the Vatican. Even the hairdresser
exclaimed at the extraordinary transformation and complimented him on
his improved appearance. Hench was rather annoyed that the man should
take so much notice, and paying him hurriedly, departed as swiftly as
he could without exciting suspicion. Then he walked down the Brompton
Road and sought out a quiet side street in South Kensington, where he
knew there were rooms to be let. The place was already known to him,
during the last six months, as under the same roof lived an old
school-friend, with whom Hench had kept up a correspondence. On
returning to England he had looked up this friend, and they had
renewed their acquaintanceship with uncommon fervour. Therefore Owain
deemed it best to live near him, so that he might make use of him
should any trouble ensue from his adventure. It may be remarked that
the friend was a barrister, and as such--so Hench considered--would be
able to attend to legal details if necessary.

The rooms in question were still to be had, as a voluble landlady
assured Mr. Hench, so he engaged them for a month, paying the rent
in advance. Then he left a message for his friend, and returned to
get his luggage from the cloak-room in Victoria Station. By seven
o'clock, Owain was installed in a tolerably comfortable bedroom and
sitting-room, and was dawdling over a hurriedly provided meal. His
friend, he was informed, was not expected back until nine o'clock, so
Hench passed the time in reading the evening papers. These he had
bought at the railway station when getting his luggage, and in two of
them he found what he sought.

The account of the Parley Wood crime was necessarily meagre, as so
short a time had elapsed since the discovery of the body that the
police were not in possession of much information. It appeared, from
the scanty details, that the dead man was--as Hench suspected--Squire
Madoc Evans, the Lord of the Manor and the owner of Cookley Grange. He
had gone for a stroll in the woods shortly after dinner, and not
having returned, search had been made, with the result that the poor
old gentleman was found stabbed to the heart near the Gipsy Stile. The
weapon used to execute the murder was a common carving-knife with a
horn handle, and the medical examination showed that Evans had met
with his violent death about half-past seven. The account ended with
the information that the police were making all inquiries in the hope
of tracing the criminal, but as yet had been unsuccessful.

Owain breathed more freely, as there was no word of the girl at the
Bull Inn or of her conversation with himself. Still, it was early days
yet, and the young man felt very sure that shortly she would speak
out. An account of the man who had inquired where the Gipsy Stile was
to be found would assuredly appear in print; then it would depend
entirely upon the memory and acuteness of the girl whether he would be
traced. And, of course, if Madame Alpenny became suspicious--and Owain
was positive that she would become so--her story to the police would
certainly result in his arrest. Then, when confronted with the girl of
the inn, there would be small chance of denying his identity with the
tramp who had made those fatal inquiries. Hench felt extremely
uncomfortable in spite of his innocence, and longed to have some one
to whom he could talk freely. Later on in the evening, and while
gloomily smoking in an armchair, the young man thought that he could
trust his old school-friend. James Vane was quite a different man to
Spruce, who also had been at the same school, and was as true as the
Nut was false. After much reflection and some hesitation, Hench
decided to unbosom himself to the barrister, since the dangers which
environed him were so great that he could not deal with them unaided.

At nine o'clock precisely, a sharp knock came to the door of the
sitting-room, and Hench sprang up to greet his visitor. Vane was a
tall, slim man, with a lean, hatchet face, keen dark eyes, and thin
dark hair, touched already with grey although he was only thirty years
of age. He was perfectly dressed and perfectly well-groomed, quick in
his movements and a trifle saturnine in his manner. Some people were
rather afraid of him, as he was always cold and cautious. But Owain
knew that this frigid exterior concealed a truly warm heart, and
that--as the saying goes--Vane's bark was worse than his bite. To his
old school-chum he showed himself as he really was, and few would have
recognized the chilly barrister in the smiling friend. It was as
though ice had melted on a mountain-top to reveal a green sward.

"Well, I am glad to see you again, Owain," said Vane, after shaking
hands warmly; "it is quite six months since I set eyes on you. Where
have you been all this time? What have you been doing with yourself?
And where is that patriarchal beard which made you look like Abraham?
H'm! You're in love."

Hench stared and made his friend comfortable in an armchair. "What on
earth makes you say that?" he inquired with a puzzled look.

"No girl could possibly love a man with a beard which made him look
one hundred and ten years old. You have met with a girl--with _the_
girl--and are in love. Therefore have you shaved your chin, reduced
your age, and made yourself look like a young Greek god."

"I don't feel like a Greek god, Jim," said Hench, taking a seat and
glancing round to see that windows and doors were closed. "I'm
worried."

"Poor old chap," said Vane with quick sympathy; "rely on me to help.
We always were pals at school, you know. Is it money?"

"No. I have enough to keep me going. By the way, your mention of our
being pals at school reminds me that I met another chap who was with
us at Winchester ages ago."

"Don't make us out to be as old as the hills, Owain. We're young yet,
and the wine of life still sparkles in the bowl. Who is this chap?"

"Spruce. He is----"

"Oh Lord!" Vane removed his cigarette from his thin lips with an air
of disgust. "I know what he is; you needn't tell me anything about
him. You don't mean to say that you look upon him as a pal?"

"No! He wanted me to but I couldn't stomach him and his dandified
airs. If you want my opinion of him," continued Hench frankly, "he's a
sickening little beast, as arrogant as they make them."

"He's all that and more--one of the Gadarene swine. Where did you meet
him?"

"At a boarding-house in Bethnal Green."

"Oh! That's the fox's hole, is it. I thought he would go further
afield."

"Has he any reason to go afield at all?" asked Hench, staring. "You
bet he has, old fellow. Mr. Cuthbert Spruce has been a man on the
market for quite a long time."

"What is a man on the market?"

"A chap who gets his living by his wits," explained the barrister
leisurely, "and Spruce has been at that sort of game for ever so long.
He started with a decent income but got rid of it at cards. Cards
queered his pitch ultimately, as he was caught cheating and had to
clear out. H'm! He's ruralizing at Bethnal Green, is he? I expect he
will stay there until his little bad wind blows away. Then he'll try
and return. But it's all of no use, Owain, as no one will have the
little beast at any price."

"He told me quite a different story."

"Oh, he would, naturally. Spruce is very good at telling stories. He
ought to be a novelist by rights."

"That's exactly what he claims to be," retorted Owain, opening his
eyes widely. "He said that he had come to Bethnal Green to gather
material for a yarn."

"Pretty thin," commented Vane, with a shrug, "considering he can't
write a single paragraph of King's English without a dozen mistakes. I
credited him with sufficient imagination to manufacture a better lie.
However, it's useless for us to waste time over Spruce and his shady
doings. Cheating at cards has finished him, and now he'll go under
altogether. R.I.P. and be hanged to him. But what were you doing at
Bethnal Green, old son?"

"I thought that a cheap boarding-house down there would suit my
pocket."

"H'm! You explained that much before, even though I offered to share
my pennies with you."

"Very good of you, Jim," said Hench hastily and colouring, "but I
don't care about shoving my burden on to another man's shoulders.
However, a gold mine I had a few shares in turned up trumps, and I
have a hundred pounds more or less at my back."

"And for that reason you have come West?"

"Well, not exactly. If you don't mind being bored with my----"

"Nothing you tell me will ever bore me, Owain," interrupted Vane
quickly. "It's a girl, I swear. Come, be honest."

"Well, there was a girl, but there isn't now," confessed Owain, and
while Vane chuckled at his own perspicuity he related what had taken
place at The Home of the Muses in connection with Zara, Bracken,
Madame Alpenny and Spruce. Vane listened intently, and when Hench
ended made his first remark in connection with the Nut, for whom he
seemed to have no great love.

"The sordid little animal wished to make money out of you, Owain," he
said in his shrewd way, "and for that reason made up to you and kept
his eye on you."

"But he knew that I had no money," protested Hench, puzzled.

"These papers at the lawyers' may mean money," retorted the barrister.
"I am inclined to agree with that old lady you mention so far. Well,
it's only about nine days until your birthday, so you haven't long to
wait. And now that you've cut the place--very wisely, I think--Spruce
won't be able to line his pockets at your expense. As to the girl--you
never did love her."

"Well, perhaps you are right. But I admired her."

"That's nothing. I admire scores of girls, but that doesn't mean
matrimony, my son. You are at that age, Owain, when any woman could
collar you. I'm glad that this Zara girl had enough sense to cotton to
the other man. Madame Alpenny----"

Hench rose restlessly. "I'm afraid of her," he interrupted bluntly.

"Pooh! Why should you be? She can't force you to marry her daughter."

"No." Owain spoke slowly. "It's not that. But the advertisement----"

"Well, it had to do with you, certainly, going by the mention of the
place where your father passed his youth. But you told her that you
did not intend to keep the appointment."

"Yes. All the same, I did keep the appointment."

"The deuce!" Vane looked surprised. "Well?"

"I'm coming to my trouble now," said Hench, picking up one of the
newspapers nervously; "read that paragraph."

Vane looked at his friend in surprise, and then swiftly made himself
acquainted with the information about the Parley Wood murder. He
started when he first grasped what the paragraph was about, but
afterwards read on slowly to the end. When he knew all about the
matter he threw aside the newspaper and looked inquiringly at Hench.
"Well?"

"Well," repeated Owain, sitting down with his hands in his pockets,
"can't you see, Jim? I went to the Gipsy Stile and----"

"And murdered this man," finished Vane derisively. "Do you expect me
to believe that, you fool?"

"No. I'm not given to behaving in that way. But I kept the appointment
and I found the corpse."

"Oh, the devil!" Vane sat up.

"So I said at the time," remarked Hench dryly.

"And when Madame Alpenny reads about the crime, she will put two and
two together."

"They won't make four in her calculations," said Vane swiftly. "After
all, you are innocent. She can't prove you to be guilty."

"Well, I don't know. The circumstantial evidence is rather strong."

"The circumstantial evidence!" Vane stared and reflected. "You had a
beard when I saw you last, now----"

"I shaved to-day, so that there might be no chance of my being
discovered by any description that girl at the Bull Inn might give."

"Girl at the Bull Inn? What do you mean?"

Hench lost no time but promptly gave a full account of his adventures
from the time he left Liverpool Street Station to the moment that he
sat down to dinner in the very room in which the two were speaking.
Vane interrupted him frequently, and his face grew grave as he
recognized that Hench was in a woeful plight. "Of course, I've acted
like an ass," confessed Owain in a rueful manner; "but how would you
have acted, Jim?"

"Sitting in this chair and being wise after the event, I should have
faced the thing out," said Vane slowly. "But had I been in your shoes
in that wood I should probably have run away as you did." He paused,
shook his head, stared at the carpet. "Damn!" he muttered
emphatically.

"I thought it best to speak to you," murmured Owain anxiously.

Vane nodded. "Quite right. What's the use of a pal if he doesn't rise
to the occasion. After all, if Madame Alpenny does speak to the police
she can't prove you to be guilty. You had no motive to murder this
Evans. He was quite a stranger to you."

"Quite. All the same----"

"All the same, hold your confounded tongue!" insisted the barrister.
"My advice to you is to sit tight and wait events."

"Madame Alpenny?"

"Exactly. If she is the old adventuress you think she is, and which
from your description she certainly appears to be, I don't think you
need have any fear for the moment."

"Why not?"

"Because she will wait until you are in possession of those papers on
your twenty-fifth birthday. If they place you in possession of money
she will be silent on condition that you marry her daughter."

"I won't. Nothing would induce me to marry a girl who loves another
man."

"Oh, I don't say that you would marry her, but that Madame Alpenny
would try and make you marry her. Until all hope fails in that
direction she'll say nothing about the advertisement. Of course, if
there is no money the old hag will split, especially if there is a
reward. As this Squire Evans seems to be a landowner and a rich man, I
expect there will be a reward."

"I see. Then the best thing for me to do is to wait."

"Exactly. I'll support you, and you can talk your heart out to me."

"You're a good fellow, Jim. Why, I half believed you would think
me----"

"Don't talk bosh!" Vane jumped up irritably. "Why, you're the whitest
man I know, and my old school-pal. I'd as soon believe myself guilty
as you. Now I'm off to bed; go thou and do likewise and don't worry."
After which speech he shook hands with Hench and the two parted for
the night.

For the next nine days they had many such talks, and kept themselves
well informed of the progress which the case was making so far as they
could learn in print. Of course, the girl at the Bull Inn _did_ tell
the police about the interview in the tap-room, and of course great
capital was made out of this. But as Owain had suspected, the girl
being inobservant, and not having seen him very clearly in the smoky
dimly-lighted atmosphere, gave a most incoherent account of his
appearance. All she could say was that the questioner was a
rough-looking tramp with a bushy black beard, who spoke civilly
enough, but who was not a gentleman. Vane chuckled when he read this
unflattering description, which was sufficiently wrong and vague to
preserve Hench from suspicions. And, indeed, if the girl had been
confronted with Hench she would never have recognized in this handsome
clean-shaven young gentleman, fashionably dressed, the rough tramp who
had drank his beer in the tap-room. It was Vane who made Owain dress
fashionably, so as to make him look as unlike his old bearded self as
possible. He took him to his tailor, to his haberdasher, to his
bootmaker, and to various other tradesmen, with the result that
Owain's new wardrobe did full justice to his handsome looks. Hench,
being of the pioneering legion, rather kicked against being thus
civilized, but he recognized that Vane was right to insist upon the
transformation.

Whatever Madame Alpenny might have thought she did not put her
thoughts into action, for nothing appeared in the papers likely to
show that Hench was suspected by the police. The inquest on Squire
Madoc Evans' body was duly held, and the verdict was brought in of
"Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown," although every
one was pretty certain that the shabby tramp who had inquired the way
to the Gipsy Stile was the culprit. But he had vanished, and--thanks
to Madame Alpenny's silence--no word came to the police suggesting his
identity with Owain Hench. The funeral took place in due time, and it
gave Owain a thrill when he read that the body had been taken to
Rhaiadr in Wales for burial. It was said that Evans came from that
place, and that all his ancestors were buried there. Incidentally, it
was mentioned that the dead man had left a daughter who inherited
Cookley Grange, and by her father's death became the Lady of the
Manor.

"I think it's all right now," said Vane when matters reached this
pitch. "After the nine days' wonder the excitement will gradually die
away. And, by Jupiter!" cried the barrister, "it is exactly nine days.
Owain, old son, this is your birthday. Off with you and call on
Gilberry & Gilberry."

"Won't you come also, Jim?"

"No, I won't. You can't get into trouble in a respectable legal
office, and you are so changed that no one is likely to spot you as
the man who is wanted for Squire Madoc Evans' death."

Owain was content to go alone, although he felt slightly nervous. His
strongest card, should anything come out, was that he had not known
Evans, and therefore had no reason to kill him. And by this time he
was growing used to the situation, since Madame Alpenny was holding
her tongue. Why she acted in this kind way he could not understand,
but accepted the explanation provided by Vane. However, if he came
into money she probably would find him out and move in the matter.
Therefore it was with some reluctance that Hench went to Gilberry &
Gilberry's office in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He wanted to let sleeping
dogs lie, and was unwilling to become rich, as by doing so he would
certainly bring Madame Alpenny down on his head. All the same, Hench
felt very curious when he faced the white-headed old gentleman who was
the head of the firm, and was rather astonished by the warmth of the
greeting he received.

"I am glad to see you," said Mr. Gilberry heartily. "You come in the
nick of time, my dear young friend."

"To do what, sir?"

"To inherit ten thousand a year."

"What?" Owain became pale with amazement.

Gilberry chuckled. "Oh yes. It is as I say, Mr. Evans."

"What?" cried Owain again, and this time louder, with a quavering
voice.

"Of course; of course," the old man chuckled once more. "You think
that your name is Hench. Not so; not so. You are Owain Evans of
Rhaiadr, the heir of Squire Madoc Evans, of Cookley Grange, in Essex."

"And--and--what relation am I to--to--to----"

"Oh, yes. You don't know. Why, my dear sir, Madoc Evans was your
uncle."

Owain gasped, and turned as white as the corpse he had seen in Parley
Wood.



CHAPTER VIII
FAMILY HISTORY


Like M. Jourdain in Moliere's comedy, Vane was only surprised when he
found virtue in unexpected places, but he certainly was astonished in
another direction when Hench stumbled into his chambers white-faced,
wild-eyed and trembling. The barrister hastily arose and supported his
friend to a chair, and as hastily produced a glass of brandy to hold
to his lips.

"Drink this, Owain," he commanded, wondering what had happened to put
his visitor in such a state. "Don't say a word until you feel better."

Hench drank the whole glassful of fiery liquor, and the colour began
to return to his wan cheeks. He did not speak, as requested, but sat
in the chair with a broken-down look, which startled Vane more than he
showed. Looking anxiously at his friend he came to the sole conclusion
he could come to, seeing what he knew in connection with Hench's
adventure. "Madame Alpenny has found you out?"

Hench shook his head. "It's worse than that," he muttered faintly.

"Then the worse it is the better you should brace yourself up to face
it," was Vane's irritable retort. "Have another glass of brandy,
although I don't approve of Dutch courage myself."

"No. No more brandy. Wait a bit. I'll soon pull round."

Vane nodded approvingly, and turned his back so as to give the man
time to recover himself. He went to the window and looked at the busy
traffic of Chancery Lane, in which thoroughfare his chambers were
situated. The same were directly opposite that gateway which leads
into Lincoln's Inn Fields, through the highways and byeways of
pleasant grounds sacred to the goddess Themis. Hench had evidently
come straight in this way from the offices of Gilberry & Gilberry.
Vane wondered how he had managed to arrive without attracting
observation and being stopped, so wild had been his looks when he
entered the chambers. The journey was very short, truly, but the
appearance of the man was sufficient to warrant interference.
Evidently the unexpected had happened to throw Hench into this
abnormal state, and with a shrug of his shoulders Vane turned to see
how he was getting on. Hench smiled faintly as he met the inquiring
gaze of the barrister and wiped his forehead, which was wet with
perspiration. Then he essayed to speak and apologize, succeeding after
one or two desperate attempts.

"Sorry, Jim, but I couldn't help myself."

"Seems like it," snapped Vane, trying to bully him into calmness. He
had never before seen Hench so upset, as the man was usually very
quiet and self-controlled. Something very bad must have happened to
unnerve him in this way. "I should like to know what is the meaning of
all this," went on Vane crossly. "Upon my Sam, Owain, if I didn't know
you were a sober chap I should have believed that you were drunk when
you came in. I wonder some policeman didn't run you in between here
and Lincoln's Inn Fields."

"I did see people staring at me," replied Hench in a stronger voice,
as the brandy had done its work and he was rapidly recovering his
balance. "Perhaps if I had come by a longer way I might have got into
trouble. But you see, Jim, the distance----"

"Yes! Yes!" Vane dropped into his own favourite chair. "I know all
about that, old son. Come to the point. What's up?"

"I've had a shock."

"Oh Lord! as if the most stupid person--which I am not--couldn't see
as much. I can only conclude that Madame Alpenny has told the police
and you are in danger of arrest. Yet you deny that such is the case."

"I do. Madame Alpenny has nothing to do with this particular matter.
Yes, I have had a shock, but I'm all right now." Hench shook himself
like a dog coming out of a pond and drew a long breath, then continued
to talk calmly. His first remark was a question. "If I did get
arrested, Jim, I suppose my best line of defence would be to say that,
not knowing the dead man, I had no motive to kill him."

"That is my opinion," admitted the barrister. "Well?"

"Well, there is no chance of my taking up that line of defence."

"Why not? You told me that you did not know Squire Evans."

"I did. I don't contradict my admission."

"Then why can't you defend yourself, if necessary, on that score?"

"I'll answer that question by asking you another? Who am I?"

Vane stared and looked wholly bewildered. "Owain Hench!"

"So I thought. Now I learn from Gilberry & Gilberry that I am Owain
Evans."

"What?" Vane uttered the ejaculation in as astonished a tone as Hench
had done in the solicitor's office. "Are you a relative of the dead
man?"

"Yes. I am his nephew."

"Well, the unexpected is always happening," commented Vane, after a
pause of sheer surprise. "But even so, as you did not know your uncle
and never met him, you can still say, if necessary, that you had no
motive to murder him."

"I can't." Owain rose and began to pace the room. "I can't; and that's
the worst of it, Jim. As you say, I did not know him and I never met
him, but evil tongues might give me the lie, seeing what I stood to
gain."

"What did you stand to gain?"

"Ten thousand a year."

"Ten thousand a year!" Vane echoed the words with a gasp of
astonishment. "I say, Owain, those mysterious papers left by your
father did mean a fortune after all, as Madame Alpenny suspected?"

Hench nodded, and sat down again with a disconsolate air. "It is a
dangerous position that I am in. Owain Evans of Rhaiadr with ten
thousand a year, which comes to me now that Uncle Madoc is
dead----that is who I am."

"But you knew nothing about such an inheritance?"

"Who will believe that?" asked Owain derisively. "Already, as the
tramp who asked the way to the Gipsy Stile, I am accused of the crime.
Should the truth of my keeping that appointment become known, the
motive of gaining ten thousand a year will be imputed to me as an
excuse for committing the deed."

"Don't go too fast, Owain," said Vane sharply; "remember only Gilberry
& Gilberry had this information. They can prove that you knew nothing
about the same on the first of July when the man was murdered."

"True enough. All the same I kept the appointment," persisted Hench
stubbornly. "Who is to prove that I did not have a long interview with
my uncle in Parley Wood; who is to declare that he did not admit I was
his heir and that his death would place me in possession of so large
an income? And, remember, Jim, that I am poor. A man would do much to
gain ten thousand a year."

"A man like you, Owain, would do nothing mean or dishonourable or
cruel to gain double the sum," said Vane sharply. "Don't be a fool."

"Am I a fool? You know me, Jim, but other people don't. Supposing
Madame Alpenny tells what she knows to the police and sets them on my
track----"

"She doesn't know your address. You told me so."

"I told you truly. She doesn't. But seeing that I have given my usual
name both at the hotel I stayed at and to the landlady of my lodgings
in South Kensington, there won't be much difficulty in the police
finding me. People will talk, you know. I have shaved off my beard
too, and that might be quoted against me as a sign of my guilt."

"It might," assented Vane restlessly, for he recognized that the
position was a dangerous one. "But it all depends upon Madame Alpenny.
So far she has made no move, and now that you really are rich she will
hold her tongue."

"Provided I marry her daughter, I suppose?" inquired Owain dryly.

"Of course. The woman is an adventuress, as you say, and means to make
money out of you. Marry her daughter and supply her with funds, and
you will place yourself in the power of a possible blackmailer."

Hench's face became dour and obstinate in its looks. "Even if Madame
Alpenny placed me in the dock at the New Bailey, I won't marry Zara,
or give the old woman a single penny."

"I'm with you, old son." Vane leaned forward and shook his friend's
hand. "You can depend upon me to do all I can to pull you through."

"You're a good sort, Jim, to stand by me," said Hench, much moved.

"Pooh! Pooh! Pooh! I take a right view of friendship, that's all,"
said Vane cheerfully. "Come, old man, let us discuss the situation. We
have ample time, as Madame Alpenny will hold her tongue until you
openly refuse the demands she is sure to make. Who gains time, gains
everything, and lots of things may happen before she can place your
neck in a noose."

"I am in a dangerous position."

"You are. I don't wish to minimize the risk, or undervalue Madame
Alpenny as an enemy. But remember, Owain, that she is not your enemy
until you give her cause to be so by declining to marry the girl and
pension Madame. Thus the police will learn nothing for many a long
day, and meantime we can act."

"In what way?"

"Why, in trying to learn who really did murder your uncle." Vane drew
a long breath. "By Jupiter, old son, I don't wonder you were knocked
all of a heap by the information that you had a new relative and ten
thousand a year."

"Oh, it wasn't that which upset me," explained Hench with a shrug,
"but the knowledge that my uncle was the dead man I found in Parley
Wood."

"Gilberry & Gilberry don't know that, I suppose?"

"Of course not. I kept that information to myself. They didn't even,
so far as I could gather, know anything about the advertisement, or
they would have spoken about it. I said nothing."

"Very wise of you. I wonder," mused the barrister, "why your uncle put
in that advertisement?"

"To make you understand, Jim, it will be necessary to repeat my family
history as Mr. Gilberry told it to me."

"That is what I have been wishing you to do for the last fifteen
minutes, old boy. Here, take a cigarette and make yourself
comfortable. When I am in possession of facts I shall be in a better
position to advise you."

"I need advice," sighed Hench, lighting up.

"Well, don't shed tears over it, sonny. Fire away."

Vane's banter and anxious desire to cheer him up did Hench good, and
he produced a large blue envelope out of his pocket which contained
several papers. The young man glanced at these doubtfully, then laid
them on the table. "You can examine them at your leisure," he said,
leaning back comfortably in his chair. "I'll tell you the story
instead of reading it."

"That will be best," assented Vane brightly. "Begin, Scheherazade."

"My grandfather," said Hench conversationally, "lived at Rhaiadr in
South Wales, where his family had resided for centuries. They were
minor princes, I believe, before the first Edward conquered the
country, but dwindled in importance as the centuries went by. When the
family estates came to my grandfather, all he had was considerable
property in Rhaiadr and a tumbledown family seat. He was called Mynydd
Evans----"

"Curious Christian name," commented Vane, lighting a fresh cigarette.

"Yes! Gilberry, who seems to know something of the Welsh language,
told me that it means 'Great.' So my grandfather was really Great
Evans, so called because he was the chief person in Rhaiadr, and
because he was a stout, bulky man, over six feet three in height. He
was discontented with his lot, as he wanted money and power and
position, and the deuce knows what."

"Rather a grabber, Owain, considering that he was the Lord of
Rhaiadr--and that's another queer name."

"It means water tumbling over a rock--a waterfall, in fact," said
Hench, with a nod. "My father mentioned the word to Madame Alpenny and
gave her the translation. Well, to continue. Mynydd Evans collected
what money he could and came to London. There he set up as a merchant,
and being clever, in a wonderfully short space of time he made a large
fortune."

"He must have done so considering he could leave your uncle ten
thousand a year," said Vane emphatically. "But why didn't he return to
Rhaiadr?"

"Mr. Gilberry couldn't explain that. I expect the old man found the
Welsh parish of his ancestors too narrow for his ambition, and perhaps
too far from London and his place of business. He bought the Lordship
of the Manor of Cookley, in Essex, and took up his abode in the old
Grange. There he died."

"And your Uncle Madoc, as the eldest son, became the heir?"

"Now, that is exactly what did not happen. Mynydd Evans had two
sons--my father, Owain, and Madoc--and my father was the elder of the
two. He was"--Hench wriggled uneasily--"he was a rotter, and I'm
breaking the fifth commandment in saying so, Jim."

"Well," said the barrister coolly, "from what you told me of your
father when we met six months ago, I rather think he was a bad lot."

"Unfortunately, yes," said Hench hastily. "But he is dead, so let us
say as little about him as possible. Anyhow, he contrived so mortally
to offend my grandfather with his doings that he was cut out of the
will."

"What did he do particularly shady?"

"I can't tell you," said Hench, with a shrug. "From what Gilberry said
I gathered that it wasn't one shady deed, but the culmination of many
that induced Mynydd Evans to give the estate to my Uncle Madoc. He was
the good boy of the family, and Mynydd Evans knew that his hard-earned
fortune would not be dissipated in his hands. My father was allowed
five or six hundred a year, and told to keep away from England. He did
so and afterwards married abroad--an English governess, my mother. She
died in due time and I was sent to England to board with strangers.
Then I went to a private school, afterwards to Winchester, where we
met, Jim."

"Yes, I know all that. Afterwards your father sent for you and
ultimately died in Paris. You told me about your life since, when you
came back six months ago. But why didn't your father relate your
family history to you? Why did he keep you in the dark?"

"Really, Jim, I can't say, unless it was that he felt ashamed of his
doings. He would have had to tell me that he was not straight, to
account for his being cut out of the will, you know. Anyhow, he saw
Gilberry & Gilberry and left with them those papers, which include my
birth certificate and my baptismal one--things which are necessary to
prove my identity, you know. Gilberry & Gilberry were my father's
lawyers and the lawyers of my uncle and grandfather. They saw that my
school fees were paid and kept an eye on me while my father was in
exile. So I had no difficulty in proving who I was. In fact old
Gilberry knew me from my likeness to my father the moment I entered
the office. It's all right so far."

"But if the money was left to your uncle, how do you inherit?"

"Well, it seems that Mynydd Evans always had some qualms about cutting
off the direct line, and, I suppose, hoped that the third generation
would be better than the second, as represented by my father. Anyhow,
he made a will excluding my father, save for the five or six hundred a
year allowance, and left the whole eleven thousand pounds per annum he
was worth to Uncle Madoc."

"You said it was ten thousand."

"Yes. But of the extra thousand, five hundred went to my father during
his life and the remaining five hundred--or it might be four with six
to my father, as I'm not quite clear about the exact amounts--to Gwen
Evans, my first cousin, Uncle Madoc's daughter."

"Oh! There's a girl, then?"

"Yes, and if old Gilberry is to be believed, she is a very pretty
girl. I understand that she is about twenty years of age. We can talk
of her later, Jim. Anyhow, you must understand that Uncle Madoc only
had the income and the Grange for life. Afterwards it was to go to the
offspring of my father, who was the true heir. I am the sole
offspring, so I inherit."

"I see," pondered Vane. "Well, all that seems clear and reasonable
enough. Only I should like to know why your uncle didn't find you out
and treat you as his heir. He could have done so through Gilberry &
Gilberry, who--as you say--kept their eye on you all the time."

"According to Mr. Gilberry, my uncle hated my father fervently, and
did not at all approve of Mynydd Evans' will, which left the property
to the son of the brother he detested. He made no inquiries, I
understand, and was quite content to enjoy the property and let the
deluge in the shape of myself come after him. Of course he would
rather, as Mr. Gilberry said, have had Gwen get the property, but he
could not, as the will of my grandfather was too clear."

"Well, I can understand that the brothers did not love one another,"
said Vane, after a pause; "family feuds are unfortunately too common.
But what made the old man put in that advertisement?"

"As I didn't mention the advertisement to Mr. Gilberry for obvious
reasons, I could obtain no information on that point," explained
Owain, looking somewhat perplexed. "And why he sought me out in that
peculiar way at the eleventh hour, I can't say. He might as well have
done the thing straight through the family lawyers. Anyhow, I suppose
he thought that the mention of the name Rhaiadr would show me that I
was wanted, although I can't understand why he worded the
advertisement so obscurely. But that my father mentioned the place of
his family to me, I wouldn't have bothered about the matter. Let alone
the fact," concluded Hench after a pause, "that I wouldn't have seen
the advertisement at all but for Madame Alpenny. It was queer, wasn't
it, Jim, that the advertisement should have appeared with the name
Rhaiadr just after she remembered meeting my father over twenty years
ago?"

"So queer," said Vane dryly, "that I wonder if Madame Alpenny had
anything to do with the insertion of the advertisement."

"Oh, that's rubbish, Jim. She never met my uncle, and couldn't have
put in the advertisement on her own, as she didn't know the ropes. My
uncle put it in sure enough, or he would not have been in the wood to
meet me. But why the deuce he should choose out-of-doors as a meeting
place instead of asking me into his own house, I can't understand."

"He was evidently an original," said the barrister, with a shrug. "By
the way, if you died, or if you had never been born, who would inherit
the estate?"

"Gwen, my cousin, of course. The will left the property to the
offspring of the eldest son, and failing such offspring, to the
children of the second son. Why do you ask that, Jim?"

"Well, it occurs to me that the cautiously worded advertisement and
the appointment of so lonely a place to meet in, suggests foul play on
the part of your beloved uncle."

"Foul play?" Hench stared. "What the deuce do you mean?"

"Madoc might have intended to murder you so that his daughter might
inherit."

"Oh, rot!"

"Not at all. We must look at all possibilities. Madoc hated your
father and doubtless hated you also as the son of your father. If he
could have done you out of the inheritance by murdering you, I don't
see why he should have held his hand."

"But you don't know the man's character," protested Hench. "He may
have been a very harmless person."

"A very cunning and plotting person, anyhow," said Vane quickly.
"Else, why the carefully worded advertisement and the strange place
chosen for the meeting. No, Owain, my conjecture may be wild, but
there is some truth in it, I am sure. Madoc intended to get rid of
you, and your lucky stars led some one to get rid of him, before you
appeared on the scene."

"My lucky stars," said Hench, rising. "How can you say that, when I am
in danger of being arrested for his death?"

"There is no danger just now, until Madame Alpenny moves. And when she
does move we may be able to counterplot her."

"She will move as soon as I enter into my inheritance."

"I know that. Therefore, if I were you, I should not take up my
inheritance just yet."

"How can I prevent that? Gilberry & Gilberry will take immediate steps
to place me in possession, and the business is sure to get into the
newspapers. Then Madame Alpenny will see that I am rich and come to
bother me."

"Of course. But you can tell Gilberry & Gilberry to hold over action
until you learn who murdered your uncle. Once you find the true
assassin you will be safe from the malice of Madame Alpenny and all
other people."

"Oh, there is no one can spot me but Madame Alpenny," said Owain
confidentially.

"Not even Spruce?" asked Vane significantly.

"Certainly not. He knows nothing about my affairs."

"You told me that he knew about the papers you were to see on your
twenty-fifth birthday?"

"Oh, yes. But those papers won't connect me with Uncle Madoc's death.
Only the advertisement can do that, and I don't suppose Spruce has set
eyes on it."

"Let us hope not," said Vane uneasily. "But since he heard the name
Rhaiadr when the meeting with your father was explained by Madame
Alpenny, he certainly might put two and two together if he did see the
advertisement. And if the old woman saw it, why shouldn't Spruce see
it?"

"My dear Jim, why manufacture trouble, when we have enough to deal
with as things stand? If Spruce does get on the trail, I shall deal
with him very promptly, I assure you. I'm not afraid of that little
rat."

"Rats can be dangerous, Owain, and Spruce is a meddlesome animal
always on the make. You with your ten thousand a year would be a
god-send to him. Now, if you will take my advice----"

"What is it?"

"This. Tell Gilberry & Gilberry to let things remain as they are,
until you tell them to place you legally in possession of your
property. They can look after the ten thousand odd pounds coming to
you and allow your cousin the four or five hundred a year to which she
is entitled. Then go down to Cookley as Owain Hench and look about for
any possible person who might have knifed your uncle."

"But Gilberry & Gilberry will think it queer."

"What the devil does it matter what they think? So long as they get
their fees all they have to do is to execute your orders. And if you
like, you can make a romance out of the business and tell them that
you are going down to Cookley to see your cousin under your false
name, so as to find out what she is like. Of course, you can hint that
you may fall in love----"

"Oh, rats!" interrupted Hench inelegantly. "I'm not likely to fall in
love. I don't believe that I understand what love is, seeing what a
hash I made of my attentions to Zara."

"You made a hash because you didn't love her, old son. But you may
fall in love with your cousin."

"Don't anticipate the worst," said Owain dryly. "Anyhow, your advice
is good, Jim. I shall tell Gilberry & Gilberry to hold over and will
give them to understand that I wish to see the beautiful heiress I
have dispossessed. As Hench, I shall go to Cookley and look round for
the criminal. With my changed appearance I don't suppose I'll be
spotted."

"No, I think you are safe so far," said Vane, looking at his friend in
a critical manner, "but don't risk seeing that girl at the Bull Inn.
She may recognize your voice. And I'll tell you what, Owain, I'll give
you an introduction to an old aunt of mine, Mrs. Perage, who is a
great swell in those parts. Her respectability may help you to hold
your own amongst the very suspicious, narrow-minded people one finds
in the country."

"Jim, you're a brick."

"Oh, fudge! I'll loot you when you enter into your kingdom," and Vane
laughed uproariously at his small joke. "See if I don't make you pay
up!"



CHAPTER IX
GWEN


Naturally, Gilberry & Gilberry were extremely astonished when the heir
to Cookley Grange refused to enter into his kingdom immediately. Such
a wonderful reluctance to enjoy a large income and a splendid position
had never before come under their notice. Fortunately, however, Mr.
Samuel Gilberry, the senior partner, who attended particularly to the
business of the estate, was of a romantic turn of mind, unusual in a
lawyer, and Owain's suggestion of acting the part of a disguised
prince rather appealed to him. Adopting Vane's suggestion, Hench--as
he persisted in calling himself for the time being--artfully pointed
out that it would be just as well to make the acquaintance of his
cousin as a stranger before revealing himself. He did not wish her, as
he put it, to be biassed by the fact that he was the son of his
father. "For you see, sir," he said to the old gentleman, who was a
white-bearded benevolent person, somewhat like the traditional Father
Christmas, "so far as I can gather from the papers which my father
left behind him, these brothers, who are the parents of Gwen and
myself, were not friends."

"They hated one another fervently, if you don't mind my saying so,"
was the emphatic response of the old lawyer, as he took a pinch of
snuff.

"I don't mind your stating the truth, Mr. Gilberry, which is what I
want to get at," replied Hench readily. "Well then, admitting that the
two hated one another, it is more than likely that Uncle Madoc had no
great love for me."

"He had not, my young friend. I pointed out to him frequently that as
he had never set eyes on you, he could scarcely form any judgment,
good, bad or indifferent. But he declared that you were the son of
your father and that no good could come out of Nazareth."

"Quite so. And doubtless he passed on his opinion to his daughter."

"I think it is extremely likely, although I cannot speak positively,
Mr. Owain," said the solicitor. "By the way, I may as well call you by
that name, since you refuse to take your proper appellation, and I
don't like to call you Mr. Hench."

"I don't mind what you call me," Owain assured him, "so long as you
don't let the cat out of the bag. My cousin is sure to have a bad
opinion of me, since her father was so bitter. This being the case, I
shall have no chance of becoming friendly with her if I present myself
as her cousin. I do not wish to carry on the feud, so it is necessary
for me to gain Gwen's good opinion. Therefore, under the name my
father adopted, I shall make her acquaintance as a stranger, and win
her friendship entirely on my own merits."

"It is rather a fantastical way of acting, and is scarcely
business-like," was Gilberry's reply. "All the same the idea is not
without merit. I am quite ready to help you, and can do so, by saying
that you are abroad."

"I don't think it is even necessary to say as much. Let Gwen know that
I have communicated with you, and have decided to wait for a time
before taking over the estate. She can put it down to eccentricity, or
to my late father's influence, if she likes. Anyhow, I don't suppose
she will trouble to search very deeply into the matter, and will
probably be pleased that I don't take possession of Cookley Grange
immediately. She can continue to live there until I give her notice to
quit."

Gilberry laughed and shook his head. "Miss Evans is a very decided
young lady, Mr. Owain," he remarked in a judicial manner, "and having
her own income of five hundred a year, she has already quitted the
Grange."

"Because she expected me to take possession?"

"Yes."

"There!" cried Hench triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you that she was
biassed by her father. Has she left Cookley?"

"No. She has gone to stay with a very charming old lady in the
neighbourhood, called Mrs. Perage."

"Better and better. That will enable me to make her acquaintance
without unduly forcing myself upon her. My friend, Mr. Vane, who is a
barrister----"

"Yes! Yes! I know the name. I have heard that he is clever. Well?"

"Well, he has given me a letter of introduction to Mrs. Perage, who is
his aunt."

Mr. Samuel Gilberry rubbed his hands and chuckled. "Very good--very
good indeed, my young friend. It is quite a romance. Now, to carry the
same to a proper conclusion, may I suggest that you should fall in
love with Miss Evans?"

Hench shook his head doubtfully. "Private feelings can't be ordered
about like private soldiers," he remarked dryly. "I am not the kind of
man to fall in love, Mr. Gilberry."

"Pooh! Pooh! A handsome young fellow like you is sure to experience
the grand passion. And let me tell you that Miss Evans is a beautiful
girl, both clever and sensible. If you could manage to marry her,"
went on the lawyer coaxingly, "think how delightfully you would end
the family feud. And after all, poor girl, it is rather hard for her
to be reduced to five hundred a year after enjoying, through her
father, ten thousand per annum."

"Oh, as to that," said Owain promptly, "you can allow her two or three
thousand out of my income."

"She wouldn't take it, seeing that your consent is necessary."

"Yet you talk about my marrying her," was Hench's retort. "I have
about as much chance of doing that as the man in the moon. However, I
shall make her acquaintance as Hench, and see what comes of it. By the
way, doesn't she know the name my father took in place of Evans?"

"No. Your late uncle never mentioned it. As Owain Hench you are quite
safe in making her acquaintance. She will never think that you are her
cousin, unless you let her see how you spell your Christian name. The
Welsh spelling may give her a hint, and she is very sharp, remember."

"If I have occasion to write it, I shall spell the name in the English
way. I don't suppose that will be necessary, anyhow. Well, that's all
right. Act as we have decided and I shall go down to Cookley to carry
out my romance, as you call it, Mr. Gilberry. One question I should
like to ask you, however, before leaving."

"And that is, Mr. Owain---?"

"Who murdered my uncle?" Mr. Gilberry took a pinch of snuff and shook
his venerable head. "Really, it is hard to say, unless it was that
tramp who asked the way to the Gipsy Stile, Mr. Owain. I suppose you
saw all about that in the papers?"

Hench winced, but recovered himself immediately. "Yes, I did, Mr.
Gilberry. But what reason could that tramp have had to murder my
uncle. Not robbery, if the report of the inquest is to be believed,
for then it was said that neither the money, nor the watch, nor the
jewellery had been taken."

"Exactly. So far as I can see, there was no reason why this man should
have murdered Mr. Evans." Mr. Gilberry knitted his brows and looked
perplexed. "Maybe it was revenge," he concluded doubtfully.

"Revenge. Then my uncle had enemies?"

"Dozens, I should think," said the lawyer coolly. "Mr. Madoc Evans was
a very cantankerous person. I may say that much ill of the dead. He
quarrelled with many people, and, moreover, was very severe on
poaching both as a magistrate and as a landowner. This tramp, for all
I know, may have been a poacher who had a grudge against him."

"Do the police think so?"

"The police say nothing, because they have no evidence to go upon,"
said the lawyer sharply. "The sole person they suspect is the tramp
who came to the Bull Inn. But he has disappeared, and they can't find
him. However, in the village it is said that the tramp was a poacher,
who murdered the Squire out of revenge. You can take or leave that
opinion, as you like. The whole thing is a mystery to me, Mr. Owain."

"And to me," said Hench, in all good faith. "I shall never be
satisfied until I learn who murdered my uncle."

"That wish does you credit, Mr. Owain," said Mr. Gilberry approvingly,
and again the young man winced. "Considering how unfriendly the late
Squire was towards your father."

"Well, my father was just as unfriendly towards him," returned Hench
with a shrug. "And, as I say, I don't wish to carry on the feud.
Good-bye, Mr. Gilberry. When I am settled in Cookley I shall let you
know my address and will write you if necessary. You are sure that no
one knows my name of Hench as having anything to do with the family at
the Grange?"

"I am quite sure, although I don't call one solitary girl a family,"
chuckled the old man, walking with his client towards the door.
"Good-bye, good-bye. I hope--I sincerely hope--that the feud will be
ended by your marriage to my late friend's daughter."

"You might as well expect water to run up hill," retorted Hench
sceptically, and went on his way, certain that he was not likely to
lose his heart.

Consequent on the necessity of preserving the secret of his identity
carefully, Hench requested Vane to introduce him by letter to Mrs.
Perage as Mr. Hench, suppressing the Christian name, which might have
given Gwen a clue, if only from the oddness of the spelling. Vane, on
learning that the girl had gone to stay with his aunt, quite approved
of this, and both in his letter of introduction and his private
epistle to the old lady made all things safe. As Mr. Hench, the young
man went down to Cookley, and if he was forced to state what his
Christian name was, he resolved to spell it in the English way. That
would provoke no remark from Gwen, as "Owen" was not a particularly
unusual designation. All the same, Hench felt that he was treading on
thin ice. He determined to stay at Cookley as short a time as
possible, and to see no more of his cousin than he could help. After
all he was going down not to meet her, as Mr. Gilberry believed, but
to learn if possible who had murdered the unfortunate Squire.

While reading a newspaper entitled _The Setting Sun_ in the train,
Hench received a distinct shock, although by this time he was growing
accustomed to being startled. Some amateur detective had written a
letter to the editor of this halfpenny evening journal, drawing
attention to the advertisement in _The Express_ with reference to the
meeting at the Gipsy Stile. Of the name "Rhaiadr" nothing was said, as
such was Greek to the writer of the letter. But the fact that some one
was invited to meet Squire Evans at the very place and on the very
evening when he was murdered was largely commented upon. The very
officious person who wrote suggested that the police should try
and learn to whom the advertisement was addressed, "when without
doubt"--the letter went on to say--"the assassin will be captured."

Although it was rather like asking the authorities to look for a
needle in a bottle of hay, seeing that there were eight million people
in London to any one of whom the advertisement might have been
addressed, Owain felt cold water running down his spine. Not on
account of the Hungarian lady, because he agreed with Vane that she
would not give information to the police until she learned if he was
prepared to marry her daughter. It was Spruce he feared--the little
rat who was meddlesome and secretive, and unscrupulous, and who could
do much mischief once he got on the trail. From what Vane had said, it
was plain that the Nut had rendered his position in the West End
untenable owing to his cheating, and the sole chance he had of
becoming even tolerable to his former associates--and perhaps not even
then--was to return with his pockets full of money. Then, for the sake
of winning the same, they might overlook his fault. Probably they
would not, but Hench was quite sure that Spruce believed that money
would do anything. Naturally, he would do much to get money, being
anything but an honourable man as had been ample proved. In Bethnal
Green there were few opportunities of making a fortune, and Spruce was
not sufficiently clever to take advantage even of what chances there
were. Consequently, he would be quite prepared--Hench was certain of
this--to get what he could by blackmail. Already he believed that
there was some mystery about Hench, and if he saw the advertisement,
or the letter which had drawn attention to the same, he would be
certain to get at the truth. Having been present at the conversation
between Hench and Madame Alpenny when the woman's meeting with his
father--Hench's father that is--had been discussed, the word "Rhaiadr"
would certainly come again into his mind. Connecting the same with
Hench, the young man was convinced that Spruce would venture to accuse
him of keeping the appointment and murdering the advertiser. Then if
it came out that the dead man was Hench's uncle, so strong a motive
was provided that arrest would certainly follow.

It was a very uncomfortable journey for Owain, and he alighted at
Cookley Station with the firm idea that he was about to have a trying
time. Madame Alpenny was dangerous and so was Spruce, as both wanted
cash and both were wholly unscrupulous. However, if either went to the
police they were not likely to get what they wanted, so Hench
comforted himself with the idea that before taking any action they
would find him out and offer to treat. On what he discovered at
Cookley would depend his attitude, as if he could only get at the
truth he could place the matter in the hands of the police without
danger to himself. On the other hand, if he made no discovery likely
to prove who was the assassin, it would be necessary to come to some
arrangement or risk the consequence. And Hench could not disguise from
himself that on the face of it his defence was weak, since the
strongest point--that of being a stranger to the dead man--was
removed. Certainly, as he had never met Squire Evans, the deceased
_was_ a stranger to him, but the fact that the dead man was his uncle,
whose demise would give him ten thousand five hundred a year,
assuredly provided a strong motive for the commission of the crime. It
was all puzzling and difficult, and dangerous and highly unpleasant.
All that Hench could do was to wait and see what Madame Alpenny, and
possibly Spruce, would do. Any one who has experienced suspense will
understand what agonies this unfortunate young man underwent. It
required all his courage and all his nerve to endure the anxiety of
the next few days. And to make matters worse, Vane was not at hand to
relieve the tension by listening to Owain's fears.

It was with an odd feeling, and not one of safety, that Hench again
set foot in Cookley. As he walked down the crooked street he noted how
many eyes of both men and women followed his movements, and for the
moment believed that he was recognized. But that was impossible,
considering the contrast between the rough-bearded tramp who had
visited the Bull Inn and the smart, fashionable, clean-shaven young
gentleman now strolling complacently through the little town. What the
people looked at, especially the women, were his handsome face and
distinguished appearance. From a muttered remark or so which his ear
caught, Owain understood that they took him for a tourist, who had
come to see the lions of the place. Therefore, in this character the
young man asked one or two where he could find lodgings. Of course he
was at once directed to the inn, but here, for obvious reasons, he did
not wish to go. With the idea of finding quiet rooms he had left his
portmanteau at the railway station, so as to seek the same unhampered
by luggage. For some time he was unsuccessful in his search, until on
the outskirts of the village and no great distance from the church he
saw a notice in a cottage window of "Apartments to Let." At once he
knocked at the door, since the place seemed clean and quiet. A
delicate, slender little woman answered his inquiries by stating that
she was called Mrs. Bell and had rooms to let. An inspection of these
satisfied the young man, although they were rather poorly furnished
and decidedly small. At once he took them at the very moderate sum
demanded, and Mrs. Bell at his request sent her nephew to the station
to get her new lodger's portmanteau. The little woman, who was meek
and fragile, at once took a great interest in Hench, as he had kind
eyes and a gentle manner. In a short time the two were good friends,
and Mrs. Bell congratulated herself that for one month she had such a
pleasant-spoken gentleman under her homely roof. She said as much to
her big burly nephew when he returned with the portmanteau on his
shoulder, and her nephew thoroughly agreed with her, which was
natural, seeing that the new lodger had given him half a crown for his
trouble. So Hench was made very comfortable by the two, who approved
of him more and more every day. Mrs. Bell was a busy bee in the way of
looking after household affairs, and Giles her nephew, who was a
labourer, brushed Owain's boots and clothes for him. Also--and this
was a great point--Mrs. Bell was no gossip and kept very much to
herself, so the neighbours heard little about Hench from her. On the
whole, the young man decided that he was very well placed.

Hench did not present his letter of introduction to Mrs. Perage
straight away, but busied himself in learning what he could of
the geography of Cookley. He examined the church, explored the
village,--never going into the Bull Inn, by the way,--and even
ventured to look at the Gipsy Stile. It gave him a qualm when he
found himself on the well-remembered spot, and saw beyond the old
brick wall the picturesque Grange, which was now his property. Mrs.
Bell, who knew everything about the place and talked freely enough
when asked, although she was no scandal-monger, told him how Miss
Evans had gone to stay with Mrs. Perage since the death of her
father.

"And they do say," said Mrs. Bell, who always prefaced her remarks
with this phrase, "that she ain't going to rest until she finds out
who killed him."

"Is there any clue?" asked Owain, keeping his face turned away.

"No, there ain't, sir, unless you can call that tramp a clue. He did
ask Betsy Jane at the Bull where the Gipsy Stile was, and the old
Squire was found there some hours later as dead as mutton. But since
then no one's clapped eyes on him, and I don't suppose, sir, as any
one ever will."

"Do you think the tramp murdered the Squire?"

"Lord, sir, how do I know!" cried Mrs. Bell in a panic. "I hev enough
to do in the house without thinking of murders. But they do say as
Squire Evans was a hard man on poachers, as Giles knows, he having got
into trouble over a pheasant. It might be, sir, as that tramp was one
of them poachers, and done for the Squire. Though to be sure," added
the woman, rubbing her nose in a perplexed way, "if he was a poacher
hereabouts some one would hev knowed him, and he wouldn't hev had to
ask Betsy Jane of the Bull where the stile was. It's my opinion, that
for all Miss Gwen's trying she'll never find out who killed her
father. And they do say as if the murderer ain't found it won't be any
great grief to them as knowed old Mr. Evans."

"What kind of a girl is Miss Evans?" asked Hench irrelevantly.

"Ah!" cried Mrs. Bell, nursing her hands under her apron. "Now they do
say, sir, as I knows myself, as she's as nice a young lady as you ever
set eyes on. Lovely I call her, and small like me, though quite a
lady, which I ain't. She's as loved as her father was hated, and they
do say as that's saying a great deal. I do assure you, sir, as we'd
rather hev Miss Gwen for the head of the place than this new young
Squire, as comes from no one knows where!"

Hench had many conversations about these matters with Mrs. Bell, and
gradually came to know a great deal during the next few days. His
uncle, it appeared, had been very unpopular, while Gwen was the
reverse. Generally, it was quite believed amongst the ancients of the
village that the Squire had been murdered by the unknown tramp, who
was a poacher, and the verdict was that it served the dead man right,
because he was always so hard on the poor. Owain was tolerably sure
that the Cookley people would have been quite sorry had the presumed
criminal been arrested. But as he was the person in question, he was
glad that they had not been troubled to mourn in this way. All the
same, in spite of all his questioning, he was unable to learn anything
likely to show who had met Squire Evans in Parley Wood. So far his
mission to Cookley had proved a complete failure.

Then Destiny intervened to conduct him a step further on the dark
path, which was leading him he knew not where. Towards the end of
the week, and when he was beginning to feel safer and more at home
in the village, he had an adventure, the consequences of which were
far-reaching. Owain had gone for a long walk into the surrounding
country, and was returning leisurely under the many-coloured glories
of the sunset. The weather was warm, the road was dusty, and he paused
by a stile to remove his straw hat and allow the breeze to cool his
heated brow. Before him was the church, round the square ivy-clothed
tower of which the jackdaws were flying; to the right was the road,
melting almost imperceptibly into the narrow village street, while to
the left ran the same road curving abruptly round a corner into the
agricultural lands. So dangerous was this bend in the highway that it
was marked with one of those red triangles elevated on a post to warn
motorists and cyclists not to move at too great a pace. The injunction
was very much needed, and never more so than in the present instance.

Hench leaned idling against the stile enjoying the beauty of the
evening and the picturesque character of the landscape. He could not
see very far, as the place was muffled with hawthorn hedges and tall
trees, but there was a quiet domestic loveliness about the prospect
which soothed his tormented soul. Suddenly his eye was caught by a
moving figure in the porch of the church, which was under the west
window. It was that of a slender girl, not very tall, but singularly
graceful. As she came down the path towards the lychgate, he saw that
she had a beautiful face, aristocratic in its looks and rather pensive
in its expression. Arrayed in white, and with a white sunshade, she
stepped daintily through the gate and out on to the dusty road,
turning her face towards the village, whither she was evidently going.
But scarcely had she taken three steps when a motor-car, without
warning, swept swiftly round the dangerous corner. The girl was
directly in his path, and although Hench shouted at once, she did not
step aside. In fact she seemed to be puzzled by his cry, until the
noise of the approaching machine struck her ear. Then she wheeled
suddenly and stood where she was, paralysed with fright. Hench saw
that in a second she would be cut down and be crushed under those
cruel wheels, so plunged suddenly forward and dashed across the
roadway to thrust her out of the way. So impetuous was his onset that
she was tumbled back into the hedge girdling the churchyard, and Hench
himself fell sprawling in the dust. With a whirr, the motor passed and
he felt a sharp pain in his ankle. The next moment the car was buzzing
at top-speed through the village, its driver evidently afraid of
prosecution for neglecting to sound his horn. Meanwhile the girl
gathered herself up out of the hedge, and Owain lay still on the
highway. The whole event lasted less than a minute--the girl being
saved, the man being hurt in the twinkling of an eye. And in the same
twinkling of an eye the car had vanished into the unknown.

"Oh!" The young lady hurried towards her preserver. "Are you hurt?"

"My ankle," gasped Hench, sitting up with an effort; "it's giving me a
warm time--a wheel went over it, I think--probably it is broken!" and
he winced with the pain.

"You have saved my life!"

"Oh, that's all right," replied the young man, speaking with
difficulty, for the suffering was great. "You can repay me by helping
me home, or by getting assistance. I can't walk by myself."

"Give me your hand," said the girl quickly, quite cool and mistress of
herself. "There! Can you get on to your feet?"

"On to one foot, anyhow," gasped Hench, smiling to reassure her, and
managed to stand upright. "But my ankle is not so very bad. I don't
think it is broken--only crushed."

"That's bad enough. Lean on me. Where do you live?"

"At Mrs. Bell's."

"That's not far away. Come. What a hero you are to save me. My name is
Evans."

"Evans!" repeated Owain, and then knew that he had at last met his
cousin.



CHAPTER X
VANE'S AUNT


"I should have been killed to a certainty but for the way in which he
got me out of the way," said Gwen to Mrs. Perage, when recounting her
adventure, and speaking rather incoherently, for the same had shaken
her nerves.

Mrs. Perage growled. She was a gaunt, dark-brewed old lady, with a
formidable frown and a very determined character. "All's well that
ends well," she said in a deep contralto voice, which suggested that
of a man. "It might have been worse but for this hero of yours. Did
you take the number of the car?"

"My goodness!" cried the girl pettishly. "How could I, when I was
lying on my back in the ditch under the churchyard hedge? The car
passed like a flash."

"Daresay," sniffed Mrs. Perage aggressively. "Having done wrong, the
chauffeur got out of the way. We'll make inquiries and prosecute. I'd
hang every one of those road-hogs if I had my way."

"Oh, I don't think it is worth making a fuss about," said Gwen
quickly. "I am all right, and his ankle will soon be quite well. I
fetched the doctor as soon as I got him to Mrs. Bell's, and there are
no bones broken. He will be out and about in a few days."

"His--him--he," said Mrs. Perage sharply. "How indefinite you are.
What's the name of your Achilles?"

"Hench. Mr. Hench. So Mrs. Bell told me, and he's been with her for
nearly a whole week."

"Hench!" Mrs. Perage rubbed her beaky nose and reflected. "Why, that's
the name of Jim's friend he wrote me about. There was a letter of
introduction given. Hum! And he's been a week in Cookley without
calling. That doesn't look as if he wished to make my acquaintance,
Gwen."

"Perhaps he's down here on business," suggested the girl, "and did not
wish to call on any one until he was free."

"Well, if he doesn't call on me, I'll call on him," said the old dame
grimly; "if only to thank him for saving your life. Hum! Quite
romantic the way in which the man's come into your little world, my
dear. Quite romantic, I call it." Then, being very much the woman, in
spite of her masculine appearance, Mrs. Perage asked a leading
question. "Good-looking?"

"Oh!" Gwen clasped her hands. "He's a Greek god."

"So was Vulcan. Anything like that heavenly blacksmith?"

"No. He's tall and splendidly built, with brown hair and brown eyes;
clean-shaven with clearly-cut features."

"Hum!" Mrs. Perage brought out the ejaculation with a boom. "You
examined him pretty closely, young lady."

"Well, I had plenty of time to do so," retorted Miss Evans pertly. "I
helped him to hobble to Mrs. Bell's house, and saw him again to thank
him after the doctor had examined his poor ankle. I'm sure you will
like him."

"That has yet to be seen. I don't like many people. However, Jim says
that Mr. Hench is a thoroughly good fellow, and----"

"I'm sure he is. He saved my life."

"Consequently you intend to tumble head over heels in love with him?"

Gwen grew red. "I certainly don't. All the same he's very nice, and
I'm sorry he's suffering pain."

"Pity is akin to love," quoted Mrs. Perage, apparently to the ceiling.
The girl laughed and shook her head. "In spite of your matter-of-fact
ways and the common-sense you pride yourself upon, you have an
imaginative vein, Mrs. Perage. I am sure you see in this accident the
beginning of a romance."

"If the young man is handsome, as you say, and a good sort as Jim Vane
says, why not?" asked the old lady, smiling. "Besides, I don't believe
in chance, as everything is ordained by Providence. I shouldn't be at
all surprised if, in the long run, it was proved that Mr. Hench
tumbled out of the clouds to be your husband. However, it's early days
yet to talk. Wait and see!"

As the result of long experience, dating from the time when she was a
small child in short frocks, Gwen knew that it was useless to argue
with Mrs. Perage, so she left the room and went upstairs to change her
dress. And as a matter of fact, she had been extremely struck with
Hench's good looks, as a woman naturally would be. Also, he seemed to
be excessively agreeable, and likewise she owed him her life, not
forgetting that she was just at that age when girls begin to dream of
marriage. Poor Gwen had not passed a very happy time with her
cantankerous father, and was not averse to having a pleasant home and
an aggressively devoted lover. So she looked at herself in the glass,
pondering over Mrs. Perage's remarks, and blushed crimson to find that
Hench was taking up much more of her thoughts than she considered
altogether proper. That it was a case of love at first sight she would
not admit, but on the whole her feelings had a great deal to do with
the oft-quoted proverb.

On his side, Owain had no doubts whatever on the subject, strange as
it may seem, considering that hitherto he had never been in love. His
cousin's lovely face, her sympathetic kindness, together with the
undeniable fact that he had saved her life, created in him a number of
tumultuous feelings, which he spent the night in analysing. To be
sure, he told himself that he did so because the pain of his ankle
kept him wide awake, and because thoughts in this direction took his
mind off his aching bones. But when the dawn came, he was tolerably
certain that he was in love. The feeling he now experienced was wholly
different to that with which he had regarded Zara. He had admired the
dancer in a cool, reflective, judicious way, seeing that she had
faults as well as virtues. But in Gwen he could see no faults, and
never paused to consider that he could scarcely know her character
from the little he had seen of her.

Sensible as Hench usually was, some power--he presumed it was the
power of love---swept him off his feet, and he credited the girl with
all the virtues of the angels, and with their beauty also. He was glad
that he had saved her, as she would be grateful; he was glad that he
had hurt himself, as she would pity him; and he was decidedly glad
that he had concealed the relationship. Now, at least, there was every
chance that he would be able to make a friend of her. Not that he
wanted to halt at friendship. He was now firmly bent upon making her
his wife, and thus would be able to fulfil Mr. Gilberry's prophecy and
end the family feud in quite an agreeable and romantic way. All the
night Owain was building castles in the air, and when the dawn came
they were still firm. Only on the arrival of the doctor to examine his
ankle did the young man descend from these Olympian heights. Then,
with a sudden and very natural reaction, he began to think that he had
been too premature in his building.

The result of this was disastrous to Gwen. She called at mid-day to
see how he was getting on, and he received her coldly, while lying on
the slippery horse-hair sofa in Mrs. Bell's tiny sitting-room. The
girl, flushed with the romance of the whole adventure and struck anew
with the splendid looks of her preserver, felt chilled by his calm
politeness. The two talked in a more or less formal way and parted
very soon. Gwen went back to tell Mrs. Perage that her hero was
horrid, and her hero remained on his sofa trying to assure himself
that he had rescued only an ordinary girl. But it was all of no use,
for Nature would have her way. During the next few days the two met
under the chaperonage of the widow Bell, and gradually became aware
that the feelings they entertained towards one another were more than
those of mere friendship. Of course this knowledge made them more
stiff and formal than ever in their intercourse, as their conversation
was confined to commonplace subjects, not likely to awaken emotion.
Hench was anxious to ask his cousin about her father, but as she said
nothing, he did not venture to broach the matter. Still, remembering
that she had been clothed in white on the day of the accident, and
seeing that her frocks since, beyond black ribbons, did not suggest
mourning in any great degree, he came to the conclusion that she had
not been particularly attached to her father, although he could not be
quite sure. But all doubts on this question were set aside by Mrs.
Perage, who placed matters very plainly before him, according to her
somewhat grim custom.

The old lady did not call for a few days, although she sent creams and
jellies, books and flowers, by the hands of Gwen. Owain was very
grateful for these kind attentions, and asked Miss Evans to take back
his letter of introduction, which she did. Etiquette thus having been
complied with, one day, instead of the fairy vision of Gwen, the
patient beheld a tall and lean old dame stalk into his room. By this
time he was able to get about with a crutch, and rose to greet her,
upon which she thrust him back into his armchair with a pair of very
capable hands.

"Not so," said Mrs. Perage, when he was again seated and taking a
chair opposite, where she kilted her black stuff dress to show a pair
of large boots. "Stay where you are, young man. Hum! You look better
than I expected."

"I'm quite well now, thank you, Mrs. Perage. And I must apologise for
not having presented Jim's letter before."

"Jim sent another letter, and I know all about you," said the old lady
sharply.

"Oh, I don't think you do," said Hench, rather alarmed, as he feared
that Vane might have been indiscreet.

"Why not?" Mrs. Perage bent her sharp old eyes on his perturbed face,
the good looks of which she secretly approved of. "There's nothing
wrong about you, I hope and trust?"

"Not what you would call wrong," said Hench evasively.

"Pooh, young man. How do you know anything about my standard of
morality. I don't suppose it's what you'd call a high one," added Mrs.
Perage, rubbing her nose. "I always make allowance for fools, and most
of those who dwell in this world, which is much too good for them, are
fools."

Hench laughed. He liked Mrs. Perage, who was quite a character. In her
young days she had been a great beauty, although she was now old and
weather-beaten, careless of her attire, and quite manly in her manner.
Since the death of her husband, some thirty years ago, she had managed
her estates herself, for being childless she had little else to do,
and had long since outgrown the toys which amuse Society. For a woman
she was uncommonly tall, and with her aquiline nose, her swart
complexion and dark eyes, she resembled a gipsy. In spite of her
coarse dress so carelessly worn, there was an air of good-breeding
about her, and also a shrewd look on her fierce face. Owain stared
hard at her Amazonian looks, considering that here was a woman who
should have been the mother of heroes to gird armour on them and send
them forth to the fray. She was quite out of place in a peaceful
community.

"Well, young man," said Mrs. Perage roughly, "you'll know me again, I
daresay, if staring goes for anything. What are your thoughts?"

Hench told them and suggested how unfit she was for a peaceful world
where a policeman stands at every corner. "I can't see you anywhere,
Mrs. Perage, but in some Norse hall, worshipping Odin and urging men
to battle."

"Perhaps going to battle myself," said the old dame grimly, yet very
pleased with the strange compliment. "Hum! You are right, the world is
tame now-a-day, and a long life has bored me with the petty concerns
of baby folk. You seem to have ideas in your head, Master Owain."
Hench stared and fear clutched at his heart. If she knew this much,
she might know more. "Who told you my Christian name?" he faltered.

"My own common sense, man alive! I have lived here all my life and
knew your grandfather, Mynydd Evans, aye and your father, and Madoc
also. Hench was the name Owain took when he was outlawed. See, my boy,
how naturally I use the Norse word, after your suggestions of my being
a modern Valkyrie."

"Does my cousin know who I am?" asked the young man anxiously. "No. I
wanted to see you first before I told her."

"Don't tell her, Mrs. Perage."

"Why not. Hum!"--her eyes were as piercing as spears--"there is some
reason for you masquerading as Hench."

"Hench was the name adopted by my father, and until a few days ago I
quite believed that it was my true name. But certain papers which he
left with our family lawyers explained matters."

"Did they explain that you inherit Cookley Grange and ten thousand a
year?"

"Yes."

"Hum!"--Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose again and looked puzzled. "Then,
knowing that you were the heir, why did you not come and see your
uncle after the death of your father? I know he died in Paris five
years ago, as Madoc told me."

"I did not know that I was the heir until my twenty-fifth birthday on
the tenth day of this month. My father left instructions with Gilberry
& Gilberry that they were not to give the papers to me until then. I
have already told you, Mrs. Perage, that only lately did I learn my
true name."

The old dame nodded absently, thinking deeply for a few minutes. "I
think your father was wise to keep you thus in ignorance until you
were older and had some experience of the world. A man of twenty-five
could have managed Madoc better than a boy of twenty. Yes, Owain was
wise, knowing Madoc's character."

"The late Squire does not appear to have had a very good one,"
remarked Hench dryly. "He was unpopular, I am told by Mrs. Bell."

"He was a wicked, selfish, greedy, miserly old scoundrel," retorted
Mrs. Perage, aggressively blunt. "And if that's speaking evil of the
dead, I don't care. I am quite sure that Madoc fed your grandfather's
anger when it was directed towards Owain, who, after all, was not so
very evil, although selfish enough. Still, your father would never
have been cut out of the will but for Madoc. And if Madoc had met you,
young man, he would have tried to settle your hash in some way, you
may be certain."

"Oh!" Hench started, and was on the point of revealing the story of
the advertisement and his adventure, when he checked himself prudently
and made quite a different remark. "But if Uncle Madoc was such a
rotter, why is Gwen such a nice girl, and I am sure a good girl?"

"She is all that," endorsed Mrs. Perage heartily. "And if your father
was such a selfish profligate--I don't wish to hurt your filial
feelings, but he was--why are you such a nice young man?"

Hench coloured at the compliment. "I may be a profligate also."

"Pooh!" said Mrs. Perage with supreme contempt, "don't you think that
I am able to read faces? Yours is a good one and so is Gwen's. The
decency of you both comes in each case from the mother's side, I
expect, for both your fathers were--what they were. Children of Old
Nick, I call them. You had a bad time with that father of yours, I'll
be bound?"

"Well"--Hench winced--"he was not a very amiable parent, I must admit,
although I wouldn't say that to any one save you."

Mrs. Perage bent her keen old eyes on him, read between the lines, and
laughed in a short rasping manner after the style of a fox barking.
"Just as I thought, young man. Owain was a selfish, cruel animal, and
so was Madoc. He gave you as bad a time as Madoc did Gwen."

"I rather gathered from Gwen's absence of mourning that she had no
great love for her father," remarked Hench musingly. "Your powers of
observation are great, Owain. Gwen and her father got on about as well
together as a ferret and a rabbit; she being the last and he the
first. But for me I don't know what the poor girl would have done. She
would have run away from home, I expect. However, she always came to
me when her father was particularly trying, and now she has come to me
altogether. With me she will stay, until you take her away."

Hench raised himself on his elbow and blushed in a delightfully
youthful manner. "What makes you say that?" he asked confusedly.

"Am I a fool?" queried Mrs. Perage grimly. "Doesn't a cat love cream,
and is not a young man likely to fall in love with one whose life he
has saved, provided that one is charming and good. Go to, my boy." She
spoke quite in the style of her nephew Jim. "I can see through a brick
wall, I suppose. But all this doesn't explain why you are masquerading
here under your father's false name. Come now, tell me all about it."

Hench did not do as she asked him, even though she was such a sensible
old lady, for he thought that the time was not yet ripe for him to
speak freely about his Gipsy Stile adventure. Therefore he told her
the same story that he had told to Mr. Gilberry. "And you see I was
right to meet my cousin under a feigned name," he concluded, "for had
I come as Owain Evans she would have been prejudiced against me."

"Well, I don't know." Mrs. Perage again rubbed her nose thoughtfully.
"As you may guess, Madoc always spoke ill of you, saying you were the
true son of your wicked father, which was a case of the pot calling
the kettle black, I rather think. But, you see, Madoc hated the idea
of your getting the property."

"He wanted Gwen to get it?"

"Not a bit. So long as you didn't succeed he would have been content
to let an hospital have it. He cared nothing for his daughter, and
being such a bad father she naturally disbelieved anything he said.
Far from thinking you the rascal Madoc said you were, Gwen fancied
that you were quite a nice agreeable young man, which you are. I think
she would have welcomed Owain Evans just as kindly as she has welcomed
Owain Hench. All the same, if you win her heart as a disguised prince
the romance of it will appeal to her when she learns the delightful
truth."

Hench laughed, feeling greatly relieved. "Mrs. Perage, I don't believe
you are a Norse goddess. You are much too romantic."

"Perhaps, young man. I am an old fool."

"You are one of the most charming people I have ever met," said Hench
warmly.

"Pooh!" retorted Mrs. Perage, pleased with the compliment. "Don't make
love to me, or you'll break Gwen's heart."

"Has she a heart to break--on my account, that is?"

"Young man,"--Mrs. Perage rose until her head nearly touched the low
ceiling, and she assumed her grand manner,--"you don't expect one
woman to tell the secrets of another woman. All the same, a nod is as
good as a wink to a blind horse. And you are blind, being in love."

"Am I in love?"

"Something tells me that you are--and with Gwen. But if you are
already engaged, or if there is any other girl in the question, I tell
you, young man, that I won't have it. Gwen is much too good a girl to
be trifled with."

"Oh, I assure you, I am not going to trifle with her."

"Good. If you do, you'll have me to reckon with," said the old woman
grimly. "I am quite Norse enough to twist your neck if you repeat in
your own person the very objectionable character of your father. Tell
me plump and plain, if you please: do you love Gwen?"

"I think so."

"Think so! Then you don't love her. No man worth a woman's affection
can be in doubt on that point."

"Well, you see, I'm a bit of an ass as regards women," confessed
Hench, flustered by her imperious insistence. "I have never been in
love before."

"All the better!" cried Mrs. Perage sharply. "But I thought I was."

"Hum! Well, and why not; one must gain experience. How many times?"

"Once only. I admired this girl but she loved another man, so I went
away."

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage once more. "Is your heart broken?"

"Oh Lord, no. I soon got over it."

"Then you haven't been in love. But with regard to Gwen"--Mrs. Perage
suddenly sat down and laughed heartily--"aren't we rather silly to
talk in this way? We are only weaving ropes of sand, for I know
nothing certain about the state of your affections or those of Gwen. I
think I had better let you two manage things in your own way, and as
Mother Nature--who has a large experience--dictates. All I say is, act
honestly towards the girl, or you'll have me to deal with.
Understand?"

"I understand." Hench laughed. "You can trust me."

Mrs. Perage went away very well satisfied with the state of affairs.
At heart she was romantic like every woman, and like every woman she
was quite a matchmaker. There was no young man in Cookley worthy of
Gwen, so far as she knew, and this swain--so her thoughts ran--had
been brought by Providence in the nick of time to save the girl from
being an old maid. She longed to speak as freely to Miss Evans as she
had spoken to her cousin, but did not dare to do so, lest she should
frighten her into banishing the dawning feeling of love. Mrs. Perage
had seen much harm come from meddling, so decided to refrain from
throwing the young people too violently at one another's heads. But
she certainly threw them gently, for when Hench was nearly all right a
few days later, she sent him an invitation to dinner. This he accepted
with great delight, and the more eagerly as Gwen had ceased her visits
since he became convalescent. At the dinner he would have a chance of
seeing her again, and perhaps an opportunity of hinting at his
feelings. For by this time he had proved the truth of the saying that
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," and was very sure that he
really and truly loved her with all the power that was in him. And
this was the genuine passion of man for woman--not the counterfeit one
which had led him to seek Zara Alpenny.

By this time, since the Hungarian lady was not making trouble, Hench
began to think that she would leave him alone altogether. Surely, he
thought, if she intended to scheme for her daughter's marriage with
him, she would have made some advance before now. Her silence lifted a
weight off his mind, and he arrayed himself in purple and fine linen
for the dinner, feeling that the sun of prosperity was beaming on him.
He went to Mrs. Perage's house, believing that the fine weather would
continue, and quite forgot the adage about the treacherous calm before
the storm. But when he got to the door, and the door was opened by a
small smart page with a freckled face and red hair, he was reminded
that it did not do to trust wholly to appearance. The sight of the boy
gave him quite a shock, and an uncomfortable one, reminding him as he
did of Bethnal Green.

"Bottles!" he said, stepping into the hall and staring at the lad.

"No, sir; no, Mr. Hench. I'm Peter!" grinned the boy, and began to
help Hench off with his overcoat.

Then Owain remembered how Simon Jedd had told him he had a brother in
service in the country--the same he had gone to see. But he never
expected to find that brother in Cookley and in the service of Mrs.
Perage. "You know my name?" he said hesitatingly, and wondering if the
imp was to be trusted.

"Oh yes, sir. Simon has spoken heaps heaps of times to me about you,
saying how kind you were to him. Knew your name, sir, the minute Miss
Gwen said as you'd saved her life."

"Simon came down to see you some weeks ago?"

"Yes, sir!" Peter spoke eagerly, and was evidently about to say much,
when he suddenly shut his wide mouth and said no more than the two
words.

Hench settled his coat and his tie, pondering over the situation. The
sight of the boy, who was connected with Bottles, revived his anxiety,
and he feared lest the lad should write to London and say where he
was. In that case Madame Alpenny might find him out, and then there
would be trouble. But then Simon, if he did write, would do so to his
brother, and Bottles was entirely to be trusted. Still, Hench would
have liked to give this page a hint, yet could not do so, as it would
be undignified. Peter noted his lingering and hesitation.

"Simon wants to see you, sir. It's all right."

"What's all right?" asked Hench sharply.

The page wriggled uneasily. "Simon will tell you, sir. I don't know
nothing, I don't, Mr. Hench."

Owain felt uneasy at the implied mystery, but judged it wise to affect
careless confidence. "Simon can come and see me when he likes," he
said, and entered the drawing-room, considerably annoyed by the
encounter.



CHAPTER XI
MACBETH'S BANQUET


The house of Mrs. Perage was quaint and old-fashioned, being so
delightfully reminiscent of gracious antiquity that Hench was charmed
with his surroundings. As a very modern young man, who had wandered
largely in new lands where civilization was still raw, he was
pleasantly impressed by the panelled room with the low ceiling. The
furniture was Chippendale and Sheraton of the powder and puff epoch,
while carpet and curtains were mellowed by age into restful colours,
comfortable to the eye. An odour of dried rose leaves scented the air,
mingling with the more living perfume of countless blossoms. Mrs.
Perage had the happy taste to be extremely fond of flowers, it would
seem, for the room was filled with colour and fragrance, even to the
fireplace, which bloomed like a garden with white buds and green
leaves. Even though the curtains were not yet drawn, and the luminous
summer twilight stole in through the wide windows, the many lamps were
lighted. And the radiance of these, diffused through rose-tinted
shades, bathed the whole room in the delicate hues of dawn. This was a
haven of rest, a bower of joy, a paradise of delight, and Hench drew a
long breath of sheer pleasure on its threshold.

"What a charming room," he said, advancing to greet his hostess.
"Charming!"

"Blunderer!" retorted that lady in her contralto voice, which boomed
like the buzz of a bee in a fox glove bell. "You should say, what
charming ladies."

"You would think me too hold if I put my thoughts into words."

"Very cleverly turned, young man. But women never think men are too
bold when they pay compliments."

Hench laughed and smiled in a friendly way at Gwen, who was smiling in
a friendly way at him. She looked wonderfully fresh, attractively
delightful, as delicate as Titania and wholly as fascinating. Her
dress of plain white silk adorned with black ribbons, hinting at
mourning, became her well in its dainty simplicity, and Owain felt
again that queer heart-throb which informed him very distinctly that
this was the one girl in the world for him. No woman could be lovely
unless she had golden hair and blue eyes and a complexion of cream and
roses. He wondered how he ever could have admired Zara, who did not
possess these necessary charms. But when he was attracted by the
dancer he was a fool, now he intended to be a wise man and lay his
heart at Gwen's feet. Whether she would pick it up had yet to be seen,
for she gave no intimation of her feelings.

"When you two finish grinning at one another like a couple of Chinese
dolls, perhaps you will remember that I am present. Sit down, young
man. Are you very hungry? I have a very good dinner for you."

"Splendid! I'm not hungry, Mrs. Perage, but I am greedy."

"Pooh! That joke is as old as the hills. Be more original."

"That's difficult. How can I be original, Miss Evans?" Hench asked the
question with ceremonious courtesy, which made Mrs. Perage smile,
knowing what she did know.

"I think you are original," said Gwen brightly. "You saved my life!"

"Hum!" came the boom of Mrs. Perage, "and that's originality, is it?"

"Well, I don't make a practice of saving lives," laughed Hench
lightly. "And I don't think I ever saved any one before. So I _am_
original, you see."

The old dame smiled grimly, as she relished the young man's flippant
conversation. "One grows so tired of common-sense," she murmured,
following her own thoughts.

"Why, you are always commending common-sense," exclaimed Gwen, lifting
her eyebrows and laughing.

"In its place, child, in its place. To-night you and Mr. Hench can
talk nonsense, as it will make me feel young."

"You _are_ young, Mrs. Perage," said Owain seriously. "Your heart is
in its spring-time. You are one whom the gods love."

"Ta! Ta! Ta! young Chesterfield. Don't make me blush, as I have long
since forgotten how to do so. You and your compliments, indeed! Not
but what I wear tolerably well, although a trifle time-worn," which
final sentence showed that Mrs. Perage had her little vanities.

And she was right in having them, for having stepped out of her rough
day-clothes into sumptuous evening dress, she looked wonderfully
stately. Amber satin, black lace and diamonds, oddly enough, seemed as
natural to her as the more or less masculine dress which she affected
during her business hours. Mrs. Perage always called looking after her
farms and attending to her accounts business, which it assuredly was,
and business moreover which required a clear head. In the day-time she
was like one of her labourers in appearance, and her clothes might
have graced a scarecrow, but when evening came she always appeared as
a fine lady. This change, which reminded Hench somewhat of Miss
Hardcastle in Goldsmith's comedy, amused the young man. He liked Mrs.
Perage.

"I wrote and asked Jim Vane to come down to dinner," went on Mrs.
Perage, after a pause. "As I thought that I could amuse myself with
his wit while you attended to Gwen here. But he wrote saying that he
could not come, as he was exploring Bethnal Green."

"Bethnal Green," echoed Hench with a start. "What the deuce--I beg
your pardon, Mrs. Perage---but what is Jim doing there?"

"He did not explain. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing!"

"What an irrelevant reply."

"Well, I was only thinking that Jim usually prefers the West End to
the quarters of the poor," said Hench guardedly. He was not quite
certain if he had mentioned his sojourn at Bethnal Green to Mrs.
Perage, and resolved to do so now, as--so far as he was able--he
wished to be quite straight and above-board with the keen old lady. "I
stayed there for six months."

"In Bethnal Green?" said Gwen, amazed. "And what were you doing in
such a horrible place, Mr. Hench?"

"Well, as Jim would put it, I was doing a perish. I am a poor man,
Miss Evans, and have lived for many years in Queer Street."

"Queer Street?" Gwen looked puzzled.

"It is the name given to the locality where those unsuccessful people
who are trying for what they can't get live in penury."

Gwen looked at Hench's well-cut suit of evening clothes, at his
well-bred face, and considered his general debonair appearance. "You
don't look poor."

"There is poverty and poverty," said Mrs. Perage gruffly. "Mr. Hench
is not yet in the workhouse, Gwen. For my part I think 'a perish,' as
you say Jim calls it, is not a bad thing for a young man. It gives him
experience of life----"

"Of the seamy side of life, Mrs. Perage," interpolated the young man.

"And what is more picturesque than that. Here we are all respectable
and eminently dull. There's the gong." She rose with a well-managed
sweep of her skirts. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

"Or diet," said Hench, holding the door open for the ladies. "Pooh!
nonsense!" said the Amazon vigorously. "Young men shouldn't know the
meaning of such a word. I'm sure I don't. I have a strong digestion
and a hard heart."

"Not that last," said Gwen quickly; "as I know."

"What imagination you have, child," retorted Mrs. Perage, and took her
position at the head of a small table, while Gwen and Hench sat on
either side. "And I hope you don't mind our straggling into the
dining-room in this free and easy way," she added to the young man;
"but I couldn't take your arm as Gwen would have felt out of it, and I
wasn't going to let you give Gwen your arm lest you should lack
reverence for my age." And she laughed in her deep, hearty fashion,
evidently desirous of making her guest feel quite at home.

The dining-room was a small apartment decorated and furnished in the
Jacobean style. But Hench could not see much of it, as there were only
candles in sconces here and there. The most powerful illumination was
that thrown by a large lamp with a green shade, which hung low over
the table. In its light the white napery, the old silver, the crystal
glasses and the many flowers, looked peculiarly attractive. And the
table not being over large, the three seated at it could converse with
one another very much at their ease. A deft maid and Peter waited
dexterously, and everything ran smoothly during the meal.

"This is my hour of relaxation," explained Mrs. Perage briskly. "I am
ominously fond of my creature comforts and this is my favourite soup."

"Why ominously?"

"Silly questioner. Doesn't devotion to eating show that one is growing
old?"

"Then I must have been born old," said Hench gaily, "for I have always
had a good appetite since I was a boy, and have always liked nice
things." His eyes rested, perhaps inadvertently, on Gwen as he spoke.

"Ah!" Mrs. Perage had noticed the look, and spoke significantly. "You
are one of those lucky people who will always get the nice things."

"I haven't had much luck so far, Mrs. Perage."

"Ungrateful! What do you call this?"

"Paradise!" said Hench briefly.

"With you as Adam, Gwen as Eve, and myself as the Serpent."

"Aren't you talking dreadful nonsense?" observed the girl seriously.

"Not at all," retorted the old lady coolly. "It is common-sense to
chatter amusingly. Enjoy yourself, child, and when trouble comes you
will be able to remember at least one happy hour."

"Trouble has come, and severe trouble, too," replied Gwen softly, and
with a gloomy air.

"Now, not another word!" Mrs. Perage spoke sharply. "We can talk of
that afterwards in the drawing-room."

"Talk of what?" asked Hench innocently, for he was surprised by Gwen's
gloom and Mrs. Perage's sharpness.

The old dame rubbed her nose in a vexed way. "Gwen has something to
ask you this evening," she observed. "I think it is nonsense myself.
No! I won't tell you what it is just now, neither will Gwen. Let us
enjoy our meal without the discussion of horrors."

This was all very well, but how was Hench to enjoy his meal when Care
stood like a waiter behind his chair? The presence of Peter reminded
him of Bottles, and that memory brought to his recollection The Home
of the Muses in Bethnal Green, where, for all he knew, Madame Alpenny
might be plotting. Then he wondered what had taken Jim to the house,
for there he must have gone, as it was unlikely he would journey to
such a district for any other purpose. Perhaps the Hungarian lady was
already weaving her nets to snare him--the thinker-either as a husband
for Zara, or as a criminal. It was very uncomfortable thinking.

And being so alarmed, Hench did his best to talk brightly and
amusingly. For the time being he was "fey," as the Scotch say, and
roused his cousin out of her gloom by his sallies. Mrs. Perage
seconded him admirably, as she quite enjoyed a contest of wits, which
was rare to come by in Cookley. The food was good, the wine was
excellent, the company interesting. All the same Hench felt that this
meal was like Macbeth's banquet, and behind the revelry lurked the
grim figure of Tragedy with her bowl and dagger. At any moment Banquo
in the person of Madame Alpenny might appear. Of course such a
supposition was nonsense, as the Hungarian lady did not know where he
was. But the feeling became so real to Hench that he cast several
uneasy looks behind his chair. Gwen noticed this and remarked on the
same nervously.

"Why do you look over your shoulder?" she asked petulantly.

"For the Kill-joy," said Hench in a blunt way. "You know, Miss Evans,
man is never permitted to be entirely happy. There is always the
Kill-joy."

"Gwen will provide you with all the Kill-joy you are needing," said
Mrs. Perage significantly. "Wait until we go to the drawing-room.
Meantime go on scintillating, young man. Talk your heart out."

"To whom?" asked Hench audaciously.

"To me, sir. You can flirt with Gwen to-morrow; to-night old age must
have its turn. Here are some very excellent cigarettes. Light up and
talk."

"You remind me of the lady who asked Sydney Smith when he was going to
be funny," said Hench dryly. "It is not easy to talk when so ordered.
As to Miss Evans, she never flirts."

"Ah, you don't know my capabilities," retorted Gwen, with a
mischievous gleam in her blue eyes. "I have many sides to my
character."

"And all charming, I am sure," answered the young man courteously.

And so the conversation went on, all frothy, all about nothings--mere
spume and spindrift of the mind. And the lighter it became the more
certain did Hench become sure that Banquo's ghost was haunting the
room. He felt quite relieved when Mrs. Perage conducted himself and
Gwen into the drawing-room, for there the psychic atmosphere was less
oppressive. The girl, however, appeared to feel it otherwise, for
after playing on the piano for a few minutes she began to wander
restlessly round the room. Mrs. Perage attempted to frown her into
sitting down, but as this proved to be an impossible task she accepted
the situation with grim resignation.

"You may as well enlist Mr. Hench as your champion, child. You will
never be quiet until you do."

"Enlist me as your champion!" echoed Hench, glancing at Gwen.

The girl grew flushed. "That is Mrs. Perage's pretty way of putting
things," was her reply, as she sat down near the hostess. "But I do
wish you to help me, Mr. Hench. I'm not quite sure if I am right in
doing so, and perhaps you will think it is presumption on my part.
But, somehow, your having saved my life has made you more than a
friend."

"More than a friend?"

"I mean"--Gwen became even more crimson than she already was, as she
became aware that she had spoken more freely than was necessary--"more
familiar than most of my friends."

"Who are usually mere acquaintances," observed Mrs. Perage quietly.
"Why beat about the bush, Gwen? You know that Mr. Hench is clever and
kind-hearted, and you are anxious that he should do you a favour. That
is the situation."

"Any favour I can do you, Miss Evans----" began the young man eagerly,
when the girl stopped him.

"Don't say another word until you know what the favour is," she said
in an abrupt manner; "to do what I want may be unpleasant. In a word I
want you to try and find out who murdered my father."

"That's about a dozen words, more or less," sighed Mrs. Perage, but
Hench took no notice of her flippant remark. He was too much taken
aback to do so, and remained silent.

Gwen misunderstood his silence, and looked mortified "You won't help
me?"

"I was thinking," said the young man gravely. "Of course I have read
all about the death of your father in the newspapers, Miss Evans, and
I can quite understand your desire to avenge him. Anything I can do
shall be done with the very greatest pleasure. How do matters stand?"

"As they stood after the inquest," explained Gwen with a shrug. "The
jury brought in an open verdict, but the general opinion is that my
father was murdered by the man who spoke to the girl in the tap-room
of the Bull Inn." Hench winced. Every one appeared to be agreed that
the tramp was the culprit, and he guessed that if discovered the tramp
would have little chance of escaping a most uncomfortable trial. Even
if he proved his innocence the experience would be unpleasant.
Wondering what Mrs. Perage and the girl would say if he were to
acknowledge that he was the man referred to, he began to ask questions
in a grave voice.

"Do you think that this tramp is the guilty person?"

"It looks like it," rejoined Gwen promptly. "The man asked the way to
the Gipsy Stile and evidently went there. Afterwards my father was
found dead near the stile."

"Had this tramp any motive to murder your father?"

"How can I tell that?" said the girl irritably. "I am only taking what
evidence suggests his guilt. Why should he come to Cookley and ask the
way to the very place where my father was afterwards found dead?"

"But the fact that the man asked the way to the stile shows that he
was a stranger in Cookley. Would a stranger come here to murder your
father?"

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage suddenly. "Madoc Evans had many enemies!"

"Can you name any of them?"

"Every one in the neighbourhood, I should say," snapped the old lady
cynically.

"Exactly. Every one in the neighbourhood. But this tramp was a
stranger."

"He might have been hired by some one to murder the Squire," said Mrs.
Perage vaguely.

"In that case the some one would have explained how this bravo was to
get to the stile," said Hench coolly. And then he wondered if Gwen
knew anything about the advertisement. "Also," he continued, "the some
one must have known that Squire Evans would be at the stile at that
particular time. Now, Miss Evans, can you tell me if your father made
any appointment?"

Gwen shook her head. "I can't say. My father did many things about
which he told me nothing. Often in summer he walked out after dinner,
as he did on the night he was murdered, but where he went I can't say.
We searched the park when we missed him, and afterwards the woods on
chance."

"Was your father agitated on that night?"

"He was agitated from the time the woman came to see him," said Gwen
quickly. Hench sat up, and a thrill passed through him.

"A woman?"

"Yes! Some time in June a woman called one afternoon and had an
interview with my father in the library. She was with him for two
hours, and when she went away he was very much upset. I asked him who
she was and why the visit annoyed him--as it plainly did."

"And he told you to mind your own business, I'll be bound," said Mrs.
Perage with a grim smile, for she knew Evans thoroughly.

"Yes, he did. But from the time this woman called my father was silent
and morose and irritable. I hope you won't think that I am undutiful,
Mr. Hench, when I say that my father was not a pleasant-tempered man.
But after the interview he became unbearable."

"I never knew him when he was otherwise," cried the old lady,
determined that Hench should know everything. "Madoc Evans was without
doubt the most disagreeable person I have ever met. A bear would have
had a more amiable temper."

"Well, my father is dead," said Gwen coldly, "so it's no use calling
him names."

"Oh, I'll be a very tombstone for lying about the dead, if you like,
my dear Gwen. But if Mr. Hench is to help he must know that your
father was one of those uncomfortable men who never had a friend, and
who never wanted one, so far as I know."

"My father was eccentric," said Gwen, her colour coming and going as
she explained herself to the young man. "And certainly he did not get
on well with people. He quarrelled with my grandfather and with his
brother Owain."

"And with every one else," said Mrs. Perage. "After all Mynydd Evans
would have done better to leave the money to Owain"--she stole a
glance at Hench as she spoke. "He was a better man than Madoc."

"Madoc was my father," said Gwen impatiently, "so please say as little
bad of him as possible. And, after all, the estate has gone to my
cousin, Owain's son, though I don't know why he doesn't come and take
possession. What do you think is the reason, Mr. Hench?"

"How can I tell the reason?" asked Hench awkwardly, and aware that
Mrs. Perage was looking at him significantly. "Let us leave that fact
alone for the present and talk of this woman who evidently upset your
father. Who was she, Miss Evans?"

"I have told you that my father refused to say."

"Did you see her?"

"I caught a glimpse of her when she went away from the Grange, as I
happened to be looking out of the drawing-room window."

"What was she like to look at?"

"I didn't see her face. Her back was turned towards me, as she was
going down the avenue."

"Oh," said Hench disappointed, "that's a pity."

"But I remember how she was dressed."

"That's better. Well?"

"She looked an untidy old thing," said Gwen, after a pause to
recollect the appearance of this important stranger. "Very fat and
unshapely. She wore a black dress spotted with orange dots, a black
velvet mantle trimmed with jet beads, and a hat much too large for
her, and----" She broke off. "What's the matter, Mr. Hench?"

Owain's sudden change of colour and sudden start at this vivid
description of Madame Alpenny betrayed him immediately, and he looked
confused, not very well knowing how to excuse himself. For obvious
reasons he did not wish to admit that he recognized the costume
described. Therefore he took refuge in a white lie, and told the first
one that occurred to him. "An idea struck me, Miss Evans, that your
father might have been murdered by gipsies."

"Hum!" cried Mrs. Perage, quite taken in by this plausible untruth.
"That isn't at all unlikely. Madoc was hard on gipsies, especially
when they poached."

"But why do you suggest gipsies?" Gwen asked Owain, without attending
to her hostess.

"Well," he said, with an affected shrug, "that queer dress of the
untidy old woman hints at a gipsy. Perhaps it's only a fancy on my
part."

"It's a very good fancy," said Mrs. Perage emphatically. "If this
tramp is innocent, which he may be for all I know, the gipsies may
have something to do with the crime. Why, Gwen, don't you remember how
your father turned a whole gang of them off Parley Common a year ago
because they were robbing the hen-roosts? And an orange spotted dress
is just what a gipsy would wear."

"But you don't think, Mrs. Perage, that this woman murdered my
father?"

"My dear, I don't suggest anything because I don't know anything. All
I say is, that Mr. Hench's chance shot may have hit the bull's-eye."

Gwen looked down thoughtfully at the carpet. "My father certainly was
very much worried after his interview with this woman, and his worry
lasted up to the time of his death. Gipsies--if this woman was a
gipsy--might have something to do with the matter."

"It's only my idea, of course," said Owain hastily, for he did not
wish Madame Alpenny to be run to earth immediately. "Don't let us jump
to conclusions. We must think. I shall be here for a few weeks, and
during that time, Miss Evans, I am wholly at your disposal."

"You will help me to learn who murdered my father?"

"Yes. I'll do my best to find out," said Hench earnestly.

"Hum!" boomed Mrs. Perage. "Easier said than done. How do you intend
to begin?"

"Well," remarked Hench, after a pause. "I think it will be a good
start if Miss Evans takes me over Cookley Grange and into Parley Wood
where the corpse was found. Then we can talk over the matter."

Gwen looked doubtful. "Do you think my cousin would mind if I went
over the Grange and took Mr. Hench?" she asked her hostess.

Mrs. Perage stole a sly glance at Owain. "No, I don't think he would.
Why should he, if you come to that?"

"Well, his father and my father didn't get on well together."

"That is no reason why their son and daughter shouldn't," retorted
Mrs. Perage. "You can take Mr. Hench to the Grange to-morrow at
noon. Now, young man,"--she rose to the full height of her lofty
stature,----"you can depart. I keep early hours here, as it is
necessary that I should have my beauty sleep."

"As if you needed it!" said Owain jestingly, and this agreeable visit
ended as it had begun--with badinage and frivolity.



CHAPTER XII
CUPID'S GARDEN


That night Hench awoke during the small hours of the morning with the
conviction that he knew all about the mystery in which he was
involved. He had fallen asleep much exercised in his mind so far as
the visit of Madame Alpenny to Cookley Grange was concerned. He
remembered that about the time mentioned by Gwen the Hungarian lady
had gone away from Bethnal Green, presumably to procure an engagement
for Zara in a West End music-hall. Certainly that might have been one
very good reason why she had remained absent for a few days, but now
it appeared that there was another, which had to do with Madoc Evans.
When unconsciousness came Owain was still wrestling with the problem,
and somehow it seemed that the same was solved during slumber. But
with the working of his physical brain the scheme broke up, and he was
only able to retain fragments. These he proceeded to piece together
while staring at the ceiling through the faint twilight of the already
dawning day. It was rather a difficult task to put two and two
together.

The young man recollected that Madame Alpenny had denied all knowledge
of the elder Hench's family history, but recollected also that she had
done so with a certain amount of hesitation. It now was borne in
forcibly upon him that his father had told the woman much more about
his past than she would admit. Probably he had informed her of the
quarrel with the grandfather, and of his dislike for the brother,
explaining also that Madoc enjoyed Cookley Grange and the large income
for life. The word "Rhaiadr" had brought back the interview clearly to
Madame Alpenny's mind, and it was more than probable that she knew
Owain would inherit the estate. For that reason she had been agreeable
to his paying attentions to her daughter, and for that reason she had
paid her visit to Cookley Grange. Hench now quite understood how she
had come to see the advertisement and to draw his attention to it.
Without the least hesitation he concluded that she had learned from
his father where Cookley Grange was situated, and thither she had gone
to tell Madoc of her meeting with his pauper nephew. Why his uncle
should have put in the queer advertisement and have appointed so
strange a meeting-place Owain could not conceive, but he was certain
that Madoc had done so, and had used the very word to attract
attention which had awakened the Hungarian lady's memory of the
twenty-year-old meeting. She was without doubt on the look-out for the
advertisement, knowing in which paper it would appear. Thus she had
easily been able to show it to him, and having--so to speak--assisted
Madoc to lay the trap she had waited results.

Now what puzzled Hench was why Squire Evans should have acted in this
very roundabout way to bring about a meeting. An honest man would
have either ignored the son of the brother he hated or would have
openly invited him as his heir to visit him. Instead of doing this
Madoc had behaved mysteriously in making the appointment, and had
chosen for the rendezvous a solitary place out-of-doors. It seemed
tolerably clear to Owain that his uncle had intended to do him harm;
perhaps his idea was to murder him so that he should not inherit.
Squire Evans, if the hints of Gwen and the very plain speaking of Mrs.
Perage were to be believed, was by no means honest, so it was just
possible that he wanted to get his hated heir out of the way. Hench
shrunk from this conclusion, but after much thought could come to no
other. The unexpected murder of the Squire had prevented his own death
taking place.

When the young man rose in the morning he turned the matter over in
his mind, both while he was having his bath and while he was getting
into his clothes. It then occurred to him that, as Madame Alpenny
wished him to inherit so that he might marry Zara, the scheme of Evans
would scarcely have suited her. She would have been no party to such a
transaction, as such would have rendered void all her plans to get
money through the marriage. But Madoc, being crafty, had probably not
explained what he intended to do, and Madame Alpenny had returned to
The Home of the Muses simply to bring about a meeting which would
result in Owain entering into his kingdom on the death of his uncle.
As things had turned out that death had taken place very unexpectedly,
and Hench wondered if Madame Alpenny believed that he was the
criminal. It seemed impossible that she should so believe, as in the
first place she was ignorant that he had kept the appointment, and in
the second if she was aware she would assuredly have moved in the
matter before now. Owain could not understand her silence. The only
reason he could conceive why she should remain in the background
when things had come to such a pass was that her intention was to
come forward when he took possession of the estate. Then--as he
thought--she would appear at Cookley Grange with Zara, and if he
refused to marry the girl would then accuse him of the murder.

And again Hench remembered how he had been haunted by the feeling of
this scheming woman's presence both at his hotel and when he started
for Cookley. He had even believed that he had seen her amongst the
crowd at Liverpool Street Station. Certainly the feeling was vague and
he had been unable to prove that she was actually present on the
platform. All the same he was now pretty certain that Madame Alpenny
had been watching him, and that she knew he was staying at Cookley.
When she thought it was time she would very likely appear to continue
her plots. It was all very uncomfortable and unpleasant to a young man
who was honest and straight in all his dealings. Against his will he
was involved in these sordid schemes, and he did not see any way of
extricating himself from their mire. All he could do was to wait until
the Hungarian lady took action. Meanwhile he would do his best to try
and learn who had actually murdered his uncle. It was for this reason
he had so readily agreed to assist Gwen in her search.

The day was very hot, as there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun
was blazing like a great jewel in the softly-hued azure. Hench,
scorning convention, assumed a tropical kit which he had brought from
the warm lands of the equator. In a white linen suit, white shoes and
a solar topee, he looked sufficiently noticeable as he made his way to
Mrs. Perage's house. The Cookley villagers, accustomed as they were to
the eccentricities of tourists, were very much surprised to behold him
clothed so strangely. Naturally, being excessively prejudiced, they
did not consider the cool comfort of such a garb, and jeered at the
young man's common-sense while they sweated in their hot dark apparel.
Matrons even came to the doors to remark audibly that his washing-bill
must be something enormous. But Hench took no notice of the attention
he attracted. He was even glad, as it proved conclusively to him that
no one recognized in his spotless dress the rough tramp who was being
hunted for far and wide.

At the gate of Mrs. Perage's grounds he met Gwen, likewise clothed
in fair white linen with a large straw hat girdled by artificial
corn-flowers, as blue as her own eyes. She met Hench with a smile and
he smiled also, for each of them considered that the other looked
wonderfully handsome. Gwen even said as much with delightfully
childish candour, blushing as she spoke.

"How nice you look, Mr. Hench, and what a sensible dress for a hot
day."

"I return the compliment," said Owain, standing very straight and slim
and saluting her in a strictly military fashion by way of a joke. "But
people hereabouts have been making very rude remarks regarding my
laundry-bill."

"Of course they would. It is eccentric in England to be comfortable in
white clothes. You wouldn't dare to go to London in that suit."

"Try me," said Hench laughing. "I might do it out of dare-devilment,
although I am not anxious to attract undue attention."

"Why?" asked the girl, looking at him in what his guilty conscience
told him was a searching way.

Conscious that he had said an awkward thing, which he had, having
regard to his position, Owain strove to turn it off with a laugh. "I
am not vain enough to wish for admiration. I leave that to the Nuts
and the Nibs."

"Horrid, conceited young men," said Gwen, as she fell into step beside
him. "I do detest that class of person."

"Then I hope you don't think that I belong to the class in question."

"No. You're a man!"

"A very faulty man."

"I hope so. A perfect man would be horrid."

"And a perfect woman?" asked Owain, peeping under her large hat.

"There isn't such a thing."

"There is," he insisted. "I know one, at all events."

"Mrs. Perage would be very flattered if she heard you say that," said
Gwen in a demure tone and smiling.

"I don't mean Mrs. Perage, delightful as she is. I mean----"

"Now, don't spoil things with explanations," interrupted Miss Evans
quickly.

"Are you to pay all the compliments?"

"I don't pay compliments. I say that you are a man, because you saved
my life and don't talk about yourself as those horrid Nuts do. If you
were like them I shouldn't ask you to assist me."

Owain nodded comprehendingly. "I hope we will be successful," he said
soberly, "but the task is a difficult one!"

"To me more than to you it is difficult," said Gwen, colouring. "For
to make you understand I have to say things about my father which I
would rather leave unspoken."

"Leave them unspoken," advised Hench coolly. "I have learned quite
enough from Mrs. Perage to know that your father was a man who made
many enemies. One of them murdered him; which one we have to find
out."

"How are we to begin?"

"I hardly know. Perhaps Fate will begin for us," said Hench. He was
thinking of Madame Alpenny as Fate. His cousin said nothing more, as
her mind was busy considering his remarks, so the two walked on very
quietly along the dusty road until they came to the scene of the
motor-car adventure. Gwen was about to recall Owain's bravery, but
checked herself, lest she should say too much, for her gratitude
towards Hench was very strong. Also she saw that he was as attracted
by her as she was by him, and thought if she spoke too ardently that
he might say things which she did not wish to be said at the present
moment. By this time the girl was tolerably certain that the young man
loved her, and would probably propose if she gave him the least
chance. As she knew little about his worldly position, she did not
desire to move too swiftly in matters of love. Much as she loved him
and admired him and was grateful to him, yet, like all women, even the
most romantic, she had a vein of practical wisdom, which made her look
before she leaped. Soon she would know more of Hench with regard to
his income, his position, his habits and tastes. Then she would be
able to say "Yes" or "No" in accordance with her feelings. They were
strong just now, but she did not intend to let them run away with her.

Owain went with Gwen along the path leading out of the churchyard
through emerald-hued meadows towards Parley Wood. It was the very same
path which he had trodden on that eventful night, and he shivered
slightly at the recollection. Fortunately Gwen was too much taken up
with her own thoughts to notice this sign of discomfort, which was
lucky, since it would have necessitated an untrue explanation. And
after that one uncontrollable tremor, Hench braced himself to outward
calmness, and trod with apparent carelessness the bye-way which had
previously conducted him towards such dire trouble. He was quite glad
when the girl branched off along another path skirting the wood. This
took them round the corner of the trees and brought them into a narrow
lane, where the trees met overhead to shut out the sky. The pair moved
through a quiet green twilight with a tall hedge on one side and a
mouldering red brick wall on the other.

"This runs round the park," said Gwen, tapping the mellow bricks, "and
by following it we come to the gates."

"Is it a large park?" asked Hench, curious to ascertain the extent of
his domain.

"Not very large, but very beautiful. So is the house." Gwen heaved a
sigh. "I was very, very sorry to leave the Grange, as you may guess."

"Perhaps you will go back to it," suggested Owain, feeling desperately
anxious to then and there lay the same at her feet.

"No!" Gwen flushed angrily. "My cousin is sure to take possession
soon, and then I can never visit my old home."

"Why not?" Owain averted his face. "Your cousin may be a good sort of
chap."

"I don't see how he can be with such a father as he had," retorted
Gwen tartly.

Hench was nettled, as he thought that this was unfair. "After all,
your father was no angel," he said, also tartly. "Yet look at--you."

"If you are going to pay silly compliments, I shall go back," said the
girl sharply. "We are here on business, remember."

"I didn't pay a compliment--at any rate to your father."

"My father was--my father, so there's no use saying anything more. As
to my cousin, I'll never set eyes on him, so why talk about him."

"If you stay with Mrs. Perage you are certain to see him."

"I shan't stay with Mrs. Perage. As soon as my cousin arrives I shall
go to live in London and enjoy myself. I have five hundred a year of
my own, so I can do as I like."

"Why have you remained here so far?"

"Because I wish to learn who murdered my father."

"But I thought you didn't get on with your father?"

"That is no reason why I should allow the beast who murdered him to
escape, Mr. Hench," said Gwen quickly. "I wish you wouldn't talk
of--but there"--she walked on abruptly--"you don't understand, and I
cannot give you plain enough explanations to make you understand.
There is our family history to be considered and it is not a pleasant
one."

Of course, Owain knew the family history just as thoroughly as the
girl by his side, but for obvious reasons he could not tell her so. He
could recall nothing in the same creditable to the late Squire, and it
was impossible to guess why Gwen should so greatly desire to avenge
his death. Even though the dead man was her father, he had proved a
particularly unkind one, if Mrs. Perage was to be believed. But before
they returned to the village, Gwen was compelled, against her will as
it were, to tell him the true reason for the search. Then Owain was no
longer astonished that she should prosecute the same, and ask for his
assistance.

The two passed through ornate iron gates swung between two mighty
pillars of stone, and walked leisurely up a long avenue, which swept
round in a curve to lead into a vast open space girdled by the trees
of the park. Here, the young man for the first time came face to face
with the mansion he had inherited, and silently expressed his
admiration. It was a rambling structure of mellow red brick, the
patchwork of many generations, and comprising many styles of
architecture. And the very incongruity of the same constituted its
chief beauty, as the eye was always finding something new and
unexpected. Two storeys in height, it possessed a lofty slanting roof
of red tiles, weather-worn and picturesque, with many stacks of
twisted chimneys and many mullion windows. The whole was draped in
dark green ivy, and seemed to be so ancient that it only appeared to
be held together by the same. Windows and door were closed, but Gwen
informed her companion that Mrs. Capes, her father's old housekeeper,
was in charge. To summon her, she rang the bell as they stood in the
porch.

"It's a lovely place, isn't it?" she said, watching Owain's eyes
roving round. "Very lovely," he assented warmly. "We could be very
happy here."

"We!"--Gwen flushed hotly--"what do you mean?" Then it was Hench's
turn to flush. "I beg your pardon. I spoke without thinking, you see.
What a lucky person your cousin is," he ended artfully.

"I don't envy him his luck," she replied coldly, "and I'm sorry for
the place, let alone the people. He is sure to be disagreeable."

"But not knowing him, how can you judge?" protested Owain, much vexed
at this persistent hostility.

"I knew my father and I heard all about my Uncle Owain. No good can
come out of Nazareth, and no decent man from the Evans family."

Hench inwardly groaned and considered that she would have small mercy
on him when she came to realize that he was the wicked heir in
question. Madoc Evans must indeed have been a cruel parent to
prejudice her so greatly against the race whence she sprung. However,
he had little time to consider this question, as the door opened and a
stiff, stately old dame in a black silk dress and wearing a lace cap
made her appearance. She was a comely woman in spite of her age, and
smiled all over her wrinkled face when she beheld the girl.

"La, Miss, I am glad to see you. I thought you were never coming
again."

"I wish to show this gentleman the house and grounds," said Gwen,
stepping into a large hall, with busts of the Caesars on pedestals
ranged on either side. "I suppose my cousin has not yet come?"

"No, Miss," said Mrs. Capes respectfully, and looking at Owain in a
puzzled way as though she recognized his face. "The lawyers wrote to
tell me that he was coming some time before the end of the year, but
they couldn't be sure when."

"Curious," murmured Gwen to herself. "GGI wonder why he is so slow in
coming?"

"Perhaps he thinks you are here and does not wish to turn you out,"
said Hench, overhearing. "Then I shall write to Mr. Gilberry and tell
him that I have left. In fact, I think he knows, as Mrs. Perage said
something about having written. Anyhow, I don't want my cousin to show
any consideration for me."

"Oh, fie, Miss," said Mrs. Capes reprovingly. "Mr. Evans may be a very
nice gentleman, for all we know."

"Ah," said Gwen bitterly, "you worship the rising sun, I see."

Mrs. Capes looked offended. "I worship no one, Miss, but if Mr. Evans
turns out to be a nice gentleman, why shouldn't I like him?" She stole
a glance at Owain as she spoke, and again he saw something like
recognition in her eyes.

Gwen shrugged her shoulders. "Wait here, Mr. Hench, and I shall return
soon. I can show you over the house, and we will not need to trouble
Mrs. Capes."

She went away in a hurry, while Hench and the housekeeper remained in
the hall looking at one another. By this time Owain felt rather
uncomfortable, as it seemed that Mrs. Capes recognized him, and he
wondered if she was about to denounce him as the much-wanted tramp. Of
course the idea was ridiculous, as she had never seen him when he
first came to Cookley to keep the appointment of the advertisement.
Nevertheless, Hench felt uneasy and pointedly questioned the old
woman, so as to set his own mind at rest. "Why do you look at me so
intently, Mrs. Capes?" he asked quickly.

"I was thinking how greatly you resemble your father," she answered.

Owain was taken aback. "My father!" he muttered nervously.

"My dear young gentleman, I have been with the family all my life, and
knew Mr. Owain Evans as boy and man. I was certain that you were his
son the moment I saw you. And when Miss Gwen called you 'Mr. Hench,'
of course I was positive. That was the name Mr. Owain took when he
went away from his father."

"I am Owain Evans," admitted the young man, seeing that he was
discovered; "but I don't wish my cousin to know. She seems to have a
prejudice against me."

Mrs. Capes nodded shrewdly. "Mr. Madoc was always speaking against you
and your father, sir. No, I won't say a word. Are you----?" She looked
searchingly at him.

Hench guessed what she meant. "Yes, I am," he admitted boldly, "very
much in love, but if she learns who I am she won't marry me."

"The temper of the family is obstinate," she sighed. "All the same,
sir, as you are young and good-looking, I wouldn't give up hope."

"As that means giving up Gwen, you may be certain that I won't. Hush,
here she is, Mrs. Capes. Not a word."

"You can trust me, sir," replied the housekeeper, and looked quite
pleased at being in the secret of the young Squire's identity. "I'll
go now," she added, raising her voice for the benefit of Gwen. "You
know your way about, Miss."

"Yes. Don't let us trouble you," replied Miss Evans more graciously,
and then the two young people were left alone.

Gwen conducted Hench all over the vast house, showing him into one
room after another filled with treasures. The place was very old and
the rooms were spacious, while the furniture and the draperies and the
carpets, the pictures, statues, carvings, and bric-a-brac were
delightfully attractive. After wandering in raw lands, Owain deeply
appreciated this real home, with which Destiny had provided him. He
thought that if the goddess would only add to her gift by giving him
Gwen for his wife, that he would have nothing else to wish for in the
wide world. His appreciation and delighted observations pleased Gwen,
although she sighed when they emerged again into the sunshine,
intending to show him the garden.

"It's horrid to leave it," she said, casting a backward glance at the
ancient house. "I envy my cousin."

"I thought you didn't," remarked Owain calmly.

"After seeing my old home again, I do," answered Gwen, passing quickly
across the lawn. "Come down here and see the flowers."

The gardens were a paradise of flowers and beautifully laid out. There
were all kinds of nooks and arbours in odd corners, and many winding
paths which led to pleasant glades. The trees were magnificent, and
everywhere the place bloomed with blossoms. Hench was not quite sure
if he did not like the gardens even better than the charming house.
And what with the colour and scent of flowers, the heat of the day,
the silence of the place, and the fact that he was walking long-side
the girl he loved, the young man rather lost his head. In a rash
moment he quoted Omar Khayyam's verse relative to the wilderness, the
wine-cup, the loaf of bread, and of course "Thou!" Gwen blushed and
flushed, and threw up her hand to stop him. They were standing near a
marble bench under an oak tree, and on this she sat down.

"I wish you would not speak to me like that," she said in vexed tones.

"Why not, when I love you?"

"You can't love in five minutes."

"Romeo and Juliet did."

"Ah, that is in a play. I am talking of real life. We have only known
each other a very short time."

"Undoubtedly. But then our introduction made for intimacy at once."

"How unfair," murmured Gwen, looking down. "You are taking advantage
of the fact that you saved my life."

"If that is any bar to my loving you, I wish I hadn't."

"Then you would have had no one to love," retorted the girl, who could
not help smiling at the speech. Hench saw that smile.

"Gwen, you don't dislike me?" he asked entreatingly.

"No, I certainly do not. I like you, and so does Mrs. Perage."

"Please leave Mrs. Perage out of the conversation. Does your saying
that you like me mean that you love me?"

"Liking doesn't mean love."

"It's a step in the right direction, anyhow," said Hench cheerfully.
"See here, Gwen, I have little to offer you, but with that little I
give my heart. Now if----"

"Don't say anything more just now," interrupted the girl, much
distressed. "I cannot answer you."

"You can say yes, or no."

"I don't wish to say no."

"Then that means yes!" cried Hench triumphantly, and his heart beat
rapidly.

"No"--Gwen pulled away the hand he had taken--"there is something you
must know about me. I did not intend to tell you, but since you have
spoken, I must be frank." She drew a long breath, while Owain fixed
his brown eyes keenly on her disturbed face. "Have you heard anything
against me in the village?"

"No, I have not. But then I don't go into the village much, nor do I
attend to gossip. All I know of you comes from Mrs. Bell, and she
adores you."

Gwen crossed her feet and folded her hands. "My father and I never got
on well together," she said rapidly and in a low voice, looking down
as she spoke. "He treated me very harshly, and we very often
quarrelled."

"That was not your fault, I swear," cried the lover impetuously.

"No. I can honestly say that it wasn't. But every one knew that we did
not get on well together, and when my father was murdered, some people
said"--she drew another long breath--"that I--I--murdered him."

She looked up with a frightened glance, as if she expected Hench to
turn and fly after hearing such a confession. Instead of doing so, the
young man laughed aloud and lifted her from the bench into his arms.
"What a silly thing to say," he murmured, pressing her to his breast.

"You--you--don't---believe it?" gasped Gwen, making no attempt to get
away.

"Darling, it is not worth my while to answer such a question. I love
you and I have done so from the first moment I set eyes on you. Can I
believe that the most perfect girl in the world is guilty of anything,
much less of such a dreadful crime?"

"But people say----"

"I won't hear another word. Thus I stop your mouth"--and before Gwen
was aware, Owain had kissed her full on the lips.

"Oh," she said, half frightened, half delighted, "how can you!" Then
suddenly she slipped from his arms. "No! No! Only when you learn the
truth about my father's death and end this scandal, will I--will
I----"

"Good!" said Owain, quite understanding. "I'll find out the truth and
then we will go hand in hand to the church." And a final kiss sealed
the compact.



CHAPTER XIII
DANGER


Considering that he had gained his heart's desire, Hench should have
returned to his lodgings in the highest spirits. Instead of doing so,
he arrived in a rather disturbed frame of mind. It seemed to him,
after due reflection, that he was not treating Gwen straightforwardly,
since as yet she was quite unaware of the relationship between them.
Nevertheless, as he argued, he would never have been able to win her
had she known at the outset that he was the heir to the estate and her
cousin. So far he had acted honestly enough in masquerading as a
disguised prince, but he should not have compelled her to acknowledge
her love before making himself known. Aware of the truth, she could
make her choice of marrying the man she loved, or of dismissing the
cousin whom her father had taught her to detest. Hench felt decidedly
uncomfortable.

This being the case, he was unable to stay in the poky little rooms,
as he felt too restless to sit down, and too excited to read. His foot
was now so much better that he could walk with considerable ease,
although he had some sort of twinge every now and then. But it was
certainly not well enough to permit his taking a long walk. Yet Owain,
feeling hipped, did so, and strolled a long way into the country. The
result was that he felt the old pain coming on again, and his ankle
being yet somewhat weak, there was danger that he might twist it.
Luckily, a carrier's cart came along the road when he was some miles
from Cookley, and the offer of a shilling procured Hench a drive back
to the village. When he alighted at Mrs. Bell's door he felt that his
foot was again swollen and painful, and cursed his folly, as he
hobbled into his sitting-room. He would have to rest that evening, as
he fully recognized, and as the lover's desire was to see Gwen, such
enforced absence from her presence did not please him. With a groan he
wondered how he would get through the dull hours until bed-time.

But Fate had already provided him with an interesting companion. While
Hench sat down and removed his boots and stroked his ankle, a tall
figure appeared at the door of the bedroom, which opened into the
sitting-room. After an astonished pause, Hench fell back on the sofa
and gasped.

"Jim!" he cried. "Who would have thought of seeing you here?"

"I thought I would surprise you," said Vane complacently, and
advancing into the parlour. "I arrived three hours ago and found that
you had gone out for a walk. Therefore, I looked up my aunt, as I
intend to put up with her for the night, and then came back to lie on
your bed and pass the time in sleep until you turned up. Humph! You
don't look like a joyful lover."

"What do you know about that?" asked Hench tartly. "Has Gwen----"

"No, she hasn't," interrupted Vane promptly. "But Aunt Emma hinted
that she wished to bring about a marriage between you and your cousin,
so that the family quarrels should end. From your words rather than
your looks, it seems that you have settled the matter and accomplished
Aunt Emma's desire."

Hench groaned. "We can talk of that later. Meantime, I apologize for
lying on the sofa; but I foolishly went for a long walk and my ankle
is aching again."

"Oh, that's all right," replied the barrister, lighting a cigarette.
"Aunt Emma told me of your rescuing Miss Evans and that your ankle was
better. Why the deuce have you made it worse?"

"I couldn't sit down here after meeting Gwen this morning, and went
for a walk. This is the result," and Hench pointed to his ankle. As he
had removed his sock, Vane saw that it was much inflamed.

"Silly ass," said Jim, fumbling near the fireplace for the bell-rope.
"Better bathe it in cold water and lie up for the evening."

"I intend to, and I daresay it will be all right in the morning.
Mrs. Bell"--the delicate-looking landlady entered as he spoke her
name--"just bring me a basin of cold water and my sponge."

Mrs. Bell threw up her hands at the sight which met her eyes. "Won't I
send for the doctor, Mr. Hench?"

"No. Bathing will reduce the swelling and rest will put everything
else right, Mrs. Bell. Don't worry. Sorry I'm an invalid, Vane, and
can't entertain you."

"Oh, I shan't let you off inviting me to dinner, Owain," said the
barrister, as Mrs. Bell disappeared to fetch the basin of water. "I've
come down to see you especially. Later I go on to sleep at my aunt's
place."

"What do you wish to see me about?" asked Hench uneasily.

"That can wait until I have some food. Don't be inhospitable."

Owain laughed and began to bathe his ankle in the cold water which
Mrs. Bell had just brought in. He thought that Vane's news could not
be anything very unpleasant since he so calmly postponed telling it.
So the two men chatted on various frivolous subjects while the
landlady laid the cloth and made the dinner ready. By the time Hench
finished doctoring his foot and was feeling less pain, the meal was
before them. Vane pushed the table near to the sofa so that Owain
could eat without sitting in a chair. He partook of the viands in the
dining attitude of an ancient Roman, leaning on one elbow, and being
hungry, managed to make an excellent meal. Then Mrs. Bell brought in
the coffee, and after clearing the table, left the two men to their
own devices. Vane sat near the window smoking, while Owain remained
comfortably on his sofa. The casement was open, and the scent of the
homely cottage flowers came into the room, which was filled with the
coming shadows of the night. Hench felt so tired that he did not begin
the conversation, and would have much preferred slumber. But Vane gave
him no chance. He began to chat immediately, and on a subject which
was already worrying his friend considerably.

"So you are in love with your cousin and she with you," he remarked,
after a puff or two. "I am going by what Aunt Emma said, remember. It
seems quick work to me--a kind of five minutes' wooing."

"Jim, I fell head over heels in love with Gwen the moment I saw her."

"The deuce! Yet the last time we met, you told me that you didn't know
what love meant."

"That was quite true. I didn't. My liking for Zara Alpenny was one of
simple admiration. But Gwen! Oh, Jim, you don't know how I adore her."

"I'll take it for granted that you do," said Vane dryly. "But I can't
say that your newly-born passion makes you very happy. You have
groaned two or three or four times since you arrived."

"It's my ankle giving me pain."

"Oh, shucks!" cried the barrister, after a purely American fashion,
"it's your heart, man. You aren't the chap to yowl over a twisted
sinew, as I know jolly well. Come along and unburden your mind to your
father-confessor."

"It will be a relief," admitted Hench, with a fifth groan. "The fact
is I am not quite sure if I have acted rightly in stealing a march on
Gwen."

"What do you mean by your stealing a march?"

"Well, you see she knows me as Hench, and hasn't the least idea that I
am her cousin who inherits the property."

"What of that? You came here with the idea of masquerading."

"So I did. But I didn't intend to go too far."

"And you have?"

"Yes!"--another groan. "We went to the Grange this morning, and when I
found myself alone in the garden with her I proposed to her."

"So she said to Aunt Emma."

"But, Jim, you told me that she had said nothing?"

"I did. It was a fib, I admit. But I wanted to hear your version of
the proposal, Owain," said Vane shamelessly. "You didn't intend to go
too far, nor did your cousin. But as you were swept off your feet by
passion, so was she, as she admitted to Aunt Emma, with tears. Miss
Evans intended to keep you at arm's length until she knew more about
you. But this passion took you both off your feet, so there's no doubt
of its being genuine on both sides."

"On my side, certainly. But on hers----?"

"The same. I hope you don't mind Aunt Emma telling me of what took
place; she has your interest very much at heart."

"I am glad that Mrs. Perage broke the ice," said Hench dolefully.
"It makes it easier for me to talk. You see, Gwen loves me as a
stranger----"

"Can a girl love a stranger?"

"I mean she thinks that I am only Owain Hench. When she learns that I
am Owain Evans she will throw me over."

"Why should she, seeing that she loves you?"

"Love may turn to hate, and her dislike for my father's son has been
carefully fostered by her father."

"Well," said Vane with an air of finality, "it seems to me that she
should be jolly glad to get back her old home by marriage with a
decent chap such as her cousin is."

"She doesn't believe that I am a decent chap," cried Hench irritably.

"Then you must prove that you are by explaining matters," insisted Jim
coolly. "Bless you, Miss Evans will look upon your masquerading as a
romance."

"I've got my doubts about that. She may resent being deceived."

Vane remained silent for a few moments and lighted a fresh cigarette.
"As a bachelor I don't pretend to understand women," he said at
length, "and it is just on the cards that she may cut up rough. Still,
if she loves you really and truly, as Aunt Emma assured me she does,
she will forgive your innocent deception. After all, by concealing the
truth you only gave yourself a fair chance of being judged on your
merits."

Hench nodded wearily. "That of course was my idea of masquerading, and
it was a right idea, seeing how strongly her father has prejudiced her
against me. I am a kind of monster in her eyes in my capacity of
heir"--Hench turned restlessly--"I must tell her, I suppose."

"You must, and as soon as possible," advised his mentor firmly. "If
you don't, the information may come from a less pleasant quarter."

"Now, what do you mean by that?" asked Hench, startled.

"Madame Alpenny----?"

"You don't know her."

"Oh yes, I do. I am not aware if Aunt Emma told you, but I went down
to Bethnal Green for a day or so."

"She told me last night, when I dined at her house. I was wondering
why you went there?"

"Where are your wits?" asked Vane in a surprised tone. "Of course, I
went in your interest to that boarding-house and stopped for a couple
of nights."

"In my interest?" Hench raised himself on his elbow and stared at Vane
with an uneasy look in his eyes.

"Of course. You don't suppose that any business of my own took me down
there, do you? So far as regards this murder of your uncle, you are
not out of the wood yet, so I wanted to learn what I could to help
you."

"You're a real good fellow, Jim," said Owain gratefully.

"Pfui! In the absence of briefs which don't come my way, it gives me
something to do. Besides, if there is a row over the business you can
engage me as your counsel, and then I'll make a big name straight
away."

"Oh, hang it"--Hench moved uneasily--"don't speak of that even in
jest."

"I'm not in jest, but in dead earnest," insisted Vane seriously. "I
tell you Madame Alpenny is on the warpath."

"What?"

"There! there! Don't get excited, you silly ass. Let me begin at the
beginning and end at the end." Vane blew a ring or so of smoke and
went on talking. "I stayed at The Home of the Muses to see if Spruce
knew anything about that advertisement, as I dreaded him rather than
the old woman. Of course, he knew me as a pal of yours at the old
school, and was very curious to know where you had got to."

"You didn't tell him, I hope?"

Vane shook his head. "Is thy servant an ass that he should do so? Of
course I lay low like Brer Rabbit, and let Spruce babble on. He
doesn't know anything about your real name, or the advertisement, or
your accession to fortune, or anything else. He'd have let the
information slip had he known. So far as Spruce is concerned you can
set your mind at rest. I'm glad such is the case, Owain, for he's a
dangerous monkey."

"Humph!" said Hench meditatively. "If he is ignorant why does he wish
to know where I am?"

"Because, having made London too hot for him over that card affair,
with which I charged him, by the way, he wants to seek fresh fields
and pastures new. He had an idea--I think you told him--that you were
going away into the lands at the back-of-beyond, so thought he'd like
to come with you."

"I wouldn't have him as a gift as a companion," said Hench with
disgust.

"So I told him, and he wasn't exactly pleased. At all events, since I
ostensibly didn't know where you were he shut up, and gave me the cold
shoulder on account of my nasty manner towards him with regard to the
cheating. I do think," finished Vane calmly, "that he's the most
abject Gadarene swine I have ever met."

Owain drew a long breath of relief when Vane finished, for he also
mistrusted the meddlesome little man. Had Spruce understood the
situation it was very certain that he would have attempted to make an
income out of the same by blackmail, particularly now that Hench had
money in large quantities. But as he was quite ignorant of everything
there was nothing to be feared. "Then it's not from that quarter the
information about my real name is to come to Gwen?"

"No! Set your mind at rest so far. Madame Alpenny is the lady likely
to queer your pitch."

"But she doesn't know where I am."

"Oh yes, she does. Mrs. Bell's cottage in Cookley, Essex, was the
address she gave me as one likely to find you."

Hench swore under his breath. "How did she find out?"

"Hurry no man's cattle, my son," said Vane sagely. "You must be
introduced to the subject gradually, so that you may admire my
diplomatic skill. I came to Mrs. Tesk's establishment to ask for you,
as that--according to my story--was the address you gave me. Mrs. Tesk
didn't know where you had gone to, so I paid civil attentions to
Madame Alpenny and confessed that I was your very good friend. Then
she told me--when we became better acquainted, mind you--that you were
her very good friend, and would shortly be her very good son-in-law."

"Nothing of the sort," cried Hench violently. "I proposed to Zara, and
she refused me as she loves Bracken."

"Zara said nothing about that proposal or her Bracken engagement to
Madame Alpenny, as she's a deuced sight too much afraid of the old
hag. Madame Alpenny told me that she had given you permission to marry
Zara whenever you got the cash. She mentioned that, as you were the
nephew of Squire Evans who had been murdered, you were now rich."

"How did she know that?" asked Hench, remembering the visit paid by
the Hungarian lady to his deceased uncle.

"Oh, she told me that your father, some twenty years ago, wished to
marry her, and gave a sketch of his family history."

"I know. It was the word 'Rhaiadr' he mentioned which revived her
recollection and led to the advertisement being inserted."

"The deuce!" said Vane curiously. "She told me nothing of that."

"No, she wouldn't," growled Hench impatiently. "Go on. I can speak
later."

"Well, then," proceeded the barrister, "Madame Alpenny knew that you
inherited the estate; also your real name and all the rest of it."

"My father told her."

"Exactly, and she frankly confessed that she had refused him because
the estate was going to you and not to your father. She never bothered
any more about the matter until she met you at The Home of the Muses.
Then the name 'Rhaiadr' revived her memory, and she wished you to
marry Zara when you became rich. After seeing the death of your uncle
in the newspapers she was certain that you had entered into your
kingdom, and is coming down to see if you will keep your promise and
marry Zara."

"Did she say that she could make it hot for me if I didn't?"

"No. She's a wary old bird. She was all smiles and amiability," said
Vane significantly. "There was no word of the murder or of the
advertisement, or anything which led me to understand that she had a
card up her sleeve. All she knows--according to her own showing--is
that you are Squire Evans' heir and are engaged to her daughter."

"It's a lie. I'm not. How did she learn where I was?"

"Oh, she confessed that as she had no reason--so she said--to conceal
it. A page called Bottles told her."

Hench slipped off the sofa and swore again. "I guessed as much. I saw
Bottles' brother, who is a page at your aunt's. He recognized me, as
his brother had written telling him all about me. I had half a mind to
tell him to hold his tongue as to my whereabouts but didn't like to."

"It would have been too late," said Vane quickly. "The page must
have written whenever he heard your name as that of a gentleman
staying in the village. At all events, Madame Alpenny knew all about
you being here the day before yesterday. Peter--I know the brat at my
aunt's--wrote to Simon, surnamed Bottles, and Bottles gave you away to
Madame Alpenny."

"Hang him! I did think that I could trust Bottles."

"You can't trust any one in this wicked world," commented the
barrister philosophically. "Madame Alpenny knew that the boy was a
hero-worshipper and adored you, so she made inquiries. I daresay a few
shillings made him talk."

"I don't believe it," said Hench doubtfully. "Peter hinted that
everything was right, so I believe Bottles has some card up his sleeve
which has to do with all this mystery."

"But I don't see----"

"No more do I," said Hench, cutting Vane short. "We're in the dark,
and until some light is thrown on the subject we will remain in the
dark. As to Madame Alpenny, she is at the bottom of the business, I am
sure." And then Owain went on to tell his friend about the visit paid
by the woman to the Squire. "She has engineered the whole plot, I'm
certain."

"Queer," admitted Vane, staring absently out into the shadowy garden.
"Do you think she murdered the Squire?"

"How do I know. She might have done so in order to place me in
possession of the money at once. There is certainly a motive.
Perhaps,"--Hench's face grew less gloomy,--"perhaps that is why she
hasn't moved in the matter so far."

"How did you expect her to move?"

"Well, she must have guessed that I would keep the appointment, and
when she saw that my uncle was murdered she naturally would accuse me.
Instead of doing this she has held her tongue."

"Only for a time, old son. Believe me, she may turn up here any day.
Naturally she wouldn't queer her pitch by telling the police of what
she knows. My impression is that she will try and make you marry Zara
by threatening to give you away unless you come up to the scratch."

"I shan't come up to the scratch, then," muttered Hench sullenly.

"In that case Madame Alpenny will have the game in her own hands."

"She won't, Jim, if I can prove her guilty."

"That won't be an easy job," said Vane doubtfully. "The woman is as
cunning as a fox, and as dangerous as a tigress. Besides, we can't be
sure that she _did_ get rid of your uncle. Anyhow,"--the barrister
rose to stretch himself,--"I advise you to make friends with Mammon by
telling Gwen who you are, and getting over the trouble before Madame
Alpenny turns up to put her fingers in the pie. She intends to do
that, you know."

"She'll burn her fingers, then."

"I said a pie, not a fire," retorted Jim dryly. "She intends to eat
your pudding, not to burn herself."

"Well, what is best to be done under the circumstances?" asked Hench
crossly.

"Tell Gwen who you are, and explain how you saw the body of her father
in Parley Wood," rejoined the barrister promptly.

"No! No! No! She would believe me to be guilty. You know how the
supposed tramp who went to the Bull Inn is suspected. If I confessed
that I was the man----"

"I see, I see," interrupted Vane, wrinkling his lean face. "It's a bit
difficult, isn't it, old man? But if Miss Evans loves you she'll never
believe a word against you. That's a woman all over."

"I tell you she is prejudiced against her cousin Owain," said Hench
sullenly. "And when she learns that I am that cousin she will merge
her love in hate."

Vane shook his head. "I doubt it. But if she does by any ill chance,
you have a friend in my aunt. She likes you no end, and will stand by
you. As you may guess, she has a strong influence over Miss Evans."

"Mrs. Perage is a very clever and sensible woman," mused Owain
thoughtfully. "And I really think it would be wise for me to tell her
everything."

"I agree!" cried Vane emphatically. "Bachelor as I am, I always
believe in asking a woman's advice. The sex has more intuition than
ours has. Let her be the person to deal with Madame Alpenny--one woman
against another. Then," added the barrister cynically, "you'll see the
fur fly."

"I won't tax Mrs. Perage's friendship so far, Jim. My ankle will be
all right to-morrow, so if you will ask Gwen to meet me near the old
Saxon Cross in the churchyard I can reveal who I am. When I settle
matters with her I shall see Mrs. Perage and relate the whole story."

"Relate it to Miss Evans also," advised Vane strongly.

"No. I shall only tell her who I am, and give her time to get over
that before I tell more. It's dangerous to give her too big a dose at
once. Also, when I tell your aunt about my adventure I wish to be
guided by her advice. She may suggest my keeping the same a secret
from Gwen until the truth becomes known."

"Well, do as you think best, Owain. But how is the truth to become
known?"

"I shall wait until I see Madame Alpenny before forming an opinion."

Vane wheeled round. "Do you mean to accuse her of the murder?"

"Not unless she accuses me. It's a case of pull devil, pull baker. Now
you'd better out along to your aunt's and make my excuses for not
turning up. Meanwhile I shall think over things, and a pleasant night
I shall have."

"The way of the transgressor is hard," laughed Vane cheerfully.

"Transgressor be hanged! I'm more sinned against than sinning."

Vane laid a friendly hand on his friend's shoulder. "All right, old
man, don't get your hair riz. I'll tell Aunt Emma that your ankle kept
you from paying your respects to her, and will request Miss Evans to
meet you to-morrow near the Cross. At what time, by the way?"

"Three o'clock in the afternoon. And don't come along in the morning,
Jim. I wish to think out matters alone. I shall see you in the
afternoon."

Vane put on his hat and prepared a cigarette. "Don't overdo it," he
advised at the door. "And remember that two heads are better than
one."

"Quite so. That is why I intend to see Gwen. All the same, I'm
afraid."

"Nonsense! Use that very eloquent tongue of yours and show her that
the devil is not so black as he is painted. Miss Evans, being very
much a woman, may cut up rough at the outset, but when----"

"When what?"

"When she knows that you are in danger of arrest she will stand by you
through thick and thin."

"I have my doubts," said Hench dolefully.

"I haven't. Women are contrary animals. As her prosperous cousin she
may hate you. As an innocent man, in danger of being hanged, she will
love you."

"May you be a true prophet," said Hench fervently, and Vane went away
laughing.



CHAPTER XIV
AT BAY


Vane faithfully delivered both messages, and Gwen was as pleased with
the churchyard appointment as Mrs. Perage was annoyed by Hench's
folly. That he should walk for miles on a weak ankle proved what a
fool he was, and she said as much to her nephew next morning at
breakfast.

"You men are all babies, Jim, silly, obstinate and weak."

"Not me," retorted the barrister. "I haven't been fooling with my
ankle."

"You know quite well what I mean," fumed Mrs. Perage, who was in her
work-a-day attire, and who looked particularly fierce. "It's not only
his ankle, it's his masquerading." She rubbed her nose irritably. "I
tell you there will be the deuce to pay. Gwen is Welsh."

"Well, what does her nationality matter?"

"It matters everything. The Welsh are a particularly fiery  nation,
and have the pride of Old Nick. As a poor man Gwen loves her
cousin--he is the fairy prince who has come into her life. But when
she learns the truth----"

"She'll forgive him if she loves him."

Mrs. Perage shook her head and scowled. "You don't know woman, Jim.
Her very love may make her resent his not having treated her quite
honestly."

"Aren't you taking the matter too seriously, Aunt Emma?" expostulated
Vane with a shrug. "After all, Miss Evans must see that Owain could
only give himself a fair chance by masquerading as he has done. If he
had turned up _in propria persona_, she would have disliked him on the
spot."

"Hum!" boomed Mrs. Perage doubtfully. "Perhaps. But not if he had
saved her life. That act would have excused everything had it been
done as Owain Evans."

"What do you mean by excusing everything?"

"I mean as regards the reputation of Owain Evans. Of course Madoc was
always a liar, as I know, and Gwen didn't get on over-well with him.
As a _deus ex machina_, Gwen would have disbelieved her father's
stories of her cousin's wickedness."

"But the poor chap isn't wicked at all. He's the whitest man I know."

"Madoc's lies would have smirched the whiteness of an angel," retorted
the old lady sharply. "But Gwen would have either forgiven or would
have disbelieved had Hench come as her cousin. As it is she may throw
him over if he tells her who he really is."

"Oh, he intends to tell her right enough, and this very day, somewhere
about three o'clock," said Vane coolly. "She may cut up rough for the
minute, but when Owain gets into trouble she'll find out that she
loves him all right."

"Trouble!" Mrs. Perage looked up suddenly. "What trouble?"

"I'm not at liberty to say, Aunt Emma. Owain intends to tell you
himself. But there's a big trouble coming along."

"Hum! Can't it be averted?"

"So far as I can see, it can't."

"Well, Jim,"--the old dame rose from the breakfast table and brushed
the crumbs from her apron,--"I'll wait to hear the young man's
explanation. But I am quite sure that he is honest and kind and a
well-bred gentleman. Nothing will ever make me change my opinion of
him."

"Wait till you hear what the trouble is."

"Do you know all about it?" demanded Mrs. Perage imperatively.

"Yes, I do."

"And you still can call Hench your friend?"

"I can. He's a rattling good chap."

"Then why the dickens should I change my opinion when I learn the
truth?" said Mrs. Perage vigorously. "It can't be anything
dishonourable or you would not champion Hench. Do you think you are
talking to a fool, Jim Vane?"

"Oh Lord, Aunt Emma, don't get on to me. My nerves are weak."

"Your head is," retorted Aunt Emma smartly. "I wish you hadn't hinted
at this trouble, Jim. I'm horribly inquisitive, and will be on
tenterhooks until I know what it's all about."

"I don't expect you'll have to wait long," said Vane gloomily. "There
will be the devil to pay if----"

Mrs. Perage closed her ears and hurried to the door. "Not another
word. You are only making me more and more curious. But I tell you
what, Jim, I am going to stand Hench's friend in any case."

"You're a brick, Aunt Emma."

"I'm an old fool," snapped Mrs. Perage, who was more upset by the
implied mystery than she chose to admit. "My wisest plan would be to
wash my hands of the whole business, known and unknown. But instead of
doing so I am just going to strengthen Gwen's love for Owain, so that
it may not fail her when he makes his revelation."

Mrs. Perage held to this determination, and twice or thrice during the
morning she exchanged words with Miss Evans on the subject of Hench.
The girl for the time being had lost sight of her mission of clearing
her name by discovering the name of the assassin, and was wholly taken
up with love dreams. She was passionately devoted to the young man, as
his attitude tended to increase her belief in the nobility of his
nature. He had saved her life as it was, and now, in the face of the
rumours which credited her with the death of her father, he was
willing to marry her. No man but the noblest who ever breathed would
act in so gloriously honourable a fashion. She said this and much more
to Mrs. Perage in the seclusion of her bedroom, when she was putting
on her prettiest frock and hat to keep the appointment. And all the
time Mrs. Perage was rubbing her beaky nose irritably.

"Don't build the pedestal too high, Gwen," she advised dryly. "Your
idol may have feet of clay and come toppling over."

"No," said the girl firmly. "Nothing will ever make me believe that
Mr. Hench is not the best of men. What is his Christian name, Mrs.
Perage? It is strange that he did not tell me yesterday."

Mrs. Perage was much too wary to give the name, lest it should lead to
uncomfortable questions and forestall Owain's explanations. "How the
deuce should I know the man's name?" she asked crossly and evasively.
"I never met him until you introduced him to me as your hero."

"And he is a hero, isn't he?"

"Hum! I suppose so! The rescue was rather flamboyant--a kind of
playing to the gallery."

"How unjust," cried Gwen, flaming up, which was exactly what Mrs.
Perage wanted her to do. "As if he could help the way in which my
rescue took place. I am quite sure that he is the most modest of men."

"Pooh! No man is modest; they are all as conceited as pigs."

"I never knew that pigs were considered vain, Mrs. Perage," said Gwen
coldly. "And I don't see why you should compare Mr. Hench to one."

"I spoke generally. Don't be silly."

"Ah, you call me silly because I'm in love."

"Are you really and truly in love?" asked the old lady doubtfully.
"Mind you, I don't mean that easy romantic passion which seems
everything and means nothing. But real love, true love, staunch love,
the sort which will hold to its object in the face of all detraction."

"I wouldn't believe a word against Mr. Hench, if that is what you
mean. But I don't know why you should use the word detraction."

"I don't know myself," said Mrs. Perage grimly. "Unless it is that I
find most men are broken cisterns. There, there, child, go away and
meet your Prince. I don't wish to be your Jeremiah and prophesy woe."

"I wouldn't believe you if you did," said the girl very decidedly.
"All my woe was undergone with the death of my father and the loss of
my old home. I am sure that there is nothing but sunshine ahead."

Mrs. Perage sniffed and thought anxiously about Vane's hints. But it
was not her business to give chapter and verse for her forebodings.
And, at all events, she had somewhat strengthened Gwen's love for the
young man by depreciating him in a hinting kind of way. When the girl,
flushed with love, and looking as pretty as a picture, set forth to
keep the appointment, Mrs. Perage stood at the window and breathed a
prayer that all would be well. It was a bright warm day, but clouds
were drifting across the sky. Even as the old dame prayed a cloud
concealed the brightness of the sun and Mrs. Perage shuddered. It was
an omen of ill, she thought; but when a few moments later the cloud
passed and the glow of the sunshine reasserted itself, she cheered up.
It seemed to her that trouble was coming, but would pass without being
of any great duration. She fervently hoped so, and went about her
daily business calling herself hard names for being so superstitious.

Meantime, Gwen, with a smiling face and a light heart, was walking
swiftly towards the place of meeting. Every moment spent away from
Hench, now that he had declared himself, seemed to be wasted, and she
promised herself three or four golden hours with her lover. They would
talk in the churchyard for a time, and then would take a long walk, in
any direction, for whatever path they chose would lead to the Elysian
Fields. Then he would tell her how much he loved her, and she would
respond coyly to his caresses, until earth and sea and sky would be
transfigured, and they would be blessed above all lovers who ever were
or who ever would be. Afterwards would come marriage, and they would
enter into the kingdom of heaven to remain there for ever and ever.
Gwen rather blushed at the extravagance of her thoughts when she
entered the churchyard, and blushed still more when she came suddenly
upon the ancient Saxon Cross, against which the man of men was
leaning. She thought for a single nervous moment that he looked rather
pinched and worried, but had no cause to complain of the warmth of his
greeting. Once she was in his arms with only the jackdaws for
spectators, it seemed as though he would never let her go. All the
poetry of Romeo and Juliet was in his embrace. And those lovers met in
a vault at the last which was even more weird than meeting in a
churchyard.

"Though I'm not sure if I like it," murmured Gwen following the course
of her thoughts, as they sat down on a flat tombstone.

"Like what?" inquired Hench fatuously; "me?"

"I wasn't thinking of you at the moment."

"Oh, Gwen!" This was breathed with an air of reproach.

"I deserve that, I deserve that," she cried penitently. "But really I
was thinking that a churchyard is rather a dismal place to meet in."

"Any place is Paradise where you are," Hench assured her. "But we can
go away for a walk in a few minutes."

"Into Parley Wood?"

Hench shivered. "No. I don't like Parley Wood--on your account," he
added in a hasty manner. "For there----"

"Yes, I know." Gwen stopped him and shivered also. "I didn't think of
what I was saying. But we can't stay here amongst the tombs."

"Why not? Have you any sad recollections about these tombs? Your
father is not buried here, I know."

"He is buried at Rhaiadr, in Wales, where his ancestors lie," said the
girl in an altered tone. "But I wish you would not speak of my father.
He was so cruel to me that I wish to forget all about him for the time
being. We will have to talk of him later, when it is necessary to
learn who killed him. Meantime, let us have our golden hour. But
no"--she made a gesture of despair--"we have lost that as it is."

"Why so?"

"Because you have called up the spectre of my father," said Gwen
sadly. "You have reminded me that I am looked at askance by the
villagers."

"Dear, you are quite wrong about that. Mrs. Bell speaks of you in the
highest terms of respect. I think you are making a mistake."

"No, I am not," said Gwen decisively. "I don't say that any one has
openly declared that I have anything to do with the--the crime"--her
breath came and went quickly--"but people look and people talk
secretly."

"What does it matter so long as they don't talk openly?" said Hench,
soothing her gently.

"I wish they would," she cried vehemently. "For then I could meet the
rumours better. As it is I am fighting in the dark--and all alone,
too."

"No! No!" Hench gathered her into his strong arms. "You have me to
fight for you now. Be calm, dearest; everything will be put right
now."

"Eh, my faith, but that is most true," said a voice immediately behind
them, and the lovers jumped up in dismay to find that they were
observed.

The speaker had suddenly emerged from behind a tall tombstone near at
hand, and stood staring hard at them--a dumpy little woman with a
swarthy face and big black eyes now filled with anger. It did not
require the orange-spotted dress, the shabby bead-trimmed mantle and
the picture hat to inform either of the young people who the spy was.
Hench recognized Madame Alpenny at once, and Gwen beheld the unknown
visitor who had called at the Grange. To a woman the dress was
sufficient to fix the identity.

"You are the woman who came to see my father," said Gwen, turning
white, for the sight of this visitor revived her recollections of the
painful days before Squire Evans was murdered.

"Yes, I am the woman. Very clever of you, Mademoiselle, to remember
me."

"I remember your dress. Who are you?"

Madame Alpenny nodded suavely towards the silent Hench. "Ask him."

Gwen turned round and looked hard at her lover's colourless face. "Who
is this woman?" she asked almost inaudibly. "Do you know her?"

"None better," snapped the Hungarian lady. "Come, Mr. Hench, say who I
am, and then I shall tell Mademoiselle who you are."

"Tell him who he is; tell me who he is," stuttered Gwen incoherently.
"What do you mean?"

"Ask him," said Madame Alpenny once more. "Mr. Hench----"

"Ah"--the Hungarian lady broke into a hard laugh--"then he has not
told you his Christian name."

"I will tell her now," said Hench, taking Gwen's cold hand, and
speaking with an effort. "This lady is Madame Alpenny, who lived in
the same boarding-house as I did in Bethnal Green."

"But what had she to do with my father, and what has she to do with
you?"

"I think your Christian name will explain all in one word," remarked
Madame Alpenny, looking up at the blue sky.

"I intended to tell you myself, Gwen, this very morning," cried Hench,
striving to preserve his calmness, which was sorely shaken.

"Tell me what?" said Gwen, who was very white and unstrung.

"That my Christian name is--Owain."

"Owain----?"

"Owain Evans," said Madame Alpenny sharply. "Let there be an end to
his deceit, Mademoiselle. He is your cousin, the same who has robbed
you of your heritage, the same who has----"

"Hold your tongue!" interrupted Hench fiercely. "It is for Miss Evans
to speak and not you."

"_Miss_ Evans," sneered the woman, with sparkling eyes. "Why so, when
you called her by her Christian name lately, as she can now call you
by yours? Oh, it is very well, very well indeed, this bal masque of
lies and wickedness."

By this time, Gwen, who had been staring silently at Hench, spoke in a
low tone, but in so absolutely unemotional a manner that he could not
tell what her feelings were. "Are you really my cousin?"

"Yes! I knew that you were prejudiced against me owing to the false
stories told to you by your father, therefore I wished to make your
acquaintance under the name my father took when he was sent away from
home. Until a few weeks ago I believed it was my true name. Don't
blame me over-much, Gwen," he implored. "After all, I wouldn't have
had a fair chance had I come as your cousin."

"Perhaps not," she said softly, and a touch of colour came into her
face. "And after all, you saved my life."

"No! No! Let us put all obligation out of the question!" cried Hench
resolutely. "I wish to be judged on my merits."

"That will be difficult, seeing what a hero you are," said Madame
Alpenny in a hatefully smooth voice.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Gwen, turning on her just as Hench had done.
"You came down here to make mischief this time, as you came before to
make mischief. How you succeeded before you best know yourself,
although I truly believe that your last visit had something to do with
my father's death."

"It is a lie!" said Madame Alpenny fiercely, and stepped forward.

Gwen did the same, and the two were face to face, very close indeed to
one another. "I believe that it is the truth. But of that we can talk
later. As to making mischief this time, you shan't succeed. I quite
understand why my cousin wished to give himself a chance of being
judged fairly. And, after all, he came under the name his father used
for many years."

"Oh, Gwen"--Hench caught her hand--"do you forgive me?"

"You silly fellow, there is nothing to forgive," she replied gently.
"You were right, as I was greatly prejudiced against you by my father.
But now----"

"Now?" he asked, looking at her anxiously.

"I believe you to be honourable and honest, and----"

"Ah"--Madame Alpenny broke in with a snarl, since things were not
going as she desired--"honourable, honest. Oh, it is very fine; most
excellent, I call it. Do not be sure, Mademoiselle, that he is what
you call him."

"I _am_ sure"--Gwen stamped--"and to prove the truth of my belief, I
am ready to marry him, as my cousin, Owain Evans. There!"

"Oh, Gwen! Oh, Gwen!" said Hench, scarcely believing his ears.

"Ah, it is so," taunted the marplot. "Do you marry him for the
heritage you have lost by his coming?"

"I marry him because I love him, as he loves me," said Gwen quietly,
and placing her hand in that of her lover, she faced Madame Alpenny
steadily.

"What a comparison"--the woman threw up her hands--"when he loves you
not in the least little bit."

"I love her with all my heart and soul!" cried the young man
furiously.

"Ah, and so did you speak to my daughter, Zara."

Gwen pulled her hand away from that of Owain, and looked from him to
the scoffing woman. "My daughter, Zara," she repeated. "And who is
she?"

"Do I not speak English?" questioned Madame Alpenny mockingly. "Ah,
then I do pray your forgiveness, as I am what you call--yes--an
alien."

"It is nonsense you are talking," said Hench angrily. "Your
daughter----"

Then she turned on him furiously, letting her temper flame out for the
first time during the interview. "Yes, my daughter. You dare to stand
there and declare that you do not love her. She is heart-broken, poor
girl, because you have deserted her. I came here bearing a message,
and when I visited where you are staying, your landlady told me you
had gone to this place. I followed quietly and hid myself there"--she
flung out an arm towards the tall tombstone--"to hear what?--you
making love with another girl. But it shall not be so, I tell you.
Zara, my daughter, you shall marry, and not this--this----"

"Stop!" cried Hench, finally  managing to stay this torrent of words.
"If you begin to call names you will be sorry for it. I do not love
your daughter--I never loved your daughter. It is true that I admired
her, but she told me how she desired to marry Bracken."

"You false one!" raged Madame Alpenny. "Zara told me you did ask her
hand in marriage."

"That is true," acknowledged Hench boldly. "But I----" he paused, for
a low cry of pain broke on his ear. He turned impetuously to reassure
Gwen of his devotion, only to see her gliding up the path towards the
gate with surprising swiftness. Evidently his foolish admission had
given her to understand that Madame Alpenny's accusation was true, and
without waiting to hear any explanation, she had slipped away in
despair. "Gwen! Gwen!" cried the young man in hoarse tones, and
hastening after the girl. "Wait; wait; it is not what you think, my
dear; it is----" his voice broke, as Gwen, without turning her head,
reached the gate and ran along the road.

"Ah, but no. You shall not go after," hissed a bitter voice at his
elbow, and Madame Alpenny grasped his arm firmly. "Here you stay to
speak with me."

"You old fiend!" cried Hench, turning on her furiously, for he saw
that it was useless to follow Gwen and explain at the present moment.

"As you please," retorted the Hungarian lady, releasing him. "Names do
not do harm, my friend. I can afford to laugh, and I do."

While she was laughing, Hench suddenly became quite cool. He saw that
he was in both a dangerous and uncomfortable position, as the woman
had chosen her time excellently to complicate matters. Gwen had
pardoned his masquerade, but she was far too feminine, as he believed,
to pardon his proposing to another woman. In a moment Hench determined
to settle Madame Alpenny and then go at once to enlist Mrs. Perage on
his side. "Well," he said calmly to the marplot, "you have found me
and you have done your worst. What now?"

"Don't say that much, Monsieur," said Madame Alpenny shrilly. "Done my
worst, do you declare? Ah, but no. Not yet have I said what I came to
say."

"I know what you have come to say," retorted Hench, taking the bull by
the horns, which was the best thing to do. "You mean to accuse me of
murdering my uncle."

Madame Alpenny looked rather taken aback by this cool defiance, but
accepted the situation with a vicious pluck. "And is it not so?"

"It isn't worth my while to reply to so ridiculous a question," said
Hench, shrugging his square shoulders. "You accuse me. On what
grounds, pray?"

"Plenty of grounds, Monsieur; plenty of grounds. You obeyed that
advertisement and met your uncle to murder him and get the property."

"When I didn't know that he was my uncle, or that I would inherit any
property in the event of his death?"

"You did know that he was your uncle," said the woman furiously.
"Those papers at your lawyers'----"

"I did not see them until nine days later," interrupted the young man.

"_You_ say so," she sneered, "How can you prove that?"

"My lawyers can prove it."

"Ah, what folly!" Madame Alpenny brushed away this defence with a
gesture. "It was Mr. Evans who told you in that wood how he was your
uncle----"

"He did not. I never met him while he was alive."

"_You_ say so----" began Madame, again, only to be cut short.

"Hold your tongue and listen," said Hench in a peremptory tone. "You
are very clever and cunning, Madame, and have trapped me by means of
that advertisement in the hopes that you can force me to marry your
daughter. I absolutely decline to do so."

"Then I tell the policemen that you are a murderer," she retorted
quickly. Hench laughed. "Oh no, you won't. You would have done that
long ago, but that you wished to blackmail me. But I refuse to be
blackmailed also. And you, Madame, will have to explain why you came
down here to request my uncle to insert that advertisement, instead of
writing to me openly. Stop"--Hench waved his hand, as she was about to
speak--"I have no time to enter into details now. On another occasion
we can speak."

Madame Alpenny looked at him sullenly, as she was unprepared for this
defiance and saw the need of gaining time. "I will wait for one week
and then come to you again," she said savagely. "But you marry Zara,
or you hang!"

"I shall do neither," said Hench calmly, and turned on his heel with
contempt.

"One week," called out the woman furiously; "in one week I come
again!"



CHAPTER XV
A FRIEND IN NEED


Now that the long-expected blow had fallen, Hench was surprised to
find how lightly he had been struck. Madame Alpenny having come at an
inopportune moment for him, had made mischief, and for the time being
it looked as though she was triumphing. But Owain felt certain that
she was afraid; he had seen fear in her eyes when he met her so
defiantly. If she had been quite sure of her position, she would not
have given him a week to consider matters. It was not difficult to
understand why she had done so. For the murder of Evans the woman
cared very little, save as a means to force the man she accused to do
what she wanted. Her aim was to secure a wealthy son-in-law, and she
could only do that by threatening to tell the police about his fatal
visit to Cookley. But if he refused to do her bidding and she did tell
the police, then, so far as she was concerned, everything was at an
end. She would certainly get him into trouble, but she would not have
him as her daughter's husband, nor would she get any money. Unwilling
to push things too far, Madame Alpenny had therefore compromised by
giving Hench seven days of grace.

Of course, at the end of that time, the young man knew that his answer
to her would be the same, and then she might revenge herself by
acquainting the authorities with her plausible story. But it was
questionable if she would do so even then, as the fear in her eyes
hinted that she knew more about the crime than she dared to admit. If
anything was made public, Hench had an idea that Madame Alpenny might
be placed in the dock instead of himself. He could not be sure of
this, as even though she had called on Evans to set the advertisement
trap, there was nothing to show that she had come to Cookley on the
evening of the murder. In that case it would be difficult for her to
prove that he had really kept the appointment in Parley Wood. But, as
Hench recognized, the fact of the advertisement being addressed to
him, together with the undoubted fact that he benefited to the extent
of ten thousand a year by the death of his uncle, would undoubtedly
throw suspicion on him. The girl at the Bull Inn might remember his
voice as that of the tramp; and then the fact of his shaving off his
beard would suggest that he had some reason to escape the accusation.
On the whole, it was tolerably certain that if Madame Alpenny _did_ go
to the police, there would be trouble out of which it would not be
easy to emerge scathless. But, owing to his belief that Madame Alpenny
knew more about the matter than she would admit, Hench felt sure she
would not seek the assistance of the authorities. And in any case he
was absolutely safe for one whole week. Much could be done in that
time.

It was best, meanwhile, to explain things to Gwen, so that she might
be sure of his love. When she learned exactly how he had come to
propose to Zara, then she would understand that his desire to marry
the dancer had only been the longing of a lonely man for home and
companionship. With comprehension of this fact, as Hench devoutly
hoped, the love of Gwen would return, and she would stand by him in
the coming trouble. He needed all the friends he could gather round
him to face things, and particularly felt that having his cousin to
defend him would brace him up to defend himself. Without her love the
young man felt that it would not be worth while to fight. Ten thousand
a year and a clearance of his name from suspicion would not make up
for the loss of the girl, who was now all in all to him. Therefore the
first thing to do was to win back Gwen's heart; after that the deluge
could come, so far as Hench was concerned.

He returned to his lodgings, and glancing through the window, saw
Madame Alpenny waddling along the street on her way to the station.
She cast one vengeful look on the cottage of Mrs. Bell, but did not
attempt to enter, which was another sign that she did not feel herself
strong enough to go into details. And, as a matter of fact, such was
the case. Madame Alpenny had hoped to dominate Hench immediately, and
his defiance had taken her entirely by surprise. Therefore, she had
wisely retreated in order to collect herself, and intended to descend
on him at the end of seven days with overwhelming proofs of his guilty
deed. Hench was relieved when he saw her pass by the cottage, as he
did not wish her to enter and make trouble. Also he was relieved
because he saw in her passing a confession of weakness. Therefore did
he feel much more cheerful and hopeful than he had done for many a
long day.

Mrs. Bell explained that a lady had called to see her lodger and that
she had sent her on to the churchyard, whither Hench had intimated he
was going. She hoped that she had not done wrong. Owain told her that
the visitor had only come down to see him on business; that the
business had been easily dispatched; that the lady had returned to
London, and that Mrs. Bell had acted quite judiciously.

The little pale woman accepted the explanation in all good faith, and
then went to open the door for the entrance of another lady. Hench,
busy with his afternoon tea, was not surprised when Mrs. Perage
entered, full of wrath. He had rather expected she would come, as it
occurred to him that Gwen's unexpected return from the churchyard
would lead to questions and explanations. From the very first remark
of Mrs. Perage, it was certain that she knew all about the matter.

"Well," said the fierce old lady, who looked something like Meg
Merrilees in her half-masculine, half-feminine garb, "this is a nice
state of affairs, young man. Gwen goes to meet you with her heart full
of love, and returns with that same heart broken into little pieces.
Your work."

"Sit down, Mrs. Perage, and let us talk quietly," said Hench
entreatingly.

"Talk quietly!" echoed Mrs. Perage, sitting down nevertheless. "Why,
I'm seething with rage, and want to break things--you amongst them."

"Then you doubt me?"

Mrs. Perage looked at him with a softer eye, and remembered how she
had been prepared to stand by him whatever was said. She had declared
as much to Jim Vane, and could do nothing else but fulfil her
declaration. "Perhaps you have some excuse, young man?" she said
truculently.

"I have no excuse, but I have an explanation," said Hench dryly.

"Then you _did_ propose to that other girl!" shrieked Mrs. Perage
furiously.

"Yes. I told you that I----"

"You didn't; you didn't." Mrs. Perage would not give him time to
finish his remark. "You told me that you admired another girl, but
that she loved some one else, so you went away. Pfui! Do you think
that my memory has gone with age?"

"What you say is quite true----"

"That my memory has gone with age?" demanded the old lady acidly.

"No! No! No! But your recollection of what I said about my former----"

"Love-affairs!" interpolated Mrs. Perage, who declined to be
suppressed.

"No! No! No!" cried Hench again and earnestly. "I never was in love
until I met Gwen. I told you so. But I did say that I admired another
girl."

"You didn't say that you had proposed to her," said Mrs. Perage
grimly.

"No, I didn't, because----"

"Because you loved her."

"I didn't!" cried Owain, thoroughly exasperated by these constant
interruptions. "As I have already stated, I didn't know the meaning of
the word love until I met with Gwen."

"Then why did you propose to this Zara creature? One doesn't propose
unless love has something to do with the matter."

"Has your experience of life only taught you that much, Mrs. Perage? A
man proposes for the sake of money."

"Was this Zara creature rich?"

"No. She was very poor."

"Then you didn't propose to her on that account. Come"--Mrs. Perage
spoke in her roughest manner--"don't waste my time. _Why_ did you
propose?"

"Because I was a lonely man and wanted a home and a comrade. I had
been wandering all over the world by myself, and found life dismal in
the extreme. I didn't love Zara Alpenny one little bit. But I admired
her as a thoroughly good woman----"

"Oh"--Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose--"she was a good woman, was she?"

"A thoroughly good woman," repeated Hench, again emphasizing his
remark. "And when I asked her to be my wife, she told me that I didn't
love her, but only wanted a home, adding that she loved some one else.
I recognized the truth of her statement with regard to my own
feelings, and therefore I went away from Bethnal Green. I still
respect her, Mrs. Perage, and if I can forward her marriage with the
man of her choice in any way, I will do so. After all, Madame Alpenny
wants a rich son-in-law, and I am wealthy enough to smooth matters
over in that way for Ned Bracken."

"Who is he?"

"The man Zara loves. And that you may know the worst, let me tell you
that she is a dancer at a Bethnal Green music-hall."

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage, smiling grimly. "And by mentioning her
profession and position you think that I will have a bad opinion of
her. Fudge! I have met with dancers much better as regards morals than
many a woman received at Court. Don't be a fool and think you are
talking to an inexperienced girl."

"Well, I did talk to an inexperienced girl," said Hench rather
bitterly, "and she has turned on me."

"Why not? You gave her no explanation."

"How could I, when she ran away while I was speaking? I couldn't
follow quickly enough, as my foot is yet weak."

"Your ankle, you mean--be careful in your speech." Mrs. Perage rubbed
her nose again and her eyes grew calmer. "I'll have a cup of tea if
you will have the decency to give me one."

Owain rang for a fresh cup and saucer. "I thought you wouldn't
condescend to eat and drink with a pariah."

"Fudge!" said Mrs. Perage again, and very sharply. "Who said you were
a pariah, you silly fellow? That's merely hurt vanity on your part."

"How can I help being hurt, when I am so misjudged?"

"Look here." Mrs. Perage bent forward and shook his shoulder. "Are you
a man or a twopenny-halfpenny school-girl?"

"I'm an ass," confessed Owain, ashamed of his petty outbreak. "But I
have an attack of nerves, I think, owing to my dreadful position."

"Hum!" Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose, received a cup and saucer from
Mrs. Bell, who had just entered the room, and sent that fragile person
out again. "Jim hinted at trouble. It seems he was right."

"Jim knows all about it."

"Well, then, I don't. Wait till I fill my cup and then you can tell
me."

"Tell you what?"

"Drat the man, you know. It's more than this trouble with Gwen you
have to tell me about."

"I think that I had better tell you about the trouble with Gwen
first."

"What's the use of beginning at the wrong end? Relate the story from
start to finish and then I'll understand more about this interview in
the churchyard with this ridiculous old woman."

"Madame Alpenny."

"Hum! The name fits her. Go on."

"I have already told you most of my life---"

"And have left out the most interesting part, apparently. See here,
Hench, or rather, I should say, Owain." Mrs. Perage drank some of her
tea and continued slowly. "I am an old woman with a romantic heart. I
love Gwen and I have taken a fancy to you. Both you and Gwen come of a
bad stock, as old Mynydd Evans was a miser, Owain Evans was a
profligate, and Madoc Evans was a scoundrel, fit for any deed of
wickedness. You two children are the best of the bunch, and I expect
get your decent morals from your mothers. I want to see you happy and
married. Now, don't disappoint me."

"I certainly won't, if Gwen won't," said Owain promptly.

"Hum! Gwen is a more difficult person to manage. However, if you leave
it to me, I think in some way things will be put right."

"Oh, I shall leave everything to you, with pleasure," said Hench
eagerly. "And I thank you for the trouble you are taking. Your
advice----"

"Cannot be given further until I am in possession of facts,"
interrupted Mrs. Perage, and finishing his sentence in a different
way. "I know that you are Owain's son and inherit the property. I know
that you love Gwen, and that it is possible, in spite of existing
circumstances, that you will marry her. Also I am aware that Madoc was
murdered--by that tramp, I presume."

"No!" said Hench sharply, and ready to make a clean breast. "I am the
tramp."

"Ha!" exclaimed the old lady in a tone of surprise. "You are the
tramp? Well, I withdraw my accusation, as I am sure you are innocent
enough. But what I was coming to when you interrupted me was that I
wish to know more. Jim says you are in trouble."

"In very great trouble. And if you will help me---"

"Bless the man, what I came here for was to help. But I can't do that
on half-confidences. You must speak plainly. Now, no more talk.
Begin." Hench did as he was ordered, and in a very short time Mrs.
Perage was in possession of all facts connected with the
advertisement; with the keeping of the appointment and the discovery
of the body; and with the schemes of Madame Alpenny. Her strong old
face did not betray much emotion, although she was inwardly astonished
at the revelations, but she kept her eyes on Owain until he ceased
speaking, and then rubbed her nose, as was her custom when perplexed
or annoyed. As she made no remark, Hench did so. "What do you think?"

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage, starting from the brown study in which she
was involved. "You've brought your pigs to a pretty market, young man.
Well, well, we must see what is best to be done."

"You don't believe me to be guilty?"

"Would I be still sitting here if I did? Don't be a fool. Not that I
blame the person who got Madoc out of the way very much. He was such a
disagreeable person, that I often thought I'd be hanged for killing
him myself."

"Mrs. Perage!"

"It sounds dreadful, doesn't it?" she said good-humouredly. "But then
you see I am a dreadful person in the eyes of many milk-and-water
people, because I have my own decided opinions and go my own way. I
suppose it's wrong to say a word against the dead, although I don't
see why we should talk of nothing but virtues they never possessed
while alive. Well, let the man rest; he did a lot of harm when he was
alive, and wherever he has gone to, he's making mischief. You didn't
murder him, anyhow?"

"I certainly did not," answered Hench, smiling. "But the question is,
who did?"

"Ah"--Mrs. Perage kilted up her dress and folded her hands on her
knees--"a very difficult question to answer. But Madame Alpenny
didn't, although you seem to have some idea that she is the guilty
person."

"She knew my uncle and all about the disposal of the property through
the confidence made to her by my father twenty years ago."

"That doesn't prove that she murdered Madoc. She wanted you to marry
her daughter undoubtedly after she laid hold of the clue which led her
to learn that you were likely to inherit ten thousand a year. But why
should she put her neck in a noose?"

"She might have wished me to get possession of the property at once,
and have murdered my uncle in the hope that I would go to the spot and
then run the risk of being arrested. I believe myself that it was all
a plot to get me under her thumb. I _did_ go to the rendezvous and I
_am_ implicated. Well?"

Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose again. "The devil's in it for trouble,"
she muttered. "Perhaps I am premature in assuming that this woman is
innocent, but it seems incredible that she should run such a risk. I
shall have to see her first before I make up my mind. She's clever."

"In a foxy sort of way."

"Hum! The fox doesn't do things on a big scale in the way of killing."

Hench answered flippantly, as the conversation was getting on his
nerves. "What about hen-roost massacres?"

Mrs. Perage rose, and was about to rebuke him when she saw, as
Gwen had seen earlier, the white pinched look on his face. "You're
over-wrought, my friend. I want you to promise me two things."

"Yes. What are they?" asked the young man wearily.

"In the first place do not make any move in these matters until I give
you leave. I have a plan in my head."

"What is it?"

"I shan't tell it until it is carried out. In the second place do not
come to my house until to-morrow afternoon."

"But Gwen will believe more than ever that I am----"

"What she thinks you are in a moment of rage on her part," finished
Mrs. Perage. "That's just it. If you see her now you will spoil all.
Wait until I tell you that it is safe to come."

"Very well. But I can't let you take my burden on your shoulders and
stay here doing nothing. It's not cricket."

"You'll get all the cricket you require, I promise you," said Mrs.
Perage as she took her departure. "I don't mind telling you," she
added, glancing back, "that it interests me to have something exciting
of this sort to do. Life is rather dull hereabouts."

"I only hope it will not prove too exciting."

The old lady laughed and stepped briskly out of the cottage, while
Owain remained where he was kicking against the pricks. He wished to
see Gwen, but as he had promised to wait for instructions he could not
do so. Like the lady who had just left, he found life in Cookley
intolerably dull at the moment. But then, as Gwen was not beside him,
he would have found it equally dull had he been alone in Paris or
London. It was Gwen who made up his existence, and nothing else
mattered particularly. To such lengths does the passion of love lead
ordinarily sensible human beings.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Perage walked home briskly, turning over certain plans
in her very capable mind. She did not seek out Gwen, who was weeping
in the retirement of her bedroom, since all explanations at the
present moment were futile. But Mrs. Perage decided that when the girl
grew calmer a very positive explanation, which could not be mistaken,
should be made to her by the right person. To bring about this
necessary event she looked up her nephew, whom she found dawdling in
the garden with a cigarette and a French novel. Vane lay on the grass
under a shady tree clothed in white flannels, and looked rather
alarmed when his aunt appeared. The day was hot, and Mrs. Perage was
so uncommonly active that she was scarcely a desirable companion for a
lazy man. His anxiety was therefore natural.

"Sit up and listen," said Mrs. Perage, getting to work at once. "I've
seen our young friend, and I now know as much as you do."

Jim sat up cross-legged, resigned to the worst, and Mrs. Perage seated
herself on the rustic bench under the tree with the air of a judge
trying a particularly vicious criminal. "Need we discuss matters
just now?" he asked in a bored tone. "I'm so comfortable. Peter is
bringing me some tea, I have a book and a case of cigarettes, so on
the whole----"

"Don't be an ass, Jim. You can be busy enough if you like."

"That's just it, Aunt Emma," remonstrated the barrister, clutching his
ankles. "I don't like. There's nothing to be done at present. I'll see
Owain this evening and hear how he settled with that old woman."

"He has settled nothing. But he managed to get her to leave him alone
for seven days. In that time much can be done."

"Very probably. I'm sure I wish to do all I can. And Gwen?"

"She's crying in her bedroom. She will continue to cry until she is
assured that Owain really loves her and not this other girl. You know
what I mean?"

"Well, as you related what took place in the churchyard and as Gwen
repeated the story to me, I must admit that I do know. I say, Aunt
Emma, you don't think Miss Evans minds me calling her Gwen, as I----"

"Oh, don't talk rubbish," interrupted Mrs. Perage quickly. "We have
more important things to speak about. This evening you must go to town
by the seven train,"--she glanced at her watch. "That will give you
time to have dinner comfortably, as you needn't dress."

"But, I say,"--Vane looked rather disgusted,--"I don't want to go to
town."

"You must," said his aunt impressively. "Go to Bethnal Green, and
bring down with you to-morrow Mademoiselle Zara."

"What for?"

"Bless the man, can't you understand? Only this Zara creature can set
Gwen's mind at rest. She can explain that Hench never really loved her
and only offered himself to her to gain a home and a companion."

"Can't Owain tell Gwen that?"

"He might tell it to her fifty times and she would not believe him,"
said Mrs. Perage shrewdly. "But when this girl speaks everything will
be put right straight away. Then we can consider what is best to be
done about the other and more serious business. But you must see, Jim,
that it is first necessary to adjust matters between Gwen and Hench."

"Well, Aunt Emma, you understand your own sex better than I do, so I
suppose it is best for me to bring Zara Alpenny down."

"I am quite positive it is."

"Good! I'll enjoy my dinner and then go to town by the train you
mention. I can bring Mademoiselle Zara to your house about two o'clock
to-morrow. Now that's all right." Vane yawned and rose. "Ah, here
comes Peter with the tea."

Mrs. Perage looked rather grimly on the freckled page who carried on a
tray the beverage which Mr. Vane desired. Hench had told her how
Madame Alpenny had learned his whereabouts through Simon, _alias_
Bottles, and the same could have only acquired the knowledge through
Peter.

"Here!" she said sharply. "Do you write to your brother in town and
tell him all the gossip of the village?"

"Me, mum? No, mum," said Peter, rather alarmed by her peremptory tone.

"Don't tell lies, boy," said his mistress sternly. "You told your
brother that Mr. Hench was staying at Mrs. Bell's cottage."

"I know I did, mum." Peter began to whimper. "But I hope I didn't do
no harm, mum. Simon, he thinks no end of Mr. Hench, so I thought as
I'd tell him. But it's all right, mum. Simon knows what he's about."

"What do you mean by that?" questioned Vane quickly, for the page
spoke in a very significant tone. Peter shuffled and wriggled
uncomfortably. "Simon will tell you, sir, when the time comes," he
replied evasively.

"Tell what?"

"What Simon knows, sir."

"And what does Simon know?"

"I can't tell you, sir. Simon's clever. He knows a thing or two."

"And so do I," said Mrs. Perage sternly. "And one is that you are not
to write gossiping letters from my house."

"No, mum, I won't!" And Peter went away as quickly as he could lest he
should be questioned further. "Now what does that mean?" asked Mrs.
Perage shrewdly. "Is this brat and his brother mixed up in this
dangerous business?"

"It seems like it," replied Jim, stirring his tea meditatively. "But
Peter may have written in all innocence, knowing how Bottles adores
Owain."

"Bottles, as you call him, didn't tell Madame Alpenny in all
innocence," she snapped.

"Hum!" said Vane, quite in his aunt's style, "we'll look into the
matter." And he did so on the morrow when he went to Bethnal Green.



CHAPTER XVI
EXPLANATIONS


Gwen was thoroughly miserable. On returning from the churchyard she
had shut herself up in her bedroom, after a sobbing description to
Mrs. Perage and Vane of what had taken place. In this seclusion she
remained, speaking little, eating less, and only sleeping occasionally
when exhausted Nature insisted upon having her own sensible way. The
trouble Gwen was now undergoing seemed ever so much worse than that
which she had already undergone. The death of her father had been
dreadful, but he had been such a tyrant that--to speak plainly--his
loss had not broken her heart. But now she felt certain that her heart
was really and truly broken, as the idea of losing Owain was like a
nightmare. The girl by this time fully recognized that she loved her
cousin dearly, even though that love had grown as rapidly and
unexpectedly as Jonah's gourd. Perhaps, like the same, it would perish
as quickly. Gwen attempted to assure herself of this, but could not
self-hypnotise herself into such a belief. Her passion was too
genuine, too strong, too overwhelming, to be got rid of so easily.

Yet--she asked herself this question frequently--how could she believe
that Owain loved her, when she had heard from his own lips that he had
proposed to another girl? Gwen considered that she had been very
generous in forgiving his masquerading, although she admitted that
under the circumstances the assumption of a false name had been
pardonable. But that he should have loved some one else, and should
have proposed to that some one, seemed to her to be monstrous. It was
impossible for her to forget or forgive such a thing. She assured
herself that self-respect demanded the adoption of this merciless
attitude, but the cause of it--which she would not admit--was really
jealousy. But whatever it was the feeling made her wretched, and for
long hours the poor child tossed and turned and shivered and wept, as
she wondered what her future was likely to be. She had youth, she had
beauty, she had money, but all these desirable things were as dust and
ashes, lacking the companionship of the man she loved. And as he had
condemned himself out of his own month she could not see how the
position of things was to be altered.

In her bluff way, Mrs. Perage was very sorry for the girl, as she saw
how truly genuine was her suffering. The old lady strongly sympathized
with that despairing feeling of youth which believes that the world
has come to an end because things do not turn out as expected. Not
that she believed Gwen's world had ended, but understood easily enough
how the girl thought so. To put matters right, Mrs. Perage set herself
to work in the hope of proving that the sun was merely obscured for
the moment. For a day and a night she left the sufferer alone, so that
she might get over the first stage of misery and anger. Then the old
dame entered the bedroom and proceeded to develop her scheme, which
she hoped would put the crooked straight.

"Well, my dear," she said in a brisk and heartless manner, as she
seated herself on the bed, "have you overcome your fit of self-pity?"

"Oh, how unkind you are," wailed Gwen, who did not expect such a
speech. "My heart is broken."

"No, my dear, your vanity is hurt."

"Vanity? I have no vanity."

"Well, well, we will call it pride, self-respect, dignity, or any
other pretty name which appeals to you," said Mrs. Perage
complacently. "Anyhow, you can't lie here amongst the ruins of your
life. Have some breakfast and get up."

"I can't eat and I can't drink. How can you expect me to?" cried Gwen,
who was intensely exasperated by this matter-of-fact speech. "You will
make me angry, Mrs. Perage."

"I want to, since anger will make you see things in a more sensible
light. You can't live on air, you know, my dear, or on love either,
especially as this last is nonexistent."

The spirit of contradiction, begotten by anger, made the invalid
resent this last remark. "Love isn't nonexistent," she declared
crossly. "I love Owain still, although he doesn't deserve my affection
in the least. I call it a shame for him to come here and save my life
and make me love him, when all the time he is engaged to another
girl."

"Who told you that he was?" inquired Mrs. Perage dryly, and very well
satisfied with the result her conversation was producing.

"He told me so himself, and I told you how he was," said Gwen
incoherently. "He admitted that he had proposed to the nasty daughter
of that horrid woman."

"Well," said Mrs. Perage coolly, "a young man must gain experience
somehow."

"Owain shan't gain any at my expense," retorted Gwen viciously. "After
all, I don't think that he is worth troubling about."

"Of course he isn't," said Mrs. Perage, wishing to emphasize this
opinion. "So lie down and go to sleep and forget all about him. You
can't eat, you know."

"Yes, I can." Gwen rose in the bed angrily. "I shall have my breakfast
and get up and go about things just as if nothing had happened."

Mrs. Perage shook her old head wisely. "You have not the strength."

"I have--I have. Ring the bell and order some tea and toast."

"Peter is bringing up some sort of a meal, my dear. Ah, there is his
knock. I will take the tray," and Mrs. Perage went to the door to do
so, chuckling at the way in which she was dealing with the situation.
"Give it to me, Peter; now you can go. By the way, Gwen, shall I send
him for the doctor?"

"No. I'm quite well," said the girl indignantly. So Peter was
dismissed and the tray was placed on the bed. "Leave me to eat, Mrs.
Perage, and you can come back after I have dressed."

"Foolish! Foolish!" said the old dame, leaving the room. "You are
attempting too much." And she departed, still chuckling to think how
easily this somewhat difficult young lady had fallen into the trap.

Gwen, quite ignorant that she was acting exactly as Mrs. Perage
desired, sipped the tea and nibbled at the toast. Pride speedily
came to her aid, and when the meal was finished she felt much better.
Self-pity was now merged in a sense of anger that Owain had dared to
treat her so shamefully, therefore she dressed herself in her
prettiest frock with the intention of proving to him that she felt
his treachery less than he might have expected. When she walked
into the drawing-room, Mrs. Perage looked up to see a smartly dressed
young lady with sparkling eyes and a fine colour, in place of the
white-faced invalid she had left. So far the result of the experiment
was distinctly good.

"And of course," suggested the old lady artfully, "you have quite
decided to throw Owain overboard."

"What else would you have me do?" demanded Gwen revengefully.

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage in a meditative manner. "I think I should ask
for an explanation."

"There can be no explanation likely to satisfy me."

"That entirely depends upon my common-sense way of looking at things,"
said Mrs. Perage dryly. "Or on your common-sense, if you come to that.
By the way, that girl is coming down here this afternoon--she will
arrive in an hour."

"What girl?"

"Hum!" Mrs. Perage skirted round the subject and did not give an
entirely direct reply. "Your breakfast has been your luncheon, for it
is now two o'clock, so such a queer exchange of meals must have upset
you. Perhaps you had better not be present."

"What girl are you talking about?" asked Gwen, her colour coming and
going, although she knew perfectly well what was meant. "And I am in
quite enough good health to see any girl. How dare she come here?"

"Ah!"--Mrs. Perage chuckled,--"you guess what I mean, I see. Well, my
dear Jim was rather put out about your quarrel with Hench, so he
suggested at my desire that it would be as well for him to go to town
and bring Mademoiselle Zara with him down here to explain matters."

"I don't require any explanation," said Gwen, holding her head very
high.

"Bless the girl, did I say so? This Zara woman is coming to explain to
me. I may as well be plain, Gwen. It was I who told Jim to go to town
and fetch her, since it is necessary that I should learn what a rascal
Hench is."

"He's not a rascal; I'm sure he's not a rascal." Gwen stamped her foot
and grew very red.

"Oh yes, he is, my dear. To propose to one girl and to make love to
another is not right. I must inquire into his character, you know, so
as to see if he is a decent man to know. Now Mademoiselle Zara can
tell us the truth. But I don't want you to be present."

"But I shall!" cried Miss Evans, with another stamp. "It is my right
to be present. The explanation concerns me more than any one else."

"Oh, well, if you insist upon being pleasant, I have no more to say."
Mrs. Perage shrugged her shoulders, and making a wilful mistake. "Did
you say 'present' or 'pleasant'?"

"Pleasant. You must be pleasant to Mademoiselle Zara, as, after all,
you do not care anything for your cousin."

"I do. All the same I am angry with him. I shall be present and be
pleasant just as I please. And now I shall take a walk in the park so
as to calm my nerves. I'm sure Owain has upset them enough." And Gwen
hastily departed, while Mrs. Perage chuckled more than ever.

"Fiery little Welsh temper she has," murmured the old lady. "I don't
envy Hench when he makes her his wife. Hum! So that's settled. Let us
hope good will come of the interview." She rubbed her nose. "Gwen's a
handful to manage, but by contradiction I fancy that I have secured my
own way."

Of course this was quite true, although Miss Evans, walking in the
park, was perfectly sure that she was acting contrary to Mrs. Perage's
wishes. By this time the girl was in a fine temper, ready to quarrel
with any one about anything. In fact she felt very much inclined to
fight for what she considered were her rights, so far as concerned her
cousin. In some queer way, Gwen arrived at the conclusion that by
saving her life Hench had given her some sort of claim over him. Of
course, she would never marry him; nothing would ever induce her to
marry such a faithless person. But she intended to hint at her
fantastic claim by ordering him to make Zara his wife. Then, on
further reflection, she did not like him to marry the dancer, as she
loved him herself. Still, as he was unworthy of her love, perhaps it
would be as well to allow him to carry out his proposal to Madame
Alpenny's daughter. He would certainly be miserable, which would serve
him right, as Zara was bound to be a minx and a cat and several other
disagreeable things. In this incoherent way Miss Evans thought, while
working off her anger as best she could by walking at top speed up one
path and down another. She did not know whether to laugh or to cry, to
rage or to fret; all she did know was that everything seemed to be
wrong, and that the bottom had fallen out of creation.

When Gwen again ventured into the house, she found the drawing-room
tenanted by Mrs. Perage, her nephew, and two visitors. One of these
was a handsome, untidily dressed young fellow, who wore his hair
rather long after the manner of musicians; the other was a tall girl,
gaunt, striking-looking, with something of the gipsy in her
appearance. She wore a red velvet hat and a long red velvet mantle,
the violent hues of which harmonized well with her somewhat sallow
complexion and bold dark eyes. When Gwen entered, this girl was
laughing and showed a row of very white teeth, which added to her
handsome looks.

"Mademoiselle Zara, this is Miss Evans," said Mrs. Perage, rising to
make a rapid introduction. "Gwen, this is Madame Alpenny's daughter,
and Mr. Bracken, to whom she is engaged."

"Engaged?" Gwen started back and gasped. "But I don't understand."

"Mademoiselle Zara will explain," said Mrs. Perage swiftly, and
collecting the two men with her eyes. "Mr. Bracken, I must show you my
garden, as I am sure you take an interest in flowers. Come with me.
You also, Jim, as you must go to Mrs. Bell's and bring Hench here."

"I don't wish to see him," called out Gwen hurriedly, but Mrs. Perage
took no notice of the speech, as she had already conducted the two men
out of the room, leaving the two girls alone.

Gwen eyed Zara and Zara eyed Gwen with great curiosity, and used their
intuitions with so much skill that in two minutes each girl knew all
about the nature of the other girl. Miss Evans could not deny but what
the dancer was handsome enough to attract any one, even the most
fastidious, while Zara thought that Gwen was one of the most charming
young ladies she had ever seen.

"I'm sure he will be very happy with you," she said abruptly.

"Who?" asked Gwen, sitting down and getting ready to fence.

Zara laughed meaningly. "My dear, there is only one 'he' in the world
for you."

"So I thought, until I found him out," retorted Miss Evans sharply.

"Oh, I understand all about your finding him out. Mr. Vane gave me a
full description of my mother's meddling. But if you had waited to
hear what took place after your departure from the churchyard there
would have been no need for me to come down."

"I did not ask you to come down," said Gwen pointedly.

"You did not. Mrs. Perage did, however, as she was anxious for your
mistake to be corrected. I am anxious, also, else I would not have
troubled to take this long journey."

"Why did you undertake it, then?"

"Because I have the greatest respect for Mr. Hench."

"The greatest love, you mean."

"Indeed, I mean nothing of the sort," said Zara candidly. "I have no
more love for Mr. Hench than I have for that table. Didn't you hear
Mrs. Perage say that I was engaged to Mr. Bracken?"

"Yes! I suppose you are," admitted Gwen reluctantly. "But there is
always one who loves and one who is loved, you know."

"Heine, the German poet, said that, Miss Evans. I congratulate you on
the wide range of your reading. It shows that you are not narrow, and
not being narrow, I trust that you will do Mr. Hench justice."

"He proposed to you. I heard him say so myself."

"My dear," said the dancer, after the lenient fashion of an elder
sister, "Mr. Hench at that time would have proposed to any woman of
decent character and decent looks. Your Heine quotation implied that
although I did not love him, he loved me. There you are entirely
wrong. He admired me, certainly, but----"

"But he proposed to you," interrupted Miss Evans doggedly.

Zara's cheeks grew crimson and her voice became sharper. "We are two
women talking together," she said decisively. "Therefore, it is
useless for us to skirt about the bush as we would do with men. Mr.
Hench never loved me; he had no conception of love when he proposed,
and I told him so. Can't you understand how a lonely man must wish for
a home and a comrade, so that he may have some centre in life? I used
those very words to him. Mr. Bracken gives me that true love which is
more than admiration, which was all Mr. Hench had to offer. He could
not give me his heart because he did not know that he possessed one.
Since coming here he has made the discovery that he has a heart and he
has given it to you."

"Have you seen him; did he tell you so?"

It took Zara a moment or so to quell her rising anger, and she felt
inclined to shake this silly little girl who was not to be convinced
by common-sense explanations. "I have not seen Mr. Hench, nor if you
wish it will I see him."

"Oh, it's nothing to me," said Gwen with an air of finality.

"Then it ought to be. Mr. Vane told me what Mr. Hench told him."

"What is that?"

"You know quite well," retorted Zara tartly. "It is that Mr. Hench
loves you better than you deserve."

"How can you tell what I deserve?"

"I am only going by what I see of you now," said the dancer patiently.
"You really love Mr. Hench, and you are fighting against your
feelings, because you believe that he loves me, which is not the case.
As you can see that I am speaking the truth, it is unworthy of you to
speak as you do. Therefore, I say that Mr. Hench loves you better than
you deserve. I don't know," cried Zara, becoming exasperated, "why you
force me to make so unnecessary an explanation, as you are quite aware
of what I mean."

Gwen was so impressed by the dancer's earnest speech that she became
much more reasonable. "I am a pig, I know," she murmured rather
inelegantly. "But it isn't pleasant to love a man and then to hear
from his own lips that he proposed to another woman."

"Pooh! You are making a mountain out of a molehill," said Zara
contemptuously. "If Mr. Hench had proposed to me after he met you,
then there might be some sense in your attitude. But I tell you he did
not know the meaning of love when he proposed to me, and would have
proposed to any other woman just as readily. His first acquaintance
with love was when he saved your life. He is heart and soul devoted to
you. My dear"--Zara rose, and bending over Gwen, took her hand--"don't
be foolish and throw away a love which will make you the happiest
woman in the world."

"Can you swear that Owain loves me?" asked Gwen, more and more
impressed.

"Personally, I cannot. But from what Mr. Vane has told me I certainly
can declare that Mr. Hench adores you."

"Yes." Miss Evans stared hard at nothing. "I believe he does."

"Then why are you making all this trouble?"

"You are a woman and ask me that?"

Zara laughed. "It is absurd, I know. But I am anxious to put things
right. My mother made trouble and I came down to make peace. Don't
send me away with my errand unaccomplished."

Gwen jumped up and kissed the dancer. "No, I won't. I am quite
satisfied with your explanation. I have been very silly and have made
myself quite ill in worrying over things. And if Owain comes----"

"Owain is coming," interrupted Zara quickly, as she glanced out of
the open French window of the room. "Yonder he is with Mr. Vane, who
was sent to bring him by Mrs. Perage. My dear"--she kissed Gwen's
cheek--"I will slip out to join Mrs. Perage and Ned in the garden. You
stay here and make it up with Mr. Hench. No half-measures, mind. Be
generous and loyal." And with a smiling nod the dancer flitted through
the window just as the footsteps of Owain were heard in the hall.

"Oh!" said Gwen, drawing a long breath, "how nearly I have lost him."

Vane had sense enough not to enter along with his friend, as he
thoroughly understood the saying about two being company and three
none. In a most loyal fashion he obliterated himself, and Owain walked
into the room by himself. The young man looked worn and ill, so that
Gwen's heart was touched, and she felt ashamed of her conduct, which
was responsible for his wilted appearance. Almost without thought she
flew into his arms.

"I'm a horrid creature," she murmured. "Do forgive me and I'll be
good."

"Oh!"--Owain's pale face flushed suddenly and his brown eyes
sparkled--"then you don't believe----"

"I believe that you love me. Mademoiselle Zara has explained
everything."

"Thank God for that. Where is she?"

"Do you wish to see her?" asked Miss Evans jealously.

"Only to thank her. But that can come later. Meantime"--he bent and
kissed her three or four times--"oh, Gwen, how could you think that I
loved any one in the world but you--you--you?"

"I was silly and wicked and--and----"

"No! No! There was some cause for your anger, as Madame Alpenny told
so skilful a lie. It wasn't all a lie, of course, as I did propose to
Zara."

"I know you did, and I know why you did. But you will be much happier
with me than with her," said the girl naïvely.

"Than with any one, Gwen," cried the young man fervently. "Oh, my
dear, to think how nearly I have lost you."

"I said that to myself about you, just before you entered," whispered
Gwen in a penitent tone. "Do forgive me."

"On condition that you forgive me," pleaded Owain fondly.

"Dear, there is nothing to forgive," said the girl, abasing herself.
"It is all my fault--all my fault. I'm a nasty little jealous animal."

"Just the kind of animal I like." Owain pressed her hard in his arms.
"I'll never, never let you go again, and now that we are together and
you are on my side, I am prepared to face the worst."

"Face what?"

"Ah, I forgot; you don't understand. I have a long explanation to
give." Hench paused and looked nervous, as he drew Gwen to a chair and
sat down to take her on his knee. "You won't hate me, or doubt me?"

"Never! Never!"  Gwen positively. "I'll never doubt you again.
What is the matter?"

"Murder is the matter!"

"What?" She started back and stared at his perturbed face. "The murder
of----"

"Yes! The murder of your father. You know that tramp you suspect?"

"The one who asked the way to the Gipsy Stile? Yes."

"I am that tramp."

"It's impossible."

"It is quite true. I have explained matters to Vane and to Mrs.
Perage. Now I must explain them to you. Having admitted that I am the
tramp you suspect----"

Gwen stopped him by laying her hand over his mouth.
"I don't suspect the tramp, now that you are he," she said vehemently.
"You are innocent, I am sure."

"How can you be sure?" asked Hench sharply. "Because you saved my
life," replied Gwen in a truly feminine fashion. "No one who saved a
person's life would commit a murder."

"Well, I can scarcely admit the logic of that reasoning," said Hench,
unable to refrain from a smile, in spite of the desperate situation.
"But I am glad that you so far trust me."

"I trust you to the death."

"Darling!"--he kissed her--"that gives me the courage to tell you
all!" And he did tell her all then and there, from the time of the
conversation with Madame Alpenny down to the moment when she accused
him in the churchyard. "So you see, Gwen," he concluded in a
melancholy tone, "that although perfectly innocent, this woman has the
power to have me arrested."

"You shall not be arrested," said Gwen, with sparkling eyes and red
cheeks.

"Then you don't believe me to be guilty?"

"What a silly question to ask." This time it was Gwen who kissed. "Is
it likely that I would still be sitting on your knee if I thought you
killed my father? Of course, the whole thing is difficult and
mysterious, but I am on your side, Owain, and we will fight it out
together."

"Yes! Yes!" Hench rose and swung her off her feet right into his arms.
"I am not afraid now. Your love will give me strength to conquer my
enemies. But it will be an ordeal for you."

"An ordeal which will prove the depth of my love, dear. And I deserve
such an ordeal. I doubted you once; but I'll never, never, never,
never doubt you again. Owain, darling, everything will come right.
There is Mr. Vane and Mrs. Perage and myself and you. Against us is
only that horrid old woman."

"She holds a strong hand in the game, though," murmured the young man
doubtfully. "We hold a stronger. Right will always prevail against
might."

"Gwen! Gwen! You are a tower of strength. You put new life into me.
Yes, we will fight; we will fight, fight to the end."

"And win!" cried Gwen. "Oh, never doubt, Owain. We must win!"



CHAPTER XVII
BLACKMAIL


After the reconciliation between the lovers nothing remained but to go
into the garden and announce that Mademoiselle Zara's errand had been
wholly successful. Gwen was now quite amiably disposed towards her
rival, and was indeed very thankful to her for the peacemaking
explanation. Along with Hench she went into the hot sunshine, and as
they walked across the lawns towards the glade where they were likely
to find the others, Owain warned Gwen that Zara was wholly ignorant of
her mother's schemes. "Only you and I, Mrs. Perage and Jim Vane, know
about her accusation," said the young man seriously. "So don't hint a
word of the business to Zara."

"Of course I won't," agreed Gwen readily. "But what steps are you
going to take, Owain, in order to counterplot her?"

"Madame Alpenny? Well, I haven't any idea in my head just now, and, at
all events, she has given me a week to think over things. Let us leave
matters as they are until to-morrow, and then we can call a council of
war and see what is best to be done. There's no doubt that Madame
Alpenny has me in a tight place."

"She has," said Gwen cheerfully. "But we may be able to turn the
tables on her."

"In what way?"

"I don't know," mused the girl. "It seems to me that this woman knows
more about the death of my father than she will admit. She may be
guilty herself."

Hench shook his head. "I have some such idea myself, and yet it seems
impossible. What had she to gain?"

"A fortune through you," said Gwen promptly. "By means of that
advertisement which brought you to the Gipsy Stile, she implicated you
in the murder, which she may have executed before you arrived. Once
under her thumb, she hoped to compel you to marry Zara, and so would
have gained control of the money."

"I am not under her thumb yet," said Hench grimly. "And what is more,
I don't intend to be, strong as is her position. Whether she is guilty
or innocent I can't say, as I am ignorant of her doings on the night
of the first of July. But I should like to know, Gwen, why your father
put that advertisement into the papers, and why he appointed the Gipsy
Stile as the place of meeting?"

"I can't explain," she answered doubtfully. "My father never said a
word to me about the advertisement, or, indeed, about Madame Alpenny's
visit. I asked him who she was and he told me to mind my own
business."

"Well, Madame Alpenny can explain, as I believe she suggested the
advertisement dodge herself." Owain reflected for a moment. "There's
something queer behind all this, Gwen, and when we learn what that
something is, I daresay we will find out who murdered your father. And
then----"

"Hush," said Gwen suddenly, as they turned round the corner of a green
alley which ran between high box hedges. "Here they are."

As a matter of fact the lovers stumbled right into the centre of a
group consisting of Mrs. Perage and her guests. They all appeared to
be smiling, and the smiles grew very broad when the reconciled couple
came towards them. Mrs. Perage caught Gwen by the shoulders and looked
into her tell-tale blue eyes.

"Is it all right, you nuisance?" she demanded gruffly.

"All right!" assented Gwen, giving her a kiss. "Thanks to----"

"To me," cried the dancer gaily. "I am the goddess of Peace."

Hench took her hand and kissed it. "I can never thank you
sufficiently."

"I don't require thanks, Mr. Hench. But did I not tell you that when
you really fell in love you would understand how wholly different it
was to your feeling for me?"

"You did, and I have learned the difference. Admiration is moonlight,
and love is the most glowing of sunshine."

"How poetical," said Vane with a shrug.

"And how true. Jim, I have to thank you for bringing Mademoiselle Zara
with the olive branch. Bless you, as a friend in need."

"Bless Aunt Emma, rather, old son. She suggested the idea."

"It seemed the only way of convincing a stupid man," said Mrs. Perage
lightly. "However, all's well that ends well, so let us go in and have
some tea. Our visitors have to leave in an hour."

All this time Bracken, silent according to custom, was smiling amiably
at the man he had at one time considered his rival. Now he advanced
and shook him by the hand, much to the approval of Zara, for Bracken
had given her considerable trouble over Hench's attentions. Mrs.
Perage, still holding on tightly to Gwen, was walking in front,
together with Vane, so Owain had the pleasant task of escorting Zara
and her lover to the house. He was glad of this, as he wished to say
something and repay the dancer for her kindness.

"When are you two going to be married?" he asked abruptly.

Zara sighed. "I don't know," she confessed sadly. "Ned expected to get
some money from his mother, but she died without leaving any. Neither
I nor Ned make enough money to keep ourselves and my mother, so we
can't think of marrying for a long time."

"Madame Alpenny seems to be the stumbling block," mused Hench
thoughtfully.

"She is," declared Bracken in a gruff, rough way. "Zara and I could
manage by ourselves on what we earn, if it wasn't for that cattish old
woman."

"Ned! Ned! Don't call names. After all, my mother is my mother."

"She is very selfish, and makes you miserable to please herself," said
Bracken crossly. "I shall never make much money as I am not a genius
as you are, Zara. If you could only get the engagement you deserve you
would make sufficient to settle your mother, and then we could get
married."

"Allow me to see to that," said Owain quickly. "See here, Bracken, and
you, Zara, you may not know it but I am a rich man."

"I am very glad," said the dancer honestly. "You have made money,
then?"

"I have inherited money--a large income. I owe you much, as but for
you things would not have been squared."

"It was the least I could do, Mr. Hench."

"It was a very great deal to do, as the task was a delicate one.
However, what I mean is this, that as you have been my friend you
must allow me to be yours. Therefore"--Owain spoke slowly and
deliberately--"I wish you, with Bracken's approval, of course, to
accept one thousand pounds."

"Oh!" gasped Zara, flushing as red as her cloak. "I couldn't think of
it."

"Nor can I," said Bracken resentfully. "I can keep my own wife."

"My dear people,"--Owain being between them took an arm of each,--"if
you like you can pay me back on some future occasion. Zara, your
mother will bother me to marry you until some barrier is raised which
will prevent your being my possible wife. At present, as you have
stated, you are not able to marry for want of money. Now if I give you
this thousand pounds, which I can very easily spare, I want you to get
married quietly. When your mother learns that you are Mrs. Bracken she
will leave me alone. Then you can give her a sum of money to live on
in the meantime and will be able to rest on your oars and look about
for a better engagement. You see?"

"Yes," said Zara gratefully. "I see, and I am very much obliged. If I
can give my mother half the money she will go to her people in Buda
Pesth and amuse herself with gambling. Then with five hundred pounds
Ned and and I can manage to get to the West End. Money always brings
money, and I am sure that I could get an engagement."

"Didn't your mother go in search of one for you?" asked Hench,
nodding.

Zara's lip curled and she looked more disdainful than ever. "My mother
said that she went, but she never did."

Hench started. "She was absent for a few days, I remember."

"Yes. On business, she told me. But what her business was I never
knew. It had nothing to do with an engagement, however, or I should
have known."

Of course Owain knew very well on what business Madame Alpenny had
been engaged, but he was wise enough to make no remark. Also at the
moment his attention was distracted by Bracken, who had been thinking
in his heavy way.

"If you will allow Zara and me to pay you back the money with interest
at five per cent," he observed, reflectively, "we don't mind--eh,
Zara?"

"No," she rejoined promptly. "I shall take the money with pleasure
then, as it will certainly help us to get married in spite of my
mother's opposition. I am very grateful for your kind help, Mr.
Hench."

"I am only doing what I ought to do," said Owain frankly. "You have
done me a good turn, so it is only right that I should do you and
Bracken one. I shall see my lawyers next week and arrange for the
money to be paid to you by cheque, or in notes, or gold, whichever you
prefer."

"Say a cheque, Hench," remarked Bracken, with a sigh of relief. "I
have a banking account. It's a very small one--still, it is a banking
account."

"Good. I will call at The Home of the Muses some day next week with
the cheque, and meantime you can see about getting married."

"Oh, Ned!" cried Zara.

"Oh, Zara!" cried Ned, and they embraced, even though they were in
sight of the drawing-room windows.

"Well," said Hench philosophically, "I have made two people happy,
anyhow."

"We will be happier if you are happy yourself, you generous man," said
Zara.

"Oh, that's all right," replied Hench hurriedly, for he did not wish
to be thanked or praised. "Come and have some tea. We'll keep this
little arrangement to ourselves."

The visitors were very pleased at the result of their visit, which
they had been far from expecting, and the tea was unusually gay. Gwen
could not show enough attention to Zara, and Mrs. Perage, who had
taken a fancy to the honest dullness of Ned, looked after him in her
brusque way. Owain and his beloved were silent from sheer happiness,
in spite of the thunder-clouds which still obscured the sun, so it was
left to Jim Vane to brighten the party with chatter and gaiety. He was
entirely successful, and the visitors left with a sense of great
enjoyment. Zara looked younger, less fatigued and unapproachable than
usual, while Bracken's stolid good-looking face was wreathed in
smiles. And Hench saw them off at the station with a sense of
thankfulness that he had been able to help them. He was so happy
himself in having gained Gwen's love that he wished every one else to
be happy, and moreover was delighted that he had been able to repay
Zara for her good work. He returned to his lodgings to dress, and then
went to dine at Mrs. Perage's hospitable board.

Gwen wished to hold the council of war after dinner, but Hench
refused. He considered that the day had been quite sufficiently filled
with events, and did not wish to start a discussion which was likely
to be prolonged into the small hours. Gwen looked tired after all the
excitement she had undergone, and Hench himself felt rather weary. The
true fact was that a sense of anxiety lay beneath their surface
gaiety, and they were feeling the suspense more than they thought.
Mrs. Perage and her nephew were also rather silent; so in spite of the
reconciliation of the lovers the evening was rather a failure. With
her usual prompt way of dealing with things, Mrs. Perage sent Hench
away at half-past nine o'clock.

"We are all worn out with bother," she said briskly. "So it is best
for all of us to have a good night's rest and then we can deal with
other and more serious matters to-morrow."

"One serious matter has been put right, thanks to you," said Hench,
looking fondly at Gwen. "It was just as well to take the bull by the
horns," said Mrs. Perage candidly. "And I am glad that Zara proved to
be so sensible a creature. And when you tell Gwen what--what----" she
hesitated, not knowing if it was wise to speak.

"What peril I am in," finished Hench. "Oh, I've done that this
afternoon."

"The deuce you have!" cried Vane, turning from his friend to Gwen.
"And what do you think of the matter, Miss Evans?"

"I don't know what to think," said Gwen promptly. "Save that I believe
Owain to be innocent, and I will stand by him to the end, whatever it
may be."

"Good. And the accusation of Madame----"

"Jim," commanded his aunt sharply, "do hold your tongue. This is not
the time to begin a discussion. To-morrow, when our wits are clearer,
we can talk. Owain, go home to bed. Jim and I will turn our backs
while you take leave of Gwen."

This was not necessary, as Gwen accompanied her lover to the door and
kisses were exchanged in the twilight of the summer night. But the two
were so long in parting that Mrs. Perage had to come on the scene and
fairly shut the door in the face of this lingering lover. Hench went
away, feeling that the sun had vanished from the sky, which was
exactly what the sun should do considering the time. He sauntered home
leisurely, thinking of Gwen and picturing his future life with her. By
the time he reached Mrs. Bell's cottage it was striking ten from the
church tower, and he entered the house yawning with the intention of
going at once to bed. There he could dream of Gwen.

But Owain did not get to his repose so speedily as he expected, for he
found a visitor sitting in his parlour--and not a visitor he was
exactly pleased to see. From an armchair rose the smartly dressed
figure of Mr. Cuthbert Spruce, who smiled amiably when he saw the
astonished look on the face of his host. Hench frowned, very
ill-pleased.

"What the deuce are you doing here, Spruce?" he demanded sharply.

"I have come to have a serious talk with you," said the Nut coolly,
and resumed his seat with the air of a man determined to stay where he
was.

"Then you can clear out and come to-morrow, my friend. I am much too
tired to talk just now." Hench glanced at his watch. "There is a train
at a quarter to eleven which you can catch."

"I am not going back to town this evening, Hench."

"Well, that's your business, not mine. Anyhow, I want you to go now."

"I am staying at the Bull Inn," went on Spruce significantly. "It is
necessary that we should speak now. Better be sensible, Hench, and
listen."

Owain looked at this meddlesome marplot searchingly. He was staying at
the Bull Inn, and that was a place which Hench had carefully avoided
lest he should come into contact with the girl who had seen him as a
tramp. It occurred to him from the significance of Spruce's tone that
the Nut had been making inquiries, and had come to make himself
unpleasant. However, Hench was not the man to be frightened into doing
what he did not wish to do, and he threw off his coat and hat, still
frowning.

"I don't know why you have come here," he said coldly, "or how you
found out where I was living. But----"

"Madame Alpenny told me," said Spruce quickly, and brought out a
cigarette.

"Hang her impudence! Don't smoke. I don't want you to stay."

"Very good." The Nut rose and carefully lighted the little roll of
tobacco. "As you please. But don't say that I did not give you your
chance."

"What the devil do you mean?"

"If you send me away how can I explain?" asked Spruce, with a
supercilious smile. "I have been waiting for quite an hour, and it was
only after a great deal of persuasion that your landlady allowed me to
enter. I believe"--added the Nut, stretching his arms and yawning--
"that she is waiting up, so as to be sure that I have not come after
the spoons."

Hench looked at him hard, then abruptly left the room to assure Mrs.
Bell that everything was all right. After he had sent her to bed, at
rest in her mind about the stranger, he returned to the parlour and
closed the door in an ostentatious manner.

Spruce laughed.

"You are going to let me stay, then," he remarked coolly and sitting
down again.

Hench sat opposite to him with a resolute air. "You don't leave this
room until you fully explain what the devil you mean by dogging my
footsteps in this way," he said sternly.

"Dogged is a good word, or was it dogging? Both are good words. You
will have to be dogged so far as your courage is concerned. And as to
dogging, it is better that I should do that than the police."

"Oh, hang your fantastical chatter!" snapped Hench with a lowering
brow. "Come to the point."

"Can't you see my point now that I have mentioned the police?"

"No," said Hench briefly and obstinately.

"Curious! You are not usually so dense." Spruce puffed lightly at his
cigarette and smiled blandly. "The fact is I am here on behalf of
Madame Alpenny."

"What has Madame Alpenny to do with me, may I ask?"

"Oh, you may ask, and I shall reply with great pleasure. Madame
Alpenny has done me the honour to make me her confidential friend, and
I am now in possession of all facts connected with your gaining of a
large fortune. Most people would be glad to get so much money, but few
people would be ready to gain it at so heavy a price."

Hench winced inwardly but not outwardly, as he did not intend to show
fear in the presence of this little reptile. He saw from the very
audacity with which the Nut spoke that he knew all about the matter
connected with the death of Madoc Evans, and knew also that the
creature had come at this untimely hour to profit by his knowledge.
"You speak in riddles," he said coldly.

"Oh, I think you can guess them," retorted the other man.

"Perhaps I can and perhaps I cannot. But as you hint at mysteries it
is for you to explain them. Be as brief as you can. I can't wait up
all night listening to your twaddle."

"Very bravely carried off, Hench," taunted Spruce, his eyes looking
angry. "But such bluff doesn't deceive me. I know too much for you to
pretend ignorance."

"What you know I am waiting to learn," said Hench, setting his teeth.

"Why give me the trouble to explain?"

"Stop your fencing and come to the point. You want money?"

"A great deal of money. The price of my story is costly."

"Really!" said Hench sarcastically. "Well, you were writing a story at
Bethnal Green. At least that was the lie you told me to account for
your presence in the boarding-house."

Spruce laughed, in no wise offended, as his moral perceptions were
very much blunted. "I am writing a much better story than I
anticipated. I told you that I came to Bethnal Green to find material.
Well, I have found material of the best. I shall sell this story for a
good price," he concluded, looking meaningly at his listener.

"And the price?"

"Well, I think about two thousand a year."

"Moderate," said Owain shortly and not quailing.

"I think so myself, seeing that I shall have to pay Madame Alpenny at
least two hundred a year out of it."

"And keep one thousand eight hundred a year to yourself?"

"That is my intention," rejoined the Nut coolly. "Spruce, you
are--what you are, as it is impossible to find a name low enough to
suit you. And how am I to pay this two thousand a year?"

"Out of the ten thousand per annum your uncle left you."

"Humph! You seem to be well informed."

"Madame Alpenny informed me, so naturally I am in possession of many
facts which you would prefer to keep secret. Come, Hench, it is no use
our beating about the bush, as we understand one another, so----"

"Pardon me, we don't understand one another. What am I to get for this
two thousand a year blackmail?"

"Don't use nasty words. It won't help you to be nasty. I'm top-dog,
Hench, so you had better give in."

"Two words go to a bargain," said Hench calmly. "What am I to gain in
return for this two thousand a year?"

"My silence."

"About what?" Spruce started up, looking peevishly angry. "Don't try
me too far, Hench. You know quite well what I mean. A word from me to
the police and you will be arrested straight away for the murder of
your uncle."

"Oh, indeed. You seem to be very certain of my guilt."

"Whether I am certain or not doesn't matter," retorted the other. "I
hold you in the hollow of my hand."

"Explain how you do that."

"Oh, very well," said Spruce, sitting down again. "If you will have
chapter and verse I am willing to oblige you, although I think you are
wasting my time."

The Nut drew a long breath and then proceeded to inform his host of
his discoveries. These had to do with the insertion of the
advertisement, with the visit of Hench on the fatal night to Cookley,
and with the inheritance which the untoward death of Madoc Evans had
brought the young man. "So you see," concluded the Nut, "that I have
only to go to the police with this tale to ensure your arrest."

"I quite admit that, Spruce. In fact, I admit the truth of all your
story. I should like to know how you found out all about the business.
You could scarcely go to Madame Alpenny and force it out of her
without some previous knowledge."

"Well, it was my clever brain that gave me the tip," said Spruce
coolly. "That conversation in which the word 'Rhaiadr' was used gave
me the idea that the old woman knew something about you. I watched her
and followed her when she went away. She came down here and saw Evans
at the Grange. I waited until she got home later, and then told her
that I had followed her. She was so alarmed lest you should know of
the visit--as your doing so would have upset the apple-cart--that she
told me about the advertisement. When it appeared I saw it and made
sure that you would obey it. I followed you to that hotel near the
British Museum, but you left there and I lost sight of you. Therefore
I lay low until I got evidence of your visit to Cookley on the night
of the first of July. I saw all about the murder in the newspapers and
believed that you were guilty. But I was not sure until I went to-day
to the Bull Inn and questioned that girl about the supposed tramp.
From what she said, vague as her description was, I knew that you were
the tramp in question, so came on here to let you know. I believe that
you asked the way to the Gipsy Stile and went straight there to murder
your uncle."

"Oh!" said Owain, unmoved. "Am I the sort of person to murder an old
man?"

"I don't say that you killed him in cold blood," replied Spruce
hastily. "You doubtless had a quarrel and stabbed him before you knew
what you were about."

"One moment, Spruce. I am not in the habit of carrying about
carving-knives to kill people. And I had no reason to kill my uncle,
as at the time I did not know that he was any relation."

"Oh, he told you that at the time you met him."

"I never met him. I found him dead." Spruce started up in a fury and
snatched at his hat. "What's the use of your dodging in this way. I
say that you murdered him, and if you don't promise to pay me two
thousand a year and secure the same to me by deed, I shall go to the
police and procure your arrest. You know I can do it."

"You can. I fully admit that just now you are top-dog," said Hench in
quite a bland way. "And you are willing to condone my felony for the
money?"

"Yes! You can kill the whole population of Cookley for all I care."

"Oh, I quite understand that. Well, to-night I shall say nothing. You
must give me one week to consider matters."

"I don't mind,"--Spruce made for the door with a shrug,--"but don't
you try and bolt or I shall put the police on to you."

"Naturally! You have made everything perfectly clear to me.
Good-night."

Spruce walked into the passage and opened the outside door.
"Remember," he said.

"Good-night," repeated Hench, and shut the door in the face of the
blackmailer.



CHAPTER XVIII
HENCH'S DIPLOMACY


Contrary to his expectations, Owain passed a very good night. By this
time he was so accustomed to trouble that it did not seem sensible to
worry over anything until he could meet the same fairly and squarely.
Dangerous as Madame Alpenny and Spruce were, he had no reason to fear
them for a week, since they gave him that period in which to assent to
their terms. The woman wished him to marry her daughter; the man
desired to obtain an income of two thousand a year, secured by deed;
and if he satisfied both, they would hold their peace and trouble him
no longer. But Hench by no means intended to purchase immunity at this
price, as to do so would imply that he was guilty. As he was perfectly
innocent such a course was not to be thought of, and it was necessary
to think of some other means of settling the difficulty. And since
Owain could not decide his course of action on the spur of the moment,
he put the matter out of his head for the time being and retired to
bed immediately. After a good night's rest, he rose greatly refreshed,
and sent Giles to bring Vane to breakfast.

Guessing from the unexpectedness of the invitation that something was
in the wind, Vane speedily arrived, and was waiting in the little
parlour when his friend made his appearance. Hench refused to give any
information until the meal was ended, saying that to mix up business
with pleasure was to spoil both, so the barrister had to possess his
soul in patience until they were enjoying their morning smoke. Then,
as Hench still held his peace, Vane asked him a down-right question
with considerable impatience.

"Why did you ask me to come to breakfast, Owain?"

"To talk over a further complication of this trouble."

"The murder of your uncle?"

"Yes! When I came here last night, Spruce was waiting for me."

"Spruce!" echoed the other curiously. "That crawling little cheat. How
did he find you out, Owain?"

"Madame Alpenny told him where I was, and Bottles told her, and Peter
told his brother. That is how the screed runs."

"Why the deuce couldn't Peter keep his knowledge of your whereabouts
to himself," growled the barrister. "We don't want Spruce here."

"Oh, Peter didn't think he was doing wrong in telling Bottles, as he
knew how his brother was devoted to me. It is Bottles I blame in
giving me away. I don't think he is so devoted to me as I thought. And
I certainly don't want Spruce here, especially as he has come to
blackmail me."

"What's that?" Vane sat up very straight.

"Listen!" and Hench related what had taken place in that very room on
the previous night, so that the barrister was soon placed in
possession of all facts connected with the accusation. Vane sat silent
when his friend ended, digesting the uncomfortable knowledge.

"Little beast!" he said at length. "I knew that he was after no good
in going to Bethnal Green."

"Oh, that was mere chance, Jim. But his cleverness led him to suspect
what Madame Alpenny knew, and he watched her day and night until he
wormed her secret out of her. Well, you have heard; what is your
advice?"

"I should give Spruce rope enough to hang himself," said Vane quickly.

"In what way?"

"By promising him the money. If he accepts he will be condoning a
felony and in that way will get himself into trouble."

"I will get into trouble also."

"I'm not so sure of that," said Vane, looking out of the window in a
musing manner. "Spruce says that you are guilty, to suit his own ends.
But I should not be surprised if he knew the name of the true
assassin."

"Madame Alpenny?"

"I think so. No one but you and that woman knew of the appointment at
the Gipsy Stile. You are innocent, so she must be guilty. And we have
agreed that she had a strong motive to place you in possession of the
property straight away. Yes, I truly think that she struck the blow,
thus giving you the money at once and getting you under her thumb. She
killed two birds with one stone."

"Don't be in such a hurry," said Owain dryly. "The appointment was
advertised in the newspaper shown to me by Madame Alpenny. Other
people may have gone there on the chance of getting something."

"Other people had nothing to gain by keeping the appointment, Owain,
much less by murdering the old man. No. Some one who knew what his
death meant to you is the assassin, and Madame Alpenny alone possessed
that information."

"True enough. Well, and what do you propose?"

"Send that man you sent to me for Spruce, and ask him to come here at
once."

"For what purpose?"

"We can make a bargain with him. Instead of giving him the money to
hold his tongue, offer it to him on condition that he reveals the
truth."

"He won't. He's a born liar."

"Oh yes, he will. The chance of getting two thousand a year will
unlock his tongue. He'd sell Madame Alpenny or a dozen like her to
line his own nest."

"It's not a bad idea," said Owain, as he left the room to speak to
Giles. While he was absent Vane began to think of Peter, the page, who
was the brother of Simon, surnamed Bottles. It seemed to him that
these two boys knew of something in connection with the matter, as
they appeared to take a great interest in the doings of Hench. The
barrister resolved to speak to Owain on his return, and did so
immediately he came back with the information that Giles was now on
his way to the Bull Inn. "You say that Bottles was devoted to you,
Owain," said Vane reflectively.

"I thought so, but since he has given me away to Madame Alpenny I have
my doubts of his honesty."

"Hm! I don't know. A hero-worshipper doesn't throw off his allegiance
so lightly. Bottles promised to hold his tongue?"

"Yes! Really, though, Jim, there was nothing for him to tell."

"Not when you left Bethnal Green, I admit. But there has been
something to tell since, and he has told it, to wit your whereabouts,
which you did not wish to be known to that old hag. Bottles must have
some reason for acting as he has done. If I were you I would go up to
town and see him."

Hench nodded. "I intend to, and to see Madame Alpenny at the same
time. Our conversation ended rather abruptly in the churchyard, and I
want to make it quite clear to her that I suspect her of being the
guilty person."

"Quite so. And if we succeed in frightening or bribing that little
animal Spruce, you will have more grounds to present to her as to the
truth of your accusation. We're travelling along a dark path, Owain,
and the deuce knows what we will find at the end of it."

"A gaol for Madame Alpenny and a church for me and Gwen to be married
in, Jim," said Hench promptly. "But it is a dark path as you say, and
I have got on to it in the most unexpected manner. I wish I had called
to see you before coming down here on that night. Had you been with me
all this trouble would have been avoided."

Vane quite agreed. "In dealing with people like Madame Alpenny and
Spruce it is always best to have a witness. That is why I think that
the wisdom of seeing Spruce in company is apparent. Hullo! here he is.
Doesn't he look like Solomon in all his glory, the slimy little
reptile?"

It was indeed Spruce who had just clicked the gate and was sauntering
up the short garden path. As the day was very warm, he was
appropriately clothed in a suit of cream-coloured serge, with brown
shoes and a straw hat. His whole appearance was spic and span, and he
looked more like a cherub than ever with his pink and white face. No
one would have thought that this innocent blue-eyed youth was such a
despicable little scoundrel. His purple necktie, his purple scarf, his
purple socks, and the purple band round his hat, were all in keeping
with his quality of a Nut. He even wiped his heated face with a purple
bordered pocket-handkerchief, and when he came into the room the same
wafted a delicate perfume abroad which made Vane growl with disgust.

"What the dickens do you use scent for?" he asked irritably.

"Vane!" said the Nut, not very well pleased to come across one who
knew all about his card-table delinquencies. "You here?"

"A pleasant surprise, isn't it, Spruce?" sneered the barrister, who
ardently desired to kick the creature into a dusty heap on the road.

"Oh, I don't mind meeting old friends," said Spruce, recovering his
impudence. "I'm not your friend, neither is Hench."

"Well,"---Spruce shrugged his elegant shoulders, "let us say old
schoolfellows."

"You are a disgrace to Winchester!" raged Vane, scowling. "A cheat and
a sneak, a liar and a thief. That's what you are."

"Thanks. Any more names?"

"I may as well add blackmailer," observed Hench coldly.

"In that case I can call you a murderer, which is a worse name!"
snarled the Nut, looking very ugly.

"I am not. You are lying as usual."

"Don't insult me too much, Hench. You seem to forget that I am
top-dog."

"So far you certainly are. Top-puppy, I should say. Sit down and let
us get to business."

Spruce still stood by the door in what he considered was a haughty
attitude, and frowned impressively. "I don't see what Vane has to do
with any business between you and myself," he said sharply.

"Vane is my friend, and I have asked him here to deal with the matter
about which you spoke last night."

"You seem ready to take the whole world into your confidence," said
Spruce insolently, dusting a chair with his handkerchief before taking
a seat. "If you act in that way I can't protect you."

"Wait till you're asked," said Vane tartly. "Good Lord, the idea of
your protecting any one; unless," he added significantly, "it is
Madame Alpenny."

"What do you mean by that?" asked the Nut, visibly discomposed.

"Oh, I think you know quite well what I mean, Spruce. You accuse Hench
here of murdering his uncle?"

"Yes, I do. And I'll tell the police as much if he doesn't pay my
price. The police would give a good deal to find the tramp who asked
the way to the Gipsy Stile on the night of the first of July."

"How can you prove that Hench is the tramp?"

"By his own admission."

"And if he does not make that admission in open court?"

"Then I'll leave it to the barmaid at the Bull Inn. She cannot
describe our friend's appearance very well, as she is stupid and the
tap-room was badly lighted when she saw him. But she declares that she
would know his voice. Mr. Owain Hench would then have to prove what he
was doing on the night in question, and I don't think that would be
easy."

"It certainly would not be easy," said Hench coolly. "I have admitted
that you can make out a very good case for the prosecution. All the
same you are perfectly aware that I am innocent."

"What makes you say that?" asked Spruce quickly and--as Vane
thought--in a somewhat anxious manner.

"Because I think you know who is the guilty person."

"Do I? That remains to be seen."

"Spruce," said Vane in a menacing manner, "you are playing a very
dangerous game, and let alone the fact that you are trying to
blackmail Hench, you run the risk of condoning a felony."

"Ah!" said the Nut quickly. "Then you suggest that our friend is
guilty?"

"Nothing of the sort. I suggest that you pretend to believe him guilty
to get this money. But you know perfectly well that he is not."

"Do you mean to insinuate that I know who murdered the Squire?" asked
Spruce, with a fine show of indignation.

"Certainly I do," retorted Vane smartly. "Don't put on frills. In my
opinion Madame Alpenny, who knew all about the advertisement and the
property, is the guilty person. But, as she isn't worth powder and
shot, you are trying to fasten the crime on to Hench's shoulders."

"And I can, Mr. James Vane, as you and he shall find."

"Oh!" said Hench cynically. "And you really expect me to pay you two
thousand a year to refrain from doing so? I won't."

"You won't?" Spruce was plainly taken aback.

"No. Rather than do so I shall go to the police and tell my story.
Better be in the hands of the authorities than in yours."

"You won't dare to do what you say."

"Oh yes, I dare. My conscience is clear, so I am willing to stand the
brunt."

Spruce was plainly embarrassed by this defiance and did not very well
know what to say or do. If Hench acted as he threatened to do, there
would be no money for the Nut, and perhaps an action against him as a
blackmailer. He was shrewd enough to see this, and therefore shuffled
his cards so that he might not drive his proposed victim to
extremities. "What do you wish me to do, then?" he asked sullenly.

Before Hench could reply Vane, who was looking out of the window,
turned round sharply. "There is Peter," he said, glancing at his
friend. "What the deuce is he hanging round your cottage for?"

The answer came from an unexpected quarter. "Peter is waiting to see
me," said Spruce with dignity. "He was at the Bull Inn when your
messenger came and I told him to wait until I returned. I expect he
has followed me here and expects me to come out soon."

"What are you seeing Peter about?" questioned Hench sharply.

"That is my business," snapped the Nut sulkily.

"Mine also. Peter is the brother of Bottles, who is employed by Mrs.
Tesk, and both the boys are meddling in matters which do not concern
them. What does it all mean?"

"You had better ask the boy in and question him," sneered Spruce
coolly.

"I shall do so after we have dispatched this affair," said Hench
sharply. "You ask me what I wish you to do. I reply, clear my
character."

"How can I do that?"

"In a way best known to yourself. But you are well aware that Madame
Alpenny is the guilty person."

"I am not."

"Don't tell lies. It is better worth my while to pay you two thousand
a year to prove her guilty and me innocent, than for me to give the
income to you merely for the sake of your holding your tongue. That's
a thing you never did and never will do."

Spruce considered. "If I prove Madame Alpenny to be guilty," he said,
with a greedy gleam in his eyes, "will you pay me the two thousand a
year?"

"I'll think about it."

"Then I do nothing. To be quite plain, I _can_ clear your character in
the way you say----"

"Ah, I knew you were lying."

"----But I shan't do so unless you agree, in the presence of Vane, to
give me my price."

"It is too large a price," grumbled the barrister. "GLarge or small, it
is what I want."

"I'll give you one thousand a year if you----"

"Two thousand."

Hench looked at Vane and Vane at Hench, as both were uncertain how to
act. A very difficult question had to be threshed out. Owain was
unwilling to pay blackmail, yet if he did not there was bound to be
trouble. If he did he was quite certain that Spruce could clear his
character. For an honourable man the position was very trying, but
there seemed to be only one way out of it.

"Very good," said Hench with an effort. "You must have your price,
Shylock, as my life and liberty are more to me than money, and there
is no denying but what you have me in a cleft stick. I promise to give
you two thousand a year if you remove all danger from me of being
accused."

"I can do that."

"Then you know who murdered my uncle?"

"I do. Madame Alpenny is guilty, as you thought. But I alone can prove
her guilt. I have your promise in Vane's presence to give me the
income?"

"Yes," said Hench with another effort, for he hated giving way thus
ignobly to this scoundrel. "You have my promise."

"You hear, Vane? I shall call you as a witness in case of
non-payment."

"I hear," said the barrister, smoking phlegmatically. "I am surety for
Hench's good faith. You shall be paid, you rat. Now prove to us that
you can have the woman arrested."

Spruce drew a long breath of relief, as things were now going exactly
as he wished. Like the traitor he was, he gaily went to work and sold
Madame Alpenny's secret to gain the money. "She came down to see Evans
after she knew that Hench was his nephew."

"I know that," said Owain quickly. "Tell us something new."

"All in good time," said Spruce smoothly. "I made her confess how she
arranged with Evans about the advertisement and how to draw your
attention to it."

"Why was the appointment made in Parley Wood instead of in the house?"
asked Vane, whom the problem had frequently perplexed.

"I can't tell you. Madame Alpenny never explained that to me. All I
know is that she laid the trap for Hench to fall into, and he did."

"Only to find that my uncle was dead."

"Of course," said Spruce, turning towards Hench with raised eyebrows;
"that was the trap. She intended to accuse you, and thus force you to
marry Zara so that she could handle the money."

"That I also know, and she did accuse me. Well?"

"Well, she came down here by the same train as you did, and while you
were at the Bull Inn she went on to Parley Wood and murdered the
Squire."

"How can you prove that?"

"Very easily." Spruce rose from his chair, and going to the window
beckoned in the page. "Come here, I want you!" he cried.

Peter started and seemed very much inclined to run away. But after a
pause he braced up his courage and entered the house. Shortly he was
standing before the three men, twisting his cap and looking very
nervous. His likeness to his town brother was more apparent than ever,
and Hench winced to think how Bottles had betrayed him. He had always
believed that he could trust the boy to the uttermost.

"Peter," said Spruce, sitting down again and enjoying his position of
dictator, "you must tell this gentleman what you told me."

"If Simon wishes me to," blurted out Peter.

"He does wish you. I brought you that letter from Simon telling you to
do whatever I asked you. Isn't that so?"

"Yes, sir." Peter flushed and quivered, and wriggled in a most uneasy
way. "Well, then, tell them what you told me about Madame Alpenny
coming to Cookley on the night when Squire Evans was murdered."

"Simon sent me a telegram telling me to watch for her," said Peter,
speaking to the three generally. "And as I knew how she was dressed I
easily did so, even though she wore a veil."

"How did you know her dress?" asked Hench sharply.

"Well, sir, when Simon came down here for his holiday he told me as
he'd follered Madame Alpenny, who was up to some game. I met him then
at the station, when he told me, and he follered her to the Grange. I
follered him and hid in Parley Wood outside because Simon told me to.
He watched at the gate. She saw the Squire and then came out, and
after passing Simon she went into the wood follering the path to the
Gipsy Stile."

"What did she go there for?" questioned Vane.

"To see the Squire."

"But she had seen him in the house."

"So she had, but he came to her at the Gipsy Stile afterwards. Both
Simon and I follered and hid to listen. The Squire said as he would
put in an advertisement asking 'Rhaiadr' to meet him at the Gipsy
Stile, and said as he brought her there to see the meeting-place. When
Madame Alpenny examined it and the Squire showed her how to get to it
from the church she went away, and the Squire he returned to his
house. Simon and me saw Madame Alpenny go to the station and catch the
train to town. That was all that happened at that time. So you see,
sir, how I knew how she was dressed."

"I understand, though it is difficult to know why your brother
suspected her."

"Oh, Simon is sharp, sir, and he saw she was up to some games. He'll
tell you all about it."

"I'll see to that," said Hench grimly. "I'll have on more of this
underhanded work. Well, go on. What about the second occasion when you
saw her?"

"Simon sent me a telegram saying as she was coming by a perticler
train and to watch her at the station. I went there and saw her in the
same dress, so I knew her in spite of the veil. Simon was there too,
but he couldn't wait to speak to me, but just follered her, waving me
back. I follered them as far as the church and waited there. Madame
Alpenny, with Simon after her, went into the wood, and after staying
there for a long time she came out and ran for the station."

"Was Simon following her then?" asked Vane, alertly.

"No, sir. He was still hiding in the wood, I think. I hid in the
churchyard behind a tomb, and Madame she ran past me. I waited in the
churchyard for Simon, and later I saw you, sir."

"Me!" said Hench, starting up. "Yes, sir. You went through the
churchyard and along the path. When you got into the wood Simon came
running out as white as death, and told me as Madame Alpenny had
murdered the Squire. He made me swear to hold my tongue, lest I and
him should get into trouble. Then he went off to catch the train to
London and I went home."

"Why didn't you tell the police all this?" asked Hench, frowning.

"Oh, I couldn't, sir," replied Peter in a most ingenuous way. "Simon
made me promise not to in case we'd both get into trouble. But as he
wrote saying I could tell Mr. Spruce I have done so, and as Mr. Spruce
says I can tell you I have----"

"There! There!" Spruce waved the boy into silence. "That is enough.
You can go, and hold your tongue. Simon's orders, remember. Well,"--he
turned to the two men,--"do you see how I can prove your innocence and
Madame Alpenny's guilt?"

"Yes," said Hench thoughtfully. "As Peter here saw me when I entered
the wood, and Simon told him that the Squire was already dead, I see
how my character can be cleared. Well, Spruce, I shall go to town and
see the woman and the boy. When I settle with them I shall see you
about your reward."

"Don't you try and sell me," threatened Spruce, putting on his hat.
"If you do it will be the worse for you."

"Pah! Get out, you little swine," said Vane contemptuously, and the
Nut departed considerably pleased with himself in spite of the
scornful epithet.

Peter lingered behind. "See Simon, sir. He'll explain," he said in a
whisper.

"Oh, I'll see him. But he's a little Judas," said Hench angrily.

"No, sir. He ain't a Judas," said Peter, speaking grandiloquently.
"Simon's as true to you as a needle is to the North Pole." And then he
ran away hastily, evidently afraid of being questioned further. Hench
let him go.



CHAPTER XIX
A DENIAL


On the day after the interview with Spruce it was necessary for Owain
to travel to London for the purpose of having an interview with Madame
Alpenny. Vane at first wished to go with him, but on second thoughts
decided that it would be best for him to remain in Cookley and keep a
close watch on the Nut. That traitor, having behaved treacherously,
was as pleased with himself as if he had acted in a most honourable
manner. He was now certain of an excellent income, and determined to
go abroad for a year or so to enjoy himself until such time as his
West End friends forgot his little mistake at cards. Meanwhile he
remained at the Bull Inn waiting for the arrest of the Hungarian lady,
when everything would be put ship-shape. Spruce was very pleased with
every one and everything since matters had turned out so well. That
they had turned out badly for Madame Alpenny did not worry him in the
least. He was much too busy building castles in the air to trouble
about her.

Owain had given Mrs. Perage and Gwen a full account of the discovery
of the old woman's guilt. They were naturally shocked, but scarcely
surprised, as for a long time circumstances had tended to make them
think that Madame Alpenny had murdered the Squire. At the same time
Gwen pleaded with her lover to deal gently with the wretched creature
as she was Zara's mother, and they both owed a great deal to Zara.
Hench admitted as much and promised to be as lenient as he could.
Nevertheless, he pointed out that to save himself he would have to
inform the police about the woman's guilt. Unwilling as he was to act
so drastically, there was no other course to be taken. All the way to
London the young man argued out the matter in his own vexed mind, but
was unable to see how he could shield Madame Alpenny. It was a pity
that Zara, who was innocent, should suffer for the wickedness of her
mother. All the same, it was impossible to spare her the shock. Owain
hated the idea of saving himself at the expense of a woman, but in
strict justice to himself, and considering that his liberty and life
were at stake, he could not see what else he could do. When he was on
his way to Bethnal Green he fully made up his mind to act as justice
dictated.

The Home of the Muses was much in the same state as Hench had left it,
although there were several new boarders. Mrs. Tesk received him
joyfully, and conducted him to her sanctum saying that she wished for
a private conversation with him. Madame Alpenny, it appeared, was in
the drawing-room along with Bracken and Zara.

"For a surprising thing has occurred," said Mrs. Tesk, who looked more
like a retired school-mistress than ever. "They are now man and wife."

"Oh!" Hench expected something of this sort, but was astonished to
learn that the young couple had got married so promptly. "Man and
wife, are they?"

"Yes! They have entered into the bonds of matrimony, and are now
breaking the news to Madame Alpenny."

"She won't be pleased," observed Hench, with a shrug. "Oh, I am sure
she will be very annoyed indeed!" cried Mrs. Tesk, clasping her hands
with a look of distress. "She intended you to be her son-in-law. She
told me so several times."

"Ah! There is such a thing as counting your chickens before they are
hatched, Mrs. Tesk," was the young man's dry reply.

"But you loved Mademoiselle Zara--or rather I should now say Mrs.
Bracken."

"I admired her," corrected Owain. "I never loved her. She quite
understood my feeling. I wish her and Bracken all manner of luck."

"So do I, Mr. Hench. After all, if two people are tenderly attached,
why should they not wed?"

"Why, indeed? When were they married?"

"Yesterday, at a Registrar's office. I scarcely look upon such a civil
contract as a marriage myself, Mr. Hench, as such a ceremony should
surely be sanctified by the blessing of the Church. But married they
are according to the law of the land, and I expect they will leave me
now."

"Why should they?"

"Because Madame Alpenny will never allow them to live under the same
roof as herself. She is a very determined woman, Mr. Hench. I shall be
sorry to lose the company of the bridal pair," said poor Mrs. Tesk,
wiping away a tear, "as I highly approve of their young affection.
It's so romantic. Ah!" she rose suddenly and opened the door. "They
have broken the news. Hark!"

Madame Alpenny certainly was not pleased. She stood at the head of the
stairs anathematizing the bridal pair as they descended arm in arm.
Zara was weeping and Bracken's stolid face wore an angry expression.
Moved to the depths of her being, Mrs. Tesk was about to rush out and
console them when her skirts were plucked by Hench.

"Don't say that I am here," he whispered, and the landlady nodded
comprehendingly as she disappeared.

While Mrs. Tesk was accompanying Bracken and his wife to the door
Madame Alpenny still stood at the top of the stairs raging wildly. She
was fat and homely in her appearance, and still wore her eternal
orange-spotted dress, bead mantle and picture hat. But furious anger
made her look quite picturesque as she poured out a torrent of words,
shaking her fists and with flashing eyes. "Never come near me again,
you miserable girl!" she shouted after her daughter. "Ah, but what a
wicked child you are to throw yourself away on a fool. As to that man
Hench, who has bribed you into deceiving me, he shall suffer for his
evil doings. Take my curse with you, Zara, and may you-----" Sheer
wrath choked her further utterance, and perhaps the fact that the
happy pair had stepped out of the front door. Even Atê cannot waste
her fury on nothing, and Madame Alpenny looked very like Atê indeed.

Luckily the boarders were all away and the servants were downstairs,
so there were no spectators of the scene but Hench and Mrs. Tesk. The
landlady parted with Zara and Bracken quite tenderly, for their
romance appealed to her ever-young heart. While she was dismissing
them on the doorstep, with a blessing which she hoped would neutralize
the maternal curse, Hench ran up the stairs and into the drawing-room
as quickly as he could. Madame Alpenny had staggered into the same a
few moments earlier, and was sobbing violently on the sofa when Owain
entered and closed the door. At the sound of the closing she looked
up, and her face became purple with rage when she saw who had
disturbed her.

"You dare to come here, you--you--you?" she stormed, rising promptly
and shaking her fist. "You who have ruined my hopes for Zara."

"As those hopes were connected with a possible marriage between myself
and your daughter," said Owain suavely, "I told you long ago that they
could never be realized."

"You told me. What do I care what you told me?" Madame Alpenny was in
such a rage that she could scarcely get the words out. "And you smile,
do you? Ah, yes, you can smile at my shame."

"Don't be a fool," said Hench brusquely. "Your daughter has married an
honourable man, whom you ought to be proud of as your son-in-law."

"But I wanted you," sobbed Madame piteously, and suddenly passing from
anger to pleading sorrow.

"I know, and I pointed out to you that the thing was not possible.
Zara loves Bracken, and I have arranged for money to be given to them
so that they can make a fresh start in life."

"Money; my money," moaned the old woman. "Your money! What do you mean
by saying that?" Madame Alpenny dropped her handkerchief from her eyes
and stood up with as great a dignity as her stout ungainly figure
permitted. "Your money is mine, Monsieur. You owe it to me that you
inherited the money."

"Indeed!" Hench trapped her at once. "So you admit your guilt."

"My guilt?"

"Yes. It was you who murdered my uncle."

"I?" Madame Alpenny stood stock still and stared hard. "It is a lie."

"It is the truth. You learned from my father how matters stood twenty
years ago, and our conversation in this very room revived your memory
when I mentioned the place where my father had passed his youth. You
went down to see my Uncle Madoc and arranged with him that I should be
brought to meet him in Parley Wood by means of that advertisement
which you showed me. And----"

Madame Alpenny interrupted his flow of words by waving her fat hand
for silence. "I admit all this, although I don't know how you found it
out."

"Never mind how I found it out. You are guilty."

"What? You tell me a long story of what I have done and which I admit
to be true. But you have said nothing which can prove that I murdered
the man."

"I was coming to that when you interrupted me," said Hench calmly.
"You knew that I would go to the meeting, although I was then ignorant
of my relationship to Squire Evans. Therefore you travelled down to
Cookley on the first of July and----"

"I never did; I never did," interrupted Madame Alpenny violently, but
looking very anxious in spite of her denial.

"You did, and when you arrived at Cookley you went to the Gipsy Stile
before I did to stab my uncle."

"Oh!" Madame Alpenny waved her arms grotesquely. "La! la! la! la! I
murdered him, did I? And why should I murder him?"

"So as to place me in possession of the money," said Hench solemnly.
"So as to implicate me in the death, as you knew that I would arrive
to find the dead body of the man you had killed. In this way you hoped
to force me to marry your daughter and handle my fortune."

Madame Alpenny sat down with a cool ironical air. "A very clever tale
indeed, Monsieur. And who can prove its truth?"

"Two people at least. You were followed when you first went to Cookley
to join my uncle in laying the trap by means of the advertisement; you
were followed on the occasion of your second visit, when you killed
him."

"Who followed me? Who saw me?"

"Simon Jedd, who is a page here, and his brother Peter, who is in the
service of Mrs. Perage at Cookley."

"And how much have you paid them to tell this lie?"

"I have paid them nothing. They are voluntary witnesses. Come, Madame,
it is useless for you to deny the truth."

"But I do deny it, see you!" she cried excitedly. "I deny it wholly
and altogether. My first visit---ah, yes, I say that I did call on
your uncle, and he did tell me about the advertisement, but----"

"Why did he put in that advertisement?" interrupted Owain sharply.

"He wished to see you before revealing himself as your uncle."

"He could have appointed the meeting to take place in his house. Why
was it arranged to come off in Parley Wood?"

"There," said Madame Alpenny with candour, "I cannot help you. But
that Monsieur Evans was strange--ah yes, he was dangerous. He told me
that he would meet you at the Gipsy Stile, and took me there to show
me the place. I went into the wood after I had left the big house."

"I am aware of that," said Hench, remembering what Peter had said. "Go
on."

"You seem to know much," she sneered.

"Enough to get you arrested and tried, condemned and hanged," said
Hench in a significant tone. "Go on, I tell you."

Madame Alpenny snarled, and her eyes glittered viciously. "Don't try
to ride the tall horse over me, beast that you are. I am not afraid;
no, I am not at all afraid. I do not know why your uncle arranged the
meeting for the wood. All I had to do was to draw your attention to
the advertisement, which I did. He wrote it out and put it in the
journal. For all I know," went on the woman, more or less to herself,
"this man wished to kill you, and chose a lonely place to do so."

"Why should he wish to kill me?"

"Because he hated your father and he hated you, Monsieur. He did not
wish you to get the money. I did, because then you could marry Zara
and I would be rich for the rest of my life."

"That means I would have been under your thumb."

"Ah, but no. Why should you be under my thumb? It was gratitude I
looked for because I knew what would give you a large fortune. Your
uncle would have given you enough to live on--perhaps two thousand a
year."

"Why so, when he hated me?"

"Because I would have persuaded him. I told him about my daughter and
how you loved her."

"I did not," said Hench quickly and with a frown. "You did; you did.
And Monsieur Evans, he said that if he found you a good young man and
better than your wicked father, whom your uncle hated, that he would
allow you a good income as his heir. For that reason did I agree to
him putting in the advertisement and bringing you to meet him in that
solitary spot. But it was in my mind to tell you all when I came
back."

"Why didn't you? It would have saved much trouble."

"Because if I had not consented your uncle would never have
acknowledged you as his heir or allowed you anything. Then you could
not have married Zara and have given me money as I desired. Monsieur
Evans was a healthy man, and I saw he would live for many years."

"Therefore to get the money into your clutches at once you killed
him."

"I did not. Who dares to say that I did?"

"Simon Jedd will dare for one, when I examine him, and Mr. Spruce has
already accused you, for another."

Madame Alpenny jumped up in a fury. "Mistare Spruce!" she shouted,
with a violent gesture. "That wicked beast! That evil one! He accuse
me?"

"Of murdering my uncle? Yes. It is due to his information that I am
here, as he can help me to prove your guilt."

"My guilt!" Madame Alpenny snapped her fingers, with a crimson face.
"Oh, that for my guilt! I am innocent."

"Naturally you say so. But can you prove your innocence?"

"I can." She said this with so much assurance that Hench was
staggered, and began to wonder if he had made a mistake. "See you,
that Mistare Spruce make me confess to him and then betrays me to you.
Beast!"

"You should not have trusted him," said Owain coldly. "Any one can see
that he is a bad lot. I wonder that a woman of your penetration,
Madame, behaved in so rash a manner."

"Rash! Ah, but I did not behave rash. He forced me to speak. He knew
so much that I had to tell him all."

"About the murder?"

"I am innocent of the murder," cried the woman, throwing back her head
in a fierce way. "Hear what I speak, and then you shall see. Mistare
Spruce was in this room when I told how I met your father. Is it not
so?"

"Yes," agreed Hench. "He heard the whole conversation."

"I said," went on Madame Alpenny, "that there was a mystery about
you, and now you know what the mystery was. Mistare Spruce, wanting
to make money out of you and thinking that I knew something--which I
did--watched me as a cat a mouse. I went to Cookley saying that I had
to go away to find an engagement for my daughter. Is it not so?" she
asked again.

"Yes. You were away for a few days and so was Spruce."

"He followed me down to Cookley."

"Are you sure?" asked Hench, wondering why the two sharp Jedd boys had
not also seen the Nut.

"He confessed to me. He saw me enter the Grange; he saw me come out
and go into the wood to meet Monsieur Evans at the Gipsy Stile. He
stole after me and listened. You understand? He listened and learned
about the property coming to you; about the advertisement; about my
desire that you should marry my daughter Zara."

"Well?" asked Owain, when she stopped for want of breath.

"Well,"--she made a dramatic gesture,--"and what follows. He
said nothing, but he knew the paper in which the advertisement
appeared--Monsieur Evans mentioned it at the stile--and learned about
the meeting. He still said nothing, but after the tale of the murder
appears in the paper he comes to me."

"Yes? To accuse you; to blackmail you?"

"Ah, but no. He said nothing of me being guilty. He declared that you
went down to Cookley to meet your uncle."

"How did he know?"

"I cannot say. It was, perhaps, what you call a pot-shot. But he says
you are the guilty person and that he will denounce you unless I
confess all. I tell him all, as I did not wish you to be arrested, and
Mistare Spruce said that he would wait until you married Zara before
speaking. Then he expected me to get you to give him two thousand a
year for ever."

Hench nodded. "Quite so. That is the price he asked for betraying you.
And why did he alter his arrangements?"

"He grew weary, and then that Bracken--the pig who stole my
daughter--told him that he loved Zara and would marry her, as she
loved him. And, mark you, Mistare Spruce still says nothing to me. Oh,
no. He goes down to you and declares that I am guilty, as only in that
way could he get the money. Do you think, Monsieur, that I am blind?
Ah, but no. I see it all. You wish your name to be cleared, and you
are helped by Mistare Spruce to accuse me. But it is a lie--a lie--a
lie!" She rose to stamp furiously. "I am as innocent as you are
guilty. You murdered Monsieur Evans to get the money."

"Well," said Hench, with a shrug, "it's not much use my denying that I
did, as you can only save yourself by believing that I struck the
blow. You _had_ a strong case against me," ended Hench, with emphasis.
"But now that Spruce has told his story, these Jedd boys who watched
you on the night of the murder can prove you to be the assassin."

"Ah," sneered Madame Alpenny contemptuously, "it is that silly,
insolent, ugly page who accuses me?"

"He has not done so yet, but he will when I see him, if what Spruce
says is true; and true, Madame, I believe it to be."

"Pfui!" She snapped her fingers again. "I did not go to Cookley on
that night."

"Can you prove that?"

Madame Alpenny looked somewhat disconcerted; then a thought seemed to
strike her and she burst into a violent rage. "Ah, but you dare to ask
me that when you arranged, to save yourself, that I should go to
Hampstead on the night."

"Go to Hampstead? What are you talking about?"

"Your wickedness!" vociferated the woman, beside herself with fury. "I
received a letter on the morning of the first of July, asking me to
meet the writer at the Ponds in Hampstead, as I would then be told how
to get the money of your uncle at once. It was six o'clock I was to
meet this person, and----"

"Who was the person?"

"There was no name signed to the letter, as you well know who wrote
it," cried Madame Alpenny indignantly. "And it said also that if the
person who wrote was not there I was to wait if it was two or three
hours. I go"--she spoke dramatically, in the present tense--"I find no
one. I wait and wait and wait; hour and hour and hour I wait. After
ten o'clock--yes, and nearer eleven, if I remember--I come back
disappointed to this place. I hear no more of the letter or of the
person. But you see that I am innocent. Could I be in two places at
once, I ask you, Monsieur?"

"No. But have you any witness to prove that you were at Hampstead?"

"No," said Madame Alpenny, in her turn, and disconcerted again as she
was quite sharp enough to see the flaw in her story. "I cannot bring
any one to prove I was at Hampstead. But I was----I was----I was."

"Show me the letter."

"I have not got it. I tore it up and so made a mistake."

"You did," said Hench coolly, and not believing a word of her tale.
"All the worse for you, Madame. Well"--he rose and took up his
hat--"it only remains for me to go to the police and tell them
everything."

If Hench thought that this statement would frighten the woman, he was
never more mistaken in his life. She snapped her fingers right under
his nose. "Go! Go! Go!" she cried. "You have robbed me of my daughter
by giving money to that fool to marry her; now you would rob me of my
liberty. I defy you. I care not for the police, nor for you, nor for
anything."

"Very good." Hench walked towards the door. "If you had behaved in a
different spirit I would have tried to arrange matters differently for
your daughter's sake. As it is you must take the consequence. To clear
my own character, you can understand----"

"Oh, yes, I well understand, Monsieur. You murdered your uncle; you
wrote that letter asking me to leave this house, so that I could be
unable to explain where I was, and now you accuse me at the bidding of
Mistare Spruce. I see it all, and I defy you; I spit upon you; I----"
Here Hench, unable to stand any more of her savage anger, left the
room, while she still raged.

The young man descended the stairs with the determination to go as
soon as possible to the police-office and tell his tale. If he did
not, the chances were that Madame Alpenny would run away, although he
admitted to himself that her speech was not that of a frightened
person. But when he reached the bottom of the stairs and saw Mrs. Tesk
at the door of her sanctum, he remembered that Simon Jedd had still to
be examined, and walked up to the landlady.

"Where is Bottles?" he asked abruptly.

"Dismissed from my employment!" was the unexpected reply.

"Dismissed! His brother, who is a page at Mrs. Perage's, did not tell
me so."

"Simon did not wish his brother to know," said Mrs. Tesk quietly, "as
he was ashamed, very naturally."

"Ashamed of what?"

"Of being dismissed for theft."

"Come, come, Mrs. Tesk, I can't believe that Bottles is a thief."

"He is!" insisted the ex-school-mistress, colouring. "Sorry as I am to
say so, Mr. Hench. Several small articles have been missing lately,
and amongst them a valuable carving-knife with a horn handle, which I
inherited from my grandmother. So you see----"

"A horn-handled carving-knife!" echoed Hench with a start, and
remembered clearly that such a weapon had been used to stab Madoc
Evans. "Can you swear that the boy took it?"

"I accused him of stealing the knife and several other small articles.
He turned red, but he did not deny his guilt. Out of consideration for
his hard-working mother, I did not prosecute him, but sent him away,
lest he should contaminate Amelia and the other servants."

"Where is he now?"

"Staying with Mrs. Jedd, his mother. As you know, she is the wardrobe
mistress at the Bijou Music-hall."

"Thank you. I'll go and see Bottles. I can't believe that such an
honest lad is guilty." And Hench turned on his heel.

"Wait, sir. You do not blame me?"

"Oh, no. If he did not deny your accusation, you acted rightly. But
there must be some explanation of this. What it is I go to find out."

Mrs. Tesk would have detained him to ask questions concerning Madame
Alpenny's frame of mind, but Hench refused to stay. He was now
beginning to wonder if the Hungarian lady really was guilty. It seemed
as if Bottles was the culprit, that is if he had really stolen the
carving-knife. With such a weapon the crime had certainly been
committed.



CHAPTER XX
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND


The weather was uncommonly hot. For weeks the sun had been blazing in
a cloudless sky, as it did in the tropics, and the earth was parched
for want of rain. Everywhere it was seamed and cracked; everywhere
the grass was brown and the trees were wilted, while the air was like
the thrice-heated breath of a furnace. Animals and human beings went
languidly about their business and longed all day for the cool night
hours. Not that it was particularly cool even when the twilight came,
but it was something to escape the pitiless blue sky and the burning
sun. And on this particular evening a hot wind rose with unexpected
suddenness to make matters worse. It raised clouds of dust, it rattled
the dry foliage in Parley Wood, and brought no sense of relief to the
worn and weary. As people are never really prepared for an unusually
hot season in England, the Cookley villagers found this equatorial
summer excessively trying and disagreeable.

Spruce enjoyed the sultry weather personally, as he loved warmth with
all the affection of a cat, and the worst heat never caused him any
discomfort. After dining excellently at seven o'clock, he now sat by
the open window of his sitting-room at the Bull Inn, enjoying a cup of
fragrant coffee and as many cigarettes as he could get through. Of
course, he was in accurate evening dress, as he always loved to be
clothed appropriately according to the hour of the day. No one was
more of a slave to social observances than the Nut, for he had the
petty soul of a Beau Brummel. A small table stood before him, and he
passed the time in trying new card-tricks, which might be useful some
day, should he again become hard up. Not that Spruce always played
false to make money, since he was a cheat by instinct. To get the
better of any one by trickery was pleasant, as it involved danger,
which was exciting, and gave him an agreeable feeling of superiority
because of his wonderful dexterity. So he shuffled and cut and dealt;
slipped cards up his sleeve and out again; diddled an imaginary
opponent by sleight of hand, and in every way trained himself to
cheating as though it were a fine art. Most card-lovers when alone
play Patience. Spruce preferred to prepare himself for future
campaigns.

Every now and then he cast a disdainful look round the shabby old
room, which was by no means to his taste. Undoubtedly the apartment
was ancient and time-worn, containing too much furniture, and giving
little gratification to the eye. But Time had mellowed the whole into
pleasing, sober colours, and less fastidious people would have been
delighted with the reposeful look of things. The atmosphere was quite
monastic. But Spruce admired spacious chambers filled with gilded
furniture and blazing with lights. He had the tastes of Louis XIV.,
and Versailles was his idea of a dwelling house. When he was in
possession of the two thousand a year, he intended to live in great
luxury, but meanwhile contented himself with this dingy habitation.
The window at which he was seated looked out on to a small garden
surrounded by a low wall beyond which stretched fields right up to the
grey churchyard. The sill of the window was so low that the Nut could
easily have vaulted over it into the pleasant garden. But not having
any love for Nature, he preferred to stay where he was playing cards,
and dreaming of luxurious years, which were as he thought--truly
coming to him.

While Spruce was thus occupied, the landlady of the inn knocked at the
door to announce that Mr. Hench and Mr. Vane wished to see him. The
Nut at once ordered them to be admitted, never doubting but what they
were coming to conclude the matter of his blackmail. He rose to greet
them pleasantly, as if he was the most honest person in the world, and
when the door was closed signed that they should be seated. He resumed
his post near the window, and in that way obtained a good view of
their faces, while his own was in the shadow. As it was only half-past
eight o'clock, the twilight was yet luminous enough to see very
plainly, and although Spruce offered to ring for lights, Hench
signified that it was not necessary. Then the host offered cigarettes
and drinks, both of which were curtly refused.

"You are uncommonly rude," said the Nut, much nettled. "When you look
up a man you might be civil."

"That depends very much on the man," said Vane coolly. "Neither Hench
nor myself were ever friends of yours, Spruce."

"Oh, I don't want your friendship. After all, you are a dull couple."

"But honest," said Hench with emphasis.

"Honesty implies dullness. It takes a clever man to sin."

"What a brilliant person you must be, then."

"That's sarcastic, I suppose." Spruce was not at all offended, but
accepted the observation as a tribute to his powers. "But I don't
mind. On the whole, I am clever enough to get two thousand a year."

"You haven't earned it yet," snapped Vane with a look of dislike.

Spruce started. "Ah, play fair, whatever you do," he protested. "Hench
promised me two thousand a year if I told him about that old woman.
You heard him, Vane."

"I heard Hench promise to give you that income if the crime was
brought home to Madame Alpenny, and his character cleared," said Vane
dryly. "There is a difference between telling a thing and proving a
thing."

"I suppose that means Madame Alpenny denies her guilt?" said the Nut,
turning to the other man. "It is useless for her to do so, as Simon
can prove it."

"Oh, I have seen Simon and have brought him down with me," said Hench
quietly. "In fact, he is waiting outside to come in when called."

"Then call him at once," said Spruce briskly. "I want to get this
business completed and see the last of you. I hate bores."

"Oh, you'll see the last of us sooner than you expect," said Vane
grimly.

"Good! You will confer a favour on me when you do cut." Spruce looked
round again at Owain. "So you saw Madame Alpenny?"

"Yesterday, at The Home of the Muses. I went up to town especially to
see her, as you know."

"And she----"

"She denies that she was in Cookley on the night when my uncle was
killed. I was given to understand by her that an anonymous letter
summoned her to the Hampstead Ponds to meet some one."

"For what purpose?"

"The letter said that the person who wrote it--there was no name,
remember--declared that information would be given to enable her to
get the money at once from my uncle."

"What money?"

"My property, I presume, for which she was scheming."

"Well, and did Madame Alpenny see this person?"

"No. She went to Hampstead about six and returned home after ten."

"Quite time enough for her to travel to Cookley and back in order to
commit the murder," said Spruce coolly. "Did you see the letter?"

"No. She had torn it up."

"Fudge!" cried the Nut inelegantly. "There never was such a letter.
She invented that yarn so as to account for her presence elsewhere on
the night of the crime. She did murder Squire Evans. You heard what
Peter said?"

"Oh, yes. And I have heard what Simon said. I am bound to say," said
Hench with emphasis, "that his story is much the same."

"Well then, with two witnesses, what more proof do you want of the
woman's guilt?" demanded Spruce indignantly. "I fancy I have earned my
money. What do you say, Vane?"

"I say we had better have Simon in and hear his story," retorted the
barrister dryly. "It is just as well to get everything made quite
plain."

"So I think," declared the Nut briskly. "Call him in, Hench."

With great calmness the young man did so, not at all disturbed by the
imperious tone in which the order was given. This was Spruce's little
hour of triumph, so both the visitors allowed him to control the
situation while he was able. Bottles made his appearance quickly, and
cap in hand stood before the closed door, waiting to be interrogated.
With his freckled face and red hair he looked anything but
prepossessing. At least he did not in the Nut's eyes, who failed to
observe the good-humoured expression and intelligent gaze of the lad,
which were worth much more than mere animal comeliness.

Spruce, in the attitude of an examining judge, surveyed the boy
superciliously and immediately began to question him. "You are to tell
these gentlemen what you told me," he commanded. "Now, on the first of
July you followed Madame Alpenny to the Liverpool Street Station?"

"Yes, sir. She caught the five o'clock train to this place."

"And you followed?"

"I did, sir. I wished to see what her game was."

"One moment," interpolated Hench at this remark. "I may mention that I
also came to Cookley on that night by that train. I had an idea that
Madame Alpenny was at my elbow. In fact, I fancied that I caught a
glimpse of her in the crowd at Liverpool Street Station. But I thought
that I was mistaken."

"You wasn't mistaken, sir," said Bottles calmly.

"She was in the crowd, sure enough, and went down by that train. So
did you, sir, for I saw you, and dodged."

"Good!" said Spruce, rubbing his hands. "This unsolicited testimony of
yours, Hench, emphasizes the fact of the woman's guilt. Go on, Simon."

"The train got here at half-past six. I had already sent a telegram to
my brother saying that Madame was coming, and telling him to meet the
train and watch. He was on the Cookley platform, sure enough, but I
hadn't any time to speak to him, having to keep my eye on Madame
Alpenny. She didn't go through the village street, but across the
fields to the churchyard and then by the path to Parley Wood. I
followed, hiding as often as I could."

"She didn't see you, then?" inquired Vane idly.

"No, sir. I was much too fly. Peter, he came also at a distance, and
hid in the churchyard, while I follered Madame Alpenny into the wood.
She made for the Gipsy Stile."

"How did you know where that was?" inquired Hench.

"Why, sir," said the boy, greatly surprised, "of course I was there
before when she and the old cove talked together about the
advertisement."

"Yes! Yes! I understand."

"And, of course," said Spruce smoothly, "he was following Madame, who
also knew the appointed meeting place. Well, Simon?"

"She didn't stay at the stile, but hid in the wood. I hid near her and
kept my eyes on her, as there was plenty of light."

"Of course. It was not late and the Gipsy Stile is in a clearing,"
explained the Nut, waving his hand. "Go on, boy."

"After a long time--I couldn't say how long, as I hadn't a watch--the
old cove came to the stile. Madame Alpenny came to meet him and talked
to him for a time, and----"

"Did she raise her veil?" asked Hench quickly.

"No, sir. She spoke for a few minutes, and I could see as she'd
something in her right hand. What it was I don't know. Then she
suddenly lifted her arm and stabbed the old gentleman, who fell
without a cry. As soon as she made sure he was dead, she cut. My
brother saw her go through the churchyard."

Vane nodded. "On her way to the station. I remember. Then you came out
of the wood, to meet your brother near the church, and made him swear
not to say a single word."

"What else could I do, sir?" protested Bottles, distressed. "I might
have got into a row with the police. That is why I said nothing."

"Very wise of you," said Spruce approvingly, then turned to the
others. "Well, gentlemen, I think the case is clear. Madame Alpenny
murdered Squire Evans, and her guilt is proved by Simon here, who saw
the crime committed, and by Peter, who saw her in the vicinity, even
though she swears that she was at Hampstead. What more proof do you
want?"

"None," said Hench calmly. "Undoubtedly my uncle was murdered by--some
one dressed as Madame Alpenny!"

Spruce gave a gasp and rose as if moved by springs.

"What do you mean by saying that, may I ask?" he demanded in a choked
voice.

"I mean that you murdered Madoc Evans and that Bottles here can prove
it."

"A lie! A wicked, false lie!" gasped the Nut, who became deadly pale.

Vane chuckled; tense as the situation was, he chuckled. "You have been
weaving a rope for your own neck all this time, Spruce," he remarked
grimly.

"Such an accusation is ridiculous!" said the other, with an attempt at
dignity. "Is it likely that I would dress up as a woman to----"

"You were always good in amateur theatricals," said Vane
remorselessly. "And you would do anything to get the two thousand a
year, which, by the way, you are not likely to enjoy."

"My enemy speaks," said Spruce dramatically. "It's one thing to say a
thing and another thing to prove a thing."

"You are quite epigrammatic!" sneered the barrister.

"Hush, Jim, and let the boy speak. He can prove that Spruce is
guilty."

"I just can," said Bottles promptly, and greatly enjoying his _rôle_ of
detective. "For I've watched you, Mr. Spruce, for ever so long. I
watched Madame Alpenny first, thinking she meant harm to Mr. Hench."

"Why should she have meant harm?" asked Vane quickly, for he was not
so well acquainted with the story as his friend.

"Oh, she knew something about him, and said that he was a mystery. I
heard her talking to Miss Zara, and then I heard something of the talk
in the droringroom, when she said as she knowed Mr. Hench's father.
She asked me for an A.B.C., too, she did, and left it open on the
table. I looked and saw on the page the timetable for Cookley. I
didn't know she was going there, as other time-tables were on the
page, but I thought it was queer seeing Cookley, considering that my
brother was down here with Mrs. Perage."

"It's all rubbish, of course," said Spruce, with a kind of hysterical
cackle. "But what did you do then?"

"I watched. When she went away I got my holiday and follered. She did
go to Cookley, and so did you, Mr. Spruce."

"It's a lie, you imp. I didn't!"

"You did!" insisted the lad. "And it was your follering Madame Alpenny
as made me watch you. I knowed as you wasn't up to any good. Me and
Simon follered you both, and when Madame Alpenny went into the Grange
you hung about in the midst of the trees waiting for her. Then you
follered her when she went into the wood to see the old cove at that
stile, and heard everything."

"Admitting all this," said Spruce, appealing to the two men, "how does
it connect me with the murder and this masquerade, which is so
ridiculous?"

"Oh, I'll connect you, right enough," said Bottles tartly. "Don't you
make any mistake, sir. I ain't read detective stories for nothing.
When you came back I watched you and I watched Madame. Then you made
friends with the manager of the Bijou Music-hall,"

"I was friends with him long before!" declared Spruce angrily, and
hoping against hope that the boy would fail to substantiate his
accusation. "Ah, but you became better friends," said Bottles
persistently, "and got behind the scenes. Then you were agreeable to
mother and asked to look over the theatrical properties. I didn't know
what you was after until mother said as you'd asked her for a red wig
to play in some theatricals. Then I guessed as you wanted to imitate
Madame, who has hair as red as mine. I was sure when you brought
mother some orange-spotted black cloth to make a dress and borrowed a
bead mantle and a flopping hat off her."

"I did not. You are a brazen liar!"

"Liar yourself, sir! Mother can prove the truth of everything I say.
You paid her well for the things, I don't deny. But mother wouldn't
have taken a penny if she knowed what you was after. She never did
know, as there was no mention of Madame Alpenny's dress, or of Madame,
in the papers reporting the murder. Only when Mr. Hench come yesterday
did I take him to mother and tell her all. She was horrified, for
mother is a good sort, and told him what I am telling you. I knowed it
all before."

"The woman is a liar, as the boy is," said Spruce, licking his lips,
which were very white and dry.

"Shut up, Bottles!" said Hench, as the boy was about to make an angry
response. "Let me say the rest. Bottles watched you leave the house
dressed as Madame Alpenny, Spruce----"

"It was Madame Alpenny!" insisted the Nut, fighting desperately.

"It wasn't!" cried Simon, who could not be suppressed. "She'd gone to
Hampstead later, after you went, and I let her out. No, I'm talking
wrong. I saw her leave the house after four, and she said as she'd an
appointment at Hampstead, and wouldn't be back till late. She come
back very late, and so did I, because I was follering you."

"The boy equivocates, you see," mumbled Spruce.

"First one thing, then another."

"I think his evidence is very clear, on the whole," declared Vane
calmly.

"So do I," said Hench. "And after Madame Alpenny went, you came out,
Spruce, dressed in the same way. Bottles, knowing how you got the
clothes from his mother, the wardrobe mistress at the Bijou, and
knowing that Madame Alpenny had already left the house, guessed it was
you in disguise. He snatched up his cap and followed, catching the
five o'clock train, as you did. The rest you know. You are the guilty
man."

"He is!" said Bottles with relish. "And he gave back the things to
mother saying as the amateur theatricals had been quite a success."

"As he hoped to make two thousand a year, I presume they were!" said
Vane in a cruel voice. "Well, Spruce, what have you to say before
being arrested?"

"Arrested!" Spruce gave a scream like a woman, and he dropped limply
into his chair, white-faced and aghast. "What for?"

"For the murder of Squire Evans."

"No! No!" He thrust out his hands as if warding off a blow. "I did not
kill him. You cannot bring the crime home to me."

"The evidence you have heard brings the crime home to you only too
positively," said Hench, with a certain pity in his voice, for the
sudden collapse of the man was dreadful. "Peter can prove that you
were mixed up in the matter, and Mrs. Jedd can prove that you borrowed
the clothes, having the orange-spotted dress made after the style of
that worn by Madame Alpenny. And Simon can prove the murder. He saw
you kill the man."

"No! No! No!"

"May I die if I didn't!" swore Bottles, who was looking nervous, for
the scene shook him considerably, since he was only a boy.

"It was a mean, sordid murder, committed for the sake of gain," said
Vane.

"Don't kick the man when he is down, Jim," said Hench, pityingly.

"Why not? He was insolent enough while he was up. And to kill an old
man of whom he knew nothing! Owain, it was beastly. I hope I'm as
decent a chap as any, but my gorge rises at the sight of this
creature."

What little pride remained in Spruce rose at these words. He sprang to
his feet and shook his fist wildly in the air. "I shall get off!" he
screamed. "I can prove my innocence!"

"Do so to the detective," said Hench, wishing to end the scene.

"A detective! a detective!" Spruce clutched his throat as if to tear
away the rope he was doomed to. "You won't--you won't----" His voice
failed.

"I saw the authorities and procured a warrant before leaving London.
Every moment I expect the detective in to execute it."

"No! No! No!" Spruce flung himself on his knees. "Dear Hench, good
Hench, you won't allow me to be hanged? I don't want the money; I'll
give it up. Let me get away; let me hide."

"Did you murder my uncle?"

"Yes! Yes!" Spruce's cheeks were streaming with tears and his teeth
were chattering. "It's all true. I acknowledge that I killed him to
get the money. But I am sorry--really and truly I am sorry. Don't give
me up--don't----"

"Get up," cried Vane in disgust, "and take your gruel like a man."

"Bottles, see if the policeman is there," ordered Hench, and Bottles,
glad to escape from the scene, fled willingly.

"No!" Spruce rose from grovelling on the ground, and from a tearful
martyr was suddenly changed into a wild beast. His lips curled,
showing his teeth. He drew back towards the window, and his eyes
flashed fire. If he had had a weapon in his hand there is no doubt he
would have killed both the men. "You shan't catch me, hounds that you
are. I shall escape; I shall----"

"Look out, Owain, he's trying for the window!"

But Vane's warning came too late. With a surprising spring, the
miserable little creature flung himself through the window into the
garden. Before the two men could recover from their surprise he was
over the low garden wall and racing for the churchyard. Terror winged
his feet, and he flew onward like an arrow from the bow. Hench leaped
after him immediately, and followed close behind him, while Vane
rushed out to see if the police had arrived with the warrant. Two men
were there in plain clothes, with a village constable, and in a few
hurried words the barrister related how the man wanted had escaped.
With the rapidity of lightning the news spread, and in a wonderfully
short space of time half the village, headed by the police, Vane and
Bottles, were making for the churchyard. Far ahead they could see
Hench running swiftly through the twilight, but of the fugitive they
could see no trace.

It was no wonder that the pursuers could not gain a glimpse of their
wretched quarry, for Spruce flew on with amazing speed. Behind him
were the dogs of justice, and he knew that once they pulled him down
all that remained for him to do was to face the death he had earned by
his cowardly crime. But he was not a man, only a creeping crawling
thing saturated with evil, a bird of prey, a snarling tiger--and he
did not wish to receive the reward of his wickedness. Instinctively he
made for the wood wherein his crime had been committed. Once in its
dark recesses he hoped to remain hidden until he could escape over
seas. Behind him he caught sight of Hench, and longed to have a knife
or revolver to shoot or stab the man he hated. Gasping, and streaming
with perspiration, he plunged into the wood, broke from the path which
led to the Gipsy Stile, and struggled through the dry, rustling
undergrowth. They would never catch him, he swore, and even as he did
the miserable creature heard the beat of Owain's feet in pursuit.

A thought struck him. The wood was dry, and would burn like tinder.
Hench, being in the wood and unprepared, would be probably burnt to
death. Without thinking of the danger to himself in his mad fury--only
resolved to make an end to Owain and to place a blazing screen between
himself and his pursuers---Spruce took out a silver box and struck a
match. Then another, and another, until all round him, in the grass
and the moss and the undergrowth, were stars of fire. The stars grew
into blazing suns, as the flames caught the tall, dry trees and roared
upward. With inconceivable rapidity the fire spread, and now it was
time for Spruce to fly from the death he had created. As he plunged
onward he came suddenly into the open, and fell, catching his foot in
a fallen tree-trunk. He tried to rise and could not, as his ankle was
twisted. So he lay shrieking on the verge of a fiery  furnace, unable
to move, and condemned by his own evil act to a far more terrible
death than that which he would have suffered at the hands of the law.
Shouting for help, and only anxious now to escape the immediate doom,
Spruce heard the cries of the villagers, when they saw the tall
columns of flame rising from the wood. Hench was lunging here and
there amidst the undergrowth seeking for Spruce, and continued to do
so until a barrier of flame cut him off from further search. Before
that terrible heat he was forced to retreat, and made for the pathway
so as to get back into the open. Vane's voice, high, clamorous and
clear, could be heard shouting for him, and in the roar of the flames
Hench heard the shrieking of the wretched creature who had lighted the
funeral pyre of himself. He made for the direction whence the cries
came, as they appeared to be near at hand. Fighting the flames, he
stumbled into the open space round the Gipsy Stile and saw Spruce
writhing on the edge of the clearing under a canopy of fire. It blazed
overhead; it ran along the moss and grass, licking up everything with
greedy avidity; and all round the wood was like a seven-times heated
furnace.

"Save me; save me!" yelled Spruce, seeing his enemy.

Wicked as the creature was, Owain did his best. He ran towards the
spot where Spruce lay in agony, and tried to reach him. But the flames
came out with a gust of the hot dry wind, which now was blowing
furiously, and the young man fell back, shielding his face with his
arms. When he removed them he heard a wild cry of agony, and saw a
tall bulky tree falling slowly down. Spruce was beneath it, and saw
its gradual descent. He cried to Hench for help; he cried to God for
pardon; but the tree dropped inch by inch in the midst of that hell
until it suddenly crashed down on the doomed man. Then there was
silence, save for the roar of the flames rejoicing over their prey.

Hench turned and fled, skirting the flaming trees and getting round to
where the police and villagers were by slipping along the park wall.
Blackened and burnt, dizzy and faint, he staggered into the open
space, where all watched the great bonfire. Vane rushed forward and
caught him in his arms.

"Are you hurt--are you hurt?"

"No. I'm all right. But Spruce----!" He gasped at the memory of the
horror.

"My man," said the police officer. "What of him?"

"Dead!" breathed Hench faintly, and then fell unconscious to the
ground, while Parley Wood, with a noise like the roaring of many
waters, vanished for ever in flames and smoke.



CHAPTER XXI
THE SUNSHINE OF LIFE


The discovery that Spruce was the murderer of Squire Evans, the
burning of Parley Wood, and the consequent death of the criminal, were
wholly unexpected events. They descended on the Cookley villagers like
so many bolts from the blue, and naturally caused a very great
commotion. So far as the woodland was concerned, nothing remained but
a vast area of grey ashes, wherein multitudinous smouldering stumps
pricked up here and there. Luckily the trees of the Grange park were
untouched, as the fire had not reached across the considerable space
which, like a wide roadway, divided Hench's property from the
miniature forest. Also, the violent wind blowing from the south had
swept the flames northward, long-side the brick wall girdling the
demesne. But considerable damage had been wrought, as Parley Wood was
dear to many artists, and they, as well as the villagers, lamented the
blotting out of this beauty-spot. But, as some people said, perhaps it
was just as well, since the murder of Madoc Evans had given the wood
an evil reputation. These philosophical individuals, however, were in
the minority.

Under the huge tree-trunk which had crushed him to death the body of
Cuthbert Spruce was found, burnt and disfigured almost beyond
recognition. But there was not the least difficulty in identifying the
remains of the wretched man, and he was duly buried in Cookley
churchyard. A large number of morbid sight-seers were attracted to the
ceremony, and there was much talk about the extraordinary events which
had led to his guilt being proved. Hench, naturally enough, was
anxious that the whole miserable story should be kept from the public,
but this was not possible. The Inspector who had been charged with the
arrest of Spruce advised the young man--for the clearing of his own
character--to allow all facts to become known. Therefore the
newspapers were filled with true accounts of all that had happened in
connection with the affair, from the time of his early conversation
with Madame Alpenny down to the moment when he staggered out of Parley
Wood to fall unconscious at Vane's feet. Owain was considerably shaken
by what he had undergone, both physically and mentally, so it was
natural that he should take some days to recover. He was burnt and
bruised; very much horrified by the appalling death of his old
schoolfellow; and greatly disturbed by the enforced publicity of the
whole dreadful business. It was fortunate that Mrs. Perage was at hand
to look after him, as she proved to be a very dragon to guard the
broken man from the curiosity of the public. Vane brought Hench to the
old lady's house, and there he remained in bed for quite a week to be
nursed back to health and strength by Gwen. Save the Inspector, who
advised him to make the facts of the case known to the world, he saw
no one but the old lady and the young one. Not even Jim Vane was
permitted to interview him.

The result of this judicious treatment on the part of Mrs. Perage was
obvious, for while the excitement was going on Hench remained secluded
in his sick-room, and was not worried with questions. By the time he
was able to get up, healed of his hurts and much calmer in mind, the
worst was over. Spruce lay in the churchyard, the newspapers had said
all they could say about the matter, and the nine days' wonder of the
whole awful business had come to an end. It only remained for Owain to
fulfil his promise to the Brackens; to reward the Jedd boys for the
clever way in which they had saved him; to take formal possession of
his property, and to marry his cousin. Then he could begin a new life,
and all the old troubles would be forgotten. Of course it required
decision and strength to deal with such matters, but, thanks to Gwen's
careful nursing, Owain was quite able to attend to the business. With
his descent into the drawing-room, wholly cured at the end of nine
days, the 'nine days' wonder came to a termination.

"Now we must sweep up the fragments," said Hench, who was rapidly
recovering his strength, although he still looked somewhat pale.

"Quite so," agreed Mrs. Perage, who looked more grim and masculine
than ever. "I have asked the fragments to come here to-day for the
sweeping."

"What do you mean?"

"My meaning is plain enough, young man!" she replied vigorously. "I
want all this disagreeable business concluded, so that it will not be
necessary to re-open it again. Then, as soon as possible, you must
arrange about getting the property, marry Gwen, and go for a year's
tour in Europe, or in the States, if you like. I don't care where you
go, so long as you get away."

"I don't know if Owain is strong enough to travel yet," said Gwen, who
was sitting beside the sofa holding her lover's hand.

"Fudge!" retorted Mrs. Perage, standing on the hearthrug in quite a
manly attitude, with her hands behind her back. "Don't make a
mollycoddle of the fellow, you silly girl. While he remains here,
everything will remind him of the horrors which have taken place. Let
him travel to forget, and then he can return to take up his work as
the Squire of Cookley. You must go with him, as he is sure to be
miserable without you."

"That is very certain!" said Hench, smiling.

"Well, then," cried Mrs. Perage argumentatively, "so young a girl
can't go with you as a chaperon, can she? Marry her in a couple of
weeks and then no one can say a word, even if you take her to the
North Pole."

"But my father has not been dead very long," murmured Gwen nervously.

"My dear, don't be a fool. God forbid that I should say a word against
your father, who has paid for his foolishness. But you owe him nothing
and you never got on with him. Then why sacrifice yourself to a
feeling which does not exist? Pfui!" Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose.
"Can't you understand that I am anxious to see the backs of you two
nuisances? I've had quite enough bother with you as it is."

Hench laughed outright, knowing that Mrs. Perage looked upon himself
and Gwen as her own children. "You wouldn't be happy without us," he
said gaily. "You would have no one to scold."

"Oh, there's always Jim Vane, at a pinch," said Mrs. Perage
good-humouredly. "But I daresay I shall miss you two brats. Babies,
that's what you are. As to scolding, there will be plenty of that when
you return. You are the Lord of the Manor, but I have much property in
Cookley also, so there will be ample for us to fight about. I want my
own way and so do you. Hum!" Mrs. Perage rubbed her hands. "There are
lively times ahead."

Both the young people looked at the tall, grim old Amazon with great
affection, as they recognized how much they owed her. Gwen
particularly loved her, as she had brought common-sense to bear on the
estrangement after the fatal interview in the churchyard with Madame
Alpenny. But that Mrs. Perage had acted so vigorously, Gwen saw
plainly enough that she and Owain might never have entirely understood
one another. Now they did, especially since the nine days' nursing had
drawn them together more rapidly. Never did a couple arrange to enter
into the bonds of matrimony with such an excellent knowledge of each
other's character. Mrs. Perage guessed what was passing in the girl's
mind and nodded approvingly.

"Trouble brings people together very quickly," she said briskly. "Time
is nothing and opportunity is everything. Owain has saved your life;
carefully nursed him back to health, so you comprehend one another a
thousand times better than if you had dawdled through a ten years'
courtship. You are both decent, also, my dears; quite different to
your fathers. It's the mothers' blood that tells, I expect. What do
you say, Hench?"

"Oh, don't call him Hench," said Gwen, with a shudder. "Let us leave
that false name behind with all the other trouble."

"Very good. What do you say, Evans?"

"I agree with you, Mrs. Perage. Gwen and I will get on capitally."

"You had better!" she threatened. "If I catch you beating her it's me
you'll have to reckon with. Ha!" She glanced out of the window.
"Here's Jim, the first of the fragments come to be swept into the
dustbin of oblivion."

"I hope not," said Owain, laughing. "I wish Jim to remain my very good
friend and be my best man."

"Of course he will be. And I will be the bridesmaid if Gwen is
sensible enough to ask me."

"You shall do whatever you like at the wedding," said Gwen, also
laughing, for she felt uncommonly happy.

"And afterwards also, my dear. I am fond of my own way; it's a great
fault of mine. Jim,"--Vane entered as she spoke,--"here you are at
last. There! I'm not fond of kisses. Go and talk to Evans yonder, and
ask him if you can kiss Gwen."

"Oh!" said Gwen in alarm, whereat every one laughed.

"Don't be frightened, Miss Evans," said Vane, with a smile on his lean
face. "I am quite sure that Owain yonder is now strong enough to punch
my head if I take Aunt Emma's advice. Well, old chap, how goes it? You
look much better and are quite a different man."

"I am, Jim. Hench has vanished for ever. Only Owain Evans remains."

"Well, I hope he'll be as good a chap as Hench was."

"Much better!" said Gwen resentfully. "I've improved him. He is no
longer to be a wanderer, but intends to settle down with me as the
Squire of the parish."

"After a year's travelling!" said Mrs. Perage sharply, and detailed
her scheme to her nephew, who quite approved.

"Better be off with the old life, Owain, before you take on with the
new," he said judicially. "Travel will heal all the old soreness, and
will place a barrier between the disagreeable past and the pleasant
future. Aunt Emma is a sensible woman."

"I always am!" said Aunt Emma. "Now, Jim, say what you have to say
about this trouble, and let us bury the same for ever."

"There isn't much to say," said Vane carelessly. "The newspapers have
dropped the matter, and everybody is forgetting the sensation. You
won't be bothered with reporters or photographers when you come
abroad, Owain. All the same, it is just as well that you are going
away."

"What does the Inspector say about Bottles' share in the business?"

"He wasn't very pleased, and gave both Bottles and his brother a good
talking to for having held their tongues for so long."

"I wonder why they did," murmured Mrs. Perage, rubbing her nose.

"My dear aunt, it was a game to both of them. Bottles having read
detective tales was burning to be a Sexton Blake or a Sherlock Holmes.
Only when he saw that miserable creature brought to book did the boy
realize that his comedy had turned into real tragedy. I've brought him
with me as you desired." Vane went to the door and beckoned to the
lad, who entered bashfully, to look with adoring eyes on his hero.
Hench called to him to come forward and shook him heartily by the
hand, thanking him for his great services.

"Oh, it ain't nothing, sir," said Bottles, with a glowing face as
crimson as his hair. "I'd do anything for you, as you've always been
kind to me. And it's been a rattling good game, anyhow."

"A sadly serious game, Bottles, I fear."

"Yes, sir." The lad turned pale, shivered, and swallowed something
with an effort, as he recalled the scene at the Bull Inn. "I didn't
think it was so bad till I saw that little cove's face. It wasn't me
who got him burnt, was it, sir?" he asked entreatingly.

"No! No! my boy. How he came to set the wood on fire, I don't know.
Perhaps he struck a match to see his way in the darkness. But we will
never know exactly what happened. You are not in any way to blame.
What made you suspect him?"

"I didn't suspect him at first, sir. It was Madame I thought was the
wrong 'un, as I told you. But when I saw that little cove sneaking
after her down to Cookley I watched him as well as her. Then I found
out he was talking a lot to mother and learned about the dress and the
wig. After that, it wasn't hard to twig his game. But I never thought
as he'd murder the old cove," said Bottles, shivering. "I turned sick
in the wood when I saw that knife go in."

"Oh, by the way, Bottles, Mrs. Tesk told me that she dismissed you for
stealing the knife."

"Yes, she did, sir. She said as I'd taken other things. But it was
Amelia, I was engaged to, as stole the things, and I couldn't give her
away. But I ain't going to make her my wife, sir," said Bottles
seriously. "She ain't what she should be in the way of honesty."

"Did she steal the knife also?"

"No, I think Mr. Spruce stole that; took it off the table one day, and
slipped it up his sleeve. He killed the old cove with it, as you know,
and left it in the body. I knowed it was Mrs. Tesk's carving-knife all
along."

"Does Mrs. Tesk know all this now?" asked Owain quickly. "Yes, sir.
Mother went and told her, though I didn't wish to split on Amelia,
who's only a gel after all. Mrs. Tesk said as she was sorry and asked
me to go back, which I have done, sir."

"Well, then, Bottles, I am going to take you away from there and send
you to school. Also I intend to settle a small income on your mother
so that she need not work any more at the Bijou Music-hall. Finally, I
will arrange with my lawyers to invest a sum of money for you so that
you may be able to start life with something in hand. What do you wish
to be?"

"I think if Bottles is wise he will be a detective," suggested Vane.

Bottles turned a shining face towards the speaker. "That's just what I
want to be, sir. I can do it, I'm sure."

"I think so also," remarked Mrs. Perage gruffly. "But I hope Peter
doesn't want to be one also. I can't have a juvenile Vidocq in my
house."

"Oh, Peter ain't got no ambitions, mum," said Bottles contemptuously.
"He's just as pleased as Punch to stay on with you and rise to be a
butler and a footman."

"I'll look after Peter," said Mrs. Perage, nodding briskly. "He has
also had a share in this business which has cleared up the mystery,
and he deserves to be rewarded. But see here," she added sharply, "why
didn't you tell the police immediately about the murder?"

"Because I wanted to see what that little cove would do, mum. I
guessed from his disguise that he intended to make out that Madame
Alpenny had murdered the old cove. But I didn't think he'd accuse Mr.
Hench there."

"Mr. Evans, Simon," corrected Gwen quickly. "That is his real name."

"I think I shall always be Hench to Bottles," said Owain, laughing.
"He can call me what he likes as he has done so much for me. But you
would have saved a lot of trouble, Bottles, if you had told the police
at once."

"So the Inspector said, sir," grinned the boy. "He gave me what-for,
he did. But I wanted to see the game out, sir."

Owain saw that Bottles would persist in regarding the whole dreadful
business as a game, in spite of its terrible termination, so he left
the subject alone. "But you might have guessed, my detective friend,
that Spruce would accuse me, as he wanted to get my money. He
committed the murder to trap me."

"I thought he'd do that through Madame Alpenny when you married Miss
Zara," was the boy's reply, promptly given. "As you'd never have liked
your mother-in-law to be hanged. You didn't mind my giving the address
I got from Peter to Madame Alpenny and the little cove, did you, sir?"

"I did when I was in the dark. But now I see that you did so
deliberately."

"It was part of the game," persisted Bottles coolly. "And as the
little cove had gone so far, I knew he'd go further. If I hadn't told
him and Madame of your address they might have asked the police where
you were."

"That suggestion doesn't do credit to your detective acumen, Bottles.
Had either of the two brought the police into the matter, they would
not have been able to get the expected money. Spruce was playing the
blackmail game."

"I see, sir." Bottles rubbed his red head. "Well, I've got something
to learn yet, I expect, as a 'tec, and I ain't above learning. But
thank you for helping me, sir, and for helping mother. She's a good
one, is mother, and gave me such a talking for not having spoke out
before."

"Between the Inspector and your mother, I daresay you have had a bad
time, Bottles," said Vane idly.

"You bet I have, sir. But it don't matter. I've enjoyed myself, I
have, in pulling the strings."

"It's more than I have done," said Owain languidly. "Good-bye,
Bottles. Go home and tell your mother of my intentions. Next week I'll
fulfill my promise, as soon as I can see my solicitors and settle
matters."

"And, Simon," said Mrs. Perage graciously, "you can go to the kitchen
and have your dinner. Here's a pound. Take Peter with you to town and
to see your mother."

"Thank you, mum; thank you, sir; thank everybody." And Bottles
disappeared with a happy grin, which made every one smile.

"Here comes Madame Alpenny and the Brackens," announced Vane, who
acted as a master of the ceremonies.

"I don't like that old woman to come under my roof," said Mrs. Perage,
with a frown. "She's a plotter and a schemer. But----"

"Oh, she's only one of the fragments which have to be swept up," said
Gwen in a lively tone. "I don't like her either; but I am so much
obliged to Zara that I am quite willing Owain should help the old
lady."

"Old lady, indeed," grumbled Mrs. Perage. "Old scamp, I call her. You
can deal with her yourselves. I'm going." And as the newcomers entered
the room, she went out swiftly through the conservatory.

Zara looked pale, her husband confused, and both advanced with rather
a shame-stricken air. Madame Alpenny, on the contrary, rushed forward
and took Owain's hand with effusion, beaming all over her harsh swart
face. Considering how she had behaved when they last met, the young
man was astonished by this friendly greeting. He scarcely knew what to
say; but it appeared there was no need for him to say anything. Madame
Alpenny did all the talking, so it was just as well that Mrs. Perage
had left the room. Had that Amazonian dame remained, there assuredly
would have been trouble.

"Ah, but I am delighted to see you looking so magnificent after your
illness, dear Monsieur!" cried Madame, clasping Owain's hand fondly
within her own. "You terrified me greatly, as I thought you would
perish. Ah, but it is good of the Heavens to preserve you to us."

The young man withdrew his hand as soon as he recovered from his
astonishment, and spoke very coldly. "You have changed your mind since
our last meeting!"

Madame Alpenny threw up her fat hands. "Ah, but what would you, my
dear sir? I was angered at losing so beautiful a son-in-law. I said
much that I have wept for saying. And to you also, in the churchyard,
Mademoiselle," she added, turning to Gwen, who was frigid, "I spoke
most wickedly. Ach! my dear young lady, you must forgive me for my
open nature. We are all now friends here, I hope."

She beamed all round the room, but there were no answering smiles.
Zara laid her hand on her mother's arm and drew her back. "I must ask
your pardon, Mr. Hench, for all the trouble which has been brought to
you," she said seriously.

"It was not your fault, Mrs. Bracken, nor that of your husband," said
Owain very quickly. "I have nothing but friendship and admiration for
you both, seeing the way in which you made the crooked straight
between us," and he glanced at Gwen fondly.

"Ah, what a good heart!" murmured the Hungarian lady, with her
handkerchief to her eyes. "A heart of gold!"

"Shut up!" growled Bracken to his mother-in-law, and twitched the old
head mantle which she still wore over the famous orange-spotted dress.

"I will not shut up, you rude man!" cried Madame Alpenny volubly. "Ah,
to think of what I have suffered at the hands of Mistare Spruce, now
happily deceased. He would have had me hanged!"

"Did he accuse you of committing the murder?" asked Vane sharply.

"But no. He was all sweetness and smiles. Yet, if Monsieur Hench had
married Zara, then this Mistare Spruce would have accused me. He laid
his plans to make me guilty. It was he, I find, who wrote the letter
asking me to go to Hampstead. He wished me to be unable to prove where
I was. If he had lived I should have put him in gaol," ended Madame,
with a frown.

"You nearly put Mr. Evans in gaol!" said Gwen icily.

"Mistare Evans. Ah, yes--the real name of Monsieur Hench. No, I would
not have put him in gaol, Mademoiselle. My talk was what you call--eh,
yes--bluff. I might have been his beloved mother had I accepted his
father's hand. Never would I have harmed him."

"Oh, I think you would when you had me in your power, Madame," said
Owain dryly. "Remember what you talked about in the churchyard."

"Bluff--all bluff, Monsieur."

"It would have been better had you acted fairly with me and told the
truth at our first conversation. Then I should have known that I was
Madoc Evans' heir and all this trouble would have been avoided. You
also would have been the richer for such honesty, Madame."

"Ah, but you will not turn from me now," said Madame in a wheedling
tone. "See, Monsieur Hench, it is through me you have money and marry
this sweet angel. I am poor; I am deserving. So give me----"

"Mr. Hench will give you nothing, mother," said Zara in a cold tone of
displeasure. "I came down here to say good-bye to him and to take you
out of his life. Mr. Hench,"--she faced round to Owain,--"my husband
and I are going to America, where I have obtained a good engagement.
My mother goes back to Hungary, and I will send her money to support
her. Therefore it will not be necessary for you to give me that
thousand pounds."

"I wish to give it to you as a mark of my esteem," insisted Hench, and
Gwen endorsed this speech.

"I do not wish my wife to take it," said Bracken, advancing to hold
out his hand. "Good-bye, Mr. Evans, we have been here long enough. We
shall always remember your kindness with gratitude."

Owain shook the extended hand. "But I wish you would take the money,
Bracken."

"Ah, but do!" cried Madame Alpenny, feverishly greedy. "I can double
it at cards. I am so lucky, I want to----"

"Come away, mother," interrupted Zara, dragging her towards the door.
"Mr. Hench will not give you a single penny!"

"Ingrate!" shouted Madame, turning at the door, out of which she was
going, held firmly by Zara and Bracken. "After all I have done. Ach!
the wickedness of the evil one. I gave him thousands, and he--he, the
beast--the-----" Here she was dragged into the hall by her scandalized
daughter, and those in the drawing-room heard her voice loudly
lamenting all the way down the avenue. In this manner was the
Hungarian lady rewarded for her scheming. She did not benefit in the
least.

"I'm glad she's gone," said Gwen, drawing a deep breath. "I don't like
her."

"Nor do I," said Owain, pulling the girl down beside him. "She nearly
got me into the dock. But I am bound to say that she ran an equal risk
from poor Spruce."

"Poor Spruce, indeed!" cried Vane, turning from the window where he
was watching the protesting Madame Alpenny being dragged down the
avenue. "Why say good of a man who did nothing but evil?"

"Don't be hard on him, Jim. After all, he has paid the penalty of his
crime by suffering a terrible death."

"You're a good chap, Owain, so I won't say another word. But never
mention his name to me again if you I can help."

"We'll never mention anything about the past if we can help," said
Gwen, as Owain slipped his arm round her. "Now all these people have
gone let us try and forget them."

"Oh, you'll forget right enough," said Vane, smiling. "When you marry
Owain you will think of nothing but him."

"He saved my life!" cried the future Mrs. Evans defiantly.

"In return you have saved mine," murmured Owain. "Had you not nursed
me back to life and love, where should I have been now? But the clouds
have disappeared, my dear, and now the sunshine of life is ours. In
three weeks we will get married quietly and go abroad for a year.
Afterwards we can return to take up our position here."

"And you will go back to your old home, Miss Evans," said Vane,
laughing. "Not much change about that."

"A great deal of change!" cried Gwen hotly. "While I lived there with
my poor father, the Grange was a house of hate; now it will be a
mansion of love."

"Quite so; you will be so happy that you won't want to see any one."

"Always you, Jim," said Owain, holding out his hand, which the
barrister took.

"And me also, I hope," said Mrs. Perage, entering unexpectedly from
the conservatory. "Hum! A touching tableau. The sweetheart, the angel
of the sweetheart, and the true-hearted friend. Fudge!"

"You don't mean that word!" cried Gwen.

"Perhaps I don't." Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose. "For to tell you the
truth, I don't know what the word means. I got it out of 'The Vicar of
Wakefield,' and it seemed useful. I should like to have used it to
that old woman who is screaming viciously all the way down the avenue.
Really, young man, you have some very queer friends."

"Well, I lived in Queer Street for a long time, you know!" said Owain,
smiling.

"You'll never live there again," whispered Gwen.

"Lucky Owain!" mocked Vane. "No more hunger and thirst, hard beds and
unpaid bills. You will henceforth lie in the lap of luxury."

"Hum!" said Mrs. Perage gruffly. "There is a good luncheon: a much
better one than you ever tasted in Queer Street, I'll be bound.
There's the gong."

Owain rose quickly and took Gwen's arm. "And here begins the new
life!" he said.



THE END



--------------------------------
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+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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