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Title: The Disappearing Eye
Author: Hume, Fergus
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source:
     https://books.google.com/books?id=ERQNAAAAYAAJ
     (Harvard University)

     2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

     3. The few instances of illegible words, indicated by[*], do
        not influence the flow of the story. These lacunae appear
        as a portion of pages 218 and 219 (8 words each).



The Disappearing Eye

BY
FERGUS HUME

AUTHOR OF
"THE SOLITARY FARM," "THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB,"
"THE SACRED HERB," "THE SEALED MESSAGE," "THE GREEN MUMMY,"
"THE OPAL SERPENT," "THE RED WINDOW," "THE YELLOW HOLLY," ETC.



G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK



Copyright 1908 by
G. W. Dillingham Company


_The Disappearing Eye_



CONTENTS

CHAP.
I.       A WEIRD DISCOVERY.
II.      THE BEGINNING OF A MYSTERY.
III.     AFTER EVENTS.
IV.      FACTS.
V.       AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY.
VI.      MY RIVAL.
VII.     A FRIEND IN NEED.
VIII.    THE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD.
IX.      GERTRUDE'S FATHER.
X.       A SURPRISE.
XI.      MISS DESTINY SPEAKS.
XXII.    GERTRUDE'S DEFENCE.
XIII.    LOVE.
XIV.     THE UNFORESEEN HAPPENS.
XV.      AN EXPLANATION.
XVI.     STRIVER'S THREAT.
XVII.    LADY MABEL'S VISIT.
XVIII.   AN ALARMING MESSAGE.
XIX.     A DANGEROUS POSITION.
XX.      THE CIPHER.
XXI.     THE AIRSHIP.
XXII.    THE WHOLE TRUTH.



THE DISAPPEARING EYE.



CHAPTER I.
A WEIRD DISCOVERY


"Adventures are to the adventurous," said Cannington, with the air of
a man who believes that he is saying something undeniably smart.

"Good Lord!" I retorted, twisting the motor car round a corner. "Since
when has the British subaltern given up his leisure to reading
Beaconsfield's novels?"

Cannington serenely puffed his cigarette into a brighter glow. "I
don't know what you're talking about, old chap," said he
indifferently.

"I talk of 'Ixion in Heaven,' or--if you prefer it--of 'Coningsby.'
Beaconsfield was so enamoured of his apothegm that he inserted it in
both tales."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Cannington again, and
his puzzled look proved that he spoke the truth. "A chap called Marr
wrote that in my sister's album, and told her it was his own."

"I daresay; more ideas are stolen than pocket-handkerchiefs, according
to Balzac. And, after all, Beaconsfield may have cribbed the saying."

"Oh! I see what you are driving at: Marr copied it out of a book."

"Undoubtedly, unless he lived before 'Coningsby' and 'Ixion' were
written--somewhere about the beginning of the nineteenth century."

"Oh! Marr isn't so old as that," protested the boy, chuckling;
"although he isn't a spring chicken, by any means. What Mabel sees in
him, I can't for the life of me imagine."

"Humph! You were never renowned for imagination, Cannington," I said
kindly, "and in your particular case it doesn't much matter. You're
the man behind the gun, and all you have to do is to fire against the
seen enemy."

"Huh! Why, half the firing is against the unseen enemy. If I haven't
got your rotten imagination, Vance, I've got common-sense, and that's
what you jolly well need."

"Rash youth, to speak thus to the man at the wheel. Don't you know
that, with a little dexterity, I could shoot you into yonder ditch?"

"You'd travel with me," he sniggered.

"Why not? It would be an excellent advertisement for a popular
playwright."

"Playwright be hanged! You only write beastly melodramas."

"Precisely; that is why I am popular. And if I'm not a playwright,
what am I?"

"A carpenter. You collar other people's ideas----"

"Like your friend Marr," I interpolated.

"And knock them into weird shapes for second-rate theatres."

"Not at all," I rejoined tartly, for the criticism piqued me. "I scour
the country in search of flesh and blood tragedies, and improve them
into moral lessons for the British Public. But you're talking all
round the shop, my lad. Who is this Marr, of whom your sister
approves, and why does he write down other people's ideas in her
album?"

"Wentworth Marr." Cannington lighted another cigarette, and explained:
"He's a well-preserved old buck of--I should say--fifty, and looks
forty. Unmarried, with heaps of tin and no family. Mabel likes him."

"And he likes Lady Mabel, or loves her. Which is it?"

"Well"--Cannington drawled this out reluctantly--"he's in love with
her, sure enough. And, of course, Mabel is as poor as I am, and Marr
having no end of shekels, you see----"

"What about Dick Weston?" I broke in abruptly.

"Oh, he's too much taken up with his inventions to bother about love.
Poor Mab feels it," sighed Cannington, "so she flirts with Marr."

"To keep her hand in, I suppose. She'll burn her fingers. Tell me all
about it, boy, if it will relieve your mind."

"I have told you all. Mabel wants to marry Dick Weston, and I think he
wants to marry her, only he's too much taken up with his airship to
trouble about proposing. Wentworth Marr is wealthy and a gentleman and
all that, and wants to make Mabel his wife. She likes him, but she
doesn't love him. Still there's the money, you see, Vance."

"Weston is also rich," I suggested.

"Well, I know that," snapped Cannington testily, "but he's an
absent-minded beggar, who lives in the clouds along with his bally
airship, and won't come up to the scratch. I say," he broke off,
"don't secure a paragraph for your confounded transpontine plays by
running over that child."

"Little beast!" The child in question was playing "Who's across
first," and I had considerable difficulty in dodging him. However, I
just managed to avoid a Coroner's Inquest and swung the machine along
the straight Roman road, while the escaped infant shouted insultingly
behind.

Cannington giggled, but I was too much taken up with steering the
Rippler through a somewhat crowded village street to tell him that he
was several kinds of ass. I had known the boy since he was a forward
brat at Eton, and we were intimate friends, as can be judged from the
way in which he confided in me. At the present moment I was conveying
him from Gattlingsands to Murchester, as he had been stopping at the
former place for some days and now sought his own Mess. Previously I
had motored from London to remain the night at Tarhaven, which is four
miles from Gattlingsands, and thus was enabled to save Cannington a
train fare. Considering that he and Lady Mabel Watton had about
sixpence between them, he was duly grateful, although pointedly saucy.
I was always sorry for Cannington's poverty, as he was a thoroughly
healthy-minded sporting boy, who keenly enjoyed such good things of
this life as he could lay hands on. A pauper commoner is an object to
be met with everywhere; but a pauper lord is a more unusual spectacle.
Certainly the boy was not yet knocking at the workhouse door, but, for
his position, he was assuredly desperately hard-up. And thinking of
these things, I made a remark when clear of the village.

"You must marry a dollar heiress, Cannington."

"O Lord! what rot. Who'd marry a pauper with a tumbledown family
mansion, next to nothing a year, and several hundred waste acres?"

"You have forgotten one asset," I said dryly; "your title."

"Huh! Who cares for that in these democratic days?"

"Heaps of rich spinsters, American, Colonial, and otherwise.
Besides, you're not altogether as ugly as sin, though you might be
better-looking."

"Thanks, awfully. But would you mind being less personal?"

I kicked his ankles. "If I am to advise you I must quote your looks,
your title, your qualities, and all the rest of it. You've got
precious little money, and as a gunner subaltern it will be ages
before you get promotion. Why not use what advantages you have and
exchange them for an income? A rich wife--"

"Not much," interrupted the boy, with a flush. "I fancy I see myself
living on a woman. Besides, I'm having a jolly time now, and see no
reason to tie myself up. When I do, it will be a girl I can love, no
end."

"Didn't know you had got that far."

"Well, I haven't. But one never knows."

"I agree. At four and twenty one never knows."

"Oh, stop your rotting, Vance," said he crossly. "I haven't been
through the Shop and out in the cold world for nothing. One would
think I was an idiot, which I certainly am not. Don't you bother your
silly head about me. It's Mab I'm thinking about. She wants money, as
I do; but I should hate to see her marry a fellow old enough to be her
grandfather, just because he's rich. I wish you'd see her and drop a
hint," he ended hesitatingly.

"My dear Cannington, I know you better than I do your sister. She
might resent my hints. If you really don't want her to marry this man
Marr--I never heard of him, for my part--shake Dick Weston into a
proposal and he can take his wife in his new airship for the
honeymoon."

"It would end in a funeral," grinned Cannington cheerfully. "Dicky's
always having smashes. I don't want him to experiment with Mabel, you
know, old chap. Hi! Here's Murchester, and yonder's a policeman. Slow
down, Vance, you can't romp up the High Street at thirty miles an
hour."

"I don't see why not," I retorted, obeying orders, for the policeman
really looked a suspicious character. "There! We're crawling along
like a condemned snail, if that's what you want."

"I want my tea," said Cannington irrelevantly, "don't you?"

"No! I'll drop you at the Barracks and travel on to Clankton. There I
put up for the night, and go up Norfolk way to-morrow."

"What's your objective?"

"I haven't got one. That is, I am simply looking round to see if I can
poach on real life for a melodramatic plot. 'Adventures to the
adventurous.'"

Cannington nodded. "I thought old Marr wasn't clever enough to have
made that up out of his own blessed head. But, I say, how do you
expect to find your plot in a motor car?"

"The latter-day vehicle of romance, my boy. Formerly your knight rode
a horse, and went into the Unknown in search of the unexpected. Now
he--that's me, you know--takes out his machine and looks for the
expected in the Known. You understand?"

"No, confound you. What do you hope to run across?"

"An adventure."

"What sort of one?"

"How the Charles Dickens can I tell?"

"Yet you said that the Known--"

"Cannington, you wish me to spoil my epigrams by explanation. I
decline to satisfy your morbid curiosity. All I know is, that the
fountains of my imagination are dried up, and that I can't write a
play which ought to be written if I am to earn enough to keep this car
in petrol. I am, therefore--like Balzac--chasing my genius, and who
knows upon what glorious adventure I may stumble."

Cannington laughed scornfully. "All the adventure you'll drop
across will be in running over some old woman, or in exceeding the
speed-limit."

"I care not," was my reckless reply. "I am prepared for anything."

"Don't be an ass," urged the boy politely, as we spun through the
Barrack gates. "Stop here for the night, and I'll put you up. Then we
can go to London to-morrow and have a ripping time. . . . What?"

"It's good of you, Cannington, and if I hadn't an income to earn I
should accept with pleasure. As things are"--I stopped the car before
the Mess door--"you can get down and send out a man to carry in your
portmanteau."

"Have a cup of tea, anyhow," said Cannington, slipping to the ground.

I looked at my watch. "No, thanks. It's nearing six, and I have some
distance to go. Don't delay me, boy."

"Oh, very well, confound you. Wait till I get my baggage and then you
can buzz off. When am I to see you again?"

"The Fates will arrange that. I'll turn up sooner or later."

"If you aren't smashed up, or locked up, meanwhile," said the boy,
swinging his portmanteau off the back of the car. "I'll keep an eye on
the police news for the next few days. I daresay I'll have to bail you
out. Well," he gave my hand a grip, "thanks awfully, old son, for
bringing me over."

"Only too pleased," I muttered, beginning to move away. "Good-bye."

I had been to Murchester before, and knew the locality moderately
well. Therefore, after leaving Cannington I spun through the Barrack
grounds and emerged on to a somewhat suburban road, which led towards
the outskirts of the town. A dampish August twilight filled the air
with rapidly darkening shadows, and a marked chill in the warmth
hinted at the coming night. The sun had already withdrawn behind a
bank of western clouds, before vanishing over the verge of the world.
I drove the machine at half speed, as there were many country carts
about, and ran down a lengthy sloping hill towards a distant glimpse
of green. Clankton, which is a fishing village rapidly rising into
notoriety as a seaside resort, was over thirty miles away, so if I
wished to be seated at my dinner by seven o'clock, it behooved me to
use all the power of which the Rippler was capable. Hunger forced me
to increase the pace.

Motoring was the one form of amusement which I truly enjoyed, and
which a somewhat limited income earned by hard brain-work enabled me
to indulge in. But the indulgence precluded my partaking in many other
pleasures of this luxurious age, for the Rippler had cost much to buy
and cost a considerable sum monthly to keep going. But motoring is
less expensive than horse-racing and doctors' bills; and the fresh
air, after enforced sedentary deskwork, swept away possible illness.
As a moderately popular playwright I made a tolerably good income,
although less than I was credited with earning. Still by devoting
myself to two machines, a motor and a type-writer, one for play and
the other for work, I managed to keep out of debt and keep my Rippler
at the same time. But because the machine was a smart one, and because
I was constantly on the move between whiles of manufacturing
melodramas, people declared that I was a literary millionaire. As
though any writer ever became a Cr[oe]sus.

I must say that I had greater ambitions than to write cheap
sensational plays, and that I did write them at all was due--as it
would seem--to mere chance. After I left Oxford my parents died,
and--owing to their extravagances--everything was sold. I came to
London with an income of fifty pounds a year. I could not exactly
starve on one pound a week, but I had a sufficiently bad time, and
tried to supplement my income by writing for the papers. An old actor,
boarding at a house wherein I had taken up my abode, suggested that I
should attempt a melodrama. I did so with his assistance, and between
us we managed to get it staged at a small theatre in the East End. To
my surprise, the play was a great success, being sufficiently lurid to
capture the tastes of the somewhat rough audience. Since that time I
had been committed to this particular form of entertainment, and try
as I might I could not escape from the memory of my first hit.

But I did not surrender my earlier ambitions, as I have before stated.
I worked hard at the cheap sensational plays, which were produced at
second-class theatres, and saved all the money I could, in the hope of
gathering together sufficient principal to give me an assured income
of five hundred a year. When independent, I determined to devote
myself to writing really good plays--high-class comedies and poetic
dramas for choice--but meanwhile served my apprenticeship to the
writing craft under the eye of the public. On the whole, I had very
little to complain about, and my portion of the viands at Life's
Banquet was moderately tempting, if not superlatively delicate.

I do not think there is anything more to explain about myself, save
that I was not handsome, that I had never been in love, and that I
occupied a tiny flat in West Kensington, where the rents are moderate.
As a rule I wrote furiously every day until a play was completed, then
attended to the rehearsing and saw the production. Afterwards I took
to my motor, and scoured the country, partly to get fresh air, and
partly because I had a chance of stumbling across incidents in real
life which afforded me material for plots, situations, scenes, and
characters.

At the present moment I was in search of the new and the real,
intending to weave actual facts into the sort of melodrama for
which Cyrus Vance was famous, or shall we say notorious, as the
penny-dreadful success I had won could scarcely be dignified by an
adjective applicable only to the career of Napoleon or Cæsar. But I
little thought when leaving Murchester, that I was also leaving the
long lane of petty success down which I had plodded so soberly, and
that the new road opening out before me was one which led to--but I
really cannot say just now what it led to. And in this last sentence
you will see the cunning of the story-teller, who desires to keep the
solution of his mystery until the last chapter. But I am a playwright
and not a novelist--two very different beings. Destiny is writing this
tale, and I am simply the amanuensis. Therefore you will see how
infinitely more ingenious is the goddess than the mere mortal, in
constructing an intricate scheme of life and in dealing with the
puppets entangled therein.

So in this life-story, which starts in the middle, as it were, and
travels both ways to beginning and end, blame Destiny for whatever
does not please. I merely recount what happened--simply describe the
various scenic backgrounds and rough out the characters. But Destiny
weaves the happenings, brings about the unexpected, and solves the
mystery, which is of her ingenious contrivance. And throughout I am
only the clay which she, the potter, moulds at her will.

In a motor car it is much easier to go wrong on the outskirts of a
town than amidst any other surroundings that I know of. When in the
open, one can rise in the car and see one's way; but bewildered by
streets and houses and traffic and wary policemen, and misled by those
who do not know their own locality over-well, one finds a town
somewhat perplexing. Making for the west, you get twisted round and
emerge into open country towards the east. A single wrong road in the
suburbs will lead the complete motorist astray, and will introduce him
to a new country of whose geography he is entirely ignorant. Therefore
some miles beyond perplexing Murchester I became aware, by questioning
an intelligent rustic, that I was going away from Clankton. After some
swearing and a close examination of the map, I lighted the lamps and
turned on my tracks. Having gone so far out of my way, I had
unnecessarily used up a lot of power, and then the inevitable
happened--I discovered, to my dismay, that I was short of petrol in
the tank. I had no further supply, worse luck! and unless I could
obtain some, I began to see that I should have to camp in the fields,
or at all events in the nearest village. But, thanks to motoring,
petrol is fairly plentiful in unexpected places. If I could discover
some village, I made sure of chancing upon a shop wherein to purchase
petrol, and therefore was hopeful.

But as I drove the machine slowly on--for the motive power was
dwindling rapidly--I found that the necessary village was conspicuous
by its absence. I crawled up narrow lanes, the twists and turns of
which necessitated careful steering; I dropped down the inclines of
wide roads; I skirted stagnant ponds, weedy under dank boughs; and
worked my slow way past mouldering brick walls, which shut in lordly
parks. It grew darker every minute and was long after six o'clock, so
I soon became unpleasantly aware that I needed food as much as the
Rippler needed petrol. I seemed to be in for some kind of adventure,
and as I had come out to look for one in the interests of the British
Public, I had no reason to be dissatisfied. But I sincerely trusted
that it would be a romantic one, out of which I could weave a
sufficiently good plot to recompense me for the damnable circumstances
in which I found myself.

The Rippler feeling hungry, as I did, groaned complainingly up a
gentle ascent, topped the rise, and stopped dead after proceeding a
few yards. And now mark the cunning of Destiny. If she had not brought
me to my goal, she had at least led me to a place where I could obtain
motive power, for in front of me I beheld a tiny old-fashioned house
of weather-board walls shaded by a mellow red-tiled roof. It stood
directly on the road, and was backed by a circle of high trees--elms,
I fancy they were; a quaint, odd, dreary-looking cottage, which had
been awkwardly converted into a shop. Taking one of the lamps I
flashed the light on to a narrow door, which stood open, on to a small
window to the left of the door, and on to a right-handed wider one,
behind the glass of which were displayed the various goods which one
usually finds in these village stores. But the sight amazed me,
especially when I saw the name of Anne Caldershaw inscribed on a broad
board over the window, for I could espy no village. Why did Anne
Caldershaw set up her stall here, where there was no one to buy; and
why was her shop not lighted up, seeing that the door was open for any
chance customer? I could not answer these questions, and became aware
that here was the start of a promising adventure. I felt like Alice in
Wonderland, for such a shop in such a lonely woody locality was just
such a thing as Alice would have chanced upon.

However I had no time to bother over the romance of things, for I
wanted petrol, and luckily saw a red board on which it was announced
in black lettering that petrol was for sale. Stepping into the dark
shop with my brilliant lamp, I rapped on the mean little counter. No
one came. Although I called out as loudly as I could, there was still
an eerie silence, so I walked towards a small door set in the inside
wall and knocked. As there was still no answer I tried to open the
door, and found that it was locked. A flight of steps, narrow and
rude, ran up the side of the wall to some upstairs rooms, and I sang
up the stairs. As this final shout produced no better result than the
others, I made up my mind to waste no further time, but to fill my
tank with petrol and leave the money on the counter. But even as I
searched for the liquid, I kept marvelling at the strange silence of
Anne Caldershaw's shop. There was not only no one to buy, but there
was not even anyone to sell. The circumstances were odd in the
extreme, and I scented the unexpected in the damp air.

My part of the adventure--as it seemed--was to fill my tank and get
the Rippler ready to start. Whether Destiny, who was arranging
details, would permit her to get under way, or me to reach Clankton in
time for dinner, was quite another matter. However I was actor and not
author, so I fulfilled my part--my appointed part, I presumed--by
searching for the petrol. I soon discovered the orthodox red case, and
having unscrewed it with some difficulty, I walked back to the car,
which stood, some little distance away, directly in front of Anne
Caldershaw's shop. It took me some minutes to fill up, but during that
time I did not hear a single sound. And yet, as I conjectured, while
replacing the cap of the tank, there must be some house or houses
about, since the shop argued customers. Perhaps when I turned the
corner--for the shop stood just on the angle of the road--I would find
a collection of cottages, not likely to be so deserted as Anne
Caldershaw's emporium.

Shortly the tank was filled, and after seeing that all was ready to
start, I took the empty can back to the dark house and placed the
necessary money on the counter. I would have shouted again, but that
it seemed useless, as apparently no one was about, for my former cries
would have awakened the dead. For one or two minutes I stood in the
darkness listening for some sound in the house, and stared through the
open door at the streams of light from the acetylene lamps of the
Rippler. There was something very weird about the situation.

Suddenly I heard a soft faint moan, which seemed to come from behind
the locked door at the back of the shop. On the impulse of the moment
and with rather a grue--as the Scotch call it, for the sound was
sinister and unexpected--I sprang forward and gripped the handle of
the door. To my surprise, the moment I twisted it the door opened at
once, and yet I swear that it was locked when I had last tried it. I
looked into a dark room, and could see faintly to the right a barred
window, which showed against the fast darkening evening sky. No
further moan could I hear, although I listened with all my ears.
Wondering if I had been mistaken, and yet uneasy about the now
unlocked door, I stepped into the back room, holding on to the inside
handle. As it afterwards turned out the floor of the room was lower
than that of the shop, and reached by three shallow steps. I therefore
stumbled, and pulling the door after me with some violence, so that it
clicked to, I fell sprawling, and bruised my elbow somewhat painfully.

Still I heard no sound, but seated on the floor to collect my
senses--somewhat dazed by the unexpected fall--I put out my hand to
explore the darkness. It fell on soft flesh, warm to the touch, and on
rough tangled hair. Thoroughly startled, and with every excuse, I
withdrew my hand, and fumbled in my pockets for a match, regretting
that I had not brought one of the lamps. I had half a mind to go out
and fetch it, but my curiosity was so great and--to be plain--my nerves
were so unstrung, that I struck the lucifer, anxious to know the best
or the worst at once.

As the pale tiny light grew stronger, I beheld the form of a woman
lying on the stone floor, face uppermost. And that face--I shuddered
as I looked, for it was distorted into an expression of pain, with a
twisted mouth and glassy, expressionless eyes. Framed in loose masses
of iron-grey hair, it glimmered milky white, and bore the stamp of
death on every feature. The woman was dead, and judging from the moan
I had heard and the still warm flesh, she had just died. While I
stared the match-light went out, and I fancied that I heard a faint
click. I lighted another match hastily looking towards the door
leading to the shop. It was still closed, and I turned again to gaze
at the dead woman, who was old, ill-favoured, and eminently plebeian.

At that moment I heard the buzz of the Rippler. At once, in
astonishment and alarm, I sprang towards the door. It was locked, and
I was a prisoner. While I was still trying to grasp this astounding
fact, the drone of my motor car died away in the distance.



CHAPTER II.
THE BEGINNING OF A MYSTERY


Here indeed was an adventure, less romantic than tragical. I was
locked up in the back room of a village shop in company with the
corpse of a dead woman, and some thief had gone off with my motor car.
Undoubtedly the person who had stolen the Rippler, was the one who had
locked the door. Indeed it would seem that the person had laid a trap,
for in the first instance the door had been locked; in the second, it
had been open; and in the third, it had been locked again. But the
individual who had gone off with the car--as presumably was the
case--had not lured me into the trap, since the moan of the now dead
woman had led me on to exploring the back premises. But the unknown
might have counted upon that. If such was the case, why, then--here in
the darkness fumbling for the handle of the locked door a terrible
thought flashed into my mind, a vague elusive thought, which I could
not put into words. With a sudden terror knocking at my heart, I shook
the door and cried for help.

"Hi! what's that?" asked a rough, uncultured voice in the shop;
"what's wrong wi' ye, Mrs. Caldershaw?"

"Open the door!" I shook the flimsy boards again. "Open the door!"

There was a grunt of astonishment, and I heard the key turn in the
lock. A moment later and the door opened, when at once I flung out
past a burly man, who was blocking the way. He gripped me before I
could pass him, and I heard hard breathing in the darkness. "Not so
fast," said the man harshly. "What are you doing here in Mrs.
Caldershaw's shop? and----"

"Don't stop me; don't, confound you!" I interrupted, and wrenching
myself away I ran to the door of the shop, crying out explanations.
"Someone's gone off with my motor car. There's a dead woman in there,
and----"

This time it was the man who interrupted and with something more than
words. As I dashed into the deserted road, looking up and down in the
darkness for my Rippler, my liberator plunged after me and gripped me
again. Before I could say a word or make a movement, he had borne me
to the ground by sheer strength of muscle, and holding me down hard
and fast, bellowed at the pitch of his voice an ominous word. "Murder!
murder! murder!" shouted the man with surprising volume of tone.

Again the fear knocked at my heart, for now the elusive thought had
been put into concrete form by this yokel, as I took him to be from
his roughness and accent. Anne Caldershaw--I believed the body to be
hers--had been murdered by the assassin, who had escaped with my motor
car. He--I naturally thought of the assassin as a "he"--had waited
until I was bending over the corpse of his victim, and then locking me
in, had made use of the Rippler. By this time he would be beyond any
chance of recapture, and here was I placed unexpectedly in a
compromising situation, with the chance--and upon very good
circumstantial evidence--of being accused of the crime. And yet, as
even then I thought confusedly, there was nothing to show that the
woman had really been murdered, as I had seen neither wound nor blood.

"Let me up!" I gasped, striving to throw off the dead weight of the
big man.

But he only continued to roar for help, gripping my arms and pressing
his knee into my chest. Had not the villagers arrived, I verily
believe that there would have been a second, if unconscious murder, so
brutally did the fellow bear on my prone body. But I heard distant
cries, and shortly there came the flash of lanterns borne by men and
women running round the corner of the road. As by magic, I was
surrounded by an alarmed crowd all asking questions at once and
turning their many lights on to my face. My captor gave a breathless
explanation.

"Murder! murder!" he shouted, still dwelling on a top note. "I found
the devil locked in the back room without a light, and the shop," he
pointed across the way, "is without a light also. He comes out yelling
that there was a dead woman left behind. It's Mrs. Caldershaw for
sure, and he's done for her. Murder! murder! Where's the police?"

Almost before he finished his explanation, which was not quite a full
one, since he gave no account of my motor car being stolen, the men
and women were running into the shop. My captor jerked me roughly to
my feet, on which I could scarcely stand, so roughly had he handled
me, and so sore were my bones. "Come along," he shouted, much excited,
and dragged me across the road and into the shop. "Look on her as
you've done for."

"Don't be a fool," I protested; "I'm a gentleman."

"But a murderer none the less," he retorted, and pushed me furiously
down the three steps into the back room, which was now filled with men
and women.

Some of the latter were on their knees examining the body, which
I now saw to be that of an elderly person, plainly clothed in a
maroon-coloured wincey dress, with a belt round her waist, whence
dangled a bunch of keys and a cheap lace collar fastened with a gaudy
cairngorm brooch. What with the disconcerting way in which my captor
handled me--it seemed vain to resist--and the restless light of the
lanterns, I could not see much more. One of the men looked up.

"Why did you cry out murder, Giles?" he asked the rough-looking man
who held me. "There isn't a wound on her body. It's a fit, I believe."

The man Giles loosened me. "If I've been mistaken," he began, when a
cry from a little woman cut his speech short.

"Her eye's out; her eye's out--the left one. Look! look!" and she
seized a bystander's arm in terror.

Sure enough the left eye was missing, and I wondered why I had not
noticed that such was the case when I examined the body by the light
of the lucifer-match. I remembered distinctly the glassy,
expressionless eyes, and yet, now there was only one, as I now saw
plainly enough. Doubtless in the flickering light of the match and in
my agitation, I had omitted to see that there was but one eye. Even at
so critical a moment I began to wonder how I could have overlooked so
obvious a fact, and then recalled the story a friend had told me of a
man he had met with in the States, and to whom he spoke for five
minutes, thinking there was something odd about his appearance, before
he saw that both ears were missing. So easily, as I considered, even
when placid can we fail to notice what is plainly apparent, much
less when unnerved as I was when examining that dead face in the
match-light. It was an odd thought at the time, considering that I
stood in such peril. Had this cottage been in America I daresay I
should have been lynched by the rough crowd of villagers around me.

"It's not murder maybe," growled Giles, seizing me again. "But this
devil has torn her eye out, so----"

"There's no blood," said another man wisely. "If the eye had been torn
out----"

"It was a glass eye," breathed a stout, dark woman with a heavy face.
"Anne told me as much when we had tea together. She didn't like it to
be known, poor soul, being proud like, and took great pains to get the
best eye she could. But it's gone, sure enough." She peered into the
dead face and then at me. "Perhaps this gentleman will tell us why he
took it."

By this time, since apparently Anne Caldershaw had not been murdered
and the eye was merely glass, the current of popular feeling was
running more in my favour. I might be a thief, with the eye in my
pocket, but I was not a murderer, so the villagers gave me time for
explanation.

"I quite understand that things look black against me," I said
hastily, "but I know nothing about the matter. I arrived in front of
this shop in my motor car and stopped to get petrol. After I filled up
and left the money--you will find it on the counter, if you look--I
heard a moan and stepped into this room to see what was wrong. While
looking at the body, after lighting a match, someone locked me in and
ran off with my motor car."

The villagers looked at one another, and apparently thought that my
explanation was a lame one. But Giles, who had treated me so roughly,
grudgingly admitted that he had seen the motor car.

"I came round the corner to get a pound of bacon for supper," said
Giles reflectively, "and I saw the engine"--so he phrased it--"before
the door. A lady was stepping in----"

"A lady!" I interrupted. "Are you certain?"

"Yes--sir," he said, giving me the polite address doubtfully. "I saw
her plain enough in the light of them bright lamps. She had a long
white sort of gown on, and a cap with a veil flying behind on her
head. I just caught a glimpse of her, when she went off as hard as she
could."

"In what direction?"

"Murchester way, if you want a good big town to go by," said Giles.

"Then send for the police and tell them to telegraph to Murchester to
stop the car. It's a Rippler, No. 14539 Z, and belongs to me. The
woman has stolen it, I tell you. Where are the police?"

"There's no policeman until we get one from Arkleigh, and the
telegraph office is there also. Now you, sir, must wait until the
police come."

"Of course," I assented readily. "I quite understand that you look
upon me as a doubtful character. Lock up this house until the police
arrive and take me to your inn if you have one. I want something to
eat and drink."

"But the eye," said the heavy dark woman; "give back the eye."

"I haven't got the eye," I snapped, for with hunger and thirst and
excitement, and the unpleasantness of being unjustly suspected, I was
not in the best of tempers. "You can search me if you like."

The dark woman would have done so readily, being evidently of a
meddlesome nature. But Giles interposed. "Let the gentleman alone,
Mrs. Faith," he said gruffly; "I caught him, and I'll keep him till
Warshaw comes. I daresay it's a mistake on my part, and I'm sorry
if----"

"Oh, I don't blame you, Mr. Giles," I interposed easily, and lighted a
cigarette to show my nonchalance. "I should have acted in the same way
myself. So come along and take me to gaol."

A relieved smile made the man's rugged face quite pleasant to look at,
as my exculpation of himself, and my ready offer to be searched,
evidently reassured him greatly. In his eyes, at all events, I was not
the desperate criminal he had taken me to be. But his fellow-villagers
still looked dubious. "Mrs. Caldershaw had heaps of money hidden
away," ventured one little rat of a man with a squeaky voice.

"Search my pockets then," I said again with open impatience. "All I
have told you is correct. My name is Cyrus Vance, and if you send to
the Artillery Barracks at Murchester, my friend Lord Cannington will
have no difficulty in identifying me."

As I thought it would, the title acted like a charm, and the tension
somewhat slackened. Giles, who appeared to be the most sensible of the
lot, beckoned me into the dark shop, leaving his friends to guard the
house and look after the corpse of the unfortunate woman. I walked
beside him round the corner, and sure enough--as I expected--came upon
the twinkling lights of quite a dozen houses. The late Mrs. Caldershaw
had customers after all, it would seem.

"What's the name of this place?" I asked abruptly.

"Mootley," replied Giles, now less suspicious and more human. "It
ain't a very large village, but we've more cottages than these here
scattered along the road up yonder," and he jerked his thumb to the
left where a lane ran from the high-road towards a woodland.

"It's too dark to see anything," I said idly, "but to-morrow you can
show me round. I daresay I shall have to pass the night at your house,
Mr. Giles, unless you think that I may rise in the night to kill you.
By the way," I added with a bantering air, "you don't hold my arm.
Aren't you afraid I'll bolt?"

"No, sir," said the man, now perfectly polite. "I see that I have made
a mistake. I know your name, if you're the Mr. Vance who writes
plays."

"I am; but that is odd knowledge for a villager in these
out-of-the-way parts to possess."

"Oh, I haven't lived at Mootley all my life, sir, although I was born
here forty years ago. I went to London, and stopped in Southwark for
years. I'd a greengrocer's shop there, and did fairly well. But London
didn't suit my wife's health, sir, so I sold up some time back, and
bought a cottage and an acre of land here with my savings. I know your
name, sir, because I've seen one or two plays of yours at The Elephant
and Castle Theatre. And very good plays they were, sir, too."

"Humph! It seems to me, Mr. Giles, that I am now the wrongly suspected
hero of a much more mysterious and lurid melodrama than any I have
written."

"It _is_ strange," admitted Giles, with a side glance. I saw the
glance by the light which gleamed from a cottage window.

"My murdering Mrs. Caldershaw?" I inquired coolly.

"We don't know yet that she has been murdered," he replied quickly.

"Then my stealing that glass eye of hers?"

"No, sir. But your being locked up in the dark with the corpse."

"She wasn't a corpse when I entered, Mr. Giles. Her moans attracted me
into the room. While I was seeing by match-light what was the matter,
someone locked the door, and bolted with my motor."

"The lady I saw, sir."

"No doubt, since I did not bring a lady with me."

"I wonder if she got the eye," muttered Giles half to himself.

"She must have got something that wasn't hers, else she would not have
made use of my car to escape."

"Then she must have taken the eye," Giles muttered again.

"What the deuce are you talking about? Why should she steal a glass
eye?"

"That's what I'd like to know, sir. It's an odd thing to steal. And I
never knew that Mrs. Caldershaw's left eye was a glass one, though she
told Mrs. Faith about it. Well, it's gone----"

"And the lady who stole my motor car took it. At least it seems so.
But I tell you what, Mr. Giles, I'm too hungry to discuss the matter
just now. The whole business is a mystery to me, and Destiny has
dragged me into it in a most unpleasant way."

Giles nodded. "It's easy seen you're innocent, sir," he said with an
air of relief. "You wouldn't talk so, if you weren't."

"I don't know so much about that. Guilt can wear a mask of brazen
innocence if necessary. How do you know I haven't murdered Mrs.
Caldershaw, and at this moment may not have the celebrated glass eye
in my trouser pocket?"

"We don't know yet that she's been murdered, Mr. Vance. There was no
wound----"

"Pooh! She might have been poisoned."

"Why do you think so, sir?" asked Giles quickly.

"Because I write melodramas, and always look on the most dramatic
side. Oh, this is your cottage, is it? Quite a stage cottage, with
plenty of greenery about the porch."

Giles did not know what to make of my chatter.

"You're a funny gent, sir."

"A hungry one, at all events, my friend. Is this your wife? How are
you, Mrs. Giles? I am your husband's prisoner, and for the time being
your cottage is a gaol. Mrs. Caldershaw's dead, and I've stolen her
glass eye."

"Mrs. Caldershaw dead!" gasped Mrs. Giles, a rosy-faced little woman,
who turned pale at the sudden announcement. "What does the gentleman
mean, Sam?"

"Sit down, sir," said Giles, pushing forward a chair, then turned
towards his astonished and somewhat terrified wife to explain. In a
few minutes Mrs. Giles was in full possession of the facts which had
led me to her abode. She listened in silence, her face now quite white
and drawn. "What does it all mean, Sam?" she asked under her breath.

"That's what we've got to find out, Sarah. Warshaw has been sent for
from Arkleigh, and when he comes, we'll see what is to be done."

"Warshaw and Caldershaw," I murmured; "rather similar names. I hope
your policeman friend will wire to Murchester about my car."

"There's no telegraph office hereabout, sir. I expect he'll send in a
messenger to Murchester for the Inspector, and for your friend, sir."

"Lord Cannington? Oh, yes. He can identify me as Cyrus Vance."

"What!" said Mrs. Giles, who was recovering her colour, "the gentleman
who wrote them lovely plays?"

"The same," I assented, "and the gentleman's very hungry."

"You shall have supper in a few minutes," cried Mrs. Giles, much
impressed with the angel she had hitherto entertained unawares. "Sam,
did you bring back that bacon?"

"Nor I didn't, my dear, 'cos there wasn't anyone to sell the bacon,
Mrs. Caldershaw being dead."

"Ugh!" shuddered the little woman. "I'll never be able to eat another
thing out of that shop. A murder----"

"We don't know that it's a murder," interposed her husband hastily.

I laughed. "You shouted murder lustily enough when you had me down,
Giles."

The man looked sheepish. "I made a mistake and thought you was a
robber, until I saw you were a gent."

"Well a gent can be a robber, you know. Many gents are."

"They steal something more valuable than glass eyes, sir."

I rather liked Giles, who was a burly, heavy-faced animal man, with,
as I said before, a most engaging smile. His jaw was of the bull-dog
order, but his eyes were extremely intelligent, so I judged that his
native wits had been considerably sharpened by his sojourn in the
Borough of Southwark. Such a man could easily master the less
travelled villagers, and I found that such was the case. Giles acted
as a kind of headman of Mootley, and his opinion carried great weight
in the village councils. It was just as well that I had fallen into
the hands of such a man, otherwise, unable to see that I was innocent
of assault and robbery, I should have been less hospitably treated. As
it was, I found myself extremely comfortable.

Mrs. Giles bustled about in a cheery way, although the news of Mrs.
Caldershaw's death seemed to have somewhat scared her. While getting
the supper and laying the cloth and attending to the kettle she would
frequently pause to consider her husband's story. "I rather think she
expected it," said Mrs. Giles, putting a pot of jam on the table.

"Expected what, Sarah?" asked her husband, guessing what she alluded
to.

"Death, Sam, death. She told me once that she was sure she would not
die in her bed."

"Then you think that she has been murdered?" I questioned.

"Yes, I do think so, sir; else why should she speak in that way? And
in church she always said that part of the Litany about being saved
from battle, murder, and sudden death louder than any."

"There was no blood and no wound," muttered Giles, turning this speech
over in his mind. "Frampton said he thought it was a fit. But come and
draw your chair, in, sir. We're humble folk, but what we have is at
your service."

"You're very kind folk," I said, obeying the invitation. "Frampton and
Mrs. Faith would have tied me up and starved me."

"Ignorant people, sir, who don't know any better. Bread, sir? jam,
sir? yes, sir."

He was really most polite for a greengrocer, and I grew to like him
more and more, as I did his busy, bright-faced little wife. The supper
was homely but very nourishing, and I drank tea and devoured bread and
jam, until my hunger was quite satisfied. During the meal the husband
and wife told me that Mrs. Caldershaw had kept the corner shop--so
they called it--for the last five years, and had never been popular
amongst her neighbours. It was believed that she had miserly
tendencies and had much money tucked away in a stocking. Her age was
sixty, but she was an active woman for her years and lived entirely
alone. It seemed that she had been born in Mootley, but had been
absent for many years out at service--so she said, although she spoke
very little about her past. With her savings--again this was the story
of Mrs. Caldershaw--she had returned to die in her native village and,
for the sake of something to do, had opened the corner shop.

"Did she have many callers?" I asked, mentally noting details.

"She never said so," remarked Mrs. Giles, who being somewhat of a
gossip took the lead in the conversation. "She was a close one, she
was. And the shop being round the corner, sir, we"--I presume she
meant herself and the other gossips--"could never see who came or
went. She lived quite outside our lives, sir, owing to the position of
the shop and her own way of keeping to herself. Once she did say she'd
never die in her bed, and that's what makes me think as she may have
been done away with. But I never knew, Sam, that she'd a glass eye."

"I didn't know either," said Sam, who was devouring huge slices of
bread and butter. "She told Mrs. Faith, though. I've seen her heaps of
times, but I never spotted that one eye was living and the other dead.
And why it should have been stolen by that lady who went off with your
motor, Mr. Vance, sends me fair silly."

"What was the lady like, Sam?"

"I can't exactly tell you, Sarah, as it was growing so dark. She was
tall, with a long white cloak, a cap, and a veil. That's all I know.
Hullo!"

He started from his seat, as the sound of excited voices was heard. A
moment later and the cottage door was violently flung open to admit
the stout, dark-faced woman, whom Giles had addressed as Mrs. Faith.
She was half leading, half supporting another woman, small and wizen
and weak-looking. Behind came a disorderly crowd of women and men.
Evidently Mootley, unused to sensational happenings, was making the
most of this one.

"It's a lady as come in a cart, sir," began Mrs. Faith excitedly, when
Frampton, looking over her shoulder, interrupted.

"A trap, sir; a trap driven by another woman."

"O dear me," moaned the little creature, who had now been deposited in
a capacious chair. "Where am I now?"

"With friends, dear, with friends," said Mrs. Giles, stroking her
hands. "Sam get the whisky; it's in the cupboard near the fire. And
all you people clear out. She'll never get well if you stop here
upsetting her."

"I'll see to it," cried Mrs. Faith, and forthwith in a most masterful
way bundled the crowd out-of-doors. They would not have gone so
easily, had not the magnet of the shop containing the corpse drawn
them; but go they did, and Mrs. Faith closed the door.

"Warshaw has arrived," she explained dramatically, "and is
examining all the place. He'll be along here soon, sir, to take you in
charge. This lady," she waved her large hands towards the little
half-unconscious woman, "came along in a cart with another one
driving----"

"Another lady?" I asked curiously.

"Another woman," snorted Mrs. Faith contemptuously, "and only one
horse the cart had; for cart it was, though Frampton called it a trap.
But she came along, sir," she continued officiously, "and said as she
saw your motor engine run into a field. It smashed a gate, it did,
and----"

"Stop," cried the little lady, opening her eyes and half rising. "I'll
tell the gentleman all about it. Miss Destiny; sir, Miss Destiny--my
name," and she curtsied.



CHAPTER III.
AFTER EVENTS


Here was a freakish thing. I had talked about Destiny as a _dea ex
machina_, and the goddess personally had come to superintend the drama
in which I was supposed--as I shrewdly suspected by this time--to take
a leading part. However, as open confession is good for the soul, I
may as well state, and at the eleventh hour, that this story was
written when the mystery was solved and justice had been done--I threw
it, as it were, into a fictional form. Thus, as I knew the odd name of
the little lady when writing I played upon its oddity, and saw in her
the incarnation of the goddess who maps out the future. You can take
this explanation with or without the proverbial grain of salt, as you
choose. Meanwhile, here we are on the threshold of a mystery, and a
flesh and blood creature, with the significant name of Destiny appears
on the scene.

When the new-comer stood up and turned her face to the light I had a
better view of her. She was even smaller than Mrs. Giles--what one
would call a tiny woman--and was perfectly shaped. Not quite a dwarf,
but very nearly one, and her face, pointed, wrinkled, and of a
parchment hue, looked as old as the Pyramids. The most youthful thing
about her was the undimmed brilliancy of her eyes. These, dark,
piercing, unwinking, and marvellously steady, blazed--I use the word
advisedly--under a Marie Antoinette arrangement of wonderfully white
hair, like spun silk. Her hat had been removed by the officious Mrs.
Faith, so I could take in her looks very easily. She wore a shabby
black silk dress, much worn, an equally shabby black velvet mantle,
old-fashioned and trimmed sparsely with beads, and had cotton
gloves--black ones--on her skinny hands, with cloth boots on her tiny
feet. From her general appearance she might have stepped out of a
child's fairy-book, as a representation of Cinderella's godmother. As
her first faintness had passed away--thanks to Mrs. Giles' whisky--she
was now wonderfully composed, and stood before me dropping elfish
curtseys without a tremor of the face, or a blink of the eye.

"Miss Destiny," she said again; "and you, sir?"

"Cyrus Vance," I answered, "at present in custody as a suspected
robber."

Giles murmured something incoherent to the effect that this was not
so, but Miss Destiny paid no attention to him. "Robber of what, sir?"

"Of Mrs. Caldershaw's glass eye."

"O dear me!" The little lady sat down promptly. "Do you mean to say
that she has lost it at last, and that you took it?"

"I did not take it, madam, although I am credited with the theft, but
it is assuredly lost. But why--at last?"

Miss Destiny moved her hands in the shabby black cotton gloves
nervously and swallowed something--possibly the truth, although I had,
on the face of it, no reason to suspect her of lying. "I was on my way
to see Anne Caldershaw," she said timidly.

"What?" Mrs. Faith's dark countenance lighted up with curiosity. "You
knew her--you knew her."

"Intimately," replied Miss Destiny, somewhat primly. "She was my
brother's housekeeper at Burwain for years. Then he died, and Anne
came here. Burwain, which is between Gattlingsands and Tarhaven, is
subject to fogs," explained the little lady, "and Anne believed that
clear inland air would suit her chest better."

I knew Burwain as a somnolent hamlet set in a flat country and muffled
with woods and tall hedges. This very day had I passed it in the
Rippler, when conveying Cannington to Murchester. It was odd that this
little woman should mention it of all places.

"You know that Mrs. Caldershaw is dead," I ventured to remark.

Miss Destiny threw up her hands. "The shock of it," she whimpered. "I
was coming to see her and remain for the night. My servant, Lucinda,
drove me from Burwain in my trap."

"Cart," struck in Mrs. Faith vehemently, while Giles and his wife,
standing near the fire, held their peace.

"It is a cart," admitted Miss Destiny, "which I have turned into a
trap, as I am very, very, very poor." Her voice ascended to the last
word. "Yesterday morning I started, and stayed last night with a
friend at Saxham, which is half way to Murchester. This morning we
drove on again, and were approaching Mootley when the motor car nearly
smashed my trap."

"My motor car?" I asked quickly.

"I heard something about its belonging to a gentleman," said Miss
Destiny; "it was, however, driven by a woman in a long white
cloak----"

"The lady I saw," murmured Giles, of whom Miss Destiny took no notice.

"She drove headlong down a steep incline, and came within a
handbreadth of the trap, Mr. Vance. Then she swerved round and went
smashing through a wooden gate, not too securely fashioned, into a
field. I was very much upset, and Lucinda--always mindful of my
comfort--drove on to Mootley as quickly as possible. There"--Miss
Destiny rose and became quite dramatic--"I was met with the news that
Anne Caldershaw had been found dead. The news upset me so that I
nearly fainted. But this good woman," she indicated Mrs. Faith with a
gracious bend of the head, "brought me here; and I am obliged to these
honest people," she nodded towards Giles and his wife, "for reviving
me. Where I am to stop the night I don't know, as Anne informed me in
her letter that there is no inn here."

"There's a public-house," put in Giles reflectively, "but it isn't fit
for a lady like you. If you will stay here, ma'am, for the night----"

"If it's not very expensive," interrupted Miss Destiny.

"It will cost nothing, ma'am," said Giles curtly. "I'm none so poor,
but what I can't give a bite and a bed to a stranger."

"Then I accept with pleasure," replied Miss Destiny, and really seemed
delighted at the idea of getting bed and breakfast for nothing. Either
she was very poor, or she was avaricious. I could not decide which,
but gave her the benefit of the doubt, and looked upon her as a
reduced gentlewoman.

"What about me, Giles?" I asked when this was settled.

"It's early yet, sir, so if you will wait here until Lord Cannington
comes from Murchester, you can go back with him, after seeing
Warshaw."

"Oh, I don't want to go back. I am anxious to see the end of this
tragedy."

"In that case, sir, the missus can put you up too, if you don't mind a
shake-down. There's room enough for all."

"I can make you comfortable in the parlour," said Mrs. Giles, thinking
of ways and means, "the lady can sleep in the spare bedroom."

"With Lucinda," put in Miss Destiny. "She is outside with the trap,
and if you will see that the horse is put into some stable and that
Lucinda is brought in to have supper, you will be conferring a great
favour on me. I really couldn't sleep without Lucinda, as my nerves
are not what they ought to be, and this dreadful occurrence has upset
them greatly."

Giles, who seemed to be singularly generous and hospitable, nodded and
went out to see after Lucinda and the trap, while Mrs. Giles boiled a
couple of eggs for the visitor who had so unexpectedly appeared. Mrs.
Faith, with her hands on her hips, and her dark face alive with
curiosity, stared hard at the frail figure of the shabby little lady.
"About the glass eye," she asked eagerly, with a side glance at me,
"which this gentleman took?"

"I didn't take it," I said sharply, for the way in which the woman
assumed me to be guilty was unbearable. "So far as I remember, Mrs.
Caldershaw had two eyes when I saw her body, though, to be sure, I
might have been mistaken, seeing I had only a match. And I was
mistaken," I added vigorously, "for if the woman who stole my motor
car took the eye, she must have done so before I saw the corpse. But
why should the eye be stolen?" I looked at Miss Destiny for an answer.

The little old lady shook her head. "It's the oddest thing," she said
at length and in a lively manner. "When Anne was my brother's
housekeeper, it was well known that she had a glass eye to which she
appeared to attach a ridiculous value. She often declared that she
would not lose it for a fortune. What she meant I can't say; but since
the eye has been stolen, she must have meant something."

"It's remarkably strange," I muttered, for the mystery of the eye was
beginning to attract me. "Have you no idea----"

"I know nothing more than I have told you," said Miss Destiny sharply.
"By the way, how did Anne die?"

"No one knows," said Mrs. Faith, determined to join in the
conversation and restless at having kept silence for so long.
"Frampton declared that she had a fit."

"Nonsense. Anne, so far as I know, never had fits. A lean, spare woman
such as Anne was, could not have a fit."

"Lean people may have fits as well as fat ones," said I wisely.

"I am not doctor enough to say," said Miss Destiny wearily, "and I am
very tired with the journey and the news I have received. Poor Anne,
she was a good and faithful servant."

"She wasn't popular here," said Mrs. Faith tartly.

"She kept very much to herself," said Mrs. Giles, placing the eggs
before Miss Destiny; "a very close woman."

"Anne never was one for gossip," observed Miss Destiny, sipping a cup
of hot tea. "None knew her better than I."

"Tell us all about her," said Mrs. Faith curiously.

Miss Destiny shook her head. "I am too tired," she confessed, "and
after I have had my supper I shall go to bed, if this honest woman
permits. To-morrow I shall tell the police all I know."

"The police," said Mrs. Giles, with a start.

"Certainly." Miss Destiny looked hard at the greengrocer's wife. "As
Anne is so mysteriously dead, and as her glass eye is missing, and as
this gentleman's motor car has been carried off--so they told me at
the shop--the police will certainly ask questions. I shall answer
them."

Mrs. Faith struck in again. "But can you give any reason?"

"I shall say nothing at present," interrupted Miss Destiny, with quite
a grand air of rebuke. "Oh, Lucinda!"

The door had opened while she spoke and a gigantic figure, whether of
man or woman, stepped cumbrously into the room. I doubted the sex,
because although Lucinda wore petticoats, she also wore a distinct
moustache, and displayed a rugged flat face, masculine in contour.
With a man's cap on her scanty drab-hued hair and a man's pea-jacket
clothing her spare body, with large driving-gloves and a red muffler,
and nothing feminine about her save a short dress of light blue,
beneath which appeared a pair of large lace-up boots, I may be excused
for my doubts. Her eyes were grey and small and tired-looking, but
they lighted with tender love when she beheld her mistress. Miss
Destiny, looked smaller than ever, as the huge woman strode towards
her to speak in one of the sweetest voices I have ever heard. These
nightingale notes, proceeding from a kind of female Blunderbore, were
scarcely in keeping with the coarse exterior.

"Are you rested, mistress? have you eaten? is your head bad? are your
feet cold?" demanded Lucinda in a breath and with a voice of an
archangel.

"I am much better, Lucinda," said Miss Destiny wearily, "but I should
like to go to my room," and she closed her bright black eyes.

"I'll take you there, mistress," said the Amazon, and picked up the
little woman like a feather, turning to address Mrs. Giles as she did
so. "Where's the bedroom, mum?"

"I'll show you," said Mrs. Giles, and conducted the odd couple into an
inner room with an air of amazement, which showed that Lucinda had
startled her also by the mixed sexual appearance she presented. I
could not help thinking that Giles and his wife were a singularly
good-natured couple to allow the house to be stormed in this fashion.

"What do you think of it all?" asked Mrs. Faith when we were alone. I
was beginning to dislike the woman for her unwarrantable curiosity.

"It is amusing."

"Amusing!" She stared aghast.

"The unexpected is always amusing," said I. "But come outside and
we'll see Giles. I want him to take me to Mrs. Caldershaw's shop
again. It is necessary for me to see Warshaw and tell him my story. I
don't want a garbled version to reach him, as it is hard to remove
first impressions."

Mrs. Faith, keeping a jealous eye on me--I verily believe that she
still credited me with knowing more about the death that I would
confess--shepherded me round the cottage into a small stable, where
Giles was attending to the horse. After delivering me into his charge
with the air of a police officer, she remarked that she would go home
and drink a cup of tea. I was glad to see the back of the inquisitive
woman, and said as much to Giles.

"Ay," he remarked, smiling quietly, "she's a rare one for other
people's business is Mrs. Faith. Well, sir, what's to be done now?"

"I want you to come with me to Mrs. Caldershaw's shop, as I must see
the policeman. And I say, Giles," I added, as we turned out of the
yard and walked along the dark, damp road, "it's ridiculous all of us
using your cottage as a hotel in this fashion. If Miss Destiny doesn't
pay you I shall do so, and in any case, I shall pay for myself."

"You're of a forgiving nature, Mr. Vance, seeing how nearly I broke
your neck, sir," said Giles, smiling again.

"Pooh! I would have done the same myself, seeing that I was taken, as
it were, red-handed. By the way, you heard of the way in which this
strange woman has run my motor into a field?"

"Yes, sir. Lucinda--she told me her name--explained what had
happened."

"I hope my car isn't smashed up," I grumbled, turning up my coat
collar, for the night was growing chilly. "I don't suppose that thief
of a woman could drive for nuts. Well, well, it's a queer business
altogether. I wonder how it will all end?"

"We must wait and see, Mr. Vance. These things are in the hands of
Providence, you know," said Giles soberly, and then I gathered that
the retired greengrocer had a strong religious vein--evangelistical
for choice.

"Or in the hands of Miss Destiny," I murmured, for I still held to the
fantastical belief that the shabby little woman had come from Olympus.

During the two hours which had elapsed since Giles took me into
custody, law and order had been established in and about the tragic
shop. Warshaw--as I afterwards learned--had come post-haste from
Arkleigh, which was no very great distance away, and had brought with
him a brother constable. This last was on guard at the shop door,
before which a group of people were chattering excitedly, and Warshaw
himself attended to the inside of the house. A few words to the
Cerebus gained Giles and myself admission, and we were informed
incidentally that a messenger on bicycle had been sent to the
Murchester Inspector with details of the death and of the loot of the
motor car. Shortly, said the policeman at the door, the Inspector
would arrive to take charge of the case.

Warshaw proved to be a lean, red-haired, sedate young constable, who
had been in the army and who knew a gentleman when he saw one. He was
therefore extremely civil to me, and heard my story with great
gravity. Afterwards he questioned Giles, and then logged both tales in
his pocket-book. He did not seem to suspect that I was guilty of
assault or robbery, but intimated politely that it would be just as
well if I remained in his company until Inspector Dredge arrived from
Murchester. Then I offered him a cigarette and we began to chat.

"What do you think of the case?" I asked, lighting up.

"I don't know what to think of it, sir," he replied with a doubtful
air. "The deceased is dead, but, not being a doctor, I can't see
how she came by her death. Her left eye--which I believe was a glass
one--is missing, and a man said it was in her head at five o'clock
when she attended to him in the shop. Yes," he shook his closely
cropped hair, "it's a queer case."

"Do you think she was assaulted and rendered insensible for the sake
of this glass eye?"

"I can't say, sir, and if I might suggest to you, sir, it will be best
to ask no questions and to say nothing on your part until Inspector
Dredge arrives."

"I shall only ask one question, Warshaw. Has anything been stolen?"

"No, sir. It isn't a case of burglary, I swear."

After Warshaw's hint, of course, I held my tongue. We were in the back
room, and the corpse of Mrs. Caldershaw was still lying on the floor
with a rug over it. Until Dredge and a doctor arrived the local
policeman wisely decided to leave it as it had been found. I shuddered
a trifle at the cold clay of the unfortunate woman, which I knew lay
under the gaudy rug, and glanced round the room. It was of no great
size and furnished in a plain way--comfortable enough, but not
luxurious. The walls were adorned with a flamboyant red paper,
scrolled aggressively with some unnatural green vegetation; and on the
floor a diapered black and white linoleum lay under a white-washed
ceiling. The furniture consisted of an Early Victorian horsehair
mahogany suite, adorned with vividly tinted antimacassars; a
sticky-looking varnished side-board, upon which stood a decayed
wedding-cake top under a glass shade; a moderately sized round table
covered with a blue cloth, and over it a home-made swing bookcase,
containing antique and uninviting volumes, chiefly concerned, as I
discovered, with religion. Also there was an old-fashioned grate in
which a diminutive fire smouldered, a grandfather clock--now
indicating the hour of nine--and finally, on the glaringly covered
walls a few cheap oleographs, apparently taken from the Christmas
numbers of illustrated papers. A tall brass-pillared lamp, giving out
an exceedingly bad light, stood on the round table, and but faintly
illuminated the homely apartment.

Later my attention was attracted by a photograph on the mantelpiece--a
sumptuous photograph by an artistic London firm, set in an ornate
silver frame, far too expensive for the late Mrs. Caldershaw to
have purchased herself. I struck a match to examine it. Out of the
semi-darkness flashed a truly lovely face, with the sweetest smile I
had ever beheld. In the flickering light, I saw the head and shoulders
and bust of a girl--a lady, a goddess I might say. She was arrayed in
an evening dress of the simplest kind, untrimmed and unadorned in any
way. Not even a necklace appeared on the swan-like grace of the neck,
and no bracelets accentuated the outline of the finely-moulded arms.
And the face--I fell in love with it at sight--with its haunting eyes
and grave, tender, wishful smile. The hair was dressed in the plain
Greek fashion, and the head, being turned a trifle to one side,
ravished me with its chaste loveliness. Doubtless the picture
represented a modern young lady, but to me it gleamed forth from the
darkness as a revelation of Diana, but not of the Ephesians. No! here
was the virginal huntress, who slew Actæn, who solaced the dying
Hippolytus, and who came to Endymion in dreams on Mount Latmus. I was
no raw boy, and--I have confessed it before--I had never been in love;
but this exquisite face captured my heart, my fancy, my psychic
senses, and all that there was in me to respond to the mystery of sex.
Love at first sight was a mighty truth after all. Here was--my wife.

"Nonsense," said I aloud at this point, and the match went out after
burning my fingers. The men looked up inquiringly, and keeping well
back in the gloom I coloured warmly. "It's nothing. An idle thought
passed through my mind. I wonder,"--here I hesitated, as I was on the
verge of asking the two what they knew about the portrait. But an
inexplicable sense of nervous shame kept me silent on this point and I
finished my sentence in another way. "I wonder when the Inspector will
arrive," said I with a yawn.

At that moment, as if in answer to my question, the sound of
approaching wheels was heard, and we sharply walked into the shop to
see a trap halting before the door. A tall, military-looking man
descended and stalked forward, followed by a policeman and a cheerful
red-faced individual, who looked what he was--a country practitioner.
A carefully cultivated habit of observation--invaluable to playwright
or novelist--has quickened my comprehension, so I guessed the doctor's
profession the moment he entered the shop. Dredge was grim and
hard-mouthed and steady-eyed, and sparing of words on all occasions.
He listened to Warshaw's report without committing himself to speech,
and then tersely asked the doctor--Scoot was his queer name--to
inspect the corpse in his presence. I remained with Giles in the shop,
as I had no desire to participate in the gruesome examination. The
policeman who had come from Murchester, took up his station at the
door along with his comrade, and to him I addressed myself.

"Do you know if the messenger who came to see Inspector Dredge went on
to the Barracks?" I asked, for I was wondering why Cannington had not
arrived.

"Yes, sir," said the officer saluting. "As soon as the Inspector heard
of the murder he sent him on, and then we drove here."

"Strange!" I murmured, for I knew that Cannington was not the boy to
let grass grow under his feet when a friend was in trouble. As it was
still early he would not be in bed, and as some hours had elapsed,
there was ample time for him to arrive. Indeed I had expected him to
precede the police.

Giles frowned and shook his head. "I think Ashley was sent," he said
in his rough voice, "and he's but a wastrel. I only hope he has gone
to the Barracks, and is not drinking in some public-house. News of a
murder will get him many free drinks."

I shrugged my shoulders. "That may be the case, Giles. However, it
doesn't matter. I can stay with you, and to-morrow we can send a more
reliable messenger to Lord Cannington."

"Oh, his lordship may arrive yet," ventured the ex-greengrocer.

"Perhaps. But I doubt it. He would have arrived before had he heard of
my dilemma. Ah, here's the Inspector."

Dredge looked more gloomy and forbidding than ever. I understood,
although he did not inform me, that Dr. Scoot was still examining the
dead body, and that Dredge had come to ask questions. I was right in
my latter surmise, at all events, for he examined me thoroughly and
set down my replies in a book. Then he gave me a piece of information.

"Your motor car, sir, is standing in a field some distance from
Murchester, abandoned. We saw it through the broken gate, when we
drove past. A hasty examination showed us that it has not been much
injured."

Before I could reply, the agitated voice of Scoot was heard calling
for the Inspector. I followed Dredge into the back room. The doctor
had opened the dead woman's bodice and was pointing to a gleam of blue
glass.

"See! see!" he said loudly, "the head of a hat-pin!" He drew it out.
"Yes, this poor wretched woman has been murdered by having a hat-pin
thrust into her heart."

I thought of the white-cloaked female who had stolen my car, but said
nothing.



CHAPTER IV.
FACTS


Next morning brought Cannington in a towering rage to Mootley. He
arrived in a motor while I was breakfasting at nine o'clock, and
explained with many apologies that he had become aware of my
difficulties only one hour previously.

"That silly blighter you sent," said the boy volubly, "never came to
the Barracks last night. After telling the police what had happened,
he started to come to me--this is his story, remember--but on the way
dropped into a pub. There he talked about the murder, and was supplied
with so many free drinks that he wasn't in a fit state to leave."

"Humph!" said I, going on with my breakfast, "Giles was right it
seems. This Ashley animal is a wastrel. Well?"

"Well," echoed Cannington, fuming, "there is no well about it. The
intoxicated beast only turned up this morning at nine o'clock. I was
in bed when my servant brought in the message, and when I saw him I
told him off, confound him for a silly ape. Then I got Trent to loan
me his car and came along here as soon as I could bathe and dress."

"Have you had breakfast?"

"Oh, damn breakfast! No."

"Well, sit down and have some, if Mrs. Giles," glanced at the little
woman, who was hovering round the fire, "permits."

"I'll set another cup and plate at once, sir," she said, evidently
fluttered at the idea of entertaining a real live lord, "but I'm
afraid, sir, that eggs and bacon and tea ain't what the young
gentleman's used to."

"I don't know anything better," said Cannington graciously, and soon
was occupied industriously in filling up. "And I do call it beastly,"
he said between mouthfuls, "that I should have been out of all the
fun. If I'd only come along with you, Vance----"

"You'd have been arrested, as I am," I finished.

"Oh, come now, that's a bit too thick. You didn't rob this woman, or
murder her for one of your melodramas, did you?"

"Who said she was murdered?" I asked, taking another cup of tea.

"That blighter who came this morning."

"How the deuce does he know? The murder was only found out after he
went to Murchester. Everyone--myself included--thought that it was
merely robbery of a glass eye."

"A glass eye!" Cannington stared. "Who the deuce would steal a glass
eye?"

"The woman who annexed my motor car, and who murdered Mrs. Caldershaw
by sticking a hat-pin into her heart, stole it."

"Whose glass eye was it?"

"Mrs. Caldershaw's."

"Who is she?"

"The dead woman."

Cannington gulped down a cup of tea and requested particulars. "You
see I was in such a rage that I heard very little from the messenger,"
he explained apologetically. "All I gathered was that some woman had
been murdered and robbed, and that you were suspected. I hurried along
to tell the police that they were idiots, and----"

"Oh, not such idiots," said I, pushing back my chair and lighting a
cigarette. "You see I was caught red-handed by Mrs. Giles' husband."

"Oh, sir," put in the greengrocer's wife deprecatingly.

"Begin at the beginning," commanded Cannington, who was still eating
with the healthy appetite of a young animal, "and go on to the end.
I'm not clever enough to make up a story out of scraps."

Thus adjured I detailed all that had taken place from the time I had
left him at the Mess-room door on the previous day. He became so
interested that he ceased to eat, and at the conclusion of my
narrative jumped up from his chair with an ejaculation. "By Jove,"
said he, recalling our conversation in the Rippler, "adventures are to
the adventurous, aren't they? This real life business beats any of
your melodramas."

"I agree. Truth is always more impossible than fiction."

"An epigram doesn't meet the case," snapped Cannington.

"It sums it up, my boy. Who could ever invent such a situation--I
speak as a playwright, you understand. I could never have imagined the
tragedy of an old woman killed by a hat-pin for the sake of her glass
eye, much less the implicating of an inoffensive stranger, and the
theft of his motor by the murderess."

"You are sure she is guilty?"

"Certainly! Who but a woman would use a hat-pin to slay, and who but a
woman would have a hat-pin to use?"

"But why should she kill the old woman?"

"That question can only be answered when we know more about the lady
in the white cloak, who bolted with my car."

"Who is she?"

"Helen of Troy, for all I know. What silly questions you ask,
Cannington."

"I'm not Sherlock Holmes," he retorted, "and I _did_ come on straight
to help you through this business."

"Forgive me, boy; you're a brick. What about your duties?"

"I got leave from the adjutant. That's all right. What's to be done
now?"

"We must see Inspector Dredge, and look after my motor, which is still
piled up in the field where the lady left it. Clever woman that. She
knew that she might be traced by the number, and so got rid of the
car. I daresay she footed it to Murchester, and went on to London by
the night train."

"In a white cloak she'd be traced."

"If she was fool enough to wear it," said I dryly, "but I daresay
we'll find that white cloak packed away in the car."

"Come along and let us see," cried Cannington, greatly excited.

"One moment. Mrs. Giles, what about Miss Destiny and her servant?"

"She's not up yet, sir, and Lucinda has taken in her breakfast."

"Is she returning to Burwain to-day?"

"I think so, sir. But Sam told Inspector Dredge of what she said last
night, and he wishes to ask her questions about Mrs. Caldershaw's
past."

I nodded. "No doubt. In Mrs. Caldershaw's past will be found the
motive for the committal of this strange crime. That glass eye was a
dangerous possession, Mrs. Giles."

"Lor', sir, do you think that has anything to do with it?"

"Everything, if you remember what Miss Destiny said about the value
Mrs. Caldershaw attached to that glass eye. She is dead, and
evidently--since the eye is missing--was murdered for its possession.
Depend upon it, Mrs. Giles, when Inspector Dredge learns the history
of that eye, he will be able to lay his hand on this lady who so
ingeniously escaped."

"But after all," said Cannington, looking back from the door, "you
really aren't arrested, Vance, are you?"

"You can put it that I am under surveillance, boy."

"What rot."

"Come and tell Dredge so," said I, taking his arm. "I'll be back soon,
Mrs. Giles, so tell your husband," and with a nod I went out.

We found Cannington's--or rather Trent's--motor at the door, and got
into it to proceed to the shop round the corner. Here we found
Inspector Dredge, surrounded by his myrmidons, and I explained to him
that my friend had come to vouch for my respectability; also that I
desired to go in search of my Rippler. The Inspector, although as
grim-faced, was less taciturn than on the previous night, and received
my explanation most kindly, assuring me that there was little need for
Lord Cannington to state my honourable qualities. "Although," he
added, "his lordship is welcome to depose to your position, as a
matter of form."

"Oh, Mr. Vance is all right," said Cannington cheerily, "he only
commits murders on the stage."

"I don't think even on the stage I ever committed so ingenious a
murder as this one seems to be," I retorted.

Dredge nodded. "Yes. This unknown woman is singularly clever."

"Then you think she is guilty?"

"What else can I think, Mr. Vance?" said Dredge, raising his eyebrows.
"From what you tell me, I am inclined to think that she was hiding in
an upstairs room--there are two--when you entered the shop. Possibly
the sound and appearance of your car drove her there after she had
murdered the unfortunate Mrs. Caldershaw. You did not enter the shop
immediately?"

"Well, no, I was a few minutes looking into things connected with the
car."

"And the shop was in darkness?"

"Complete darkness."

"I thought so. This woman heard your car coming, and later on saw it.
She doubtless slipped out of the back room, where she had just stabbed
her victim, and had the eye--this seems to be the motive for the
commission of the crime--in her pocket. She could not walk into the
road without running a chance of meeting you, so she sprang up the
stairs yonder"--he pointed to the steps, which clung to the wall on
one side and had a light railing on the other--"and took refuge in the
bedroom. When she heard you enter the back room, she came down turned
the key, and ran away with your car."

"Humph!" said I, after a pause, "permit me to put you right on one
point, Mr. Inspector. I believe that the woman was in the back room
when I entered the shop, for when I tried the door in order to find
someone, it was locked."

"Really!" Dredge made a hasty note. "Was the key on the outside?"

"I don't remember. All I know was that I could not pull open the
door."

"She would not have had time to change the key from the inside to the
outside," mused the Inspector. "I daresay the key all along was on the
outside, as it is now." He glanced at the door leading into the back
room, and sure enough there was the key. "Possibly, she shot the
bolt--there is one on the hither side of the door, as I noticed.
Well?"

"Well, while I was filling the tank of my car with petrol she must
have emerged, and--as you say--unable to escape without observation by
the road, she must have slipped upstairs. When I found the door open
on trying it for the second time, I entered the back room, attracted
by the last moan of the dying woman. Then she--the murderess, I
mean--must have come down, and after softly turning the key, have gone
off in my car."

"But why should she leave the car in a field?" asked Cannington.

"To the more easily escape," said Dredge, raising his eyebrows. "A car
with a number could easily be traced. She took it as near Murchester
as she dared, then abandoned it, and walked to the town. That is my
theory, and then she could either remain in Murchester or take the
train to some other place. It will be a hard matter to find her, as
she has concealed her trail very successfully."

"She might have left some evidence behind in the car," I suggested.

Dredge shook his head. "I examined the car myself this morning," he
remarked. "There is not a vestige to show that any woman occupied it.
She has not left even so much as a pin behind."

"Pardon me; she left a hat-pin!"

"Yes," said the Inspector grimly, "in the heart of the unfortunate
Mrs. Caldershaw. But your car is still in that field near Murchester,
Mr. Vance, and I shall leave you to take it away. I don't know how
much it is injured."

"Last night you said that it wasn't much hurt," I said hastily.

"Quite so, sir," said Dredge imperturbably. "But last night my
examination was necessarily perfunctory, as I was in a hurry to reach
the scene of the crime. This morning I examined the car more
carefully, and I am not sufficiently an expert to see what damage has
been done. Remember, it was driven violently through a wooden gate."

"On purpose?" asked Cannington quickly.

The Inspector cast a side glance at his fresh-coloured face. "I can't
say, my lord. I think not. The woman, driving down the incline, nearly
ran into Miss Destiny's trap. To avoid a complete collision, she may
have turned the steering-wheel too completely round, and so probably
dashed by mischance through the gate. Indeed, I think that is the true
explanation."

"Then, but for this accident," said Cannington pertinaciously, "she
would have driven the car to Murchester."

"I really can't offer an opinion on that point, my lord. We are
working in the dark just now, and all I have said is mere theory
founded upon circumstantial evidence. However, Mr. Vance," he turned
to me, "you can go and see after your car, and tell me what you think
That is," he glanced at his watch sharply, "after I have examined Miss
Destiny. I am told by Giles that she knew Mrs. Caldershaw, and was
coming here to pass the night."

"You want me to be present?"

"If you will so far oblige me."

"I shall be delighted. I wish to hear of everything connected with
this most interesting case. Do you mind if Lord Cannington is present
also?"

"Not at all," said Dredge graciously, and shuffled his notes, which
were lying on the counter. "Miss Destiny will be here in a few
minutes, and we can go into the back room where the crime was
committed."

"Where is the body?" asked Cannington abruptly.

"It has been laid out in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Do you wish to
view it, my lord?"

"Oh, hang it, certainly not," gasped Cannington hastily, and with all
the repugnance which the upper classes exhibit towards such morbid
sights. "I was only asking, as I don't wish to sit in the room with a
corpse."

The Inspector threw open the door to display the back premises. "You
see," he said, inviting us by a gesture to enter, "the body has been
removed."

In the grey daylight, for there was no sun to graciously soften
crudities, the room looked forlorn and chill and lonely. Cannington
stepped at my heels with a nervous shiver, for he was somewhat
impressionable. I now noticed that there were two windows in the outer
wall, which looked on to a kind of fenced clearing, sown with
cabbages, potatoes and leeks. These jostled each other in a disorderly
fashion, and the paths between the beds were so grass-grown that it
was apparent but little interest had been taken in her garden by the
late owner of the corner shop. The paling fence, unpainted and broken,
which surrounded the oblong of the cultivated ground, seemed to push
back the encircling elms, forming a small untidy wood behind. There
was no gate in the fence, so the sole means of egress was through the
shop. Between the windows was a door, leading into this dismal garden,
standing cheek by jowl with a cumbersome chimney. The back door was
locked. "We found it like that last night," exclaimed Dredge, now more
communicative and less grim. "The odd thing is that the key is
missing."

"Perhaps Mrs. Caldershaw never went into her garden," I remarked. "It
does not look inviting."

"Oh, she must have gone out of that door sometimes," insisted the
Inspector. "For there is a small shed filled with coals and wood
outside; she must have replenished her fire occasionally, you know,
Mr. Vance."

"Well then, she probably had locked the door for the night, when she
was murdered by this white-cloaked woman."

"I daresay; but why should the key be missing?"

Cannington made a suggestion. "The woman locked it when she escaped."

"She escaped through the shop, after locking Mr. Vance in," retorted
Dredge, "so why should she have troubled to steal the back-door key,
which, on the face of it, she did not require?"

"Huh," said the boy, "she seems to have a weakness for taking queer
things, Mr. Inspector. Witness the glass eye."

Dredge nodded. "I hear Miss Destiny knows something about that."

At this moment, as if in answer to her name, the little old lady
stepped daintily into the back room. She looked as shabby and frail as
ever, but she undoubtedly was a gentlewoman, and her eyes still
revealed a strong vitality. With a curtsey to me and to Cannington,
she addressed herself graciously to Inspector Dredge.

"My trap is at the door, sir, and I am anxious to return to my home at
Burwain, since this poor woman I came to see is unfortunately dead."

"Murdered," said Dredge laconically.

Miss Destiny blinked with her wonderfully youthful eyes, and recoiled
with a nervous gesture of her hand. "Murdered," she whispered, half to
herself. "They did not tell me that."

"Who did not tell you, ma'am?" demanded the Inspector brusquely.

"Lucinda, my servant, Mr. Giles and his wife," she replied brokenly.
"How was she murdered, sir?"

"An ordinary hat-pin with a blue glass bead for a head was thrust into
her heart, ma'am. She must have died immediately."

"How dreadful. But why should she be murdered, poor soul?"

"So far as I can gather, on account of her glass eye, which is
missing. I should like to hear what you have to say on that point,
ma'am?" and Dredge fixed his stern eyes inquisitively on the little
old lady.

Miss Destiny sat down quietly, and appeared to make an effort to
recover her composure, which had been sorely shaken, and very
naturally, by the news of the strange murder. "All I can say is, that
Anne had a glass eye to which she appeared to attach a ridiculous
value"--at this point I became aware that she was repeating word for
word her speech of the previous night, and certain of it, when she
continued. "Anne often declared that she would not lose it for a
fortune. Now it is lost, and she is dead. Dear me!"

"It has been stolen, and she has been murdered," corrected the
Inspector smartly. "I should like to know why Mrs. Caldershaw attached
such value to the eye?"

"I can't tell you that, Mr. Inspector, because I do not know. Anne was
always very close and kept her business to herself."

"Who is the woman?" asked Dredge impatiently.

"Who _was_ the woman, you mean, sir," corrected Miss Destiny smartly
in her turn. "I can tell you that. She was my brother's housekeeper at
Burwain for many years. When he died five years ago, more or less,"
added Miss Destiny precisely, "she retired with her savings to this
place, which was her native village, and here set up this shop."

"Have you seen her since she came to live here?"

"At intervals, sir. Anne was a valued old servant, whom I respected,
and at times--say once a year, I came over to stay the night with
her."

"Had she any enemies?"

"Not to my knowledge, sir."

"Was she happy here?"

"As happy as a grumbler like Anne could be. For there is no denying,
poor soul, that she was a grumbler," ended the little old lady
regretfully.

"What was your brother's name, ma'am?" said Dredge, producing his
note-book.

"Gabriel Monk, sir. He was a bachelor, and lived at The Lodge,
Burwain. I kept house for him with Anne as our servant until he died.
Then Anne came here and I took a small cottage in the village, where I
now am."

"And The Lodge?" asked Dredge, somewhat irrelevantly I thought.

"His brother, Walter Monk, inherited The Lodge and the money of his
deceased relative. He lives there now with my niece."

"Oh!" The inspector here saw a point which in my opinion he ought to
have noticed before. "Then Gabriel Monk was not exactly your brother?"

"I called him so, because I looked after his house for him, but he
really was not, sir."

"Your brother-in-law, then?"

"Not even that, Mr. Inspector. Let me explain. My sister married
Walter Monk, the brother of Gabriel, and became a widower with one
child, a girl. Gabriel took Gertrude, the girl, to live with him, when
she was a small child, and asked me to take charge of her. I did so,
and therefore fell into the habit of calling Gabriel my brother; but,
as you see, he was no relation. And pardon me, Mr. Inspector, but I do
not see what all this private business has to do with the murder of
Anne Caldershaw."

Dredge snapped the elastic band on his closed pocket-book. "I wish to
learn all I can about the dead woman's past," he said gruffly, "and so
ask you to tell me all you know."

"I have told you all I know," said Miss Destiny, rising. "And now may
I take my departure, as I have a long way to drive?"

Dredge nodded. "You may have to return for the inquest," he said
abruptly, "and in any case, I shall come over to Burwain to ask
questions."

"By all means. Anyone will tell you where I live," said Miss Destiny
with dignity, "and I trust that my expenses will be paid, should I be
required as a witness at the inquest." Here I noted she again revealed
a miserly tendency.

"Oh, yes, that's all right," said Dredge, and Miss Destiny, again
making her queer little curtsey to Cannington and myself, was about to
depart, when I stopped her with a question.

"Will you please tell me the name of this lady?" I asked, indicating
the photograph in the silver frame.

Miss Destiny's eyes were too keen to require glasses, and she
recognised the face at once. "Dear me, it is a photograph of
Gertrude."

"Your niece?"

"Certainly. Anne nursed her, you know, and Gertrude was always greatly
attached to her. She will be distressed when she hears of this
tragedy. Dear me, I never knew Gertrude had given Anne her portrait,
and in such a very expensive frame. Waste! waste! But why do you ask
about it, sir?"

I coloured. "I thought the face was so lovely," was my reply, made in
a low and somewhat awkward voice.

Miss Destiny gave me a piercing glance, and nodded in a friendly
manner, evidently amused by my embarrassment. "Gertrude is as good as
she is beautiful," she said smiling. "Good-day, gentlemen," and she
left the shop to mount the trap. Lucinda wrapped the rug carefully
round her knees and the oddly assorted pair drove away.

Meanwhile Cannington--who was always much too clever when dulness
would have been more diplomatic--laughed meaningly, and whispered.

"Adventures are to the adventurous," said Cannington wickedly.

"So you said before, and the remark isn't original in any case," I
answered tartly. "What you mean----"

"Oh, of course," he chaffed softly. "I haven't got eyes in my head,
and you're a Joseph where a pretty girl is concerned. And she is
pretty"--he turned to look at my goddess--"she is----"

"Oh, shut up!" I interrupted crossly. "Mr. Inspector, I am going to
look after my motor car. And the inquest?"

"Will be held in this house to-morrow at ten o'clock."

This settled matters for the time being and I departed with the boy,
who still chaffed me, like the silly young ass he was. "Old Vance in
love. Ho, ho!" said this annoying boy.



CHAPTER V.
AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY


On examination, the Rippler appeared to have suffered but trifling
hurt. Either by accident, or design, the flying lady had driven the
machine straight through an ancient five-barred gate, which
fortunately was much too decayed to present any serious obstacle.
Across a stubbled field--as the ripping and ploughing of the grounds
showed--the car had reeled drunkenly, until by its own weight it was
bogged in the friable furrows. Here it had been deserted, with smashed
lamps, a slightly damaged front, and with a considerable amount of
paint scraped off. But an immediate test showed that the machinery was
in excellent working order.

It was no easy task to restore the derelict to the hard levels of the
high-road. But Cannington collected a gang of agriculturals from
unknown quarters and we set to work. With spades and crowbars, broad
weather-boards from an adjacent incomplete building as temporary
tram-lines, and a tow-rope from Trent's machine to mine, we managed
the job fairly expeditiously, considering the environment. With water
from the nearest pond for the outside of the car, and oil and petrol
for the interior, I managed to get the Rippler into working order,
although she was more or less shaken, and did not run very smoothly.
Fortunately the lady had abandoned her loot within half a mile of
Murchester, so with careful driving I contrived to get over that
distance in safety. After storing the Rippler in a convenient garage,
to be repaired and overhauled, I went on to the Barracks with
Cannington in Trent's motor. Here I proposed to put up until the
inquest was at an end and I was free to leave the neighbourhood. It
was rather a nuisance to be thus publicly housed, as one might put it,
for everyone, from the Colonel to the latest-joined subaltern, asked
questions and aired impossible theories. My intimate connection with
the affair made me an object of interest to one and all. And small
wonder that it should be so, for the mystery of the affair was most
enthralling.

On the way to his quarters, Cannington--perhaps to distract my
thoughts from more immediate troubles--mentioned casually that
Wentworth Marr had left a card for him at Mess, just before we had
arrived on the day of the murder. I did not take any interest in Marr,
as I had never seen him, so it was a matter of indifference to me
whether he had called or not. But the boy fidgeted over the matter, as
he made sure he was about to be asked a knotty question officially, as
the head of the Wotton family.

"I am certain that Marr wishes to know if I will agree to his marrying
my sister," said Cannington irritably. "And I don't know what to say."

"Refer him to the lady," I suggested absently.

"I sha'nt. He's too old for Mabel, and I don't want her to marry him
in any case. I wish Weston would come up to the scratch, for he told
me that he loved Mabel, and I was quite pleased. Weston's no end of a
good sort, and we--that is Mabel and I--have known him almost as long
as we have you, Vance. Marr's all right, and deuced rich from all one
hears. But I don't want such an old chap as a brother-in-law, for all
his thousands of pounds."

"Oh, very well then," said I ungraciously. "Tell him to keep off the
grass, or you'll punch his head. Is he stopping at Murchester?"

"I suppose so. His card has the Lion's Head--that's the best hotel
here--pencilled on it. He called somewhere about three yesterday,
before we arrived, and he said he'd turn up again. I expect to find
him waiting for me now, and I'm hanged," lamented Cannington, "if I
know what to say."

But, as after events proved, the boy was worrying himself needlessly,
for Wentworth Marr did not reappear at the Barracks. On inquiry, we
learned that he stayed only the one night in Murchester, and then went
back to London in his motor--for he also travelled in the latest
vehicle of transit. I only mention these apparently trivial facts,
because they form certain links in the chain of evidence which led up
to the discovery of the amazing truth. Meanwhile, not foreseeing the
importance of trifles, I was rather annoyed with Cannington for
babbling. My mind was far too much taken up with the mystery of Mrs.
Caldershaw's murder, and with--I must confess it--the face of Gertrude
Monk, to permit me to think of Lady Mabel Wotton and her wooers,
elderly or otherwise.

Lady Mabel herself appeared a day or so later, and at an inopportune
moment, for her brother and I were greatly fatigued with what had
occurred during the interval. However, we returned from Mootley in
my renovated Rippler on the third day, and found her waiting
impatiently for afternoon tea in Cannington's quarters. She was a
tall, fresh-coloured, dashing girl, amazingly like her brother, and if
he had worn her tailor-made dress instead of his khaki, I do not think
anyone, unless a very close observer, would have been the wiser. I had
known the family for more years that I cared to remember, and liked
Lady Mabel immensely, as she was outspoken and companionable, and did
not want a man to be always telling her that she was a goddess. All
the same, she could flirt when inclined, although she never did so
with me. It could not have been my age, for I was younger than this
confounded Marr she came to talk about; so I presume she looked upon
me as Cannington's elder brother. At all events, our friendship was
always prosaic and matter of fact.

We had tea, while Lady Mabel presided and told us that she had just
come down for an hour, and that she was very miserable, and that
Cannington ought to have written her, and that she did not know what
to do, though Cyrus--that was me--might give some advice and----

"I never give advice," I interrupted hastily. "I'm not clever enough."

"I never said you were," she retorted. "But you are slow and sure."

"Thanks, Lady Mabel."

"I think you're just horrid, and why you should be so stiff with me I
don't know, seeing that you knew Cannington and myself since we could
toddle."

"Oh, come now, I'm not so old as all that."

"You are, and ever so much older, you--you bachelor."

"I can't help that, since you refuse to marry me," I said smiling.

"You've never asked me to--not that I would accept you," she replied
promptly. "All the same, you needn't call me Lady Mabel, as if you
were keeping me off with a pitchfork."

"Well, then--Mabel."

"That's better." She gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder. "You know
that I look on you as a good sort, Cyrus, and the oldest friend we
have."

I wriggled. "Why do you emphasise age so much?"

Cannington laughed, and I knew that he was thinking of my admiration
of Miss Monk's photograph. "Vance doesn't like to be reminded of his
age--now."

"Why now?" questioned Lady Mabel suspiciously.

"Oh, never mind," I said crossly. "What do you want my advice about?"

Our fair companion put down her cup in despair. "Haven't I been
telling you for the last half hour. Mr. Marr wants to marry me. He
asked me four days ago, and then came down to enlist Cannington on his
side."

"Huh," said the boy, sagaciously, "that sounds as though you had
refused him."

"No, I didn't."

"Then you accepted him."

"No, I didn't," she said again. "I left it an open question, until I
consulted you and Cyrus. After all he is rich, and not bad-looking."

"Oh, Mabel," cried Cannington, rising to perambulate the narrow room,
"you know very well that you love Dickey Weston."

"What's the use of loving a man who won't speak his mind? Dickey
always lives in the moon, and I only love him from habit.

"You never loved me from habit," I remarked lazily.

Mabel put her head on one side, and surveyed me critically. "No, I
never did," she said candidly, "and yet you're better-looking than
Dickey. But he's got a way with him--I don't know what it is."

"Absent-mindedness," suggested Cannington. "May we smoke, Mab?"

"Oh, yes, and you can give me a cigarette also, if they're Egyptian.
Thanks awfully." She accepted one, and I struck a match for the
lighting. "Of course, Dickey Weston is absent-minded and selfish," she
continued frankly. "All the same, I love him and I don't mind anyone
knowing it."

"Every one does, except Dickey," said I with a shrug.

"I suppose you think that's clever."

"It's the truth. After all, I don't see why you need be shy with a man
you have known for centuries. Why not go to Dickey and tell him that
you want to marry him and go trips in his airship?"

"Dickey would agree, and never know what had happened until he found
me breakfasting opposite to him without a chaperon. Well, what's to be
done?" She leaned back, and placed her hands behind her head. "Dickey
won't ask me to be his wife, and Mr. Marr--who is rich--wants me to
marry him right away."

"Do you love Marr, Mabel?" asked Cannington seriously.

"No," she said promptly.

"Then refuse him."

"He's too rich to refuse."

"Mabel"--I spoke this time and severely--"you are much too nice a girl
to make such a sordid match, and with a man who might be your father.
Chuck him, and chuck it, and make Dickey Weston do his duty."

"Which Dickey will be quite willing to do," said Cannington amiably,
"especially as he told me that he loved you, Mab."

"Oh," the girl jumped up and with a fine blush threw the half-finished
cigarette into the fireplace. "Why didn't you tell me that before,
Cannington? I know what I'll do." She reflected for three seconds.
"I'll tell Mr. Marr that he shall have his answer as a Christmas box,
and meanwhile I'll see if I can't make Dickey jealous. Cannington, you
are sure that Dickey said what you say he said?"

"Quite sure. He said it twice."

"Then he must mean it," cried Mabel energetically. "So I can hold off
Mr. Marr and make Dickey jealous by pretending to flirt with him.
After all I love Dickey and Dickey loves me, so why shouldn't we
marry?"

"I am sure," said I cynically, "that if you put the position clearly
to Weston in that way he would do his duty."

"I don't want him to do his duty, just as if I was driving him to the
altar," she said, much exasperated. "I wouldn't marry Dickey if I
didn't love him, not if he were twice as rich."

"What about Marr?"

She wilfully chose to ignore my hint. "He can remain as a second
string to my bow, Cyrus. After all I must marry money. Aunt
Lucy"--this was Lady Denham, the late earl's sister--"is always
grumbling about my dresses. And--and--and--oh, well, then, never mind,
I must be getting back to town." She looked at her bracelet watch.
"There's a theatre party and supper at the Ritz to-night, so I haven't
much time.

"And the situation?" asked Cannington, helping her on with her cloak.

"I'll temporise and give Dickey a chance."

"Which means that Marr will have none," I said gravely, "that's not
fair."

Mabel shrugged her shoulders, and made the truly feminine answer.
"You're a man and don't understand. Oh," she stopped at the door
suddenly, "by the way, Aunt Lucy told me that your name was in the
papers, Cyrus, about some murder. I've just thought about it. Aren't
you accused of sticking pins into some one? Tell me all about it on
the way to the station; it will amuse me, you know."

This refreshing candour made me laugh right out, as we descended the
stairs. "I am glad that you have even an afterthought of my amusing
position," said I, very drily.

She had the grace to colour. "Oh, I didn't quite mean that, Cyrus; but
after all, I can't think of everything at once."

"Cannington did that, Mabel. He has been a brick, and but for his
assistance I should never have pulled through."

"What rot," muttered the boy, but he was secretly pleased.

"Then you are in danger?" cried Mabel, startled.

"I have been," I replied with emphasis, "as I discovered the body. But
my own spotless reputation and Cannington's asseverations of my
honesty, prevented my being arrested."

"I'm so glad, Cyrus. Such a horrid thing for one's friend being
arrested for a nasty pin-sticking crime."

"Horrid indeed--for the friend."

"Where did you hear of the murder, Mab?" questioned her brother.

"Oh, the papers yesterday and this morning were full of it. Aunt Lucy
drew my attention to them, as she knew that I knew you," said Mabel
incoherently. "You were at the inquest, weren't you, Cyrus, and gave
evidence? Tell me all about it, as I only read scraps."

"There's very little to tell," I answered, yawning, for really I felt
extremely tired. "I found Mrs. Caldershaw dead in the back room, and a
woman in a white cloak, presumably her murderess, ran off with my
motor car."

"I read all that. What else?"

"Nothing else, save that we found the car and not the woman. A jury of
twelve good and lawful yokels brought in a verdict of murder against
some person or persons unknown."

"But I thought you said this woman was guilty?"

"It is presumed so, since she bolted with my car and hasn't turned up.
Her name is unknown, so the verdict is quite right."

"But persons," persisted Lady Mabel inquisitively.

"A mere graceful addition to round off the sentence. I believe that
this woman stabbed Mrs. Caldershaw with a sapphire-headed hat-pin."

"Sapphire-headed; she must have been rich."

"Oh, Vance is drawing on his theatrical imagination," struck in
Cannington impatiently, "the sapphire he talks of was only blue
glass."

"Oh, that reminds me that the papers said something about a glass
eye."

"I expect they said a very great deal about it," I assented gravely.
"Catch your journalist missing a chance of hinting at mystery."

"Is it a mystery?" asked Mabel, walking before us into the station.

"More or less--possibly more. Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered by this
unknown woman, presumably for the sake of her glass eye."

"But why?"

Cannington laughed. "That's what the police are trying to learn; not
that they ever will. I believe the truth will never be discovered."

"Are there no letters, no papers? Is there no gossip likely to----"

I interrupted, impatiently, for the absence of circumstantial evidence
bothered me greatly. "Inspector Dredge looked over all the papers and
letters of the dead woman, and found nothing likely to lead to the
discovery of the guilty person's name. As to gossip, it appears that
Mrs. Caldershaw kept to herself in the corner shop, and little was
known about her. She came to Mootley five years ago with her savings,
having been the housekeeper of Gabriel Monk of Burwain, near
Gattlingsands. There she started a shop, and at times received a visit
from Miss Gertrude Monk, whom she nursed, and from Miss Destiny, who
is the young lady's aunt."

"Two women," breathed Mabel, facing me; "do you think----"

"That either one is guilty?" I interrupted again and somewhat sharply.
"No, I certainly do not. Miss Destiny was on her way to stay the night
with Mrs. Caldershaw when the crime was committed; and at the inquest
she stated that she left her niece behind at The Lodge, Burwain."

"You needn't be so cross about it," said Mabel, staring at my acrid
tone. "I only suggested possibilities. What are you laughing at,
Cannington?"

"Nothing," said the boy untruthfully, and looked hard at me. The fact
of my admiration for Miss Monk's pictured face--we had discussed her
several times before and after the inquest--was in his mind, as I well
knew. But he had grace enough to keep this to himself, and not set
Lady Mabel's too ready tongue chattering.

"I wish you wouldn't giggle, Cannington," she said, accepting the
excuse, "it's growing on you. Well," she faced me, "and what are you
going to do?"

"About what, if you please?"

"About this murder?"

"What the deuce should he do?" cried Cannington, openly surprised.
"He's well out of an awkward situation, so there's no more to be said.
I daresay he'll write a melodrama on the case and solve the mystery in
the wrong way."

"I am not so sure," said I pointedly, "that I won't try to solve it
the right way."

"What do you mean by that?" asked my friend, staring.

"I mean that the mystery of Mrs. Caldershaw's glass eye fascinates me,
and that I intend to follow up what clues there are."

"There aren't any," said Cannington promptly. "You heard what
Inspector Dredge remarked at the inquest."

"He admitted that he could find no evidence, it is true, but that
doesn't mean to say that evidence is not to be found."

"Are you about to turn an amateur detective?"

"Why not? Now why are you laughing?"

"Oh, he's crazy," said Mabel disdainfully. "Here comes my train. I'll
have a rush to reach town and dress. Aunt Lucy is always so punctual,
I'm sure to get into hot water."

"Ask Mr. Wentworth Marr to get you out of it," said I jokingly.

"He could," she replied seriously, leaning out of the carriage window.
"Aunt Lucy thinks no end of him, and would be glad to see me his
wife."

"Don't you do anything in a hurry, Mabel,"--began Cannington, when his
expostulations were cut short by the departure of the train. When the
ruddy tail light of the guard's van disappeared, he took my arm with a
friendly hug. "I didn't give you away, did I, Vance?"

"There's nothing to give away," I said gruffly.

"Oh! oh! oh!" said Cannington, in three distinct keys. "What about
love at first sight, old man? You intend to follow up this case, so as
to get into touch with the original of that photograph."

"Rubbish! You are jumping in the dark."

"Don't you jump," advised the boy shrewdly. "Your fancy has evidently
been caught by Miss Monk's face, and if you meet her, there's no
telling but that you may be a married man before Christmas."

I denied this hotly, and proceeded to show that my interest in the
case was more or less official. "Mystery piques every man," said I
insistently, "so I mean to learn why Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered, and
why she attached such value to that glass eye of hers."

Cannington laughed and declined to believe, but being a thoroughly
good fellow, ceased to chaff me when he saw that I looked annoyed.
"All the same," he remarked, as we strolled back to his quarters, "I
shall keep an eye on you, Vance. You're too inflammable, and I don't
want you to marry in haste and repent at leisure."

Of course I laughed, uneasily maybe, for Cannington was right in the
main. I certainly was anxious to solve the mystery, but I doubted if
my zeal would have been equal to so arduous a task, had not the memory
of that lovely face lured me onward, like a will-o'-the-wisp. I had
long since wished to secure the photograph, so as to have the image of
my divinity constantly before my eyes, but Dredge very reasonably
declined to permit the illegal annexation. Mrs. Caldershaw's will,
which had been found by the Inspector amongst her shop accounts, left
all she died possessed of to her nephew, Joseph Striver. He proved on
inquiry to be a Burwain gardener in the employment of Mr. Walter Monk.
"If Striver will give, or sell you the portrait," said Dredge, with
official phlegm, "I have no objection; it isn't my property."

The police-officer was much too grim and unromantic to guess why I
sought to possess the photograph, and needless to say, I did not tell
him. Also he was considerably annoyed by his failure to solve the
mystery of Mrs. Caldershaw's murder, since its solution would have
procured him both praise and promotion. So no one but Cannington
guessed my silly infatuation, which assuredly was silly, for who but
an idiot would fall in love with a pictured face on the instant. But
there was no denying it, that I was in the toils of Venus, so,
although angered by such unaccountable weakness, I was bent upon
meeting the original. Then,--ah, well, the future is on the knees of
the gods.

However, since I was minded to trace out the truth of the crime, it
was necessary to find some clue to start the trail. All that evening
after dinner, and later in the billiard-room, where I played snooker
with sundry young officers, I inwardly wondered how I could and should
begin. The hat-pin revealed nothing, as every woman uses hat-pins, and
such with blue-glass heads were probably common enough. The missing
eye might have thrown some light on the darkness, but that was safe in
the pocket of the assassin. It will be noticed that, in spite of the
open verdict of the jury, I clung to the idea that the white-cloaked
woman was guilty. Not only had she fled with my car, but she had
locked me in with her victim to prevent immediate pursuit. Also the
abandonment of the motor pointed to guilt. She had been seen by Giles,
by Miss Destiny, and by Lucinda, but from the time my machine had been
sent crashing through the five-barred gate by her reckless, or
intendedly reckless, driving, she had vanished as completely as though
the earth had opened to swallow her up. Yet she might have guessed
that the aggressively striking white cloak would betray her. In my
opinion, a woman who had so cleverly engineered her escape would
scarcely be foolish enough to risk detection by her dress, so I
conjectured that she must have got rid of the cloak as she had got rid
of the Rippler. With this idea in my head, I settled, without telling
Cannington, to explore the field wherein the machine had been
abandoned.

When at rest for the night, I remembered that Mrs. Giles, who had not
been called as a witness, had stated how Mrs. Caldershaw entertained
the idea that she would not die in her bed. I had questioned the
greengrocer's wife on this point, but she could tell me nothing more.
Mrs. Caldershaw gave no hint of any enemy, or even of the possibility
of a tragic death. All she had done was to make the above statement to
Mrs. Giles in a burst of confidence, and to shiver when the Litany
mentioned "murder and sudden death." Mrs. Giles was particular about
this point. "I was sitting next to her in the same pew," said Mrs.
Giles insistently, "and she shivered and shook and looked over her
shoulder, apprehensive like. It happened three times, and that was
what made me observe it. I'm sure she was frightened of something or
of someone."

This might have been the case, but Mrs. Caldershaw never explained,
and carried the reason of her fright in silence to her untimely grave.
Connecting Mrs. Giles' story with the remark of Miss Destiny as to the
value set on the glass eye by the woman, and with the sinister fact
that the glass eye was missing, I felt certain that the way to begin
the search was to take the eye itself as a clue. Local gossip in
Mootley revealed few useful facts, as Mrs. Faith appeared to be the
sole person who had been told about the eye by its owner, and none of
the villagers seemed to know that one eye had been different to the
other. But in Burwain, where Mrs. Caldershaw had lived for years as
Gabriel Monk's housekeeper, and as nurse to his niece, the truth might
be found by careful inquiry. If I could learn where the unfortunate
woman got her glass eye, and what accident had brought about the
necessity for a glass eye, the chances were that I might learn
something which would enable me to trace the truth. Therefore I
determined to go to Burwain and hunt out all information about Mrs.
Caldershaw's past. Meanwhile there remained the field near Murchester
to be explored.

Next morning Cannington was engaged on some court-martial so I was
left to my own devices, although he wanted to hand me over for
entertainment to a less busy brother officer. I excused myself on the
plea that I wished to walk off a headache, and so contrived to leave
the Barracks unhindered. It was nine o'clock when I set out, and the
morning was wonderfully clear for misty August. The field, as I stated
before, was only half a mile from Murchester, so I speedily arrived
therein. I left the middle of it, where the Rippler had been stranded,
severely alone, and skirted round the sides to examine the hedges.
These were ragged and untrimmed, with deep ditches on their inner
sides, and consisted of holly, bramble, hawthorn, and various
saplings. I scratched myself more or less severely for quite one hour,
but without discovering any sign of the white cloak. Perhaps, I
thought, much discouraged, the woman had risked wearing it after all.
Yet I could not believe that she had been such a fool, seeing how
cleverly she had manipulated her escape.

Then I noticed that there were two gates to the field, one with the
broken bars, through which she had entered from the high-road in the
car, and the other on the far side, to the right-hand looking from the
road. It then occurred to me that the flying lady, scared by meeting
Miss Destiny's trap, and perhaps afraid lest she had injured it and
would be stopped for damages, might have left the field by this last
gate. I immediately walked towards it and found that it opened on to a
narrow lane, which in winter must have become a stream of mud. The
hedges were very ragged and tangled here, and the gate was nearly
hidden, a common five-barred, unpainted gate, in a worse condition
than that opening on to the road.

I knew that I had struck on the flying woman's trail, almost as soon
as I arrived at this hidden gate. On one of the brambles a filmy scrap
of gauze fluttered in the wind. Apparently while getting over the gate
in her hurried flight, the woman's veil had caught in the thorns and
she had twitched it irritably away, leaving the scrap unthinkingly
behind as evidence. I secured the same and placed it in my pocket-book,
then made a thorough examination of the gate on both sides. No further
evidence was forthcoming until I searched the ditch, which in this
instance was on the farther side of the hedge. There, hidden amongst
the dank weeds, thrust into a convenient rabbit-hole in the crumbling
clay bank, was the cloak itself. I drew it out with a sensation of
triumph, and from it was wafted the torn veil. I had the outfit
complete, save for the motoring cap.

Evidently the rending of the veil had drawn the woman's attention to
the eccentricity of a white cloak worn on a chilly autumnal evening.
Acting promptly, as was her custom--I guessed that from the theft of
my car--she had concealed cloak and veil, and then had vanished down
the muddy lane, heaven only knows whither. But I had now the evidence.

It was a white cloak, of good and even expensive material. Round the
neck, down the front, and along the hem, two letters were embroidered
repeatedly in blue silk so as to form a pattern. They were G. M. I
dropped the cloak and gasped with dismay. G. M., in twisted fanciful
letters, formed the running adornment of the cloak worn by the woman
who had stolen my car and who had, to all appearances, murdered Mrs.
Anne Caldershaw. And the name of the child she had nursed, of the
woman with whose portrait I had fallen so unexpectedly in love, was
Gertrude Monk.

"It's a lie," I said aloud to nobody in particular. "I don't believe
it."

All the same, the accusing initials were there, G. M.--Gertrude Monk.



CHAPTER VI.
MY RIVAL


Had I not been in love--and with a face, instead of the flesh and
blood woman--I suppose I would have gone off at once to Dredge to
announce my discovery and show what I had found. But, in spite of
evidence to the very strong contrary, I could not believe that
Gertrude Monk was guilty of her old nurse's murder. She might have
locked me in, she might have run off with my car and practically
wrecked it, and she might have hidden in the hedge these incriminating
garments: but she assuredly had not--in my now terribly biassed
opinion--thrust the hat-pin into Mrs. Caldershaw's heart. Unless she
confessed her guilt to my face, I resolutely declined to believe that
she had perpetrated a sordid crime.

However, it was useless to stand in that chilly field weighing pros
and cons, when I knew nothing of the woman, save that she was
exquisitely lovely, and had captured my fancy against my will, as it
were. I had a natural revulsion of doubt; then believed in her more
than ever, even to the extent of vowing, that if by chance she were
guilty, she should never go to the scaffold through me. But if I
wished to prevent that, there was no time to be lost in getting rid of
that infernal cloak and veil, for Inspector Dredge with unexpected
insight might come nosing about the field. Not that I credited him
with such perspicuity, but--as I swiftly determined--it was just as
well to be on the safe side. I therefore rolled up veil and cloak
into as small a compass as possible, and thrusting them under my
overcoat--I wore one as the morning was breezy--I regained the road
and hastened my return to Murchester Barracks. I felt that I was
compounding a crime one minute, and exulted the next that I was saving
the life of an innocent woman. And yet, on the face of it, she was
surely guilty.

Luckily, when I arrived at Cannington's quarters he was still absent
on duty, so I unpacked a portmanteau, which had been sent down from
London, and stowed away the incriminating evidence at the bottom of
some books, manuscripts, shirts, and pyjamas. Then I strapped and
locked the portmanteau, so that Cannington's soldier servant should
not officiously wish to pack my belongings. He could use the other
portmanteau, I thought. Just as I completed my task, Cannington
entered unbuckling his sword.

"Ouf! I am tired," said he pitching himself into a chair. "What a bore
it is sitting on court-martials."

"What was the punishment?" I asked, lighting my pipe, and asked more
for the sake of regaining my self-control, shaken by my discovery,
than because I took any interest in Private Tommy Atkins.

"Five days C. B. It was only a drunken fight. Throw me over the
cigarettes, Vance. Thanks, awfully." He fielded the case deftly. "Wait
till I change, and we'll go to luncheon. I'm shockingly hungry. Where
have you been? Fighting with the Barracks cat I should say, from the
scratches."

But I did not intend to say too much even to Cannington. "I went for a
cross-country walk," I answered carelessly, "and met some brambles on
the way. What are you doing after luncheon?"

"Well, I was just coming to that," said the boy, who was now busy
changing his kit, smoking the while. "I have to run up to town for
three or four hours, as my lawyer wants to see me. I'm trying to raise
some cash for a Christmas spree." He grinned. "Hope you won't mind my
leaving you. But there's Trent, of course, who can look after you."

"Oh, hang it, I'm not a child to require a nurse," I snapped, for my
nerves were worn thin with the situation. "You leave me alone,
Cannington, and I'll attend to myself."

"All right old son, don't get your hair off. I believe this murder
case has got on your nerves."

"It has," I confessed, very truthfully. "Sorry I spoke like a
fractious brat. To make amends I'll let you take the Rippler to town."

"Oh, that will be frabjious," said Cannington, who had lately been
reading, "Alice through the Looking-glass." "Won't you come too?"

"Thanks, no. I'm walking out to Mootley this afternoon."

"Huh! I should think you had enough of walking. What's on?"

"Mrs. Caldershaw's funeral."

"They aren't losing much time in planting her," said Cannington, with
a shrug. "It's only five days since the death. But I say, old son,
don't you think you might give this business a rest? It's getting on
your nerves, you know, and isn't good goods at the best."

"Oh, that's all right, I only want to see the last of the poor woman."

"And then?" Cannington's tone was highly suspicious.

"I'll go over to Burwain."

"After that girl?"

I scratched my chin and eyed him severely. "See here, I'm not quite
the infant you take me to be. Miss Monk's face attracted me, I admit,
but that doesn't mean I am in love with her."

"You talked enough about her anyhow."

"All the more reason that _you_ shouldn't talk," I retorted. "I can
say all I want to say for myself. Do stop rotting."

Cannington nodded with an air of resignation. "I shan't say another
word, Vance. Didn't think you were in earnest."

"I am in earnest about searching out this mystery, if that is what you
mean, and I go over to Burwain to-morrow to make a start."

"With Miss Monk?"

"Yes," I replied, feeling qualmish. "She was Mrs. Caldershaw's
nursling, and may be able to throw some light on that glass eye. I
feel convinced that therein lies the solution of the mystery."

"The worst of you literary men," said Cannington, addressing the
ceiling, "is that you talk too much like a book. Touched wood! touched
wood!" He fled for the door, as I swung up a chair cushion. "Don't
disarrange my hair, but come along to luncheon."

I obeyed. "But don't tell anyone that I am going to Mootley," said I
hastily.

"Right oh. I'll take the Rippler and light out for town at two
o'clock. I shall meet you at dinner, and then you can tell me all
about the funeral."

So it was arranged, and we made a very good meal. At least the boy
did, being unworried with secret disagreeables; but I did not eat much
myself. The knowledge of what was hidden in my second portmanteau lay
heavily on my mind, and I fear I betrayed my discomfort, for
Cannington remarked it. It occurred to me that a murderer would have
to possess amazing nerve to conduct himself as an ordinary human
being, seeing that I, with no crime on my mind, was so easily
discomfited. . . . Of course, under the circumstances, I should have
thought of a guilty "she" rather than of a guilty "he"; but I really
could not bring myself to believe that Diana of the Ephesians had
murdered her old nurse.

Cannington did not waste the Rippler on himself. He invited a cheery
subaltern to join him, and the two boys went off in the highest
spirits, with his lordship spanchelled between the seat and the wheel.
I resisted a kindly-meant invitation of Trent to play stickey, and
turned my face in the direction of Mootley, thankful to be by myself.
During the few miles to that village I had ample to think about, and
could not help wondering at the strange whirl of circumstances which
had gathered round me during the last week. I had come out to seek an
adventure and had found one with a vengeance. How it would end I could
not tell.

The sun came out during the afternoon, so I found the walk--but for
disturbing thoughts--extremely pleasant. On passing the field, I
congratulated myself that I had emptied it of its incriminating
contents. Whatever inquiries Dredge made, on the face of it he could
learn nothing, as I alone possessed a tangible clue. And as that clue,
so far, led to Miss Gertrude Monk, and a thorough explanation would
have to be forthcoming before it could go past her, it was just as
well for her own peace of mind, and mine also, that she should give it
to a friendly-disposed inquirer. Thinking of this, and wondering how
she would explain her flight from the corner shop in my motor car, I
drew near the outskirts of Mootley. The famous shop, which had
appeared in several illustrated daily papers, was closed, so I did not
pause but went on. Directly round the corner I met Mr. Sam Giles, the
ex-greengrocer, who greeted me in a most friendly manner.

"You're just too late, sir!" said he, touching his hat, and quite
ready to give all information, "she's planted."

"Mrs. Caldershaw?"

"Yes, sir. It was quite a pretty funeral, with plenty of mourners and
wreaths for the coffin. We made a holiday of it this morning, and I
don't think, sir, that there's much doing this afternoon, as the
excitement was too great." I could not help smiling, in spite of the
gravity of my errand, at the idea of the villagers extracting pleasure
from such a dismal affair as the funeral of a murdered woman. But
Giles apparently had the morbid love of his class for such things, and
went on supplying information in high spirits.

"A heap of gentlemen of the press came from London," he said
importantly, "and they photographed the grave. What with motor cars
and bicycles and traps and carts, the place was like a fair. It will
advertise Mootley a lot, and I shouldn't wonder if land went up in
value hereabouts."

I nodded. "Mrs. Caldershaw has been quite a benefactress to the
village, Mr. Giles. By the way, did Miss Monk and Miss Destiny appear
at the funeral?"

"No, sir, and none of Mrs. Caldershaw's Burwain friends came to see
the last of her, poor soul, which was unkind, I take it. Only Mr.
Striver put in an appearance. But to be sure he could not do less,"
added Giles thoughtfully, "since she left him all her property."

"Striver! Striver! That's the nephew?"

"Yes, Mr. Vance, and a handsome young man he is. A gardener, I
believe, who works for Mr. Walter Monk at Burwain. Not that he'll do
much work now, for I daresay his aunt has left him enough to live like
a gentleman. Her lawyer--he's a Murchester man in a small way of
business--told me that there was over five hundred pounds in the bank;
besides there's the lease of the shop for two years and its contents."

"Lucky Mr. Striver, and it's all left to him," I bantered.

"Yes, sir, along with the glass eye."

I had set my face towards the village, but wheeled at the last word.
"Why the dickens did she leave him the glass eye?"

"Goodness only knows, Mr. Vance, but leave it she did. Mr. Striver's
quite annoyed he hasn't got it and intends to offer a reward for it."

"He'll have to find the guilty person first," I said grimly.

"The white-cloaked lady, sir?"

I winced. "She may not be the guilty person, after all. There! there!"
I went on hastily, as Giles showed a disposition to argue. "I know
nothing more about the matter than you do"--this was an absolutely
necessary white lie considering the circumstances--"but tell me, Mr.
Giles, does this young man know why his aunt valued her glass eye so
greatly?"

"No, sir. He told me that he couldn't guess why it was left to him. He
is all on fire to find out, and that is why he intends to offer the
reward. At present he's in the shop looking over things."

"Does he intend to give up his gardening and turn shopkeeper?" I
asked.

"I don't know, sir; nothing has been settled. But he returns to
Burwain--so he told me--this evening. I'm going to Murchester myself,
sir, on an errand for the wife, so if you will excuse me----"

"One moment, Giles. Has anything fresh been discovered?"

"No, sir; and you mark my words, sir, nothing more ever will be
discovered. The woman in the white cloak has vanished entirely, glass
eye and all. You are taking an interest in the case, Mr. Vance."

"Can you wonder at it, seeing how I am mixed up in the business. I
want to solve the mystery if I can, out of sheer curiosity. Here's my
address, Mr. Giles," I hastily scribbled it on a card, "and if you
hear of anything new, let me know at once."

Giles took the pasteboard, and promised faithfully to keep his ears
and eyes open and his mind on the alert. Then he moved away down the
road to Murchester, with a parting advice that I should inspect the
grave. "It's a pretty grave," said Giles cheerfully, "with a lovely
view!"

But I did not go to look at the grave, or at the view, which the
corpse--I presume--was supposed by Giles to appreciate, for it struck
me that Striver being in the corner shop it would be an excellent
opportunity for me to gain possession of the photograph. I therefore
turned back, and in a few minutes was knocking smartly at the closed
door. Shortly it was thrown open, and on the threshold appeared one of
the handsomest young men I had ever seen. There were signs of good
breeding about him also, and in his navy-blue serge, with a tweed cap
and brown boots--rather an odd dress for a funeral, I thought--he
looked less like a gardener and more like a smart city clerk. And yet
in his bearing there was a smack of the West-End.

Mr. Joseph Striver was moderately tall and perfectly made--slim in
figure, with the alert poise of an athlete. His hands and feet
certainly betrayed the plebeian, but no one could deny the beauty of
his clean-shaven face. I say "beauty" advisedly, although it is an odd
adjective to apply to a man. It was a Greek face and a Greek head,
clean-cut and virile, of the fair, golden Saxon type, yet more
intellectual than the same generally is. A fashionable lady might have
envied his transparent complexion, his blue eyes, and the curve of his
lips. His form also was irreproachable, and his small head, set
proudly on the white column of his throat, possessed a snake-like
grace. On the whole, Mrs. Caldershaw's heir was a singularly handsome
young fellow, and with her small fortune added to his personal
advantages would be certain to succeed in life. It seemed quite a pity
that so splendid a youth should be a mere gardener. Yet the employment
is eminently respectable, since Father Adam originally took up the
profession.

He looked inquiringly at me, so I opened the conversation. "My name is
Vance, Mr. Striver, and----"

"Oh," he interrupted, in a very pleasant and somewhat cultured voice.
"You are the gentleman who gave evidence at the inquest. Come in
please." He stepped aside to let me past. "I am very glad to see you,
as I wish to ask you some questions."

I proceeded him into the shop, while he closed the door. "I said all I
had to say at the inquest," I answered quickly.

"I read all about it in the papers, Mr. Vance."

"You did not come to the inquest then?"

"No, you might have guessed that, seeing you were present. I only
came over to the funeral, when I heard that my aunt had left me her
money--not in very appropriate clothes, I fear, though; but I had no
time to get an outfit, you see. Now I am looking into things."

We were in the back room by this time, and a heap of letters and
papers lay untidily on the floor. Miss Monk's photograph still smiled
from the mantelpiece, and I stole a glance at it, which left me more
enthralled than ever. "You won't mind my going on with my sorting,"
said Striver, placing a chair for me, and dropping on his knees; "but
I want to get things straight before dark, as I have to return to
Burwain for a few days."

He was so amazingly cheerful, that I could not help saying so. He
looked up smiling. "You can't expect a poor man who has come in for
money to be miserable," said Striver, with much truth. "Besides my
aunt never did care for me, and I was quite surprised to learn that I
was her heir. Had we been at all attached to one another I should have
come to the inquest, and even before, seeing she met with so dreadful
a death. But there wasn't much love lost between us, Mr. Vance, so
only as her heir did I come to the funeral. I can't pretend to feel
very sorry."

"That sounds rather heartless, seeing how you have benefited by her
death."

Striver shrugged. "I daresay; but I never was a hypocrite. Put
yourself in my place. If a disagreeable old woman left you the money
she could no longer use, would you break your heart?"

I laughed. "No, I can't say that I would."

"Very well, then," he reiterated coolly, "put yourself in my place.
I'm sorry, of course, as I would be for any human being who was
murdered. Otherwise," he shrugged again, "well, there's no more to be
said."

There came a pause. "I believe you hinted that you wished to ask me
some questions?"

Striver straightened himself. "Well, yes. Have you any idea who
murdered my unfortunate aunt?"

"Not in the least."

"What about the lady in the white cloak?"

"Appearances are against her. All the same, she may be innocent."

The young man's blue eyes flashed like sapphires. "I doubt that; else
why should she run off with your motor car and lock you in?"

"Well," I drawled, not very sure of my ground, "she may have found
your aunt dead, and in a fright----"

"Oh, that won't wash," he interrupted in a somewhat common way. "You
swore at the inquest, that you were attracted into this room by a
groan from my aunt, in which case she could not have been dead when
this lady went up the stairs."

"That is true," I admitted, "but I don't hold a brief for the escaped
lady, remember."

"You speak as though you did," he retorted and went on with his
sorting. "Has anything been heard of her?"

"Nothing. I found my motor car in the field; but the lady has
vanished."

"Don't you think," Striver raised himself up to ask this question,
"that she could be traced by means of that white cloak?"

I shrugged in my turn and fenced, as I was not going to admit the
truth. "I daresay the cloak was noticeable enough. All the same, she
has _not_ been traced. Now, she never will be. I should not be
surprised if the police gave up the case."

The young man rose quickly. "No," he said promptly, "I intend to offer
a reward."

"Ah! You wish to have this lady hanged."

"If she is guilty, why not?" he asked bluntly, "But if you will have
the truth, Mr. Vance, I don't care either one way or the other about a
possible hanging. I want to find the glass eye."

"And you think the lady has it?"

"I--I--I suppose so," he muttered in a hesitating manner, then burst
out: "Yes, indeed, I _do_ want to find the glass eye. There's a
fortune connected with it, Mr. Vance--a large fortune."

"Oh!" I could not help betraying surprise. "So this was why Mrs.
Caldershaw attached such value to it?"

"Exactly. In some way--I don't exactly know how--that eye reveals the
whereabouts of the fortune I speak of."

"Humph. Do you mean to say that Mrs. Caldershaw concealed her money
and concealed its whereabouts in her glass eye?"

"Yes, I do, in a way. That is, this fortune does not consist of my
aunt's savings. I have those and the shop also. But when she lived at
Burwain, she talked of a large fortune--some fifty thousand pounds,
she mentioned on one occasion--which was concealed somewhere."

"Whose fortune was it?"

"I can't say. But my father, her brother--he's dead now--was always
bothering her about the money. She never would tell him anything, but
said that when she died he could learn all he wanted to know from the
glass eye. As my father has passed over, of course the glass eye along
with the money comes to me,--the fortune also. Fifty thousand pounds!"
He raised his arms with an ecstatic expression. "What couldn't I do
with such a heap of coin, Mr. Vance. Why I could marry----" He halted,
cast an uneasy look on me, and again began to sort the letters.

"Oh, you're in love," I said smiling.

"A man of my age is always in love," he remarked curtly. "But never
mind about that, I want to find some clue to the glass eye," and he
tossed over the papers feverishly.

"To its whereabouts?"

"No, I know that much. The person who murdered my aunt has the eye,
and killed her for the sake of learning the secret. But my aunt may
have left some letter, or paper, or description, saying _how_ the eye
can reveal the whereabouts of the fifty thousand pounds. Can you
imagine," he sat back on his hams, "how the eye can be the clue?"

"No," I said, after a pause, "unless there is a piece of paper hidden
in it."

"Oh, that's impossible. Do you know what a glass eye is like?"

"Well, no, I have never seen one, unless fixed in a person's head."

Striver laughed. "I had the same idea about a piece of paper," he
explained carefully, "and went to an optician in Tarhaven to examine
an eye. I suppose you think--as I did--that an artificial eye is the
shape and size and the fatness of an almond."

"Something like that," I admitted, "with the paper enclosed within."

Striver laughed again. "It's shaped exactly like a small sea-shell:
simply a curve of thin glass, convex and concave, and fits into the
socket like a--a--what shall I say?--like a cupping-glass."

"Humph! In that case, it would be impossible to conceal a piece of
paper behind it without damage."

"Of course, taking also into consideration the smallness of the eye.
The only thing I can think of," he added, half to himself, "is that
there is a plan or some writing on the back part, which reveals the
whereabouts of this money."

"But there's no space to write in," I objected, considerably
interested.

"Why not. Writing done with a magnifying-glass, you know. I have seen
the Lord's Prayer written on a sixpence."

I nodded. "There may be something in what you say," I admitted, "and,
as it appears that Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered for the sake of the
eye, it must have some value. Perhaps," I added with a brilliant
afterthought, "she hid a diamond behind it."

"It would have to be a very large diamond to bring in fifty thousand
pounds," said Striver, seriously. "No, I believe that the eye is
simply a clue to this treasure."

"Treasure?"

"Well, money, jewels, gold, bank-notes, what not. All I know is that
my aunt certainly mentioned fifty thousand pounds to my father."

"Why didn't she secure the treasure herself?"

"Perhaps she did and has buried it somewhere. Well, never mind," he
turned over the papers again, "come what may, I must find the eye."

"You won't find it there," I said, rising to take my leave, and with
one eye on Miss Monk's photograph. "Better get the police to trace the
white-cloaked lady, since you believe she has taken it."

"I don't see who else could have committed the murder and have stolen
the glass eye," said Striver decisively. "In one way or another, she
must be found, somehow."

"And then----?"

"Then she must deliver up the glass eye."

"And be hanged."

"I don't want to go so far as that," he muttered nervously. "Of
course, she is a woman."

"And being so, is clever enough not to be caught. I daresay she will
learn the secret of Mrs. Caldershaw, procure the fortune, and bolt to
America." I moved towards the door, and Striver straightened himself
to show me out. Then with an apparent afterthought I drew his
attention to the smiling face of Miss Monk. "I admire that," said I,
pointing.

The effect was somewhat unexpected. "Why?" he asked roughly, and
flushed scarlet through his fair skin, looking more handsome than
ever.

"Why?" I stared at him in surprise. "Why not? you should ask. It is a
very lovely face, and I admire it as a work of art."

"Oh, as a work of art. That's all right," he retorted quickly, "but it
happens to be the photograph of a real person."

"Miss Gertrude Monk."

"How do you know that?" demanded the young man, again flushing
angrily.

"Miss Destiny told me that the photograph was one of her niece. I
suppose, Mr. Striver, you would not mind my buying it."

"I'll see you hanged first," he retorted vehemently, and clenched his
fists. "What is Miss Monk to you?"

"I have never met her, Mr. Striver, so calm yourself. But you display
such heat at my apparently simple question, that I must ask, what is
she to you?"

Striver stared at me and his eyes were as hard as a piece of jade. "I
love her," he said defiantly.

I was taken aback by this statement, and flushed in my turn, making
the not very polite reply, "Nonsense!"

"And why nonsense," shouted Striver, who had by this time completely
lost his temper, "how dare you say that? Even though I am a gardener I
have the feelings of a human being."

"But your difference in rank," I exclaimed hotly.

"Love levels all ranks."

"Indeed. Then I take it that Miss Monk favors your suit?"

"Mind your own business, Mr. Vance."

"I intend to make it my business," I snapped, now as angry as he was,
for it did seem ridiculous that this Claud Melnotte, handsome as he
was, should aspire to the apple on the topmost bough.

"You're talking damned rot and damned insolence. If you have never
seen Miss Monk, you can't possibly be in love with her," he raged
furiously.

"I said nothing about love. But that photograph took my fancy, and I
wish to buy it if possible."

Striver snatched the photograph, silver frame and all, off the
mantelpiece to cram it roughly into his pocket. "There," he cried
vehemently, "that's all you'll ever see of it."

"Then I must seek out the original," said I, walking into the shop.

He was after me in a moment. "If you dare to come interfering," he
growled in a voice thick with passion, "I'll break your neck."

"That is easier said than done," I jeered, now being content that the
young man was my rival and a dangerous one at that. "Let me pass."

Striver paused irresolutely, then did as he was asked. I left the shop
leisurely, and glanced back when some distance down the road. Mr.
Joseph Striver drew the photograph out of his pocket and insolently
kissed it, apparently to intimate that I was odd man out.



CHAPTER VII.
A FRIEND IN NEED


I returned to Murchester, rather annoyed to find that I had a rival,
even though he was but a gardener. There was no denying that the
fellow was uncommonly handsome, and thus might captivate the
affections of a woman above him in stations. As I have said before, I
can lay no claim to good looks, so if Miss Monk was a young lady whose
heart was in her eye, as the saying goes, I stood rather a poor
chance. Certainly Striver, while professing that he loved her, had not
ventured to say that there was any response to his daring. Still, for
all I knew, the romance might be a reversal of King Cophetua and the
beggar-maid, in which not unlikely case, a journey to Burwain would
certainly destroy my peace of mind. If I loved the picture of the
goddess, how much more would I love the goddess herself, when she
became flesh and blood to my hungry eyes. When searching for an
adventure, I had not counted upon this entanglement.

However, on reflection, I did not see why I should not stand as good a
chance as the gardener. He assuredly was better-looking and younger,
possessing a certain amount of money, if not a man of any exalted
rank. I was a gentleman, in the prime of life, and well on the way to
make a comfortable income, if not exactly a fortune. Also I possessed
a recognised position as a rising dramatist, and I had a large circle
of pleasant, well-to-do friends to whom I could introduce my wife. So
I made up my mind to stick to my guns, or in other words, to see Miss
Monk, and learn how the land lay. Of course if she loved young
Striver, there was nothing more to be said; but if she did not, and
the love was all on his part, I could then try my luck. And at this
point I recalled the memory of that infernal glass eye.

If good looks did not tempt the lady, fifty thousand pounds might do
so, and should Striver become possessed of the glass eye he stood a
remarkably good chance of securing that fortune. So far we were equal,
for I knew as much about the case as he did. Nay, I knew more, since I
had found the famous cloak with the initial embroidery. I wondered
whether it would be better to tell Miss Monk nothing about my
discovery, or dare the utmost, and show her that she was in my power.
She certainly was, as the mere production of the cloak would result in
her arrest. With regard to possession of the goddess, I was therefore
in a stronger position that Mr. Striver, and yet I did not see how I
could make use of the weapon I had in my hand. A man could not very
well force a lady to marry him because he could hang her if she did
not. Moreover she might be able to exonerate herself completely,
although I did not see how, and then would scornfully refuse to have
anything more to do with--let me put it plainly--such a blackmailing
ruffian.

No! Come what might, I decided to play the game fair. Not only that,
but I decided to use my information, as best I could, to protect Miss
Monk from the gardener. In making inquiries, he might possibly chance
upon a clue which would reveal the fact that Miss Monk was the heroine
of the missing motor car. In that case, it might be that he would use
his knowledge to insist upon the unequal marriage. I could then
intervene,--I did not see very plainly at the moment to what
purpose,--but at any rate I could offer myself as the lady's champion.
But then--here was the crux of the matter--for all I knew Miss Monk
might be as much in love with Striver as he apparently was with her.
Only a visit to Burwain and a personal interview with my goddess would
prove the truth of that.

Then another thing occurred to me while I slowly dressed for dinner.
If Miss Monk had stolen the motor car and had locked me in the back
room along with the dead Mrs. Caldershaw, she must necessarily be the
possessor of the glass eye. On the face of it, she appeared to be
guilty, but I could not bring myself to condemn her. Yet she could
scarcely have the glass eye unless she had murdered her old nurse with
that damned hat-pin, which was so grave a proof that the assassin was
a woman. But the eye was the clue to some concealed treasure--this
appeared to be plain enough from what Striver had said of his late
aunt's babble--so if Miss Monk became unexpectedly wealthy, it would
prove that she was a thief, if not a murderess. It seemed to be that
there was nothing to be done but to take up my abode in Burwain, meet
the lady if possible, and then play a waiting game. Whether Mr.
Striver or his master's daughter got the fifty thousand pounds, her
guilt would be manifest, since he could only get the glass eye from
her, to learn the clue to the treasure. And if she had the glass eye,
she must have----

"No no! no!" I said aloud at this point, and startled Cannington's
servant, who was valeting me. "It's nothing, Johnston," I said, and
went on mentally with my defence of Miss Monk, although I could not
deduce a single particle of evidence in her favor. "She can't be
guilty," my thoughts ran furiously, "she is much too lovely to be
guilty. There must be some mistake. She undoubtedly will be able to
explain. And yet--and yet--oh, hang it, I'll not decide the question
either one way or the other until I see her."

This being settled so far--although I unsettled my mind again and
again through the long night--I went to mess and made a pretence of
eating. Cannington and his friend had not yet returned, which made me
believe that the two featherheads had smashed my car. If so it was a
great nuisance, as I wanted the Rippler to drive over to Burwain on
the morrow. However, the two arrived about midnight with a long
account of a police trap which had detained them, and I went off to
bed, leaving them to their supper. Cannington came to my bedside to
relate his London adventures, but I used such bad language that he
retreated promptly. Next morning I departed immediately after
breakfast, more puzzled than ever over the problem I was setting out
to solve. Had Miss Monk the glass eye? If so, was she guilty? If she
had not the glass eye, who had? Did she love Joseph Striver? Would he
find the glass eye, and consequently the fortune? If he did, would he
marry Miss Monk, etc. etc. etc.: my brain was an absolute chaos.

"Well, good-bye, old chap," said Cannington, taking leave, and looking
very spic and span in his uniform. "Tell me all about it in London."

"Tell you what?"

"I may not mention her name," he said, and winked solemnly.

"Don't be an ass," I retorted, leaning down to whisper, "things are
much more serious than you guess."

"What? Have you learned anything about--"

"Shut up! When I return from Burwain to town I may need your
assistance."

"Right oh," said Cannington, looking grave, for he saw I was in deadly
earnest.

"And don't tell anyone where I am going."

"No. You're supposed to be on your way to London. But, I say----"

"Oh, I can't stop to chatter. Hold your tongue and wait until I see
you again, boy. Understand?"

"Yes, that is----"

He would have detained me for I had, very cruelly perhaps, raised his
curiosity immensely. But I gave the steering-wheel a twist, and the
machinery being in motion, glided away before he could ask further
questions. I glanced back to see him shake his fist at me, and then
spun rapidly through the gritty square of the Barracks, down the road,
into the street, and finally emerged through a steep lane into the
country proper. A long smooth Roman road without twists or turns lay
before me, and as there was no policeman in sight I let the Rippler go
up to her full speed of forty miles an hour. The motion somewhat
relieved my mind, which was considerably worried. I wondered if I was
held up for exceeding the speed limit, and if my second portmanteau
was examined, what the police would say. I knew very well what they
would do, that is, lodge me in the nearest jail as an accomplice of
the lady in the white cloak. Fortunately the luck held, and I got
through safely.

I can't say that my drive was over-pleasant, as the rain came on, just
after I left Murchester and it poured steadily throughout the day.
Then as the wheels would not bite in particularly soaked and slippery
places, the car skidded considerably; also the gear jammed on two
occasions, and once I ran short of petrol. Never was there such a
series of accidents, and my temper was none of the best when I struck
Tarhaven. Here I halted for luncheon, and went to the post-office to
see if any letters awaited me. I found only one from my agent, but as
that contained two weeks' fees for my new melodrama it proved to be
most acceptable. A visit to the haberdasher's took up some of my time,
and it was late in the afternoon when I turned the Rippler in the
direction of Burwain. However, the distance from Tarhaven was but a
short one, and I soon slowed down before the one hotel of the village.
I call it an hotel, but it was really a tumbledown inn, quaint,
old-fashioned, and comfortable, with a robin red-breast for its sign.

Burwain is an isolated little place, lying low in a hollow depression
of the land, some distance from the sea. On its outskirts the road ran
through levels of stunted shrubs not big enough to be called trees,
and there were also tall hedges, which muffled the village as though
it were wrapped in cotton-wool. By reason of this the place is stuffy,
and the air seems to be twice breathed. The streets stretch to the
four quarters in the form of a crooked cross, and there was a
tolerably wide green in the centre, which is faced by the Robin
Redbreast Inn. I pulled up, and jumped out to meet the landlady in the
passage and receive a great surprise.

"Cuckoo!" I said, halting in much astonishment. "Well, I'm blest."

"Mrs. Gilfin now, Master Cyrus," said the old lady, as amazed as I
was. "Well, well to think that you of all gentlemen should come here."

"It's fate," said I, for I knew that from Mrs. Gilfin, if anyone, I
could obtain all necessary news, unless she had changed her gossiping
habits, which I did not think at all likely.

Still exclaiming at our unexpected meeting, Mrs. Gilfin led the way to
a small sitting-room, and we faced one another to talk over the past.
Mrs. Gilfin had been my mother's cook when I was a schoolboy, and then
we had been the greatest of friends. As a child I had always called
her Cuckoo, from some dim association with her employment, and many a
time had I been indebted to her for tit-bits. When the home was broken
up she had vanished into the unknown, but now reappeared in the
character of a married woman and the landlady, of this old-world inn.
She was a fat little woman, with a pudding-face, who wore spectacles,
behind which sharp little pig's eyes twinkled knowingly. In old days
she had always been a great talker, and did not seemed to have changed
in this respect: a cause of rejoicing to me, since I hoped to learn
all I could about Miss Monk and her dead nurse.

"What brought you to Burwain, Master Cyrus?" asked Mrs. Gilfin, when
we had complimented each other on the gentle way in which time had
dealt with our looks.

I had already arranged what to say, as, if I wanted Mrs. Gilfin's
assistance, it was necessary to take her, in some degree, into my
confidence. Moreover, I knew of old that she was a very worthy and
silent--when it suited her--woman. "Love brings me here, Cuckoo," I
replied, "and love will keep me here for at least a week, if not
longer. So give me a sitting-room and a bedroom and recall the special
dishes I like. Don't ask questions just yet. I shall tell you all when
I have had dinner, but just now I am much too hungry to talk. Have you
been long here?" I asked, contradicting my last assertion.

"Ten years, Master Cyrus. First as cook, and afterwards as mistress.
My husband had this inn from his father, but was letting it go to
wreck and ruin when I arrived, owing to his being fat. So he married
me, so that I could look after it. I would only stay when I saw the
wedding-ring."

"Owing to his being fat?" I questioned, rather puzzled.

"Come Master Cyrus and see?" said Mrs. Gilfin, and led me into a
low-ceiling bar of the Dickens epoch, all white-wash and smoky oaken
beams. Here I beheld a pre-historic ingle-nook in which was placed a
capacious armchair, and in it was seated the fattest man I had ever
set eyes on. He smoked a churchwarden pipe and drank beer from a huge
tankard placed on a small table beside him. "This is my husband," said
Mrs. Gilfin and introduced me.

Mr. Gilfin, who smoked with his eyes closed, opened them sleepily!
"Glad to see you sir. I hope you'll be comfortable. The missus will
look after you. It's fine weather for this time of the year, although
I ain't been out to see!" and having made these original remarks, he
closed his eyes again and pulled at his pipe, a large mass of adipose,
contented and purely animal.

"He doesn't talk much," explained Mrs. Gilfin, beaming through her
spectacles on her Daniel Lambert, "but folk come for miles to see his
size. He don't go out of doors either, Master Cyrus, but sits there
smoking and eating and drinking so as to keep himself in good
condition to be a draw."

"To be a draw?" I echoed, while Mr. Gilfin blinked drowsily.

"Customers come to look at him, and wish they were like him, Master
Cyrus. I look after things, but John is the attraction. The Burly
Beast of Burwain they call him, and though it ain't polite, it makes
people curious to call. And you can see, Master Cyrus," added Mrs.
Gilfin, as she left her husband to his pipe and beer, "how the inn,
with such a man, was going to wreck and ruin. It was a good job he
married me, not but what I'm thankful to be the mistress of the Robin
Redbreast. It's poor work being a cook at my age, and under mistresses
who don't know their place ain't in the kitchen. Your poor dear ma,
now, Master Cyrus, always stopped in the doring-room, as a lady
should."

I assented, as there was little use in arguing with Mrs. Gilfin,
who--as I knew of old--always had an answer to the most pertinent
objections. Although not so fat as her spouse, she was still very
stout, and her looks, along with those of John, said a good deal for
the style of living obtainable at the inn. I engaged the sitting-room
in which we had our first conversation and a bedroom immediately over
head. Then I had my traps taken into the house, and having stowed away
the Rippler in a convenient outhouse, sat down to besiege Burwain in
due form. After dinner--and a very good dinner it was too--I told Mrs.
Gilfin as much as I thought necessary, which did not include any
reference to the discovery of the cloak.

"Dear! dear!" said Mrs. Gilfin, who had frequently raised her fat
hands at intervals, during my narrative, "to think of the young
gentleman, who was so fond of my custards, being in love, and with
Miss Gertrude, of all young ladies. Well, she's the beauty of the
world, and no mistake, Master Cyrus."

"So I thought from the photograph, Cuckoo. By the way, did you not
know this poor woman who was murdered?"

"Do I know the nose on my face?" asked Mrs. Gilfin, severely. "Of
course I knew her well, when she was housekeeper to Mr. Miser Monk."

"Miser Monk--you mean Gabriel Monk?"

"No I don't, Master Cyrus, if you'll excuse me for contradicting you.
Gabriel he was christened, I daresay, but Miser he was called by them
who knew how he hoarded up money."

"He was a genuine miser then?"

"Genuine." Mrs. Gilfin's fat hands flew up, and her pigs' eyes
twinkled, "he would skin a flea for its hide and squeeze blood out of
a stone, and take the trousers off a Highlandman, Master Cyrus. A
nasty stooping lean old man, with a black-velvet skull-cap and a stick
and a suit of clothes you wouldn't have picked up off the dung-hill.
Of good family too," added Mrs. Gilfin, nodding, until her cap-ribbons
quivered. "The Monks are an old Essex family, who used to own Burwain
and all the land from Gattlingsands to Tarhaven. But they came down in
the world, and only The Lodge remained to Mr. Miser Monk, as his
father was a spendthrift, and scattered everything. But the miser
invested what was left, Master Cyrus, and I believe had an income of
five hundred golden pounds a year, although he never spent a penny of
it. He never repaired The Lodge, or attended to the garden, or gave a
farthing to the poor, but saved and saved. As he lived for eighty
years, Master Cyrus, you may guess that his savings came to a pretty
penny. He died five years ago, when Anne Caldershaw took her savings
and herself to live at Mootley."

"What became of his money?" I asked, anxiously.

"Ask me something I know, Master Cyrus? The Lodge and the few acres
round it and the five hundred a year, which was so tied up that it
couldn't be touched, went to Mr. Walter Monk. Miss Destiny didn't like
that, though why she should have expected to be remembered in the
will, when she was only Mr. Miser Monk's brother's sister-in-law, I
can't make out."

"She lived with Mr. Monk, didn't she?"

Mrs. Gilfin nodded. "For years and years, and so got into his misery
habits."

"Ah," said I, recalling certain traits of the little old lady at
Mootley, "so I should imagine. Miss Monk lived with her uncle also, it
seems."

Mrs. Gilfin nodded again. "Mr. Miser Monk loved his niece: she was the
only person he ever loved. Mr. Walter Monk was always away, as he is
now, and being a widower, there was no one to look after the child.
Mr. Miser Monk took Miss Gertrude to live with him, when she was quite
a baby, and asked Miss Destiny to come to him also. Anne looked after
the house, and the four lived together in that tumbledown old place
like rats in a cheese. If Miss Gertrude hadn't gone for years to a
boarding-school at Hampstead and got good food there, she never would
have grown into the handsome young lady she is."

"Ah," I exclaimed, greatly interested, "then she is handsome?"

"As paint, Master Cyrus, and the sweetest young lady you ever met.
Takes after her pa, she does, who is nice enough, though he's selfish
I don't deny."

"In what way?"

"Why," said Mrs. Gilfin, casting about in her mind for an explanation,
"he's hardly ever at home, being always in London, on business he
says, though I think he's too lazy to do much, especially," added Mrs.
Gilfin with emphasis, "as he has five hundred a year sure. But he only
comes down here once in a blue moon, as you might say, and leaves that
poor young lady to live the life of a nun at The Lodge along with one
servant to do all the housework."

"Why doesn't Miss Destiny continue to live with her niece?" I asked.

"Ah!" Mrs. Gilfin nodded vigorously, "she'd be glad to do so, as being
a miser like the late Mr. Gabriel Monk, it would save her living
expenses. But the fact is, Master Cyrus, that Miss Destiny don't like
Miss Gertrude, and Miss Gertrude don't like Miss Destiny: nor does Mr.
Walter Monk, for the matter of that. The five hundred a year being
left to him is a sore point with Miss Destiny, so she cleared out when
Mr. Miser Monk died, and now lives at the end of the village in a
small cottage along with that half-mad creature, Lucinda Tyke, she
picked up in the Rochford workhouse, and don't pay no wages to."

I was playing with the poker as Mrs. Gilfin spoke. "Then I take it
that Mr. Walter Monk has five hundred a year, and no more?"

"Except The Lodge and the three or four acres round about, Master
Cyrus. He spends most of the money on himself too, and Miss Gertrude
has enough to do to make both ends meet, though from her looks she
should be a queen and sit on a throne."

"But if the late Mr. Gabriel Monk was a miser, what became of his
savings?"

"Ah!" said Mrs. Gilfin, significantly, "now you're growing hot, Master
Cyrus, as the children say. The will left the money and the property
to Mr. Walter Monk, and the savings--he didn't mention the amount--to
Miss Gertrude with her uncle's dear love. But search as they might,
they could not find out where the money was hidden. And as Mr. Miser
Monk saved nearly five hundred a year for eighty years more or less,
he must have hidden away a heap of gold. Forty thousand pounds I
daresay," ended Mrs. Gilfin with relish.

"Or fifty thousand," I mused, recalling the sum mentioned by the
gardener, and beginning to see light. "Have they searched everywhere?"

"Everywhere," echoed Mrs. Gilfin, nodding again. "Miss Gertrude's an
innocent, who believes that her pa's an angel, which he ain't, though
nice enough in his ways. She'd give him her head if he asked her and
never complains of him keeping her short and being always away
spending his five hundred a year. He knew if he found his brother's
savings--forty thousand pounds, I'm certain," added Mrs. Gilfin
decidedly, "that, though lawfully Miss Gertrude's, she'd hand them
over to him. So he turned the house upside down, and even dug up the
garden, to say nothing of searching the meadows. He wanted the
spending of the money, you see, Master Cyrus. But they couldn't find
even as much as a shilling. What's become of all the money, no one
knows, unless Mr. Miser Monk gambled and lost. He certainly went up to
London every now and then," mused the landlady, "and them old men
can't be trusted any more than the young ones, saving your presence,
Master Cyrus, But there it is, sir," she spread out her pudgy hands
and shrugged her fat shoulders, "plenty of money, belonging to that
poor young lady hidden away, and she with scarcely enough to dress on,
let alone keep the bread in her mouth, though to be sure she hasn't
got to pay rent, and her pa gives the servant her wages regular. Ah,"
Mrs. Gilfin sighed, "and such a beauty. I wonder she ain't been
married ages ago."

"Does her father love her?"

"Yes and no. He loves her when she don't cross his path, and thinks
her a bother when she do. Some times he takes her to London for a
treat, being free with his money, when he spends it on himself. He got
her picture taken by a swell photographer once, but I daresay that was
to show her to one of his rich friends and get her married off well,
so that he could live on his son-in-law."

"That must have been one of the photographs I saw on the mantlepiece
in the Mootley corner shop," I exclaimed.

"Like enough, Master Cyrus. And I daresay her pa gave her the silver
frame when he was feeling generous-like, as he do on occasions.
Queer," said Mrs. Gilfin rubbing her nose, "one brother a miser, and
the other taking after his father is a spendthrift. Luckily the five
hundred a year's so tied up that he can't get at the principal, and it
comes to Miss Gertrude when her pa joins Mr. Miser Monk in the
graveyard. So she's all right, the dear sweet young lady she is."

"Have you ever seen the photograph, Cuckoo?"

"Oh yes, Master Cyrus. Mr. Joseph Striver's got one. Begged it off
her, and she being an angel gave it to him, though he's only the
gardener."

"Does she love him?" I asked tremulously.

"No, she don't," said Mrs. Gilfin shortly.

"Does he love her?" I persisted.

"He do: the impertinence! him only being a gardener, though handsome,
I will say. Mr. Walter Monk don't pay him much for gardening at The
Lodge, yet he stays on there because he loves Miss Gertrude, as if
she'd look on such dirt as Anne Caldershaw's nephew. His father left
him with fifty pounds a year so that's why he can afford to stop on,
and now I hear he's come in for money from his aunt. But if he dares
to raise his eyes to Miss Gertrude, Master Cyrus, you break his neck,"
advised Mrs. Gilfin.

"But if she loves him----"

"How can she, when he ain't a gentleman born," snapped Mrs. Gilfin,
"she don't love anybody but a dog she have, and lives in that shabby
old house like a nun in a convent, or a toad in a stone. Where the
young men's eyes are I don't know," ended Mrs. Gilfin, virtuously
indignant.

My spirits rose as she spoke. "I'm glad she's fancy free," I said,
rejoicingly, "there's a chance for me then?"

"You being well-looking, I should think so, Master Cyrus," said Mrs.
Gilfin.



CHAPTER VIII.
THE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD


I usually invent my plots, arrange my business and consider my
circumstances when in bed, which is by far the best place for such
thought-work. Alone in the darkness of the silent hours, there is no
external influence to prevent concentration, therefore conclusions of
the best can be reached speedier than in the daytime. On the night of
my arrival at Burwain, I took advantage of the opportunity to think
hard and long. It was necessary that matters should be adjusted
clearly in my own mind before I could hope to deal with the situation.
After Mrs. Gilfin's report, I desired more than ever to make Gertrude
Monk my wife, but there were obstacles in the way, which only
deliberate and continuous action could remove. A clear understanding
of the position was decidedly imperative.

I now began to see that Anne Caldershaw's hint to her brother had
reference to the missing monies of Gabriel Monk. Certainly, even if he
had saved every penny of his income for eighty years, he would not
have accumulated fifty thousand pounds: but it was more than probable
that his visits to London were connected with various investments, and
that in one way or another he had gained the fortune mentioned by Mrs.
Caldershaw. But--as I asked myself frequently--if Monk had invested
the money, why was it not discoverable, since investments cannot very
well be concealed. On reflection I decided that the man being a
genuine miser, loving the color and weight and feel of gold, had
probably turned his investments, whatever they might be, into hard
cash, and had hidden this carefully away. In some way Mrs. Caldershaw
had learned the whereabouts of the specie, and the missing eye
indicated the hiding-place. The money, by Gabriel Monk's will,
belonged to Gertrude Monk, but the ex-housekeeper wished her nephew to
get it, and so had left him the clue to the place where it was
concealed. Perhaps she knew that Striver loved her young mistress, and
thought that if he married her, after acquiring the fortune, that
justice would be done. She wished, as the saying is, to kill two birds
with one stone.

But two things puzzled me greatly in connection with the matter. In
the first place it was odd that Mrs. Caldershaw, aware of the
whereabouts of the money, should not have laid hands on it, and in the
second it was difficult to understand how she could arrange that her
glass eye should be a clue to its possession. Then I began to believe
that the dead woman had removed the coin from where the miser had
hidden it, and had drawn a plan of its new resting-place, which she
had concealed behind the eye. But having regard to the shell-like
shape of the eye, as described by Joseph Striver, the plan could not
be delineated on a piece of paper however small, as there was no
shield at the back of the artificial eyes to protect it from wear and
tear. The plan, I fancied, as did Mr. Striver, was drawn on the inward
curve of the eye itself, although it was difficult to imagine that the
details had not been obliterated by the moisture of the flesh. But
this last conjecture was for the moment beside the matter. What I knew
was that Mrs. Caldershaw's glass eye indicated the whereabouts of
fifty thousand pounds belonging by will to Gertrude Monk. To find that
treasure and marry the girl was what I determined to do. And to manage
this, it was necessary to prevent the fortune from falling into
Striver's hands, by getting the glass eye into my own possession. That
was no easy task, on account of the obscurity which involved the
murder and the theft which had led to the murder.

Of course Gertrude Monk knew that she was legally entitled to her
uncle's money, so it was possible, that having learned Mrs.
Caldershaw's secret, she had gone to Mootley to insist upon the eye
being given up, for the purpose of obtaining her rights. But in that
case, she would scarcely have murdered the woman, since all she had to
do was to compel Mrs. Caldershaw by law to confess the truth. It might
be that she had quarrelled with the old woman, who would not be
inclined to disarrange her plans for the well-being of her nephew; but
I did not think that a girl with so lovely a face and so high a
character--as Mrs. Gilfin avouched for--would have stooped to
committing a crime. Had she done so and had obtained the money, her
conscience would not permit her to rest. Therefore I acquitted the
young lady of homicide, and cast about in my mind to think, who could
possibly have slain Mrs. Caldershaw for the sake of the fortune.

Miss Destiny certainly grudged her niece the money, and being a miser
would have been glad to acquire it, but she was too frail a little
woman to commit the murder. Also, at the time, she was driving to
Mootley, and had not yet reached the place, as the story of her
encounter with my looted motor car clearly proved. She had established
an indefeasible alibi. Mr. Walter Monk was in London at the time of
the murder: Mr. Joseph Striver was at Burwain, and I could think of no
other person who would be driven to murder Mrs. Caldershaw for her
secret. The more I thought of the matter the more complex did it
become. All I could do--I decided this about three o'clock in the
morning--was to revert to my original decision and play a waiting
game. Then I fell asleep and woke at nine o'clock with a headache, the
result of over-thinking.

However, a cold bath, a good breakfast, and a half-hour's gossip with
the landlady banished my pains, and somewhere about eleven I walked
forth to spy out the land. I wished to call on Miss Destiny, and
through her, to gain an introduction to her niece. Once in touch with
Miss Monk, I might learn in some cautious way, how her cloak came to
be in the field. Certainly on the fact of it, I fancied she had worn
it herself and had stolen my Rippler, but it was just possible that
she had given it to Mrs. Caldershaw, and had not been near Mootley at
all. In which case, I, began to wonder more than ever, who was the
clever woman who had taken possession of it. But such wondering was
futile, as I had no certain facts to go upon. Gertrude Monk alone
could give the clue, seeing that the cloak, whether worn by herself or
not, was her property.

There was little difficulty in finding the abode of Miss Destiny who
appeared to be as well-known in Burwain as St. Paul's Cathedral is in
the metropolis. Her miserly character appeared to be common talk, and
when I reached the end of the village and sighted her cottage I could
well understand why it was no secret. A gentlewoman with a certain
amount of money, however small, would never have dwelt in such a
hovel, unless she grudged every farthing to render it sightly and
comfortable. For Miss Destiny had her abode in a tiny house of
galvanized tin, standing some distance from the main road, and almost
hidden by a dank growth of tall weeds, and shrubs and neglected trees.
A sod fence fringed the roadway, and therein was placed midway a
rickety wooden gate with a broken hinge. From this a crooked pathway
made by feet and worn by feet and preserved as an entrance by feet,
meandered to the green-painted front door. On either side docks and
darnells and brambles and coarse grasses and weeds flourished in
profusion breast-high. And overhanging the tin shed--it could scarcely
be called a cottage--were two gigantic elms, which dropped their
decayed branches on the roof and round the walls, where they lay to
add to the sordid confusion of the place. Viewing this desolation, I
could only think of the chateau of the Yellow Dwarf, as described by
Madame D'Aulnoy.

I walked up the sodden path--the tin shed seemed to have been built in
a swamp, so oozy was the ground--and rapped smartly at the narrow
front door. On either side were two small windows, through the glass
of which I caught a glimpse of iron bars, which proved that Miss
Destiny had made necessary provision against burglars. What struck me
as odd was the absence of a chimney, but I had no time to consider
this, for shortly I heard the rattle of a chain and the sound of bolts
being drawn back. Then the door was opened an inch or two to reveal
the dull eyes and mustached lip of Lucinda. The expression of her face
was aggressive and watchful.

"What do you want?" she demanded in her beautiful voice, which struck
me anew as singularly sympathetic despite her rough greeting.

"I am Mr. Cyrus Vance, who was at Mootley," I explained elaborately,
"and I wish to see Miss Destiny."

Before I ended my request I heard a little, low, fluttering laugh, and
Lucinda, opening the door widely, moved aside to show the tiny figure
of her mistress with outstretched hands. "Prince Charming come in
search of the Sleeping Beauty," cried Miss Destiny, romantically, "and
all because he saw a portrait of the lady. Come in, Mr. Vance, come
in. I can promise you flesh and blood this time, my dear adventurer."

There was little change about the old lady. She still wore the
threadbare black silk dress, though without the velvet mantle, and
her snow-white hair was still piled up after the fashion of Louis
XVI's ill-fated queen.

I thrilled when I heard her words, as I guessed that I had arrived in
a happy moment, and that Miss Destiny's niece, the goddess of my
dreams, was seated within that pauper house. Even Lucinda grinned in a
friendly way, as she saw the color come and go in my face. With all my
self-control I could not suppress that sign of emotion.

"Prince Charming," said Miss Destiny, introducing me directly into a
bare sitting-room, for there was no passage in the cottage, "yet me
present you to The Sleeping Beauty," and she looked more like a fairy
godmother than ever as she clapped her skinny hands.

Gertrude Monk was seated in a well-worn horsehair armchair, near the
oil stove which did duty as a fireplace to warm the bleak room. She
was plainly dressed in blue serge, with a toque of the same on her
dark head, and had a muff and boa of silver-fox fur. Nothing could
have been more Puritanic than her array, but the close-fitting frock
showed off her fine figure to advantage, and she looked uncommonly
handsome. I have already described her from her photograph, so there
is no need to go over old ground, but she was even more beautiful and
unapproachable than I had believed her to be, and looked more like the
goddess Diana than ever. The sole thing I found lacking to complete
her perfection was color, for her face was the hue of old ivory, and
even her lips looked pale. Also there was a troubled look in her large
dark eyes, and she welcomed me with some embarrassment. But this last
probably was due to the oddity of our introduction, since Miss Destiny
had evidently informed her of my admiration for her portrait.

"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Vance," she said sedately and with a
stately bow of her head, "my aunt informed me of your connection with
the sad death of my old nurse."

"I think my connection with the matter is public property, Miss Monk,"
I said, nervously, "for my name has been in all the papers."

"As a playwright that should please you," she said coldly, "anything
for an advertisement. Well, tell us what has been discovered?"

"Nothing as far as I know, Miss Monk."

"Oh!" she raised her fine eyebrows. "I understood," she glanced at
Miss Destiny, "that you promised to come and inform my aunt of any new
developments. As you are here, I thought that something had been
discovered."

"Nothing has been discovered, Miss Monk. I simply came here to see an
old servant of my mother's, who keeps The Robin Redbreast, and intend
to stay for a few days." Of course this was a white lie, but I had to
make some excuse, for her troubled eyes were searching my face
intently.

"Mrs. Gilfin," said she, a smile relaxing the corners of her mouth and
heaving what I took to be a sigh of relief, "I am fond of Mrs.
Gilfin."

"And she is fond of you, Miss Monk. Had she never spoken to you about
me?"

"No," was the reply, so my artful question, failed in its effect. Then
the conversation languished, and Miss Destiny babbled to excuse her
lack of hospitality. Lucinda had left the room.

"I should give you a cup of tea, Gertrude, and you also, Mr. Vance.
But the kettle is not boiling, and the baker has not come, so you must
excuse me."

"I am not hungry, thank you, Miss Destiny. What a comfortable little
place you have here."

In my desperate desire to propitiate the little woman, I told a lie,
and Miss Monk saw that I did, for her lip curled, so contemptuously,
that the color came to my cheeks. I had been undiplomatic, for the
word I had used did not apply in the least to the bare surroundings.
The shed--it had originally been a shed, as I afterwards learned--was
divided by frail partitions into four small rooms: two bedrooms, a
kitchen, and a parlor. These were furnished with the flotsam and
jetsam of auction rooms, in an insufficient manner. If Miss Destiny
had contracted the vice of avarice from the late Gabriel Monk, she
had done so very thoroughly. The bare wooden walls, the drugget on
the floor, the four or five sticks of shaky furniture, and the
evil-smelling oil stove, made up a picture of insistent penury. And
Miss Destiny, lean-faced, keen-eyed and restless, looked like the hag
Poverty herself, as she hovered about the bleak room. And even she saw
through my lying remark.

"Comfortable, no indeed, Mr. Vance," she tittered nervously, "comfort,
to my mind, means laziness and self-indulgence. Lucinda and I live the
simple life, and require only the bare necessities of civilization.
And I'm so poor----"

Her niece intervened coldly. "Is it necessary to inform Mr. Vance of
your private business, aunt?"

"Oh, my dear, he knows it. For instance, that I am your aunt only by
courtesy."

"What do you mean? You are my mother's sister."

"Yes. Poor dear Jane; what a bad marriage she made with that
spendthrift."

"Aunt! aunt! Leave my father alone."

"My dear, I refuse to be contradicted. I never liked Walter, and I
never will, so I disassociate myself from him in every way, as a
sister-in-law, and look upon myself as your aunt by courtesy: merely
by courtesy."

Miss Monk rose with a flush. "This conversation cannot be interesting
to Mr. Vance," she said, quietly. "If you have any business with him,
I shall leave you together."

"No, no, I have no business with him, my dear. Merely I should like to
know if Anne's will really leaves all her property to Joseph."

"If you mean Mr. Striver, I understand that he had got the money and
the lease of the corner shop to say nothing of the contents," said I,
in detail.

"Merely I should like to know if Anne's will really did think Anne
would have remembered me. We were such friends. And with a little
money I could have made myself more comfortable. The garden for
instance: I'm sure I live in a kind of jungle. Gertrude, I wish you
could let Joseph come and put it right. Then we could talk about his
good fortune."

"Joseph takes odd jobs at times," said Miss Monk, trying to speak
calmly, for really her aunt was very trying with her unnecessary
frankness, "if you offer him a good wage, he will come with pleasure."

"Oh, I can't afford to pay money," said Miss Destiny hurriedly, "it is
not to be expected, especially since Gabriel left me nothing. Ah!
Gertrude, you are the lucky one. Fifty thousand pounds," Miss Destiny
smacked her lips, "oh, if it only could be found.'

"It is not likely to be found."

"Mr. Striver intends to find it," I said incautiously, and could have
bitten out my tongue the moment afterwards for so crude a remark.

Both the women turned to face me: Miss Destiny with vulture-like
eagerness, and Miss Monk with an expression of astonishment. "What has
Joseph to do with my money?" asked the latter, pointedly.

"Perhaps he doesn't know that it is your money, Miss Monk."

"What do you mean, exactly?"

"Simply that Striver is searching for the sum of fifty-thousand
pounds. That being the amount of some money belonging to you which is
missing, as Miss Destiny said just now, I apprehend that it is the
same."

"It must be: it must be," cried the little old lady clapping her
skinny hands, "for Anne never could have saved so much out of her
wages. Gertrude I always declared that Anne knew where the money of
Gabriel was hidden. Now, it seems, she told Joseph about it."

"She did not inform him of its whereabouts," I struck in, eager to
enlist Miss Monk's attention, "but he hopes to trace it by means of
the glass eye."

"The glass eye," echoed Miss Monk, very much amazed. "I know that Anne
had a glass eye, and that it is missing. But----"

"I see: I understand," said Miss Destiny feverishly, "don't interrupt
me, Gertrude, for I see it all. Anne always attached a great value to
that glass eye, so in some way--from what Mr. Vance says--it is
connected with the hiding-place of Gabriel's money. Perhaps Gabriel
got Anne to assist him in hiding it. Dear me, and the eye is missing.
If it could only be found, Gertrude, you would be quite an heiress."

"I don't believe that the eye or the money will ever be found," said
Miss Monk impatiently, and walked towards the door. "Are you returning
to the village, Mr. Vance?"

The hint was unmistakable, and I was only too glad to take advantage
of it, since it meant a _tête-à-fête_ with my goddess. "Mrs. Gilfin
will wonder what has become of me," I said, glancing at my watch.

"Oh, don't go, don't go," implored Miss Destiny, grasping my arm. "I
do so want to learn all about this glass eye and the money."

"Ask Joseph Striver then," I replied, disengaging myself, "he knows
all that I know, and more," I ended significantly.

"Really and truly. Oh, I must tell Lucinda," and Miss Destiny vanished
into the back room crying for her handmaid. Miss Monk seized the
opportunity to open the front door and slip out, raising her eyebrows
at me meanwhile. I took the hint at once.

We walked down the meandering path between the weeds, and out on to
the high road. Miss Monk kept silence for some distance, but I was so
taken up with admiring her face, and was so delighted to be in her
presence, that I did not mind her lack of speech. With compressed lips
she stared straight in front of her, then spoke abruptly.

"You seem to know a great deal about our family affairs, Mr. Vance."

"Nothing more than has to do with the murder of Mrs. Caldershaw," I
replied, quietly, "and I am so mixed up in that----"

"Yes! yes!" she interrupted impatiently. "I understand so far. But my
aunt has been talking to you."

"Well, yes and no. I have not gathered much information from Miss
Destiny."

"Why should you wish to gather any information at all?" asked the girl
with some sharpness.

"My dear young lady. This murder interests me, and I wish to learn the
truth. Naturally I seek for information."

"Oh! And you have come here to question my aunt."

"No, indeed. I don't see what she can tell me."

"She can tell you nothing," said Miss Monk, with decision, "my aunt is
not quite sane, as you can easily see. She has a moderately good
income, yet prefers to live in that miserable place, which you"--she
was sarcastic here--"called comfortable, Mr. Vance."

"I wished to put Miss Destiny in a good humor," said I uneasily.

"Why?"

She was so very direct that I nearly came out with the truth. But it
was absurd, on the face of it, to confess a crazy love for one I had
known only half an hour: she would take so sudden a declaration as an
insult. I therefore held my peace and fenced. "Miss Destiny, from what
she said at Mootley, seems to know something about that glass eye,
which was stolen from Mrs. Caldershaw's head when she was dead. I wish
to learn all about it, so as to discover why the eye was stolen and
the woman murdered."

"Then you _did_ come here to question my aunt, in spite of your
denial?"

"Well, if I must confess it, I came to ask about the glass eye."

Miss Monk walked on in silence, and then again spoke abruptly. "You
should be honest with me, Mr. Vance."

"I am honest."

"Pardon me, you are not, since you said that you did not see what my
aunt could tell you." And she looked like an offended goddess.

This was brutally true: I had equivocated. "I throw myself on your
mercy."

She turned a pair of surprised eyes in my direction. "Why on mine?"

"I appear to have offended you," I hesitated.

"What does that matter? we are strangers."

"I wish we were not," said my rash tongue, and Miss Monk stopped.

"I really don't understand you, Mr. Vance. Why should it matter to me
whether we are strangers or not?"

"Your aunt's words when she introduced me----"

Miss Monk flushed and cut me short. "That is my aunt's nonsense," she
said hastily. "You don't expect me to believe that you followed me
here because you admired my photograph."

That was exactly what I had done, but it did not do to tell her so,
for she looked more like an offended goddess than ever. "I came here
about the eye," was my cautious answer.

"You think that a true knowledge of why Anne Caldershaw attached a
value to that eye would enable you to trace her assassin?"

"Yes, I do think so. Do you, Miss Monk?" I spoke with the cloak in my
mind. "Do you wish me to trace her assassin?"

"Why not. She should certainly be captured and punished and the eye
recovered, especially, as you seem to think it can indicate where the
money left to me by Uncle Gabriel is hidden."

"She! she! she!" I positively gasped.

"Of course." Again she looked surprised. "I understand from the report
in the papers, that the woman who ran off with your motor car is the
assassin."

It was with some difficulty that I commanded my voice. Miss Monk, I
thought, must be very sure that she had hidden her trail successfully,
else she would scarcely dare to speak in this way. But, of course, as
I remembered, she did not yet know that I had found her cloak. "You
would like to have the woman traced?"

"Yes," she said coolly, "and the eye recovered, if it means the
recovery of my money. I inherit fifty thousand pounds by----"

"I know: I know," said I hastily, "Mrs. Gilfin told me."

Miss Monk's face clouded. "I daresay," she remarked bitterly, "the
story of the missing money is common property. No doubt Mrs. Gilfin
told you that my uncle Gabriel was a miser."

"Yes. She told me a good deal."

"You asked her?" questioned the girl, suddenly.

"I admit it: in the interests of the case."

"Of course," she said, whether ironically or not I could not
determine, and then walked on in silence.

Shortly we were abreast of a mouldering red-brick wall on the
outskirts of the village. Beyond could be seen the mellow-tiled roofs
of a large mansion.

Miss Monk stopped abruptly. "I live here," she said, with some
coldness, "and must go in. Good-day, Mr. Vance."

She vanished through a heavy green gate, and left me staring down the
deserted road. To me, the sun seemed to have vanished from the sky.



CHAPTER IX.
GERTRUDE'S FATHER


Hitherto I have explained everything in detail, from the time I
adventured out to seek romance and found tragedy instead. Now I must
be more or less exact, as it is well nigh impossible to set down
everything. For an indefinite period I lodged at The Robin Redbreast,
and met Miss Monk frequently here, there, and everywhere. The moth had
come to the candle, and was hovering round the flame with dangerous
pertinacity. Not that the lady accepted me straight away, for the most
romantic of women have their practical side. Miss Monk, at first
acquaintance, apparently liked me: but I puzzled her, and she
questioned Mrs. Gilfin about me, so as to be sure of her ground. A
very necessary precaution in the face of circumstances.

"You seem to have made quite an impression on that sweet young lady,
Master Cyrus," said the landlady, a day or so after I had visited Miss
Destiny, "she met me by chance last night and asked me to tell her all
about you."

"I hope you gave me a good character," said I anxiously, and very
pleased to think that my interest in Diana of the Ephesians was
reciprocated.

"I told her that you were always the best of boys Master Cyrus, and
that fond of my custards, as I had always to give you one every day
when you was little and sweet-toothed."

I reddened. "Oh, nonsense! Miss Monk doesn't wish to hear tales of my
childish greed, Cuckoo."

"She wished to hear everything," said Mrs. Gilfin, phlegmatically,
"being wonderfully took up with your pleasant ways. And I don't blame
her," said the ex-cook, beaming through her spectacles, "seeing as
you're a gentleman grown, Master Cyrus, and handsomer than I ever
thought you'd become. Not that Miss Gertrude cares for good looks
without good birth, and good manners, or she'd have run off with
Joseph ages ago."

"Is he back?" I asked, starting, for I had to reckon with the
gardener.

"Oh, yes, he's back," grunted Mrs. Gilfin, disgusted, "and always
hanging about that house picking weeds. So he says, but it's to look
at what he'll never get, as I'll tell him some fine day. Such sauce!"

"He hasn't had the insolence to speak to Miss Monk on the subject of
his confounded feelings?" I asked, anxiously, for there was no denying
that the man's aggressive good looks constituted him a dangerous
rival.

"Not he, and if he did she'd soon send him to the right about with a
flea in his ear. Good looks ain't good manners, Master Cyrus, say what
you will."

"Well," I laughed. "I hope you told her that I was the best-mannered
and most good-natured man in the universe, Cuckoo."

"I told the truth, you may be sure, Master Cyrus," rebuked Mrs.
Gilfin, "saying you was that honorable and clever and thoughtful and
kindhearted, as I'd trust you with my very own heart to do what you
liked with. Not that you want _my_ heart, bless you," ended Mrs.
Gilfin, beaming again and becoming one vast substantial smile like
Mrs. Fezziwig in "The Christmas Carol."

"You want Miss Gertrude's."

"Good heavens, Cuckoo! you didn't tell her that I hope?"

"Not in so many words, Master Cyrus. But bless you," added Mrs. Gilfin
significantly, "women in these matters ain't fools, sir."

I was rather perturbed over this, as it was not impossible that the
maidenly modesty of Gertrude might take offence, if she guessed my
undeclared sentiments. And in any case, the slightest hint of such an
attitude might embarrass our conversation. By this time, it was
useless to deny that I was fathoms deep in love. I suppose I had
brooded so long over the beauty of the pictured face, that when the
original proved to be even more attractive, the egg of love was
promptly hatched into the actual chick From the moment my eyes met
those of Gertrude, and soul read soul, I adored her with a headstrong
passion, which I should have scouted in another man. If ever there was
an impulsive being who aptly illustrated Marlow's dictum, as to love
at first sight, I was that uncommon individual. For I take it that
sudden passions of this unthinking sort, are unusual in an age, when
lovers--a most unsuitable name for such cautious creatures--wish to
inspect the lady's check-book before proposing.

But I need not have worried my mind over any possible embarrassment on
Miss Monk's part. She was more composed than I was when we next met;
and that was in the village store, whither I had gone to procure some
stationery. It was necessary to write Cannington and advise him of my
actual whereabouts, if only to keep him out of the way. I did not wish
him to come down and spoil my wooing, as an inconvenient third.
Besides, as a feather-headed boy, he might be indiscreet with regard
to the Mootley murder, and I wished to supply all information on that
matter, by word of mouth. It was the sole excuse, which I had for
seeking the society of my goddess, and I did not wish it to be staled
by other people's repetitions.

While I was purchasing blotting-paper, ink and pens and stationery
from a genial old woman in a mob-cap, Miss Monk entered the shop. She
was dressed as she had been when I last saw her, but this time carried
a dog-whip in place of a sunshade. Gamboling round her was a large
ungainly Newfoundland year-old puppy, who answered to the odd name of
Puddles. At least that was his pet name, as Miss Monk afterwards told
me that he was registered as Ion, after the hero of Judge Talfourd's
famous play. Puddles lounged against me with exuberant friendliness,
and had to be corrected with the whip. When the commotion subsided,
his mistress found time to speak and apologize, looking handsomer than
ever, with the color of exercise in her cheeks.

"You mustn't mind the dog," she said gravely, "he won't bite you."

"I hope not," I replied with equal gravity, "I am extremely timid, you
know."

She smiled at this. "I think I would trust you in a moment of danger,
Mr. Vance. But to be friends with me, you must be friends with
Puddles."

"I quite understand. Love me, love my dog."

"I didn't say anything about love," she laughed, her color deepening.
"But in any case, you have put the cart before the horse. Love my dog
and love me, you should say."

"Certainly! Puddles!" I dropped on one knee, and held out a caressing
hand, "try and love me--as a beginning."

"A beginning to what?" asked Miss Monk, smiling and crimson.

"Puddles knows, Puddles understands: see, he gives me his paw. Good
dog." I shook the huge paw, patted the huge head, and rose to be
conventional. "It is a beautiful day, isn't it, Miss Monk."

"Of course, and the horse is the noblest of all animals," she replied
with up-lifted eyebrows. "I thought you were more original, Mr.
Vance."

"I assure you that is a mistake. I am that harmless, and necessary
person, the repeater of platitudes."

She shuddered. "Don't repeat them to me, please, I hate copy-book
phrases."

"Yet what good sense they contain. Your remark about the horse is one,
and is absolutely true."

"So true," she mocked, "as to make the statement unnecessary." She
turned to purchase a bag of dog-biscuits. "Are we fighting a verbal
duel, Mr. Vance?"

"It would seem so, Miss Monk, but the buttons are on our foils."

With the bag in her arms, she wheeled nervously. "Why do you say
that?" and there was apprehension in her dark eyes.

"I speak for the sake of speaking."

"No," her anxious eyes searched my face, "you are not that kind of
man. If you----" she stopped and bit her lip, and with a curt nod
walked rapidly out of the shop followed by Puddles. I did not attempt
to follow, as I saw that my cryptic speech had interested her, and
wished to give her time to think over my personality. While I remained
in her thoughts, there was every hope that she would seek me again.
Better that she should be afraid of me, than indifferent to me.

And as I sauntered back to The Robin Redbreast, I felt convinced that
she was afraid of me: my dark sayings had made her afraid. At our
first meeting under the tin roof of Miss Destiny's hovel, I had seen
the fear in her eyes, and at this second meeting I saw it again, more
apparent. But, what could she be afraid of in connection with me?
There was only one common-sense answer: Gertrude Monk was the lady who
had stolen my motor-car, and who had--but no; I could not bring myself
to believe the worst, even in the face of the obvious certainty that
she was concealing something, which had to do with the weird
circumstances at Mootley. She would explain when the time came, and
that would be when she was sufficiently well acquainted with me to
regard Mrs. Gilfin's eulogy as justified. Then--well I would wait
until then, for in the pursuit of the impossible, I was developing a
fine quality of patience.

During the next few days, I occasionally met Miss Destiny and her
servant in the village. They went shopping together, and the little
old lady beat down the prices of everyone, however cheap the goods she
wanted might originally be. I believe she enjoyed the squabble, and
certainly her tongue clacked from morning to night in the endeavor to
get her own sordid way. She was a miser, pure and simple, and had
contracted the disease--for that it was--from the late Gabriel Monk.
Everyone hated Miss Destiny, for in addition to being avaricious, she
had a desperately evil tongue, and dealt with one and all from the
point of view of a misanthrope. That is, she never said a good word of
anyone, but babbled out many bad ones, so that she set people by the
ears constantly. She might have abused me, for all I knew, but if she
did, her demeanor to my face was extremely pleasant. When we met, she
always hinted roguishly at my love for her niece, and chaffed me about
the same. At times I wondered if she discussed my presence at Burwain
with Gertrude. I thought not, as my meetings with the goddess were
always marked by a perfectly unembarrassed manner on her part.
Moreover, aunt and niece did not get on well together, and only
exchanged formal visits. Miss Destiny--as I gathered from Mrs.
Gilfin's ready tongue--had never forgiven Gertrude for inheriting the
missing fortune, and always expressed herself pleased that it could
not be found.

Although I had been over a fortnight at Burwain, Mr. Walter Monk was
still absent from the old Jacobean mansion, and Gertrude lived there
with one servant in nun-like seclusion. She read a great deal, and
played the piano and attended to Puddles--a great stand-by against
loneliness. Joseph also was frequently about the garden, but I don't
think she ever gave him a word--on Mrs. Gilfin's authority I can say
this--unless it had to do with his duties. But he hung round the place
like a stray dog, satisfied if he could catch only a glimpse of
Gertrude, and was in the seventh heaven if she addressed a word to
him. Miss Destiny spoke to me of the gardener's infatuation, which was
apparent to everyone.

"You have met Joseph?" she asked me one day in her mincing manner.

"At Mootley, when he was setting his aunt's house in order," I
informed her genially. I was always genial with Miss Destiny, as for
my own purposes I wished to keep on good terms with her.

"Ah, yes. He inherited Anne's savings. Quite a nice little sum, I
believe. And the lease of the shop also," added Miss Destiny musingly,
"Gertrude might do worse."

"What do you mean?" I asked sharply, and, I fear, angrily.

The little old lady raised her twinkling sharp eyes to my annoyed
face. "I forgot," she said impishly, "you are the other one."

"The other what, Miss Destiny?"

"Lover--the second Prince Charming; though I think," she remarked in a
very spiteful tone, "that the first Prince is the handsomer."

I went straight to the point. "Miss Destiny, I don't for one moment
suppose that you would like to see Miss Monk become Striver's wife."

"Why not. He has looks, if not birth; and money, if not position."

"The thing's absurd. A lady marry a gardener."

"Other ladies have done so and have been happy," she persisted.
"Besides Gertrude may not be able to help herself."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing and everything," she replied enigmatically. "Mr. Striver is
in possession of all Anne's private papers," she hesitated.

"Well? well? well?" I said impatiently.

"Ask Gertrude," she snapped out.

"Ask what?"

Miss Destiny winced, and her black eyes twinkled again. "Ask her to be
your wife, Mr. Vance, else you will find her Mrs. Striver before six
months are ended. Now don't ask questions here," she pointed to her
flat bosom, "ask them of Gertrude. Again I say, Joseph has Anne
Caldershaw's private papers."

"Well?" I was more bewildered than ever.

"That is all," said Miss Destiny, and dropping one of her
old-fashioned curtseys, she trotted off, laughing malignantly like a
wicked fairy.

What the terrible old woman meant I could not imagine, but I
determined to take her advice and ask questions in the right quarter.
I had now been some time at Burwain, and, as yet, had learned nothing
likely to throw light on the darkness of the Mootley murder. Striver
evidently had made up his mind to stay where he was as gardener at The
Lodge, and although we never spoke, he always eyed me savagely when I
paid a visit to the mansion. It is true that Gertrude did not invite
me into the house, and always saw me in the garden; but that I should
dare to come and worship at his private shrine was quite enough to
make Striver desperately angry.

And in his working clothes the fellow looked handsomer than ever. I
really wondered that Gertrude did not fall in love with him, as he was
by way of being a rustic Apollo, and was possessed of some education.
But she was always extremely cool to him, and scarcely displayed more
warmth towards me. A most inscrutable girl. I could not make her out,
for try as I would the secret of her _noli-me-tangere_ attitude
baffled and disconcerted me.

"My father is returning for a few days this evening," said Gertrude to
me when we met by chance on the village green.

"I should like to meet him," I said promptly.

"Why?" she demanded with her usual directness.

It was a difficult question to answer. "I admire his daughter," was my
lame reply. "Surely you can understand----"

"That you are talking nonsense," she interrupted quickly. "Yes I can,"
she stopped for a moment, then went on impetuously, "I wish you would
go away."

"I see no reason why I should," I remonstrated.

"I do. I do. You are not hot; you are not cold; you are neither fowl,
fish, nor good red-herring. Go away," and turning on her heel she
walked away so swiftly that I had no time to ask further questions.

What did she mean? I could not understand. Later I met with Miss
Destiny, and could understand the aunt no more than I understood the
niece. The first told me to go away in a most peremptory manner, while
the second hinted that because Joseph possessed Mrs. Caldershaw's
private papers, Gertrude was likely to become Mrs. Striver within six
months. It was really all very perplexing, and the sole way to end
such perplexity was to show Miss Monk her cloak and demand
explanations. But this I did not wish to do, until I was more certain
of my ground: until I understood her feelings towards myself better.
For by this time, what with Striver's persistence, her own dismissal
of myself, and Miss Destiny's strange hints, I was beginning to
believe that she favored my handsome, humble attentive rival.

"I sha'n't stand it any longer," I thought, turning my steps towards
the inn. "This very evening, I shall call and see her. We must have an
explanation straight away!" And this resolution I adhered to so firmly
that I found myself at the door of the Jacobean mansion one hour after
dinner--that is, seeing I dined early in the country--at seven
o'clock.

The grounds of The Lodge--thanks to Striver's love-lorn devotion--were
most beautifully kept. The flower-beds had no weeds, the lawns were
smoothly clipped and rolled, and the whole place had an orderly trim
look, which contrasted oddly with the tumbledown appearance of the
house itself. This, of mellow red brick, overgrown with ivy, stood on
a slight rise, and a wide terrace of stone with shallow steps
descending to the lawns, ran round three sides of it. Some Vandal had
put French windows into the drawing-room, and these looked quite out
of keeping with the old-world air of the mansion. It was a very
ancient house, and I verily believe that only the ivy held the
mouldering bricks together. The porch was large and chilly, and when I
pulled the bell, its jangling echoes, followed by the baying of
Puddles, added to the lonely impression produced by the place. Miss
Destiny called her niece "The Sleeping Beauty!" so this dismal
dwelling might well have been her palace. Only Mr. Striver's trim
garden looked modern and well-cared for: the house itself was a slight
improvement on the ruins of Carthage.

The one servant of the Lodge--a white-capped, sober, sedate old
creature called Trumble--came to the door, and seemed doubtful about
admitting me. The place was like a convent and evidently Trumble did
not wish any male to enter. But while I argued with her, Miss Monk
appeared, and intimated that I could come in. I would have thanked
her, but that her beauty took my breath away. Even in the dim light of
the hall lamp, she shone like a star; but it was not until we were in
the drawing-room that the full perfection of her loveliness burst upon
me. I stared like an oaf, or like the misnamed Cortez in Keats's
sonnet.

She was in a pale-blue evening dress, which displayed her beautiful
neck and arms to perfection. As in the photograph, she wore no
necklace, or bracelets, or rings, or brooches, or indeed ornaments of
any description. The dress also was plain and devoid of trimming, so
that it revealed fully the noble lines of her figure. As usual her
hair was bunched at the back of her shapely head in ancient Greek
fashion, and she more than ever reminded me of Diana. I did not look
at a mere picture this time, but at the flesh and blood divinity, who
had descended in gracious splendor from high Olympus. Though indeed,
her somewhat stern face did not look very gracious at the moment.

Owing to my intention of calling, I had arrayed myself in a dress suit
for the occasion, although I did not usually prepare myself for dinner
in this way at The Robin Redbreast. But, manlike, I had a feeling of
vanity that I also was ultra-civilized. Had I come in tweeds I should
have been ashamed to face this gracious vision. And yet I am not a
vain man, though, as the somewhat unworthy sentiment flashed into my
mind, I thought what a conceited ass I was. And all because I loved a
woman and wished to appear at my best before her. Truly human nature
is strange and--as in the present personal instance--trifling.

"Well," asked Miss Monk, a slight smile breaking the severe curve of
her lips, as she saw how persistently I stared, "why have you called,
Mr. Vance?"

"Is it a crime?" I asked, somewhat annoyed.

"In my eyes it is, because I asked you to go away."

"Ah, I came here to seek for an explanation."

"I have none to give. Still, as you are here, you may as well sit
down. I cannot see you for more than half an hour, as my father is
returning."

I sat down on the chair she indicated, and she placed herself on the
opposite sofa which stretched diagonally before the fire. There were
three lamps with rosy shades in the large low-ceilinged room, and we
sat in a kind of Paphian twilight, eminently suited to a proposal.
What with the subdued light amidst which she glimmered like an
exquisite star, and my own tumultuous feelings, I wonder that I did
not take her in my arms, then and there to kiss her into consenting to
be my dear wife. But prudence came to my aid and I was spared the
necessity of a refusal, which certainly would have been forthcoming
had I acted as I felt inclined to do.

She was silent, and I was silent, and the only sound in the room was
the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the French clock on the
mantelpiece. Then, as Gertrude did not speak, I was forced to begin
the conversation, else my half-hour would be wasted.

"You puzzle me, Miss Monk," I said bluntly, and purposely said it, so
as to enchain her attention.

"Do I? Why?"

"Your aunt also puzzles me," I went on, ignoring her question.

"Why?" she asked again, and the uneasy troubled look came into her
eyes.

"She declares that you will become Mrs. Striver within six months----"

"Mr. Vance!" She rose impulsively, and looked highly indignant.

"Because," I continued remorselessly, and repeating Miss Destiny's
exact words, "Joseph has Anne Caldershaw's private papers."

Miss Monk turned white, gasped, and sank back nervously into her seat.
"My aunt is mad to say such a thing," she stammered.

"Possibly," said I dryly. "I have no very great idea of Miss Destiny's
sanity myself. But, it may be that you can explain the madness."

Gertrude looked round the room, as if in search of help, and placed
both hands on her breast as though to still the beating of her heart.
"I would explain--to a friend," she muttered, and her face was whiter
than the statue of Parian marble on the bracket by the fireplace.

"I am a friend, Miss Monk."

"A true friend?"

"Test me and find me so." I bent over her. "Can you not understand?"

She put out her hand and pushed me back slightly. "My friend--not
yet."

I retreated. "Friend--so cold a word."

"It is sufficient for the present," and then I saw that her whiteness
was drowned in a rising tide of crimson. I would have spoken, for a
sudden leap of my heart told me that her feelings were not so
indifferent as I had imagined them to be. But again she put over her
hand. "No, say nothing; let us remain friends until----"

"Until when?" I asked eagerly.

Pressing her hands between her knees she stared into the fire, then
spoke in a low steady voice. "I never had a friend, either man or
woman, and I have always wanted one. When you came I thought--it was
foolish on my part perhaps--but I thought that you might help me."

"I wish to help you in every way."

She went on without heeding my impetuous speech. "I doubted: one
always doubts a man. I asked Mrs. Gilfin about you. What she told me,
confirmed the impression I had gained from your looks. I felt certain
from many times we have met that Mrs. Gilfin spoke truly. You are a
man I can trust."

"Yes! yes! But am I a man you can love?"

"Let it remain as trust for the time being. I still had doubts, and
to-day I told you to go away."

"Why?"

"Because you said nothing, you did nothing. You were neither hot
nor--ah well, remember what I said to-day when we met. I could not
make a friend of anyone who was indifferent. But now, as I see you
mean to be my friend, I may trust you. I need sympathy: I need help: I
need"--she started to her feet and held up an anxious finger. "Hark!
hark! Not a word to him."

To him? I wondered what she meant, until the door opened and a man
walked delicately into the room.

"Here I am, daughterling," said the man gaily.



CHAPTER X.
A SURPRISE


I was decidedly disappointed by the inopportune arrival of Mr. Walter
Monk. His daughter was just about to tell me much that I greatly
desired to know, and his abrupt entrance had prevented her from
speaking freely. It was most provoking, as I might not easily find her
again in a confidential mood. However, as things were, it only
remained to accept the situation philosophically, so I dismissed the
lost opportunity with a shrug and turned to examine the new-comer.
Already he was embracing the girl, whom he rather effectedly called
"daughterling." I summed up his character from his use of that exotic
word.

Mr. Monk presented himself, as a dapper, small-sized man, with a
clean-shaven face, smooth grey hair parted accurately in the middle
of his small head, and a pince-nez, which usually concealed two
shallow brown eyes. On removing an expensive travelling-coat, lined
with sable, he appeared in an admirably-cut tweed suit, with smart
brown shoes, dark-blue socks, and a silk scarf of the same hue
knotted neatly under an immaculately white collar. He struck me as a
lap-dog man: a dandy, a _petit-mâitre_, too precisely dressed, too
finicky--that's the exact word--in his manner: too effeminate in his
way of speaking. There was a suggestion of Miss Destiny's mincing ways
in his whole attitude. How such a doll-like piece of humanity came to
have so tall and stately a daughter was a question I could not answer,
until it struck me that Gertrude might take after her deceased mother.
Then I wondered afresh how such a woman could have married such a
manikin.

"I am glad to see you, dear," said Gertrude, kissing him in such a
motherly way, "but I did not hear the bell."

"I let myself in by using my latch-key," replied Mr. Monk, disengaging
himself from an embrace which somewhat disarranged his careful attire,
"and this gentleman, Gerty dear?"

"Mr. Vance--Mr. Cyrus Vance, the dramatist."

"How are you, Mr. Vance. I think," Mr. Monk put his finger
reflectively to his forehead, "I think I have heard the name."

"I doubt it," was my reply, for the disparaging insolence of the
little man somewhat amused me, "my fame has not travelled very far
towards the West."

"Oh, I am sure it deserves to," said Mr. Monk politely. "Gerty, dear,
can you give me a cup of coffee."

"Dinner will be ready soon, father."

"I do not want any, daughterling, as I dined in town. Rather early, to
be sure, but the food was better than I could get here. Coffee, my
love, coffee, and a cigarette, if you will permit smoking in your
drawing-room."

This unnecessary politeness was a further revelation of Mr. Monk's
character. Under the mask of courtesy, he secured his selfish ends,
and imposed upon everyone by a heartless good breeding, which passed
for amiability. I judged that in looks and manner and dress and
inclinations he resembled Harold Skimpole, Esquire, and was quite as
homeward-bound as that gentleman. I could have kicked myself for
accepting a cigarette from a man of so mean a nature. But then he was
Gertrude's father, after all, and it was necessary to secure his good
will if I desired to marry her. She seemed to be fond of him, and
treated him with playful love. Filial affections evidently warped her
judgment, a state of things of which I am sure Mr. Monk took every
advantage.

While Gertrude ran for the coffee, he lighted my cigarette--which he
had just handed me--insisted that I should be seated, and then took
possession of the best chair, which he selected with unerring
judgment. "I was not aware that my daughter knew you, Mr. Vance," he
said, gracefully examining his manicured nails. "Have we acquaintances
in common?"

"Miss Destiny," I rejoined, laconically.

"My sister-in-law. Strange, since she is quite a home-bird--so
attached to her modest little nest. Where did you meet her may I ask?"

"At Mootley, when Anne Caldershaw was murdered."

The cigarette fell from Mr. Monk's white fingers, and he shuddered.
"Oh pray don't speak of that horrid thing," he cried, holding up a
protesting hand, "it as cost me many sleepless nights. So old and
valued a servant, as Anne was. I shall never get over it: never. I was
in London and when I read the news in the papers, I nearly fainted,
really I did, I assure you."

"Don't speak of it, papa, if it annoys you," said Gertrude, coming
behind his chair to kiss the top of his head.

"No, my dear, I won't." He picked up the cigarette and waved his hand.
"I banish the disagreeable vision. To a man of refinement, these
crimes suggest painful thoughts, such as make one grow old. It is my
aim in life, Mr. Vance," he added, turning to me, "to avoid the
unpleasant. Beauty is my desire--beauty and peace. I cannot bear the
poor and the sordid: I shrink from the great unwashed. Very estimable
people, no doubt, but," he shuddered in his mincing way, "let them
keep out of my sight."

"You are not a philanthropist, Mr. Monk?"

"Certainly not. Why should I trouble about the poor. They are quite
happy in their own disagreeable way, and to meddle with them only
makes them discontented. Yes, Mr. Vance"--he stopped suddenly and
again applied the reflective forefinger. "Ah, yes, I remember now. I
saw your name as one of the witnesses at the absurd inquest. That was
why it sounded familiar."

"Why do you call the inquest absurd, papa?" asked Gertrude, handing
him a cup of coffee, for while he was speaking it had been brought
into the room.

"Such unnecessary trouble over a common woman," murmured Mr. Monk
gracefully; "with a glass eye too--an incomplete woman. And so very
ugly. Her one redeeming feature was that she could cook, though with
my late brother she had small opportunity of exercising that great
art. But let us change the subject, my child, lest horrid dreams
should come to us all from contemplating the crimson theme of murder.
You are staying here, Mr. Vance?" he asked, dropping his grandiloquent
manner, and speaking alertly.

"At The Robin Redbreast."

"For some time?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "It depends upon my fancy."

"I should not think Burwain had many attractions for a young man,"
said Mr. Monk, still alert, and decidedly inquisitive.

"Oh, I am not very young, sir, and after the turmoil of London, a
change of scene to this restful place is agreeable."

"Quite so, quite so," he nodded an assent, but his eyes behind the
pince-nez were still watchful. "But after this Mootley tragedy I
should have thought you would have sickened of the country. By the
way," he stirred his coffee negligently, "is there any chance that the
assassin will be found?"

"I can't say; I mean to try," said I grimly, and wondered why Mr. Monk
harped on the crimson theme he so much disliked.

"_You_ meant to try," he stared and sat up quickly. "Why, may I ask?"

"I have the vice of curiosity," was my answer. "And the circumstances
of the case are so odd, that I wish to solve the mystery."

"I don't see where the mystery comes into the matter, Mr. Vance, if
you will pardon my having a contrary opinion to yourself. The woman
who ran off with your motor car,--I remember what you had to do with
the matter quite well now,--stabbed Anne with a hat-pin. Where is your
mystery there?"

"Dear papa," said Gertrude, who was perched on the arm of his chair,
"don't talk about the matter, as I see it agitates you greatly."

I glanced at her when she said this, as it struck me that if she was
the woman who had taken my car, she naturally would not like the
matter to be spoken about. But she appeared to be perfectly calm, and
her color did not change when our eyes met. Mr. Monk was far more
discomposed than she was. "My dear," he said in answer to her
remonstrance, "I must steel myself to hear all about our old
servant--at least about Gabriel's old servant. Where, I ask again, is
the mystery?"

"In the fact that Mrs. Caldershaw's glass eye was stolen," I asserted.

"Well," admitted Mr. Monk reluctantly, "that is a strange article to
steal I agree. Do you know why it was stolen, Mr. Vance?"

"I have a theory."

"What is your theory?" he pursued eagerly.

"Your late brother left fifty thousand pounds to Miss Monk here," I
explained, "and that money cannot be found. I believe that Mrs.
Caldershaw in some way knew of the whereabouts of this fortune and
indicated the hiding-place in some way by means of the glass eye. It
was stolen by the person who desired to gain that fortune."

"Dear me." Mr. Monk sat up briskly, and then rose to his feet, "have
you any grounds for this strange belief?"

"None that would satisfy you, Mr. Monk."

"What do you think, my child?"

"There may be something in the idea," admitted Gertrude cautiously,
"it may be worth Mr. Vance's while to search the matter out. I admit
that I should be glad if he could find the money."

If she was the woman who had taken the car, this speech was strangely
daring, and while she made it, her eyes were fixed very straightly on
mine. In fact, it was my eyes that fell first before hers. I must say
that she puzzled me, in the face of what I knew, and more than ever I
regretted the inopportune entrance of Mr. Monk, when she had been on
the eve of making an explanation, which might have solved the mystery
of her behavior.

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Monk, trotting up and down the room, "I should be
glad of the money myself," and again I noted that in his selfishness
he did not appear to remember that his daughter owned the missing
fortune, "well, well, well, well, well, it is a strange theory,
and--if you will pardon my saying so, Mr. Vance--somewhat incredible."

"Theories are usually more or less incredible," said I, dryly.
"However, if the glass eye can be found, we may prove the improbable
to be the possible."

"The glass eye: h'm, the glass eye of Anne Caldershaw," Mr. Monk
halted near my chair, and placed me--so to speak--in the witness-box.
He questioned me most precisely concerning my theory, weighed my
replies, made suggestion of his own, and appealed several times to
Gertrude, to learn what she thought about the matter. Finally he
concluded that there might be something in the matter, although he
confessed that he saw no chance of recovering the missing eye, which
was the clue to the missing money. "Always presuming," was Mr. Monk's
final remark, "that you are correct, there is no doubt that the
fortune is missing, and that we--my daughter and I--would be glad to
obtain it. But the chances of finding the key--if it be the key--to
the mystery of the hiding-place are very, very remote. Never mind, go
on."

"I have explained everything I know, Mr. Monk."

"I don't mean that, sir. What I mean is, that I desire you to go on
with the search for the glass eye, and for the criminal who
slaughtered Anne. How do you propose to proceed, may I ask?"

"I haven't the least idea," I replied, despondently.

"No matter; do not despair. _Nil desperandum_ is a most excellent
motto for the young and ambitious. It has been my motto through
life--" This came excellently from a man, who had done nothing but
indulge himself throughout his fifty years of existence. But he made
the statement in a light and airy manner, then turned to his daughter:
"My dear, don't you think that after this very criminal conversation,
we might have a little music to soothe and charm our weary souls?"

Gertrude, whom the examination had made thoughtful, excused herself on
the plea of fatigue, so Mr. Monk took possession of the piano himself.
He played gracefully, if not convincingly, and sang little songs in a
pleasant voice of no great power. I would much rather have chatted
with Gertrude, who was now staring meditatively into the fire, but Mr.
Monk demanded my entire attention. He was jealous of applause, and I
was obliged to watch him sitting at the piano like an enlarged white
rabbit. I thought privately that he was an infernal nuisance, but as
the father of Gertrude, he had to be treated diplomatically.

"Come daughterling," said Monk, when he had exhausted his stock of
amiable ditties, "you are looking tired. Go to bed, my child, and
leave Mr. Vance and myself to cigarettes in the smoking-room."

"There is no fire in the smoking-room, papa," said Gertrude, rising.

"Order the servant to light one at once, my love."

"It is not worth while," expostulated his daughter, and then I heard
her say something in low tones regarding the price of coals. But Mr.
Monk would take no denial, and--as usual--proceeded to gratify his
selfish inclinations. However, as it turned out when we sought the
smoking-room, the fire was not laid, so Mr. Monk, after a few severe
words about the criminal negligence of servants, relinquished his
point. "And I regret to see that you are not so excellent a
housekeeper as I should wish you to be, Gertrude," he finished with
chill dignity. "However,--let it pass. And before leaving this room,
Mr. Vance, pray examine it carefully."

This was easy, as on entering he had lighted two powerful lamps--or
rather he had ordered Gertrude to light them with my assistance--so
the room was seen to the greatest advantage in the mellow radiance.

"It is the oldest portion of this old house," explained Mr. Monk,
waving his delicate hand, "built by an ancestor of mine two hundred
years ago in order to live a monastic life--quite like a Monk, ha!
ha!" he ended, laughing at his small jest. "My late brother Gabriel
always lived in this cell--I call it a cell, Mr. Vance. Rather dull
you know, but the beam is extremely fine as you can see."

The apartment was of no great size with one narrow window opposite to
one narrow door. Both of these were draped with faded crimson curtains
to exclude light and draughts. The wide and spacious fireplace was
decorated with reddish Dutch tiles, and at present was filled with
ferns and grasses, as it doubtless had been throughout the summer. The
floor was covered with a richly-hued crimson carpet from a Cairien
loom, and the furniture--what there was of it--consisted of black oak.
It really resembled a monastic cell in its severe looks, and the
atmosphere was chill and deathlike, as though no human being ever
dwelt in it. Gertrude shivered. "Come back to the drawing-room, papa,"
she said, impatiently, "you can't smoke in this ice-house."

"All the fault of your doubtful housekeeping, my dear. One moment. I
wish Mr. Vance to admire this beam to which I called his attention
some time ago. See the device and lettering, Mr. Vance. An odd motto
and an odd device. My ancestor chose both, and had the beam carved. A
very fine piece of work."

The beam, to which he so persistently drew my attention was a massive
length of dark oak stretched across the ceiling immediately below the
flat panels of black wood. In the powerful radiance of the two lamps I
saw that an eagle was carved on the beam, and round him swarmed a
cloud of winged insects. Beneath ran the motto in Gothic letters, and
in Latin: _Aquila non capit muscas!_

"An eagle does not catch flies," translated Mr. Monk, with a shrewd
glance in my direction. "A quaint saying for any man to choose. There
is a story attached to it, I am certain. Perhaps Gertrude----"

"I don't know of any story, father," she interrupted quickly,
anticipating a long conversation in this vault-like room. "Do return
to the drawing-room, or you will catch cold."

This hint of possible danger to his precious person lured Mr. Monk
away at once. I remained behind and extinguished the lamps for
Gertrude, trying meanwhile to let her understand that I desired
to resume our interrupted conversation. But she seemed to be
absent-minded, and when we left the chill smoking-room, did not ask me
to follow her father. I therefore assumed my overcoat and took my
leave. At the last moment, Mr. Monk appeared with hospitable offers.

"A glass of wine: a slice of cake: a cigarette?" said he, graciously.
"Ah, you will have nothing. Very good. Let us say good-night," he
shook my hand with a royal air, "remember while you are here to come
and see us. I may be away, but my daughter will always be charmed to
show you the house. So pleased to have met you: so very, very
pleased."

I finally tore myself from Mr. Monk's blandishments, and secured a
friendly smile from Gertrude as I stepped out into the darkness. On
the way back to the inn, through the unlighted village streets, I
meditated on the position. Mr. Monk for his own selfish ends evidently
desired me to find the criminal; less to avenge Mrs. Caldershaw than
to secure the glass eye, which I believed to be the clue to the
hiding-place of the fifty thousand pounds. If I could manage to be
successful, it was probable that out of gratitude, he would permit me
to marry his daughter. And Gertrude herself, judging from our
interrupted conversation, was not averse to me. She was ready to take
me for a friend, at all events, and from a friend to a lover is not a
far remove; it only needed time and perseverance to accomplish.

It seemed to me that my best plan was to cultivate Mr. Monk's society
while he remained at The Lodge, and between whiles, to secure, if
possible, a private interview with the girl. Apparently there was
something on her mind, which might, or might not have to do with the
Mootley murder. But in any case if she were only frank with me, I
could gage her attitude more accurately. Once I gained her confidence,
and she knew me to be a true friend, if not a lover, she might explain
to me how her cloak came to be in the possession of the eloping lady.
Of course--although, as I have said before--I persistently declined to
believe this, she might be the eloping lady herself. But in any case,
it was apparent that I could not move a single step with the clue of
the cloak until I learned all about it from the woman I now so
devotedly loved.

Having more or less roughed out my plans, which were to see as much of
Gertrude and her father as possible, I retired to bed and dreamed that
I was a married man with a famous name and a large fortune. But the
pleasant vision was rendered uncomfortable by the constant presence of
a gigantic eye, which glared malignantly on me and on my schemes. I
was glad when the morning broke.

For the next two or three days I was pretty constantly at The Lodge,
and became intimate with Mr. Monk, although I did not see so much of
Gertrude as I desired. Her father, in his selfishness, would not leave
us alone, and moreover, learning that I had a motor car, requisitioned
the same to pay visits to surrounding friends. He went to
Gattlingsands, to Tarhaven, and even proposed a visit to Mootley in
order to inspect the scene of the crime. I was quite willing to go.

"We can stop at Murchester and see my friend, Lord Cannington, who is
in the gunners," I suggested.

Mr. Monk started, and turned to ask questions. "You know Lord
Cannington?"

"Very well. I have known him for years. And you?"

"Some friend of mine knows him," said Mr. Monk, quietly, although I
fancied that he was secretly perturbed. "The name struck me as
familiar. A charming young man, I believe. I wish Gertrude knew him.
Should this money be recovered, I wish her to marry a title if
possible."

This suggestion did not suit me at all. Cannington was just the kind
of inflammable youth to fall at Gertrude's feet, quite independent of
the fortune. Much as I liked the boy, I did not see why I should
search out fifty thousand pounds for him and allow him to marry the
woman I loved. I therefore determined--selfishly perhaps--to keep Mr.
Monk and Lord Cannington apart, and threw cold water on the journey to
Murchester. And as Mr. Monk himself did not seem very keen about the
visit, we did not go.

But he did take me to see Miss Destiny, and asked her graciously to
The Lodge, rather to the annoyance of Gertrude, who had not much love
for her miserly aunt. In fact while Monk remained in Burwain--which he
did for quite a week--Miss Destiny hovered round the house like a bee
round a flower. Once or twice I met her driving in her so-called
trap--I agreed with Mrs. Faith that it was a cart--in the company of
Lucinda, and she behaved pleasantly to me, although she could not deny
herself the impish delight of hinting at my devotion to Gertrude.

"Not that you'll ever marry her, Mr. Vance. Walter has other plans.
She is to be used to forward his fortunes, as he wants money."

I said nothing, but privately determined that the girl should not be
sacrificed like a modern Iphigenia on the altar of selfish paternal
desires. I kept my counsel, and let Monk talk as he pleased, and was
unobtrusively agreeable to Gertrude. Miss Destiny I saw very little
of.

On the sixth day of Mr. Monk's stay in Burwain, I went one afternoon
to The Lodge and found the little old lady in conversation with
Striver. The handsome gardener was trying to evade the pertinacity of
Miss Destiny, who insisted that he should look after her domain for
nothing. "I am sure that my brother," so she spoke of Mr. Monk, "pays
you well Joseph, so you can easily give a couple of hours a day to my
little place."

"I have my duties here," said Striver, scowling as I approached. "But
if Mr. Monk gives me orders, I can arrange, for a certain sum."

"Oh, I can't pay you a single penny," cried Miss Destiny shrilly.
"It's not to be expected. But, if you come, you will find me a
friend."

"In what way?" asked the gardener, sharply, and not too politely.

Miss Destiny did not answer in words. She looked at Striver, then
looked at me, and finally glanced towards the house, where Gertrude
was standing in the doorway. My rival flushed crimson, and I did also,
as we both knew exactly what she meant. On seeing the tell-tale color,
she burst into a roguish laugh, and walked towards the porch. A moment
later, and she disappeared with her niece into the house. Striver and
I looked at one another.

"You have no right to come here," said the gardener, who looked
handsomer than ever in his rough working clothes.

"What do you mean, man?"

"Oh, it's all very well calling me man in that lordly way," he said
violently, "but I know quite well that you are in love with----"

"There is no need to mention names," I interrupted, throwing up my
hand, "and I forbid you to speak to me in this way."

"_You_ forbid me," cried my rival, laughing bitterly, "as if I feared
you, Mr. Cyrus Vance. You have more need to fear me. Yes. After all, I
believe you know more about my aunt's death than you chose to say."

I did not deign to reply to this absurd remark, but moved towards
the house in the hope of meeting Mr. Monk. Usually he was in the
drawing-room, and as the French windows were open, all three, I
advanced towards the middle one, while Striver, leaning on his spade
looked after me enviously. He grudged that I should be able to enter
the house while he was chained to the garden and to his work. However,
I had no time to consider his feelings and was about to step into the
room, when I saw on a small table near it a glittering object. It was
a glass eye.



CHAPTER XI
MISS DESTINY SPEAKS


There it glared at me--the glass eye for which I sought. As Striver
had said, it was a mere shell, on the outward curve of which was
depicted the pupil and the iris of a gray eye, the white portion of
the fabric being delicately streaked with thin red veins. Uttering an
ejaculation I tipped it over with my finger, and just had time to see
that there was a piece of silver the size of a threepenny bit--and
perhaps indeed a threepenny bit--fastened inside the concave, when I
heard Mr. Monk's voice calling me on the terrace. It flashed across me
in an instant that he must not see the eye, which apparently Gertrude
had carelessly left lying on the table. I should have picked it up to
slip into my pocket, but the sight was so very unexpected that I had
not my presence of mind and stepped back again on to the terrace,
leaving the sinister object on the table. At the same moment Mr. Monk
coming round the corner of the terrace, slipped his arm within my own.
"I heard your voice," he said gently and it guided me towards the
corner, "come and see the green-house. There are some orchids there I
should like you to examine. I am fond of these weird plants. Such a
well-bred taste, too," added Mr. Monk, languidly. "The love of a man
for orchids is like the love of a woman for lace."

I replied mechanically, for my head was in a whirl, and submitted to
be led to a far distant corner of the garden where the greenhouses
nestled under the red brick wall. Here, while Mr. Monk discoursed
learnedly on flowers,--about which he knew less than nothing,--I
wondered in my own mind what might be the meaning of my discovery. The
glass eye could have been left in the drawing-room by no one but
Gertrude, since I already possessed her cloak to show--what I had
hitherto shrunk from acknowledging even to myself--that she was the
lady who had stolen my motor-car. Then again, she was the one person
who had a right to the fifty thousand pounds when found. I groaned. It
really seemed that my pearl amongst woman was guilty of theft and
murder. And yet, even at the eleventh hour, I could not make up my
mind to believe that she was guilty.

Mr. Monk mistook my groan for weariness, and became offended. "I fear
you don't take much interest in flowers, Mr. Vance," he said, glaring
at me through his pince-nez.

"Oh, yes; they interest me; pray proceed," I said, hastily.

"No. The air of this place is so dense that it gives me a headache.
The day is uncommonly warm for this season of the year. Let us return
to the house. I have a new song I should like to show you. To-morrow I
return to London, and shall not see you for some time."

"Oh, I can call on you when I go back to town," I said idly, for my
brain was still preoccupied with the glass eye problem.

"No! No! Pardon me, no," said Mr. Monk decidedly and hastily. "I am
going away for a few weeks to the Continent--on business of course."

"Business," I echoed, "I thought you were free, Mr. Monk."

He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, as we slowly walked across the
lawn towards the shallow steps of the terrace. "I have five hundred a
year," he declared, "and what is that, a mere pittance. I have to
allow Gertrude something and have this house to keep up. Also my flat
in London has to be rented. I can't do that on ten pounds a week."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him why he did not remain at
Burwain and play the part of a country gentleman, to reduce his
expenditure, when he proceeded. "Yes, I am in business of a sort,
connected with commissions on loans. That is, you will understand, Mr.
Vance, I am not a money lender--far from it. I simply find people who
have no money and who want it and agree to procure them money from
those who possess it, on condition that I have a ten per cent
commission. In a word I induce my many friends to benefit each other
and so benefit myself. Come Mr. Vance, you are a rising dramatist who
should be better known in the West End. Suppose you allow me--at ten
per cent--to arrange a loan for you to produce one of your better
class plays."

"I have no security," I objected.

"I can arrange that," said Mr. Monk with an airy wave of his hand,
"and if you can find that eye," I started violently, but he did not
appear to notice, "and get the fifty thousand pounds, I shall let you
have the money myself at the same percentage. I shall not charge any
commission," he ended generously, quite forgetting that he was
proposing to gamble with his daughter's money. But that obtuseness was
Mr. Monk all over.

"If I could see you in town,"--

"Later on: later on," he said hastily mounting the steps, "say in
three or four months when I return from the Continent. Then we can
have a talk."

"Your address is?"--

He interrupted again. "I shall see you here: I shall see you here. It
will be much more convenient for me," and he passed through the French
window into the drawing-room.

Mr. Monk puzzled me, as I did not understand why he should refuse to
see me on his--so to speak--business premises, seeing he desired to
speak with me on a business matter. However, all his froth and small
talk were driven out of my head by my discovery that the glass eye had
disappeared from the small table. I suppose Gertrude had put it into
her pocket, as she was in the room arranging some flowers in a vase. I
glanced at her keenly, but she appeared to be perfectly cool.

"Where is your aunt?" asked Monk, looking around.

"She has gone home again: she only came to see if she could get
Joseph to attend to her place," said Gertrude, busy with her flowers,
"good-morning, Mr. Vance."

"Good-morning," I answered looking hard at her--so hard that she
blushed becomingly, but certainly not guiltily.

"What is the matter?" she asked, putting her hand to her head, "is my
hair out of order?"

"No--o--o--o," I said hesitatingly, for her coolness amazed me. "I was
only delighted to see you looking so well."

She blushed again. "Thank you," was her laughing reply, "for that
compliment you shall have a flower," and she actually handed me a late
rosebud.

I placed it in my button-hole, feeling quite bewildered. It was
impossible that she could be guilty, and yet the eye had certainly
been on the table, and perhaps had found a place in her pocket.

Meanwhile Mr. Monk was fuming with injured egotism at being left out
of the conversation. "Attend to me, Gertrude, if you please," he said
sharply. "I wish you would tell your aunt that I disapprove of her
trying to get Joseph to attend to her garden. She will not pay him,
and the man can't work for nothing."

"Oh, I think he can," said Miss Monk, putting the vase of now-arranged
flowers on the mantelpiece. "Mrs. Caldershaw left him quite a fortune
for a man in his station of life. But why don't you speak to my aunt
yourself."

"No! no! no! She upsets my nerves. We always quarrel."

"Exactly what happens when I speak to her" rejoined Gertrude with a
shrug; "so I am never pleased when she comes here. It's your fault,
papa; when you are away she never calls. I really think she must be in
love with you, dear. You had better take care, papa. Since the
Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill is law now, aunty may wish to marry
you."

Monk laughed, and smiled, not ill-pleased by this tribute to his
looks. "I shall chose a younger wife than your aunt, my dear. The
stepmother I may give you will be young and charming."

His daughter looked at him in dismay. "Papa, are you thinking of
marrying again?" she demanded quickly.

"No, my love. I am too poor to marry; but if I met a rich woman,
well----" he stopped, pulled up his collar, glanced in a near mirror
and adjusted his tie, apparently thinking he was worthy to be wooed by
an heiress.

Gertrude laughed, more at ease in her mind. "It would be foolish to
marry at your age, papa. You have a comfortable house and a good
income, so why not enjoy yourself as you are doing now."

But it appeared that she had said the wrong thing, since her father
was excessively touchy. "At my age, Gertrude," he remarked in an
offended tone, "you forget that I am still comparatively young, and
that when you marry I shall be very solitary. As to my income, it is a
mere pittance to a man of my artistic tastes."

His daughter might have reminded him that he spent most of his income
on himself, and kept her on next to nothing. But she passed over the
whole speech save one remark: "I shall never marry, papa," she said
quietly.

"Why not? why not?" fumed Mr. Monk, startled.

"No one will have me," she said demurely.

"Oh," her father laughed, "that is all right; I haven't been unmindful
of you, my child, when in town. There are one or two men to whom I
must introduce you with a view to matrimony. I shall arrange----"

"Please don't, papa; I prefer to arrange the question of marriage
myself."

"Foolish, foolish child," said Monk, his touchy temper again getting
the better of him, "you shall do as I tell you else you will place me
in the disagreeable position of Lear," and he walked out of the room
just like a child, annoyed because the bad naughty table has hurt it.

"Oh, dear me, how easily papa is offended," sighed Gertrude, shrugging
when he banged the door, "this must be unpleasant for you, Mr. Vance."

"What must be?"

"These family jars."

"Oh, dear, no, don't think that," I answered easily. "I see you have
to humor your father."

"He's a dear father, Mr. Vance, but sometimes he is difficult to deal
with; I offend him without meaning to, he is so sensitive."

I thought the man selfish myself, but it was none of my business to
say so, therefore I dropped the subject and asked Miss Monk to grant
me a favor.

"I wish you to come to tea to-morrow at the inn. Mrs. Gilfin will play
the part of chaperon, if your father can't come."

"I don't think papa can, as he is going back to London in the morning.
I accept with pleasure."

"Shall I ask your aunt."

"Oh, no, please don't. I would rather Mrs. Gilfin were present. Not
that it needs anyone to play propriety, as I am sure you can behave
yourself. At what time do you want me to come?"

"Four o'clock, unless you like to come earlier and go for a drive in
my motor."

"No. I shall come to The Robin Redbreast at four. I wish to ask your
advice on a very important subject."

"To renew our conversation of the night when your father entered so
unexpectedly?"

"Yes. As I said then, I want a friend."

"And I said----"

"I know what you said. If you say it again, I shall begin to think I
must have a chaperon for your proposed tea after all. Now you must go.
I have heaps and heaps of housework to do. Also I must pack papa's
portmanteau."

I internally blessed Mr. Monk and his confounded portmanteau, then
took my departure, as I had entered, by the middle window. As I passed
out I could not help glancing again at the table whereon I had seen
the glass eye. Miss Monk saw my inquiring gaze and came forward. "Have
you lost anything?"

I was more confounded than ever. "No--nothing," I said hurriedly.
"Good-day," and I departed at top speed, entirely at sea as regards
the true state of affairs. And yet, apart from the evidence of the
cloak, the presence of the glass eye at The Lodge seemed conclusively
to prove the guilt of Gertrude.

On my way back to the inn I wondered if by any chance Miss Destiny had
seen the eye. On reaching the house, it was not impossible that after
my capture by Mr. Monk, she might have entered the drawing-room; in
which case, being--as I had frequently found--of an inquisitive turn
of mind, it was certain that she had caught sight of the object. It
was even possible that she had taken the eye in order to find the
secret hiding-place of the fortune. Miss Destiny was a miser; Miss
Destiny had no great love for her niece, so the theft of the eye would
appeal to her avarice and love of making herself disagreeable. And of
course, she would know very well, that her niece could say nothing
without getting herself into trouble.

No sooner had this idea entered my mind, than I wheeled about and took
the road to Miss Destiny's hovel, with the intention of asking
questions. But these were not easy to formulate. If she possessed the
eye, she certainly would not acknowledge the theft: if she did not, I
might reveal my suspicions of Gertrude and thus would place a weapon
in the little old lady's hand, which she would undoubtedly make use
of. But in my hurried walk to my destination, there was no time to
arrange what to say, so I determined to trust more or less to chance.
And in this doubtful state of mind I arrived at the tin house.

Miss Destiny herself opened the door, and explained that Lucinda was
shopping in the village. She appeared to be her usual mincing self,
and betrayed no uneasiness. I was invited into her sordid, shabby
sitting-room, and she entered into a long complaint about her
brother-in-law's treatment. "Walter is so very mean," lamented Miss
Destiny, sitting down, "I believe he grudges Joseph coming to work for
me."

"Mr. Monk has engaged Joseph to attend to his own garden," I reminded
her.

"The Lodge garden is in good order," she snapped, "whereas mine needs
a lot of attention. Walter might send the man along."

"If you pay Joseph, Miss Destiny----"

"Pay him," she interrupted with a shriek, and throwing up her hands,
"my dear Mr. Vance, it is as much as I can do to keep bread in my
mouth. I am reduced to this"--she glanced round--"which is by no means
the abode of a gentlewoman. But Gertrude and her father would let me
starve sooner than behave as relatives should."

"Oh, no, no," I protested. "Miss Monk is extremely kind."

"Have you found her so?" demanded the vindictive aunt.

"I have found her charming," was my cautious reply.

"Charms don't pay taxes, Mr. Vance. I suppose," she added abruptly,
"that you intend to marry her. Oh, don't look so astonished, young
man. I remember how you admired her photograph in Anne's house, and
you didn't come here for nothing. Oh dear me, no."

"I came here to learn all I could about the glass eye, so that I might
trace the assassin of Anne Caldershaw."

"Oh, indeed," Miss Destiny's sharp eyes twinkled wickedly, "and you
haunt my niece in order to ask questions?"

"Why not?" I ventured cautiously.

Miss Destiny laughed significantly. "Why not indeed," she echoed,
"it's my opinion that Gertrude knows much more about the glass eye
than she dares to tell you, or anyone else."

My blood ran cold, for the moment. Apparently this disagreeable old
woman had seen the eye on the drawing-room table, and thence had drawn
the very worst conclusions. I ventured on a bold stroke. "Do you mean
to say that Miss Monk has the glass eye?"

"I don't say that."

"Then she has not the glass eye," I said impatiently, and drawing a
breath of great relief.

"I don't say that either."

"Then what _do_ you say, Miss Destiny."

"Nothing, except that you will be wise to go away from Burwain and
give up all idea of marrying my niece."

"Why?" I asked very directly.

"Because--as I said--Gertrude knows something about the murder."

"That is a serious thing to say, Miss Destiny. On what grounds do you
make such an accusation?"

She made no direct reply, but rocked to and fro, "I know, I know," she
said, with a cunning look, and a malicious chuckle.

I ventured still further on the dangerous ground upon which I was
treading. "Have you seen the glass eye in Miss Monk's possession?"

"No," she said, and her reply startled me, for I had made sure that
she dared to speak thus freely from having espied the object on the
drawing-room table, "I never said that she had the glass eye."

"Then on what grounds----"

"Oh, I don't wish to say anything," she interrupted.

"Having said so much, you must say more," was my firm reply, "you have
no right to make dangerous accusations without proof."

"Gertrude herself can supply the proof."

"I would not insult her by asking her to."

"No," screeched Miss Destiny, jumping to her feet like a small fury,
"because you are a fool. Every man who loves is a fool. And you love
Gertrude. Heaven only knows what you see in her."

"I see a lovely girl and an accomplished lady, a good daughter and an
honorable gentlewoman."

"Four people rolled into one," sneered the spiteful little creature,
quivering with wrath. "She may be lovely in your eyes--I know what
fools men are--but, good and honorable she is not."

"Prove what you say," I cried, but she only trotted about the room,
tremulous with anger and jealousy. I determined to enrage her still
further, as if she completely lost her temper she might unexpectedly
come out with all she knew. I was therefore pointedly rude. "The fact
is, Miss Destiny, you are jealous of your niece's beauty."

"Me!" she quavered, and her eyes flamed, "me jealous?"

"Yes, you are also annoyed because your niece has Gabriel Monk's
money."

"Has she? If she has, she committed murder to get it."

"That's a lie."

"You forget, sir, that you speak to a lady."

"I do not," I retorted, still carrying out my plan, "I am speaking to
a jealous old woman who is trying to harm an innocent girl."

This last speech brought about the desired result. "Innocent!" she
cried, and stamped her foot, "if she is innocent, what was she doing
at Anne Caldershaw's on the night of the murder."

"She was not there."

"Yes she was; yes she was; yes she was," chattered Miss Destiny,
thrusting her angry face close up to mine. "I said nothing about it at
the inquest, as I did not wish to get her into trouble. But now that
you dare to say I am jealous of that--that minx"--she brought out the
word with a gasp. "I shall speak out, and I dare Gertrude to
contradict me. I arranged to meet her at Anne's house at five o'clock.
I started on the previous day in the trap with Lucinda, and stopped
the night with a friend at Saxham. Next day I went on, but owing to
the state of the roads and the slowness of the horse I did not reach
Anne's house until after the crime was committed. But Gertrude
intended to go to Murchester, and thence walk to Anne's house on the
day when the murder took place. I am sure that she was at Mootley at
five o'clock to keep the appointment. And it was after that time that
Anne was stabbed with the hat-pin. A hat-pin with a blue glass head,"
cried Miss Destiny triumphantly. "I gave Gertrude three pins like that
myself as a Christmas present last year. Now you see, she is guilty."

It certainly looked like it, but I declined to admit even the shadow
of a suspicion. "I don't see," said I, tartly, and controlling myself
with an effort. "Miss Monk may have called at five o'clock and not
finding you there may have returned to Burwain by the evening train."

"Oh, did she," mocked Miss Destiny cruelly, "then what about the blue
glass-headed hat-pin? What about her presence at Mootley about the
time Anne was killed? What about the lady who stole your motor car?"

"You can't prove the lady was Miss Monk?"

"Yes I can. That man Giles said the lady wore a white cloak. I saw her
with the white cloak myself. And Gertrude had such a white cloak."

"Really," I said bantering, although these proofs of guilt made me
tremble; "perhaps you recognized Miss Monk when the motor car nearly
collided with your cart--I beg pardon--your trap."

"No, I didn't recognize her," said Miss Destiny, sitting down
sullenly, "It was darkish, and Gertrude was the last person I expected
to see in a motor car. I saw that the lady had a white cloak, and knew
my niece possessed one; but it never struck me that Gertrude was the
driver, until I came to Mootley and heard that Anne had been murdered.
The information about the glass-headed pin made me certain."

"All this has to be proved," said I, after a nervous pause, for there
was no denying that Miss Monk's position was perilous, "have you
accused her?"

"No, I haven't. I asked her why she didn't meet me at Mootley, and she
said that she had decided not to go. A lie--a lie," cried Miss
Destiny, leaping to her feet again, "she was there, and she murdered
Anne."

"And stole the eye, perhaps?"

"I can't say that for certain. I only speak of what I know. But, as
Anne was murdered for the sake of the eye--everyone seems to think
that--I have no doubt that Gertrude has it."

"Have you seen it in her possession?"

"You asked me that before. I have not seen it in her possession. I
only speak of what I know," she said again and looked dogged.

There was a few minutes' silence. Putting together Miss Destiny's
statements and what I knew about the eye and the cloak, it would seem
that the proofs of guilt against Gertrude were overwhelming.
Prejudiced as I was in her favor, and blinded, more or less by love, I
could not help acknowledging that the evidence was dead against her.
If Miss Destiny spoke out, and Gertrude was arrested, she would be
hard put to prove her innocence. Only one thing remained to be done:
to silence Miss Destiny, until Gertrude could explain herself.

"Of course you will say nothing," I said sternly.

Miss Destiny looked at me sulkily. "Of course," she asserted. "I don't
love Gertrude; all the same I don't wish to see her hanged."

"Not that word," I rose and put out my hand, wincing.

"Hanged! hanged! hanged!" screamed the furious old woman, "you are so
blinded by love, you fool, that you can't see her wickedness--the
murderess."

"She is not."

"The thief."

"She is not." I turned on my heel and flung open the door. Miss
Destiny leaped to my side.

"What are you going to do?"

"I intend to see Miss Monk, and ask her to disprove your accusations."

"She can't; she daren't."

"We shall see," I snapped, and left the house, while Miss Destiny
jeered and made mouths after me like a wicked foul old witch.



CHAPTER XII.
GERTRUDE'S DEFENCE


As may be guessed, I passed a very perturbed four and twenty hours
until my arranged interview with Miss Monk. Miss Destiny had not seen
the glass eye in the drawing-room, and so far could prove nothing
against her niece. I believe that, so far, she was speaking the truth,
as if she had seen the eye, she would have only been too pleased to
adduce its presence as a proof of Gertrude's guilt. But, as things
were, what she knew was damning enough. She could swear to the girl's
presence at Mootley on the evening of the murder, and to the ownership
of the white cloak, worn by the lady who had stolen my motor car.
Fortunately, from sheer shame, since Miss Monk was her niece, Miss
Destiny promised to hold her tongue.

In the face of what the old woman had said and that I already knew, it
seemed certain that Gertrude was guilty. Miss Destiny could even
declare that her niece had possessed certain blue glass-headed
hat-pins, with one of which the crime had been committed. Then again
Gertrude wished to get the money, which, after all, was rightfully her
own. It seemed probable--on the face of it--that while waiting with
Anne Caldershaw for Miss Destiny's arrival, she had tried to learn
what the ex-housekeeper knew as to the whereabouts of the money. Anne
may have boasted that the secret was locked up in her glass eye, and
then--well, I shuddered to think of what took place. Nine people out
of ten would have pronounced Gertrude guilty with the greatest
promptitude: but I happened to be the tenth, and I hesitated to give
an opinion. But then I was in love, and my decision was biassed.

But I really could not believe that so lovely a girl was guilty.
Besides, her demeanor was not that of a brazen criminal, and she had
seemed really puzzled by my over-attentive gaze. Tossing and turning
on my bed, I tried to see some ray of light, but all was utter
darkness. The evidence was dead against Gertrude Monk, and her fate
was in the hands of her vindictive aunt. Miss Destiny might hold her
tongue for the time being, but it would take very little to set it
wagging. And being a miser, she might try to blackmail her niece. My
brain ached with trying to get at the truth. To Inspector Dredge it
would have have been readily apparent; but in the face of stern facts
I refused to believe the girl to be guilty.

Then there was Giles. During the night I thought a good deal of Giles,
whom I had met that very evening when I returned to the Robin
Redbreast. He was remaining there for the night, and informed me that
he had come over to Burwain that day in order to see Striver about the
lease of the corner shop.

"You see, Mr. Vance," said Giles, shortly before I retired to bed, and
while we were in the bar, "my wife wants to have a shop of her own, so
I thought I would get Mr. Striver to make over the lease of Mrs.
Caldershaw's shop to me. My wife is set on having it, and I think Mr.
Striver will agree to the terms I propose."

"You have seen him, then?"

"Yes, sir. I went to his house to-day and found he was at the Lodge,
working in the garden. I sought him out there and we had a talk, just
before Miss Destiny came to bother him. I went away then, and
afterwards you came."

"Oh," my mind swiftly ran over the events of the day, "then you were
in the grounds of the Lodge before I arrived?"

"Yes, Mr. Vance," said Giles, readily enough. "Mr. Striver wasn't in
the garden at the time, as he had gone round to the back of the house.
I walked up to the front door and asked for him. The servant sent a
message, and we were talking over our deal when the little old lady
arrived. She spoilt the business, for the time being; but I saw Mr.
Striver this evening, and we have arranged about the matter. My wife
will have the shop."

I thought a good deal about this conversation when in bed. Giles had
been alone in the grounds of The Lodge and had gone up to the house to
seek for Striver. Might he not have placed the eye on the table, since
he could easily do so, when the middle French window was open. But
then I had absolutely no reason to suspect Giles, as the glass eye
would be meaningless to him. But stop! Would it indeed be meaningless?
Certainly Mrs. Giles had denied that she knew about Mrs. Caldershaw's
glass eye, but then she had admitted that the ex-housekeeper had said
she would never die in her bed. In one way or another Mrs. Giles may
have learned the secret of the hidden money, and thus Giles might have
killed Mrs. Caldershaw to obtain the glass eye which was the clue. But
after reflection I dismissed this theory as utterly ridiculous. Giles
could not have gained possession of the hat-pin belonging--according to
Miss Destiny--to Gertrude Monk; and certainly, having the eye, would
not come over to Burwain to leave it in the drawing-room of The Lodge.
Giles, on the face of it, was utterly innocent. Yet it was strange
that he should have been in the grounds of the Jacobean house nearly
at the time I had seen the glass eye, and that [it] had disappeared.
If Giles had not placed it there, he might have taken it.

"No! no! no! no!" I muttered in drowsy tones; "it's absurd. Giles has
nothing to do with the matter. He merely came over to arrange about
the shop. He did not place the glass eye there: nor did Striver. If
Striver had possessed the eye he would have gained possession of the
money. Besides, he was not at Mootley until the funeral took place.
Mr. Monk! He's innocent enough, as he was in London when the crime was
committed. Moreover, if he possessed the eye, he also would be in
possession of the fortune. Gertrude is the only person to whom
suspicion points. I shall insist upon a full explanation to-morrow. I
alone can save her if she is guilty." And then I fell into a troubled
sleep, reproaching myself for daring to doubt my divinity.

Giles departed next morning before I arose, and I did not see him
again. Haunted still by undefined suspicions, I regretted his
departure, and determined later to look him up at Mootley. Of course,
the mere idea of thinking that the respectable sturdy greengrocer was
guilty seemed ridiculous, but in my anxiety to save Gertrude from
danger I was willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone. To such a state
does love bring the most just of mankind.

By the midday post I received an impetuous letter from Cannington, who
informed me that he had snaffled--the word is his own--a couple of
weeks' leave. For the present he was staying with his aunt, Lady
Denham, because Mabel wished it, but proposed, when I came up, to take
rooms at a hotel, where he would--as he put it--be less tied by the
leg. Then he went on to say that I had remained long enough at
Burwain, and that if I did not come to him he would come to me, like
Mahomet and the proverbial mountain. Bearing in mind Mr. Monk's
aspirations for a titled son-in-law, this was the last thing I
desired, so I arranged promptly in my own mind to accept his
invitation. Besides, after my interview with Gertrude, in which I
hoped to come to an understanding, there would be no need for me to
remain at Burwain. Her story might send me farther afield in search of
new clues.

Reading between the lines of Cannington's letter, I saw that he was
devoured with curiosity concerning Miss Monk. He knew that I had
fallen in love with the portrait, and as he had always regarded me as
a particularly staid, sedate personage, he naturally doubted if I
would carry on so fantastic a romance. However, he evidently had his
suspicions, since I chose to linger in a dull country village, and
therefore was desperately anxious to see the lady who could thus move
my elderly heart. As Cannington was a most pertinacious mortal, I
wrote by the next post that I would be in London next week, and then
would have much to tell him about the case. And as a matter of fact I
did wish to have some safe person with whom to discuss matters. I
could always rely on Cannington to hold his tongue, even if his advice
did not prove to be particularly good. At all events the boy could
always be relied upon to keep silent, which was more than I could say
for many people I know. So to Cannington I resolved to confide the
full tale of my discoveries, and--in the interests of my wooing--I
ended my letter with a repetition of the fact that I was coming to see
him. Had I not emphasized this the boy might have appeared the next
day to make inquiries.

After posting this letter I consulted with Mrs. Gilfin about afternoon
tea, and that able old creature bustled about to some purpose. She
arranged flowers in my sitting room, stoked the fire, dusted the
furniture unnecessarily, and spread a truly gorgeous tea for my
visitor. I protested that neither one of us could eat so many cakes
and buns and jam and bread as loaded the table. Mrs. Gilfin--who had
some idea of my state of mind--admitted with a beaming smile that love
did spoil the appetite. But she objected to the presence of my second
portmanteau in the sitting-room.

"It do spile the looks of things," said Mrs. Gilfin; "why not put it
in the bedroom, Master Cyrus?"

"I have use for it here, Cuckoo," I answered, and so I had, for in it
was snugly folded the celebrated cloak, which I proposed to show to
Gertrude when the time came for explanations.

At four o'clock all was spic and span, as the room was as comfortable
as the afternoon tea was tempting. Miss Monk duly arrived--this time
without Puddles as an escort--and looked more beautiful than ever in
her plain dress. Poor girl, she nearly always wore the same frock,
which showed how very short in cash Mr. Monk kept her. She should have
been arrayed in silk attire, and I inwardly swore, when establishing
her in a deep-seated armchair by the fire, that some day she should
be, at my expense. Meantime I handed her a cup of tea, and piled her
with thin bread and butter, much to Mrs. Gilfin's satisfaction. That
good lady had looked in to see that we were comfortable. "Eat all you
can, miss," urged Mrs. Gilfin, "you don't look as fat as you ought to
be."

Gertrude shuddered. "I don't want to grow fat," said she, laughing.

"There's worse things than fat," said Mrs. Gilfin sensibly. "Lean
people with wrinkles are never so nice as them without. If Miss
Destiny had more flesh on her bones she be more popular," and after
delivering herself of this dictum the landlady departed with a fat
chuckle.

Gertrude's face clouded when her aunt was mentioned. I noticed this
and commented thereon. "You are not fond of Miss Destiny," I remarked.

"I have little reason to be," she replied with a nervous air. "Aunt
Julia----"

"Is that her name?"

"Yes. Julia Destiny--a strange name, isn't it? Well, then, she has
always behaved harshly to me. Even when I was a child she never liked
me, and since Uncle Gabriel left me this fortune she has scarcely been
able to bear the sight of me. Then this morning----"

"What about this morning?" I asked, seeing her hesitation.

"Aunt Julia came to me and said all manner of dreadful things. Even if
you had not arranged this afternoon tea, Mr. Vance, I should have come
to see you. I need a friend more than ever."

I privately thought--and I was right in thinking so--that Miss Destiny
had been making herself disagreeable over the visit to Mootley, and
perhaps had added threats. However I said nothing for the moment, as I
wished Gertrude to tell her story in her own way. "Take some cake and
another cup of tea," I murmured sympathetically, "then we can talk."

Gertrude handed me her cup. "I can't eat or drink anything more, thank
you, Mr. Vance. I want to speak seriously to you. No one can hear us,
I hope?"

I glanced at the door and window; both were closed. "No one can hear
us," I assented, taking the chair opposite to her, "and you can depend
upon my being secret about whatever you choose to tell me; you know
that."

"Yes." She looked straightly at me, and her royal beauty impressed me
anew. "I have studied your character closely, so that I might be
certain of making no mistake."

"And you are satisfied?"

"Perfectly." She glanced round again, then leaned back in her chair.
"Listen, Mr. Vance, and don't interrupt me more than you can help, as
it is difficult for me to tell my story clearly."

"I am all attention," said I, leaning forward.

"You know that I told you of the fifty thousand pound, which my Uncle
Gabriel left me."

"Yes, the fortune which is missing."

Gertrude nodded. "Uncle Gabriel was a miser, and concealed his riches.
My father has inherited the income and the property, but the fifty
thousand pounds has been hidden away. When the will was read I learned
that such a sum had been left to me, but its whereabouts could not be
discovered. I searched through all my late uncle's papers without
result. Then, about the end of July, I came across an old box in the
attic filled with foolscap sheets covered with figures. Also there was
some writing in the form of a diary, two or three loose sheets pinned
together."

"Have you the diary and the other papers?"

"Yes; you can see them when you come to The Lodge. Meanwhile it is
easier for me to tell you the contents, as the writing is extremely.
crabbed. I learned that Uncle Gabriel had for years used the family
income of five hundred per annum in purchasing diamonds."

"Really! He could buy many valuable stones at such a price."

"You forget that he had the income for forty years or thereabouts and
lived like a pauper. He was always saving money and buying diamonds.
At times--as the diary said--he went to London and Amsterdam and Paris
and traded in stones. He turned over what he had bought, as a matter
of fact, and in one way and another managed to accumulate fifty
thousand pounds' worth of jewels."

"Then the fortune, which is hidden, consists of diamonds?"

"Exactly. In the diary Uncle Gabriel hinted that the jewels were for
me, but that he mistrusted my father, and would put them safely away."

"Why did he mistrust your father?" I asked, although I had a very
shrewd suspicion of what the answer would be.

The girl flushed. "Uncle Gabriel was never just to my father," she
said in a low voice. "Oh, I know that papa has his faults, but his
heart is in the right place. Papa has no idea of money: he is like a
child; so Uncle Gabriel thought that if papa secured the diamonds he
might squander their value."

"What!" said I, significantly, "when they belonged to you?"

She colored again. "I think papa believes what is mine is his. You see
Uncle Gabriel died when I was about sixteen--five years ago--and he
thought that if papa could lay hands on the jewels then that they
would not come to me. He mistrusted papa."

"And with very good reason," I murmured, too low for Gertrude to hear.
Walter Monk, as I truly believed; would act exactly in the way his
brother suspected he would.

"What's that you say?"

"Never mind. I understand that the diamonds were concealed so that
your father might not be tempted. But surely your uncle intended them
to come into your hands sooner or later."

"Yes. The diary said that the jewels were hidden in a certain place."

"What place?" I asked abruptly.

"Ah, that was kept secret. But Uncle Gabriel talked about trusting
Anne----"

"Ah!" I said, rubbing my hands with satisfaction, "now we are coming
to the gist of the matter. Any mention of the eye?"

"No. You see, in the diary--it can hardly be called one--Uncle Gabriel
only jotted down scraps of the scheme in his head. To make a long
story short, I gathered that he had entrusted the secret of the
whereabouts of the diamonds to Anne Caldershaw, as he had known her
for years and esteemed her an honest woman."

"I see; and she was not honest."

"Don't you think so?"

"No. Evidently she intended to tell Striver the secret, since she left
him the glass eye in the will. He was to get the money, and then--I
daresay--he could ask you to marry him."

"Ridiculous," said Miss Monk, coloring.

"Perhaps. Nevertheless I believe that such was the scheme of Mrs.
Caldershaw, for she intended to enrich her nephew at your expense,
hoping that you would marry him, and thus gain the benefit of what was
rightfully your own. The idea of a marriage salved her conscience, as
it were."

"The idea is absurd. I would never marry a man like Joseph, although
he is handsome and fairly well educated."

"You know that he loves you."

"Yes, I know," she replied, blushing, but in a somewhat cold tone.
"Never mind: the thing--as I say--is absurd. But it might be as you
say, Mr. Vance, that Anne had such a scheme in her head. However, you
understand that I gathered from the so-called diary that she knew of
the whereabouts of the jewels."

"Yes. I know that. What did you do?"

"I determined to go over and see Anne Caldershaw."

"And did you?"

"Yes." She looked at me nervously.

"You were at Mootley then, when--when----"

"No," she burst out fiercely. "Not though Aunt Julia swears I was."

"Oh. You did not go to Mootley at all?"

"Yes I did. I arranged to meet Aunt Julia at Anne's house at five
o'clock. I got there before that time."

"Then you were at Mootley on the evening of the murder."

"I have never denied it," she said, cresting her head like a snake and
looking haughty, "but I do deny that I was in the house when the crime
was committed. I was not the woman who ran away with your motor car,
whatever Aunt Julia may say."

"Who was the woman, then?"

"I don't know. I never set eyes on her."

"Ah!" said I thoughtfully, "talking of eyes, was Mrs. Caldershaw's
glass optic in her head when you spoke to her?"

"Yes, it was. And remember, please, that I never knew--as it appears
from your ingenious theory--that the secret was hidden in that eye. I
came at half-past four, and went into the back room, where I talked
with Anne. I related to her what I had discovered, and asked her to
tell me where the diamonds were. She said she did not know."

"She did not know," I echoed in utter astonishment.

"So she said. She declared that Uncle Gabriel had given her a cipher,
in which he had concealed the whereabouts of the diamonds. Anne could
not read it herself, so she had no idea of where the jewels were."

"Did you ask her for the cipher?"

"Yes, I did. She refused to give it to me."

"On what grounds?"

Gertrude grew red and looked nervously into the fire. "I may as well
be quite frank," she said, with an outburst of candor. "Anne really
did wish me to marry her nephew, and said she would give me the cipher
if I promised to marry Joseph. I refused, and then----"

"Well, what then?" I asked impatiently, and indignant at the plot
between the dead woman and the gardener to force Miss Monk into
unwilling matrimony.

"Then I heard a voice in the shop calling for Mrs. Caldershaw. She
went away, and shortly afterwards returned to ask me to leave at once.
There was someone who wished to speak to her, and she did not wish me
to meet this person. Therefore she asked me to leave at once."

"Did you know who this person was?"

Gertrude hesitated. "I could answer you that frankly," she said, after
a pause, "as I caught a glimpse of the person through the half-open
shop door. The mere sight of this person sent me away, as I did not
wish to meet----" Here she hesitated.

"Him or her?" I asked inquisitively.

"I would rather not say just now," she replied with reserve.

"But you must say," I insisted. "Don't you see that this person,
whether man or woman, may have been the one who murdered Mrs.
Caldershaw."

She grew pale. "I have thought of that myself," she said hurriedly,
"therefore I refuse to tell you who the person was. If a certain
contingency happens I shall speak out."

"You won't tell me now?" I said, somewhat wounded.

"No. Don't ask me to. Perhaps later on." She seemed greatly
distressed. "You see it's a terrible thing for me to give the name of
a person who might be accused of the crime. If this person was hanged,
even if guilty, I should not be able to rest in my bed." She shuddered
and burst into tears. "My position is very hard," she wailed.

"But I can assist you if you will speak plainly."

She shook her head. "I cannot speak plainer than I am doing. Later on,
yes, later on, I may tell you, but just now I dare not--I dare not,"
and again she began to weep.

As it was evident that she had some strong reason to conceal the name
of this mysterious person I did not press her further, although I was
most anxious to learn all about the matter. Instead, I asked another
question in soothing tones. "How did you leave?"

"By the back door," said Gertrude, drying her eyes. "In that way I
escaped coming face to face with the person in question."

"But there is no gate out of the back yard by which you could escape.
I examined the fence myself."

"You did not examine it carefully enough. The gate is at the side of
the house, and is exactly like the fence. When it is closed no one
could tell that there was a gate. I expect that is why you overlooked
it. Outside the gate, a path led amongst those elm-trees some little
distance, until it came out on to the high road some distance down the
slope. I went along the path, and on gaining the road I walked to
Murchester, where I caught the half-past six train. So you see that I
had nothing to do with the murder. I was horrified when I heard of it,
and seeing the danger I was in of being suspected, I held my peace. I
even denied to Aunt Julia that I had been to Mootley at all, saying
that I had changed my mind."

I recalled the conversation with Miss Destiny, and recognized that
Gertrude was speaking the exact truth. "Mrs. Caldershaw was alive and
well when you left her?" I asked, rising to drag out my portmanteau.

"Quite well. What are you doing?"

"I'll show you in one moment. Mrs. Caldershaw did not appear to be
afraid of being killed?"

"No; she was quite her usual self."

"Did you take your cloak with you?"

"My cloak?" She rose, much agitated. "How do you know that I wore a
cloak?"

"You must have had one to take such a journey," I said evasively.

"Yes," replied Gertrude, somewhat reassured; "but--oh!" she gasped, as
I displayed the garment I had produced from the portmanteau.

"Yes," I said, unfolding it, "this is the cloak worn by the lady who
took my motor car. I found it concealed in the field. And it is your
cloak?"

"Yes," she admitted with white lips, "it is my cloak."



CHAPTER XIII.
LOVE


We stared at one another for quite sixty seconds: she standing
white-faced and tongue-tied near her chair, I kneeling by the open
portmanteau to display the cloak. When I would have spoken, she flung
up a protesting hand to silence me.

"How do you know it is my cloak?"

"The embroidery in blue silk repeats the initials of your name."

"And you found it in the field, where the motor car was stranded?"

"I did, concealed in a hedge."

"Where I concealed it?"

"I don't say that."

Gertrude stepped back and clutched at her breast. "Don't you believe
that I am the woman who stole your car?"

"No, I don't."

"Don't you believe that I murdered Anne for the sake of the eye?"

"No, I don't."

"But on what ground"--she flung abroad her arms--"do you believe me to
be innocent?"

"I love you."

"You love me," she repeated mechanically.

I rose, still holding the cloak in my arms, and spoke vehemently. "Of
course you must have seen for days that I love you. I came here
because I fell in love with your photograph, and because I found
this." I shook the cloak. "Yes! Can you not understand that I desired
to save you."

"To save me. From what?"

"From arrest. Had anyone but myself found the cloak you would have
been in prison long, long ago. But I told no one about my discovery. I
hid the cloak in my portmanteau and came here to seek an explanation.
I knew that you would be able to exculpate yourself."

"Then you needed an explanation?" she asked in low tones.

"Only that I might learn how to save you. I needed no explanation to
assure me that you are innocent. For a moment I had my doubts, when
Miss Destiny spoke to me, yesterday----"

Gertrude interrupted with a cry and the scarlet blood flushed her
cheeks swiftly. "Aunt Julia has been speaking to you?"

"I have been speaking to Aunt Julia. Listen. I saw long ago that your
aunt was not your friend, and I feared lest she should make mischief.
I therefore called to see her yesterday, so that I might learn how
much she knows. She told me----"

"I know what she told you," interrupted Gertrude again, and flung back
her head; "she came to me this morning, as I explained, and said all
manner of dreadful things."

"Such as----?"

"I shall tell you, so that you may see I place myself entirely in your
hands, Mr. Vance. Aunt Julia declared that I was at Mootley on the
evening of the murder; that the hat-pin with which Anne was stabbed
belonged to me; and that she saw my white cloak on the lady who drove
the motor car, whom she believed to be myself escaping. She threatened
to tell the police all these things unless I gave her half of the
fifty thousand pounds. As if I could--as if I could!" wailed Gertrude,
dropping into her seat. "I do not know where it is."

"Why not learn from the glass eye?"

She looked up astonished. "I have not got the glass eye."

I stared in my turn. "Listen, Miss Monk. In the face of what you have
told me, and of what your aunt has said, I believe that you are
innocent."

"Thank God for that," she muttered. "I could not have endured an
accusation from you."

On hearing this it was with the greatest difficulty that I prevented
myself from taking her in my arms to kiss away the tears. But there
was much to be cleared up before I could do that, as I wished her to
understand my entire belief in her innocence. "But," I went on with
emphasis, "while I know that your account of the interview with Mrs.
Caldershaw is correct, I ask you to trust me--as I am your firm
friend--fully."

"I have trusted you fully," she said plaintively.

"What about the glass eye? Are you sure that Mrs. Caldershaw did not
allow you to carry it away when you left by the back door to escape
meeting this mysterious person you speak of."

"I am quite sure," said Gertrude, rising with great dignity, "that
Mrs. Caldershaw's glass eye was in her head when I ran from her house.
I was in such a hurry to escape meeting the person I mentioned that I
left my cloak behind me, and also one of the blue glass-headed pins
which fastened my hat. I can guess what happened. The assassin killed
Anne with the hat-pin, stole the glass eye, and then assumed my cloak
to escape, and perhaps," she added, with an afterthought, "to throw
the blame of the crime on me."

"And the assassin was this person whom you did not wish to meet?"

Her hands trembled. "I think not: I hope not. I--I--I can't answer
your questions, Mr. Vance. But why," she continued hurriedly, "why do
you mention the glass eye in connection with my not having--as you
declare--trusted you fully?"

"Because I saw the very eye on the small table near the middle window
of the drawing-room at The Lodge."

She rose quickly and looked aghast. "You--saw-the--glass eye there?"
she said slowly. "When?"

"Yesterday." And I rapidly explained the circumstance. "I thought that
you had the eye in your pocket when I came afterwards into the room
with your father," I said, "and because I fancied Miss Destiny might
have seen it, I went along, in your interest, to interview her. But
from what she said I am convinced that you had concealed it before she
could set eyes on it."

"Stop!" cried Gertrude. "I did not conceal it. I never saw the glass
eye save in Anne's head. If I had that eye you must think me guilty."
And her eyes searched my face.

"No," I said firmly; "I only thought that perhaps, not quite trusting
me, you did not say that Anne Caldershaw had given it to you."

"But she did not. I have told everything. You know the reason why I
went to Mootley, and all that took place. I left Anne in good health
and walked to Murchester to catch the train. Don't you believe me?"

"Oh," I advanced towards her anxiously, "can't you see that I believe
you entirely. Nothing will ever persuade me that you are guilty. All I
ask is for absolute confidence, so that I can find the true assassin
and free you from the danger of being denounced by your vindictive
aunt."

"I have given you my absolute confidence," she said with dignity, yet
not unmoved by my declaration.

"Not entirely. I do not know the sex or the name of the person from
whom you fled at the corner shop."

Gertrude turned swiftly towards the window. "I can answer no question
on that point," she said in low tones.

"Do you think this person had possession of the eye?" I persisted.

"No! no! no! Ask me no more, I have told you all that I can tell you."

"I will only ask one question, which--if I am to learn the truth about
this case, and save you from arrest--I must have answered. Do you
believe that the person in question is guilty?"

She turned with a pearly-white face. "No, the person is not guilty. Do
you wish me to swear it?"

Her question was sarcastic, and I winced. "I believe your bare word,"
I said somewhat coldly; "have I not proved my belief?"

"Forgive me." In her turn she moved towards me, and laid a beseeching
hand on my arm. "You are my best friend and indeed my only friend. I
have no one but you to trust."

"And love?" I asked, trying to catch her hands. "No! no!" she drew
away; "not yet."

"Yes, now. We must understand one another. I am not content with
friendship, Gertrude, I want your love."

"But--but it is so sudden!" she stammered.

"Sudden. When I have been eating my heart out ever since I set eyes on
your portrait? Oh, my dear, you can't believe that."

"But--but," she made another objection. "There is so much to talk
about."

"We can talk all the easier when we understand one another. Surely you
can see how devoted I am to you."

"I know that; oh yes, I know that; indeed I do."

"Then--" I held out my hands.

"Mr. Vance?"

"Call me by my name."

"Indeed I can't--oh no--oh no."

"Gertrude!" this time I became masterful and possessed myself of her
unwilling hands, "is there anyone else?"

"No; certainly there is not."

"You don't love Striver."

"The idea! I never heard such nonsense."

"You are about to hear a good deal of nonsense. When a sensible man
such as I am is in love, he talks his heart out."

She did not draw away her hands, but laughed softly in spite of her
fears and insistent troubles. "What you say can never be nonsense."

"Then you love me?" I demanded persistently. "Yes; it's no use my
denying it, I do love you."

"Gertrude!" I caught her fully in my arms and, before she could turn
her head aside, had pressed my lips to her own. She bore the embrace
for one moment, then pushed me away, and retreating to the armchair
sat down to cry softly. I followed. "Gertrude darling!"

"Oh, what is the use of talking? How can we behave in this way, when
all things are wrong? I do love you: it is useless to say that I do
not. But my heart aches with pain."

"Darling," I knelt beside her, "I am here to help you."

"I know. I accept your help gladly, and I thank God for having sent a
good man to help me."

"Dear, don't think of me as good, I have no end of faults."

"You would not be human otherwise, and for those faults I love you all
the more, Mr.----"

"Gertrude?"

"Well then, Cyrus."

"Dearest, my own; you will marry me?"

"Some day, when----" She suddenly rose, and assumed a resolute air.
"Cyrus, we must not fiddle while our Rome is burning. Tell me how the
glass eye came to be at The Lodge?"

I fell into her humor, as I saw that she regarded the position of
things as far too serious to permit simple love dalliance. "My dear, I
can't tell you unless----"

"I never saw the eye," she interrupted impatiently. "Don't you believe
me."

"Yes. You never saw the eye. Was Miss Destiny in the drawing-room?"

"No; we both went up to my bedroom when she came into the house, and I
saw her out of the gate just before I returned to the house to meet
you and my father. Why do you ask that question? Do you think my
aunt----?"

"Oh no. Miss Destiny did not arrive at Mootley until the crime was
committed. She could not have got possession of the glass eye. I only
wished to be sure that she had not seen it. As she did not enter the
drawing-room, and as I have cross-questioned her, it is evident that
she knows nothing on that point. Then there's Giles?"

"Who is Giles?"

"He is a man who lives at Mootley, and who caught me in the back room
with Mrs. Caldershaw's dead body. He came over to see Striver about
the lease of the corner shop, and was in the garden of The Lodge. I
wondered if he might have placed the glass eye on the table."

"Why should he? Does he know anything of the secret?"

"I don't think so, and indeed he is an honest man, who would not harm
anyone, my dear. I don't think Giles had the eye. Then Striver----"

"Oh, Cyrus, he did not go to Mootley until the funeral. Do you suspect
him?"

"Not of the murder. But it is just possible that the eye was not taken
by the assassin, and that Striver found it when he was in the shop
hunting amongst the papers of his late aunt."

"That is a new idea, since you have always believed that the murder
was committed for the sake of the eye."

"I don't know what to believe," I said wearily, passing my hand across
my forehead. "Still someone must have placed the eye on the table, and
why not Striver, who was working in the garden?"

"I don't see--supposing your theory of the murder is true--how he
could have got possession of the eye. It might be another one?"

"I don't think so, Gertrude, for in the concave of the eye I saw a
piece of white metal--silver, I fancy. On that, I truly believe, the
hiding-place of the diamonds is indicated."

"But if Joseph had the eye," she persisted, "although I do not see how
he could have got it, he would use it to find the diamonds, and thus
would not have placed it on the table."

"You forget," I said quickly, "that the hiding place of the eye is
indicated in cipher, according to Mrs. Caldershaw. Joseph might have
found the eye in the corner house--I don't accuse him of murder--and,
being unable to read the cipher, might have placed the eye on the
table to implicate you."

"Why should he, when he says that he loves me?"

"For that very reason. He is jealous of me, and knows that you will
never marry him. If by implicating you he could secure your arrest,
and then could save you by confessing that he found the eye and placed
it on the table, he might think you would marry him out of gratitude."

"Oh, the idea is absurd," said Gertrude petulantly. "It's such a
roundabout way of going to work. Let us ask Joseph?"

"No," I said cautiously; "after all what I say is merely theoretical.
If Joseph did not place the eye on the table, it is no use our letting
him know that it was there. It would supply him with a weapon."

"Then you don't think he----"

"I can't say what I think; as I said before," I muttered, rising to
pace the room, "if I were a born detective I might unravel this
mystery. As it is I can't see my way to the truth."

"If the truth is never known," remarked Gertrude, after a pause, "what
does it matter?"

"This much. You will always be in danger of being denounced by your
aunt."

"Not if I give her half the fifty thousand pounds."

"Quite so, my dear, but there again, the truth must be discovered, as
you can't gain possession of the money otherwise. Can you trust your
servant?"

"Eliza? Oh yes. She has been with us for years. She could not have
placed the eye on the drawing-room table. What time did you see it?"

"About three o'clock. I was about to enter the room through the middle
window, which was open, and saw it suddenly. Then your father called
me. When I returned in half-an-hour you were in the room and the eye
was gone."

"I had just entered the drawing-room a few moments before you came
with papa," said Gertrude thoughtfully; "and I entered through the
window, as I had been seeing my aunt out of the gate. The eye
certainly was not on the table then. I should have seen it otherwise,
as you did."

"Well then, it was gone just before half-past three," I remarked, "and
I saw it at the hour. When you were in the drawing-room before that
time did you see anything?"

"No," replied Gertrude impatiently, "I told you I never saw the eye at
all, Cyrus. I did not enter the drawing-room after luncheon until
half-past three o'clock. In the morning I certainly saw nothing."

"Was your father in the drawing-room after luncheon?"

"Not to my knowledge. He was pottering round the greenhouses. Surely
you don't suspect papa?" and her color rose.

"No; certainly not. Only I wondered if he had seen it."

"He could not have seen it, else he would have picked it up to show
me."

"Well," I said, with a long-drawn sigh, for the mystery of the thing
perplexed me, "I don't know who placed it there, or who took it away.
Perhaps Striver removed it," I added with an afterthought.

"Why should he?"

"Why shouldn't he?" I echoed. "It's the very thing he wanted, since
when I saw him at Mootley he was hunting for the eye to secure the
money."

"But you said----"

"I know what I said," was my cross interruption. "So far as I can see
there is no chance of learning the truth, as I dare not risk speaking
to Striver lest I place a weapon in his hand. I don't know what to
do."

"Well, dear," said Gertrude, rising to take her departure "if you ask
my opinion, I think it is best to leave matters alone."

"But you will be in danger from your aunt's tongue."

"I don't think so. I have promised to give her half the money when it
is found, and she won't risk losing that, since she is such a miser.
Anne is dead and buried, so let sleeping dogs lie."

"And marry you?" I asked tenderly.

"Yes, and marry me." She came forward, threw her arms round my neck
and whispered: "Cyrus let us think of ourselves and our happiness, and
leave this mystery alone."

"Well," I shrugged my shoulders and slipped my arm round her waist, "I
only wished to learn the truth in order to shield you, although I
don't deny that the mystery of the case appeals to me. But if you are
content to leave it alone and marry me, so am I. Let us relegate the
murder of Mrs. Caldershaw to the already long list of undiscovered
crimes."

"And the cloak?" asked Gertrude, her eyes falling on it.

"I'll wrap it up in a parcel, and you can take it back to hang in your
wardrobe. Eliza knows that you have a white cloak, and will never
connect it with the Mootley murder, even though she read an account of
the case."

"She has not," said Gertrude shaking her head; "she never reads any of
the newspapers, and only knows that Anne is murdered. She may hear
talk, of course, but I don't fancy she'll trouble her head."

"Does she know that you went to Mootley on that day?"

"No; I told her that I was going to London, for you see I did not wish
my father to know that I had been to see Anne."

"Why not?"

"Can you ask, knowing what I said about my uncle's mistrust of my
father. If papa knew what I had found out about the diamonds, and had
gone to see Anne about the matter, he would--at the time--had I been
successful, have insisted on my giving him the jewels. For that reason
I kept my visit secret from everyone, save my aunt. I was forced to
let her know, as she had arranged to see Anne on that day, and we were
bound to meet."

"Did you tell Miss Destiny about the diary?"

"Yes. It was necessary for me to ask her if she thought that Anne
would be honest enough to give me the cipher. She told me that she
believed there would be no difficulty in getting it, as Anne, having
nursed me, was devoted to my interest. But you see," ended Gertrude
with a sigh, "Anne would only help me on condition that I agreed to
marry Joseph."

"Then you don't intend to let your father have the diamonds when they
are found?" I asked, wrapping up the cloak in brown paper.

"No, dear. Papa is the best of men, but he does not know the value of
money, and if he gained possession of fifty thousand pounds would only
squander it. The five hundred a year he has settled on me after his
death, and he can't spend the capital. I shall give papa plenty of
money within reason when he asks for it, and when the jewels are
mine."

"Oh, he'll ask for it right enough," I muttered cynically. "However,
Gertrude, you must first catch your hare. We must search for the
diamonds. It may be that they are hidden in the house."

"No. It has been turned upside down without result."

"I wish I had found time to glance at the cipher, which certainly must
have been written on that piece of silver attached to the eye," I
muttered regretfully. "However, it's too late now, nothing can be
done."

"Nothing," echoed Gertrude, taking the parcel from me and advancing
towards the door. "Leave the matter alone, Cyrus, and let us be
happy."

I flew after her. "Gertrude, you are going without----"

"Dear, I forgot." She paused to kiss me fondly, and then departed.

After that I cared very little if the mystery were solved or not.



CHAPTER XIV.
THE UNFORESEEN HAPPENS


So here I had reached the goal of my desires in a surprisingly short
space of time. Truly the gods had been good to me, and in the most
unexpected manner I had won the love of the sweetest woman in the
world. And the mysterious murder of Anne Caldershaw--gruesome as it
may seem--had been the main circumstance to bring about my triumph.
But for the crime I should not have seen the portrait of my beloved,
and but for her innocent connection with the same--whereby I was
enabled to prove my honesty and good faith--I should never have gained
her confidence. But to trust me she had to study my character closely,
and having done so, had unconsciously fallen in love. When I offered
to come forward as her champion my conquest was complete, and
therefore Gertrude yielded. Truly an odd wooing.

For the next two or three days we were completely happy. Mr. Monk,
having departed, could no longer interrupt us at inauspicious moments,
so we had all the golden hours to ourselves. Also the weather
unexpectedly changed from autumnal greyness to a springlike delicacy
of sunshine in a blue sky. It was more like May than the end of
September, and the singing of the birds was echoed by our joyful
hearts. We scarcely said a word about the Mootley crime, as we had
tacitly agreed to abandon any search for the criminal. And indeed
there remained no clue to lead to the discovery of the assassin. At
times I had doubts about the mysterious person whose name Gertrude had
so steadily refused to tell me. I felt sure that she was shielding
someone, and could not think of any reason strong enough to make her
do so. But I put the doubt from me when she smiled into my eyes and
surrendered myself entirely to the happiness of the magic hour.

Whether Miss Destiny guessed the truth I cannot say. She never came
near The Lodge, as she only haunted it when Mr. Monk appeared on the
scene, and then merely for the sake of getting what she could out of
him. But as Lucinda was always shopping in the village, and the
dwellers in Burwain were born gossips, Miss Destiny must have heard
that her niece was receiving me at all hours and in all places.
Knowing my infatuation, she would put two and two together, and the
resultant four would prove to her suspicious mind that we had come to
an understanding. But if she did arrive at this knowledge she made no
sign. Perhaps she was content to wait events so long as her half of
the fifty thousand pounds was safe. At all events she lay snug in the
jungle which surrounded her tin hovel, like the malignant fairy she
was.

But the golden days came to an end, as golden days will, since an
everlasting Paradise is impossible on earth. I was forced to keep my
promise to Cannington and seek London, else he would certainly have
put in an inopportune appearance. Of course in spite of his title and
looks, and the possible support of Mr. Walter Monk--always supposing
the two met--he could do nothing now, as Gertrude had solemnly
promised to be my wife. All the same I did not want Cannington to come
stumbling into Love's garden. Later on, when the first ecstasy of
delight had passed away, I promised myself that he should be formally
presented to my newly-captured Diana. But at the moment a duet was
better than a trio, so I explained matters to Gertrude and put the
Rippler in order for a spin to London.

"But you won't remain long away, dear?" she asked me. "Promise me,
promise me."

I did promise her, with many a kiss, on the bare road between Burwain
and Tarhaven. So far I had taken her in my car, and now it was
necessary that she should return. Only the birds and sheep, the
sailing clouds and the all-beholding sun, saw our embrace, so we gave
ourselves up fully to the delight. The parting indeed was "sweet
sorrow," as Shakespeare says, and only at the golden moment did I
fully understand the feelings of Romeo.

The day was balmy and sunny, the roads were dry, and the Rippler was
on her best behavior, so the journey to London was extremely pleasant.
I reached my West Kensington flat early in the afternoon. As I had
telegraphed the probable time of my arrival to the caretaker's wife,
who usually looked after my rooms, I found everything in good order.
There was a brisk fire, a good meal, and a warm bath awaiting me, so I
spent the next hour very pleasantly. Cannington had already been
informed that I would call at Lady Denham's Grosvenor Square house
about five o'clock, therefore I had ample time to get ready for the
visit.

After writing a few letters, and looking into my bankbook, I arrayed
myself in the purple and fine linen of the West End--that is, I
assumed a frock coat, grey trousers, patent leather boots, and all the
paraphernalia of society. Then I sallied forth, and--giving the
Rippler a rest--jumped into a taxi-cab. After the perfect quietness of
the country the bustle and roar of the many-colored life in London
streets rather appealed to me. I was quite sorry when the vehicle
stopped at my destination.

A stately footman took my hat and gloves, and showed me into the
smoking-room, where Lord Cannington awaited me. The boy sprang to his
feet and rushed forward to shake hands.

"I'm so glad to see you, Vance," he said breathlessly; "how jolly well
you look. I suppose"----He began to laugh, and could get no further.

"Well," said I, sitting down and accepting a cigarette, "I presume
your laugh means that I am engaged."

"Good Lord, no! I don't go so far as that. But you went in search of
the original of the photograph, and having found her, I can see that
love has proved to be the elixir of life."

"You are quite poetical, Cannington, and excessively complimentary."

"Oh, rot! I'm only speaking the truth. You looked as hard as nails."

I laughed. "I don't know, but what I am as soft as butter, so far as
the heart is concerned."

"Ah, that's the effect of love," said Cannington wisely; "that is, if
you really are in love. I say, old chap, are you in earnest?"

"So much so that I am engaged."

"Engaged! Good Lord!"

"Engaged to Gertrude Monk, who loves me as much as I love her."

"Good Lord!" said Cannington again, and rose to his feet to say it. "I
say, you haven't lost much time, have you?"

"No. Circumstances precipitated matters."

"But are you sure that you are wise, Vance. Remember. 'Marry in haste
and repent at leisure.'"

I laughed again. It seemed so strange that the boy should advise an
elderly person such as I was. "It's all right, Cannington, I know what
I'm about. You shall be best man."

"Delighted, and--I say--you don't mind me having said what I did say.
We're old friends, you know."

"That's all right, boy. Sit down, and I'll tell you everything that
has taken place since we parted at Murchester. But I must ask you to
be secret."

Cannington flushed. "As if I'd be such a bounder as to talk of your
love affairs," he growled.

"The love affairs in this case are merely a side issue, although
important enough to me, boy. What I wish to explain is what I have
discovered with regard to Mrs. Caldershaw's death."

"Oh!" Cannington jumped up again, greatly excited. "Are you prying
into that still?"

"Yes. It is that case which led me into the engagement with Gertrude.
But I have given up searching further."

"Why?"

"Because I see no clue to follow. Moreover, Gertrude wishes me to stop
looking into the matter. And after all, it is no use sullying our love
with the sordid details of this crime. Yet, yet"--I rose in my
earnestness--"Cannington, although you are years younger than I am, I
intend to ask your advice."

"Yes--that's all right. What is it?"

"I shall tell you all I know, and then you can judge what I mean."

The boy looked puzzled, but sat down again and lent an attentive ear
to my recital. I walked up and down the room, telling everything in
detail, for I really did wish to hear what he thought. Cannington was
young, but shrewd, and took a common-sense view of things. Gertrude's
refusal to tell me the name of the person who had driven her from the
shop lingered in my mind, as I knew we could never be completely happy
if there were secrets between us. Nevertheless, I could not reveal
what she had said on this point to Cannington, as it was a matter
entirely between ourselves. But I intended to tell him everything
else, and then ask him what he thought of the position of affairs. He
waited with a grave face.

I therefore related all that I had discovered, beginning with the
finding of the white cloak in the field, and ending with an account of
the interview between Gertrude and myself, suppressing, as I have
said, the fact that she withheld the name of the mysterious person.
Cannington, with his eyes on my face, listened intently, and without
interruption. He was acute enough to put his finger on the weak spot.

"Who was the person who entered the shop when Miss Monk went away?"

"I don't know," said truthfully, and glided into an easy explanation
to preserve my secret. "Mrs. Caldershaw wished Miss Monk to leave
without seeing the person, and therefore sent her out by the back door
so hurriedly that she forgot the cloak and one of her hat-pins."

"That's unfortunate," muttered Cannington, his eyes on the carpet;
"perhaps this person killed Mrs. Caldershaw."

I had Gertrude's assertion that this was not the case, but for obvious
reasons could not impart the information to Cannington. "We can't be
sure of that," I said smoothly.

"We can't be sure of anything," insisted the boy thoughtfully, "still
Miss Monk evidently left someone with Mrs. Caldershaw, and when you
arrived on the scene Mrs. Caldershaw was dead. It seems to be that the
lady killed her."

"The lady? Why do you think that this person was a lady?"

"Well, a woman, a female, what you will," he said impatiently. "She
assumed the white cloak which was left behind in the kitchen, and ran
off with your motor car."

"And with the eye?"

"Ah, I can't say I'm sure on that point," said Cannington musingly.
"You see the eye turned up--so you say--at the Burwain house. I
think----" He paused.

"Yes; go on," said I encouragingly.

He shook his head. "I don't know what to think, Vance. The whole
matter is most mysterious and perplexing. Give me a night to think
about the matter. It is strange," he said suddenly, "that Miss Monk
wants you to leave the matter alone."

"It is strange," I assented, and winced; "but there it is."

"Well, let it remain so until to-morrow," said Cannington hastily.
"To-morrow, when I've had a good think, I'll give you my opinion."

I guessed what was in his mind, although delicacy prevented him from
speaking plainly to me. Gertrude's conduct was suspicious, and he, not
being in love with her saw the position more clearly than I did. I
don't say he suspected her, but he apparently believed that she knew
more than she chose to tell, and thus desired me to leave the case
alone. In point of fact, Cannington fancied that Gertrude feared what
I might discover if I pried further into the matter. Had he known, as
I did, that she was withholding the name of the person who had called
to see Mrs. Caldershaw, he might even have taken a blacker view of the
matter. Of course, being Gertrude's devoted lover, and believing in
her absolutely, I said nothing. All the same I felt a trifle uneasy
myself, especially when I guessed what Cannington was thinking about.
"The Queen of Hearts can do no wrong": so I amended the old saying.
Nevertheless I fervently wished that Gertrude would be more frank with
me. Only on perfect confidence would perfect love and perfect peace be
established, to say nothing of perfect happiness.

After a pause Cannington, having promised to give me his opinion
to-morrow, said no more, but began to talk of Lady Mabel. It seemed
that Mr. Wentworth Marr had returned to London, and was more attentive
than ever. "He's coming here to-day to afternoon tea," said
Cannington, glancing at his watch, "in half-an-hour, I expect he'll
turn up. Aunt Lucy and Mab will be here also, and Dicky Weston."

"Oh, Weston is attentive also?"

"Well, he is. In some way he got an inkling that Marr was paying court
to Mabel, so he suddenly appeared, and has been here morning, noon,
and night. I shouldn't be surprised if he proposed soon."

"Will Lady Mabel accept him?"

"Oh Lord! who knows what girls will do? I think she will, and yet Marr
is a fascinating sort of tame-cat man, with heaps of money, so you may
be inclined to go 'nap' on him."

"I shouldn't think a tame-cat man would suit your sister," I said
dryly.

"Wait till you see him," said Cannington with a yawn; "he's not my
style, I must confess. By the way, Dicky's getting on splendidly with
his airship and wants some quiet place to put it together."

"To put it together. What do you mean, boy?"

"It's in bits," explained Cannington, "and he wishes to cart the
several parts to some peaceful part of the country where the putting
together won't be overlooked. What about Burwain?"

"Oh, you know it, Cannington. It's a dull little village between
Gattlingsands and Tarhaven. Weston will find all the quiet he wants
there. I suppose, like all inventors, he fears lest his especial
secret for flying should be discovered."

"Something like that. And yet he told me heaps about his airship. It
seems to be a clever sort of business, although it has a gas bag. I
believe in the heavier-than-air business myself."

"What the dickens do you mean?"

"Aeroplanes, you know!" and Cannington entered into a long
disquisition on the difference between navigable balloons and those
machines which strive to fly, birdlike, by power of wing alone. In the
middle of his lecture--which I confess bored me--the footman entered
to announce that we were wanted in the drawing-room. Thither we
repaired, and were welcomed by Mabel, Lady Denham, and by a dark,
untidy little man, in whom I recognized Dick Weston.

Lady Denham was a stout, fair-haired, phlegmatic-looking person, who
never troubled herself about anyone if she could help it. Therefore
she allowed her niece to pour out the tea, and allowed Cannington and
myself to hand round the bread and butter, which latter business, of
course, was right enough. She aroused herself so far as to say that I
was looking well, and reminded her of my poor dear mother. After that
she relapsed into meditation, and devoted herself to making a regular
substantial meal. There was nothing fairylike about Lady Denham.

Weston was quiet also, and sat near Mabel, haunched up in his chair
like a little gnome, but with eyes full of intelligence. He was not
handsome, and being devoted to science--I suppose one would call
airships science, although I can't be sure--his manner was preoccupied
and dry. I wondered that a lively girl like Mabel could love such an
uninteresting personage, but she did. I saw the flash of her eyes when
they rested on his uncomely face and figure. But Weston was a decent
little fellow, in spite of his exterior, and there was something in
his dark face which always attracted animals and children.
Nevertheless Lady Mabel, handsome, titled, and lively, seemed to be
the last person to make him a desirable wife. I managed to get her
into a corner after we had eaten and drunk sufficient. "Mabel, tell
me, which one of your suitors do you intend to take?"

"I can't say," she whispered back, and her lively face grew sad. "Of
course I have known Dicky all my life, and he's a dear. But Mr. Marr
is really a charming man. He will be here soon, and then you can judge
for yourself."

"Marry Dicky, Mabel. I'm sure you love him," I advised.

"Yes, I do, and I really believe that he loves me. But I can't accept
him unless he proposes. He's always in the clouds. Just look at him
talking airships to Cannington instead of amiable nonsense to me."

"Do you think you will be happy with him?"

"Certainly. We get on capitally together."

"But he's a solitary inventor, and you are fond of society. Isn't it
rather the coupling of the quick and the dead."

"What horrid things you say!" she retorted heatedly. "Of course, if I
marry Dicky I shall shake him into a more companionable person. He's
got plenty of money, and I daresay when he finishes this airship he'll
come out of his shell. The only way I can make him talk is by making
him jealous, so I am waiting for Mr. Marr to flirt with."

"Then you are really using Mr. Marr as a stalking-horse to secure
Dicky?"

"Well, I am, in a way. But if Dicky will go on being so silly, and
sitting as mum as an owl, I shall marry the stalking horse."

"No, Mabel, don't do that; marry for love."

"I can't afford to, you silly man. Cannington and I haven't sixpence
between us. And what do you know about love?"

"I know all about it," I whispered proudly. "I'm engaged."

"Oh, Cyrus!" Her eyes shone like stars, and she gasped. "Who is she?"

"A lady called Miss Gertrude Monk, who lives at Burwain."

Before Mabel could ask further questions, Cannington's sharp ear
caught the name, and he called out to me. "Vance, I have just been
talking to Dicky here about Burwain, and he thinks it will be the very
place to establish his workshop. Come and tell him all about it."

"Bother!" murmured Lady Mabel "when I want to hear all about your love
affair. Is she pretty?"

"More than pretty. She is an angel."

"Oh, all men say that of a girl before marriage: all except Dicky,
that is. I have never managed to get him enthusiastic enough to call
_me_ an angel."

"Perhaps he thinks it goes without speaking, Mabel, and----"

"Vance! Vance!" called out Cannington impatiently, and I had to obey
the summons. Lady Mabel pouted and betook herself to the tea-table as
Lady Denham requested, at the eleventh hour, a fresh cup.

"Tell me all about Burwain, Vance," commanded Dicky in his pleasant
voice.

I did my best, and drew as vivid a word picture as I was able. When
Weston heard of the absence of a railway station, of large tracts of
common, and of the sparsity of population, he rubbed his hands. "It's
capital," he remarked. "I shall go down next week and lease a portion
of the common, outside the village. Then I shall run up a high fence,
and take down by rail all the parts of my machine. It won't take long
to put together. Then we can all take a fly to the moon."

"Not me," said Mabel firmly. "I don't want to be smashed up."

"That isn't a compliment to my invention," said Dicky hotly, "but I
suppose you'll come down and see me start?"

"That means I shall come down to say good-bye," she replied smiling.
"Oh, Dicky, you're a dear boy when you are sensible: but this airship
rubbish----"

"Mabel, I thought you admired my airship?" he expostulated
indignantly.

"How can I, when I have never seen it. Besides, a woman never admires
anything that takes the attention of a man off herself."

"What nonsense! I'm always thinking of you." Mabel blushed and laughed
skeptically. "Am I to believe that, Dicky?"

"Of course," and then Dicky, in spite of the presence of three other
people, might have gone on to say much more--for he really seemed to
be warming to a proposal--when Lady Denham sat up and sighed.

"You boys will have to go away," she said in her soft, slow voice; "we
have to go out to dinner to-night and to the theatre afterwards, and
then to an At Home. I'm sure I would much rather rest in my bed."

"Then why don't you, Aunt Lucy?" asked Cannington bluntly.

"My dear boy," she said reprovingly, "I must take Mabel out and give
her some entertainment. Besides, I have made up my mind to get her
married."

"Married," cried Dicky indignantly.

"Of course. Mabel isn't cut out for an old maid."

"Perhaps Dicky thinks that I am," said Mabel, looking slyly at the
untidy inventor; "that is, if he ever thinks of anything but
airships."

"I think of no end of things," said Weston rather crossly, "and I
don't see why you are in such a hurry to get married."

"I am not in a hurry."

"Really," said Cannington uneasily, "this conversation is growing
personal."

"We all belong to the family here," said Lady Denham wearily. "I look
on Cyrus as a son. His mother and I were at school together. A very
charming girl she was, too."

"Is Dicky one of the family?" asked Mabel, with a glance at the
inventor.

"Of course I am," he said hotly, for Mabel seemed to be rousing him
out of his absent-mindedness, "haven't I known you and Cannington for
years?"

"I don't think we have ever known you," said Cannington with a laugh,
"you are always in the clouds."

"As an airship inventor should be," said I pointedly. "Airship," said
Lady Mabel teasingly, "it's nothing but a gas balloon."

"It isn't," snapped Dicky, jumping up, greatly excited by this insult
to his pet invention; "when the works are established at Burwain you
come down and you will see exactly what I mean."

"Oh, I shall come to Burwain with pleasure," said Mabel, sending a
look in my direction. "I am very anxious to go to Burwain."

"Really," said Weston, and his cheeks flushed. After all, it appeared
as though Cannington had overrated Dicky's absent-mindedness, for he
was singularly alert and watchful. In my opinion he looked upon Lady
Mabel Wotton as his own especial property, and therefore was not
troubling himself to make a too impulsive proposal. Perhaps he was
waiting to launch his airship before launching himself on the sea of
matrimonial troubles. But he said no more, although the flush spoke
volumes, for Lady Denham struck in quietly, in her placid voice.

"I thought Mr. Marr was coming to tea," she said, looking round
slowly.

"I believe he's entering the house now," said Cannington, with the air
of a listener. "I heard a motor drive up."

"A charming man," said Lady Denham lazily, "and devoted to Mabel."

"Oh, is he?" growled Weston, darting an angry look at the girl, which
she sustained with a sweetly unconscious air. "He must----"

Weston appeared to be doomed to interruption, for just as he was
beginning a diatribe on his rival, the door opened and a footman
announced: "Mr. Wentworth Marr" in grandiloquent tones.

A man entered, and I gasped, as well I might. Mr. Wentworth Marr of
London was none other than Mr. Walter Monk of Burwain.



CHAPTER XV
AN EXPLANATION


The little gentleman minced into the room, smiling and bowing. As I
stood in the shadow, removed from the strong light of the electrics,
he did not catch sight of me when he first entered. Exactly as he
behaved at Burwain, so did he behave in London--that is, as a specious
humbug. Of course he looked as though he had just been taken out of a
bandbox, and his _petit-mâitre_ air was more pronounced than ever.
With the assurance of a man accustomed to attention, he made a tour of
the circle.

"Lady Denham, you are looking more charming than ever. Lady Mabel, the
good wine of your beauty needs no bush to advertise its perfection.
Cannington, I am delighted to see you again. Mr. Weston "--this last
name was pronounced less effusively--"I trust the airship stocks are
rising. Ha! ha!" then he tittered at his small joke, made a
comprehensive bow, and looked at me.

I quite expected to see him turn pale: I half expected to see him fly
from the house where he was sailing under false colors. But I had yet
to learn the complete self-possession of Mr. Walter Monk, alias Mr.
Wentworth Marr. He might have foreseen the meeting, so coolly did he
eye me through his _pince-nez_. The tables were turned with a
vengeance, for I felt more like the culprit than did Mr. Monk.

"This is our oldest friend," said Mabel, and unless she had spoken I
do not know how the little traitor would have acted, "Mr. Cyrus
Vance."

"The dramatic author, I believe," remarked Mr. Monk--it is just as
well to call him by his true name to prevent confusion--and bowed
politely.

"Yes," said I, with a cool smile. There was no reason at that moment
why I should denounce the little man, and he played his comedy so
deliciously that, from sheer admiration of his impudence, I felt
compelled to take a judicious part in the same. "I am happy to meet
you Mr.--er--er----"

"Marr, old chap," put in Cannington, quite unaware that anything was
wrong.

"Yes, of course, Mr. Marr."

"Thank you," observed the fraud with a bow, "you flatter me, Mr.
Vance."

He was--as I have said--as cool as a cucumber, to all outward
appearances. Nevertheless, as he turned sideways to answer a question
put by Lady Denham, I saw the perspiration bead his forehead. I knew
that he was controlling himself with a great effort, although he never
turned a hair. He was evidently taken aback by my complete calmness,
yet it relieved his mind when he saw that I did not intend to make a
scene. Yet, had I denounced him he undoubtedly would have been
prepared with a crafty explanation, for he was too clever a schemer to
leave anything to chance. And as I guessed, my chance observation that
I knew Cannington had placed him to a certain degree on his guard.

With wonderful self-control he spoke to Lady Denham, and laughed with
Mabel, and deftly led the conversation on to theatrical topics. When
it became general he strolled over to me in a light and airy manner,
until he was at my elbow. "And when are we to see a play at the West
End by Mr. Cyrus Vance?" he asked gaily, dropping his voice
immediately at the end of the question to whisper: "Explanations when
we leave."

"Oh," said I loudly, and replying to his public inquiry, "I hope next
year will see me successful as the author of a comedy." Then I in turn
dropped my voice: "Count on my silence."

Monk drew a long breath of relief, but went on with his comedy. "I
hope you will put me down for a box," he said effusively; "I am a
great admirer of the drama."

"You shall be on the free list, Mr. Marr," I said, with ostentatious
gush.

The whispered words had not been heard by anyone in the room, so Mr.
Marr and I understood one another thoroughly without anyone being the
wiser. I half fancied Cannington's observant eyes might have seen our
byplay and his sharp ears might have overheard: but for once he seemed
to have missed his opportunity. Shortly Mr. Monk, more at ease, was
conversing gaily on the news of the day. Lady Denham seemed to favour
him, but Mabel had a contemptuous look on her face several times when
he addressed her. I felt certain that only his supposed wealth
attracted her, and that she had no respect for his tame-cat antics.
And the cream of the joke was, that Mr. Walter Monk, passing himself
off as Mr. Wentworth Marr, had only five hundred a year. I could not
help giving vent to an audible laugh as the humour of the situation
struck me.

"Why do you laugh, Cyrus?" asked Mabel, turning suddenly.

"I have thought of a good joke for a comic scene in a drama" said I
grimly.

"May we hear it?" asked Mr. Monk audaciously, for he must have guessed
the reason of my unseasonable merriment.

"Certainly not, sir. When you pay your money in the stalls you shall
hear the joke delivered on the stage."

"I hope it's a good one," said Cannington scoffingly.

"It's as funny a joke as I ever heard of," I replied cheerfully, and
my eyes sought those of Mr. Monk significantly.

"I shall look forward to hearing it," he said, bowing politely, "and
perhaps--as I know several of the managers--I may be able to assist
you in getting your masterpiece staged. My card," and he passed along
a piece of pasteboard, which was inscribed: "Mr. Wentworth Marr, 3
Stratford Street, St. James's." "I am in rooms there, Mr. Vance, as I
don't intend to take a house until I can find a lady to preside at my
dinner-table."

Weston scowled at this, and Lady Denham smiled benignly. "Oh, you
millionaires are so modest," she said, in her slow, cool voice, "why,
you have a country house in Essex, a shooting-box in Scotland, and a
villa at Nice."

With tremendous audacity the fraud bowed as each place was mentioned.
"I hope to receive you in them all, dear lady. Mr. Vance also, I
trust, will honor me with his company."

"Oh, I'll come and see you with pleasure," said I grimly. Mr. Monk
impressed me as a kind of Casanova, so matchless was his impertinence.
I wondered how an honorable girl such as Gertrude undoubtedly was,
came to have so scheming an adventurer as a father. I was also puzzled
to think why Mr. Monk, whom I knew to be almost penniless, should wish
to marry a pauper aristocrat like Lady Mabel Wotton. But as yet I was
not in a position to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, and had to
await enlightenment from the arch-rogue himself.

"I just looked in, my dear ladies," said Mr. Monk, accepting the title
of millionaire quite complacently, "to invite you to a box at the
Curtain theatre early next week--Tuesday is the day, to be quite
precise. There is a new play, which I think you will enjoy, Lady
Denham."

"Delighted," she yawned. "I like going to the theatre. One can sit
still all the time and say nothing."

"The performers on the stage say all that is to be said," replied Mr.
Monk, smiling suavely. "Lady Mabel, may I count on you?"

"Certainly," she answered swiftly, with a sly glance at the scowling
Weston.

"And perhaps Lord Cannington----?"

"Thanks, no, Mr. Marr, I have to go back to Murchester. Leave's up."

"That's a pity. Mr. Vance?"

"If I am in town I shall be delighted," I answered mildly, and
wondered more than ever at the audacity of the little man. He knew
that I could expose him as a fraud, and must have been puzzled to know
why I did not, yet he had the hardihood to drag me into his schemes of
posing as a millionaire.

"Then that is all settled. And now," he added, making a comprehensive
bow, "really and truly I must take my leave. Perhaps Mr. Vance, I can
give you a lift in my motor?"

"You are really too good," I replied, accepting promptly, and with
scarcely a repressed chuckle.

"But I say, Vance, I want you to go to dinner at the Savoy with me,
and afterwards to the Empire," cried Cannington, catching my arm,
while Mr. Monk was shaking hands and taking his leave.

"My dear boy, in any case I must go home and dress. Let us change the
dinner into a supper at the Savoy, and I'll come here at nine o'clock
to accompany you to the Empire."

Cannington was satisfied with this alteration, and nodded. Then, in my
turn, I took leave of the ladies and departed in the company of my
proposed father-in-law. At the door a really magnificent motor, far
surpassing my machine, was waiting, a brougham motor, with a chauffeur
and a liveried footman. How Mr. Monk contrived to live in this style
on five hundred a year I could not conceive: the machine alone must
have cost three times the amount of his entire income. Then, with
indignation, I thought of my dear, uncomplaining girl at Burwain,
with her one poor frock and her touching belief in the honesty and
kind-heartedness of this little villain.

When we were safe in the motor and the footman had received his orders
to take the vehicle "Home!"--to Strafford Street, no doubt--Mr. Monk
made himself comfortable, then patted my knee in a most amiable
manner. "Very good indeed, my dear sir, very good indeed," he said
suavely, and in a most self-controlled manner, "you kept my little
secret in a way worthy of a man of the world."

"Thank you. I am waiting for an explanation now," I said dryly.

"Do you think I owe you one?"

"I am of that opinion, Mr. Monk."

"Hush!" He glanced anxiously through the glass at the backs of the
footmen and chauffeur. "Here, in London; I am Mr. Marr."

"Mr. Wentworth Marr," I said mockingly. "May I ask why?"

"I do not see," he said smoothly, "that you have any right to ask
questions concerning my private business."

"I must correct you there," I answered hotly. "Lady Mabel Wotton, her
brother, and Lady Denham are friends of mine. I do not wish to see
them deceived, Mr.--er--er--Wentworth Marr."

"That is very creditable to your heart, Mr. Vance. But I fail to see
how I am deceiving them."

"You wish to marry Lady Mabel?"

"Is that a crime? I am a widower, and am free to take another wife."

"Not under the pretence that you are a wealthy man."

"How do you know?" asked Mr. Monk, smiling politely, "that I am not a
wealthy man, Mr. Vance?"

"Pshaw, man!" I rejoined heatedly, for his cool insolence was getting
on my nerves. "You have a life interest in five hundred a year and a
tumbledown house with a few acres of land at Burwain."

"So far as you know, Mr. Vance, those are all my possessions, but when
we reach my rooms," he leaned forward and peered through the misty
glass, "we are nearly there now, I am glad to say, you will have an
explanation which will astonish you. Had you recognized me when at
Lady Denham's----"

"I did recognize you."

"Had you denounced me, I should have said," he went on pleasantly, "I
should have made the explanation then and there."

"Ah!" said I meaningly, "I thought my chance mention of Cannington's
name at Burwain forearmed you."

He nodded, and chuckled in his infernally oily manner. "It was just
possible, seeing that Lord Cannington and Lady Mabel, to say nothing
of Lady Denham, were our mutual friends, that we might meet, so I made
ready. I certainly did not expect to meet you quite so soon, however.
Tell me," he glanced sideways at me curiously, "why did you not
address me by my real name?"

"I remembered that you were Gertrude's father."

"How lucky--for me," said Mr. Monk sarcastically. "Julia Destiny
hinted that you were in love with my daughter."

"She didn't hint enough. I am _engaged_ to your daughter."

"Without my consent."

"I ask it now."

"Then you shall not have it."

I laughed. "Your consent matters very little, Mr. Monk."

"Marr, I tell you, Marr. And Gertrude will never marry you without my
permission. You may be sure of that."

"I am not at all sure of it. She loves you better than you deserve,
but when she finds that you are keeping her in poverty at Burwain,
while you live in splendor in London, and under another name, which
looks fishy, will she continue to regard you as the perfect father?"

Mr. Monk moved uneasily in his seat. "Here we are," he said, when the
car stopped in a somewhat dark street; "in my rooms I can explain. And
in any case I am obliged to you for carrying off the situation so
well. Not that I was unprepared, had you driven me into a corner. But
as a gentleman, I do not like stage melodrama in private life."

"Yet you make ready for every opportunity to exercise it," I retorted,
as the footman opened the door. "Your explanation----"

"Will take place in private," he said sharply, and we alighted. The
motor departed hastily--to the nearest garage, I suppose--and Mr. Monk
ushered me up a flight of well-lighted stairs. "These are my
quarters," he said complacently, and I was shown into a really
splendid hall, perfectly decorated.

It is useless to describe the rooms in detail, but Mr. Monk had done
himself full justice in the way of art and comfort. We went into a
Moorish smoking-room, which reminded me of Cairo, and I accepted
coffee and cigarettes. Perhaps Mr. Monk had some hazy idea connected
with the Eastern decorations that, having partaken of his bread and
salt, I would not betray him, for he pressed tobacco and Mocha on me
very assiduously. I took all he offered, but reserved my private right
of judgment. To save Lady Mabel from this fraudulent adventurer by
denouncing him was not a betrayal in my eyes. The sole thing that had
prevented me stripping him of his fine feathers hitherto had been the
undoubted fact that he was Gertrude's father. And so I had told him in
the motor.

"You see that I am comfortable here," said Mr. Monk, who was smoking a
very fine cigar, "but I beg leave to contradict you when you say that
I do not give my daughter sufficient money. Gertrude has whatever she
asks for, and, being fond of the simple life, is quite content."

"Pardon my contradicting you, but, thinking that you have but five
hundred a year, and knowing your luxurious tastes, Miss Monk denies
herself all, save the necessaries of life, so that you may have more
money to spend. Did she know you were a millionaire----"

"I am not a millionaire," said Monk, snapping for the first time, as
hitherto he had kept his temper in a most aggravating manner.

"I understood Lady Denham to say that you were," I reminded him
politely.

"Like all women, Lady Denham exaggerates. I have a good many
thousands, but I cannot call myself a millionaire."

"And the house in the country----"

"In Essex, remember. That is true enough."

"Oh, yes, though it can hardly be called an estate. But the
shooting-box in Scotland?"

"I rented one last year for a time."

"I see, you saved the situation in that way. And the villa at Nice?"

"A friend of mine lends me his. I can ask anyone there."

"And apparently intend to pass it off as your own."

"No," he said, smiling graciously, "you are mistaken. It is true that
I asked Lady Denham and Lady Mabel to Nice. I mentioned the villa, but
I did not declare it was mine. They hastily concluded that it was."

"From what you left unsaid, I presume. Well, and your change of name?"

"That has to do with my money. A distant cousin of mine died three or
four years ago in Australia and left me nearly one hundred thousand
pounds on condition that I took his name. I complied with the
necessity in a legal manner, without letting my daughter know, and now
enjoy the money. I am quite rich enough to marry Lady Mabel if she
will have me."

"That may be. But when she learns that you have a daughter as old as
she is, I doubt if she will accept you. Particularly, as----"

"I know what you would say. Particularly as that Weston man loves
her."

"Not quite that, Mr. Marr. Particularly as she loves the Weston man.
But may I ask why you keep your daughter in ignorance of your change
of name and your possession of wealth?"

"Listen," he said, throwing away his cigarette. "I inherit five
hundred a year from my late brother--that is, as you say, I have a
life interest in it. After my death it goes to Gertrude. As a matter
of fact she enjoys it now, as it goes to keep up The Lodge at Burwain,
and pay for her necessary needs. That she chooses to dress plainly and
live plainly is not my fault. The money is to her hand when she wants
it. Under these circumstances, since she has all she requires, I do
not see why she need know that I live a different life in London, as
she would not join me here if I offered to take her. On my part, I am
a man still young, and I wish to marry again, since I am well off.
Why, then, should I encumber myself with a grown-up daughter?"

"I can't answer that question, as I don't quite follow your eminently
selfish reasoning. But as it is I propose to take charge of your
grown-up daughter. Then you can do what you like, so long as you don't
marry Lady Mabel under false pretences."

"You will tell Lady Mabel?"

"Yes, and Cannington also. I should not be surprised if he
horsewhipped you."

Mr. Monk winced. "I shall take my chance of that," he said bravely
enough, and to do him the justice he was no coward so far as flesh and
blood was concerned. "But suppose I get ahead of you and explain
myself."

"In that case Lady Mabel will not marry you."

"It's probable, although, beyond the fact that I forgot to tell her of
my change of name, I have done nothing wrong."

"Nothing wrong, when you masquerade----"

"I tell you I don't masquerade," he cried, with sudden heat, and
springing to his feet; "my name has been legally changed and the money
is mine by right. I really am, under an Act of Parliament, Mr.
Wentworth Marr. I daresay it was vanity on my part to lessen my years
by not confessing to having a daughter of Gertrude's age, but that is
not a crime. But you are not going to blackmail me, Mr. Vance, so
don't think it.'

"I don't propose to. I simply intend to tell Cannington and Lady Mabel
the truth. Then they can deal with the situation."

Monk snapped his delicate fingers. "Tell them the truth by all means,"
he said derisively; "it's bound to come out sooner or later. Striver
knows that I appear in London as Marr."

"Striver, the gardener. How did he learn?" I asked, taken aback.

"Ah," sneered the little man, "you don't feel quite so certain that
you hold the keys of the situation, do you, Mr. Vance? Yes, Striver
knows. He saw me in Piccadilly when I was getting out of my motor, and
went to ask my chauffeur questions?"

"What sort of questions?"

"About my possessing a motor, I suppose. Striver knows my income, and
didn't see how I could afford such a machine. Also he has the
impudence of old Nick himself. At all events, he learned from my
chauffeur that I was Marr, and, thinking something was wrong, as you
did, he learned my address and had an interview. To prevent his
telling Gertrude I was obliged to shut his mouth and confess all."

"How did you shut his mouth?" I asked hastily.

"I intimated," said Monk coolly, "that if he could get money enough,
and went to school to improve his education, he could marry Gertrude."

"What!" this time I sprang to my feet, and a fine rage I was in, "you
dared to make a bargain with that fellow."

"I had to shut his mouth," said Monk sullenly, and sat down.

"So he lives in a fool's paradise. You don't suppose that Gertrude
would marry Striver?"

"I never thought so for one moment, no more than she would marry you."

"She is going to marry me," I insisted, at white heat.

"Nothing of the sort," said the little man obstinately; "now that you
have learned the truth, I am not going to be under your thumb. I shall
give up any idea of marrying Lady Mabel. I shall bring Gertrude to
London and I shall marry her to Lord Cannington."

"You'll do nothing of the sort."

"Who will stop me?"

"There is no stoppage in the matter of the kind you mean. Whether I or
your own self tell Lady Mabel the facts of the case matters very
little. But when the truth becomes known, she will not marry you, and
Cannington, who is my best friend, will not marry Gertrude. He would
not even admire her, unless I gave him permission, since he knows that
she is my promised wife."

"Who told him that?" asked Monk wrathfully.

"I did. It is true. Gertrude is going to marry me, and you can do your
best to prevent it. And another thing, Mr. Monk, or Marr, or whatever
you choose to call yourself, you had better confess the truth at once.
Weston is going to set up his airship factory at Burwain, and Lady
Mabel is bound to go down and see him. You will understand the
necessity to retreat gracefully from your position before you are
kicked out. As to Striver----"

"What about Striver?" sneered the little villain, who was desperately
pale by this time, for my words had gone home. "He won't give in. You
have got the better of me, but Striver will get the better of you."

I snapped my fingers, as Mr. Monk had done himself a few minutes
previously. "That for Mr. Striver!" I said contemptuously. "Do you
think I care for a country bumpkin such as he is. Gertrude has
promised to be my wife, so the rest matters little."

Monk nursed his chin on his hand, and looked remarkably sullen. After
a couple of minutes' silence he looked up. "See here, I shall make a
bargain with you. If I withdraw from Lady Mabel's society and court
her no more, will you hold your tongue?"

"No. Lady Denham must learn the truth. You are at her house under
false pretences."

"As you choose!" he shrugged, but his eyes glittered wickedly behind
the _pince-nez_, "but if you will hold your tongue, for, say a
fortnight, until I can retreat gracefully from my position by feigning
to make a trip to the Continent, I will offer no opposition to your
marriage with Gertrude."

"Oh, I have no wish to be hard on you, Mr. Monk. Your opposition to my
marriage doesn't matter, since Gertrude will think very little of you
when she learns the truth. I shall hold my tongue for a fortnight, and
you must give up Lady Denham's acquaintance altogether: also Lady
Mabel's and Lord Cannington's acquaintance."

"And you'll let me tell Gertrude myself," he entreated, now beaten.

"Yes," said I, after a pause, "I shall let you tell Gertrude
yourself."

"Thank you," said Monk in a low tone, "and in return I advise you to
beware of Striver. You have conquered me: you won't conquer him," and
he smiled in a most evil manner.



CHAPTER XVI.
STRIVER'S THREAT


I was having my fill of surprises by this time, and was beginning to
wish that the matter should end. By the matter I mean this Mootley
crime, the present cause of all these happenings. By stumbling on that
fine adventure, I had become engaged to Gertrude, and, to keep
Cannington from plundering my preserves, I had come to London. Here,
at his aunt's house, I had met Gertrude's father masquerading as a
millionaire. There was no use his denying this. His change of name may
have been legal, and he may have acquired a competency by the death of
his Australian cousin: but he certainly could not rank with the Park
Lane fraternity. Yet Lady Denham believed him to be one, and he
encouraged the idea.

I took my leave of the smooth-faced little man with the resolve to
keep my promise. So long as he abstained from calling on Lady Denham,
and withdrew his pretentions to Lady Mabel's hand, there was no need
for me to strip him of his peacock's feathers. There was no need even
to tell Gertrude, as the revelation would not change her feelings
towards me in any way. Certainly the ingenious Mr. Striver knew, and I
wondered that he had not made use of his information before, to force
Monk's hand. But Striver was a patient man and perhaps had waited
until he had acquired his aunt's wealth before pressing his suit.
Then, if Gertrude refused, he could threaten to tell her of Monk's
secret doings, unless that gentleman exercised his parental authority
so far as to insist upon the unequal marriage. But--and the reflection
made me chuckle--they were both a day after the fair, for Gertrude had
promised to be my wife and I was equal to Striver in the knowledge of
which he hoped to make use. It was a poor lookout for the handsome
Joseph, and, in spite of Monk's warning, I had no fears that the man
could harm myself or my darling in any way.

I remained a week in London, and enjoyed myself along with
Cannington--that is, I went to the theatres, to various At Homes, to
certain small dances, and to suppers, dinners, motor drives, and all
the rest of it, including bridge drives, although I had no particular
regard for that fashionable game. But my heart was far away with
Gertrude, and I felt very much bored in spite of the boy's lively
society. I think he noticed my abstracted condition at times, for he
proposed that I should leave him and return to Burwain. I refused,
since I had arranged to remain a week. I heard from Gertrude every
day, and replied at length, so that somewhat ameliorated my desperate
situation. Moreover, I wished to remain in London to see if Mr. Monk
intended to keep his promise.

One day--the last of my stay in town, as a matter of fact--Cannington
turned up at my club with two pieces of news. He delivered both over a
brandy and soda and a cigar.

"Weston has been to Burwain, and has got his land lease for a few
months," said Cannington, "and to-morrow he is taking down a gang of
men to erect fences. Within a week--so he says--the fences will be up,
and in a fortnight the sheds will be erected. Then he can take down
the various parts of his airship to put the beastly thing together."

"But to get fences and sheds rigged up in such a hurry will take a
very great number of men."

"Of course. However, Dicky has thirty thousand pounds a year----"

"So much as that? Why doesn't Mabel marry him, then? She wants money
and love. Weston can give her both."

"Do you think so, really, old chap?"

"I am certain of it. He was dreadfully jealous of our friend, Mr.
Marr."

"Well, I think he is. You see Dicky looks on Mabel as his own
property, and hates anyone to poach. I wish he would adjust the
situation, but hang him, he won't--that is, he has done his best, and
can't."

"Why don't you ask him his intentions? You are the head of the
family."

Cannington grew red. "Oh, hang it, I can't. It would look as though I
were shying Mabel at the chap's head. It will all come right in time."

"Unless Mabel, in a fit of pique, accepts Marr."

"She won't do that. He's bunked out of the business."

"Really!" said I, with feigned surprise, "and why?"

"Lord only knows," said Cannington indifferently. "Aunt Lucy is in a
fine state about his clearing. He wrote and said he had a sudden call
on business to South America--something to do with a silver mine, I
fancy--and would be away for a year. Aunt Lucy says this means he has
given up any idea of making Mab his wife, and she blames poor Mab, and
says it was her flirting with Dicky that sent old Marr off."

"It's just as well, Cannington. Weston is a much better match for your
sister, and is quite rich enough, besides being younger. But has Marr
really gone away?"

"I suppose so. I haven't seen him about town lately, and he said that
he was sailing soon for New York. I'm sure I don't care: he can go
hang for me." He laughed. "Aunt Lucy said I ought to thrash him for
compromising Mabel. But that's all bosh. Mab's quite able to look
after herself, and I can't lay hands on a man old enough to be my
father. What do you think? Ought I to thrash him?"

Privately I thought that it would do Mr. Marr-Monk good to have a
trifle of physical pain, and when Cannington knew the whole truth I
was not at all sure but what he would reconsider his position and
thrash the scoundrel. But since Monk had kept his promise I had to
keep mine, so I merely shrugged my shoulders. "He's too old, boy.
Besides, your sister never cared for him. When the airship is
floated--is that the correct term--Weston is sure to propose."

"And you expect Mab to take him with a 'Thank you,'" flashed out the
boy, growing red and haughty.

"Well," said I, with a look of surprise, "she loves him."

"That's true enough, but she's not going to be at the beck and call of
Master Dick, as I told him."

"When?"

"When he came grumbling to me that Mab had refused him."

"He asked her to marry him?" I exclaimed.

Cannington nodded. "Dicky got so mad with the way in which Aunt Lucy
talked that evening you were there, and with the way in which Marr
seemed to be so sure of his ground, that he proposed the next day. Mab
refused him at once, as he seemed to think he only had to ask and to
have. I told him it served him [**] well right, and that I admired
Mab's spirit."

"[**] do I," was my hearty reply, "but I don't think [**] meant his
offer to be taken in that light. He's a absent-minded man and----"

"[**] hang it! a refusal will do him good," said Cannington crossly,
"and perhaps he'll drop being [**] an ass. Of course he wants me to
persuade Mab, [**] I told him I wouldn't lift a finger. Well, then,
Vance, you see that Mab has lost both her lovers at once. Marr has
sheered off--like his impudence, although I'm glad--and Dicky has been
sent away with a flea in his ear, and serve him jolly well right."

"And how is Mabel?"

"As jolly as a sandboy, bless her, in spite of Aunt Lucy's nagging. I
have asked her to come down to Murchester for a week. She can take
rooms at the Lion Hotel, and collar some old woman as a chaperon. Then
we can have a good time together. Come down also."

"No, boy. I must return to Burwain to-morrow."

"And when am I to be asked down to see Miss Monk?"

"Very shortly, as soon as I have her father's consent."

"Oh, she has a father?"

"Yes, but no mother. By the way," I said swiftly, to avert further
questions, "you didn't give me your opinion of the case I put to you."

"I don't know what sort of opinion to give," said Cannington testily;
"the best thing to be done is to find out who it was entered the shop
when Miss Monk went away. I can think of nothing else."

Cannington's opinion was mine also. But if Gertrude refused to
speak I did not see what I could do. Besides, she was anxious for
me to abandon the case. I felt inclined to do so myself, much as
the mystery piqued me. However, I ceased to discuss it with
Cannington--who really took very little interest in intricacies--and
we spent the evening at theatre. Next day I furbished up the Rippler
and departed at top speed for Burwain.

I flew, so to speak, on the wings of love, as [**] desperately anxious
to reach the side of my [*]. It was a wet day and the roads were in a
very [*] condition. Nevertheless I broke every rule with regard to
speed and defied the police traps. I broke through three, I know, and
managed to escape having the number of my car taken. By the time I
reached Burwain I had accumulated a tidy sum in fines. I did not care.
I would have paid three times as much to reach Gertrude. But the fun
of it was that, owing to my desperate haste, there was no chance of my
being made to pay the money, as I had flown past with the speed of a
kingfisher. "More haste, less speed" was not a true proverb in this
instance.

So anxious was I to hold Gertrude in my arms that I halted the Rippler
before the gate of The Lodge and proposed, dripping as I was, to have
an interview before driving on to the Robin Redbreast. I soon made my
way to the door, and rang the bell. The house looked forlorn and
dismal in the misty rain, and there was a chill in the atmosphere. But
love cares very little for such discomforts, so I smiled gaily at
Eliza when she appeared at the door. She was a sour-faced, elderly
woman, with a silent tongue, and usually never opened her mouth, even
to me, although I was a constant visitor. But on this occasion, with a
somewhat disturbed face, she spoke eagerly and seemed pleased to see
me.

"Thank goodness you have come, sir," she whispered, with a backward
glance, "I know you'll make him clear out."

"Make who clear out, Eliza?" I asked, staring.

"That Joseph, sir."

"The gardener?"

"Yes, sir. Ever since you have been away, he's been haunting the
house. It's sheer lunacy, sir, but he's in love with Miss Gertrude,
and follows her like a dog. An hour ago he forced himself into the
house, and is now talking with her in the drawing-room, and--oh, sir,"
she caught hold of me, as I compressed my lips and strode past her,
"don't anger him: he's a desperate man."

"I'll break his neck," said I drily; "let me go, woman," and wrenching
my sleeve from her grasp, I walked to the drawing-room door, and flung
it open.

"Cyrus!" Gertrude saw me at once, and flung herself across the long
room to nestle in my arms, "I am so glad you are here. He--he"--she
pointed to the gardener--"he's quite mad."

Striver, dressed much the same as he had been when I interviewed him
in the Mootley corner shop, stood sullenly at the end of the room.
Apparently he had pinned Gertrude in a corner, but his turning to see
who was entering had given her the chance, and now she was safe by my
side. The fellow looked as handsome as ever, but his face was scarlet
with anger, and his fists hung clenched by his side. Feeling myself to
be the master of the situation I was comparatively cool.

"What the devil do you mean, man?" I said, with pointed and intended
insolence.

"He is mad: he is mad," cried Gertrude, clinging to me, and replying
for the man, who still kept a sullen silence. "He forced his way into
the house and has been saying dreadful things."

"Things you cannot deny," said Striver, moistening his dry lips with
his tongue. "Mr. Vance, you had better keep out of this, or it will be
the worse for her," and he pointed to Gertrude.

I removed her arms from my neck and walked straight across the room.
Before Striver was aware of my intention I had my hands on his throat
and was shaking him as a terrier does a rat. With desperate efforts he
tried to tear away my grasp, but could not do so, and his face was
rapidly turning black with strangulation, when Gertrude ran to my
side. "Don't kill him, for God's sake, Cyrus."

I loosened my grip, and Striver, staggering back, fell into a chair.
Then, somewhat unjustly, I turned on Gertrude. "Are you thinking of
him?" I demanded in a thick voice, for at the moment I was not master
of myself.

"I am thinking of you," she replied, clasping her hands, "who else
would I think of? I don't wish to see you hanged for murder."

"You would hang together," gasped the gardener, recovering his breath
with a gigantic effort; "with my dying breath I would tell the truth."

"What truth?" I asked fiercely.

Gertrude clung to me. "Don't listen to him; don't listen to him."

"Ah," Striver sneered with pale lips, "she's afraid, you see."

"I am not afraid," cried Gertrude, her eyes flashing, and drawing
herself up to her full height. "Cyrus knows everything. I only asked
him not to listen because I wish you to go away and rid me of your
hateful presence--your hateful presence," she repeated incoherently.

Striver gave a sob. "If you knew how I loved you!"

"Stop!" I had control of my feelings by this time. "It is no use your
saying these things, Miss Monk is engaged to me."

"She'll never marry you, never," said the man between his teeth. "I
shall denounce her to the police."

"As what--be quiet, Gertrude--as what, Mr. Striver?"

"As the woman who murdered my aunt," he cried, staggering to his feet.

I laughed, and the two stared at me in astonishment. The sound of
merriment at such a tragic moment startled them. But I saw swiftly
that it was useless to act a melodramatic scene, and was half sorry
that I had so nearly strangled the gardener. Now I was cool and
composed and, before proceeding to act, wished to know where I stood.
"Sit down, Striver; sit down, Gertrude." They did as I asked them in
sheer amazement. "Now then," I took a seat myself, "perhaps you will
explain."

"He forced his way----" began Gertrude, when I stopped her.

"I know that much. Mr. Striver is in love with you. I don't blame him
for that, since no man can help his feelings. He has forced his way
into this house to compel you by threats to be his wife. I condemn him
on those grounds, for no human being has a right to coerce another.
Now then, the situation being plain, perhaps, Striver, you will speak
out."

If I had been violent the man could have met me more easily. But my
perfect fairness and coolness confounded him, and he stared stupidly
at me. I grew impatient. "Come, Striver, speak up. I don't wish to
condemn you unheard. On what grounds do you accuse Miss Monk of this
crime?"

"She was at my aunt's house on that evening."

"I know as much from her own lips. I also know that she left her white
cloak behind and a certain hat-pin. Well?"

He was more confounded than ever. "She stabbed my aunt," he muttered.

"I never did, I never did," cried Gertrude breathlessly.

"My dear," said I, patting her hand, "there is no need for you to deny
that, I am aware of your innocence. But I wish to know upon what
grounds Mr. Striver bases his accusation."

"I shall tell them to the police," said the gardener, rising.

"You can't do that," struck in Gertrude, "without incriminating
yourself."

"Oh, indeed," said I lightly; "perhaps you will explain, Striver. You
see, I am treating you with all justice."

"I don't want your justice," he said rudely.

"Ah!" I retorted meaningly, "perhaps you want the justice of a British
jury, Striver. Come, out with it."

The young man clenched his fists. "If I ruin myself, I shall ruin her.
You shan't have her if I can't."

"Allow me to tell you, Striver," I said, repressing Gertrude, "that
all this bombast has no effect on me. Prove your accusation."

"You can't without incriminating yourself," repeated Gertrude, drawing
a breath. "Cyrus, he told me that----"

"I'll tell him," interrupted the gardener fiercely. "I know that I run
the risk of standing in the dock. But you, Miss Monk, will be by my
side. It's my love for you which makes me risk my neck."

"So that you can put a rope round the neck of the woman you love," I
said cheerfully, although I confess that the man's decisive tone made
me uneasy. "That is an affectionate way of acting." "Well, are you
going to confess?"

"I am not afraid to confess," said Striver, in thick tones, but
more composed. "You can't make use of my confession without proving
her"--he pointed to Gertrude--"to be a murderess and a thief."

"A lie, a lie," moaned the girl.

"I have been very patient with you, Striver," I said, suppressing my
anger with an effort, "but if you call Miss Monk names I'll knock your
teeth down your throat."

"I'm not afraid of you, Mr. Vance."

"No; you're afraid of the police."

"And so is she," he pointed again.

"I am not," denied Gertrude, and stood up calm and unflinching to deny
it.

"Oh, damn your fencing, come to the point. Forgive me for swearing,
Gertrude, but this long-winded ass would provoke a saint."

Striver took no notice of the insult. He plunged, with a gasp,
directly into the middle of his story, and I soon saw how it was that
he did not dare to denounce Gertrude. "My aunt wished me to marry Miss
Monk," he said rapidly, and with his eyes on the carpet--he was
standing up, by the way--"and as I loved her I wished for nothing
better. My aunt said that she could give me Gabriel Monk's money after
her death, as she had concealed its whereabouts in her glass eye."

"Oh," I said, half to myself, "so I was right."

"Yes, you were right," assented Striver quickly. "I wanted my aunt to
show me the eye when she was alive, but she always refused and said
that it would remain in her head until she died."

"A violent death, Mr. Striver."

"Yes. She always declared that because of this secret she would not
die in her bed. She was afraid that Miss Monk would kill her."

"Oh, rubbish!" I interrupted impatiently. "Miss Monk would not kill a
fly, as you well know. Mrs. Caldershaw must have been mad."

"I think she was," murmured Gertrude, clinging to me.

"She was not mad enough to give away the secret of the eye to me,"
said Striver savagely. "I heard from Miss Destiny that Miss Monk had
learned from some diary of Gabriel Monk's that my aunt knew the secret
of the money."

"Yes," interrupted Gertrude, looking up, "but not of the eye."

"Seeing that you murdered my aunt, I believe you did," contradicted
the gardener bluntly. "Miss Destiny said that you were going over to
Mootley to see my aunt. I went over also."

"On that evening?" I asked, startled.

"Yes, and some time before Miss Monk arrived. I saw my aunt and asked
her to tell me the secret. She refused, as she only wished me to have
the money after her death. Then Miss Monk arrived, and my aunt
smuggled me up the stairs into a bedroom. From above I saw Miss Monk
enter the back room with my aunt. I returned to the bedroom to wait,
and fell asleep. When I awoke it was quite dark. I stole down the
stairs into the back room, and found it in darkness. Also I found my
aunt's body and the eye missing. My aunt was not quite dead, as she
moaned. While I was wondering what to do, I heard a motor arrive."

"My motor?" I asked swiftly.

"Yes. I then saw in a flash that being found with my aunt dying I
might be accused of murder and of stealing her eye, seeing that I
wanted it so much. I could not risk anyone entering the back room, so
I fumbled for the key. It was on the outside, and you entered the
shop, Mr. Vance, before I could get it. But there was a bolt on the
inside of the door, and this I slipped. When you tried the door you
could not get in. Afterwards, when you were filling your tank with
petrol, I came out softly and stole up the stairs with the white
cloak."

"Why did you take the white cloak?"

"I knew that it belonged to Miss Monk, as I had frequently seen her
wearing it. I wished to keep it as evidence that she had murdered my
aunt in the back room."

"I left the cloak, when I had to depart in a hurry," said Gertrude
defiantly.

"So you say," sneered Striver, "but I believe differently. However, I
managed to get safely back to the bedroom, and wondered how I could
escape. It then struck me that I could assume the cloak as a disguise.
I found a veil also, and put that round my cap. In the dusk, with the
long cloak and the veil, I thought I would look like a woman, and
could steal out."

"Oh," I said, with a gasp, "then you ran away with my car."

"Yes, I did," he said with a sort of triumph. "I waited my chance to
get out of the place, as I was afraid lest I should be accused of the
murder. When you entered the back room----"

"Attracted by the moan of the dying woman. Yes, go on."

"Well, then I stole down the stairs and turned the key, which, I
already knew, was on the outside. You had set your motor going, so I
ran out and leaped in. That man Giles saw me--although I did not know
his name at the time--and I put on all speed to escape. Luckily you
had turned the motor round in the Murchester direction. I spun along
and met Miss Destiny in her trap, as you know. At the time I didn't
think it was her. Then it struck me that she--a stranger, as I
believed--might say how she had seen the motor and I would be traced.
I therefore slewed the machine into the field through the gate. I left
it stranded there, and concealed the cloak----"

"Which I found, along with the veil," I put in. "Go on, Mr. Striver."

"There's nothing more to tell," he said sulkily. "I walked to
Murchester and caught a train. As I had not the motor or the white
cloak, I felt that I was safe. And so I was."

"You are not very safe now," I remarked, rising to stretch myself.
"Suppose I tell the police?"

"Then I denounce Miss Monk as guilty; she was in the back room----"

"I had left long, long before," interposed Gertrude, very pale.

"I was in the back room also, Striver, yet I am innocent. However, I
can see that if I talk you can talk, so, for the present, in any
event, I shall say nothing about the matter. You can go." I pointed to
the door.

He stood his ground and looked at Gertrude. "You are in my power,"
said he.

"And you are in ours," I retorted cheerfully, "it won't do, Striver,
things shall remain as they are for the present. Miss Monk is not for
you."

"I shall tell the police," he threatened.

"By all means, and cut your own throat. Go!" I flung open the door.

He looked with deadly hatred at Gertrude and myself, then departed in
silence.

When I turned towards my darling, she had fainted.



CHAPTER XVII.
LADY MABEL'S VISIT


Of course in daring Striver to do his worst I knew that I was running
considerable risk. The man was crazy with love, and might be
sufficiently reckless of consequences to himself to tell the police
all that he had confessed to us. Then Gertrude would certainly be
arrested on his evidence. Striver, as an accomplice after the fact
would be arrested also: and then Justice would have to remove the
bandage from her eyes to learn which of the two was guilty. In my own
mind I had no doubt of Gertrude's innocence, but an unbiassed jury
might take, and probably would take, on the declarations of Striver, a
very different view. I had dared much on the spur of the moment, and
had defied a jealous man. Therefore for the next two or three days I
was uneasy.

But I did not permit Gertrude to see that I was doubtful of Striver's
silence. When she recovered from her faint she expressed herself
afraid lest he should speak out, and, in point of fact, voiced my
sentiments. But in order to pacify her I made light of her fears.

"My dear, much as the man loves you, he certainly will not place his
neck in a noose to be revenged on you," I said again and again. "He is
too deeply implicated, by running away with my car and with your
cloak, and with being in the house when the crime was actually
committed, to dare to tell the police the truth. Even if he did go
with his story I doubt if you would be arrested, as on the face of it
he looks much more guilty."

"Do you think he _is_ guilty, Cyrus?" she asked tremulously.

"Well," I spoke doubtfully, "some such thought struck me once or
twice. He was in the house, he wanted the eye to learn the secret of
the hiding-place, and he knew that you had paid a visit. He might have
murdered the old lady with your hat-pin so as to throw the blame on
you, and then might have hoped to implicate you still further by using
your cloak as a disguise. That Giles mistook him for a woman--which he
counted upon--would, of course, aid him to entangle you yet more in
the snare. But I can't be sure if he is actually guilty."

"I hope not, I hope not," murmured Gertrude anxiously, "it would be
such a terrible thing for him to murder his relative. I don't mind
Joseph at all if he would only get rid of this crazy affection he has
for me. I don't know why he loves me so?"

"Look in the glass, and you'll see," I said, kissing her.

"Oh, nonsense, Cyrus," said Gertrude impatiently, "how can you joke
when things are so serious. I am a very ordinary girl, and Joseph is
half mad, I really believe. Oh"--she stopped short and looked at
me--"that eye."

I saw what she meant. "Yes," I nodded, "that struck me also. Joseph
might have been the one who placed it on that drawing-room table to
implicate you. In that case--if we can only force him to confess as
much--he must be guilty of the murder."

"I hope not--I hope not," she said again shiveringly, "and yet"--then
she went off on a new line of thought--"if he placed the eye there,
why should he take it away again?"

"He may not have done so. Do you know, Gertrude, I should not be
surprised if your Aunt Julia had it. She wanted the eye, as we know,
because she desires to handle the money. Apparently she told Joseph of
your visit to Mootley, so that he might go there on the same day and
anticipate your learning the secret from Mrs. Caldershaw."

"But what would she gain by that?"

"She would be able to make Joseph give her part of the money when he
found it," I replied quickly.

"Then you think she anticipated the murder?"

"Not for one moment, my dear. With all her faults, your aunt is not
wicked enough to deliberately urge a man to commit murder. But she
sent Joseph ahead first, trusting that Mrs. Caldershaw would tell him
the secret before you arrived. Then he could return with the cipher
and they could understand it together--solve it, that it. But, as
things turned out--all this is pure theory mind--Joseph did not show
her the eye."

"But he could not have had it, by his own confession," insisted
Gertrude.

"Quite so. But who else could have placed the eye on the drawing-room
table, my dearest? I suspected Giles; I suspected you; and, I think,
in a way, I suspected Striver, since he was working in the garden. Now
I am sure. He put it there, because he was unable to read the cipher
and so made use of it to implicate you. Miss Destiny found it and
probably now it is in her possession. That glass eye has a trick of
disappearing."

"The Disappearing Eye," said Gertrude, with a wan smile, "but you are
wrong about Aunt Julia, Cyrus. She was with me all the time when you
saw the eye, and I walked with her to the gate myself. We were not in
the drawing-room."

I was disappointed when I heard this. "In that case, she could not
have taken it," I mused. "Mr. Monk, could not, as he was with me all
the time."

"Cyrus, how can you think that papa would do such a thing?"

I smiled covertly. My experience of Mr. Monk showed me that he could
act in an extremely underhanded and mean way when it suited his own
tricky ends to do so. But, bearing my promise in mind, I did not dare
to explain myself to the girl. I merely said that perhaps, after all,
Striver took the eye back again, as he had every opportunity of doing
so.

"But he would have produced it when we talked," insisted Gertrude
again.

"No. That would incriminate him too deeply. However, this eye, as I
have said, seems to have a trick of appearing and disappearing, so it
will turn up again. Meanwhile we will give Mr. Striver the benefit of
the doubt and assume him to be innocent, although I'm hanged if his
actions look like it. He won't say anything, you may depend upon
that."

Striver did not, and evidently my policy of daring him to do his worst
had proved successful. He remained a week in Burwain, but did not come
near the house. Then he disappeared. Mrs. Gilfin told me the news.
Striver had given his cottage into the charge of some cousin and had
gone away for an indefinite period.

"Didn't say where he was going," chatted Mrs. Gilfin. "I asked John to
find out from the gossip in the bar, but he couldn't. But, knowing men
as I do, I know where he's gone."

"Where, Cuckoo?" I asked anxiously, for, bearing in mind what the
gardener knew, I was eager to know his whereabouts.

"To London town," said Mrs. Gilfin solemnly, "young men with money
always go there to have a spree. And since you've caught the eye of
Miss Gertrude, Master Cyrus, dear, that young man's given up trying.
With his aunt's money he's gone to enjoy himself."

I doubted it. Striver was too deeply in love to get rid of his crazy
passion so easily. Still it was possible that he had gone to London to
drown his disappointment in an orgy, so I took the news of his
departure to Gertrude, although I did not tell her of Mrs. Gilfin's
belief. I found the girl puzzling over a letter from her father.

"He's going to New York on business," she said, handing me the letter;
"now I wonder what his business can be, Cyrus. And why did he go away
without coming down to tell me personally and say good-bye?"

I read Mr. Monk's precise handwriting carefully. He had kept to my
agreement with him, and had left the country. He would be away, he
wrote to his daughter, for an indefinite period, and hoped to return a
wealthy man. I guessed that such a mean creature would probably stay
in America and marry there, leaving his daughter to look after
herself. Luckily there was a postscript stating that if Gertrude
wanted money she was to apply to a lawyer whose address was given. I
handed back the letter with a shrug. Since Mr. Monk had departed there
was no reason for me to say anything at all, although I had limited my
silence to a fortnight.

"I expect he's found some business which will make him rich, and has
had to go off in a hurry. You can't miss him very much, Gertrude,
darling, for he is never here."

"No, that is true," she said thoughtfully, folding up the letter, "and
since you have come into my life, Cyrus, I miss my father very little,
still he might have come to say good-bye. I am afraid," she ended,
sighing, "that papa is a little selfish."

"Well, never mind. He'll return with wealth, as he says."

"Do you think he will?"

"I am sure of it," I replied, kissing her, for if Mr. Monk did appear
in Burwain again, a contingency I could not be sure would take place,
he would doubtless admit his possession of the Australian cousin's
money to his daughter. Meanwhile, as I pointed out, he was gone, and
Striver was gone, so all we had to do was to enjoy ourselves.

"Then there's no danger of Joseph seeing the police?"

I kissed her again. "No. Set your mind at rest!" And truly, when day
after day went past and no news came I began to believe that Mr.
Striver and his suggested revenge had passed away altogether. The
murder of Mrs. Caldershaw--unless the gardener was guilty--still
remained a mystery, but so long as Gertrude was not troubled I cared
very little if it were never solved.

September passed into October, and that damp month gave place to foggy
November. I remained very comfortably lodged at the Robin Redbreast,
and saw Gertrude every day. The lawyer sent her a weekly sum, so all
was well financially, and for the rest, she no longer felt lonely,
since she had my company to an unlimited extent. We motored a great
deal, we sometimes visited the Tarhaven theatre, and we spent long
evenings together over the piano, for Gertrude was a very good
musician. If ever a man had an opportunity of knowing what kind of
wife he was marrying, I was that lucky individual. Our wooing was odd
and unconventional, to say the least of it, and I was known in Burwain
village as "Miss Gerty's young man." Only Puddles acted as chaperon,
although Miss Destiny sometimes assumed that office.

The little old lady was extremely gracious to me, and actually asked
me to afternoon tea in her tin house, an unprecedented favour,
considering her avaricious nature. Gertrude privately informed me that
her aunt did not again refer to the hidden money, and evidently was
quite ready to wait until it was found. If it was, and she did not
receive her half, I had no doubt that she would show her teeth, but
meanwhile she was bland and smiling and agreeable. I disliked her
myself, as I knew she was holding a whip over Gertrude. Still, so long
as she did not use it, I had no cause to complain. Gertrude's
position--owing to circumstances over which she had no control--was an
extremely delicate one, and Miss Destiny, as a possible scandalmaker,
had to be propitiated. I was therefore as amiable to her as she was to
me, but I fancy she hated me under her feigned mask of friendship, as
several times I caught sly glances revealing the smouldering fires of
her suppressed feelings.

I had, through those damp months, a companion at the Robin Redbreast
in the small person of Dicky Weston. True to his intention, he had
leased a few acres of waste land outside the village and, having
enclosed it with a high tin fence, had erected sheds for his three or
four workmen--in the construction of his airship he did not retain
more--and for the housing of the vessel (as I presume it may be
called). The various parts were brought from London, and Weston spent
his days in putting them together. Meanwhile he lived along with me at
the inn, and we had a common table. I rather liked Weston, although
he was confoundedly absent-minded. He told me--for we grew
confidential--that he had proposed to Mabel and that she had refused
him.

"I believe she's in love with that Marr fellow," said Weston savagely.

"She is in love with you, my dear chap," I assured him; "anyone but a
half-blinded inventor could see that."

"Then why didn't she accept me?"

"Do you expect a girl to drop into your mouth like a ripe apple, just
because between the intervals of what you regard as more important
business you propose to her. Women need to be wooed in order to be
won, Weston, and Lady Mabel--very rightly, declined to be considered a
side issue of your life interest."

"But I love her no end, Vance."

"Pooh! You would sacrifice her and a dozen like her to your Moloch of
an airship," I said lightly.

"I wouldn't," he insisted; "but Mabel couldn't expect me to throw over
everything to dance at her heels."

"She could expect it, and she did expect it. Weston, you don't know
the sex."

"I know Mabel, and I love Mabel," he muttered, "but since she won't
have me there is no more to be said. I expect to hear she has married
Marr."

"You expect wrongly then," said I with a shrug; "Marr has gone to
America for an indefinite period, and is out of the running."

"Then there's a chance for me," he said, his dark face lightening up.

"If you play your cards properly."

"Show me how to play, then," he asked me, and I laughed.

"Good Lord man, you aren't a child, to be shown what to do. Make a
fuss with Mabel, and show her--as she deserves to be shown--that she
is the one woman in the world for you."

"So she is, so she is. I love her no end. Upon my soul I do."

"You have not shown that by your actions," I replied dryly; "if your
love was so ardent you certainly would not be daunted by a single
refusal."

Weston sighed. "I don't understand girls," he confessed.

"You certainly don't, my friend. However, if you are willing to make
another attempt, ask Mabel down to see your airship."

"She won't come: she can't come."

"Why not? It isn't a long journey."

"From Italy it is," he said dolefully. "Lady Denham and her niece have
been in Florence for some weeks. Lady Denham wrote and told me they
were going."

"Oh, she wrote you, did she? That shows that, now Marr is off the
scene, Lady Denham will favor your suit. Cannington's at Florence
also. I got a letter from him a few days ago. The whole party are
coming back to England for Christmas, as Lady Denham virtuously
intends to spend the festive season at her country house in the good
old English fashion."

"It's a fortnight to Christmas," ruminated Weston anxiously. "I wonder
if Lady Denham would ask me down."

"I am quite sure she would. Men with thirty thousand a year are not
easily picked up. Marr, the millionaire," I laughed when I said this,
"having sheered off, Lady Denham will be delighted if her niece will
marry you."

"But Mabel doesn't love me for my money, I hope."

"No. She's too decent a girl. You will be a lucky man if you win her.
Lord knows what she can see in you, Weston. You're not handsome, not
entertaining, and your mind generally floats in the clouds with your
blessed airship."

Weston laughed, in no wise offended. "I'll tell you what," he said
after a pause, "I'll wire Cannington asking him to bring his sister
down here when they return to England."

"Won't a letter do? Why are you in such a hurry?"

"I haven't time to write a letter," confessed Weston candidly, "a wire
is just as good, if more expensive. But if they come down I can then
show Mabel the airship and ask her to use it with me for the
honeymoon. She can't mistake that offer."

"It's an odd one, but she certainly can't," I answered laughing.

The consequence of this conversation was that Weston sent his telegram,
and then promptly forgot all about it in the interest of his infernal
aerial tramp. Cannington did not reply, so I wrote him a long letter,
detailing my conversation with the inventor, and pointing out that Lady
Mabel was the dream of the little man's life. So she was, in a way,
although Weston had a queer method of showing it. My letter crossed
another one from Cannington, and I learned that the party had returned
to England sooner than was expected. Thus Weston's wire to Florence had
not reached Lady Mabel. I posted another explanation to Cannington, and
Weston, during the course of the week before Christmas, received a
hasty note from the boy, saying that he was bringing down his sister to
see--me. This made Dicky furious.

"Good Lord!" he grumbled, "are you in love with Mabel?"

"Considering that I have introduced you to my future wife, how can I
be?"

"Then why does Cannington bring her to see you, confound you?"

"Because you have behaved badly to his sister."

"I haven't. I asked her to marry and she----"

"Very rightly refused to have you. Weston, you are a complete ass.
Leave me to arrange this matter, and when you get the chance throw
yourself at Mabel's feet and let her trample on you."

"I'll do whatever you like," said Weston, who was about as much in
love as a man divided between science and humanity well could be.

The result of my efforts came about in due course. Cannington appeared
on the scene in a walking kit, along with his sister, and announced
that they were stopping at the Buckingham Hotel, Tarhaven, for a few
days. The boy looked very well after his foreign tour, and Lady Mabel
was as blooming as a rose. Weston being as usual in his yard attending
to his darling airship, I gave Cannington and the girl afternoon tea,
and we had a long chat, which included news on both sides.

"Mabel got an offer from an Italian count," said Cannington gaily.

"And I refused," replied Mabel. "I have made up my mind to be an old
maid."

"You look like the sort that become old maids," I retorted, admiring
her fresh comeliness, "and Weston will have a word to say to that."

Mabel set her mouth obstinately. "I sha'n't accept Dicky," she said,
with a fine access of color; "he seems to think he has only to ask and
to have."

"Well, then, he found that he asked and didn't get," I said teasingly;
"he has been punished enough, Mabel, and loves you desperately. He
can't get on with his work for thinking of you. Accept him, my dear
girl, and then, the matter being settled, he can attend to his work."

"If I accept him I shall have to be his work," said Mabel wrathfully.
"I am not going to be neglected for his airship. But let us leave
Dicky alone for the present. If he asks me again, I might--mind you, I
don't say that I will--but I might box his ears and accept him.
Meanwhile, what about Miss Monk? I am dying to see her."

"So am I," chimed in Cannington, pushing back his chair.

"One at a time, boy. Mabel, you come along with me to The Lodge and we
shall see Gertrude. Then you can give me your opinion on my extremely
good taste. As to Cannington, he had better look up Dicky in his
yard."

"I'd rather come and see Gertrude--I mean Miss Monk."

"No. To-morrow you shall be presented. Go and talk to Dicky like a
Dutch uncle--he deserves it--while Mabel and I call on Gertrude."

Cannington nodded, although I could see that he was not very well
pleased with the arrangement. On the way out of the inn he tugged at
my sleeve while Mabel was speaking to Mrs. Gilfin. "I say, have you
learned anything more about the Mootley business?"

"Not lately," I replied in low tones. "I'll tell you all I know when
we have more time. Go and see Dicky. By the way," I caught his sleeve
this time, "have you heard anything of Marr?"

"Not a word. Why?" He stared wonderingly.

"Oh, nothing. Never mind."

"Mabel," I turned to the girl, "I am at your service."

Cannington shrugged his square shoulders and the three of us walked to
The Lodge. Weston's yard was farther on, quite beyond the village, so
I directed Cannington to go straight on, telling him that he could not
miss the workshop. Then I took Mabel inside the grounds of The Lodge
and up to the door. Eliza opened the door and conducted us to the
drawing-room. While she went to inform her young mistress of our
arrival, Mabel glanced round admiringly.

"What a charming old room!" she said delightedly; "it must have been
built by William the Conqueror: all except the horrid windows."

"They are rather out of place," I admitted; "some Vandal of a Monk,
put them there during the Albert period, when everything was ugly."

"I shall get Dicky to give me a room like this--without the French
windows, of course," chatted Mabel.

"Oh! then you intend to marry him."

"Certainly not. I intend to box his ears if he has the cheek to speak
to me again. The idea!"

"What shall I give you for a wedding present, Mabel?" I asked,
laughing.

"Dicky's head on a charger," she replied promptly.

"In that case there would be no wedding. Come, Mabel, you know you
love Weston and intend to marry him."

"Well, I do, on one condition."

"What is that?"

"He must burn or smash his horrid airship before my very eyes."

"Well," said I, thoughtfully and with intent, "he loves you so much
that I believe he'll even do that."

"Oh, Cyrus, would he"--her eyes sparkled--"does he really love me?"

"Desperately. He's been miserable since you refused him."

"Oh, poor Dicky--" she began, but got no further, for Gertrude entered
as the words left her lips and came forward with a smile.

"Lady Mabel," she said, holding out her hand, "I have no need to ask
your name, as Cyrus has described you to me so often."

"Oh, we've known each other for ages," said Mabel warmly. "Cyrus is
just like my elder brother. I am so glad to meet you. Cyrus told
me--well, I daren't tell you what he told me, it would make him
blush."

"I have not blushed since I was a baby," I retorted. "Gertrude, Lady
Mabel is stopping at Tarhaven with her brother and----"

"Don't call me _Lady_ Mabel. It's very rude. Miss Monk, why don't you
keep him in better order?"

"Don't call me Miss Monk," said Gertrude, smiling. "I know you quite
well from what Cyrus has told me, and, indeed, Mr. Weston."

"Oh, Dicky," Mabel blushed, "he's such a silly man, Miss--well then,
Gertrude."

"Hurrah, Gertrude! you are received into the family circle," said I.

"Not until she meets Cannington," said Mabel, rising. "What a lovely,
lovely room you have, Gertrude," she moved from one point to another;
"it's as lovely as--you are."

"What a nice speech, Mabel."

"Yes, isn't it? I always make nice speeches, and--and--oh!" she
stopped short.

"What's the matter?" asked Gertrude, seeing that her visitor was
staring at a photograph in a silver frame, "that is my father."

"Your father," repeated Mabel, and my blood ran chill, for I guessed
what was coming. "Why, it's a photograph of Mr. Wentworth Marr, who
wished to marry me."



CHAPTER XVIII
AN ALARMING MESSAGE


I sat and shivered in my brown shoes. In bringing Lady Mabel to The
Lodge I had quite overlooked the possibility that she might espy the
photograph of Monk which stood always, as I very well knew, on the
piano in the drawing-room, and the worst of it was that the photograph
had only been taken a few months, so there was no possibility of
mistaking the face. It was certain that Mabel would appeal to me for
confirmation of her assertion, since I had met Marr in her presence,
so what could I do? While the two girls stared alternatively at one
another and at the photograph, I tried to make up my mind what course
it would be best to pursue.

"I think you must be mistaken," said Gertrude, who looked puzzled,
"the photograph is certainly one that my father had taken early this
year."

"Then your father is Wentworth Marr," insisted Mabel, examining the
photograph more closely.

"Walter Monk is my father's name," said Gertrude with some stiffness,
"there is no need for him to change it."

Mabel looked round at me, and I shivered again. The heavens were
falling. "I ask you, Cyrus," she cried imperatively, "isn't this," she
touched the photograph, "Mr. Marr."

"There is a likeness," I admitted cautiously.

"Nonsense! it's Mr. Marr himself. You met him at Aunt Lucy's. You must
know."

"Know what?" I asked doggedly and uneasily.

"That this," she touched the photograph again, "is Mr. Marr."

I was silent, and looked at my toes, wondering what was best to say.
Certainly I had made a promise to Monk to be silent, provided he
fulfilled certain conditions. He had done so, and therefore my lips
were sealed. Then I recalled the fact that I had limited the time of
concealment to a fortnight and thus, in all honor, I was now free to
tell the truth. It seemed necessary to do so at the moment, as no
other course was open to me. Mabel was a most pertinacious young
woman, and would never leave things alone until her doubts were set at
rest. Moreover, Gertrude was looking at me inquiringly, as she had
noticed my obvious embarrassment.

"Cyrus," she asked, and I raised my eyes, "what does this mean?"

"It's a long story," I said weakly.

"Oh," Mabel walked up to me, "then there is a story. Just you tell
it." She sat down with a determined air. "I don't move from here until
I know how Mr. Marr's photograph comes to be here under the name of
Mr. Monk."

There was no help for it. I had to speak out and make the best I could
of a most uncomfortable situation. "Mr. Walter Monk goes by that name
in Burwain," I blurted out, "but in London he is known as Mr.
Wentworth Marr."

"Well I never!" Mabel drew a long breath and looked at Gertrude, who
had sat down, and was staring hard at me.

"Why has my father two names?" she asked apprehensively.

"Oh, there's nothing wrong," I said hastily, "he is Wentworth Marr by
Act of Parliament."

"Perhaps he is a millionaire also by Act of Parliament," said Mabel
sarcastically. "Can you say that he is, Cyrus?"

"Papa is not a millionaire," put in Gertrude hastily. "All he has is
this house and five hundred a year."

"Oh," Mabel drew another long breath, "and he gave Aunt Lucy to
understand that he was a rich man."

"Did he give her to understand that he was actually a millionaire?" I
asked.

"Well no, not exactly. Aunt Lucy exaggerates. But he did say that he
had no end of money and asked her permission to pay his addresses to
me."

"To you!" cried Gertrude, her color coming and going; "why, I thought
that you were engaged to Mr. Weston."

"I am in love with Mr. Weston," said Mabel straightforwardly, "but I
am not engaged to him, although I may be. I refused him once, and my
aunt wished me to marry you--that is, Mr. Marr!" She paused, then
spread out her hands in a foreign fashion, "I can't understand what it
means."

"Cyrus understands," said Gertrude, and her voice sounded cold.
"Perhaps you will explain, Cyrus."

"Willingly," I said, nerved to desperate coolness, "but you will
understand in your turn that I was bound by a promise made to your
father not to say anything if certain conditions were fulfilled.

"Was that fair to me?" asked Mabel angrily.

"Perfectly fair," I snapped. "I learned the truth when I met Mr. Marr
at Lady Denham's house. Then I recognized him as Mr. Monk, and
afterwards I had an explanation with him."

"Why didn't you tell us his real name when you set eyes on him?"
demanded Lady Mabel crossly.

"I did not wish to make a scene. It was only fair to await an
explanation."

"What?" cried the girl, her color rising, "when Mr. Marr was calling
on my aunt under a false name----"

"He has a perfect legal right to the name."

"And under the pretence of being a rich man."

"He is a rich man," I assured her, "to the extent of one hundred
thousand pounds."

Gertrude looked at me in astonishment. "That isn't true," she denied.

"My dear girl, I have the word of your father for the amount."

"It's all very strange," said Mabel, calming somewhat, and hiding a
covert smile. "Oh, great heavens! I wonder what Aunt Lucy will say!"
She laughed outright. "It's like a play: to think that a man with a
daughter as old as I am should wish to marry me."

Gertrude colored, and I saw that her mind was tormented to think that
her father should act in this underhand way. To lessen her anguish I
hastened to relate all I knew--this is, I explained about the
Australian cousin, the legal change of name and reason for the
suppression of the Burwain household, and the conditions upon which I
had held my peace. The two girls listened quietly, Mabel with
astonishment and Gertrude with pain. Certainly Walter Monk, alias
Wentworth Marr, had not committed a crime, but he had scarcely acted
straightforwardly.

"Well," said Mabel, drawing a long breath as usual when I had ended, "I
never heard of such a thing. Why on earth didn't Mr. Marr, or Mr.
Monk--I'm sure I don't know what to call him--tell me the whole truth?
There was no reason to keep quiet that I can see."

"I was the reason, evidently," said Gertrude, with crimson cheeks, for
she was heartily ashamed of her father. "Papa did not think you would
marry him if you saw me."

For answer, Mabel, who was an extremely kindhearted girl, jumped up
and kissed those same flushed cheeks. "My dear, I liked your father
well enough, and would have no objection to you as a step-daughter."
She laughed merrily at the idea. "But the fact is, I never intended to
marry Mr. Marr, whatever Aunt Lucy said. I always loved Dicky Weston
and I always shall, although he's so horrid."

"I'm glad of that," said Gertrude quickly, "for now I can see that my
father is not the man to make any woman happy. I always thought that
he was a kindhearted, harmless man, a trifle frivolous, perhaps, but
quite honest. Now I understand that I have been deceived--in more ways
than one," she added half to herself, and I could not understand what
she meant. I did later.

"Do you blame me, Gertrude?" I asked, rising to take her hand.

"Of course she doesn't," said Mabel very rapidly; "you made a promise
on certain conditions to keep quiet for an agreed time, and you have
done so. No blame can possibly attach itself to you."

"Gertrude?" I said anxiously, taking no notice of Mabel's defence.

She pressed my hand. "I wish you could have told me," she said, in a
low voice, "but my father was too clever for you. I understand."

"And you forgive me?" I pleaded.

"There is nothing to forgive."

"Of course there isn't," cried Mabel, kissing Gertrude again, "and
don't let this make any difference to our friendship, dear. You will
marry Cyrus and I shall marry Dicky--if he goes down on his knees to
apologize for daring to ask me again--and everything will be well. But
when I meet your father," ended Mabel wrathfully, "I shall speak my
mind."

"I don't think that you will see him again," said Gertrude quietly.
"He has gone to America, and went without a word of farewell or
explanation to me. I think he will stop there. I see now that my
affection was wasted on him, since he apparently cares for no one but
himself."

"Never mind." Mabel caressed her. "You have Cyrus."

"Yes; thank God for an honest man," and she threw herself on my
breast.

Mabel looked at us, and walked to the door. "I'll leave you together
and go after Cannington. If Dicky's anything of a lover he'll meet me
on the road--in his airship, if possible"--and with a laugh to relax
the tension of the situation she vanished. Shortly, we heard her open
the front door and pass out. Then only did I speak.

"Don't worry, Gertrude. He isn't worth it."

"He's my father, after all," she moaned; "it's terrible to think that
he should deceive me so."

"Well, he hasn't done any real harm. He told me that he gave you the
whole five hundred a year to yourself, more or less."

"That is not true. He has kept me very short."

"Hang him, he----" I stopped. After all, as she said, the man was her
father, and I could not very well speak what was in my mind to his
daughter. "Don't think of him any more, Gertrude," I whispered
coaxingly. "I have you and you have me. Let us forget him."

"It will be best," she said, drying her eyes, for the ready tears had
filled them, and small blame to her. "Do you think papa will come
back?"

"No. He will probably stop in the States and marry an heiress."

"Thank God he will not come back," she muttered, half to herself. "I
never want to see him in England again."

I thought that this was rather a strained view to take of Monk's
delinquencies, seeing how fond Gertrude had been of him until she
discovered his true character. But that is the way with true
affection: it is all or nothing. Gertrude, a truthful, honest girl,
could never trust her father again.

"No, I could never trust him," she said, speaking exactly what was in
my mind. "He would only deceive me when it suited him. I always knew
that my father was more or less selfish, but I looked upon him as a
child. His character is not a deep one."

"It is deeper than we supposed," I said grimly.

"I can see that now, and--and--oh!" she rose and pushed me away--"I
must go to my room to think matters over."

"What matters?"

"What you have told me and--and--others," she stammered.

I caught her hands. "Gertrude, what is it?"

She wrenched away her hands and glided towards the door. "I daren't
tell you, I daren't tell you," she whispered, and her lips were as
white as her face as she waved me back. "Wait, wait," she muttered,
"when I can make up my mind, you shall know all." And she disappeared.

"All what?" That was the question I asked myself as I returned to the
inn. Apparently Gertrude knew something more about her father than
what I had told her. But what could it be that could so move her to
tears? Of course the discovery of her father's doubtful behavior had
given her a shock, but it scarcely explained her uncontrolled emotion.
I began to wonder if Mr. Monk had any connection with the Mootley
murder. But, on reflection I could find no connecting link. Until
Gertrude gave me her entire confidence, I could not explain anything.

"Her entire confidence!" I stopped short when the two words flashed
into my mind. I remembered that Gertrude had refused to give me the
name of the mysterious person who had driven her out of the back door
by the mere sight of him. Yes--him, for I truly believed that the
person in question, although she had kept me in ignorance of the sex,
was Walter Monk. On this assumption it was easy to guess why the poor
girl had refused to speak the name. She dreaded lest her father should
be implicated in the crime, and so, in the face of the danger to
herself, had held her peace even to me, her staunch friend and devoted
lover. This was what had brought her tears so readily. Notwithstanding
she had seen him in the shop--as I now believed--she had hitherto
refused to credit him with the murder. But the sudden discovery of the
duplicity of which he was capable had aroused in her breast the latent
doubt to active life. She now wished to be alone in order to consider
if her father was guilty of murder as he had been guilty of deception.
At least that was my belief, although I had little grounds to go upon.
But Gertrude, as I had always thought, was shielding someone whom she
had seen in Mrs. Caldershaw's shop. Who could that someone be but her
father, since that relationship alone would be a powerful motive for
her to hold her tongue, even at the risk of losing her liberty? But,
try as I might, I could not see how Walter Monk could be connected
with the death of Anne Caldershaw.

That same evening after dinner, Weston and I walked back to Tarhaven
with the brother and sister. The sky was clear, and the atmosphere was
not too chilly: also we walked along the cliffs under a full wintry
moon. Naturally Weston and the girl he loved were together, and seemed
to be quarreling pretty freely. In fact, Dicky told me that night,
when we walked back, that several times he had attempted to propose
again, but that Mabel had always laughed at him, so that he could not
get the words out. She teased him and tantalized him, and drew him on
and I repulsed him like a true daughter of Eve, so that his cold,
scientific blood--to put it picturesquely--began to warm. Perhaps this
was what the young minx desired. At all events, Dicky Weston
understood her after that walk to Tarhaven much better than he had
ever understood her before, and began to think that there were other
things in the world than airships.

Cannington and I walked behind, chatting and smoking. Mabel either had
not found time to tell him of her discovery, or had thought it best to
leave the explanation to me. At all events Cannington knew nothing,
so, to be beforehand, I judged it well to relate what I knew.

"Boy," I said abruptly, when we had settled well into our swing, "I
have something to tell you: something you should have known before.
And would have known," I added emphatically, "had I not been bound to
hold my tongue for a certain period."

"What are you talking about, Vance?" asked Cannington, turning a
surprised and youthful face to mine.

"Listen, and don't get your hair off!" said I, then rapidly and
clearly told him of my recognition of Marr as Monk: of the
conversation I had enjoyed with him in the London chambers, and
finally detailed how Mabel had seen the photograph in The Lodge
drawing-room which had proved the two men to be one. The boy listened
quietly enough, although once or twice I heard him swear under his
breath. "Well," said I, when I had finished, "do you blame me?"

"No," he said promptly, "since you arranged that the man should drop
Aunt Lucy's acquaintance, and should drop courting Mab, I don't blame
you. But I wish you had told me when the fortnight was up."

"My dear boy, how could I? You were going to Italy, and it was useless
to communicate the news by letter. Especially," I added, "when Monk
went to America, and intends apparently to stop there."

"Yes, yes. I suppose you acted for the best. But what a beast!"

"Come, that's a trifle hard," I protested. "Monk has a legal right to
the name of Marr and has plenty of money. He is not a bad match for
Mabel."

"I never liked him," said Cannington truculently, "and I am glad Mabel
did not listen to him."

"She said that she never intended to listen to him, and now you may be
sure that she will be Lady Mabel Weston very shortly."

"That depends upon Dicky's behavior," said Cannington sharply; "unless
he is all that I can desire he sha'n't marry my sister."

"You leave things in the hands of Mabel, my son. She'll manage the
affair all right. But Marr----"

"Damn him! I should like to give him a thrashing."

"I don't see upon what grounds you could, Cannington. It is true that
he suppressed the fact that he had a grown-up daughter, but that is
not a crime, and the suppression was due only to vanity. I daresay he
intended to tell the truth if Mabel had accepted him."

"I daresay," muttered the boy, still wrathful, "but I wouldn't give
the little beast the benefit of the doubt. I can't exactly call him to
account either legally or socially, I suppose, but if he dares to
speak to me again----" Cannington's fist clenched itself in his
deerskin glove.

"I don't think you will set eyes on him for many a long day," I said
carelessly; "he'll stop in the States and marry."

"What does his daughter say?"

"She is very much cut up at the way in which he has behaved. Fancy his
having all that money--one hundred thousand pounds--and keeping his
daughter down to the simple necessaries of life."

"Perhaps he hasn't the money at all," said Cannington abruptly.

"He must have," I insisted; "look at the motor car he drove in: and
then his rooms are beautifully furnished."

"He might have got all that by swindling."

"In that case, you certainly are justified in thrashing him, since he
obtained an introduction to Lady Denham under false pretences. But I
don't think Mr. Monk has the nerve to swindle."

Cannington laughed grimly. I had never seen the easy-going boy so
angry. "I think he has the nerve for anything, after what he has
done--even for murder, Vance."

I started, remembering my belief that Gertrude was shielding her
father. "I don't understand."

"He might have murdered Anne Caldershaw."

"Oh, nonsense. Mr. Monk wasn't even in the neighborhood."

"Mr. Walter Monk, under his real name, wasn't: but Mr. Wentworth Marr
was!"

"Cannington?"

"Don't you remember how I told you that Marr called on that mess
shortly before we arrived. He was stopping at the Lion Hotel in
Murchester, and went off without seeing me again."

"Then you think that he went to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw and
murdered her straight away?"

"I can't be sure that he murdered her," said Cannington doubtfully,
"but you can see for yourself that the man is game for anything.
According to what you tell me, Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered for the
sake of that glass eye, which contains the clue to a fortune. Monk or
Marr, or whatever you like to call the beast, might have murdered the
woman and stolen the eye and have got the money. I daresay," added
Cannington, with a grim laugh, "he is really wealthy."

"I can't believe it," said I, desperately hoping against hope, for it
was unpleasant to think that Gertrude might be the daughter of a
criminal. "Long before the Mootley murder, he was courting your sister
as a rich man."

"I daresay: he might have anticipated the fortune. However, that is my
opinion, Vance, so you can take it or leave it. I don't want to hear
the man's name again. I only hope he'll have the good sense to stay in
the States, as I sha'n't answer for my temper when we meet."

"All right, boy, don't get your hair off with me."

"I haven't," said Cannington stiffly, "but the whole affair is
unpleasant."

"If it is for you, think what it must be for me, when I am going to
marry the daughter of such a rotter."

"You will keep to your engagement, then?"

"Of course," I returned indignantly. "What do you take me for?"

"A jolly good chap," said the boy, giving me a friendly dig. "I expect
she--the lady, I mean--is worth it. Mabel says that she is no end of a
beauty."

"Mabel is one of the few girls who can praise beauty in another. For
that pretty speech she shall have the best wedding present I can
procure."

"It may not be wanted," grunted Cannington.

I laughed and looked ahead at the pair quarreling in the moonlight.
"On the contrary, I shall have to see to the matter at once," said I
lightly.

On that night when I got back to the inn and retired to bed I thought
long and deeply. Cannington's chance remark about Marr being in the
neighborhood during the time the crime was committed convinced me that
the man had been to Mootley. Gertrude had caught sight of him when she
was in the back room, and had fled. For this reason she had declined
to tell me the name of the mysterious person. And again, the presence
of the glass eye on the drawing-room table was explained in a
reasonable way. Monk had left it there, and apparently by chance,
since, knowing, he would never have allowed such evidence of his guilt
to remain there. How he had recovered it again I could not say, as he
had been with me all the time until we re-entered the drawing-room
together. It might be that Gertrude, in spite of her denial, had
chanced on the eye, and, remembering her father's presence in the
shop, had concealed it, thinking--and with good reason--that he was
guilty. Even to me, under the circumstances, she would deny the truth,
so I did not blame her overmuch. But I arranged in my own mind to see
her the next day and learn for certain if she really believed her
father to be guilty. On the grounds set forth he assuredly seemed to
be.

But when the next day came, I did not call on Gertrude, for--as the
saying goes--I had other fish to fry. At ten o'clock I received a
telegram, asking me to be in London that afternoon at three o'clock.
And the wire was from Mr. Walter Monk, or, as it was signed, Wentworth
Marr. "Come up to my rooms at three to-day," ran the wording, "S.
threatens. I want you to deal with him. WENTWORTH MARR."

There was a prepaid reply, so I sent an answer saying I would be in
Stratford Street at the appointed time. Then I sat down to consider
the meaning of the summons.

"'S. threatens.' That is, Striver is on the old man's trail. Humph! So
Mr. Monk has returned from the States, where he had intended to
remain. I daresay Striver followed him there and forced him to return.
Now I wonder if Striver accuses Monk or Gertrude? That is the
question. He may be threatening Monk with his daughter's disgrace so
as to force him to get her to marry himself--Striver, that is. Or else
he suspects Monk and can prove his guilt. Or else----" I stopped, and
put the telegram into my pocket. "The crisis seems to be approaching,"
said I very prophetically. And I was right.



CHAPTER XIX.
A DANGEROUS POSITION


I could have seen Gertrude before leaving for London, but I did not
think it wise to do so. She would certainly ask questions, and if, by
chance, I let slip that my visit was to her father, trouble would
ensue. When had he returned from America? Why had he returned from
America? For what reason did he wish to see me? Where was the letter
or telegram, which I had received? These questions Gertrude would
assuredly ask, and if I answered them truthfully, she would probably
insist upon coming with me. That would be impossible, as her presence
would only complicate matters. And Heaven knows they were sufficiently
complicated as it was.

For this reason I simply sent a note saying that I had been called to
London on business, and drove over to Tarhaven in Mrs. Gilfin's trap
to catch the midday train. I just managed to escape Cannington, whom I
saw in the street, as I drove up to the station, and was glad that he
had not noticed me. I did not wish to enter into further explanations,
and invent theories, and conjecture possibilities. So many lies were
being told and so many secrets were being kept, that it was difficult
to understand the actual position of affairs. The corner shop at
Mootley seemed to have been a kind of rendezvous for all manner of
people, and on that fatal evening Mrs. Caldershaw appeared to have
held quite a reception. Gertrude, her father, Striver, and Miss
Destiny had all been making for that goal, and the consequence of
their presence--in a broad sense I speak--had been the death of the
old woman. The sole person whose innocence could be proved beyond all
doubt was Miss Destiny, as she had not arrived until I had discovered
the body of Mrs. Caldershaw. Of course I truly believed that Gertrude
was innocent, but the police might have taken a different view. For
this reason I was anxious to learn the exact state of things with
regard to Striver and Monk. In my opinion one of the two was guilty,
and I anxiously waited for three o'clock to learn the absolute truth.
Then, being enlightened, I should know how to act.

At three o'clock I drove in a taxi to Stratford Street, and was
admitted by a demure-looking man in black--Monk's valet, I suppose--to
the flat. Apparently the servant expected my arrival, for he led me
directly into the Moorish smoking-room where I had previously been.
Striver and Mr. Monk were both present, seated in opposite chairs and
glowering--as the Scotch say--at one another. They resembled a couple
of ill-tempered dogs chained together. Monk, I thought, looked haggard
and worn and anxious, quite different to his usual complacent self.
But Striver's handsome face wore a determined, confident expression. I
judged that he was master of the situation. This augured ill for
Monk's innocence. As soon as I entered the elder man, quivering with
nervousness, rose quickly to his feet and rushed forward to clasp my
hand. "I am so glad you have come, Vance," he said, dropping his
affected speech. "I need your assistance in dealing with this--this--
blackmailer."

"That's a lie," growled Striver, who looked dangerous, and probably
was; "why don't you introduce me as your secretary?"

"Yes," cried Monk, his under lip twitching, "that's what he calls
himself, Vance--my secretary. He followed after me to New York, and
has been in my company ever since. To explain his presence I called
him my secretary. But he is a blackguard--a blackmailer."

"I have never asked you for a shilling," retorted Striver with a
shrug.

"No, you ask me for what I value more--the hand of my child."

I sat down and laughed outright, in spite of the seriousness of the
situation. "Hasn't Mr. Striver given up hope in that quarter?"

"No, I haven't," snarled the gardener, "nor shall I. I intend to marry
Gertrude."

"Miss Monk, to you, if you please. As to your marrying her, that is
out of the question. She is engaged to me, and I don't intend to give
her up. Now, Mr. Striver, I haven't come here to listen to bombast and
froth, but to hear facts. For what reason do you persecute Mr. Monk?"

"I don't persecute him. I just followed him to New York to ask his
help in marrying Ger--well, Miss Monk, if you will have it so."

"Mr. Monk can't help you there," I said calmly. "We'll see about
that," said Striver, with an evil look.

"Of course. That is why I am here. Mr. Monk, would you mind giving me
a cigar, please? I recommend one to you also, Striver. Smoking may
soothe your nerves."

"Mind your own business."

"Oh, your nerves are my business, since they may lead you into making
mischief. Thank you, Mr. Monk," I said, taking the cigar he passed me.
"A light, please." I struck a match. "Now," I ended, when comfortably
smoking, "let me hear all about it."

"All about what?" demanded Striver, annoyed by my coolness.

"About the means you propose to use in forcing Mr. Monk into
supporting your preposterous desire to marry his daughter."

"He is guilty of my aunt's murder."

"It is a lie, a lie," cried Monk, sitting down and clasping his hands.

"Last time we had the pleasure of speaking together, Mr. Striver," I
said easily, "you accused Miss Monk; now you assert her father to be
the guilty person. On what grounds do you base your last accusation? I
know those on which you base your first, and I told you to tell them
to the police. Instead of doing this you attempt to coerce an old man.
I had some sympathy with you, because you loved in vain; now I have
none, as I think you are simply a scoundrel, using illegal means to
accomplish the impossible."

"How dare you!"--he sprang to his feet with flashing eyes--"how----"

"That will do, my man," I interrupted coldly, "sit down, and speak
when I ask you questions."

"I'll break your head," he muttered between his teeth, but obeyed.

I laughed. "I think we tried physical conclusions at The Lodge, and
you got the worst of it. Hold your tongue, confound you," I commanded
sternly. "Mr. Monk!" I turned to my future father-in-law, who was
shivering with apprehension, "you say that this person accuses you of
murdering Anne Caldershaw?"

"Yes, he does. He came here and learned that I had gone to America and
followed. He has never left me since."

"Why didn't you kick him out?"

"I couldn't, I couldn't," said Monk, shivering again, while Striver
sneered. "He threatened to tell the police. I kept him near me as my
supposed secretary, and have been compelled to pay his expenses."

"Oh, you can easily do that, Mr. Wentworth Marr," scoffed Striver,
"seeing that you have secured the fifty thousand pounds which
rightfully belongs to your daughter, Miss Gertrude."

"What?" I cried, alive with curiosity.

"It's not true," said Monk hastily, and his face grew red with anger,
"the money I have comes from my Australian cousin, whose name I took
in accordance with the conditions laid down in the will. I told you
so."

"Yes, and I did not believe you." "Mr. Vance--" Striver shifted his
position so as to face me--"I truly believed when I left Burwain that
Miss Gertrude was guilty, on the grounds I explained to you at The
Lodge. I came to London to see Mr. Monk, whom I knew to be
masquerading as Marr----"

"I did not masquerade," broke in Monk indignantly.

"Shut up," said Striver contemptuously, "and let me tell my story in
my own way or it will be the worse for you."

"No threats, Striver. Tell me the story without side issues; I am
aware that you learned about Mr. Monk's change of name. You doubtless
came here to say that if he didn't help you to marry Miss Gertrude you
would denounce her to the police."

"Yes, I did," said Striver sullenly, "but I learned from the caretaker
of these rooms that Mr. Monk--Marr, the man called him--had gone to
New York, and had left an address to which his letters were to be
forwarded. I got that address----"

"The caretaker had no right to give it to you," cried Monk
indignantly.

"Oh, a little money soon makes that sort of person speak," sneered the
gardener. "However, I had no difficulty in learning where Mr. Monk was
stopping in New York. I had plenty of cash, with my aunt's legacy and
my own income, to say nothing of the sale of the corner shop lease to
Giles, so I determined to follow. I reached New York in due course,
and compelled Mr. Monk to take me as his secretary, so that I could
keep him under my eye."

Monk groaned. "I have had a cruel time with you; a cruel time."

"Better than you deserve. I swear," added Striver, turning again to
me, "that I never believed Mr. Monk to be guilty until I found the
eye."

"What?" I sprang to my feet in sheer astonishment. "You found the
eye?"

Monk, changing alternately from white to red with nervous fear, would
have burst out into emphatic denial, but Striver cast such a black
look in his direction that the words died on his lips. Then the
gardener took out of his pocket a small morocco case, such as
jewellers use to enclose watches, and passed it along to me. I opened
it silently, and there, on the puffy white silk, lay a glass eye. "I
found that," said Striver slowly, "while searching the luggage of Mr.
Monk."

"You had no right to search my luggage," whimpered Monk, "it was most
unfair."

"Unfair be hanged! You were so certain that Miss Gertrude was
innocent, and talked so much about defending her with your life that I
began to suspect you of the deed. I hunted, when you were out, amongst
your luggage and papers for some proof of your guilt. I found my
aunt's glass eye."

"I never saw it before," cried Monk, rising in his excitement; "you
placed it amongst my papers to incriminate me."

"Mr. Vance," said Striver coldly, "look at the initials on the outside
of that case. You will see they are Wentworth Marr's initials--W. M.
They also stand for Walter Monk," ended Striver with a sneer, and when
I glanced at the case I saw that he spoke the truth.

"The case is mine, I admit," said Monk, trying to speak calmly, "it
was in my dressing-case----"

"Where I found it, containing the eye," put in Striver sharply.

"You did not, you did not. The case was empty, as I was wearing the
watch--this watch." Monk jerked a golden chronometer out of his
waistcoat pocket. "The jeweller, whose address is inside the case, can
prove that the watch was in it when he sold it to me."

"I daresay," sneered Striver quietly, "but you wore the watch and
placed the eye in the empty case. Yes, and with that eye you learned
the secret of the whereabouts of Miss Gertrude's fifty thousand
pounds, and you have been living on it under the name of Wentworth
Marr. The story of your Australian legacy and Australian cousin is a
mere invention."

"I tell you I have spoken the truth. I deny everything."

"Do you deny that you were in Mrs. Caldershaw's shop?" I asked,
preventing Striver from speaking by a gesture.

Monk stared and winced. "How do you know that?"

"Mr. Wentworth Marr was at Murchester on the day when the crime was
committed. He came down in his motor and stopped at the Lion Hotel. He
left a card for Lord Cannington at Murchester Barracks. He also went
to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw."

"You can't prove that," said Monk, and wiped the perspiration from his
brow nervously. "I admit that I did motor down to Murchester to ask
Cannington to influence his sister in my favor. I called in the
afternoon and left a card. Then I stopped the night at the Lion Hotel,
and returned to town the next morning."

"And after you found that Cannington was absent--about three o'clock,
that was--you went to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw."

"Prove it, prove it."

"I daresay Mr. Striver can prove it. He was concealed upstairs."

"I was asleep for a time," said Striver abruptly, "but I woke in time
to see Mr. Monk. I peered down the stairs and saw him talking to my
aunt in the shop. The sound of their voices raised high woke me up.
They were quarrelling."

"I don't deny that I was there," said Monk, wiping his face again,
"but I want to know how Vance learned my whereabouts. It's a guess
based on my leaving the card on Cannington."

"It is not," I said sharply; "your daughter was in the back room and
saw you through the open door. She refused to tell me this, but as she
said that the sight of a certain person drove her hastily out of the
back door, so hastily that she left her cloak behind her, I believe
that person was you, Mr. Monk."

"I was simply calling on Mrs. Caldershaw. There was no reason why
Gertrude should not say so, although I did not know that she was
there."

"She believed that you were guilty because of your presence there, and
did not tell me, even though I pressed her. You are the sole person
she would shield at the risk of losing her liberty, though you aren't
worth it, Mr. Monk. Am I not right?"

"I admitted that you were right. Striver saw me, and Gertrude saw me.
I cannot deny my presence in the shop. But that does not prove me to
be guilty of murder."

"How, then," asked Striver, "did you become possessed of the eye?"

"The last time that I saw the eye was in Mrs. Caldershaw's head,"
snapped Monk, whose nerves were entirely giving way under the strain
of cross-examination. "You pretended to find it amongst my baggage and
slipped it into that case, which is really mine. It's part of your
plan of blackmail."

"There may be some truth in that," I remarked, for, knowing what I
did, I had not much belief in Striver's story.

"How can you talk such damned nonsense?" cried Striver roughly, "when
you know that Mr. Monk has been posing in London as a rich man under
the name of Wentworth Marr. He has five hundred a year under his
brother's will, and that house with the acres surrounding it. Where
did he get his money?"

"My Australian cousin----"

"Oh, hang your Australian cousin. I don't believe he ever existed. Mr.
Vance, I swear that I found that eye amongst Mr. Monk's luggage. You
must believe, in the face of that," he pointed to the case, which was
still open in my hand, "that Mr. Monk is guilty."

"No, I don't, if this"--I shook the case--"is all the evidence you can
bring."

Monk heaved a sigh of relief, and Striver stared uneasily. "On what
grounds do you say that?" he asked grimly.

"On the grounds of common-sense, Mr. Striver. I saw the eye on a small
table in the drawing-room of The Lodge, near the middle French
window."

"Mr. Monk placed it there: it only proves his guilt more
conclusively."

"I think not. In the first place, if Mr. Monk had been possessed of
the eye he would scarcely be such a fool as to leave it about. In the
second case, when I re-entered the drawing-room the eye had
disappeared, and all the time from when I saw it to when I returned to
the room Mr. Monk was with me. He could not have secured it again,
even though--according to you--he placed it there, which I don't
believe. _You_ took the eye from the table."

"How dare you say that!" cried the man, but his color changed,
and I guessed that my chance remark asserted the truth. "On what
grounds----"

"You have supplied the grounds yourself," I said quickly, "by saying
that you found the eye in Mr. Monk's dressing-bag. You found the watch
case, but you certainly brought the eye to place in it, for the
furtherance of your infernal plans. You were working in the garden,
Striver, and saw by my face, when I came out to meet Mr. Monk, that I
was startled. Out of curiosity and jealousy you went up to the window,
saw the eye, and secured it. Finding that I supported Miss Monk, and
you could not incriminate her, you made use of the eye to incriminate
Mr. Monk."

"I do not," he stuttered, changing color again and again.

"You did, and by your own showing. For all I know, you may have placed
the eye on the table, since it was easy to do so with the window
open."

"How could I get the eye? Do you accuse me of murder?"

"The police might if they knew all that we know. But I shall give you
the benefit of the doubt, and say that you found the eye in the shop
after the murder was committed."

"But according to the police," said Monk doubtfully, "the murder was
committed for the sake of the eye."

"Of course it was," insisted Striver, "and by you."

"I am perfectly innocent."

"In that case, how did you get your money unless by----"

"Stop!" I interrupted impulsively, "there also I can defend Mr. Monk.
Long before the murder, he was living as wealthy Mr. Wentworth Marr in
London, as Lord Cannington informed me. If he did not get the money
until the eye was found--and by your own showing, Mr. Striver, he
could only find the hidden treasure in that way--how could he pose
long before as a rich man? Answer me that, Mr. Striver."

The gardener, seeing that I could beat him on every point, maintained
a sullen silence. Mr. Monk, cheered by my several defences of his
actions, leaned forward eagerly. "No doubt this is a false clue," he
said, pointing to the case; "it may not be the real eye. Striver would
never allow me to examine it, in case," he smiled bitterly, "I should
destroy it."

"Which you would have done," said the other bluntly. "I wouldn't trust
you a single inch, Mr. Monk. The eye is the one worn by my aunt right
enough, and contains the cipher of which she spoke. Look at the back?"

Remembering the glimpse I had seen of the concave of the eye when it
was on The Lodge table, I delicately turned over the object of the
case. It may seem odd that I had not examined it before, but the
interest of the conversation between Striver and Monk had held me
spellbound. It was imperative, as is obvious, that I should lose no
single word of the ill-assorted pair.

However I did now what I should have done before, and tilted the eye,
to behold in the hollow the piece of silver I had seen before. There
it lay, and looked more than ever like a threepenny bit. Monk bent
forward curiously and stared.

"It's a silver coin--a threepenny bit," he explained, half to himself.
"Gabriel told me that he had engraved the cipher on a threepenny bit,
but he would never tell me where it was hidden. A very ingenious idea
to hide it in Mrs. Caldershaw's eye. See, it is fastened by a piece of
gold wire to the center of the pupil."

It was as he said, the coin was so fastened and in the dense black of
the pupil appeared the glint of a tiny piece of gold. In no other way
could the coin have been kept in its place. But as it was sunken a
good way into the concave of the artificial eye, the same, when worn,
could not produce any irritation to the wearer. It was, as Monk said,
a very ingenious idea.

"I never saw it before," he murmured, and I believed that he was
speaking the truth; "so this is how Gabriel concealed his secret?"

I tried to read what was on the coin, but failed, as the engraving was
so very small. "Have you a magnifying glass, Mr. Monk?" I asked.

"Not to my knowledge," he said promptly; "however, I'll look for one,"
and he rose to make a search.

I examined the eye again; then closed the case, and placed it on the
table, intending to pocket it when I had used the magnifying glass.
"Though I daresay," said I to Striver, who was seated in his chair
looking very dejected, "you can tell me what the cipher consists of."

He did not answer my question, but leaned forward and buried his face
in his hands. To my surprise I saw the tears forcing themselves
between his fingers. I hate to see a man cry, but on this occasion I
was glad, for these tears showed that Striver had broken down. He was
not cut out by nature for a villain, and now that I had thwarted his
schemes he could contrive no new ones. He was beaten, and he knew that
he was beaten. I felt quite sorry for him, badly as he had behaved.

"Striver!" I placed my hand on his bowed shoulders.

"Don't touch me," he said in a choking voice, and rising to his feet
he walked rapidly to the end of the room, where there was an ottoman.
Here he flung himself down at full length, sobbing bitterly. I
followed, and waited until the paroxysm passed away. Then, finding him
in a gentler mood, I hoped to get at the truth, which I felt convinced
he knew. And indeed, seeing that he had been concealed in the house
during the commission of the crime, he must know who had stabbed his
aunt. Unless----

"Striver," I said sharply, "pull yourself together and answer me. Did
you murder this unfortunate woman?"

"No," he sobbed in a stifled voice, "I did not. I was hidden in the
bedroom, and came down to find her dead. The rest, as to taking your
car and escaping, I have told you."

"What's to be done, then?" I muttered, much perplexed.

"This is to be done," he said, sitting up, with his handsome face
tear-stained and his hair dishevelled, "you have won and I have lost.
I surrender all claim to the hand of Miss Monk."

"You never had any claim," I reminded him sharply.

"Perhaps not," was his dejected reply, "but I am a man and I cannot
help my feelings. Gertrude is the only woman I have ever loved, and
the only woman I shall ever love. She is lost to me, because she loves
you. Well, I daresay it is better that she should marry a gentleman.
But I wish--I wish----" He broke down again.

"Striver," I said, for the third time, and placed my hand on his
shoulder, "I am very sorry for you, although you have not acted well."

"All is fair in love and war," he said, sitting up again.

"There are some things a gentleman cannot do, even to win the woman he
loves, Striver," I said gently, "so all is _not_ fair in love and
war."

"I am not a gentleman: I never pretended to be a gentleman."

"Then be one now," I urged, "you know the truth of this murder since
you were in the house all the time. I believe myself that you are
innocent."

"Why should you think that?" he asked in a curious voice and with a
curious look.

"Because I believe you to be a good fellow, Striver. Your nature has
been warped by the influence of this mad love and by the influence of
your dead aunt. She always promised you Miss Monk as a bride and this
fifty thousand pounds for yourself."

"Yes, she did," he said, his bright blue eyes steadily fixed on me.

"Well, then, these things have drawn you into wrongdoing. You love
Miss Monk. Prove your love by preventing her from getting into trouble
about this murder. Until the truth is discovered, she is in danger of
arrest because of her unfortunate visit to Mootley and because of the
cloak left behind."

"Perhaps! perhaps. But her father will say nothing, he dare not."

"No, but Miss Destiny might. She knows that her niece was at Mootley
on that night, and threatens to betray her unless she receives half
the fifty thousand pounds when it is found."

"Miss Destiny threatens," said Striver rising, "and for the sake of
money. Ah! that old lady always was a miser. Well?"

"Well, can't you show your love for Miss Monk and thwart the aunt by
telling the truth."

"Why, do you think I know the truth?"

"You were in the house all the time. I feel certain that you can
unravel the mystery."

Striver looked away, and became very silent. At this moment Monk
entered, and began to bustle about. "Hunter," this was his valet, I
afterwards heard, "says that there is a magnifying glass in the desk
here."

I paid no attention to him as I was looking at Striver. After a long
silence the gardener spoke. "I do know the truth," he said slowly,
"and I shall save Gertrude's good name. Marry her, and may you be
happy."

"But----" I cried, following him as he was walking towards the door.

"I have nothing more to say," said Striver, and disappeared. I
wondered if he was guilty after all, and whether he intended to
confess. Before I could think out the matter, Monk touched my elbow.

"I can't find the magnifying glass," he said, handing me the case,
which he had picked up off the table; "better go to a jeweller and
borrow one."

"Thanks," I said, slipping the case into my pocket and reaching for my
hat and coat. "Good-day, Mr. Monk."

"Don't go," he urged me. "I have much to say, and much to thank you
for."

I put on my coat and made for the door. "I decline to remain in your
company, Mr. Monk," I said, "because you are a scoundrel, and if you
were not Gertrude's father I would thrash you willingly, old as you
are. For her sake only have I saved you."

"How dare you speak to me in this way!" he cried furiously, and
followed me into the hall, plucking at my sleeve.

"Because it is just as well someone should tell you the truth," I
retorted heatedly; "you have acted in the most cruel manner towards
your daughter."

"I have not. I deny it," he panted, looking white and wicked.

"You have lived in luxury in London while she has been practically
starving down at Burwain. She knows that you are Marr."

"You told her?" he cried, falling back a pace.

"Yes, I was forced to tell her, because Lady Mabel recognized your
photograph in the drawing-room. I warned you that Lady Mabel was going
down to Burwain to see Mr. Weston's airship."

"You had no right to tell; you promised, if I went away, to hold your
tongue."

"So I did for a fortnight."

"Not with regard to Gertrude. I was to tell her myself."

"You never came back to tell her, but bolted to America. You never
intended to return, and would not have done so had not Striver forced
you to defend yourself. I can't say if you are guilty, or if he is
guilty, but I am quite sure that one of you is guilty. However, you
have money from your Australian cousin, Mr. Monk, a new name and a
secretary who knows what a blackguard you are, so I wish you joy for
the future. My advice to you is to go to America, and never return.
Gertrude is done with you."

This struck him to the heart. "My little child--my own child."

"Exactly, and you deserve your fate entirely. Good-day and good-bye,"
and I walked out of the chamber and down the stairs. That was the last
I ever saw of Mr. Walter Monk, alias Mr. Wentworth Marr.

On the way back to Tarhaven, and in the train, I opened the case to
again examine the famous glass eye. It was gone: the case was empty.



CHAPTER XX.
THE CIPHER


Here was a discovery! Well might I talk about the disappearing eye,
for it vanished every time it was found. It had disappeared out of
Mrs. Caldershaw's head when she was murdered; it had disappeared from
the drawing-room table, and now it had disappeared from the watch case
of Mr. Walter Monk. And this final vanishing seemed to be the
strangest of all. I could not understand how it had taken place since
I was in the room and the closed case was on the table all the time.
Striver could not have secured the eye, for I had held him in
conversation.

Then I remembered that Mr. Monk had been hunting the smoking-room for
a magnifying glass in order to decipher the inscription. Engaged with
the repentant gardener, I had paid very little attention to his
movements, so it was probable that when my back was turned he had
taken the opportunity to slip the incriminating eye into his pocket.
Also I recalled the fact that he had handed me the closed case
himself, recommending me to get a magnifying glass from a jeweller.
Had I been clever enough to mistrust him--as I had every reason to--I
should there and then have opened the case to see that the eye was
safe. But I had not done so, and now, in the train, when Monk was out
of reach, I discovered the loss.

Of course I guessed that he had taken it, so as to obviate any
accusation being brought against himself, and probably by this time he
had got rid of it for ever. It was useless for me to do what I settled
on the spur of the moment to do, and return by the next train to
London from one of the intermediate stations. Monk would only lie, and
I could not force him to surrender the eye--always presuming that he
had not destroyed it--by threatening to tell the police. The
fulfilment of such a threat meant danger to Gertrude, and he would
simply laugh in my face. There was nothing for it but to continue my
journey to Burwain and consult with Gertrude. If I placed the matter
before her, she might see a way out of the dilemma.

And it was a dilemma, for I had not found time to decipher what was on
the threepenny bit, and so could not hope to find the hidden money. If
I only knew what kind of a cryptogram Gabriel Monk had engraved on
that piece of silver, I felt certain that in one way or another I
could read the same. Failing my own capability, I knew a man in London
who possessed a Poe-like talent for unravelling such puzzles. And for
Gertrude's sake I desired to find her fortune, since Mr. Monk--now
that he had nothing to gain, and knew that his daughter loved him no
longer--might withdraw the money he allowed her. He might even sell
the house and grounds, for though the income was entailed the property
was not. Then Gertrude would be homeless and penniless until her
father died and the five hundred a year by the entail reverted to her.
No wonder I was vexed at the loss of the eye.

On arriving at Burwain, Mrs. Gilfin informed me that Lord Cannington
had been inquiring for me, and, failing my company, had passed the day
in Weston's yard. I did not get to the inn until seven o'clock, so
Weston, always working late, had not put in an appearance. Then I
found--and to my great satisfaction--that Dicky had gone in his motor
to Tarhaven with Cannington to dine and sleep at the Buckingham Hotel.
The boy had left a note asking me to come over also when I returned,
but I sent a wire from the village post-office, excusing myself on the
ground of fatigue, and sat down to my dinner. Afterwards--about eight
o'clock, in fact--I walked to The Lodge to explain my absence to
Gertrude.

She was in the quaint drawing-room, arrayed in a dinner dress of some
soft, white, clinging material, and looked almost as pale as her
frock. There were dark rings round her eyes, and a weary look on her
face. Without a word she came forward to kiss me, and sighed as she
laid her head on my breast.

"What is the matter, my own?" I asked, kissing the soft dark hair.

"I am so tired," she whispered. "I have had a white night, as the
French call it, and all day I have been longing to talk to you. Why
have you not been to see me, Cyrus? What took you to London? I was so
disappointed when I received your note. I wanted you so much--so very,
very much."

"What for, dear?"

"I made up my mind last night to tell you everything."

"What if I know everything already?"

Gertrude withdrew from my arms and looked at me in a frightened way.
"What do you know? What have you learned?"

"Dear," I took her hand and led her to a chair near the fire, "sit
down, for I have much to tell you. I have been to London in answer to
a telegram from your father."

She rose from the seat in which I had placed her. "Oh," she exclaimed
in a fright, "has he returned to England? How foolish, when----" She
stopped.

"When what, Gertrude?" I asked, looking at her keenly.

"If you know all, you must know why I wish my father to remain absent
from England," she replied, sinking to the chair with a white face.

"Never mind what I know, tell me."

"My father," she began, and then her voice died away in her throat and
she cast a frightened look at the door.

I knelt at her feet and took her cold hands within my own. "We are
quite safe, dearest. Tell me, tell me, trust me fully." I knew pretty
well what she was about to say, but wished her to voluntarily give me
her full confidence.

"It was my father I saw through the door," she whispered, bending over
me anxiously, "he called to see Anne on that day. She came back and
told me he was there. I did not wish to meet him, as already I had
caught a glimpse of his face. Therefore I ran out of the back door,
leaving my cloak behind me."

"Why did you not wish to meet him?"

"Because he would have insisted upon knowing why I had come to
Mootley. If he had learned what I had found in the diary he would have
got the secret from Anne, and then the money would have passed into
his possession, to make bad use of. I thought it better to go, and I
fled on the impulse of the moment. I had no time to think."

"Dear, I believe that your father knew Mrs. Caldershaw possessed the
secret, else why should he have come to see her."

"Then you guessed that I was shielding him?"

"Yes, I guessed, and now I know for certain."

"Who told you, Cyrus?"

"Your father himself."

Gertrude rose unsteadily to her feet, grasping my arm. "But--but," she
stammered, "has he confessed that he is guilty."

I rose also and at the same moment. "No, dear. He is the last man to
confess anything that would get him into trouble. He swears that he is
innocent."

"Oh, I hope so--I think he must be." She clasped her hands and her
eyes shone in her pale face like twin stars. "Papa is foolish and--as
I see now--selfish. But he would never commit so cruel a murder."

"I think he would do anything, provided he was not found out," I said
in a cynical manner. "Of course you left before the termination of his
interview with Mrs. Caldershaw, so you can't say for certain if he is
innocent or guilty. But Striver accuses him."

"Striver," she grasped my arm again in her fright, "and he was
concealed in the bedroom, but he was asleep. He said that he was
asleep."

"He woke--according to his story--at the sound of voices, and saw your
father in the shop. He accuses him of the murder because he found the
glass eye amongst your father's luggage in America."

"In America. Has Joseph been to America?"

"Yes. He followed your father there to force him to insist upon the
marriage--which he apparently intended to bring about by threatening
you. Then he found--so he says--the glass eye in your father's
dressing-bag and accused him. To keep Striver quiet, your father made
him his secretary and brought him back to England. This morning I
received a wire from your father asking for my assistance. I went up
and"--I shrugged--"that is all."

"It is only the beginning," said Gertrude quickly. "Sit down and tell
me all about your interview. First--to set my mind at rest--is my
father guilty?"

I reflected. "I really can't say. Sometimes I think he is and again
I think he is not. There is much to be said for both opinions.
Striver--if anyone--knows the truth, and yet he only bases his
accusation on the finding of the glass eye."

"But surely," said Gertrude, in great agitation, "that is strong
evidence."

"Yes," I assented dryly, "if it were true. But I believe that Striver
stole the glass eye from yonder table and took it to America to
frighten your father into helping with the marriage. If he had real,
true evidence against Mr. Monk, he would not have resorted to faked
evidence with the glass eye. On those grounds I believe that your
father is innocent."

"Oh, what a relief!" She sighed and sat down.

"On the other hand," I continued quietly, "your father has made me
change my opinion by stealing the eye again."

"What do you mean, Cyrus?"

I took my seat beside her and gained possession of her hands. Then I
related all that had taken place in the Stratford Street rooms. She
interrupted me frequently with ejaculations. When I had finished, she
appeared more struck with Striver's sudden collapse than with any
other portion of my narrative.

"He knows the truth and he will save my good name," she said slowly to
herself, "that would seem as though Joseph knows for certain that my
father is innocent, since his name is my name."

"Not exactly, my dear. His name, by Act of Parliament, is Marr, and
yours is Monk. But when you change it to Vance," I gathered her into
my arms to kiss her fondly, "there will be no need for Striver to
bother."

"There will always be a need until the truth becomes known," murmured
Gertrude anxiously. "I shall never be safe from my aunt's threats
until the assassin of Anne is found."

"Well, then, let us leave it to Striver," I said cheerfully. "He is
ready to behave decently, now that he finds you will never be his
wife. Meanwhile, I want you to go to London to-morrow and see your
father."

Gertrude shrank from the suggestion. "Oh, I don't want to see him
again after he has treated me so badly. Besides, he must be angry with
me."

"Never mind. You are strong enough to face his anger, which is sure to
be of a puny kind. I wish you to see him, so that you may regain the
glass eye, which I feel certain he took out of the case when my back
was turned."

"Why do you want the glass eye?"

"To read the cipher, and find the money."

Gertrude shook her head. "I feel as though that money would bring us a
curse, Cyrus. Already it has caused a murder and no end of
unhappiness. Besides, you can never read the cipher."

"I should try, dear, and if I fail there is a clever friend of mine
who can unravel anything. As to the money, or rather the diamonds,
they are rightfully yours and ought to be in your hands. Get the eye
and----"

I did not finish the sentence. Eliza suddenly opened the drawing-room
door to deliver a letter to me. "It came by express," said Eliza, "and
the boy is waiting at the door."

"Take him into the kitchen and feed him," I said, glancing at the
superscription. I did not recognize the writing. "You can go, Eliza,"
for she still lingered--out of curiosity, I expect.

I opened the envelope, and besides the letter--a long one written on
foolscap--there was a folded paper, which fell to the floor. Gertrude
picked it up, while I turned instantly to the signature. "Joseph
Striver!" I read in wonderment. "What can he be writing about to me in
such a hurry that it requires an express delivery?"

"Read! read!" cried Gertrude, with bright eyes, and crushing up the
folded paper in her hands without looking at it. "He said that he
would save my good name. Perhaps that letter contains the truth."

I hastily skimmed the contents, then walked towards the door. Gertrude
very impatiently followed me. "Where are you going? Why don't you read
me the letter?" she inquired imperatively.

"I shall read it when I have dismissed the messenger. It's all right,"
and at once I went to the kitchen. Here I gave the boy a shilling and
sent him off. On my return to the drawing-room I found Gertrude
looking at the folded paper, which she had smoothed out.

"What does this mean?" she asked bewildered, and I looked also.

The paper contained a rude drawing representing a kind of bird.
Whether kite or owl or barn-door fowl I could not say. Around were a
number of spots, and beneath were two large letters: an "A" reversed,
and an "S" twisted in the wrong direction. "What does it mean?" asked
Gertrude.

"Let us read the letter," said I, sitting down, and we did so
together, she looking over my shoulder.

Striver wrote that by this time no doubt I had found out the
disappearance of the glass eye. Mr. Monk had taken it, he said, when
my back had been turned, and had destroyed it. The glass portion he
had smashed up, and had afterwards gone out to throw the silver coin
with the inscribed cipher into the Thames. Thus wrote the gardener:
"You can never learn the cipher from the eye itself. But I enclose a
drawing I made of what was on the threepenny bit while it was in my
possession. What it means I can't say, or I should have found the
treasure for myself. You were right, Mr. Vance, in thinking that I had
taken the eye from the drawing-room table. I did. When you left the
window I saw that you were disturbed, and, moreover, was very jealous,
as I fancied you had just exchanged a word with Gertrude. On the spur
of the moment I ran to the window when you turned the corner of the
terrace with Mr. Monk, and saw the eye. I was greatly amazed, as I
could not think how it came to be there, and I was still more amazed
to think you had not secured it----"

"I was a fool," I interjected, "but I had not my wits about me."

The letter went on to say that, finding he would make no impression on
Gertrude with me beside her, Striver had taken the eye to America in
order to lay a trap for Monk. But he swore solemnly that Monk did not
possess the eye, "unless," wrote Striver, "he placed it on the
drawing-room table. I think myself that he is innocent, as I watched
him all the time he was talking to my aunt. He did not leave the shop,
but after a quarter of an hour he went away down the road. I believe
he left his motor car at Murchester and walked over. Hence--as no one
came to the corner shop on that afternoon--his visit was not noticed.
After he departed I went back to the bedroom to lie down, and told my
aunt I was weary. She did not come up the stairs and I did not go down
them. She went into the back room, and I lay down again in the
bedroom. Then--but I shall not tell you the truth now. When the time
comes you shall know all, and Gertrude need have no fear that she will
ever be troubled again by the Mootley murder."

"Thank God for that," said Gertrude; "but who is guilty?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "We must wait until Striver speaks out.
Perhaps he killed his aunt himself, and wished to escape abroad before
confessing. But let us read the rest of his letter," and I continued.

The writer went on to say that he intended to leave England, as he had
plenty of money. He could not return to Burwain to see Gertrude the
wife of another, so probably he would go to Australia.

"Very foolish of him to tell us that, seeing he may be guilty," I
said.

"Cyrus, he knows that he can trust us," she said rebukingly. "I am
sorry for the poor man. He is making amends."

"I shall say so when I hear that he has told the truth about the
murder," I remarked grimly. "How he intends to do so I can't say. But,
look, Gertrude, do you see how he finishes? Your father, after getting
rid of the cipher coin in the river, came back and took all his things
away. He told Striver--here it is--that he was returning to America
and would never come to England again. Well"----I paused.

"Poor papa," sighed Gertrude, "why could he not have come down and
asked me to help him? After all, he is my father, and I could never be
hard on him."

"I don't think he is worthy of your regrets," I said, for really Mr.
Walter Monk's behavior sickened me, "but, as he has departed, there is
no use your going up to see him to-morrow about the eye."

"Especially as the eye is now destroyed," said Gertrude, taking up the
paper, "and the cipher is set down here. What do you make of it,
Cyrus?"

I put Striver's letter into my pocket--there was no more writing after
the information of Mr. Monk's departure for America--and bent over the
paper. "It's a bird in the middle of a lot of dust," I said.

"Dust." Gertrude pointed out two of the specks. "Then dust has wings."

"Oh, then it's a bird midst a cloud of insects."

"And these odd signs?"

"An 'A' reversed, and an 'S' turned in the wrong direction."

Gertrude thought for a moment: then her face brightened. "Cyrus, what
kind of a bird is this?" and she pointed.

"It might be a peacock," I said ironically. "Mr. Striver has not much
notion of drawing."

"Do you think it is an eagle?" she asked in an excited tone.

"Good heavens, no!" I retorted. "Did you ever see an eagle like that?"

"Joseph is not an artist." said Gertrude impatiently.

"He certainly is not clever."

"Neither are you, Cyrus, for all your talent. Oh, to think that the
secret hiding-place should be in this very house."

"What?" I stared alternately at Gertrude and at the paper.

"Can't you see? Don't you understand," she cried, greatly excited, "an
eagle amidst a cloud of flies--_Aquila non capit muscas_."

I stared at her. "I have heard that sentence before."

"And you have seen the drawing better executed in carving. Cyrus, what
is the first letter of the motto?"

"'A'--for Aquila--eagle. Yes?"

"And the last letter?"

"'S,' the terminal for _muscas_ for flies. Well?" She caught me by the
hand. "Come into the smoking-room and light the lamps."

"Oh, by Jove!" I saw her meaning now. She referred to the heavy beam
across the smoking-room to which Mr. Monk had drawn my attention. We
ran, hand in hand, like children, into the dark room. Gertrude struck
a match and I, taking the box from her hand--and a shaking hand it
was--struck another. In a few moments the powerful oil lamps were
illuminating the room brilliantly. We both looked at the beam.

"An eagle catching flies," cried Gertrude, pointing--"_Aquila non
capit muscas_. My ancestors' queer old motto. The diamonds are there."

"Hidden in the beam?"

"Of course. Come and get a ladder from the outhouse. No; that won't
do, as Eliza is so filled with curiosity. I don't want her to suspect
anything. What are we to do?"

"I can place this chair on the table, and as I am tall I can easily
reach up to the beam," I said, suiting my actions to my words. "Close
the door, Gertrude, so that Eliza can't come spying."

Gertrude, who was all excitement, promptly locked the door. "But how
are you to get the beam open? Shall I get an axe?"

"Nonsense," I said, consulting the paper of Striver; "this is the
hiding-place right enough. The beam must open in some way, but how?"

"What about the reversed letters?" questioned Gertrude, "they are not
reversed on the beam."

"No; but they are on the paper. I know, Gertrude, these letters on the
beam are raised so as to give one a grip. Get a candle, will you, or
hand up a lamp."

So as to lose no time she stretched with the lamp. I held it close to
the raised carving of the beam, and particularly examined the first
and last letters, "A" and "S." Circular lines appeared faintly round
these, which were not visible round the other letters. I handed the
lamp back.

"What are you going to do?" asked Gertrude, replacing the lamp on its
stand.

"Twist these first and last letters into the position indicated by the
cipher. Then we shall see what will happen."

I put forth my strength to the "A," and found that with an effort it
twisted with considerable ease. "Hurrah!" I cried, "this is the
secret."

The final "S" was more difficult to move, but at last I contrived to
get it twisted completely round. Gertrude's bright face looked up
anxiously. "Stand away; stand away," I cried hastily.

It was just as well that I had warned her, for suddenly the whole
broad board containing the motto clattered to the floor before I could
save it.

"The diamonds! the diamonds!" cried Gertrude excitedly.

A cavity was revealed, and I passed my hand along. It was empty.
"Gertrude, the diamonds are gone!" I cried in dismay, and our spirits
fell to zero.



CHAPTER XXI.
THE AIRSHIP


Who had removed the diamonds? That was my thought for the next
twenty-four hours, but I could not answer my own question. I certainly
remembered how Striver insisted that Mr. Monk had secured possession
of the fortune. But only by getting possession of the eye could he
learn where the jewels were hidden; and by Striver's own showing he
had not been thus fortunate. Only when destroying the eye had he had
it in his hands, and then, instead of reading the cipher, he had
thrown the coin upon which it was written into the Thames. Moreover,
for many months Monk had been masquerading as Wentworth Marr, and had
possessed the money to keep up the farce. Undoubtedly--as I thought,
after much reflection--the story of Australian legacy must be true.
Mr. Monk, on the face of it, could not have looted the beam of its
valuable contents.

But what astonished me was that Monk should have thrown away the coin,
although it was natural enough that he should have destroyed the eye.
But why did he not at least attempt to read the cipher? It seemed to
be an extremely easy one, as the repetition of the beam's carving on
the coin suggested the Latin motto. The reversed letters suggested a
little hard thinking, but presented no great obstacle. The late
Gabriel Monk had cut away the inscribed board, and behind had hollowed
out a place for the reception of the diamonds--in a bag, I presume.
Also he had cut out the first and last letters of the saying in
circular form, and to these had attached pieces of iron. When the
letters were placed straightly these pieces of iron caught on to the
inner part of the beam, and so held the inscribed board; when
reversed, they released the same. It was ingenious but not difficult
of solution, and I wondered that Monk had not read the cipher. If he
had, he certainly would have guessed that the beam in The Lodge
smoking-room held the jewels, and in that event would have searched.
On this assumption I thought that the man could not have examined the
cipher. But why he should not have done so puzzled me considerably.

However, the case stood thus: Monk had returned to America, or at all
events had left England; Striver also had taken his departure, and the
jewels which belonged to Gertrude had disappeared. The gardener
intended--so he said--to tell the truth and unmask the assassin of his
aunt, but unless he intended to denounce himself when at a safe
distance, I could not imagine what he intended to say. So far as I
could see there was nothing to do but to wait some communication from
Striver. Meanwhile I urged Gertrude to marry me during the first month
of the New Year.

"But I am afraid to marry you until the truth about Anne's murder is
known, Cyrus," she objected. "Aunt Julia still threatens me."

"Let us go and see your aunt now," I said. It was next morning that
this conversation took place. "We can explain matters to her, and she
will be forced to see that you are innocent. After all, she only
desires the half share of the fortune. When she learns it is lost she
will hold her tongue, having nothing to gain by talking."

Anxious to end all suspense, Gertrude agreed, and we paid an early
visit to Miss Destiny. In the cold greyness of the day her tin house
looked more dismal than usual, and as we walked through the jungle
path I wondered how a lady bred and born could live in so miserable a
place. She was not rich, certainly, but she could have afforded a
better dwelling. Yet I daresay she was happy enough in her sordid
home, since all she cared for was money, and, so long as she possessed
actual gold to gloat over, cared little for the comforts it could
bring. It was a strange way of finding happiness.

Miss Destiny opened the door herself, as Lucinda--it appeared, from
what she said--had gone to buy some food in the village. The little
old lady was dressed in her usual threadbare black silk, with the
addition of a knitted woollen shawl over her spare shoulders. She
looked extremely shabby: also pinched and haggard. But her black eyes
were as bright as ever, and she seemed to possess considerable
vitality in her wiry frame.

"The lovers," she said, with a shrill laugh, and inviting us to enter.
"So it is not to be Joseph after all, my dear Gertrude."

"It never was Joseph," replied her niece quietly. "Aunt Julia, I have
asked Cyrus to come and see you about this threat you used to me."

"Threat!" Miss Destiny raised her eyebrows. "My dear child, I used no
threat."

"You said that if Gertrude did not give you half of her fifty thousand
pounds when found, that you would tell the police she had been to
Mootley."

"Oh, I really didn't mean that, Mr. Vance," said Miss Destiny,
cringing. "It was only a joke on my part."

"Then you don't accuse me of murder?" asked Gertrude, bluntly.

"No, dear. Certainly not."

"And you don't want half Gertrude's fortune?" I questioned.

Miss Destiny's eyes narrowed and she looked venomous. "I certainly
should have half the money. Gabriel said that he would leave me a
legacy, and he did not. Yet I slaved for many years looking after his
house."

"You got board and lodging for your services," said Gertrude coldly.

"I ought to have got a legacy," insisted Miss Destiny. "Gabriel
promised me some money. But he left his income and the property to
Walter and the rest of his savings to you. You owe me half, and I mean
to have half. I don't say, dear," added Miss Destiny significantly,
"that you murdered Anne. But if the police knew that you had paid her
a visit to ask about the eye you might be asked unpleasant questions."

"I did not ask about the eye, because I did not know until later that
the eye contained the cipher," said Gertrude calmly, "but after
reading the diary I certainly went to ask Anne to give me the cipher,
so that I might find what rightfully belonged to me."

"Half of it only," snapped Miss Destiny, "and you certainly ran away
with Mr. Vance's motor car, because I saw you myself in your white
cloak. If you are innocent--mind, I don't accuse you of murder--but if
you are innocent, why did you run away so strangely?--a guilty
conscience: a guilty conscience, my dear."

"Miss Destiny," I said indignantly, for the malice of the little
creature annoyed me, "it was Joseph Striver who wore Gertrude's cloak
and ran off with my car. He told us so himself."

"So you say," she sneered.

"And I say more. Listen," and forthwith I related all that had been
discovered, down to the destruction of the glass eye and the throwing
away of the silver coin by Walter Monk. Miss Destiny listened
unbelievingly, and with a sneer. Apparently she did not credit a
single word of what I was saying. But when I came to the end she
interrupted me with a scream.

"The eye destroyed, the eye destroyed!" she cried, starting to her
feet with surprising activity. "Oh, what a fool, what a fool! Now the
fortune can never be discovered."

"It has been discovered," put in Gertrude.

"What!" Miss Destiny wheeled round venomously and eagerly. "You have
found the diamonds you told me that Gabriel mentioned in his diary?"

"We have found the hiding-place," I said sharply. "Striver sent me a
copy of the cipher, which he took when the eye--as I have told
you--was in his possession."

"Then give me half, give me half!" shrieked Miss Destiny. "If you
don't I'll go to the police. I swear I'll go to the police. I
don't believe this young man's lies. You were in the house and
you--you--you----" She choked with anger.

Gertrude arose, revolted by this exhibition of sordid greed, and could
not speak. I answered for her. "The jewels are gone, Miss Destiny," I
said quietly.

"Gone!" Her shrill voice fell to a mere whisper, and the wild light of
avarice died out of her black eyes. "Gone! impossible!" then her face
lighted up again fiercely. "This is a lie to cheat me of my share!"
she shouted.

"Even if the jewels had been found," I remarked, in a cool, level
voice, "you would have had none of them, since they belonged to
Gertrude. I am strong enough to save her from your malice. Either
Striver or Walter Monk is guilty. If you go to the police I shall go
also, and tell what I have told you----"

Gertrude caught my arm. "No, Cyrus, no. My father----"

"Dear, this is not the time for half measures. You did your best to
save your father by refusing to tell me. But if he is guilty he must
be brought to book, if only to thwart this woman's evil intentions."

"Oh, have done with your chatter," cried Miss Destiny, stamping like a
small fury. "Tell me the truth. Are the jewels indeed gone?"

"Yes. You will never see them again."

"Who took them? I insist upon knowing who took them?"

"I don't know. If I did I would get them back again."

"Then hunt for Joseph Striver," said Miss Destiny furiously, "he is
the thief."

"Impossible. He sent me the cipher."

"Yes," she sneered, "after he had stolen the jewels he could easily
send you the cipher. But he had the eye, by your own showing. He must
have read the cipher. He had taken the fortune. Oh," she shook her
fists in the air, "I wish these two hands were at his throat."

The little creature looked so evil, as she shook and quivered in the
sordid room, that I touched Gertrude's shoulder. "Go away, dear. This
is no sight for you." Then, when she obeyed me and passed outside, I
turned to Miss Destiny. "You will understand that the jewels are lost
for ever."

"I'll hunt the thief down; I'll hunt him down," she breathed savagely.

"Even if you do, the half share will not come to you. I will look
after Gertrude's interest."

Miss Destiny laughed shrilly. "Ah, you marry her for her money. What
love!"

"Gertrude at present has no money, nor do I want any money with her.
But if Striver has the jewels he shall be forced to give them up.
Meanwhile, if you say a word to anyone against Gertrude I shall tell
my story."

"I'll say no word until the jewels are in Gertrude's possession. It is
not worth my while to say anything until then. But when she has the
fortune I shall have my half, or she shall hang."

"You are mad," I said, recoiling from her venomous looks.

"Yes; mad at being tricked and cheated by Joseph Striver. Oh, I know
the man. I might have guessed that he would not keep faith with me.
The fortune is gone, the fortune is gone," and she dropped into a
chair.

"Yes," I said, with my hand on the door; "therefore hold your tongue."

Miss Destiny only crouched in the chair rocking herself to and fro.
"The fortune is gone," she moaned; "twenty-five thousand pounds was to
have been my share. I have lost twenty-five thousand pounds. Oh me! oh
me!" And leaving her still weeping and wailing over the loss I
departed.

Whether Miss Destiny was right or wrong regarding Striver's possession
of the diamonds I could not say. Day after day went by and the
gardener did not appear to denounce the assassin of his aunt as he had
arranged to do. Nor could he be found anywhere, although I employed a
detective to search for him. We discovered that Mr. Monk had given up
the lease of his chambers and had sold his furniture. He had
disappeared to America, and evidently had no intention of returning.
But his lawyer still continued to pay Gertrude enough to keep The
Lodge going and herself in clothes. But Striver had vanished like a
water bubble; he had dissolved into thin air, and all we could do was
to wait until he chose to reappear. I pointed out to Gertrude that,
Miss Destiny's mouth being closed--she would not speak until the
jewels were recovered, a very remote contingency--and her father along
with the gardener having passed out of our lives, it would be best to
get married. Then we could leave Burwain and settle in London. As Mrs.
Vance she would forget all the storms of the past, and with me as her
companion could journey under brighter skies. But Gertrude refused
steadily.

"Until my name is absolutely cleared by the assassin of Anne
Caldershaw being brought to justice, I shall remain as I am, at The
Lodge."

"And what if the assassin is your father, Gertrude?" I asked.

"I don't believe it," she replied firmly. "Papa is weak and selfish,
but he would never murder an old woman so cruelly. I believe that
Striver is guilty, and has got my fortune, as Aunt Julia says."

"In that case he'll never tell the truth."

"He said that he would save my good name, and I believe that he loves
me enough to do so. Wait, Cyrus, wait; the end will come and the truth
will come to light. Only then can I marry you."

With this promise I was forced to be content, and remained at the
Robin Redbreast, which seemed likely to become my permanent home. With
Gertrude I spent a quiet Christmas, as Cannington had to return to his
duties at Murchester, and Weston was invited to spend the festive
season at Lady Denham's country house. There he saw a great deal of
Mabel, and she relented from her attitude of snubbing him, for he came
back during the first week of the New Year with a joyful light in his
eyes.

"Congratulate me, Vance. Mabel has accepted me as her husband."

"Oh," I shook his hand warmly, "I congratulate you with all my heart,
since you have secured a charming wife. But can I congratulate Mabel
on the possession of an absent-minded husband?"

"Oh, I am not so bad as I was," said Weston, with quite a new ring in
his voice. "I have had my lesson, Vance, and see that Mabel requires
some attention: in fact, a very great deal. When we marry she shall do
as she pleases, and have all the money she wishes to spend."

"I think she would rather have love," I said gravely.

"I give her love," he snapped rather crossly. "I'll be with her morn,
noon, and night if she wishes. All I have to do is to launch my
airship, and then I shall marry Mabel and be happy ever afterwards."

"Having solved the problem of flying?" I queried.

"I really believe that I shall do so," he said, his face lighting up.
"Come and see my airship, Vance. Next week I intend to try a flight.
It's nearly ready. I have asked a reporter down from London, and will
admit the public into the yard, and we shall have a great day."

"Is Mabel coming?"

His face fell. "No; she says she is jealous of my airship. But she
will come down to take a trip in it when I make a successful flight. I
asked Cannington, but he can't get away from Murchester. Never mind.
You will be there, and you can bring Miss Monk."

"Thanks, but we sha'n't trust ourselves in your confounded balloon."

"It's not a balloon," flared up Dicky angrily, and for the rest of the
evening he explained his ideas. I was not sufficiently an engineer to
appreciate the cleverness of them.

During the week before Weston's trial flight, a rumor ran through the
village, which surprised everyone. It was said that Miss Destiny
intended to go away from Burwain. As she had lived in the village all
her life and seemed to be as deeply rooted as a tree, it appeared
strange that in her old age she should venture to seek fresh fields
and pastures new. But I guessed that she intended to go in search of
Striver, whom she believed had possession of the jewels. I tried to
get speech with her, but she would not admit me into her house, nor
would she come to The Lodge in response to an invitation from
Gertrude. I wished to learn if she knew the whereabouts of the
ex-gardener, since I guessed she was bent upon finding him. But I
could not learn where she was going, although Lucinda set the rumor
afloat in the village that her mistress intended to leave Burwain. But
I could guess the devouring flame of avarice in Miss Destiny's heart
which made her thus uproot herself. She would go through fire and
water to get the jewels, which she believed Striver possessed, and I
found myself pitying the man, guilty as I believed him to be, when I
thought of that halting Nemesis of a witch coming up to his side. Miss
Destiny was starting on the chase, and she would never stop hunting
until she pulled down her quarry. Death alone would end her pursuit.

However, the days passed by and she still lingered in her miserable
home. Burwain began to wear quite a festive air during those early
January weeks, for reporters came from London to inspect the airship,
and many idle people gathered outside the yard to pick up chance
information. Dicky showed me his craft at a private view, and
explained the mechanism to me, with certain reservations touching upon
his particular method of flying. His secrets, I understood, had to do
with the steering of the vessel, and with some way he had of driving
her forward in the teeth of the wind. I am so ignorant of technical
terms that I cannot explain much that he told me: nor would it be
fair, since inventors do not wish their ideas to be stolen. But I grew
almost as excited as Dicky when the great day arrived.

It was a Tuesday morning, fine and sunny, with scarcely a breath of
wind, and the inventor could have secured no finer weather for his
attempt. A crowd of people from Tarhaven and Gattlingsands and other
places came to see the experiment, and quite a number of reporters had
appeared, representing the most popular London journals. The gates of
the yard were thrown open, and a considerable crowd gathered within
the hitherto inviolated precincts. Amongst them I walked, with
Gertrude beside me. Everyone in the village was there, I verily
believe, to see the novelty of an airship taking flight. Even fat John
Gilfin, with his nearly as stout wife, waddled along, looking at the
queer machine bulking largely in the middle of the yard.

The airship consisted of a slim, cigar-shaped bag, netted over. From
this a long narrow trough of basketwork was slung, at each end of
which was a propeller. The light machinery to drive this was in the
middle, but this being hidden under a bonnet of tin, I could not see
what was used to set the wheels working. That was one of Weston's
secrets. The inventor himself was busy in the trough adjusting various
parts of the gear, and shouting out orders to different workmen. The
whole ship itself was bound to earth by sundry ropes and was tugging
and straining at them like a thing of life. When those ropes were
loosened the ship would flash up into the air like a released bird,
and then Dicky, seated behind his machine in the basketwork cradle,
would show his skill in steering it this way and the other. As the
wind was extremely faint, he would have every advantage. I forgot to
say that there were steering vans like wings spreading from the
trough, and these could be raised or lowered at will. But, wanting
technical knowledge, as I have explained, I fear my description of the
famous craft is not particularly good. It was an airship, that was all
I knew, and I was curious to see it climb the sky.

Amongst the crowd I unexpectedly saw the quaint little figure of Miss
Destiny, dressed in black as usual. I pointed her out to Gertrude, and
we tried to get near her, as I was still curious to learn if she had
any idea of Striver's whereabouts. But she kept her keen eyes on our
every movement and dodged us with such success that we never could
approach her.

"What can she be afraid of?" asked Gertrude, perplexed.

"She's afraid of being asked questions," I replied.

"I believe she knows where that man is to be found--though Lord only
knows how she can have learned his whereabouts. She intends to run him
down and get the jewels all to herself."

"But what will she do with them?" asked Gertrude, bewildered.

"Gloat over them," I replied shortly, "but see, the airship will soon
be on the point of starting. Six ropes," I added, pressing forward,
"if it needs that strength to hold down yon huge bag of gas, I wonder
how Weston proposes to reach earth again. He'll have to remain a sky
bird for ever."

The interest of the crowd became intense as four of the ropes were
loosened and the airship strained desperately at the remaining two.
Weston, as he afterwards informed me, had a method of releasing, or
separating the gas in some way, whereby he could descend if he chose.
Then, by connecting up the gas again in the cigar-shaped bag, he could
ascend. I do not exactly understand how it was managed, but it had to
do with the transmission of gas from the upper bag to a lower one
under the trough, which I only noticed when the four ropes let the
ship float a trifle high.

Although interested in the airship I was much more taken up with the
movements of Miss Destiny. She likewise became absorbed in the start
of the strange craft, and forgot for the moment to keep her eyes on
us. I drew Gertrude's arm within my own and stole forward to where she
was pressing gently through the watching crowd. Gertrude uttered an
ejaculation, and pointed towards the gate.

"There is Lucinda," she said, in startled tones, "and two policemen
with her."

I looked, and sure enough Lucinda walked beside a stern-faced man in
plain clothes, whom I knew. He was none other than my old friend,
Inspector Dredge of Murchester. Behind walked two burly policemen, and
they all four came steadily towards the crowd gathered round the
airship.

"What can be the matter?" whispered Gertrude agitated.

I thrilled, as a premonition of what the presence of Dredge meant,
flashed into my mind. However I had little time for consideration, as
the second rope was released from the ground and Weston curled it up
within the car. Only one rope remained to be loosened. As Weston laid
his hand on it to draw it up, giving the signal to the men below to
let go, Lucinda's cry, wild and shrill arose.

"Fly, mistress, fly! They're after you: they'll get you: they'll----"
a policeman's hand on her mouth stopped her further speech.

Miss Destiny, who was immediately in front of me, turned quickly at
the sound of the girl's voice. Her face grew deathly white when she
saw the Inspector forcing his way towards her, and she looked round
like a trapped animal. Heedless of the roaring of the crowd, excited
by the sight, Dredge came up to Miss Destiny and laid a heavy hand on
her shoulder. "I arrest you in the name of the King for the murder of
Anne----"

He got no further. Miss Destiny with a sudden snarl twisted out of his
grip, at the very moment Weston gave the signal for the men below to
loosen the last rope. Being in the fore front of the crowd, she sprang
into the open space and ran forward.

"Take me with you, take me with you," she screamed, and, as the men
let go of the rope, she grabbed hold of it with desperate and
inconceivable quickness.

The next moment the airship shot up into the radiant sky, and at the
end of the rope, which dangled from the car under Weston's hands, Miss
Destiny spun like a spider. She uttered no sound, she made no
movement, but hung on desperately while the ship soared. I caught a
glimpse of the amazement on Weston's face as it lessened before my
eyes. A shout of terror at the little woman's terrible position came
from the crowd. Dredge stood where he was, paralyzed, and Gertrude
screamed with fright. Lucinda beat her hands in despair.

The ship soared and swung to the right, and that black figure still
clung to the rope. Weston--as we could see--was making preparations to
descend, but owing to some difficulty could not get his gear to work.
By this time the ship was at a considerable height, and everyone was
watching with terror the happening of this midair tragedy. How Miss
Destiny hung on so long I could not guess: she seemed to have the
strength of a fiend. Suddenly a gust of wind caught the ship, as she
receded, and the rope, with the little figure twisting at the end,
swung towards the rear of the car. In a second it was in the grip of
the stern propeller, and we saw the sudden jerk of the rope upward. A
moment later and it was jerked out of the gripping hands of Anne
Caldershaw's murderess. She fell, a speck through the blue sky, and a
groan went up from the crowd at the sight of that terrible death.



CHAPTER XXII.
THE WHOLE TRUTH


So Miss Destiny was the criminal after all, and her confession alone
revealed what had taken place in Anne Caldershaw's back room, shortly
before I had arrived in my motor car to search for adventure.
Inspector Dredge came to The Lodge that same evening to relate all
that had taken place, and to inform us how he had come to Burwain. The
little woman's body was found broken in pieces on the outskirts of
Tarhaven, and small wonder, considering the terrible height from which
she had fallen. We did not hear until the next day what Weston
thought, as his airship proved to be unmanageable, and drifted over
toward the island of Grain, where he managed to descend. There he
remained for the night, and came back by train to Burwain in the
afternoon of the ensuing day. But neither Gertrude nor I troubled
about Weston's failure or absence. We were far too much taken up with
the story told by Inspector Dredge.

"As you were so much connected with the matter, Mr. Vance," said the
stern-faced man, when he appeared at four o'clock in the drawing-room
of The Lodge, "it is only fair that you should know the truth."

"I also am connected with the matter, Mr. Inspector," said Gertrude,
"for I----"

He interrupted her with a grave bow. "I know what you would say, miss.
You were in the back room, and left your cloak there, which was
afterwards worn by Joseph Striver when he escaped in Mr. Vance's motor
car. No blame attaches to you, miss, and I quite understand that you
did not care to incriminate yourself by coming to explain to me. Yet,
if you had done so," he ended, with rebukeful emphasis, "we might have
arrived earlier at the truth."

"Who told you all this?" I asked curiously.

"Striver himself--by letter, that is," said Dredge, bringing out some
papers from the pocket of his overcoat. "He is an accomplice after the
fact. Miss Destiny, who actually committed the crime is dead, and her
body--or what remains of it--lies at Tarhaven waiting the inquest,
which will be held to-morrow. But Joseph will be searched for and
arrested, as he knew the truth all along."

"Why did he not tell it?" asked Gertrude anxiously.

"I think you are to blame, Miss, or rather your sweet looks, Miss.
Striver wished to use what he had learned in order to marry you."

"But what did he learn?" I asked, while Gertrude blushed at the
complimentary tone of the officer.

"I am coming to that," said Dredge calmly, "all in good time, Mr.
Vance. Two days ago I received a letter from Joseph Striver. It stated
that he was sailing from a certain port to some foreign land, which he
refused to name."

"Where is the letter written from?"

"There is no address given, Mr. Vance, but the postmark is that of
London. It was posted at the General Post Office, so Striver has
covered up his tracks very carefully. By this time he is doubtless on
the high seas, and it will be difficult to trace him."

"Well?" I demanded impatiently, "and what did he say in his letter?"

Dredge took out an epistle--written on foolscap, as had been the one
to me--and spread it out on the table. "There is no need to read it,"
he said gravely, "as I know the contents by heart."

"Yes; go on." Gertrude and myself were all attention.

"Striver writes that he came to see his aunt, knowing that Miss Monk
was due for a visit. He was informed of this fact by Miss Destiny.
Striver went up to the bedroom, while his aunt talked to Miss Monk who
then arrived. Afterwards, Walter Monk entered the shop, and his
daughter--you Miss," said the Inspector with a dry nod, "departed by
the back door."

"I did not wish to meet my father," said Gertrude in low tones.

"So I understand from Striver's letter," said Dredge still dryly. "Well
then, it appears that Mr. Monk also knew of his daughter's visit to
Mrs. Caldershaw through Miss Destiny----"

"But why should she have told everyone that I was going?" asked
Gertrude in an indignant voice.

"Can't you guess, Miss?" asked Dredge pityingly. "Miss Destiny went
over to Mootley with the intention of murdering the woman."

"For what reason," I asked, anxious to be fully satisfied.

The Inspector heaved a sigh at my apparent stupidity. "You, Miss," he
said to Gertrude, "had told Miss Destiny of your discovery of the
diary and of your intention to ask Mrs. Caldershaw for the cipher.
Your aunt, Miss, then guessed from sundry remarks that Mrs. Caldershaw
had let fall, that the cipher was contained in the false eye worn by
the woman. Miss Destiny determined to get that eye even at the cost of
murder, and so told several people of your proposed visit, so that she
might throw the blame on them."

"Do you mean to say," questioned Gertrude horrified, "that my aunt
deliberately intended to have me accused of murder?"

"You, or Striver, or your father," assented Dredge coolly, "she had to
save her own skin somehow you see, Miss, but to continue, Striver was
wakened from sleep by a quarrel between Mrs. Caldershaw and Mr. Monk,
as he waited the cipher, which she refused to give up----"

"Did he know that it was hidden in the eye?" I interrupted.

"I don't think so. He did not say so, from what Striver overheard. But
he could not get what he wanted, and therefore went away, and walked
back to Murchester as he had come. He called himself"--Dredge referred
to the letter--"Mr. Wentworth Marr."

"Yes, yes, we know that," I said hastily.

"It seems to me, Mr. Vance, that you know much which you have not told
me."

"I had my reasons, and very good ones," said I stiffly.

"No reasons should prevent your helping the police in the execution of
their duty," said Dredge, with an official air. "However, as things
have turned out for the best, we can let that pass. When Mr. Monk
departed," he continued, taking up the thread of his narrative,
"Striver told his aunt that he wanted to sleep, and returned to the
bedroom. There he really did fall asleep, but before doing so he heard
the voice of Miss Destiny."

"But she did not arrive until after the murder," I exclaimed.

"She arrived long before, as you will read in her confession," said
Dredge grimly. "Let me proceed in due order, if you please. Striver
stole down the stairs, as he was anxious to learn what Miss Destiny
had to say to his aunt. He heard her ask for the cipher. Mrs.
Caldershaw refused to give it up, saying she had it hidden in her
false left eye, which would never leave her head until she was dead."

"Ah!" said Gertrude, "so that is how Aunt Julia learned about the
eye."

"I think she knew it before," replied Dredge with a shrug. "However,
when Striver learned about the eye, he retreated to the bedroom and
threw himself on the bed to think how he could get it. Then he fell
asleep. When he awoke it was quite dark and----"

"We know the rest," I interposed quickly; "he came downstairs and
found his aunt dead. Then he heard me coming, and managed to lock me
in and escape with my car."

Dredge nodded, glancing meanwhile at the letter. "Yes, Mr. Vance, it
is as you say. Of course Striver knew that Miss Destiny had murdered
his aunt, so when she returned to Burwain he taxed her with the crime.
She denied it and tried to throw the blame on her niece and on Mr.
Monk. But Striver threatened to tell the police, and the woman
confessed. She said that she would find the money and give half to
Striver: also that she would aid him to marry Miss Monk."

"The idea!" cried Gertrude angrily; "as if she could."

"She hoped to force you, by implicating you in the murder. For that
reason, according to Striver, she left the eye on the table in this
drawing-room."

"What!" I started to my feet. "Was it Miss Destiny who----?"

"Herself," said Dredge coolly. "She talked to Striver in the garden,
then went to the window--that one yonder," said Dredge, pointing to
the middle French window--"and placed the eye on the table, hoping
that you, Miss, would find it. Then she trusted that you would not be
able to account for its possession and would be accused of the crime."

"What a wicked woman; oh, what a wicked woman!"

"I think she was, Miss. However, she has paid for her wickedness by a
most terrible death; if you had seen the body"--He stopped and,
iron-nerved as he was, shuddered. After a pause he continued: "When
Miss Destiny placed the eye on the table she went back to talk to
Striver, and you, Mr. Vance, found them together."

"Yes, I did. But why did Striver go to the window. Did he know?"

"I can't be sure. Since he loved Miss Monk, I don't think he would
have lent himself to such a wicked plot even to marry her. But he did
go and secure the eye. Then he----"

"Used it to frighten Mr. Monk, who afterwards destroyed it. Go on."

Dredge shrugged his shoulders. "It seems to me that there is little
chance of my telling you anything you don't know," he said, folding up
the letter and replacing it in his breast pocket. "And that is all
Striver has to say. I got out a warrant on the confession which he
enclosed, and came here this morning. With two policemen I called at
Miss Destiny's house, which was pointed out to me. She was away, and
the girl Lucinda tried to escape to give her mistress warning."

"Did Lucinda know the truth?"

"Yes; she drove her mistress on that evening." Dredge stopped and
waved his hands. "You'll hear that in the confession."

"Whose confession?"

"Miss Destiny's. Striver did not trust her, and moreover was fearful
lest he should be accused of the deed. He swore to tell the police and
give evidence against her unless she wrote out clearly what had
occurred and signed it. Forced to do so, she did as she was bid, and
Striver held this confession over her head so as to compel her to do
his bidding. Lucinda would have warned her mistress, but--guessing
that Miss Destiny would witness the trial flight of the airship--I
took the girl with me and went to Mr. Weston's yard. You heard how she
gave voice and saw how the mistress escaped. So"--he wiped his face
with a shiver--"that is ended. God have mercy on the black soul of
that woman."

"Amen to that," I said, while Gertrude wept silently. "But Striver
seems to have behaved like a scoundrel."

"Never mind, Cyrus, he has made amends," whispered Gertrude through
her tears--tears of which Miss Destiny was unworthy.

"Here," said Dredge, spreading out another document, "is the
confession of Julia Destiny, signed by her in the presence of Striver.
I need not read it," he added, folding up the precious paper and
putting it away, "as I can give you a hasty précis of the contents. My
time is short," he glanced at his watch, "I have to catch a train in
an hour at Tarhaven. I must be brief."

"Yes, go on, and make the telling as short as you can," I said
anxiously, "for Miss Monk cannot bear much more."

While I fondled Gertrude's hand within my own, the Inspector related
what Miss Destiny had written. The wicked little woman had intended to
get the eye, even if she had to kill Anne Caldershaw to force it out
of the woman's head. She had arranged to bring Striver, Gertrude, and
Walter Monk to Mootley so as to implicate them, if possible, and save
herself from being accused of murder. She therefore arranged with
Lucinda, who was bound body and soul to her service, to drive over
early to Mootley on the second day of her journey thither. Lucinda,
with the trap, remained behind a hedge near Murchester, and Miss
Destiny, evading notice, crept through the fields to the corner shop.
Striver was up stairs, but she did not know that, as Mrs. Caldershaw
said nothing. But she learned that Gertrude had been, and saw the
white cloak left behind in the kitchen, along with one of the blue
glass-headed pins. She also learned that Monk had paid a visit, so she
was quite prepared to fasten the blame of her contemplated deed on
anyone of them.

"Oh, what a devil!" I murmured at this point of Dredge's narrative.

"Indeed you may so," he said, somewhat moved, for the recital was
really terrible. "Well, then, while seated in the back kitchen Miss
Destiny, failing to get the eye from Mrs. Caldershaw, watched her
chance to murder her. She took up the blue glass-headed pin, which she
knew belonged to Miss here----"

"She gave it to me herself," said Gertrude in a choked voice.

"Of course," Dredge nodded, "and so was certain that when used the
blame would fall on you. Now how she managed exactly to kill Mrs.
Caldershaw she does not say," went on the Inspector, wrinkling his
brow in perplexity. "I think myself she playfully touched Mrs.
Caldershaw every now and then with the pin to emphasize what she was
saying. Certainly Mrs. Caldershaw would suspect nothing, until Miss
Destiny, placing the pin directly over the heart, drove it home with a
sudden thrust. The woman fell----"

"Dead! dead!" wailed Gertrude.

"Not quite dead," said the precise Dredge: "she was bleeding from
internal hemorrhage, for she lived for sometime afterwards. Striver
found her still alive--"

"And so did I," I interposed: "I heard her last moan."

"She bled inwardly to death," said Dredge, rising and buttoning his
coat. "I must go now, if you will excuse me."

"But the rest of the confession. How did she get the eye?" I asked.

"Pulled it out of Mrs. Caldershaw's head," said the Inspector brutally
"she then escaped by the back door and went along a path leading
through the wood of elms. She knew of that, having been to Mrs.
Caldershaw's before."

"Mrs. Caldershaw told me how to go by that path," said Gertrude.

"One question before you go, Mr. Inspector," said I, following him to
the door: "If Miss Destiny had the eye for so long in her possession,
why did she not discover the secret?"

"She could not read the cipher."

"Strange. It is not a particularly difficult one."

"Have you read it?" asked Dredge. "Striver said that he had sent a
drawing of it to you."

"Yes; we discovered the hiding-place of the jewels and found it empty.
Now I wonder if Miss Destiny did read the cipher and steal the
jewels."

"She says she did not, and----" Here Dredge looked again at his watch.
"I really have no time to say more: you must excuse me," and he
hurried away rapidly.

I turned to Gertrude when we heard the door close behind him. "Well,"
said I, with a half smile, "now that the truth has been discovered we
can marry."

She sobbed. "Oh, Cyrus, can you marry the niece of a murderess?"

"I would marry you, if you committed the crime yourself," I said,
kissing her fondly.

And marry her I did two months later. Owing to the terrible death of
Miss Destiny the story of her crime was not made public. There was
some talk of Lucinda being brought in as an accomplice after the fact,
but as she apparently was a half-witted creature she was left alone.
She confessed, however, that after committing the crime Miss Destiny
had rejoined her, and then the two had driven later to Mootley to meet
Striver--who Miss Destiny thought was a woman--driving my motor car. I
have often wondered since at the extraordinary nerve displayed by Miss
Destiny on that fatal evening. She arrived fresh from the commission
of a brutal crime and played her part as a startled lady admirably.
All the time we were talking in Giles' house she had the eye in her
pocket and knew the whole truth of the affair. I was amazed at the
strength of character displayed by the frail little creature. It was
extraordinary that avarice should have driven her to so desperate a
course. But having taken it, she had managed wonderfully. But for the
unguessed-of presence of Striver in the house her wickedness would
never have been discovered. She was buried in Tarhaven, in an
unhonoured grave, and Gertrude and I strove to forget her and her
crimes as speedily as possible.

Lucinda vanished when she found that the police intended to leave her
alone, and I never learned what became of her. Striver also had
disappeared, and we did not hear that he had been caught, although I
believe Dredge made several attempts to find out his whereabouts, but
without success. But of one person we did hear. That was Mr. Walter
Monk, or as he still continued to call himself, Mr. Wentworth Marr.

On the night before my marriage to Gertrude I was with her at The
Lodge, and Cannington, who had come down to be my best man, was also
present. He was in great spirits, and had been much impressed by the
story of Miss Destiny's wickedness, which I had told him in detail.

"Adventures are to the adventurous," said he gravely. "You certainly
found a very good one, with a happy termination," and he glanced at
Gertrude.

"It was strange," I remarked musingly, "that you should have made that
quotation as being by Wentworth Marr."

"Yes. And at the time when we did not know who Wentworth Marr was."

"Don't speak of him," cried Gertrude with a shudder. "Oh, dear me, I
never would have believed that my father would act so wickedly."

"Oh, I don't think he acted so _very_ wickedly," said Cannington
generously, and to set her at her ease; "he changed his name legally
enough, and was a wealthy man, as we know. All he did was to
suppress--for obvious reasons--the fact that he possessed so charming
a daughter."

"Well, it doesn't matter now," I broke in impatiently, for every
mention of her father brought sorrow to Gertrude's face. "Monk or
Marr, or whatever he chooses to call himself, is over the seas, and
won't come back. Gertrude to-morrow takes my name and my good fortune.
Also Mabel is to marry Dicky in three months, so that ends
everything."

"Except Dicky's desire to conquer the air," said Cannington, smiling.
"He is awfully cut up over the failure of his last attempt. He wants
to begin and build another vessel straight away. But Mab swears she
will not marry him if he doesn't promise to leave airships alone for
at least twelve months after she becomes his wife."

"That," said I gravely, "will give Dicky time to invent something
worth talking about. I thought his airship was rotten myself. It
failed in every point. Much better for him to keep his money and not
waste it."

"Oh, Mab will see to that," said Cannington lightly. "But see, Miss
Monk wishes to speak to you, Vance. What's up?"

"Cyrus," said Gertrude quietly, and producing a letter, "and you, Lord
Cannington, I received this," she tapped the letter, "from my father
by this morning's post."

"Oh, my sainted aunt!" cried Cannington vivaciously, "what's it about.
But perhaps," he rose to his feet, "you don't want to tell me. I'll go
to the smoking-room while you talk to Vance here."

Gertrude put out a detaining hand. "No, don't go, Lord Cannington. I
know that Cyrus has no secrets from you. I wish both of you to hear
what became of the diamonds which caused all the trouble."

"I believe that Striver has them," I said firmly.

"I believe that Miss Destiny got them," said Cannington, nodding.

"You are both wrong," replied Gertrude with strange composure, "my
father possessed the diamonds."

"Your father! Never!" we exclaimed, quite amazed by the speech.

"My father," went on Gertrude with a firmness of which I had not
deemed her capable, considering what she had come through, "found a
copy of the drawing on the silver piece in Mrs. Caldershaw's false eye
amongst the papers of his brother shortly after Uncle Gabriel's death.
He soon discovered the secret, which I wonder Aunt Julia did not find
out, so easy did it appear to be."

"She was less clever than wicked," I said quickly. "Does your father
tell you that in the letter, Gertrude?"

"Yes," she said, with a heavy sigh. "He heard from his lawyers, to
whom I gave notice that I was to marry you, Cyrus, and he writes," she
shivered, "to send me his blessing."

"Oh, Lord!" This was from Cannington, who apologized.

"You need not make excuses to me," said Gertrude, rather bitterly,
"for indeed, as you do, Lord Cannington I wonder at the man. He robbed
me of my fortune; he allowed me to get into trouble; he scarcely gave
me enough to live on. Yet all the time," her voice rose indignantly,
"he was using my money as Wentworth Marr. What do you think of such a
man?"

Cannington's fist clenched itself, and I bit my lip to prevent an
oath. If Monk had been there, I fear he would have had a sorry time
between us. And Gertrude, whose affections had been cast aside by her
tricky father, was an indignant as we were. "Then the Australian
cousin----" I began.

She cut me short. "There never was any Australian cousin, nor any
legal change of name. You can read here what he says," and she passed
me the letter.

I read that amazing document, which revealed the depths of Walter
Monk's heart. He did not appear to be ashamed of himself, but
confessed that he had found the diamonds, and had lived on the sale of
them, with a most appalling jocularity. He seemed to exult in his
cleverness, and declared that he had done his daughter no wrong, since
the money coming from the sale of the jewels rightfully belonged to
him.

Then came another odd trait in the man's character. He still, he said,
had much of the fifty thousand pounds in his possession and therefore
did not wish to keep the income left by Gabriel. "If my brother,"
wrote Mr. Monk, "had given me the diamonds, and you the income, all
would have been well and I should not have been forced to stoop to
concealment which my soul abhors."

"Good Lord!" muttered Cannington again, "what a man!"

Therefore, as I continued to read, Mr. Monk had made a gift of deed to
his dear daughter of the house and grounds, and also of the five
hundred a year. He never intended to return to England, he said, as he
had an opportunity of marrying the daughter of a wealthy Chicago
merchant. He ended his letter--and a remarkable human document it
was--by wishing Gertrude and myself all happiness, and bidding the
girl remember how kindly her father had behaved in thus settling her
for life. Finally, in a postscript, he asked his darling child to
remember him in her prayers.

This last piece of impudence was too much for both Cannington and
myself. We burst into peals of laughter, and then felt ashamed when
Gertrude rose suddenly and left the room. I followed hastily.

"My own," I caught her as she was springing up the stairs, "forgive us
both. We didn't mean it. But the letter----?"

"Yes, yes, I know." By this time she was sobbing on my breast. "But
oh, Cyrus, to think that I should be the daughter of such a man."

"Never mind. It is said in Scripture that a woman shall leave her
father and mother and cling to her husband. To-morrow you will be Mrs.
Vance, and enter upon a life of unclouded happiness."

"Oh, I hope so, I hope so," she murmured, "but the past has been so
dreadful that I am afraid of the future."

"You need not be," I said stoutly. "I am by your side now to defend
you. All things connected with the Mootley murder are at an end. Miss
Destiny is dead; your father will probably marry his Chicago heiress
and remain for ever in the States. Striver has vanished with Lucinda,
and neither of them will ever be heard of again. And best of all, the
eye has been destroyed."

"Best of all," whispered Gertrude, clinging to me fondly, "we are
together, my darling, never to part."

"Never! never! never!" and I kissed her once, twice and again.

"I can't go back to the drawing-room," said Gertrude, "let me retire,
and take the boy back to the inn. To-morrow, when Mabel comes down to
be my bridesmaid, we shall see one another again."

"Never to part any more!"

She sped up the stairs, and I took Cannington, still almost suffocated
with laughter, to the inn. "Did you ever read such a letter, Vance?"
he asked me. "I am sorry I laughed, but the cheek, the damned
coolness----"

"Never mind," I said, taking his arm; "I'm glad for Gertrude's sake
that she has got the money. We'll repair the house and live in it, and
be happy for evermore."

"I'm sure you deserve to be," said the boy thoughtfully. "Well, I can
only say one thing, which I said when this romance of yours began."

"Don't say it, confound you!"

"Yes, I shall. Adventures are to the adventurous. There!"

I laughed from sheer light-heartedness. I could not help it, so
strange did it seem that my love story should end where it had begun,
in the quotation of the saying.



THE END





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