The Ashiel Mystery, A Detective Story
by Mrs. Charles Bryce
“It is the difficulty of the Police Romance, that the reader is
always a man of such vastly greater ingenuity than the writer.“
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
When Sir Arthur Byrne fell ill, after three summers at his post in
the little consulate that overlooked the lonely waters of the Black
Sea, he applied for sick leave. Having obtained it, he hurried home to
scatter guineas in Harley Street; for he felt all the uneasy doubts as
to his future which a strong man who has never in his life known what
it is to have a headache is apt to experience at the first symptom that
all is not well. Outwardly, he pretended to make light of the matter.
“Drains, that's what it is,” he would say to some of the passengers
to whom he confided the altered state of his health on board the boat
which carried him to Constantinople. “As soon as I get back to a
civilized sewage system I shall be myself again. These Eastern towns
are all right for Orientals; and what is your Muscovite but an
Oriental, in all essentials of hygiene? But they play the deuce with a
European who has grown up in a country where people still indulge in a
sense of smell.”
And if anyone ventured to sympathize with him, or to express regret
at his illness, he would snub him fiercely. But for all that he felt
convinced, in his own mind, that he had been attacked by some fatal
disease. He became melancholy and depressed; and, if he did not spend
his days in drawing up his last will and testament, it was because such
a proceeding—in view of the state of his banking account—would have
partaken of the nature of a farce. Having a sense of humour, he was
little disposed, just then, to any action whose comic side he could not
When he arrived in London, however, he was relieved to find that the
specialists whom he consulted, while they mostly gave him his money's
worth of polite interest, did not display any anxiety as to his
condition. One of them, indeed, went so far as to mention a long name,
and to suggest that an operation for appendicitis would be likely to do
no harm; but, on being cross-examined, confessed that he saw no reason
to suspect anything wrong with Sir Arthur's appendix; so that the young
man left the consulting-room in some indignation.
He remembered, as soon as the door had closed behind him, that he
had forgotten to ask the meaning of the long name; and, being reluctant
to set eyes again on the doctor who had mystified him with it, went to
another and demanded to know what such a term might signify.
“Is—is it—dangerous?” he stammered, trying in vain to appear
Sir Ronald Tompkins, F.R.C.S., etc. etc., let slip a smile; and
then, remembering his reputation, changed it to a look of grave
“No,” he murmured, “no, no. There is no danger. I should say, no
immediate danger. Still you did right, quite right, in coming to me.
Taken in time, and in the proper way, this delicacy of yours will, I
have no hesitation in saying, give way to treatment. I assure you, my
dear Sir Arthur, that I have cured many worse cases than yours. I will
write you out a little prescription. Just a little pill, perfectly
pleasant to the taste, which you must swallow when you feel this
alarming depression and lack of appetite of which you complain; and I
am confident that we shall soon notice an improvement. Above all, my
dear Sir, no worry; no anxiety. Lead a quiet, open-air life; play golf;
avoid bathing in cold water; avoid soup, potatoes, puddings and
alcohol; and come and see me again this day fortnight. Thank you, yes,
two guineas. Good-bye.”
He pressed Sir Arthur's hand, and shepherded him out of the room.
His patient departed, impressed, soothed and comforted.
After the two weeks had passed, and feeling decidedly better, he
Sir Ronald on this occasion was absolutely cheerful. He expressed
himself astonished at the improvement, and enthusiastic on the subject
of the excellence of his own advice. He then broke to Sir Arthur the
fact that he was about to take his annual holiday. He was starting for
Norway the next day, and should not be back for six weeks.
“But what shall I do while you are away?” cried his patient, aghast.
“You have advanced beyond my utmost expectations,” replied the
doctor, “and the best thing for you now will be to go out to Vichy, and
take a course of the waters there. I should have recommended this in
any case. My intended departure makes no difference. Let me earnestly
advise you to start for France to-morrow.”
Sir Arthur had by this time developed a blind faith in Sir Ronald
Tompkins and did not dream of ignoring his suggestion. He threw over
all the engagements he had made since arriving in England; packed his
trunks once more; and, if he did not actually leave the country until
two or three days later, it was only because he was not able to get a
sleeping berth on the night express at such short notice.
The end of the week saw him installed at Vichy, the most assiduous
and conscientious of all the water drinkers assembled there.
It was on the veranda of his hotel that he made the acquaintance of
She was twenty-five, rich, beautiful and a widow, her husband having
been accidentally killed within a few months of their marriage. After a
year or so of mourning she had recovered her spirits, and led a gay
life in English society, where she was very much in request.
Sir Arthur had seen few attractive women of late, the ladies of Baku
being inclined to run to fat and diamonds, and he thought Lena Meredith
the most lovely and the most wonderful creature that ever stepped out
of a fairy tale.
From the very moment he set eyes on her he was her devoted slave,
and after the first few days a more constant attendant than any
shadow—for shadows at best are mere fair-weather comrades. He seldom
saw the lady alone, for she had with her a small child, not yet a year
old, of which she was, as it seemed to Sir Arthur, inordinately fond;
and whether she were sitting under the trees in the garden of the
hotel, or driving slowly along the dusty roads—as was her habit each
afternoon—the baby and its nurse were always with her, and by their
presence put an effective check to the personalities in which he was
longing to indulge. It would have taken more than a baby to discourage
Sir Arthur, however: he cheerfully included the little girl in his
attentions; and, as time went on, became known to the other invalids in
the place by the nickname of “the Nursemaid.”
Mrs. Meredith took his homage as a matter of course. She was used to
admiration, though she was not one of those women to whom it is
indispensable. She considered it one of the luxuries of life, and held
that it is more becoming than diamonds and a better protection against
the weather than the most expensive furs. At first she looked upon the
obviously stricken state of Sir Arthur with amusement, combined with a
good deal of gratification that some one should have arisen to
entertain her in this dull health resort; but gradually, as the weeks
passed, her point of view underwent a change. Whether it was the
boredom of the cure, or whether she was touched by the unselfish
devotion of her admirer, or whether it was due merely to the accident
that Sir Arthur was an uncommonly good-looking young man and so little
conscious of the fact, from one cause or another she began to feel for
him a friendliness which grew quickly more pronounced; so that at the
end of a month, when he found her, for the first time walking alone by
the lake, and proposed to her inside the first two minutes of their
encounter, she accepted him almost as promptly, and with very nearly as
“I want to talk to you about the child, little Juliet,” she said, a
day or two later. “Or rather, though I want to talk about her, perhaps
I had better not, for I can tell you almost nothing that concerns her.”
“My dear,” said Sir Arthur, “you needn't tell me anything, if you
“But that's just the tiresome part,” she returned, “I should like
you to know everything, and yet I must not let you know. She is not
mine, of course, but beyond that her parentage must remain a secret,
even from you. Yet this I may say: she is the child of a friend of
mine, and there is no scandal attached to her birth, but I have taken
all responsibility as to her future. Are you, Arthur, also prepared to
“Darling, I will adopt dozens of them, if you like,” said her
infatuated betrothed. “Juliet is a little dear, and I am very glad we
shall always have her.”
In England, the news of Lena Meredith's engagement caused a flutter
of excitement and disappointment. It had been hoped that she would make
a great match, and she received many letters from members of her family
and friends, pointing out the deplorable manner in which she was
throwing herself away on an impecunious young baronet who occupied an
obscure position in the Consular Service. She was begged to remember
that the Duke of Dachet had seemed distinctly smitten when he was
introduced to her at the end of the last season; and told that if she
would not consider her own interests it was unnecessary that she should
forget those of her younger unmarried sisters.
At shooting lodges in the North, and in country houses in the South,
young men were observed to receive the tidings with pained surprise.
More than one of them had given Mrs. Meredith credit for better taste
when it came to choosing a second husband; more than one of them had
felt, indeed, that she was the only woman in the world with an eye
discerning enough to appreciate his own valuable qualities at their
true worth. Could the fact be that she had overlooked those rare gifts?
For a week or so depression sat in many a heart unaccustomed to its
presence; and young ladies, in search of a husband, found, here and
there, that one turned to them whom they had all but given up as
hopelessly indifferent to their charms.
Unconcerned by the lack of enthusiasm aroused by her decision, Lena
Meredith married Sir Arthur Byrne, and in the course of a few months
departed with him to his post on the Black Sea; where the baby Juliet
and her nurse formed an important part of the consular household.
The years passed happily. Sir Arthur was moved and promoted from one
little port to another a trifle more frequented by the ships of his
country, and after a year or so to yet another still larger; so that,
while nothing was too good for Juliet in the eyes of her adopted
mother, and to a lesser extent in those of her father, it happened that
she knew remarkably little of her own land, though few girls were more
familiar with those of other nations. Nor were their wanderings
confined to Europe: Africa saw them, and the southern continent of
America; and it was in that far country that the happy days came to an
end, for poor Lady Byrne caught cold one bitter Argentine day, and died
of pneumonia before the week was out.
Sir Arthur was heart-broken. He packed Juliet off to a convent
school near Buenos Ayres, and shut himself up in his consulate,
refusing to meet those who would have offered their sympathy, and going
from his room to his office, and back again, like a man in a dream.
Not for more than a year did Juliet see again the only friend she
had now left in the world; and it was then she heard for the first time
that he was not really her father, and that the woman she had called
“Mother” had had no right to that name. She was fifteen years old when
this blow fell on her; and she had not yet reached her sixteenth
birthday when Sir Arthur was transferred back to Europe.
“Your home must always be with me, Juliet,” he had said, when he
broke to her his ignorance of her origin. “I have only you left now.”
But though he was kind, and even affectionate to her, he showed no
real anxiety for her society. She was sent to a school in Switzerland
as soon as they landed in Europe; and, while she used to fancy that at
the beginning of the holidays he was glad to see her return, she was
much more firmly convinced that at the end of them he was at least
equally pleased to see her depart.
She was nineteen before he realized that she could not be kept at
school for ever; and when he considered the situation, and saw himself,
a man scarcely over forty, saddled with a grown-up girl, who was
neither his own daughter nor that of the woman he had loved, and to
whom he had sworn to care for the child as if she were indeed his own,
it must be admitted that his heart failed him. It was not that he had
any aversion to Juliet herself. He had been fond of the child, and he
liked the girl. It was the awkwardness of his position that filled him
with a kind of despair.
“If only somebody would marry her!” he thought, as he sat opposite
to her at the dinner-table, on the night that she returned for the last
time from school.
The thought cheered him. Juliet, he noticed for the first time, had
become singularly pretty. He engaged a severe Frenchwoman of mature age
as chaperon, and made spasmodic attempts to take his adopted daughter
into such society as the Belgian port, where he was consul at this
time, could afford.
It was not a large society; nor did eligible young men figure in it
in any quantity. Those there were, were foreigners, to whom the
question of a dot must be satisfactorily solved before the idea
of matrimony would so much as occur to them.
Juliet had no money. Lady Byrne had left her fortune to her husband,
and rash speculations on his part had reduced it to a meagre amount,
which he felt no inclination to part with. Two or three years went by,
and she received no proposals. Sir Arthur's hopes of seeing her
provided for grew faint, and he could imagine no way out of his
difficulties. He himself spent his leave in England, but he never took
the girl with him on those holidays. He had no wish to be called on to
explain her presence to such of his friends as might not remember his
wife's whim; and, though she passed as his daughter abroad, she could
not do that at home.
Juliet, for her part, was not very well content. She could hardly
avoid knowing that she was looked on as an incubus, and she saw that
her father, as she called him, dreaded to be questioned as to their
relationship. She lived a simple life; rode and played tennis with
young Belgians of her own age; read, worked, went to such dances and
entertainments as were given in the little town, and did not, on the
whole, waste much time puzzling over the mystery that surrounded her
childhood. But when her friends asked her why she never went to England
with Sir Arthur, she did not know what answer to make, and worried
herself in secret about it.
Why did he not take her? Because he was ashamed of her? But why was
he ashamed? Her mother—she always thought of Lady Byrne by that
name—had said she was the daughter of a friend of hers. So that she
must at least be the child of people of good family. Was not that
She was already twenty-three when Sir Arthur married again. The lady
was an American: Mrs. Clarency Butcher, a good-looking widow of about
thirty-five, with three little girls, of whom the eldest was fifteen.
She had not the enormous wealth which is often one of her
countrywomen's most pleasing attributes, but she was moderately well
off and came of a good Colonial family. Having lived for several years
in England, she had grown to prefer the King's English to the
President's, and had dropped, almost completely, the accent of her
native country. She was extremely well educated, and talked three other
languages with equal correctness, her first husband having been
attached to various European legations. Altogether, she was a charming
and attractive woman, and there were many who envied Sir Arthur for the
second time in his life.
It was not, perhaps, her fault that she did not take very kindly to
Juliet. The girl resented the place once occupied by her dead mother
being filled by any newcomer; and was not, it is to be feared, at
sufficient pains to hide her feelings on the point. And the second Lady
Byrne was hardly to be blamed if she remembered that in a few years she
would have three daughters of her own to take out, and felt that a
fourth was almost too much of a good thing.
Besides, there was no getting over the fact that she was no relation
whatever, and was on the other hand a considerable drain on the family
resources, all of which Lady Byrne felt entirely equal to disbursing
alone and unassisted. Finally, her presence led to disagreements
between Sir Arthur and his wife.
The day came on which Lady Byrne could not resist drawing Juliet's
attention to her unfortunate circumstances. In a heated moment, induced
by the girl's refusal to meet her half-way when she was conscious of
having made an unusual effort to be friendly, she pointed out to Juliet
that it would be more becoming in her to show some gratitude to people
on whose charity she was living, and on whom she had absolutely no
claim of blood at all.
The interview ended by Juliet flying to Sir Arthur, and begging,
while she wept on his shoulder, to be allowed to go away and work for
her living; though where and how she proposed to do this she did not
Sir Arthur had a bad quarter of an hour. His conscience, the
knowledge of the extent to which he shared his second wife's feelings,
the remembrance of the vows he had made on the subject to his first
wife, these and the old, if not very strong, affection he had for
Juliet, combined to stir in him feelings of compunction which showed
themselves in an outburst of irritability. He scolded Juliet; he blamed
“Why,” he asked them both, “can two women not live in the same house
without quarrelling? Is it impossible for a wretched man ever to have a
In the end, he worked himself into such a passion that Lady Byrne
and Juliet were driven to a reconciliation, and found themselves
defending each other against his reproaches.
After this they got on better together.
One hot summer day, a few months after the marriage, Juliet,
returning to the consulate after a morning spent in very active
exercise upon a tennis court, was met on the doorstep by Dora, the
youngest of the Clarency Butchers, who was awaiting her approach in a
high state of excitement.
“Hurry up, Juliet,” she cried, as soon as she could make herself
heard. “You'll never guess what there is for you. Something you don't
“What is it?” said Juliet, coming up the steps.
“No; at least I suppose not; but there may be one inside.”
“Inside? Oh, then it's a parcel?” asked Juliet good-humouredly.
She felt a mild curiosity, tempered by the knowledge that many
things provided a thrill for the ten-year-old Dora, which she, from the
advanced age of twenty-three, could not look upon as particularly
“No, not a parcel,” cried Dora, dancing round her. “It's a letter.
“Then why do you say it's something I don't often get?” asked Juliet
suspiciously; “I often get letters. It's an invitation to the
Gertignes' dance, I expect.”
“No, no, it isn't. It's a letter from England. You don't often get
one from there, now, do you? You never did before since we've been
here. I always examine your letters, you know,” said Dora, “to see if
they look as if they came from young men. So does Margaret. We think
it's time you got engaged.”
Margaret was the next sister.
“It's very good of you to take such an interest in my fate,” Juliet
replied, as she pulled off her gloves and went to the side-table for
the letter. As a matter of fact she was a good deal excited now; for
what the child said was true enough. She might even have gone further,
and said that she had never had a letter from England, except while Sir
Arthur was there on leave.
It was a large envelope, addressed in a clerk's handwriting, and she
came to the conclusion, as she tore it open, that it must be an
advertisement from some shop.
“DEAR MADAM,—We shall esteem it a favour if you can make it
convenient to call upon us one day next week, upon a matter of business
connected with a member of your family. It is impossible to give you
further details in a letter; but if you will grant us the interview we
venture to ask, we may go so far as to say that there appears to us to
be a reasonable probability of the result being of advantage to
yourself. Trusting that you will let us have an immediate reply, in
which you will kindly name the day and hour when we may expect to see
you.—We are, yours faithfully,
“FINDLAY &INGE, Solicitors.”
The address was a street in Holborn.
Juliet read the letter through, and straightway read it through
again, with a beating heart. What did it mean? Was it possible she was
going to find her own family at last?
She was recalled to the present by the voice of Dora, whom she now
perceived to be reading the letter over her shoulder with unblushing
“Say,” said Dora, “isn't it exciting? 'Something to your advantage!'
Just what they put in the agony column when they leave you a fortune. I
bet your long-lost uncle in the West has kicked the bucket, and left
you all his ill-gotten gains. Mark my words. You'll come back from
England a lovely heiress. I do wish the others would come in. There's
no one in the house, except Sir Arthur.”
“Where is he?” said Juliet, putting the sheet of paper back into the
envelope and slipping it under her waistband. “You know, Dora, it's not
at all a nice thing to read other people's letters. I wonder you aren't
ashamed of yourself. I'm surprised at you.”
“I shouldn't have read it if you'd been quicker about telling me
what was in it,” retorted Dora. “It's not at all a nice thing to put
temptation in the way of a little girl like me. Do you suppose I'm made
of cast iron?”
She departed with an injured air, and Juliet went to look for the
“What is it?” he asked, as she put the envelope into his hand. “A
letter you want me to read? Not a proposal, eh?” He smiled at her as he
unfolded the large sheet of office paper.
“Hullo, what's this?”
He read it through carefully.
“Why, Juliet,” he said, when he had finished, “this is very
interesting, isn't it? It looks as if you were going to find out
something about yourself, doesn't it? After all these years! Well,
“You think I must go, then,” she said a little doubtfully.
“Go? Of course I should go, if I were you. Why not?”
“You don't think it is a hoax?”
“No, no; I see no reason to suppose such a thing. I know the firm of
Findlay &Ince quite well by name and reputation.”
“Oh, I hope they will tell me who I am!” cried Juliet. “Have you no
idea at all, father?”
“No, my dear, you know I have not. Besides, I promised Lena I would
never ask. You are the child of a friend of hers. That is all I know. I
think she scarcely realized how hard it would be for you not to know
more when you grew up. I often think that if she had lived she would
have told you before now.”
“If you promised her not to ask, I won't ask either,” said Juliet
loyally. “But I hope they'll tell me. It will be different, won't it,
if they tell me without my asking?”
“I think you might ask,” said Sir Arthur. “It is absurd that you
should be bound by a promise that I made. And you may be sure of one
thing. Your asking, or your not asking, won't make any odds to Findlay
&Ince. If they mean to tell you, they will; and, if they don't, you're
not likely to get it out of them.”
“And when shall I go?” cried Juliet. “They say they want me to
answer immediately, you know.”
“Oh well, I don't know. In a few days. You will hardly be ready to
start to-morrow, will you?”
“I could be ready, easily,” said Juliet.
“You're in a great hurry to get away from us,” said Sir Arthur, with
a rather uneasy laugh.
“Not from you.” Juliet put her arm through his. “I could never find
another father half as nice as the one I've got. But you could do very
well without so many daughters, you know.” She smiled at him mockingly.
“You're like the old woman who lived in a shoe. You ought to set up a
school for young ladies.”
“I don't believe I shall be able to get on without my eldest
daughter,” he replied, half-serious. “Still I think it would be better
for you if your real parents have decided to own up to you. At all
events, if they do not turn out desirable, I shall still be here, I
hope; so I don't see how you can lose anything by taking this chance of
finding out what you can about them.”
At this point Lady Byrne came into the room, and the news had to be
retold for her benefit; the letter was produced again, and she joined
heartily in the excitement it had caused.
“You had better start on Monday,” she said to Juliet. “That will
give you two days to pack, and to write to an hotel for rooms. Are you
going to take her, Arthur?” she added, turning to her husband.
“I would, like a shot,” he replied, “but I can't possibly get away
next week. I've got a lot of work on hand just now. I suppose, my
dear,” he suggested doubtfully, “that you wouldn't be able to run over
Lady Byrne declared that it was impossible for her to do so: she had
engagements, she said, for every day of the following week, which it
was out of the question to break. Had Sir Arthur forgotten that they
themselves were having large dinner-parties on Tuesday and Friday? What
she would do without Juliet to help her in preparing for them, she did
not know, but at least it was obvious that some one must be there to
receive his guests. No, Juliet would have to go alone. She was really
old enough to be trusted by herself for three days, and there was no
need, that she could see, for her to be away longer.
“She can go on Monday, see the lawyers on Tuesday, and come back on
Wednesday,” said Lady Byrne. “The helplessness of young girls is the
one thing I disapprove of in your European system of education. It is
much better that they should learn to manage their own affairs; and
Juliet is not such a ninny as you seem to think.”
“I shall be perfectly all right by myself,” Juliet protested.
Sir Arthur did not like it.
“Supposing she is detained in London,” he said.
“What should detain her,” demanded his wife, “unless it is the
discovery of her parents? And, if she finds them, I presume they will
be capable of looking after her. In any case, she can write, or cable
to us when she has seen the solicitors, and it is no use providing for
contingencies that will probably never arise.”
So at last it was decided. A letter was written and dispatched to
Messrs. Findlay &Ince, saying that Miss Byrne would have pleasure in
calling upon them at twelve o'clock on the following Tuesday; and
Juliet busied herself in preparations for her journey.
On Monday morning she left Ostend, in the company of her maid.
It was a glorious August day. On shore the heat was intense, and it
was a relief to get out of the stifling carriages of the crowded boat
train, and to breathe the gentle air from the sea that met them as they
crossed the gangway on to the steamer. Juliet enjoyed every moment of
the journey; and would have been sorry when the crossing was over if
she had not been so eager to set foot upon her native soil.
She leant upon the rail in the bows of the ship, watching the white
cliffs grow taller and more distinct, and felt that now indeed she
understood the emotions with which the heart of the exile is said to
swell at the sight of his own land. She wondered if the sight of their
country moved other passengers on the boat as she herself was moved,
and made timid advances to a lady who was standing near her, in her
need of some companion with whom to share her feeling.
“Have you been away from England a long time,” she asked her.
“I have been abroad during a considerable period,” replied the
person she addressed, a stern-looking Scotchwoman who did not appear
anxious to enter into conversation.
From her severe demeanour Juliet imagined she might be a governess
going for a holiday.
“You must be glad to be going home,” she ventured.
“It's a far cry north to my home,” said the Scotchwoman, thawing
slightly. “I'm fearing I will not be seeing it this summer. I'll be
stopping in the south with some friends. The journey north is awful'
“I'm sorry you aren't going home,” Juliet sympathized, “but it will
be nice to see the English faces at Dover, won't it? There may even be
a Scotchman among the porters, you know, by some chance.”
“No fear,” said her neighbour gloomily. “They'll be local men, I
have nae doubt. Though whether they are English or Scots,” she added,
“I'll have to give them saxpence instead of a fifty-centime bit; which
is one of the bonniest things you see on the Continent, to my way of
Juliet could get no enthusiasm out of her; and, look which way she
might, she could not see any reflection on the faces of those around
her of the emotions which stirred in her own breast. It had been a
rough crossing, in spite of the cloudless sky and broiling sunshine,
and most of the passengers had been laid low by the rolling of the
vessel. They displayed anxiety enough to reach land; but, as far as she
could see, what land it was they reached was a matter of indifference
to them. No doubt, she thought, when the ship stopped and they felt
better, they would be more disposed to a sentimentality like hers.
She found her maid—who had been one of the most sea-sick of those
aboard—and assisted her ashore, put her into a carriage and ministered
to her wants with the help of a tea-basket containing the delicious
novelty of English bread and butter. In half an hour's time they were
steaming hurriedly towards London. She was to lodge at a small hotel in
Jermyn Street; and on that first evening even this seemed perfect to
her. The badness of the cooking was a thing she refused to notice; and
the astonishing hills and valleys of the bed caused in her no sensation
beyond that of surprise. She was young, strong and healthy, and there
was no reason that trifling discomforts of this kind should affect her
enjoyment. To the shortcomings of the bed, indeed, she shut her eyes in
more senses than one, for she was asleep three minutes after her head
touched the pillow, nor did she wake till her maid roused her the next
She got up at once and looked out of the window. It was a fine day
again; over the roofs of the houses opposite she could see a blue
streak of sky. Already the air had lost the touch of freshness which
comes, even to London in August, during the first hours of the morning;
and the heat in the low-ceilinged room on the third floor which Juliet
occupied for the sake of economy, was oppressive in spite of the small
sash windows being opened to their utmost capacity. But Juliet only
laughed to herself with pleasure at the brilliancy of the day. She felt
that the weather was playing up to the occasion, as became this
important morning of her life. For that it was important she did not
doubt. She was going to hear tremendous news that day; make wonderful
discoveries about her birth; hear undreamt-of things. Of this she felt
absolutely convinced, and it would not have astonished her to find
herself claimed as daughter by any of the reigning families of Europe.
She was prepared for anything, or so she said to herself, however
astounding; and, that being so, she was excited in proportion. Anyone
could have told her that, by this attitude of mind towards the future,
she was laying up for herself disappointment at the least, if not the
bitterest disillusions; but there was no one to throw cold water on her
hopes, and she filled the air with castles of every style of
architecture that her fancy suggested, without any hindrance from doubt
She dressed quickly, in the gayest humour, but with even more care
than she usually bestowed upon her appearance; a subject to which she
always gave the fullest attention.
“Which dress will Mademoiselle wear?” the maid asked her.
“Why, my prettiest, naturally,” she replied.
“What, the white one that Mademoiselle wore for the marriage of
Monsieur, her papa?” inquired Therese, scandalized at the idea of such
a precious garment being put on before breakfast.
“That very one,” Juliet assured her, undaunted; and was arrayed in
it, in spite of obvious disapproval.
After breakfast they went out, and, inquiring their way to Bond
Street, flattened their noses against the shop windows to their mutual
They had it almost to themselves, for there were not many people
left in that part of London; but more than one head was turned to gaze
at the pretty girl in the garden-party dress, who stood transfixed
before shop after shop. This amusement lasted till half-past eleven,
when they returned to the hotel for Juliet to give the final pats to
her hair, and to retilt her hat to an angle possibly more becoming,
before she started to keep her appointment with the solicitors. The
next twenty minutes were spent in cross-examining the hotel porter as
to the time it would take to drive to her destination, and, having
decided to start at ten minutes to twelve, in wondering whether the
quarter of an hour which had still to elapse would ever come to an end.
At three minutes to twelve she rang the bell of the office of
Messrs. Findlay &Ince.
A gloomy little clerk climbed down from a high stool where he sat
writing, and opened the door.
“Oh yes, Miss Juliet Byrne,” he said when Juliet had told him her
name. “Mr. Findlay is expecting you. Will you walk upstairs, Miss
Byrne, please. I think you have an appointment for twelve o'clock? This
way, if you please.”
He led the way up a steep and narrow flight of stairs, which rose
out of the black shadows at the end of the passage.
“Ladies find these stairs rather dark, I'm afraid,” he remarked
pleasantly, as he held open a door and ushered Juliet and her maid into
an empty room. “Will you kindly wait here,” he continued. “Mr. Findlay
is engaged for the moment. You are a leetle before your time, I
believe.” He pulled out his watch and examined it closely. “Not
quite the hour yet,” he repeated, and closed it with a snap. “But
Mr. Findlay will see you as soon as he is disengaged.”
With a flourish of his handkerchief he withdrew, shutting the door
Juliet sat down on a hard chair covered with green leather, and told
her maid to take another. Her spirits were damped. The sight of Mr.
Nicol, as the clerk was named, often had that effect upon persons who
saw him for the first time; indeed he was found to be a very useful
check on troublesome clients, who arrived full of determination to have
their own way, and were often so cowed by their preliminary interview
with Nicol as to feel it a privilege and a relief subsequently to be
bullied by Mr. Ince, or persuaded by Mr. Findlay into the belief that
what they had previously decided on was the last thing advisable to do.
Mr. Findlay frequently remarked to Mr. Ince, when his partner's
easily roused temper was more highly tried than usual by some imbecile
mistake of the clerk's, that Nicol might have faults as a clerk and as
a man, but that, as a buffer, he was the nearest approach to perfection
obtainable in this world of makeshifts.
To which Mr. Ince would reply with point and fluency that fenders
could be had by the dozen from any shipping warehouse, at a lower cost
than one week's salary of Nicol's would represent, and would be far
more efficient in the office. Still he did not suggest dismissing the
Juliet, as she sat and looked round the musty little waiting-room,
felt that here was an end of her dreams of the resplendent family she
was to find pining to take her to its heart. She felt certain that she
could never have any feelings in common with people who could employ a
firm of solicitors which in its turn was served by the man who had
received her. Romance and the clerk could never, she thought, meet
under one roof. And such a roof! The room in which she sat was so dark,
so gloomy, so bare and cheerless, that Juliet began to wonder whether
she would not have been wiser not to have come. This was not a place,
surely, which fond parents would choose for a long-deferred meeting
with their child, after years of separation. She walked to the window,
but the only view was of a blank wall, and that so close that she could
have touched it by leaning out. No wonder the room was dark, even at
midday in August. The walls were lined with bookshelves, where heavy
volumes, all dealing with the same subject, that of law, stood shoulder
to shoulder in stout bindings of brown leather.
There was a fireplace of cracked and dirty marble with an engraving
hung over it, representing the coronation of Queen Victoria. A gas
stove occupied the grate, and a gas bracket stuck out from the wall on
either side of the picture.
On the small round mahogany table that stood in the middle of the
room lay a Bible, and a copy of the St. James's Gazette, which
was dated a week back. Juliet took it up and read an account of a
cricket match without much enthusiasm. Then she flung it down and
wandered about the room once more; but she had exhausted all its
possibilities; and though she took a volume entitled Causes Celebres
from the shelf, and turned its pages hopefully, she put it back with a
grimace at its dullness and a sort of surprise at finding anything
drier than the cricket.
She had waited half an hour, when the door opened and the face of
Nicol was introduced round the corner of it.
“Will you please come this way,” he said.
Telling her maid to stay where she was, Juliet followed him. He
opened the other door on the landing, and announced her in a loud voice
as, with a quickened pulse, she passed him, and entered the room.
There were two men standing by the hearth. One of them came forward
to receive her.
“How do you do, Miss Byrne,” he said; “I am glad you were able to
come. I am Jeremy Findlay, at your service.”
Mr. Findlay was a man of moderate height, with a long pointed nose
which he was in the habit of putting down to within an inch or two of
his desk when he was looking for any particular paper, for he was very
short sighted. It rather conveyed the impression that he was poking
about with it, and that he hunted for questionable clauses or
illegalities in a document, much as a pig might hunt for truffles in a
wood. For the rest, he was middle-aged, with hair nearly white, and
small grey whiskers. He beamed at Juliet through gold-rimmed
“Let me introduce my friend,” he said, mumbling something.
Juliet did not catch the name, but she supposed that this was Mr.
The other man stepped forward and shook hands, but said nothing. He
was a thin, pallid creature, rather above the average height, and had
the drooping shoulders of a scholar. His face, which was long and
narrow, looked pale and emaciated, and though his blue eyes had a
kindly twinkle it seemed to Juliet that they burned with a feverish
brightness. His nose was long and slightly hooked, and beneath it the
mouth was hidden by a heavy red moustache; while his hair, though not
of so bright a colour, had a reddish tinge about it. He appeared to be
about fifty years of age, but this was due to a look of tiredness
habitual to his expression, and, in part, to actual bad health. In
reality he was younger.
“Pray take this chair, Miss Byrne,” Mr. Findlay was saying. “We are
anxious to have a little conversation with you. I am sure you quite
understand that we should not have asked you to come all the way from
Belgium unless your presence was of considerable importance. How
important it is I really hardly know myself, but I repeat that I would
not have urged you to take so long a journey if I had not had serious
reason to think that it was desirable for your own sake that you should
do so. I may say at once that the matter is a family one; but before
going further I must ask your permission to put one or two questions to
you, which I hope you will believe are not prompted by any feeling of
idle curiosity on my part.”
He paused, and Juliet murmured some words of acquiescence. Mr.
Findlay took off his eyeglasses, glared at them, replaced them, and ran
his nose over the surface of the papers on his writing-table.
“Ah, here it is!” he exclaimed triumphantly, pouncing on a folded
sheet and lifting it to his eyes. “Just a few notes,” he explained.
“We wrote you care of Sir Arthur Byrne,” he resumed; “are you a
member of his family?”
Here was a disturbing question for Juliet. She had imagined, until
this instant, that she was on the point of being told who her family
was, and now this man was asking for information from her. Tears of
disappointment would not be kept from her eyes.
“I am a member of Sir Arthur's household,” she stammered.
“Are you not his daughter, then?” asked Mr. Findlay.
“No, I am not really,” Juliet replied.
“Then may I ask what relation you are to him?” said the lawyer.
“I am his adopted daughter,” said Juliet. “I have always called him
“Are you not any relation at all?” pursued Mr. Findlay.
“I believe not.”
“Then, Miss Byrne, I hope you will not think it an impertinent
question if I ask, who are you?”
“I don't know,” acknowledged poor Juliet. “I was hoping you would
tell me that. I thought, I imagined, that that was why you sent for
“You astonish me,” said Mr. Findlay. “Do you mean to say that your
family has never made any attempt to communicate with you?”
“And that Sir Arthur Byrne has never told you anything as to your
birth? Surely you must have questioned him about it?”
“He has told me all he knows,” said Juliet, “but that amounts to
“Indeed; that is very strange. He must have had dealings with the
people you were with before he adopted you. He must at least know their
“I don't know,” said Juliet. “He doesn't know either, I am sure. It
wasn't Sir Arthur who adopted me. It was the lady he married. A Mrs.
Meredith. She is dead.”
“But he must have heard about you from her,” insisted Mr. Findlay.
“He would not have taken a child into his household without knowing
anything at all about it.”
“His wife told him that I was the daughter of a friend of hers, and
begged him not to ask her any more about me. He was very devoted to
her, and he did as she wished. He has been most kind to me; but I am
sure he would be as glad as I should be to discover my relations. I am
dreadfully disappointed that you don't know anything about them. We all
thought I was going to find my family at last.”
Juliet's voice quavered a little. She had built too much on this
“I am really extremely sorry not to be able to give you any
information,” Mr. Findlay said.
He turned towards the other man with an interrogative glance, and
was met by a nod of the head, at which he leant back in his chair,
crossed his legs and folded his hands upon them, with the expression of
some one who has played his part in the game, and now retires in favour
of another competitor. The pale man moved his chair a little forward
and took up the conversation.
“Are you really quite certain that Sir Arthur Byrne has told you all
he knows?” he said earnestly, fixing on Juliet a look at once grave and
“Yes,” she answered. “I can see that he is as puzzled as I am. And
he would be glad enough to find a way to get rid of me,” she added
“I thought you said you were attached to him,” said the stranger in
surprise, “and that he had been very kind to you?”
“Yes,” said Juliet, “he has, and I am as fond of him as possible.
But he has three stepdaughters now; he has married again, you know. And
he is not very well off. I am a great expense, besides being an extra
girl. I don't blame him for thinking I am one too many.”
There was a long pause, during which Juliet was conscious of being
“I think I may be able to give you news of your family,” said the
pale man unexpectedly. “That is, if you are the person I think you are
likely to be.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Juliet, “can you really?”
“Well, it is possible,” admitted the other. “I can't say for certain
“Oh, do, do tell me!” cried the girl.
“Out of the question, at present,” he replied firmly. “I must first
satisfy myself as to whose child you are, and on that point you appear
able to give me no assistance. You must wait till I can find out
something further about this matter of your adoption. And even then,”
he added, “it is not certain if I can tell you. You must understand
that, though certain family secrets have been placed in my possession,
it does not depend upon myself whether or not I shall ultimately reveal
them to you.”
Juliet's face fell for a moment, but she refused to allow herself to
“There is a chance for me, anyhow!” she exclaimed. “How I hope you
will be allowed to tell me in the end! But why,” she went on, turning
to Mr. Findlay, “did you make me think you knew nothing at all about
me. I suppose the family secrets your partner speaks of are the secrets
of my family?”
“My dear young lady,” said Mr. Findlay, “Lord Ashiel is not my
partner. On the contrary, he is an old client of ours, and it was at
his request that we wrote to you as we did. We know no more about your
affairs than you have told us yourself.”
“Oh,” murmured Juliet, confused at her mistake. “I thought you were
Mr. Ince,” she apologized; “I am so sorry.”
“Not very flattering to poor Ince I'm afraid,” said Lord Ashiel,
smiling at her. “He's ten years younger than I am, I'm sorry to say,
and I would change places with him very willingly. Now, if you had
mistaken me for Nicol, that undertaker clerk of Findlay's, who always
looks as if he's been burying his grandmother, I should have been
decidedly hurt. What in the world do you keep that fellow in the office
for, Findlay? To frighten away custom?”
Mr. Findlay laughed.
“He's a more useful person than you imagine,” he said. “Though I
must say Ince agrees with you, and is always at me about the poor man.
Some day I hope you will both see his sterling qualities.”
“I am afraid you must think I have given you a great deal of trouble
for very little reason,” Lord Ashiel said to Juliet. “But perhaps there
will be more result than at present can seem clear to you. I may go so
far as to say that I hope so most sincerely. But, if the secret of
which I spoke just now is ever to be confided to you, it will be
necessary for you and me to know each other a little better. I have a
proposal to make to you, which I fear you may think our acquaintance
rather too short and unconventional to justify.”
He paused with a trace of embarrassment, and Juliet wondered what
could be coming.
“It is not convenient for me to stay in London just now,” he went on
after a minute, “and I am sure you must find it very disagreeable at
this time of the year; and yet it is very important that I should see
more of you. It is, in fact, part of the conditions under which I may
be able to reveal these family secrets of yours to you. That is to say,
if they should turn out to be indeed yours. I came up from the
Highlands last night. I have a place on the West Coast, where at this
moment I have a party of people staying with me for shooting. My sister
is entertaining them in my absence, but I must get back to my duties of
host. What I want to suggest is that you should pay us a visit at
“Thank you very much,” said Juliet doubtfully. “I should love to,
but—I don't know whether my father would allow me.”
“Your father?” exclaimed Lord Ashiel and Mr. Findlay in one breath.
“Sir Arthur Byrne, I mean,” she corrected herself.
“You might telegraph to him,” urged Lord Ashiel. “And I, myself,
will write. You might mention my sister to him. I think he used to know
her. Mrs. John Haviland. But, indeed, it is very important that you
should come, more important than you think, perhaps.”
He seemed extraordinarily anxious, now, lest she should refuse.
“Perhaps,” suggested Mr. Findlay, “Miss Byrne would like to think
over the idea, and let you know later in the day.”
“A very good plan,” said Lord Ashiel. “Yes, of course you would like
to think it over. Will you telephone to me at the Carlton after lunch?
Thanks so much. Good-bye for the present.”
He seized his hat and stick and darted to the door. “You talk to
her, Findlay!” he cried, and disappeared.
Juliet and Mr. Findlay were left confronting one another.
“That will be the best plan,” the lawyer repeated. “Think it over,
Miss Byrne. I am sure you would enjoy the visit to Scotland.
Inverashiel is a most interesting old place, both historically and for
the sake of its beautiful scenery. A week or two of Highland air could
not fail to be of benefit to your health, even if nothing further came
of it, so to speak.”
“I should love it,” Juliet said again. “But, Mr. Findlay, I don't
know Lord Ashiel, or hardly know him. How can I go off and stay with
someone I never met before to-day?”
“The circumstances are unusual,” said the lawyer. “I fancy Lord
Ashiel is anxious to lose no time. He is in bad health, poor fellow. I
am afraid he will worry himself a good deal if you cannot make up your
mind to go.”
“You see,” said Juliet, troubled, “I know nothing about him. I don't
know what my father—I mean, Sir Arthur would say.”
“I am sure your father would have no objection whatever to your
making friends with Lord Ashiel,” Mr. Findlay assured her. “He is one
of the most respectable, the most domesticated of peers. Not very
cheerful company, perhaps, but no one in the world can justly say a
word against him in any way. He has had a sad time lately; his wife and
only child died within a month of each other, only two or three years
ago. They had been married quite a short time. Since then, his sister,
Mrs. Haviland, keeps house for him; but he does not entertain much, I
am told, except during the autumn in Scotland. You need have no
hesitation in accepting this invitation, Miss Byrne. I am a married
man, and the father of a family, and I should only be too delighted if
one of my daughters had such an opportunity.”
“Well,” said Juliet, “I think I will risk it, and go. I am old
enough to take care of myself, in any case.” This she said haughtily,
with her nose in the air. And then, with a sudden drop to her usual
manner, she exclaimed in a tone of gaiety, “What fun it will be!”
“I am sure you will not regret your decision,” repeated Mr. Findlay,
as she got up to go. “You won't forget to let Lord Ashiel know, will
“No, I will telephone to him at once. But I will telegraph home too,
Excitement over this new plan had almost dispelled the earlier
disappointment, and if Juliet's spirits, as she drove back to Jermyn
Street, were not quite as overflowingly high as when she had started
out, they were good enough to make her smile to herself and to every
one she met during the rest of the day, and to hum gay little tunes
when no one was near, and altogether to feel very happy and pleased and
possessed by the conviction that something delightful was about to
happen. She sent off her telegram to Sir Arthur, spending some time
over it, and spoiling a dozen telegraph forms, before she could find
satisfactory words in which to convey her plans with an appearance of
deference to authority. Then she called up the Carlton Hotel on the
telephone, and was much put out when she heard that Lord Ashiel was not
staying there, or even expected.
It was the hall porter of her hotel who came to the rescue, by
suggesting that she should try the Carlton Club, of which she had never
From the quickness with which Lord Ashiel answered her, he might
have been sitting waiting at the end of the wire, and he expressed
great pleasure at her acceptance of his invitation. Indeed, she could
hear from the tone of his voice that his gratification was no mere
empty form. It was arranged that she should travel down on the
following night, Lord Ashiel promising to engage a sleeping berth for
her on the eight o'clock train. He himself was going North that same
evening. He had just been writing a letter to Sir Arthur Byrne, he told
her. He hoped she had some thick dresses with her; she would want them
“I am afraid I haven't,” she said. “I only expected to stay in
London for a day or two, you know.”
“Well,” said the voice at the end of the telephone, “perhaps you can
get a waterproof or something, between this and to-morrow night. I am
afraid I don't know the names of any ladies' tailors, but there are
lots about,” he concluded vaguely.
“I suppose I had better,” said Juliet doubtfully. “I wonder if the
shops here will trust me. The fact is, I haven't got very much extra
money. I think perhaps I'd better wait a day or two till I can have
some more sent me.”
“My dear child,” came the answer in horrified tones, “you must on no
account put off coming. Of course you are not prepared for all this
extra expense. You must allow me to be your banker. I insist upon it.
Your family, in whose confidence I happen to be, would never forgive me
if I allowed you to continue to be dependent on Sir Arthur Byrne.”
“It is very kind of you,” Juliet began. “But suppose I turn out to
be some one different. You know, you said—”
“If you do, you shall repay me,” he replied. “In the meantime I will
send you round a small sum to do your shopping with. Let me see, where
are you staying?”
An hour later a bank messenger arrived with an envelope containing
L100 in notes. Juliet had never seen so much money in her life, and
thought it far too much. “I shall be sure to lose it,” was her first
thought. Her second was to deposit it with the proprietor of the hotel;
after which she felt safer. Then, in huge delight, she sallied forth
again with her maid, the alluring memory of some of the shop windows
into which she had gazed that morning calling to her loudly; she had
never thought to look at those fascinating garments from the other side
of the glass. Intoxicating hours followed, in which a couple of tweed
dresses were purchased that seemed as if they must have been made on
purpose for her; nor were thick walking shoes, and country hats, and
other accessories neglected. By evening her room was strewn with
cardboard boxes, and on Wednesday more were added, so that a trunk to
pack them in had to be bought as well. The shops were very empty;
Juliet had the entire attention of the shop people, and revelled in her
purchases. Time flew, and she was quite sorry, as she drove to Euston
on the following evening, to think that she was leaving this
fascinating town of London.
On Tuesday afternoon, when Juliet, having hung up the telephone
through which she had been conversing with Lord Ashiel, hurried out to
see what Bond Street could provide her with, a little man was sitting
writing in a luxuriously furnished room in a flat in Whitehall. He was
small and thin, and possessed a pair of extraordinarily bright and
intelligent brown eyes, which saw a good deal more of what happened
around him than perhaps any other eyes within a radius of a mile from
where he sat. He was, in other words, observant to a very high degree;
and, what was more remarkable, he knew how to use his powers of
observation. There was not a criminal in the length and breadth of the
country who did not wonder uneasily whether he had really left the
scene of his crime as devoid of clues as he imagined, when he heard
that the celebrated detective, Gimblet, had visited the spot in pursuit
of his investigations.
For this was the man, who, in a few years, had unravelled more
apparently insoluble mysteries, and caused the arrest of more hitherto
evasive scoundrels, than his predecessors had managed to secure in a
decade. The name of Gimblet was known and detested wherever a coiner
carried on his forbidden craft, or a blackmailer concocted his cowardly
plans; burglars and forgers cursed freely when he was mentioned, and
there was hardly an illicit trade in the country which had not suffered
at one time or another from his inquisitive habit of interesting
himself in other people's affairs. Scotland Yard officials were never
too proud to call upon him for help, and many a difficulty he had
helped them out of, though he refused an offer of a regular post in the
Criminal Investigation Department, preferring to be at liberty to
choose what cases he would take up. Above all things he loved the
strange and inexplicable. Gimblet had not always been a detective.
Indeed, he often smiled to himself when he thought of the extraordinary
confidence which the public now elected to repose in him.
No one was more conscious than himself that he was far from being
infallible; in fact, his admirers appeared to him to be wilfully blind
to that elementary truth; so that when he failed to bring a case to a
successful issue people were apt to show an amount of disappointment
that he, for his part, thought very unreasonable. It was, perhaps, in
the nature of things that the puzzles he solved correctly received so
much more publicity than was given to his mistakes; but he often could
not avoid wishing that less were expected of him, and that his
reputation had not grown so tropically on what he could but consider
In early days, after leaving Oxford, he had gone into an architect's
office and had flourished there; till one day an accident had turned
his energies in the direction they had since taken.
A crime had been committed during the erection of a house he was
building, and, when the police were at a loss to know how to account
for the somewhat peculiar circumstances, the young architect, going his
ordinary rounds of inspection, had seen in a flash that there was
something unusual in the disposal of a portion of the building
material; which observation, with certain deductions following thereon,
had led to the detection and arrest of the criminal. From that time on
he had been more and more drawn to the fascination of tracing events to
their causes, when these appeared connected with deeds of violence and
fraud, till of late years he had completely dropped the study of the
carrying powers of wood and stone for the more interesting lessons to
be derived from the contemplation of the strange vagaries indulged in
by his fellow human beings.
He kept, however, a strong taste for art and all that appertained to
it; more especially he was devoted to the collection of old and rare
bric-a-brac. There was not a curiosity shop in London that did not know
him, and he was equally happy when he had discovered some dust-hidden
treasure in the back regions of a secondhand furniture shop, or when he
was engaged in running to earth some human vermin who up till then had
lain snug in his own particular back region of crime, straining his
ears, in a mixture of contempt and anxiety, as the sounds of the hunt
Having finished his letter, Gimblet put his stylo in his pocket, and
turned round to look at the clock.
“Twenty minutes to four,” he said half-aloud. “I wish to goodness
people would keep their appointments punctually, or else not come at
Five more minutes passed, and he got up and went into the hall.
“Higgs,” he called, and his faithful servant and general factotum
came out of the pantry.
“I am going out,” said his master, taking up his straw hat. “If
anyone calls, say I could not wait any longer. Ah, there's the
front-door bell. Just see who it is.”
He retreated to his sitting-room while Higgs went to the door of the
flat. A minute or two later Lord Ashiel was ushered in.
“I'm very sorry I'm late,” said he, as the door closed behind him,
“but you know what kept me.”
“Not the young lady, surely,” said Gimblet; “you were to see her at
twelve o'clock this morning, weren't you?”
“Yes, but she telephoned to me after lunch. By Jove, Gimblet, I
believe you have got hold of the right girl this time.” Lord Ashiel's
tone was enthusiastic. “If she turns out to be half as nice as she
looks, I shall be ever grateful to you for routing her out.”
“Indeed, I am very glad to hear it,” replied the detective. “And do
you observe a resemblance in her to your family; do you feel satisfied
that she is your daughter?”
“I can't say I do see much likeness,” Lord Ashiel confessed rather
reluctantly. “I thought at one moment, when she smiled, that she was
like her mother; but otherwise she did not strike me as resembling
either of us, I am sorry to say.”
“Did she know her history at all?” asked Gimblet. “Did she claim you
“No, she had never heard of me, as far as I could make out. And she
assured me that Sir Arthur Byrne has no idea whose child she is.”
“That certainly seems very improbable,” Gimblet commented.
“Yes, it does. Still, I feel sure she was speaking the truth. Why,
indeed, should she not do so? It seems that Byrne has married again,
and that his wife has already three daughters of her own; so, as she
says, he would probably be glad enough to get the fourth one off his
hands, as they are not well off.”
“Yes,” said Gimblet. “I knew that. No, there seems no reason why Sir
Arthur Byrne should not have told her about you if he knew she was your
child. What is odd, is that he should not have known it.”
“He had promised his first wife not to make any inquiries, it
seems,” said Lord Ashiel.
“Well, he is an uncommon kind of man if he kept that promise,”
“He was devoted to his first wife, this girl told me,” said Lord
Ashiel. “You never knew Lena Meredith, Gimblet, or you would not be
surprised that people kept their promises to her. She was my wife's
friend, as I told you, and I only saw her once, but I don't think I
shall ever forget her. It was just after my wife's death, and I was too
heart-broken to take much notice of anyone, but she was the sort of
woman who sticks in your memory, and I can quite understand a man being
infatuated about her, even to the point of curbing his curiosity for a
lifetime on any subject she wished him to leave alone. I went to see
her, you know, about the baby. I remember, as if it was yesterday, how
I told her the whole story. I told her how I had met Juliana two years
before, and how, from the first, we had both known we should never care
for anyone else. I told her about my old grandfather, from whom I had
such great expectations, and who wouldn't hear of my marrying anyone
except the cousin, still in the schoolroom, whom he had picked out as
my future wife.
“It was his wish that we should be married when I was twenty-five
and the girl eighteen; but I was not yet twenty-two, so that there were
at least three years of grace before he could begin to try and impose
his design upon us. And he was old and ill, and I had heard that the
doctors didn't give him more than a year or two, at most, to live. I
thought that if Juliana and I were married secretly he would die before
the question of my marriage had time to become one of practical
politics; and I persuaded her to agree to a private marriage, which we
would announce to the world as soon as my eccentric old grandfather was
safely out of it. There was no possible obstacle to our marriage except
the old man's domineering temper. Juliana Sandfort was my superior in
every possible sense, worldly or otherwise; but I came of a good
family, was to inherit an old name and title, and a more than
sufficient fortune so long as I kept on the right side of the old Lord,
and we both knew that there was no objection to be feared from her
relations or from any other one of mine. In short, much as she disliked
doing things in that hole-and-corner sort of way, and ashamed as I was
at heart of asking her to, we neither of us could see much actual harm
in the idea, and we were married accordingly at a registry office in
London. Everything would have been well, and all would have gone as we
hoped, but for the one unforeseen and horrible calamity. My wife died
six months before my grandfather, on the day her baby was born.”
Lord Ashiel paused, and sat gazing before him, over Gimblet's
shoulder. There was a look on his face which showed that for the moment
he was blind to the scene that lay in front of him, and that he saw in
place of the bureau which stood opposite to him, and of the Oriental
china which was the detective's special pride, and on which his eyes
seemed to be fixed, some vision of the past which was far more real
than the unsubstantial present. Presently he went on talking in a
“All this I told Mrs. Meredith, and a great deal besides, for I was
still in the first violence of bitter, self-reproachful grief. I wanted
to be rid of the child, the cause of the catastrophe, whom I hated as
vehemently as I had loved its mother, and I begged Mrs. Meredith to
help me to dispose of it in such a fashion that, to me at least, the
little one should be to all intents and purposes as dead as she was.
Babies, I knew, had not a very strong hold on life, and I hoped, as a
matter of fact, that it might really die, but this I did not dare to
say aloud. Mrs. Meredith was kind to me. I remember well how good and
sympathetic she was. She had heard most of the story from Juliana,
whose friend she was, and it was at her house that the child was born.
We had confided in no one else. She sat silently for a while after I
had finished what I had to say, till at last she turned to me and tried
to persuade me to alter my intention of disowning the baby. But I
repeated doggedly that unless she had some alternative way to suggest
of getting rid of it, I meant to leave the little girl at the door of
one of the foundling hospitals, and that I would take her that very
“At length, seeing that I was resolved, she said she thought she
could manage better than that. She had a friend, she said, an elderly
Russian lady, who was a widow and childless. This lady was anxious to
adopt a little English girl, and had lately written to ask her to find
her a baby whom she could bring up as her own child. There was no
reason why Juliana's baby should not be the one. She would write at
once and suggest it. I was greatly relieved at this idea. Although I
had been determined to do as I proposed, whatever opposition I might
meet with, my conscience had not been willing to let me leave my child
on a doorstep without protesting, and, little though I heeded its
condemnation, I was glad to be able to get my own way and at the same
time to silence the voice of my inward critic.
“The plan seemed simplicity itself. My wife, as I have told you, had
no parents living. Her brothers and sisters, who were all married and
living in different parts of the country, had been led to believe that
her death was the result of an accident. Mrs. Meredith had even managed
to prevail on the doctor to lend himself to this fiction; for, my
grandfather being yet alive, there was still every reason not to
declare our marriage, while there seemed to be none in favour of doing
so, and I shrank from the questionings and scenes which publicity now
would not fail to bring upon me. Before I left Mrs. Meredith we had
agreed that she should at once communicate with her Russian friend,
whose name I refused to let her tell me.
“I have told you before to-day, Gimblet, of all that has happened
since. How I took passionately to books as a refuge from my sorrow;
how, at my grandfather's suggestion, I had been by way of working for
the Diplomatic Service; of how I now worked in good earnest, and in
course of time, and after my grandfather's death, found myself attached
to our embassy at Petersburg. During the two years I spent there I made
the acquaintance of Countess Romaninov. One day when I was talking to
her she happened to mention that she had once known an English lady,
Mrs. Meredith, and I came to the conclusion that the little girl who
lived with her must be none other than my own child. As you know, I
could not stand living in the same town as she did, and for that, and
for other reasons, I left the Diplomatic Service and returned to
England, where I have lived a quiet life on my place in Scotland ever
since. Eight years ago, as you know, I married for the second time, and
after a few years of comparative happiness, found myself again a
widower, my second wife and her child dying within a few months of each
other, when my boy was only four years old.
“It is more than a year, now,” continued Lord Ashiel, after a pause,
“since the girl Julia Romaninov came to my sister in London, with a
letter of introduction from our ambassador in Russia. It was not until
my sister invited her down to Scotland that I heard anything about her.
Not, in fact, till the day before she arrived, for I always tell my
sister to ask any girls she pleases to Inverashiel, and she very seldom
bothers me about it. You can imagine my feelings when I heard that
Julia Romaninov was expected within a few hours, and had indeed already
started from London. It was too late to try and stop her, and my first
impulse was flight. But on second thoughts I changed my mind, and
stayed. Time had dulled the feelings with which I had contemplated her
share in the tragedy that attended her birth, and I was not without a
certain curiosity to see this young creature for whose existence I was
“I waited; she came; she stayed six weeks. You know the result. My
sister liked her; my nephews, my other guests, every one, except
myself, was charmed with her. And I, for some reason, could never stand
the girl. I told myself over and over again that it was mere prejudice;
the remains of the violent opposition I felt towards her when she was
unknown to me; a survival, unconscious and unwilling, of the hatred I
had allowed myself to nourish for the baby of a day old, which had made
it impossible that she and I should inhabit the same town when she was
no more than a child in pinafores. But I could not reason myself out of
my dislike, and it culminated a few weeks ago when I found that my
sister was anxious to have her with us in the North again this autumn.
As you remember, I came to you, and told you the facts. I made you
understand how repulsive it was to me to think that this girl might be
my child, and begged you to sift the matter as far as was possible, and
to find out if there were not a chance that I was mistaken in thinking
it was Countess Romaninov who had been Lena Meredith's friend.”
“Yes,” said Gimblet, “and all I could discover at first was that the
two ladies had indeed been acquainted. It is difficult to get at the
truth when both of them have been dead for so many years, and when you
will not allow me so much as to hint that you feel any interest in the
matter. People are shy of answering questions relating to the private
affairs of their friends when they think they are prompted by idle
curiosity, and in this case it seems very doubtful whether anyone even
knows the answers. But in the course of my inquiries I soon discovered
the fact that Mrs. Meredith herself had adopted a child, and it
certainly seems more than possible that it may have been yours and her
friend's. As far as I can find out, both these young ladies are of
about the same age, but no one seems to know exactly when either of
them first appeared on the scene. If we can only get hold of the
nurses! But at present I can find no trace of them, and you won't let
“Gimblet, I shall be ever grateful to you,” repeated Lord Ashiel. “I
had no idea that Mrs. Meredith had adopted a child. I never saw her
again, as I have told you, and only heard vaguely that she had married
and was living abroad. I purposely avoided asking for news of her. I
wished to forget everything that was past. As if that had been
“I hoped,” said Gimblet, “that you would have seen some strong
likeness in this young lady to yourself, or to your first wife. That
would have clinched the matter to all intents and purposes. But, as
things are, I shouldn't build too much on the hope that she is your
daughter. It may turn out to be the girl adopted by Countess
“I hope not, I hope not,” said Lord Ashiel earnestly. “I have got
her to promise to come to Scotland, and in a few days I may get some
definite clue as to which of them it is. It is a very odd coincidence
that both the girls bear names so much like that of my poor wife's.” He
paused reflectively, and then added, “In the meantime you will go on
with your inquiries, will you not?”
“I will,” said Gimblet. “And I hope for better luck.”
A silence followed. Lord Ashiel half rose to go, then sat down
again. Evidently he had something more to say, but hesitated to say it.
At last he spoke:
“When I was at St. Petersburg, twenty years ago, I was aroused to a
state of excitement and indignation by the social and political evils
which were then so much in evidence to the foreigner who sojourned in
the country of the Czars. I was young and impressionable, impulsive and
unbalanced in my judgments, I am afraid; at all events I resented
certain seeming injustices which came to my notice, and my resentment
took a practical and most foolish form. To be short, I was so
ill-advised as to join a secret society, and have done nothing but
regret it ever since.”
“I can well understand your regretting it,” said the detective.
“People who join those societies are apt to find themselves let in for
a good deal more than they bargained for.”
“It was so, at all events so far as I am concerned,” said Lord
Ashiel, “I had, you may be sure, only the wildest idea of what serious
and extremely unpleasant consequences my unreflecting action would
entail. Withdrawal from these political brotherhoods is to all intents
and purposes a practical impossibility; but, in a sense, I withdrew
from all participation in its affairs as soon as I realized to what an
extent the theories of its leaders, as to the best means to adopt by
which to rectify the injustices we all agreed in deploring, differed
from my own ideas on the subject. And I should not have been able to
withdraw, even in the negative way I did, if accident had not put into
my hand a weapon of defence against the tyranny of the Society.”
Lord Ashiel paused hesitatingly, and Gimblet murmured encouragingly:
“And that was?”
“No,” said Lord Ashiel, after a moment's silence, “I must not tell
you more. We are, I know, to all appearances, safe from eavesdroppers
or interruption; but, if a word of what I know were to leak out by some
incredible agency, my life would not be worth a day's purchase. As it
is, I am alarmed; I believe these people wish for my death. In fact,
there is no doubt on that subject. But they dare not attempt it openly.
I have told them that if I should die under suspicious circumstances of
any sort, the weapon I spoke of will inevitably be used to avenge my
death, and they know me to be a man of my word. For all these years
that threat has been my safeguard, but now I am beginning to think that
they are trying other means of getting me out of the way.”
“It is a pity,” said Gimblet, “that you do not speak to me more
openly. I think it is highly probable, from what I know of the methods
resorted to by Nihilists in general, that you may be in very grave
danger. Indeed, I strongly advise you to report the whole matter to the
“I wish I could tell you everything,” said Lord Ashiel, “but even if
I dared, you must remember that I am sworn to secrecy, and I cannot see
that because I have, by doing so, placed myself in some peril, that on
that account I am entitled to break my word. No, I cannot tell you any
more, but in spite of that, I want you to do me a service.”
“I am afraid I can't help you without fuller knowledge,” said
Gimblet. “What do you think I can do?”
“You can do this,” said Lord Ashiel. He put his hand in his pocket
and Gimblet heard a crackling of paper. “I am thinking out a
hiding-place for some valuable documents that are in my possession, and
when I have decided on it I will write to you and explain where I have
put them, using a cipher of which the key is enclosed in an envelope I
have here in my pocket, and which I will leave with you when I go. Take
charge of it for me, and in the course of the next week or so I will
send you a cipher letter describing where the papers are concealed. Do
not read it unless the occasion arises. I can trust you not to give way
to curiosity, but if anything happens to me, if I die a violent death,
or equally if I die under the most apparently natural circumstances, I
want you to promise you will investigate those circumstances; and, if
anything should strike you as suspicious in connection with what I have
told you, you will be able to interpret my cipher letter, find the
document I have referred to, and act on the information it contains.
Will you undertake to do this for me?”
“I will, certainly,” Gimblet answered readily, “but I hope the
occasion will not arise. I beg you to break a vow which was extorted
from you by false representations and which cannot be binding on you.
Do confide fully in me; I do not at all like the look of this
“No, no,” replied Lord Ashiel, smiling. “You must let me be the
judge of whether my word is binding on me or not. As you say, I hope
nothing will happen to justify my perhaps uncalled-for nervousness. In
any case it will be a great comfort and relief to me to know that, if
it does, the scoundrels will not go unpunished.”
“They shall not do that,” said Gimblet fervently. “You can make your
mind easy on that score, at least. But I advise you to send your
documents to the bank. They will be safer there than in any
hiding-place you can contrive.”
“I might want to lay my hand upon them at any moment,” said Lord
Ashiel, “and I admit I don't like parting with my only weapon of
defence. Still, I dare say you are right really, and I will think it
over. But mind, I don't want you to take any steps unless, you can
satisfy yourself that these people have a hand in my death. Please be
very careful to make certain of that. My health is not good, and grows
worse. I may easily die without their interference; but I suspect that,
if they do get me, they will manage the affair so that it has all the
look of having been caused by the purest misadventure. That is what I
fear. Not exactly murder; certainly no violent open assault. But we are
all liable to suffer from accidents, and what is to prevent my meeting
with a fatal one? That is more the line they will adopt, if, as I
imagine, they have decided on my death.”
“If ever there were a case in which prevention is better than cure,”
said Gimblet, “I think you will own that we have it here. If I had some
hint of the quarter from which you expect danger, I might at least
suggest some rudimentary precautions. What kind of 'accident' do you
imagine likely to occur?”
“That I can't tell,” replied Lord Ashiel. “I only know that these
enemies of mine are resourceful people, who are apt to make short work
of anyone whose existence threatens their safety or the success of
their designs. I am, by your help, taking a precaution to ensure that I
shall not die unavenged. They must be taught that murder cannot be
committed in this country with impunity. And I am very careful not to
trust myself out of England. If I crossed the Channel it would be to go
to my certain death. Otherwise I should have gone myself to see Sir
Arthur Byrne. But in this island the man who kills even so unpopular a
person as a member of the House of Lords does not get off with a few
years' imprisonment, as he may in some of the continental countries;
and the Nihilists, for the most part, know that as well as I do.”
Gimblet followed Lord Ashiel into the hall with the intention of
showing him out of the flat, but the sudden sound of the door bell
ringing made him abandon this courtesy and retreat to shelter.
He did not wish to be denied all possibility of refusing an
interview to some one he might not want to see.
So it was Higgs who opened the door and ushered out the last
visitor, at the same time admitting the newcomer.
This proved to be a small, slight woman dressed in deepest black and
wearing the long veil of a widow, who was standing with her back to the
door, apparently watching the rapid descent of the lift which had
brought her to the landing of No. 7.
She did not move when the door behind her opened, and Lord Ashiel,
emerging from it in a hurry to catch the lift before it vanished,
nearly knocked her down. She gave a startled gasp and stepped hastily
to one side into the dark shadows of the passage as he, muttering an
apology, darted forward to the iron gateway and applied his finger
heavily to the electric bell-push. But the liftboy had caught sight of
him with the tail of his eye, and was already reascending.
His anxiety allayed, Lord Ashiel turned again to express his regrets
to the lady he had inadvertently collided with, but she had disappeared
into the flat, of which Higgs was even then closing the door.
Ashiel stepped into the lift and sat down rather wearily on the
Although, to some extent, the relief of having unburdened his mind
of secrets that had weighed upon it for so many years produced in him a
certain lightness of heart to which he had long been a stranger, yet
the very charm of the impression made upon him by Juliet Byrne, during
his first meeting with her that morning, led him to suspect uneasily
that his hopes of her proving to be his child were due rather to the
pleasure it gave him to anticipate such a possibility than to any more
He was so entirely engrossed in an honest endeavour to adjust
correctly the balance of probabilities, as to remain unconscious that
the lift had stopped at the ground floor, and it was not until the boy
who was in charge had twice informed him of the fact, that he roused
himself with an effort and left the building.
Still absorbed in his speculations and anxieties, he walked rapidly
away, and, having narrowly escaped destruction beneath the wheels of
more than one taxi, wandered down Northumberland Avenue on to the
Embankment. He crossed to the farther side, turned mechanically to the
right and walked obliviously on.
It was not until he came nearly to Westminster Bridge that he
remembered the cipher that he had prepared for Gimblet, and that he
had, after all, finally left without giving it to him. It was still in
his pocket, and the discovery roused him from his abstraction.
He took a taxi and drove back to the flats. A motor which had been
standing before the door when he had come out was still there when he
returned; so that, thinking it probably belonged to the lady he had met
on the landing, and guessing that if so the detective was still
occupied with her, he did not ask to see him again, but handed the
envelope over to Higgs when he opened the door, with strict injunctions
to take it immediately to his master.
The lady, whose visit to Gimblet dovetailed so neatly with the
departure of his other client on that summer afternoon, was unknown to
He had scarcely re-entered the room and resumed his accustomed seat
by the window when Higgs announced her.
“A lady to see you, sir.”
The lady was already in the doorway. She must have followed Higgs
from the hall, and now stood, hesitating, on the threshold.
“What name?” breathed Gimblet; but Higgs only shook his head.
The detective went forward and spoke to his visitor.
“Please come in,” he said. “Won't you sit down?”
And he pushed a chair towards her.
“Thank you,” said the lady, taking the seat he offered. “I hope I do
not disturb you; but I have come on business,” she added, as the door
closed behind Higgs.
“Yes?” said Gimblet interrogatively. “You will forgive me, but I
didn't catch your name when my man announced you.”
“He didn't say it,” she replied. “I had not told him. I am sure you
would not remember my name, and it is of no consequence at present.”
“As you wish,” said the detective.
But he wondered who this unknown woman could be. When she said he
would not remember her name, did she mean to imply that he had once
been acquainted with it? If so, she was right in thinking that he did
not recognize her now; but, if she did not choose to raise the thick
crape veil that hid her face, she could hardly expect him to do so.
He wondered whether she kept her veil lowered with the intention of
preventing his recognizing her, or whether in truth she were anxious
not to expose grief-swollen features to an unsympathetic gaze.
Her voice, which was low and sorrowful, though at the same time
curiously resonant, seemed to suggest that she was in great trouble.
She spoke, he fancied, with a trace of foreign accent.
For the rest, all that he could tell for certain about her was that
she was short and slender, with small feet, and hands, from which she
was now engaged in deliberately withdrawing a pair of black suede
He watched her in silence. He always preferred to let people tell
their stories at their own pace and in their own way, unless they were
of those who plainly needed to be helped out with questions.
And about this woman there was no suspicion of embarrassment; her
whole demeanour spoke of calmness and self-possession.
“I believe,” she said at last, “that you are a private detective. I
come to ask for your help in a matter of some difficulty. Some papers
of the utmost importance, not only to me but to others, are in the
possession of a person who intends to profit by the information
contained in them to do myself and my friends an irreparable injury.
You can imagine how anxious we are to obtain them from him.”
“Do I understand that this person threatens you with blackmail?”
The lady hesitated.
“Something of the kind,” she replied after a moment's pause.
“And you have so far given in to his demands?”
“Yes,” admitted the visitor. “Up till now we have been obliged to
“Has he proposed any terms on which he will be willing to return you
the papers?” asked the detective.
“No,” she replied. “I do not think any terms are possible.”
“How did this person obtain possession of the papers?” Gimblet asked
after a moment. “Did he steal them from you?”
“From your friends?”
“From whom, then?” asked Gimblet in surprise. “I suppose they were
yours in the first place?”
“He has always had them,” she said reluctantly; “but they must not
“Do you mean they are his own?” exclaimed Gimblet. “In that case it
is you who propose to steal them!”
“No,” replied the strange lady calmly. “I want you to do that.”
“I'm sorry,” said Gimblet; “that is not in my line of business. I'm
afraid you made a mistake in coming to me. I cannot undertake your
“Money is no object; we shall ask you to name your own price,” urged
But the detective shook his head.
“It is a matter of life and death,” she said, and her voice betrayed
an agitation which could not have been inferred from her motionless
shrouded figure. “If you refuse to help me, not one life, but many,
will be endangered.”
“If you can offer me convincing proof of that,” said Gimblet, “I
might feel it my duty to help you. I don't say I should, but I might.
In any case I can do nothing unless you are perfectly open and frank
with me. Expect no assistance from me unless you tell me everything,
and then only if I think it right to give it.”
For the first time she showed some signs of confusion. The hand upon
her lap moved restlessly and she turned her head slowly towards the
window as if in search of suitable words. But she did not speak or
rise, though she gradually fidgeted round in her chair till she faced
the writing-table; and so sat, with her head leaning on her hand, in
It was clear she did not like Gimblet's terms; and after a few
minutes had passed in a silence as awkward as it was suggestive he
pushed back his chair and stood up. He hoped she would take the hint
and bring an unprofitable and embarrassing interview to an end.
But she did not appear to notice him, and still sat lost in her own
Suddenly the door opened and Higgs appeared.
Gimblet looked at him with questioning disapproval.
It was an inflexible rule of his that when engaged with a client he
was not to be disturbed.
Higgs, well acquainted with this rule, hovered doubtfully in the
doorway, displaying on the salver he carried the blue, unaddressed
envelope Lord Ashiel had told him to deliver at once.
“It's a note, sir,” he murmured hesitatingly. “The gentleman who was
with you a little while ago came back with it. He asked me to be sure
and bring it in at once.”
He avoided Gimblet's reproachful eye and stammered uneasily:
“Put it down on that table and go,” said the detective. He indicated
a little table by the door, and Higgs hastily placed the letter on it
and fled, with the uncomfortable sensation of having been sternly
As a matter of fact Gimblet would have shown more indignation if he
had not at heart felt rather glad of the interruption. His visitor had
decidedly outstayed her welcome; and, though she stirred his curiosity
sufficiently to make him wish he could induce her to raise her veil and
let him see what manner of woman it was who had the effrontery to come
and make him such unblushing proposals, he far more urgently desired to
see the last of her. She was wasting his time and annoying him into the
As the door shut behind the servant he made a step towards her.
“If, madam, there is nothing else you wish to consult me about,” he
began, taking out his watch with some ostentation—“I am a busy man—”
The lady gave a little laugh, low and musical.
“I will not detain you longer,” she said, also rising from her
chair. “I am afraid I have cut into your afternoon, but you will still
have time for a game if you hurry.”
She laughed again, and moved over to the writing-table, where, among
a litter of papers and writing materials, a couple of golf balls were
acting as letter weights. A putter lay on the chair in front of the
desk, and she took it up and swung it to and fro.
“A nice club,” she remarked. “Where do you play, as a rule? There
are so many good links near London; so convenient. Well, I mustn't keep
you.” She laid down the putter and fingered the balls for a moment.
“Where have I put my gloves?” she said then, looking around to collect
Gimblet was slightly put out at her inference that his plea of
business was merely an excuse to dismiss her in order that he might go
off and play golf. Heaven knew it was no affair of hers whether he
played golf that day or not! But as a matter of fact he had no
intention of leaving the flat that afternoon, and had merely been
practising a shot or two on the carpet after lunch before Lord Ashiel's
arrival. Still it was true that he had made business a pretext for
getting rid of her, and this made the injustice of the widow's further
inference ruffle him more than it might have if she had been entirely
in the wrong. He was the most courteous of men, and that anyone should
suspect him of unnecessary rudeness distressed him.
He made no reply, however, in spite of the temptation to defend
himself; but stooped to pick up a diminutive black suede glove which
his visitor had dropped when she took up the putter.
She thanked him and put it on, depositing, while she did so, her
other glove, her handkerchief, sunshade and a small brown-paper parcel
upon the writing-table at her side.
Gimblet did not appreciate seeing these articles heaped upon his
correspondence. Without any comment he removed them, and stood holding
them silently till she should be ready.
She took them from him soon, with a little inclination of the head
which he felt was accompanied by a smile of thanks, though through the
thick crape it was impossible to do more than guess at any expression.
She drew on her other glove and held out her hand again.
“My purse?” she said. “Will you not give me that too? Where have you
put it? And then I must really go.”
“I haven't seen any purse,” said Gimblet.
“Yes, yes!” she cried. “A black silk bag! It has my purse inside it.
I had it, I am sure.”
She turned quickly back to the chair she had been sitting in, and
taking up the cushion, shook it and peered beneath it.
“What can I have done with it? All my money is in it.”
Gimblet glanced round the room. He did not remember having noticed
any bag, and he was an observant person. She had probably left it in a
cab. Women were always doing these things. Witness the heaped shelves
at Scotland Yard.
“Perhaps you put it down in the hall?” he suggested.
“I am sure I had it when I came in here,” she repeated in an
agitated voice. “But it might be worth while just to look in the hall,”
she added doubtfully, and moved towards the door.
Gimblet opened it for her gladly; but she came to a standstill in
“There is nothing there, you see;” she said dolefully. “Oh, what
shall I do!”
Gimblet looked over her shoulder. The hall was shadowy, with the
perpetual twilight of the halls of London flats, but he fancied he
could perceive a darker shadow lying beside his hat on the table near
“Is that it? On the table?” he asked.
“Where? I don't see anything,” murmured the lady; and indeed it was
unlikely that she could distinguish anything in such a light from
behind her veil.
“On the table by my hat,” repeated Gimblet; and as she still did not
move, he made a step forward into the hall.
Yes, it was her bag, beyond a doubt. A silken thing of black
brocade, embroidered with scattered purple pansies.
Gimblet picked it up and turned back to his visitor. After a
second's hesitation she had followed him into the hall and was coming
towards him, groping her way rather blindly through the gloom.
“Oh, thanks, thanks!” she exclaimed. “How stupid of me to have left
it there. Thank you again. My precious bag! I am so glad you have found
it.” She took the bag eagerly from him. “I am afraid I have been a
nuisance, and disturbed you to no purpose. You must forgive my mistake.
But now I will not keep you any longer. Good-bye.”
She showed no further disposition to loiter; and Gimblet rang the
bell for the lift and saw her depart with a good deal of satisfaction.
In spite of her extremely hazy ideas on the subject of other
people's property, there was, he admitted, something attractive about
her. Still he was very glad she had gone.
He returned to his room, taking up and pocketing Lord Ashiel's
envelope as he passed the little table by the door.
He did it mechanically, for his mind was occupied with a question
which must be immediately decided.
Was it, or was it not, worth while to have the woman who had just
left him followed and located, and her identity ascertained?
Gimblet disliked leaving small problems unsolved, however
insignificant they appeared. On the whole, he thought he might as well
find out who she was, and he turned back into the hall and called for
If she were to be caught sight of again before leaving the house
there was not a moment to lose. But Higgs did not reply, and on
Gimblet's opening the pantry door he found it empty. Unknown to him,
the moment the lady had departed Higgs had gone upstairs to the flat
above to have a word with a friend.
The detective seized his hat and ran downstairs, but he was too
The widow lady, the porter told him, had gone away two or three
minutes ago in the motor that had been waiting for her. No, he hadn't
noticed the number of the car. Neither had he seen Higgs.
Gimblet shrugged his shoulders as he went upstairs again. After all,
the matter was of no great consequence.
The widow was a cool hand, certainly, he thought, to come to him and
propose he should steal for her what she wanted; but the fact of her
having done so made it on the whole improbable that she was a thief, or
she would not have had need of him. She was certainly a person of
questionable principles, and it seemed likely that in one way or
another a theft would be committed through her agency, if not by
herself, as soon as the opportunity presented itself. She was, in fact,
a woman on whom the police might do worse than keep an eye; but,
reflected Gimblet, he was not the police, and the dishonesty of this
scheming widow was really no concern of his. As he reached his door, a
postman was leaving it, and two or three letters had been pushed
through the flap. He let himself in and took them out of the box. They
were not of great importance. A bill, an appeal for a subscription to
some charity, a couple of advertisements and the catalogue of a sale of
pictures in which he was interested. He turned over the leaves slowly,
holding the pamphlet sideways from time to time to look at the
photographs which illustrated some of the principal lots.
Presently he turned and went back into his room. He sat down in his
favourite arm-chair near the window, where he habitually passed so much
time gazing out on to the smooth surface of the river, and fell to
ruminating on the problem presented by Lord Ashiel's story.
For a long while he sat on, huddled in the corner of an arm-chair,
his elbows on the arm, his chin resting on his hand, and in his eyes
the look of one who wrestles with obscure and complicated problems of
mental arithmetic. From time to time, but without relaxing his
expression of concentrated effort, he stretched out long artistic
fingers to a box on the table, took from it a chocolate, and
transferred it mechanically to his mouth. He always ate sweets when he
had a problem on hand. He was trying to think of some means by which
his client could be protected from the mysterious danger that
threatened him; that it was a very real danger, Gimblet accepted
without question; he had only seen Lord Ashiel twice in his life, but
it was quite enough to make him certain that here was a man whom it
would take a great deal to alarm. This was no boy crying “wolf” for the
sake of making a stir.
But the more he thought, the more he saw that there was nothing to
be done. A word to the police would suffice, no doubt, to precipitate
matters; for, if the Nihilist Society which threatened Lord Ashiel
contemplated his destruction, a hint that he might be already taking
reciprocal measures would not be likely to make them feel more
mercifully towards him. It was obvious that Ashiel would look with
suspicion upon any Russian who might approach him, but Gimblet
determined to write him a line of warning against foreigners of any
description. Still, these societies sometimes had Englishmen amongst
their members, and ways of enforcing obedience upon their subordinates
which made any decision they might come to as good as carried out
almost as soon as it was uttered.
The detective's cogitations were disturbed by Higgs, who had
returned, and now brought him in some tea. He poured himself out half a
cup, which he filled up with Devonshire cream. He had a peculiar taste
in food, and was the despair of his excellent cook, but on this
occasion he ate none of the cakes and bread and butter she had
provided, the chocolates having rather taken the edge off his appetite.
From where he sat he could see, through the open window, the broad
grey stretches of the river, with a barge going swiftly down on the
tide; brown sails turned to gleaming copper by the slanting rays from
the West. The hum and rattle of the streets came up to him murmuringly;
now and then a train rumbled over Charing Cross Bridge, and the whistle
of engines shrilled out above the constant low clamour of the town.
Gimblet leant out of the window and watched the barge negotiate the
bridge. Then he returned to his chair, and taking Lord Ashiel's
envelope out of his pocket looked it over thoughtfully before opening
it. He had no doubts as to what it contained; he had been on the point
of reminding the peer that he had forgotten to give him the key of the
cipher he had spoken of when the widow's ring at the door had driven
him to a hurried retreat, but he had not considered the omission of any
particular significance. His client would certainly discover it and
either return to give him the key, or send it to the flat.
It would probably be some time before it was required for use here.
In the meantime, thought Gimblet, he would have a look at it before
locking it away in the safe.
He turned over the envelope. To his surprise, the flap was open and
the glue had obviously never been moistened.
It was the work of an instant to look inside, but almost quicker
came the conviction that it was useless to do so.
He was not mistaken.
The envelope was empty.
Gimblet stared at it for one moment in blank dismay. Then he strode
to the door and shouted for Higgs.
“Did you notice,” he asked him, “whether the envelope Lord Ashiel
gave you for me was fastened, or was it open as this one is?”
“Oh no, sir,” replied Higgs, “it was sealed up. There was a large
patch of red sealing-wax at the back, with a coronet and some sort of
little picture stamped on it. I can't say I looked at it particularly,
but there may have been a lion or a dog, or some kind of animal. His
lordship's arms, no doubt”
“You are quite certain about the sealing-wax?” Gimblet repeated
“Yes, sir, I am quite certain about that,” answered Higgs; and he
could not refrain from adding, “I put down the note on this little
table, sir, as you told me.”
“Thank you. That is all.”
Gimblet's tone was as undisturbed as ever, but inwardly he was
seething with anger and disgust; directed, however, entirely against
When Higgs had departed he allowed himself the unusual, though quite
inadequate relief of giving the chair on which his last visitor had sat
a violent kick. After that he felt rather more ashamed of himself than
before, if possible, and he sat down and raged at the simple way in
which he had been fooled.
The widow had taken the envelope, of course. She must have snatched
it up during the few seconds he had turned his back on her in order to
step across the hall and retrieve her bag, and have replaced it at the
same instant with this empty one which she had no doubt taken from his
own writing-table while he stooped beside her to pick up her glove.
Gimblet fetched one of his own blue envelopes and compared it with
the substitute. Yes, they were alike in every particular. The
watermarks were the same and showed that she had used what she found
ready to her hand.
It seemed, then, that the coup was not premeditated. But why,
why, had he let her escape so easily? If only he had been a little
quicker about following her, and had not wasted time looking for Higgs!
She had had time to get clear away; and he, bungler that he was, had
thought it of little consequence, and had afterwards stood poring over
a catalogue in the hall, having decided that her morals were no
business of his. Ass that he had been!
Who was she? Probably some one known to Lord Ashiel, or why should
she have wanted his letter? Well, Ashiel must have met her on his way
out, and would in that case at least be able to provide the information
as to who she was. Still, more people might know Ashiel than Ashiel
knew, and it was possible that that hope might fail. No doubt she was a
member of the society the peer had so rashly entangled himself with in
the days of his youth; one of those enemies of whom he had spoken with
such grave apprehension. Had she followed him into the house and forced
her way in on a trumped-up pretext, on the chance of hearing or finding
something that might be useful to her Nihilist friends, or had she
known that Lord Ashiel intended to leave some document in Gimblet's
keeping, and come with the idea, already formed, of stealing it? Such a
plan seemed to partake too much of the nature of a forlorn hope to be
likely, but whether or no she had expected to find that letter, Gimblet
could hardly help admiring the rapidity with which she had possessed
herself of it without wasting an unnecessary moment.
She must have been safe in the street and away with it, in less than
five minutes from when she first saw it. Oh, she had been quick and
dexterous! And he? He had been a gull, and false to his trust, and
altogether contemptible. What should he say to Lord Ashiel? Why in the
world hadn't he locked up the letter when Higgs brought it in? This was
what came of making red-tape regulations about not being disturbed.
After all, he comforted himself, she would be a good deal disappointed
when she found what she had got. The key to a cipher; that was all. And
a key with nothing to unlock was an unsatisfactory kind of loot to risk
prison for. Evidently she expected something more important; perhaps
the very documents she had invited Gimblet to steal for her, regardless
of expense. This, he thought, was a reassuring sign for Lord Ashiel.
For it was plain they meant to steal the papers, if they could; but not
so plain that they looked to murder as the means by which to gain that
end, since they applied for help from him.
Gimblet rang up the Carlton Club and asked for his client, but he
was not in, nor did he succeed in communicating with him that
afternoon; and when he rang up the Club for the fifth time after dinner
he was told that Lord Ashiel had already left for Scotland.
With a groan, and fortifying himself with chocolates, the detective
sat down to write a long and full account of his failure to keep what
had been confided to his care, for the space of one hour.
In a couple of days he had an answer. Ashiel did not seem much
perturbed at the loss of the cipher.
“It is a nuisance, of course,” he said. “I must think out another,
and will let you have it in a few days before sending you other things.
No, I did not recognize the person I met as I was leaving your rooms.
In spite of what you say as to your belief that theft and not murder is
the object of these people, I am still convinced that my life is aimed
at. However, I think that for the present I have hit on a way of
frustrating their plans. With regard to the other problem you are
helping me to solve, I am seeing a great deal of both the young people,
and I believe there can be no doubt as to the identity of one of them,
but I will write to you on this subject also in a few days' time.”
He sent Gimblet a couple of brace of grouse, which the detective
devoured with great satisfaction, and for the next week no more letters
bearing a Scotch postmark were delivered at the Whitehall flat.
“Here they come again.”
Lord Ashiel spoke in a voice scarcely above a whisper, and Juliet
crouched low against the peaty wall of the butt. There was an instant's
silence, and then crack, crack, shots sounded from the other end of the
line. Another minute and Lord Ashiel's gun went up; she heard the whirr
of approaching wings before she covered both ears with her hands to
deaden the noise of the explosions she knew were coming.
Then several guns seemed to go off at once. Bang! bang! bang! Bang!
Juliet did not really enjoy grouse-driving, but she tried to appear
as if she did, since every one else seemed to, and at all events there
were intervals between drives when she could be happy in the glory of
the hills and the wild free air of the moors.
Meanwhile she knelt in her corner of the butt beside her host's big
retriever, and waited. There was a little bunch of heather growing
level with her nose, and she bent forward silently and sniffed at it.
But the honey-sweet scent was drowned for the moment by the smell of
gunpowder and dog.
Bang! bang! bang!
Presently Lord Ashiel turned and looked down at her, with a smile.
“The drivers are close up,” he said. “The drive is over.”
They went out of the butt, and she stood watching the dog picking up
the birds Lord Ashiel had shot. He found nineteen, and the loader
picked up three more. Juliet was glad her host shot so well. She
thought him a wonderful man. And how kind he was to her. But she could
not help looking over from time to time to the next butt, round which
three other people were wandering: Sir David Southern, and his loader,
and Miss Maisie Tarver, to whom he was engaged to be married.
One of Sir David's birds had fallen near his uncle's butt, and
presently he strolled across to look for it, his eyes on the heather as
he zigzagged about, leading his dog by the chain which his uncle
insisted on his using.
“There is something here,” called Juliet. “Yes, it is a dead grouse.
Is this your bird?”
Sir David came up and took it.
“That's it,” he said. “Thanks very much. How do you like this sort
He leant against the butt and looked down at her.
“Oh, it's so lovely here,” began Juliet.
“But you don't like the shooting, eh?”
“I don't know,” Juliet stammered. “I think it's rather cruel.”
“You must remember there wouldn't be any grouse at all if they
weren't shot,” he said seriously, “and besides, wild birds don't die
comfortably in their beds if they're not killed by man. A charge of
shot is more merciful than a death from cold and starvation, or even
from the attack of a hawk or any of a bird's other natural enemies.
Just think. Wouldn't you rather have the violent end yourself than the
slow, lingering one?”
“Yes,” admitted Juliet, “I would. I believe you're right But I don't
really much like seeing it happen, all the same.”
“I think you'd get used to it; it's a matter of habit. I believe
everything is a matter of habit, or almost everything. I suppose one
gets used to any kind of horror in time.”
He spoke reflectively; more, or so it seemed to Juliet, as if trying
to convince himself than her; and as he finished speaking, she was
conscious that his eyes, which had never left her face while they were
talking, had done so now, and were fixed on some object or person
behind her. She turned instinctively and saw Miss Maisie Tarver
approaching, a brace of grouse swinging in each hand.
“I've got them all, right here, David,” she informed him, as she
came up. She was a tall dark girl, with the look of breeding which
often proves so confusing to Europeans when they first come in contact
with certain of her countrywomen. “This bird,” she added, holding up
one which still fluttered despairingly, “was a runner, but now he won't
do any more running than the colour of my new pink shirt-waist; and
that's guaranteed a fast tint, I guess.”
Juliet looked away, trying not to show her dismay at the struggles
of the wounded bird.
“Here, give me that bird, Maisie,” said David rather abruptly. “I'll
knock it on the head.”
“Oh, I can do that, if it makes Miss Byrne feel badly,” Maisie
Raising her small foot on to a stone, she began to make ineffectual
attempts to beat the bird's head against her toe. David snatched it
from her unceremoniously, and turned his back while he put an end to
the poor creature's sufferings. His face was very red. When he had
killed the bird he tossed it to Lord Ashiel's loader, and strode away
across the heather.
Maisie looked at Juliet with a laugh.
“Your English young men are perfectly lovely,” she remarked, “and
David is just elegant, I think, or I'd not have gone and engaged myself
to be led to the altar by him; but I can't kind of get used to the
British way of looking at things. It's quite remarkable the manner you
people have of admiring a girl one moment, because she's a good sport,
and throwing fits of disapprobation the next, because she tries to act
like she is one. Why, David looked at me just now as if he'd have taken
less than two cents to put knock-out drops in my next cocktail.”
“Oh,” protested Juliet. “I'm sure he didn't mean to. I think his
expression is naturally rather stern.”
“Stern nothing,” said Miss Tarver. “When I came up he was looking at
you as if he reckoned he could eat you, shooting-stick and all. Oh,
there aren't any flies on me! I know just what myself and dollars are
worth to Sir David Southern, and I'm beginning to do some calculating
on my own account as to what Sir David Southern is worth to me.”
“Oh, surely you are wrong,” cried Juliet. “I am certain Sir David
has never thought about your money. Oh, I feel sure you misjudge him;
and you mustn't talk like that, even in fun!”
“I don't know,” said Miss Tarver doubtfully. “His cousin says
David's really vurry attached to me, but it's the sort of thing one
ought to be able to see for oneself, and I don't seem to feel a really
strong conviction on the subject. As for his thinking of my dollars, I
fail to see how he can help that when he's over head and ears in debt,
the way he is. He told me so himself when he proposed. He put it as a
business proposition. Said his ancient name was up for auction, and did
I reckon it worth my while to make a bid, or words to that effect.
There's a romantic love-story for you. He was the only titled man I'd
ever struck up till a month ago, and I always did think it would be
stunning to marry into an aristocratic British family, so I was pleased
to death at the idea of putting his on its legs again with my dollars.
What else could I do with them anyway? But I believe if I'd met your
friend, Lord Ashiel, before I'd taken the fatal step, I'd have waited
to see if he didn't fancy an Amurrican wife. But of course he
doesn't care a hill of beans whether I'm rich or not. He's got plenty
himself, I'm told, and I guess he'd never have looked at me while you
were around, any old way. All the same I call him a real
“Oh, don't talk so loud,” implored Juliet. “He'll hear you. He's
“Not he,” said Miss Tarver. “He's back of the butt still. And I will
say he is a real high-toned gentleman, and it's my opinion the girl who
gets him will be able to give points to the man who took a piece of
waste land for a bad debt, and struck the richest vein of gold in
Colorado on it.”
She looked at Juliet with an insinuating eye.
“Come along,” said Lord Ashiel, as he strolled up to them with a
bird he had been looking for, “we're going on now to the next drive,”
and they started off down the hillside, wading deep through the heather
to the track.
Juliet had been nearly a week at Inverashiel. A week of wet weather
which had sadly interfered with the shooting, but which had thrown the
house party on its own resources and given her plenty of chances to get
well acquainted with the other guests at the castle. They were most of
them related to Lord Ashiel and already well known to each other. The
American, David Southern's fiancee, the half Russian girl, Julia
Romaninov, who had arrived on the same day as Juliet, and Juliet
herself, were the only strangers. Mrs. Haviland, Lord Ashiel's sister,
had been there when she arrived, but had left a day or two later as her
husband, who was in the south, had fallen ill and needed her presence.
Her place as hostess had been taken by Lady Ruth Worsfold, a distant
cousin of the McConachans, who lived in a little house a mile down the
loch, which was given her rent free by Lord Ashiel. Another cousin of
his, Mrs. Clutsam, a young widow, he had also provided this year with a
small house on the estate which was sometimes let to fishing tenants,
and she, too, was at present staying at Inverashiel.
The guns consisted of Col. Spicer and Sir George Hatch, both
well-known soldiers of between forty and fifty years of age, and Lord
Ashiel's two nephews, David Southern, the son of a widowed sister, and
Mark McConachan, whose father, now dead, had been Lord Ashiel's only
brother. Both were tall, good-looking young men, though there was not
even a family resemblance between the grey-eyed and fairhaired David,
with his smooth-shaven face and slender well-proportioned figure, and
his loose-limbed, rather ungainly cousin, whose appearance of great
strength made up for his lack of grace, and whose large melting brown
eyes made one forget the faults which the hypercritical might have
found in the rest of his face: the rather large nose, and the mouth
which was apt too often to be open except when it closed on the
cigarette he was always smoking. He had been, so Juliet had heard some
one say, one of the most popular men in the cavalry regiment he had
lately left on account of its being ordered to India.
They were all very nice to Juliet, and she thought them all
charming. Especially, she told herself with unnecessary emphasis, did
she think Miss Maisie Tarver a delightful person; rather strange,
possibly, to European ways and customs and manner of conversation, a
very different type, certainly, from the new Lady Byrne—to whom Juliet
was beginning to feel she had perhaps not hitherto sufficiently done
justice—but open as the day, and with a heart of gold. She even went
so far as to defend her to old Lady Ruth Worsfold, who had lamented one
morning when David and his fiancee had gone out shooting together—for
Miss Tarver, though not a good shot, was fond of ferreting
rabbits—that the lad should be throwing himself away on this young
lady from a provincial American town.
“I forget which, my dear, but it's something to do with chickens, I
believe.” They were sitting in the hall, and Lady Ruth looked up from
her embroidery as she spoke, with art interrogative glance towards Mrs.
Clutsam and Julia.
“Chicago,” said Mrs. Clutsam, turning round from the table where she
was writing. “That's where she comes from.”
“Yes, that's it,” said Lady Ruth; “the name had slipped my memory.
It's the place where they all kill pigs, isn't it? I've read about it
in Kipling. Her having been brought up to do that accounts for her
passion for wounding rabbits, no doubt. I daresay one has to keep one's
hand in. That reminds me, I will tell the cook not to send up sausages
for breakfast. The poor girl is probably tired of the sight of them,
though I suppose they mean money to her, which is always pleasant. When
I had a poultry farm I used to feel my heart warm at the thought of
poor dear Duncan's bald head. You know, my dear,” she went on, turning
to Juliet, “my husband had the misfortune to lose all his hair some
years before he died, though really I don't believe there was a patent
hair-wash he didn't try, till the house fairly reeked of them: but they
never did any good, and he got to look more and more like one of my
nice new-laid eggs; though not so brown of course, for I always kept
Wyandots which lay the most beautiful dark brown ones, like cafe au
“Well, the money will be very useful to poor David,” said Mrs.
Clutsam, without turning her head. She was rather annoyed because she
had found that she had written “I am so glad you can kill pigs,”
instead of “I am so glad you can come” to some one she had invited to
stay with her.
“There's plenty of money on this side of the duck pond, or whatever
they call it,” said Lady Ruth severely.
And it was then that Juliet had burst in.
“I am sure Sir David has never given a thought to Miss Tarver's
money,” she said.
“Why not, my dear?” said Lady Ruth, turning upon her mild, surprised
eyes. “He is terribly badly off; it is his duty to marry money; but he
needn't have gone so far for it.”
“I don't believe he would marry for money. He would be above doing
such a thing!” Juliet declared.
Julia, who had said nothing, stared at her, and laughed softly. She
had a very low, musical laugh.
“I don't think you understand the position,” said Mrs. Clutsam,
turning round at last and laying down her pen with an air of
resignation. “David Southern has inherited a lot of debts from his
father, who only died last year, and he had piled up a good many on his
own account before then, never suspecting that he would not be very
well off. But he found the place mortgaged up to the hilt. There is
really nothing between his mother and starvation, except her
brother-in-law Ashiel's charity, and that is not pleasant for her
because she has never been on good terms with him. It is very important
that David should obtain money somehow, for her sake more than for his
own, and I'm sure he feels that deeply. He is devoted to her.”
“But there are other ways of getting money than by marrying,” Juliet
“Yes, there are; but they are slow and uncertain, and David can't
bear to see his mother poor. I am sure it was for her sake that he
proposed to Miss Tarver.”
“I think he would have tried some other way first, unless he had
been in love with her,” Juliet repeated, flushed and obstinate.
“Mr. McConachan says Sir David is very fond of Miss Tarver, really,”
said Julia, speaking for the first time. She spoke English fluently,
but with a slight foreign accent. “He says his cousin is so reserved
that he conceals his feelings as much as possible, but that, au fond, he adores her.”
There was a short silence; Mrs. Clutsam seemed about to speak, but
her eyes met those of Lady Ruth fixed on her with an expressionless
gaze, and she turned round without a word and took up her discarded
They were both thinking the same thing. If David concealed his
feelings in the presence of Miss Tarver he was not so successful when
he was in Juliet's neighbourhood. Both women had noticed the change
that came over him when she was in the room. It was not that he did not
try to appear indifferent; he did not talk to her, or seek her society.
On the contrary he seemed to avoid it, and relapsed into silence at her
approach. But both Lady Ruth and Mrs. Clutsam had caught him looking at
her when he thought himself unobserved, and their observations had not
left either of them in any doubt as to how the land lay.
Sir David Southern might be engaged to marry Miss Tarver, but he had
fallen in love with some one quite different, and some one who was,
moreover, or so they imagined, destined for quite another person.
For what was Miss Juliet Byrne doing at Inverashiel Castle?
This was a question which much exercised the minds of Lord Ashiel's
relations and, when she was not present, formed the subject of many
Where had this girl, this extremely pretty and attractive girl,
suddenly appeared from? Well, they all knew, of course, where she
really had come from; but why? Why had Lord Ashiel suddenly sprung her
on them like this? He had not even told Mrs. Haviland that he had
invited her until the day before she arrived. Why this mystery? Where
had he met her? How long had he known her? To a casual question Juliet
had replied guardedly that she had not known him very long, but that he
knew her family. Fervently did she hope that what she said was true.
One thing, however, seemed certain. No matter how, where, or why,
Ashiel had made friends with Juliet Byrne, he was bent on becoming even
better acquainted. He appeared to be on excellent terms with her
already, and every day saw them grow more familiar, and, on Ashiel's
side, almost affectionate. If he went shooting or fishing Juliet must
go too; to her he addressed his remarks; it was she whom he consulted
when he made plans for the following days. His health was bad, he was
subject to terrible headaches, and if she were not present he grew
quickly nervous and irritable; when she was, he seldom took his eyes
off her. He seemed to watch her, Mrs. Clutsam thought, with a certain
expectancy; but also with a distinct and unmistakable pride. There was
little doubt in the mind of anyone in the house that there would soon
be a second Lady Ashiel.
As the party walked between the butts on that brilliant August day,
Miss Tarver tacked herself on to her host and strode on ahead with him,
keeping up a flow of interminable, drawling inanities, which made him
wonder for the fortieth time what David could see in her.
The others tailed out after them, followed by dogs and loaders.
Without knowing how it came about, Juliet found herself walking
beside David; and, as she was not used to the rough going on the
hillside, they insensibly dropped behind the rest of the long,
straggling procession. The way was uphill; Juliet panted and stumbled;
and her companion seemed disinclined to talk.
They came to a burn, and he gave her his hand to cross from stone to
stone. The burn was high, and one stone was under water, leaving a
space too wide for Juliet to jump. David stepped on to the flooded
rock, and turned to her.
“I will lift you over here,” he said shortly. “Oh, I can wade quite
well,” said she. “My shoes are wet already.”
But without more words he put his arms round her, and lifted her
over. When he put her down he found his tongue.
“If Maisie stands with my uncle at the next drive,” he said, “will
you come to my butt?”
“I should like to,” she said. For some reason his tone made her
breath come quickly.
David stood looking down at her as though considering.
“I can't go back on my word,” he said at last inconsequently. “I
shall have to marry her, if she wants it, I suppose. But I can't bear
you to think that I care for her. I've got to think of other people.”
“You mustn't say that!” she cried. “Oh, you mustn't say that to me!”
“Why not?” he said, looking at her strangely. “What have I said that
“Nothing, I suppose,” Juliet faltered. “But—but—Oh,” she cried,
“if you don't care for her, you must tell her so, and she will break it
off. Anything would be better than to go on with it!”
“I think she knows,” he answered gloomily. “She won't break it off,
because she wants to be 'my Lady,' It's a business matter, really. And
I'd have to stick to it for my mother's sake, anyhow.”
Juliet could think of nothing to say. “You ought not to marry her,”
she stammered again.
“If I didn't,” he began hoarsely—“if she did let me go, I don't
suppose you'd ever care for me enough to marry me? Oh, I know I ought
not to say it,” he broke off; “I'm a cad to speak like this. Forgive
Juliet's world revolved around her at an unusual pace for the space
of a second. She shut her eyes to steady herself; a mixture of misery
and happiness deprived her of speech or movement. Gradually the misery
predominated and she burst into tears.
“Forgive me, forgive me,” he was saying. He stood before her,
looking as wretched as a man can look.
“Yes, yes,” she sobbed. “Let us forget all about it. You must forget
“You know I can't,” he said. “Juliet, Juliet, don't cry. If you cry
I shall be simply obliged to kiss you.” And he took a step towards her.
They were still standing at the edge of the burn, screened from the
track ahead, partly by a little bush of alder which grew beside them,
partly by the winding of the path round the slope of the hill. As David
spoke a rabbit came scampering up to the other side of the bush, and
then, becoming aware of their proximity, turned at right angles and
darted down the bank. It was three or four yards away, and going hard,
when there was a loud report, and the branches of the alder cracked and
rattled. Several little boughs fell to the ground a foot or two away
from the spot on which Juliet stood. Surprise dried her tears and
restored David to his senses.
“Hi!” he shouted, bounding on to the path, and waving his arms
frantically. “What are you shooting at? Look out, can't you?”
Fifty yards up the track his Cousin Mark was standing, an open gun
in his hand; a scared ghillie was running towards them down the path
“Good heavens, David,” Mark ejaculated, “do you mean to say you were
in the burn? I thought you were on ahead! Why in the world did you lag
behind like that? Do you know I might easily have shot you?”
“Do I know it? You precious near did shoot me, and Miss Byrne, too,
I tell you. If it hadn't been for that alder we should have been bound
to get most of the charge between us. It's not like you to be so
“I'm frightfully sorry, old man,” said Mark, coming up; “it was
careless of me, but I felt sure there was no one back there. I saw that
rabbit and stalked it, meaning to overtake you all afterwards. They
walk so fearfully slow, you know, what with all these ladies, and Uncle
Douglas not feeling very fit. And Miss Byrne here, too! By Jove, I
am sorry! Beastly stupid of me.”
He was plainly agitated, and could hardly blame himself severely
enough. And David, for his part, was not disposed to make light of what
had happened. Perhaps he was glad of a subject on which he could
“It was a rotten shot, too,” he mumbled, as they all hurried on
after the others. “You were about four yards behind that rabbit.”
“Absolutely rotten,” agreed Mark. “I don't know what's happened to
my shooting. I've hit every bird in the tail to-day, except when I've
missed 'em clean, and that's what I've done most of the time. There's
something wrong with my eye altogether. If I don't get better, I shall
knock off shooting—for a few days, anyhow.”
All his usual self-possession seemed to have been shaken out of him
by the thought of the catastrophe he might have caused. Young,
good-looking and popular, he was accustomed to take the pleasure shown
in his society and the admiring approval of his associates, which had
always contributed so much to his comfortable feeling of satisfaction
with himself, and which had invariably strengthened his reluctance to
harbour unpleasant doubts as to his own perfections, as a matter of
course; and the heartiness with which he now cursed himself for a
careless and dangerous fool testified to the fright he had had.
Even when David, relenting a little, though still reluctant to show
it, grunted surlily, “None of you cavalry soldiers are safe with a
gun.” Mark did not, as he would generally have done, deny the
accusation resentfully, but displayed an astonishing meekness, which
proved how clearly he saw himself to be in the wrong. Juliet, who had
sometimes thought him rather selfish—a fault he shared with many
others of his kind, and one perhaps almost unavoidable in attractive
only sons—was touched by his unusual humility, and treated the matter
lightly, doing all she could to cheer him up and restore to him his
good opinion of himself.
But Mark, while he smiled back gratefully in reply, would not allow
her to persuade him that he was less to blame than he asserted, and he
was still lamenting his carelessness when they came up with the rest of
the party, who were already stationed in the butts.
Miss Tarver was beside Lord Ashiel, and Mark stopped a minute to
relate how nearly he had been the cause of an accident, although both
David and Juliet, by mutual consent, guessed what he was going to do,
and tried to dissuade him.
“No need to say anything about it,” David mumbled in his ear.
“No, no, don't, please,” Juliet murmured in the other.
Yet he would not be tempted, and they walked on together in silence,
leaving him to tell the story.
“I as near as makes no difference peppered David and Miss Byrne just
now,” they heard him begin, and then Lord Ashiel's voice broke in in an
angry tone as they passed out of earshot.
David's loader reported afterwards that that young gentleman and
Miss Byrne, when she waited with him in the butt, seemed to find very
little to talk about. And it was a long wait before any birds came up,
on that beat.
It was a few days after this that Gimblet, taking up an evening
paper at the Club, was startled to see a sinister headline of “Murder,”
immediately followed by the name of Ashiel.
“MURDER OF A SCOTCH PEER.” “LORD ASHIEL SHOT DEAD IN HIS OWN HOUSE.”
“ESCAPE OF MURDERER.”
“They've got him,” he muttered between his teeth as he hastily began
to read the paragraph that followed:
“News reaches us, as we go to press, of a dastardly crime, involving
the death of Lord Ashiel, which occurred late last night at his
residence in the Highlands of Scotland. Lord Ashiel was sitting quietly
in his library at Inverashiel Castle, when a shot was fired through the
window by someone in the grounds, which wounded his Lordship so
severely that death took place instantaneously. Although the household
was immediately alarmed and a thorough search made through the garden
and grounds surrounding the castle, the murderer contrived to escape.
The police are continuing their search in the neighbourhood, and it is
believed that a very strong clue to the scoundrel has been discovered.
Douglas, Lord Ashiel, was the seventh Baron. He was born in 1869,
educated at Eton and Oxford, and served for some years in the
Diplomatic Service. He was a widower and childless, and is succeeded in
the title by his nephew, Mr. Mark McConachan.”
There was nothing more.
Gimblet strode out of the Club and drove to New Scotland Yard. The
Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department was in, and
received him gladly. Gimblet held out the paper he had carried off from
the Club and pointed to the news of the tragedy.
“Is all this correct?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, indeed,” replied Mr. Beech, the superintendent. “We heard
of it this morning. The Glasgow people have sent their men up, but it
will take them all day to get to the place. Inverashiel is on the West
Coast, and not what one would call easy to get at. They ought to be
there about five o'clock.”
“Who has gone?” asked Gimblet.
“Macross has gone himself with one or two others. He has taken a
photographer and a finger-print man, and will get to work as soon as he
possibly can. This is a big business. Lord Ashiel is an important
person; apart from his being a Scotch landowner—he owns 90,000 acres
of moorland there—he is connected with half the great families in
England. He has a cousin in the Cabinet; cousins everywhere, in the
Foreign Office, in Parliament, in trade; he has one who owns a
newspaper. He is rich; he is a sleeping partner in some Newcastle iron
works, he is part owner of a small colliery in Yorkshire. Oh, there's
going to be a fine to-do about this case, you bet your life!”
“I knew him,” said Gimblet slowly. “He came to see me a fortnight
ago. He told me he expected an attempt might be made to kill him.”
“The deuce he did!” exclaimed Beech. “Did he say who it was he
“Not exactly; but I gathered he had mixed himself up with some
secret society abroad. He refused to give me any explicit information,
or to appeal to you for protection, as I advised him to do. He told me
he had some document in his possession which his enemies were anxious
to obtain from him, and that if they failed to do so by peaceful
methods he thought it likely they might try to get him out of the way;
though he added that he did not anticipate any open assault, but
thought it likely he might die some death that should have all the
appearances of being accidental. He made me promise to take up the case
if this should happen.”
“We are always glad of your help, my dear fellow,” said Beech.
“He gave me certain instructions, in the event of my being able to
satisfy myself that his death is the work of his Nihilist friends,”
said Gimblet, who thought it unnecessary to mention his disconcerting
experience with the veiled lady, “And contrariwise, if I can make sure
that they have no hand in it, it was his wish that I should then leave
the whole thing alone. So I had better see what I can make of it before
I go into this any further with you.”
“I can't say I agree with that idea,” protested the superintendent.
“However, I know you insist on working on your own lines, and that I
have really no influence with you, in spite of the show you make,
humbug that you are! of consulting my opinion. Well, good luck go with
you; and let me know if you hit on anything that escapes our men.”
Gimblet walked back to his flat, his mind full of the tragedy which
he had an uneasy feeling he might, in some way, have averted. How, he
hardly knew. Lord Ashiel could not have lived all his life encircled by
a cordon of police and detectives; and, without such precautions, a man
condemned by Nihilist societies is practically sure to fall a victim to
their excellent organization and disregard for the lives of their own
Still Gimblet had liked the dead peer, and could not get the pale
aristocratic face and tired, feverish blue eyes out of his head. Surely
he might have found some way of preventing this catastrophe.
He found a telegram at his flat. It was signed Byrne, and ran:
“Please come immediately to investigate death of Lord Ashiel certain
It had been sent off at four o'clock that day.
“Higgs,” called Gimblet to his servant, as he filled up the prepaid
reply form, “I am going North to-night, by the eight o'clock from
Euston. Pack me things for a week; country clothes; and put in plenty
He collected several things he wanted packed, and then retired to
his sitting-room, where he buried himself in an enormous file of
typewritten papers he had borrowed from Scotland Yard, and which
related to the various Nihilists known to be living in England. He had
to return them before he left London, and when he dropped them at the
Yard about seven o'clock, on his way to the station, he learnt that no
word had yet come from the Scotch authorities as to any further
developments at Inverashiel.
A few minutes past eight he was travelling North as fast as the
Scotch express could carry him.
It was midday on the following day when he got off the steamer that
had brought him from Crianan, and landed with his luggage on the wooden
pier which displayed, painted on a rough board, the name of
One of the deck hands dumped his luggage out on to the side of the
loch and the boat moved on again.
A track led across the moor, and down it Gimblet saw a farm cart
advancing, driven by a man who shouted as he approached:
“The young leddy's comin' doon tae meet ye, sir.”
And behind him, on the near skyline, the detective beheld the
hurrying figure of a girl.
Leaving the man with the cart to grapple with his luggage, which was
not of large dimensions, Gimblet walked to meet Juliet. As they drew
near, she stopped and held out her hand.
“Mr. Gimblet?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said; “and you are Miss Byrne, are you not?”
He looked at her keenly as he spoke, noticing that her eyes were red
and swollen, and that her whole bearing was eloquent of sorrow and want
of sleep. She lifted a miserable face to him.
“Yes,” she said. “I am so glad you have come, but it has seemed a
long while. I suppose you couldn't get here before. Do you know all
that has happened?”
“I know that Lord Ashiel is dead,” said the detective. “Hardly more
than that. Will you tell me all there is to tell before we go up to the
“I have left the castle, and am staying with Lady Ruth Worsfold,
whose house you can just see through the trees,” she said. “Will you
come there first, or shall we go straight to the castle. It is about a
mile through the woods.”
“Let us walk straight up,” said Gimblet. “You can tell me as we go.
I have, as you say, been a long while getting here, but it is fortunate
that the day is fine. I hope it has not rained during the last
“I don't know,” said the girl. “No; I believe it has been fine. But
I haven't taken much notice what the weather has been like.” She was
disappointed and indignant that he should talk in this trivial strain,
when her own heart was nearly bursting, and her every nerve stretched
and tingling. She had pinned all her hopes on the arrival of the famous
Gimblet heard the change in her tone.
“You think I am talking platitudes about the weather,” he said
quickly, “and you think I am unsympathetic for your distress; but,
believe me, what I said is very much to the point. If it has not rained
the murderer's footmarks will be very much more easily seen, and that
is very important.”
“You don't know,” said Juliet in a voice that trembled ominously.
“They have found plenty of footmarks. The Glasgow detectives said they
were Sir—Sir David Southern's. They found his gun too, not cleaned;
and they say he did it, and they have taken him away, to—to prison.” A
sob escaped her, but she controlled herself with a great effort and
went on: “You must prove that he didn't do it. I know he didn't. Anyone
who knew him must know he didn't. Oh you must, you must, find the real
Gimblet was silent for a moment before this appeal. It was difficult
to know what to say. He knew Macross well for a cautious, intelligent
officer; if he had arrested Sir David Southern it seemed pretty certain
that there was good evidence against that gentleman. On the other hand
Lord Ashiel had seemed to think it likely that his death might wear an
appearance calculated to mislead. Still Gimblet had a deep-rooted
prejudice against holding out hopes he could not see a good chance of
fulfilling, and he had so often been appealed to by distracted women to
save their friend and “find the real murderer.”
“Will you not begin at the beginning?” he said at last. “I know how
you came to be staying at Inverashiel, but I know nothing of what has
happened since your arrival, except the bare fact of Lord Ashiel's
death. Tell me every detail you can think of, but, first, who else was
staying at the castle besides yourself? I suppose they have left now?”
“Yes, they have all gone,” said Juliet. “The men went before it all
happened, and the others the next day. There were Lady Ruth Worsfold
and Mrs. Clutsam; they are both cousins of Lord Ashiel's, and he lends
them little houses that belong to him near here, but they were staying
at the castle for a week or two. Then there was Miss Julia Romaninov.
She is half a Russian, and Lord Ashiel's sister, who is away just now,
had invited her. An American girl, Miss Tarver, a great heiress, was
there too. The men were Sir George Hatch and Colonel Spicer, who are
cousins of Lord Ashiel's; and Mr. Mark McConachan and Sir David
Southern, who are his nephews, Mr. McConachan being the son of his dead
brother, while Sir David is his younger sister's child.
“I have been here a fortnight. The time has gone quickly. Every one
was very nice to me; and, though nothing out of the way happened, it
was all new and delightful, and I enjoyed it very much. Lord Ashiel,
especially, was kindness itself; he was never tired of explaining to me
the customs and traditions of the countryside, and he spared no pains
to see that I was amused and entertained. I was with him most of the
time, and grew to know him very well. I thought him a wonderful man: so
clever, so widely read, so tolerant and sympathetic in his opinions. He
was terribly delicate, though; he had continual headaches, and was so
easily tired; but he told me it was a new thing for him to feel ill; up
till a year or so ago he had always had the best of health. Mrs.
Clutsam told me she thought he had been terribly worried over
something; she didn't know what it was; and of course it is not so very
long since his wife and child died. But he did not strike me as being
troubled about anything; his eyes had a sad expression, and sometimes
he looked at me in a wondering sort of way; but I never saw him appear
worried, and he was always cheerful and lively while I was with him.”
“Was he not equally so with the rest of the party?” asked Gimblet.
“Did he show his likes and dislikes plainly?”
“I am afraid he did, rather. I think feeling ill and tired made him
irritable, and his temper was very quick. But he was always nice to
“Who wasn't he nice too?”
“Well, I don't think he liked Miss Romaninov much, In fact, she
seemed to get on his nerves, and sometimes he was so rude to her that I
used to wonder that she stayed. But she is such a quiet, good-tempered
little thing; she never seems to mind anything, and she was really
sorry and upset when he died. And he didn't much like the other girl,
Miss Tarver, but he made an effort, I think, to bear with her for his
nephew's sake. He said to me how glad he was that the boy would be well
“Which nephew?” asked Gimblet. “I don't understand. What had Miss
Tarver to do with it?”
“Sir David Southern was engaged to marry her. She has thrown him
over now,” said Juliet, and in spite of herself there was a trace of
elation in her voice. “As soon as Sir David was suspected of the murder
she broke off the engagement.”
“Ah,” said Gimblet, stooping to pick a piece of bracken, and waving
it before him to keep at bay the flies, which were buzzing round them
in clouds. He offered another bit silently to his companion, and she
took it absently, without a word.
“He seemed very fond of Mr. McConachan,” she said, “and I think he
liked every one else as well. Yes, I am sure he did, though he did have
a dreadful quarrel with Sir David two days before he was killed; and he
was angry with him once before that.”
“Ah,” said Gimblet again. “How was that?”
“The first time it was my fault, or partly my fault,” Juliet went
on. “It was out shooting, and I couldn't go as fast as the others, so I
lagged behind and nearly got shot by accident, as Mr. McConachan
thought we were in front of him. Sir David was with me, and Lord Ashiel
was fearfully angry with him, and said he'd no business to let me get
in a place where I might have been killed. He was rather cross with him
for the next few days, though I told him it was my fault; and then the
other day, when Sir David annoyed him again, there was a frightful
“Was that your fault too?” asked Gimblet with a smile.
“No, it really wasn't. Sir David had a dog, a retriever, to which he
was devoted, but which Lord Ashiel hated. It was not a well-trained
dog, I must admit, and it used to pay very little attention to its
master, except at meal times, when it became very affectionate, not
only to him, but to every one. The truth is that he spoilt it, and
never punished it when it did wrong, or took any trouble to make it
behave better. I heard that before I arrived there was trouble about
it, as it did a lot of damage in the garden, trampling down the
flower-beds, and knocking Lord Ashiel's favourite plants to pieces—he
was very fond of gardening—and the very first day they went out
shooting it ran away for miles, and Sir David after it, which delayed
one of the drives half an hour. His uncle had been very cross about
that, they said, and told Sir David he must keep it on a chain; but the
next day it ate a grouse it was supposed to be retrieving, and Lord
Ashiel was furious, and said that if it did anything more of the kind
he'd have it killed.
“However, after that, all went well. The dog was kept tightly
chained, and nothing happened till the other day. We were all out on
the moors, waiting in the butts for the last drive to begin. Everything
had gone badly with the shooting that day; the birds all went the wrong
way; there were hardly enough guns for driving, anyhow; there was a
high wind, and the shooting had been shocking; no one had shot well
except Mr. McConachan, who is such a good shot; every one had been
wounding their birds, and that always annoyed Lord Ashiel. He was in a
very bad temper, and though he was not cross with me, I was rather
afraid he might be, so I went and stood with Sir David. Miss Tarver was
watching Sir George Hatch in the next butt, and then came Colonel
Spicer, with Mr. McConachan and Lord Ashiel right at the end of the
“We had been waiting some time, when Sir David whispered to me that
the birds were coming, and crouched down under the wall of the butt.
His loader was kneeling behind him ready to hand him his second gun,
with two cartridges stuck between his fingers to reload the first one.
We were all intent on the grouse, and no one noticed that that wretched
dog had worked his head out of his collar and was roaming about behind
us. Just at that moment a mountain hare came lolloping along the crest
of the hill, and, deceived by the stillness, came to a pause just
opposite us and sat up on its hind legs to brush its whiskers with its
paw. Its toilette didn't last long, however, for by that time the dog
had caught its wind, and with a series of yelps had hurled itself upon
it. The hare was off in a second, and away they went, straight down the
line, the dog making as much noise as a whole pack of hounds as he
bounded and leapt over the thick heather. Sir David started up with an
exclamation of dismay, and I, too, stood up and looked over the top of
the butt. Following the direction of his eyes, I saw clouds of grouse
streaming away to the left, all turning as they came over the hill, and
wheeling away from us towards the north.
“The drive was absolutely spoilt. The hare and its pursuer had by
this time gone the whole length of the butts, and looked like going
till Christmas. Lord Ashiel had come out into the open, and we saw him
put his gun to his shoulder. The dog gave one last leap, and rolled
over before the report reached our ears. It was a quarter of a mile
away from us.”
Juliet paused; she was out of breath; they had been walking fast and
were within sight of the castle gates. The way led along the side of
Loch Ashiel, and the castle rose in front of them on a tall rocky
promontory, which jutted far into the water.
“Let us rest here a few minutes,” said Gimblet. “It is too much to
ask you to talk while we are walking up that hill, and I don't want you
to leave out any details, however unimportant they may appear to you.”
They had reached a place where a wide horseshoe of beach ran down to
the loch. For more than a week there had been no rain to speak of. The
season as a whole had been dry, and the water was very low; tufts of
grass dotted the shore; brambles and young alders were springing up
bravely, determined to make the most of their time. At the back
stretched a meadow, part of which had been cut for hay; the rest of it
was so full of weeds and wild flowers, ragweed, burdock and the red
stalks of sorrel, that it had been left untouched, and filled the
foreground with colour. The grass had gone to seed and turned a rich
reddish purple; beneath it grew wild geraniums whose leaves were
already scarlet. Bluebells and scabious made a haze of mauve, and
everywhere the warm, sandy stalks of the dried grasses shone yellow
through the patch.
They sat down at the edge of the beach and leant back against the
overhanging turf. Opposite to them the little town of Crianan clung to
the steep rocks below Ben Ghusy, the houses looking as if they stood
piled one on top of another in a rough pyramid; and the whole
surmounted by the high walls and tower of the Roman Catholic monastery
which dominated the scene, and always seemed to Juliet to wear a look
of stern defiance, as if it were offering a challenge to that other
fortress that frowned back at it. She could imagine the monks in the
old days, standing on its parapet and daring the Lords of Inverashiel
to do their worst. Far away down the loch lay the hills, scarce more
deeply grey than the water; beyond them more distant tops melted into
the sky. The grey ripples lapped gently on jagged shingle, and a
persistent housefly buzzed loudly round their heads; at that hour there
were as yet few midges, and it was very peaceful, very solitary, very
“I don't know,” said Juliet, going on with her story where she had
left off, “which was more angry, Lord Ashiel or Sir David. After the
first few minutes, in which they both said things I am sure they
regretted afterwards, neither of them would speak to the other, and it
was a very uncomfortable evening for every one. The next day was
better. Colonel Spicer and Sir George left by the morning train, both
going on to shoot in other parts of Scotland. Mrs. Clutsam went away
too; she had some one coming to stay with her at her own house near by.
Both the young men went stalking on different parts of the forest, and
Lord Ashiel and I, with the two other girls, spent the morning on the
loch trolling for salmon; but we didn't get a rise.
“In the afternoon I walked up the river with Julia Romaninov; we
talked about our schooldays. She had been at school in Germany, and I
in Switzerland. After a while she got tired and went home, but I went
on by myself, for I had a lot of things to think of, and was glad to be
alone. I came at last to a great pool among the rocks, where the river
comes down in a fall from far above in a cloud of spray and foam. I
stood on a stone at the water's edge and watched the trout rising in
the pool. The river was low and the water very clear. Standing on the
rocks above it, it seemed as if I could see every pebble at the bottom,
except where they were hidden in the ripples which spread away from
beneath the fall. The pool is like the bottom of a well; high rocks
rear themselves round it to a great height; they are veiled in a
greenness of fern and moss, and near the top many trees have found a
roothold in the crevices and bend forward towards each other over the
water, as divers poise themselves before leaping down. Through a narrow
opening opposite the fall the river makes its way onward. As I stood
there a stone must have come down from the heights above. I did not see
it, and the noise of the waterfall deadened any sound of its descent,
but suddenly I felt a heavy blow between the shoulders, and I must have
tumbled forward into the pool below.
“The next thing I remember was looking up into the anxious friendly
face of Andrew Campbell, one of the ghillies at Inverashiel. It seemed
to be hanging above me in the sky, which was the only other thing I
could see, and I wondered vaguely why I saw it upside down. My head was
aching cruelly and I couldn't imagine what was the matter, though I was
too weak and faint to care. To cut my adventure short, Andrew had come
to a pool lower down the river just as I floated into it on top of the
current; he had fished me out, and was now restoring me to life again.
I was got back to the house, how I hardly know, put to bed, and
actually wept over by Lord Ashiel. By the evening I had so far
recovered that I was able to come down to dinner, though I should not
have done so if it had not been for the anxiety of my host, as my head
still felt as if it was going to split. I received many congratulations
on my escape, and Lord Ashiel, when he spoke of it, was so much moved
that every one was quite embarrassed, and I myself was touched beyond
expression at the affection he did not attempt to conceal. He was very
silent after that, but in spite of him dinner that night was a merry
meal. Every one was in the best of spirits, or else assumed them for
the time being. We all joked and laughed over my adventure, and Mr.
McConachan said I bore a charmed life, since I had escaped being killed
by his careless shot, and now the river refused to drown me. It was not
till the servants had left the room, and we were preparing to do the
same, that Lord Ashiel spoke again.
“Lady Ruth had got up, and was moving towards the door, and the
other girls and I were following her, when he called her back. 'Will
you wait a minute, Ruth,' he said. 'I have something to tell you and my
young friends here.' He smiled round at all of us, including Sir David,
to whom he hadn't spoken since the affair of the dog. 'I have some good
news which I want you to share with me.' He took me by the hand and
drew me forward. 'I want,' said he, 'to introduce you all to a young
lady whom you do not know. This is Juliet McConachan, my dear and only
“I was not really so surprised as he expected. His behaviour to me
had made me suspicious, and during the last few days especially I had
allowed myself to nourish a hope that we were related. But I was glad.
I can't tell you how glad and thankful. Every one else was tremendously
surprised. They all clustered round us with questions and exclamations,
but Lord Ashiel would say no more just then, and only smiled and
beamed, and nodded mysteriously. 'I am not going to answer any
questions till I have had a talk with Juliet,' he said. 'This is as
much news to her as it is to any of you, and it is only fair that she
should be the first to hear the story. For I won't deny that there is a
story. Come to me presently, my child,' he went on, addressing himself
to me. 'Come to the library in half an hour's time. You will find me
there, and I will tell you all about it.'
“I went to the drawing-room, my aching head almost forgotten. I was,
of course, intensely excited; indeed I think I scarcely took in any of
the kind things that Lady Ruth and the others said to me that evening;
at all events I have hardly any idea what they were, and none at all as
to what I answered. My one overmastering desire was to be alone; to
have time to think; to realize all that the news meant to me; and after
a quarter of an hour had passed I made some excuse, and left the room.
The nearest way to my bedroom was by a back stair, and to reach it I
had to pass through a passage leading to the gun-room. The door of that
room was ajar, and as I went by Sir David Southern came out.
“'What have you been doing in there at this time of night?' I asked;
and oh, Mr. Gimblet, I was so foolish as to repeat this to the Glasgow
detective when he questioned me. To think that my careless words have
led them to believe Sir David capable of such a crime! But I had no
idea of the meaning they would attach to it. You will understand
presently how it was. 'I went to clean my rifle,' he answered, shutting
the door behind him. 'I always see to that myself. And where are you
off to so fast, Cousin Juliet? That is what you are to me, it appears.'
And so we talked: about me, and our newly discovered relationship. I
need not repeat all that, need I? And, besides, I do not remember
everything we said,” added Juliet, flushing.
“After a little while, though, I told him how badly my head ached,
and he was very sympathetic about it. 'You ought not to have come down
to dinner,' he said, 'the dining-room gets so hot and stuffy; it is a
low room, and Uncle Douglas never will have the window open, even on a
lovely night like this.' There is a door at the foot of the stairs,
opposite the gun-room, and as he spoke he drew back the bolt. 'Come out
into the garden for a few minutes,' he said, holding the door open for
me to pass, 'a little fresh air will do you more good than anything.'
“The night was warm, I suppose, for Scotland, but cool enough to
seem wonderfully fresh and invigorating after the enclosed air within
the house. It was very dark, and the sky was overcast, though just
above us a star or two was shining, very large and clear. Otherwise I
could hardly distinguish anything at all, except the line, about fifty
yards away, where the lawn came to an end, and the ground dipped
abruptly down towards the loch, so that the level edge of the grass
showed up against the less opaque darkness of the sky, like a black
velvet border to a piece of black silk.
“We stood there a little while, till I remembered I must go to the
library. My head was already much better when I turned back into the
house; Sir David didn't follow me; he seemed to be staring through the
gloom in front of him. 'I am going in,' I said. 'What are you looking
at?' 'I thought I saw something move over there on the skyline,' he
replied; 'do you see anything?' I looked, but could make out nothing.
'Well,' he said, 'if you are going in, I think I'll just go over and
see if there's anyone about; you might leave the door open, will you?'
“And so I left him, and made my way to the library. As I passed
through the billiard-room, Mr. McConachan, who was knocking the balls
about, asked me if I had seen his cousin, and I told him Sir David was
outside on the lawn by the gun-room door.
“Lord Ashiel—my father—was waiting for me, and he came to meet me
and kissed me tenderly. We were both very much agitated: I was still
feeling the effects of my escape from drowning, and he, poor dear, was
weak and ill. In short, neither of us was in a fit state to meet the
situation calmly; and, if my tears flowed, they were not the only ones
that were shed. For a few moments we cried like babies, in each other's
arms, and then I pulled myself together, for I knew how bad it was for
his health to get into this nervous state. Mr. Gimblet, I needn't tell
you all the conversation that followed between us. He told me that you
know the whole story, that you are the one person in the world in whom
he had confided; so it is unnecessary for me to repeat what he said of
his marriage to my mother, of her death, and of his resolve never
willingly to look upon me, the baby who had taken her from him. He told
me also of the years that had intervened between that day when he had
shuffled off his responsibilities on to Mrs. Meredith, and the day, not
long ago, when he at last decided to hunt out his daughter.
“He told me of his fears that she should prove to be none other than
Julia Romaninov, and of how, in desperation, he had applied to you for
help, and of how you had discovered my existence.
“He said he had never really doubted from the moment he first set
eyes on me that I was Juliana's child. But he dared not hint such a
thing to me till he was certain, and anxious though he was to see a
likeness between me and her, or himself, he had not been able to tell
himself, truthfully, that he could really see one, until that day. It
was when I was brought home that afternoon, so white and faint, so
changed by my pallor from what he chose to describe as my usual gay
brilliance, that the resemblance suddenly showed itself. He hardly knew
that it was I; it might have been Juliana that they were carrying. He
said there could be no doubt that I was her daughter; that he for one,
required no further proof; though we should probably get it now it was
no longer wanted. Sir Arthur Byrne might be able to suggest some way of
tracing things. Not that it mattered, for he could not in any case
leave me his title, and, on the other hand, he had full control of his
money, which would be mine before very long.
“I cried out at that, that he must not say so; that it was not money
I wanted, but a father, affection, friendship. He repeated that all the
same I should have it in course of time. That it was all settled
already. Even before he was certain that I was his own child, he liked
me well enough to make up his mind about that. He asked me if I
remembered that he had stayed at home the other day while the rest of
us were on the hill? He said he had made his will that day, and I was
the principal legatee, though he had not alluded to me in it by my own
name. But he worded it carefully, so that that should make no
difference; and though he believed it was quite clear as it was, he
would make it over again, as soon as he could obtain legal proof of my
“I supposed I murmured some sort of thanks for his care of my
future, and he went on again, saying that he only wished the title
could come to me too, when he died; but that it would go to Mark, since
the little boy his second wife had given him was dead, and I was a
“He said he was afraid that Mark might be a little disappointed,
for, if he hadn't found me, Mark and David would have shared his
fortune between them; but they would soon get over it, for they were
good lads, especially Mark; and David would have plenty of money
through this very satisfactory marriage of his. I couldn't help
interrupting that money wasn't everything. I am telling you all these
trivial things, Mr. Gimblet, because you said I was to try and remember
everything, however unimportant.”
“Yes,” said Gimblet, “that is what I want. Pray go on.”
“He only smiled when I said that,” Juliet resumed, “and said that
different opinions were held on that subject by different people. Then
he went on talking about my future life, and said again how glad he
would always be that he had consulted you, and how grateful he was for
what you had done for him, and that if any trouble cropped up, I was to
be sure and send for you at once. He looked to you to protect my
interests, and, if necessary, to avenge his death.
“I couldn't think what he meant, and said so; but he only smiled
again and said he hoped there would be no need for it. He said he had
some papers he must send to you to take care of, some papers that were
rather dangerous to their owner, he was afraid, though at the same time
they were a safeguard to him. But he shouldn't like me to have anything
to do with them, or the boys either, and he must get them away from
Inverashiel as soon as he could. In the meantime they were in a safe
place where no one would find them, and he would write to you that
night and tell you how to look for them, just on the chance that
something should happen before he could send them off. His will was
with them, too, for the present, but he would send that up to Findlay
&Ince. He wouldn't tell me where the papers were; he didn't want me to
have anything to do with these tiresome things.
“He said all this with hesitation; with long pauses between the
sentences. It seemed to me that he would have liked to tell me more,
and I didn't know what to say. Indeed, he seemed to be talking rather
to himself than to me, and I am not sure if he heard me when I said
that if he had any anxiety I should like to share it, if it were
possible. Presently he seemed to take a sudden resolution. He said that
there was no reason, at all events, why he should not explain to me how
to find the papers. He had written directions in cipher once before and
given you the key, but you had lost it, and might do so again. It would
be just as well that I should know about it too, in any case. He had
had to think out a new method, and at present it was known to no one
except himself, which was perhaps not very wise. However, he would send
it to you that night, and would explain it to me at once. But first I
must promise him, very faithfully, never to mention it to anyone,
whatever happened, not to let anyone, except you, ever guess that there
was such a thing in existence.
“I promised solemnly; still he hardly seemed satisfied, and looked
at me very searchingly, while he said he wondered if I were old enough
to understand the importance of this, and if I realized that I was
promising not to tell my nearest or dearest; not my adopted father, Sir
Arthur Byrne, nor my lover, if I had one. That it was a matter of life
and death, that his life was in danger then, and that I would inherit
the risk unless I did as he said.
“Rather indignant, though completely mystified, I promised again. He
seemed satisfied, and said he would write the whole thing down for me.
He moved from the hearth, where we had been sitting, to the
writing-table, which stands in the middle of the room, in front of the
window. He sat down at it, and I stood a little behind him, looking on
as he took a sheet of notepaper and turned over the pens in the tray in
search of a pencil. The room was very hot; the tufts of peat
smouldering in the grate, and the two lamps, combined with the fumes of
Lord Ashiel's cigar to render the atmosphere oppressive to a person
with a violent headache. I glanced longingly towards the window. It was
not entirely hidden by the heavy curtains which were drawn across it,
for they did not quite meet in the middle, and I could see perfectly
well that the window was shut. For a moment I hesitated, torn between
the desire for fresh air and the fear that my father might feel too
cold. He was terribly chilly. I decided to ask him, and turned to him
again as he took up the pencil and examined the point critically.
“'Would you mind,' I was beginning; but at that instant a loud
report sounded just outside the window. Lord Ashiel fell forward on to
the table with a low cry, his hand clasped to his ribs. 'Oh, what is
it?' I cried, bending over him; 'you are hurt; you are shot! Oh, what
shall I do!' He was making a great effort to speak, I could see that
plainly enough; but no words would come, and he seemed to be choking.
At last he managed to get out a few words. 'Gimblet,' he gasped, 'the
clock—eleven—steps—' and then with a groan his hand dropped from his
side, his head rolled back upon the table, and a silence followed, more
horrible to me than anything that had gone before.
“I saw now that his shirt was already soaked with blood; and, as in
terror I called again upon his name, the dreadful truth was borne in
upon me, and I knew that he was dead.”
Juliet's voice failed her; she spoke the last few words in a
quavering whisper, and if Gimblet had looked at her at that moment he
would have beheld a countenance drawn and distorted by horror.
But he was very much occupied, and did not look up. With a notebook
open on his knee, he was busily writing down what she had said.
“You are sure of the words?” he asked, as his pencil sped across the
page. “'Gimblet—the clock—eleven—step,' is that it?”
His matter-of-fact voice soothed and reassured her. This little
grey-haired man, sitting at her side, was somehow a very comfortable
companion to one whose nerves were badly overwrought. Juliet pulled
“Steps,” she corrected, and her voice sounded almost natural again.
“Do you suppose,” asked the detective, “that he meant the English
word, steps, or the Russian, steppes?”
“I don't know,” said Juliet, surprised. “I never thought of it. But,
Mr. Gimblet, I have not told anyone but you that he spoke after he was
hit. I thought perhaps that he might have wished those last words of
his to be kept private.”
“Quite right,” said Gimblet approvingly. “He did right to trust your
discretion. And now, please, go on,” he added, putting down his pencil;
“what happened next?”
And Juliet answered him in a tone as calm as his own:
“I think I must have fainted.”
“The next thing I remember, was finding myself lying on the floor,
and, when I tried to get up, seeing everything in the room swinging
about me like the swinging boats at a fair. I don't know how long I had
been unconscious, but when, at last, I managed to stand up, and
clinging, faint and giddy, to the back of a chair, looked again at the
motionless figure that sprawled across the writing-table, there was a
great pool of blood on the polished oak of the floor beneath it, which
grew slowly broader, as drop after drop dripped down to swell it With a
great effort I conquered my faintness, and staggered out of the room
and down the long passage.
“In the billiard-room Mr. McConachan was still practising his game.
He must have been making a break, for I remember hearing him speak, as
I opened the door. 'Twenty-seven,' he said aloud. My voice wouldn't
come, and I stood holding on to the doorpost, while he, with his back
to me, went on potting the red.
“'That you, Miss Byrne?' he said, without looking round. Then, as I
didn't answer, he glanced up and saw by my face, I suppose, that
something was very wrong. He came quickly to me, his cue in his hand.
'What's the matter?' he said. 'Do you feel ill?' 'Lord Ashiel is dead,'
I said; 'in the library. Some one shot him. Didn't you hear?' 'Dead?'
he cried; 'Uncle Douglas shot! Do you know what you're saying! I heard
a shot, it is true, five minutes ago, but surely that was the keeper
shooting an owl or something.'
“I shook my head. 'He is dead,' I repeated dully. He looked at me,
still incredulous, and then darted forward and caught me by the arm.
'Here, sit down,' he said, and half pushed, half led me to a chair. I
saw him run to the bell and tug violently at the rope. Then I believe I
“I think that is all there is to tell you, Mr. Gimblet. You know
already that the murderer got clear away, and the next morning
footmarks were found outside the window which proved to have been made
by Sir David Southern. I was so idiotic, when I was questioned, as to
mention having spoken to him outside the gun-room door, and to repeat,
incidentally, that he had said he had been cleaning his rifle. I never
dreamt that anyone could be so mad as to suspect him. But they looked
at the rifle, and found that it was dirty, so that it must have been
discharged again since I saw him. And it appears he did not join in the
search for the murderer, and was not seen until it was all over. And so
they arrested him and took him away. No amount of evidence could ever
make me believe for a moment that he had a hand in this dreadful thing,
but oh, Mr. Gimblet, I see only too well how black it looks against
him. What shall I do if you, too, now that I have told you everything,
think he did it? You don't, do you?”
“My dear young lady,” said the detective. “I really can't give you
an opinion at present. There are a score of points I must investigate,
a dozen other people besides yourself whom I must question, before I
can form any kind of conclusion. I hope that Sir David Southern may
prove to be a much wronged man. But beyond that I can't go, just at
present; and I shouldn't build too much on my help if I were you. I'm
not infallible; far from it. And I certainly can't prove him innocent
if he is guilty.”
He stood up, shaking the sand out of his clothes.
“Let us go on, up to the castle,” he said.
The gates were near at hand; in silence they breasted the steep
incline of the drive, which wound and zigzagged up between high banks
covered with rhododendron and bracken, and grown over with trees. After
a quarter of a mile these gave place to an abrupt, grass covered slope,
whose top had been smoothed and levelled by the hand of man, and from
which on the far side rose the castle of Inverashiel, its stout and
ancient framework disguised and masked by the modern addition to the
building which faced the approach; a mass of gabled and turreted
stonework in the worst style of nineteenth century architecture which
in Scotland often took on a shape and semblance even more fantastically
repulsive than it assumed in the south. The great tower that formed the
principal remaining portion of the old building could just be discerned
over the top of the flaring facade, but the nature of the site was such
that most of the ancient fortress was invisible from that part of the
grounds. Juliet stopped at the turn of the road.
“I will leave you here,” she said, “you will not want me, I suppose?
After you have finished, will you come to Lady Ruth Worsfold's house,
and tell me what you think? It is just past the station turning; you
will easily find your way, though the house is hidden by the trees.
Your luggage will be there already, as Lady Ruth is going to put you
Mr. Mark McConachan, or rather Lord Ashiel, as he had now become,
was in the act of ending a solitary meal, when Gimblet was announced.
He went to meet the detective, forcing to his trouble-lined face a
smile of welcome that lit up the large melancholy eyes with an
expression few people could resist.
“I thought it was another of those newspaper fellows, but, thank
goodness, I believe they're all gone now,” he said. “I am exceedingly
glad to see you, Mr. Gimblet. I should myself have asked you to come to
our aid, but I found that Miss Byrne had been before me. I suppose you
have seen her?”
“Yes,” said Gimblet. “She met me at the station. I'm afraid I'm
rather late on the scene. I hear that the Glasgow police have come and
gone, taking with them the author of the crime.”
“It is a dreadful business altogether,” returned young Ashiel. “I
don't know which part of it is the worst. There's my uncle dead, shot
down like a rat by some cold-blooded scoundrel; and now my cousin
David, poor chap, in jail, and under charge of murder. It seems
impossible to believe it of him, and yet, what is one to believe? One
can only suppose that he must have been off his head if he did it. But
have you had lunch, Mr. Gimblet? Sit down and have something to eat
first of all; you can ask me any questions you wish while you are
And he insisted on Gimblet's doing as he suggested.
“The household is naturally a bit disorganized,” he said when the
servants had left the room and the detective was busy with some cold
grouse. “I had a cold lunch myself to save trouble; would you rather
have something hot? I expect that a chop or something could be
produced, if you are cold after your journey.”
Gimblet assured him that he could like nothing better than what he
“You have had Macross up here, haven't you?” he asked. “It is really
disappointing to find the whole thing over before I arrive. I am afraid
there is nothing left for me to do.”
Mark looked at him quickly. Was it possible he accepted Macross's
verdict without inquiring further himself?
“We are hoping you will undo what has been done,” he said. “I look
to you to get my cousin out of prison. Surely there must be some other
explanation than that he did it. I simply won't believe it.”
“If there is any other explanation,” said Gimblet, “I will try and
find it; but the affair looks bad against Sir David Southern from what
I can hear.”
“Why should he have shot through the window?” said Ashiel. “They
were both in the same house. Why should my cousin go into the garden,
when he had nothing to do but to open the library door and shoot, if he
“Oh,” said Gimblet, “ordinary caution would suggest the garden. He
did not know perhaps, whether his uncle would be alone; and as a matter
of fact, he was not, was he?”
“No, Miss Byrne was with him. By Jove,” said Mark, bending forward
to light a cigarette, “I shall never forget the fright it gave me when
I saw her face. She looked as if—oh, she looked perfectly ghastly! I
was in the billiard-room when she came in, as white as a sheet, and
stood there without speaking for a minute, while I imagined every sort
of catastrophe except the real one. And all the time I kept thinking it
would turn out to be nothing really, as likely as not; women will look
hideously frightened and upset if they cut their finger, or see a rat,
or think they hear burglars. One never knows. And then at last she got
out a few words, 'Lord Ashiel has been shot,' or something of the sort,
“What did you do?” asked Gimblet.
“Well, I had to see to her, you know. I couldn't very well leave her
in that state, could I? I hung on to the bell for all I was worth, and
the butler and footmen came running. I told them to look after the
young lady and to call her maid, and then I ran off to the library,
followed by old Blanston, the butler. You know what we found there. My
poor old uncle, dead as a door nail; a hole in the window where the
bullet came in, and the floor around him all covered with blood. Ugh!”
Mark shuddered, “it was horrid. We only stayed to make sure he was
dead, and then we left him as we had found him and rushed back to rouse
the rest of the household, and to start a chase after the murderer. Of
course the first person I looked for was David Southern, but he wasn't
to be found, so I and three menservants ran out at once with sticks and
lanterns, and hunted all over the grounds without seeing or hearing
anything or anyone. The hall boy had been sent down to fetch up the
stablemen and chauffeur, and to rout out some of the gardeners and
anyone else he could find, so that we were a decently large party, and
I don't think there was an inch of ground we didn't go over, of all
that lies within the policies. The murderer, however, had plenty of
time to get right away, and as it was hopeless to scour the whole
country side in that darkness—for it was as black as your hat—I
decided, after an hour of groping about in the shrubberies, that we
must leave off and wait for daylight.”
“What time was it when you abandoned the hunt?” asked Gimblet.
“It was past midnight. I didn't see that any good could be done by
sitting up all night. On the contrary, I thought it important that we
should get some sleep while we could, so as to be fresher for the chase
when daylight came. At this time of the year it gets light fairly
early, so I sent every one to bed, except two of the ghillies, whom I
told to row across the loch to Crianan and fetch the doctor and police,
which I suppose I ought to have thought of before. Then I went to bed
“And when did Sir David Southern turn up?” asked Gimblet.
“Oh, he appeared soon after we started to beat the policies. I
hadn't time then to ask him where he'd been, and he was as keen on
catching the murderer as anyone. Of course it never occurred to me to
“Naturally. Please go on with your narrative.”
“Well, we slept, to speak for myself, for three or four hours, and
then James and Andrew came back with the people I had sent for. And
now, Mr. Gimblet, I come to a strange thing, a thing I've been careful
not to mention to anyone but you, though I'm afraid it's bound to come
out at the trial. When Blanston and I went out of the library, we
locked the door behind us, but when I opened it again, to let in the
doctor and the police, my uncle's body had been moved.”
“Moved? How?” Gimblet repeated after him.
“Oh, not far, but it had been touched by some one, I am ready to
swear, though I said nothing about it at the time. When we first found
him, he was lying forward on the table with one arm under his head and
the other hanging beside him. When I went in for the second time he was
sitting sideways in his chair with his head and arm in quite a
different place. Instead of being in the middle, on the blotting-pad,
they were further to the right, on the bare polished wood.”
Gimblet looked at him keenly.
“You are perfectly certain of this?” he said.
“Absolutely. Besides, you can ask Miss Byrne and Blanston. They both
saw him as he was at first. And the police and Dr. Duncan can tell you
what his position was when they went into the room. I said nothing
about it to any of them, because I thought at once that it must be
David who had been there.”
“Why did you think that?”
“Because he knew where the key was. I took it out of my pocket when
we were alone in the smoking-room before going up to bed, and asked him
what I should do with it.
“'Oh, put it in a drawer,' he said, pointing to the writing-table,
and I put it there, as he suggested. Of course I see now that some one
else may have found the key in that drawer, but at first it did look as
if David must, for some reason, have taken it, and been in the library,
after I'd gone to bed.”
“It seems very unlikely that anyone else would have hit on the place
where you had put it,” said Gimblet reflectively. “And if they had done
so, would they have recognized the key? Is the library key peculiar in
“It is rather an uncommon pattern,” said Mark. “It is very old and
strong. I think anyone who knew the key would have recognized it all
“It is hardly likely that anyone would have found it if they had had
to search all through the house for it in the middle of the night,”
commented Gimblet. “Is there no other way of getting into the library?”
“No, there is only one door.”
“How about the window? It was broken; could not anyone have put in a
hand, or raised the sash?”
“I don't think anyone could have got in. It isn't a sash window.
There are stone mullions and small leaded casements in the old part of
the castle where the library is, and I doubt if anyone larger than a
child could squeeze through; in fact, a child couldn't; there are iron
bars down the middle, which make it too narrow.”
“H'm,” murmured Gimblet. “I should like to have a look at them. And
what was the doctor's report?”
“He said that the injuries to the heart were such that death must
have been instantaneous, or practically so.”
“Did anything else come out?”
“Nothing, except the evidence against poor old David, I'm sorry to
“You haven't told me that yet,” said Gimblet. “Go on from when the
police arrived on the scene.”
“As soon as it was daylight we started off again on our search. But
right at the beginning of it, they came upon the footsteps.”
“Ah, where were they?”
“The flower-bed outside the library window showed them plainly; the
ground beyond that was mossy, and there were no other marks. We divided
into two parties, one going west down the side of the loch, and the
other north and east over the hills. Till ten o'clock or later we beat
the country, searching behind every rock, and going through the woods
and bracken in a close line. But we saw no sign of a stranger, and came
back at last, dead beat, for food and a rest. When we got back we found
that the policeman left in charge had been nosing about, and whiling
away his time by collecting the boots of every one in the house and
fitting them to the footprints on the flower-bed. As bad luck would
have it, David's shooting-boots exactly fitted the marks.”
“His shooting-boots?” said Gimblet. “He wouldn't be wearing
shooting-boots after dinner.”
“That's what he said himself, and there seems no imaginable reason
why he should have worn them, unless—” Mark hesitated for a moment,
and then went on in a tone perhaps rather too positive to carry
complete conviction to a critical ear. “Of course not. He can't have
put them on after dinner. The idea is ludicrous. He must have made
those footmarks earlier in the day.”
“Is that what he himself says?” asked the detective. He had finished
eating, and was leaning back in his chair with that air of far-off
contemplation which those best acquainted with him knew was habitually
his expression when his attention and interest were more than usually
“No,” admitted Mark regretfully. “He doesn't. He sticks to it that
he'd never been near the flower-bed, with boots, or without them; it's
my belief his memory has been affected by the shock of all this. And he
would insist on talking to the police, though they warned him that what
he said might be used against him. I did all I could to stop him, but
it was no good. It really looked as if he was doing his best to
“How was that? What else did he say?”
“You see,” said Mark, “when the Crianan man had got hold of the
boots that matched the footprints, he was no end excited by his
success. Pleased to death with himself, he was. And he was as keen as
mustard on following up his rotten clue. The next thing he did was to
want a look at David's guns. Of course we didn't make any objection to
that, though if I'd known—well, it's no earthly thinking of that now.
So off we all marched in procession to the gun-room, and it didn't take
long to see that the only one of the whole lot there that hadn't been
cleaned since it was last fired was the Mannlicher David had shot his
stag with the day before. The silly ass of a constable took it up and
squinted through it as solemn as a judge, and then he just handed it to
my cousin, and 'What have you to say to this, Sir David?' says he.
Infernal cheek! 'I shot it off yesterday, and haven't had time to clean
it since,' said David, and I, for one, could have sworn he was speaking
the truth. Why not, indeed? There was nothing improbable about it. But
the dickens of the thing was that while we were all out of the house,
and he had the place to himself, the policeman had routed out poor Miss
Byrne and badgered her for an account of all that had happened the
evening before; and she, without a thought of doing harm to any of
us—I'm convinced she's as sorry for it now as I am myself—had
mentioned incidentally that David had told her, when she saw him half
an hour before the murder, that he'd just been cleaning his rifle.
She'd told me so, too, as far as that goes, when she passed through the
billiard-room on her way to the library. I happened to ask her if she
knew what he was up to.”
“Decidedly awkward for Sir David,” said Gimblet meditatively, “but
after all, some one else might have fired off the rifle after he had
Mark shook his head gloomily.
“There are difficulties about that,” he said. “It happens that David
is very fussy about his guns, always cleans them himself, you know, and
won't let another soul touch 'em. And though he keeps them in the
gunroom like the rest of us, he's got his own particular glass-fronted
cupboard which he keeps the key of himself. My uncle and I share one
between us, and generally leave the key in the lock, so that the keeper
can get at the guns, which we never bother to clean ourselves. Not so
David. Ever since we were boys he's had his own private cupboard, and
no one but himself has ever been allowed to open it. We always spent
our holidays here, and my uncle let us behave as if we were at our own
house. David took out the key for the sergeant to use, and when he was
asked if anyone else could have got at the rifle, he replied that it
was impossible, as the key had been in his pocket the whole time,
except for an hour or two while he was asleep, when it had lain on the
table by his bedside.”
“Did he deny having told Miss Byrne he had cleaned the rifle?” asked
“Yes; he said he hadn't told her so. It was all very unpleasant, and
the police sergeant was as suspicious as you like, by this time. 'What
were you doing when the alarm was given?' he asked David. 'I was out in
the grounds,' said David, and that was rather a facer for the rest of
us, I must confess. He went on to say that he had fancied he saw some
one hanging about at the edge of the lawn—which is the opposite side
of the house from the library—and gone out to make sure, but he had
found no one, though he hunted about for nearly an hour, till he saw
lights approaching and fell in with our party of searchers. He said
that it was then he first heard what had happened.”
Gimblet nodded his head thoughtfully.
“Miss Byrne said she saw him start off to look for some one,” he
“Yes,” said Mark eagerly, “there's no doubt he saw a man lurking in
the darkness. And it was dark too,” he added, “never saw such a black
night in my life; I must say it beats me how he could have seen anyone.
But his eyes were always rather more useful than mine,” he concluded
“The police, however, seem to have thought it improbable,” said
Gimblet, “since they arrested your cousin for the murder.”
“Stupid brutes!” said Mark viciously. “No, they would have it it was
impossible he should have seen anyone. And what clinched it was the
unlucky fact that David and my uncle had had a violent row the day
before. My uncle shot David's dog; I must say I think it was uncalled
for, and poor David was absurdly fond of the beast. He felt very savage
about it, and all the ghillies heard what he said to Uncle Douglas.”
“What did he say?”
“Oh, a lot of rot. He lost his temper. The idiotic thing he said
was, that he'd a good mind to shoot him and see how he liked it.
Pure temper, you know. I don't believe David would hurt a hair of his
“Well, it was decidedly an indiscreet remark.”
“It was imbecile. And of course the police heard all about it from
the servants and keepers, and it fitted in only too well with all the
rest about the footmarks and his absence from the house at the time,
and the rifle and everything. By the by, the bullet was a soft-nosed
one which fitted David's rifle; but for that matter it fitted
mine—which is a .355 Mannlicher like his—or a dozen others on the
loch side. It's a very common weapon on a Scotch forest. But taking one
thing with another there was a good deal of evidence against him, so
they made up their minds he had done it; and Macross, when he arrived
from Glasgow with his myrmidons, agreed with the local idiots, and took
him off. I'm certain there must be a mistake somewhere, but so far it
seems jolly hard to hit on it. I hope you'll put your finger on the
“I hope so,” said Gimblet, but his voice was full of doubt. “It's
hard to see how anyone else could have used his rifle after he cleaned
it, since he admits that he locked it up and kept the key on him. Yes,”
he murmured to himself, “the rifle speaks very eloquently. What other
interpretation can be put on these facts? I'm sure you must see that
yourself,” he went on, glancing up at Mark, who was feeling in his
pocket for another cigarette. “Sir David told Miss Byrne he had cleaned
his rifle; he told the police he then locked it up and that the key had
been in his possession ever since. But the rifle was found to have been
fired again since he had cleaned it. His only explanation was to
contradict what he had previously said to Miss Byrne. Do those facts
appear to you to leave any possible loophole of doubt as to his guilt?”
Mark struck a match and lighted his cigarette before he answered.
When at length he did so his reluctance was very plain, and his voice
full of regret.
“Poor old chap,” he said. “I'm afraid he must have done it in some
fit of madness. As you say, there is no other imaginable alternative.”
Gimblet nodded philosophically.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“There's a letter which arrived for Uncle Douglas this morning,” he
said, “which you may think worth looking at. I daresay it's of no
importance, but it struck me as rather odd.”
He took a letter out of his pocket and handed it to the detective,
who opened it and read as follows:
“Si Milord ne rend pas ce qu'il ne doit pas garder, le coup de
foudre lui tombera sur la tete.”
There was no signature, nor any date.
Gimblet turned the sheet over thoughtfully. The message was
typewritten on a piece of thin foreign paper; the postmark on the
envelope was Paris, and the stamps French. He folded it again and
replaced it in its cover.
“It seems the usual threatening anonymous communication,” he
observed. “Have you any idea who it's from?”
Mark shook his head.
“None,” he confessed. “It looks, though, as if my uncle had in his
possession something belonging to the writer, doesn't it? Don't you
think it might have something to do with the murder?”
“I don't see why the murderer should send a threatening letter after
the deed was done,” said the detective. “Still less could he have
posted it in Paris on the very day the crime was committed.”
“No, that's true enough,” Mark admitted reluctantly.
“Has any suspicious looking person been seen about this place, this
summer? Any foreigner, for instance?” asked the detective.
“No; no,” Mark replied. “I should have heard of it for certain if
there had been. It would have been an event, down here.”
Gimblet dropped the subject.
“If I may,” he said. “I will keep this. It may lead to something,”
he added, tucking the letter away in an inside pocket. “That's all, I
Mark was silent for a minute. He seemed to be thinking.
“That's all I know about the murder,” he said at last, “but there
are plenty of complications apart from that. I suppose Miss Byrne told
you that my uncle electrified us all by saying she was his daughter,
only an hour or so before he died?”
Gimblet nodded. “Yes,” he said, “she told me.”
“It makes it very awkward for me,” said Mark. “I want to do the
right thing, but I'm hanged if I know what I ought to do. You see, my
uncle used to say that he'd left his property between me and David; he
never made any secret of it, and as a matter of fact I've had a
communication from his London lawyers, telling me they have a very old
will, made when I was a small boy, long before the birth of his son,
and that everything is left to me. There were reasons why he may have
thought David would be provided for—he was engaged to marry a very
rich American, but she dropped him yesterday like a red-hot coal as
soon as it began to look as if he'd be suspected. She's gone now, I'm
glad to say. As a matter of fact, if David can only be cleared of this
horrible charge, I shall insist on dividing my inheritance with him.
That is, if I can't get Miss Byrne to take it, or Miss McConachan, as I
ought to call her now.”
“Lord Ashiel could leave his money where he liked, couldn't he?”
“Yes, he could, but he would naturally have left it to his daughter,
if she really was his daughter. In fact, Miss McConachan says he told
her he had done so, but I haven't come across the will so far, though I
had a good hunt through his papers this morning; Blanston and the
housekeeper, who say they witnessed some document which may have been a
will, have no idea where it is. Of course, my uncle may have intended
to say that he was going to make one, and Miss McConachan may have
misunderstood him, but she seems to think he had some secret
hiding-place of his own, and I hope to goodness you'll be able to hit
on it, if he had. I can't stand the idea of profiting by a lost will,
and I'd far rather simply hand over the money than bother to look for
this missing paper.”
“Oh, I daresay it will turn up,” said Gimblet. “You haven't had much
time to find it yet.”
“My uncle was a very methodical man. Everything is in its place. You
wait till you see his papers! If he made a will he must have hidden it
somewhere where we shall never dream of looking for it. It's just waste
of time hunting about, and I shall have another try at persuading my
new cousin to let me make over everything to her.”
“It is not every young man in your position who would part so
readily with a large fortune,” observed Gimblet.
But Mark awkwardly deprecated his approving words.
“Oh,” he said, “I'm sure any decent chap would do the same in my
“And now,” said Gimblet, “may I visit the scene of the crime?”
Mark took him first to his uncle's bedroom; a room austere in its
simplicity, with bare white-washed walls and uncarpeted floor. No one
could have hidden a sheet of paper in that room, thought the detective,
as he gazed round it, after he had looked, with a feeling akin to
guilt, on the features of the dead peer. He had not known how to
protect this man from the dreadful fate that had struck him down from a
direction so utterly unexpected, and he held himself, in a way,
responsible for his death.
Then young Ashiel led him away, down a wide corridor into the
billiard-room, and so into another passage, at the end of which a door
of stout and time-darkened oak gave access to the library. It creaked
noisily on its hinges, as he pushed it open and ushered Gimblet in.
They stepped into a square room, comfortably furnished, with deep
arm-chairs, and a large chippendale writing-table which stood at right
angles to the bow window, so placed that anyone writing at it should
have the light upon his left. It was rather a dark room, the walls
being lined with books from floor to ceiling, except at two points:
opposite the window an alcove, panelled in ancient oak, appeared in the
wall; and above the fireplace, opposite the door, the wall was panelled
in the same manner and covered by an oil painting, representing Lord
Ashiel's grandmother. The polished boards were unconcealed by any rug
or carpet, and reflected a little of the light from the window. An
ominous discoloration near the writing-table showed plainly upon them.
In the glass of the mullioned casement was the small round hole made
by the fatal bullet.
Gimblet glanced at the bureau on which the writing materials were
set out in perfect order, and could not conceal his annoyance.
“Everything has been moved, I see,” he said. “Why couldn't they
leave it as it was for a few hours longer?”
“Nothing was touched till after the police had gone,” said Mark. “I
confess I did not think it necessary to leave things alone once they
were out of the house. Not only have the housemaids been at work in
here, but I spent most of the morning here myself, going through the
papers in that bureau. Will it matter much?” He spoke with evident
“Never mind,” said Gimblet, “I suppose Macross's people photographed
everything, and I can get copies from them, I have no doubt. By the by,
what did Sir David Southern say about having been in the room while you
were in bed? Did he admit it; and did he say why he moved the body?”
“He said he'd not been near the place,” replied Mark, looking more
perplexed and worried than ever. “I can't understand it at all,” he
added. “Why should he deny it to me?”
Gimblet opened a drawer in the bureau. Papers filled it, tied
together in bundles and neatly docketed. They seemed to be receipted
bills. He glanced at the pigeon-holes, and opened one or two more
drawers. Everywhere the most fastidious order reigned.
“You have been through all these?” he asked.
“Yes, but there is a cupboard full in the smoking-room. I thought of
looking into those this afternoon.”
“It would be a good plan,” Gimblet agreed. “Don't let me keep you,”
And as the young man still lingered, “I prefer,” he confessed, “to do
my work alone. If you will kindly get me a shooting-boot of Sir David
Southern's, I shall do better if I am left to myself.”
“If that is really the case,” said Mark, “I have no choice but to
leave you. I admit I should have liked to see your methods, but if I
should be a hindrance—”
Gimblet did not deny it, and Mark departed to fetch the boots.
“This is not the identical pair,” he said when he returned. “The
police took those; but these come from the same maker and are nearly
the same, so Blanston tells me.”
“Ah, yes, Blanston,” said Gimblet. “I must see him presently. Thanks
Left alone, Gimblet examined the window, opening one of the
small-paned casements, and measuring the space between the mullions and
the central bars of iron. Satisfied as to the impossibility of any
ordinary-sized person passing through those apertures, he took one more
look round, and then with a swift movement drew each of the heavy
curtains across the bay. They did not quite meet in the middle, as
Juliet had observed. Then he made his way out into the garden through
the door just outside, at the end of the passage which led from the
billiard-room to the library.
The library was at the far end of the oldest portion of Inverashiel
Castle. To Gimblet, examining it from the outside, it looked as if the
room had been hewn out of the solid walls of the ancient fortress; for
beyond the mullioned, seventeenth-century window, the wall turned
sharply to the left and was continued with scarce a loophole in the
stupendous blocks of its surface for a distance of fifty yards or so,
where it was succeeded by the lower, less heavy battlements of the old
out-works. In the angle formed by the turn and immediately opposite the
window of the library, a long flower-bed, planted with standard and
other rose trees, with violas growing sparsely in between, stretched
its blossoming length, and continued up to the actual stones of the
library wall. At the farther end of it, a thick hedge of holly bordered
on the roses at right angles to the end of the battlements; while the
lawn on his left was spangled with geometrically shaped beds showing
elaborate arrangements of heliotrope, ageratum, calceolarias, and other
Gimblet walked slowly along the lawn at the edge of the bed, his
eyes on the black peaty mould, where it was visible among the flowers.
About twenty yards from the hedge, he stopped with a muffled
exclamation. The bed in front of him was covered with footprints of all
shapes and sizes; but plainly distinguishable among the rest were the
neat nail-encrusted marks which matched the boot he held in his hand.
He put it down on the ground and carefully made an imprint with it in
the soil, beside the existing footmarks. It was easy to single out its
“Two extra nails,” murmured Gimblet to himself, “but otherwise, the
same. Probably made on the same last.”
Stepping cautiously in the places where his predecessors had walked,
he followed the tracks that had betrayed Sir David Southern. They were
numerous and distinct; he counted fourteen of each separate foot. First
Sir David would seem to have walked straight across the bed, then
returned and taken up his position near the middle. He was not
contented with that, it seemed, for he had walked backwards five or six
paces and then moved sideways again till he was exactly opposite the
opening between the curtains. Here the ground was trampled down as if
he had several times shifted slightly from one place to another.
Whether or not he was exactly in line with the writing-table Gimblet
could not see, as its position was hidden in the obscurity behind the
drawn curtains. It would want a light there to prove that, thought
Gimblet; still there was no reason to doubt that it was so. There were
four or five more footmarks leading back to the lawn, and over these
Gimblet stooped with particular interest.
With a tape measure, which he took from his pocket, he measured the
distances between the prints, entering the various figures in his
notebook, beside carefully drawn diagrams. Then he picked his way to
the edge of the lawn, and stood a moment considering.
Apparently he was not satisfied, for presently he retraced his steps
delicately to the middle of the bed, till he was once more just behind
the place where the earth was trodden down. After pausing there an
instant, he turned once more, and ran quickly back to the grass,
without this time troubling himself to step in the chain of footprints
used previously by the police. But he had not even yet finished; and
was soon crouching down again, with the tape measure in one hand and
the notebook in the other, poring over the evidence preserved so
carefully by the impartial soil.
At last he got up, put his measure back in his pocket, and walked
slowly towards the hedge. He had nearly reached it when something at
his feet arrested his attention. He bent over it curiously.
Near the edge of the grass and parallel to it, there was an
indentation a little over an inch wide and about the same depth. It
extended in a straight line for perhaps nine inches, and what could
have caused it was a puzzle to Gimblet. The turf was unbroken, and it
looked as if an oblong, narrow, heavy object had rested there, sinking
a little into the ground so as to leave this strange mark. Gimblet
rubbed his forehead pensively, as he looked at it.
Suddenly as his introspective gaze wandered unconsciously over the
ground before him, his attention was arrested by a second mark of the
same perplexing shape, which he could see behind a rose-bush, more than
half-way across the bed. Stepping as near the hedge as he could, the
detective proceeded to examine this duplicate of the riddle. It seemed
absolutely the same, though deeper, as was natural on the soft mould,
and he found, by measuring, that it lay exactly parallel to the other.
What could it be, he asked himself. A moment later, still another and
yet stranger impression caught his eye. It was about the same width,
but not more than half as long, and rounded off at each end to an oval.
It was situated about a foot from the deep indentation and rather
farther from the holly hedge. A tall standard rose-tree, covered with
blossoms of the white Frau Karl Drouski rose, grew near it, interposing
between it and the house.
Gimblet measured it with painstaking precision; then with the help
of his measurements, he made a life-size diagram of it on the page of
his notebook, and studied it with an expression of annoyance. He had
seldom felt more at a loss to explain anything. At length he turned and
went back towards the grass.
“What a track I leave,” he thought to himself, looking down ruefully
at his own footprints. “What I want is—” He stopped abruptly as a
sudden idea struck him; then a look of relief stole slowly over his
face, and he permitted himself a gratified smile, “To be sure!” he
said, and seemed to dismiss the subject from his mind.
Indeed, he turned his back upon the rose-bed, and strolled away by
the side of the hedge, which was of tall and wide proportions,
providing a spiky, impenetrable defence against observation, from the
outside, of the rectangular enclosed garden. Half-way along it he came
upon an arched opening. Passing through this, he found himself in an
outer thicket, and immediately upon his right hand beheld a small shed,
which stood back, modest and unassuming, in a leafy undergrowth of
Gimblet pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The place was evidently a tool-house, used by the gardeners for
storing their implements. Rakes, spades, forks and hoes leant against
the walls; a shelf held a quantity of odds and ends: trowels,
seedsmen's catalogues, a pot of paint, a bundle of wooden labels, the
rose of a watering-can, and a dozen other small objects. On the floor
were piled boxes and empty cases; flowerpots stood beside a bag which
bore the name of a patent fertilizer; a small hand mowing-machine
blocked the entrance; and a plank, too long to lie flat on the ground,
had been propped slantwise between the floor and the roof. Bunches of
bass hung from nails above the shelf; and on the wall opposite, a
coloured advertisement, representing phloxes of so fierce an intensity
of hue that nature was put to the blush, had been tacked by some
admirer of Art.
Five minutes later, when Gimblet emerged once more into the open, he
carried in one hand a garden rake. With this he proceeded to thread his
way through the shrubbery, keeping close to the line of the holly
hedge. When he thought he had gone about fifty yards, he lay down and
peered under the leaves. The hedge was rather thinner at the bottom;
and, by carefully pushing aside a little of the glossy, prickly
foliage, he was able to make out that the end of the rose-bed he had
lately examined was separated from him now only by the dividing barrier
of the hedge. With the rake still in his hand, he drew himself slowly
forward, gingerly introducing his head and arms under the holly, till
he was prevented from going farther by the close growing trunks of the
trees that formed the hedge.
It took some manoeuvring to insert the head of the rake through the
fence, but he did it at last, and found a gap which his arms would pass
also. Between, and under the lowest fringe of leaves on the farther
side, he could see the track of his own footsteps, where he had walked
on the bed. They were all, by an effort, within reach of his rake, and
he stealthily effaced them. He could not see whether the garden was
still untenanted, or whether the peculiar phenomenon of a rake moving
without human assistance was being observed by anyone from the castle.
He fervently hoped that it was not: he did not wish the attention of
anyone else to be called to the puzzling marks that had mystified him;
and, as the only window which looked into the garden was that of the
library, he thought there was a good chance that there was no one in
Cautiously and almost silently he worked his way back, and replaced
the rake in the tool-house where he had found it. Then he took the
small oil-can used for oiling the mowing-machine, and concealing it
under his coat made towards the house. The little garden was still
lonely and deserted as he walked quickly over the lawn and in at the
The library was empty as he had left it, and his first act was to
draw back the curtains to their former positions on either side of the
window. Then he went to the door, and, with a glance to right and left
along the passage, and an ear bent for any approaching footstep, he
quickly and effectually oiled the hinges and lock, so that the door
closed noiselessly and without protest. When he was quite satisfied on
this point, he shut it gently, and took back the oil-can to the shed.
“Now,” said he to himself, “for the gun-room.”
He took up Sir David Southern's shooting-boots, which he had left in
the tool-house during his last proceedings, and made his way through
the billiard-room into the main corridor beyond. On his right, through
an open door, he peeped into a large room, obviously the drawing-room,
and saw that it looked on to the front of the house. The room wore a
forlorn aspect; no one, apparently, had taken the trouble to put it
straight since the night of the tragedy. The blinds had been drawn
down, but the furniture seemed awry as if chairs had been pushed back
hastily, a little card table still displayed a game of patience half
set out, and even the dead flowers in the glasses had not been thrown
The air was stuffy in the extreme, and Gimblet, with a disgusted
sniff, pulled aside one of the blinds and threw open the window. But
all at once a thought seemed to strike him. For a moment he stood
irresolute, then he slowly closed the casement again, but without
latching it, and after frowning at it thoughtfully walked away. He went
back into the hall.
Opposite, across the corridor, rose the main staircase, wide and
imposing; on each side of it a smaller passage led away at right angles
to the entrance, the right-hand one giving access to rooms in the new
front of the castle, one of which he knew to be the dining-room. He
listened for a minute outside a door beyond it, and heard the sound of
rustling papers; the smell of tobacco came to him through the key-hole.
It was plain that here was the smoking-room, and that the new Lord
Ashiel was at that moment engaged in it, and deep in his uncle's
The little detective, as he had said, preferred to work without an
audience when he could, so he left Mark to his search, and stole
silently away down the passage.
He passed two more rooms, and paused at the last door, opposite the
foot of a winding stair.
This, from what Juliet had said, must be the door of the gun-room.
The door opened readily at his touch, and he stepped inside and shut
it behind him.
It was a small bare room, with one large deal table in the middle of
it. Gun-cases and wooden cartridge-boxes were ranged on the
linoleum-covered floor, and three glass-fronted gun-cabinets were hung
upon the walls. One, the smallest of these, was of a different wood
from the others, and bore in black letters the initials D. S.
Three or four guns were ranged in it: two 12-bore shot-guns, an
air-gun, and a little 20-bore. Another rack was empty; no doubt it had
held the Mannlicher rifle, which the police had carried away to use as
evidence in their case for the prosecution. The door was locked and
there was no sign of a key.
Gimblet turned to the other cupboards.
There were more weapons here, and a few minutes' examination showed
him that, as Mark had said, he and his uncle were less particular as to
where their guns were kept, for the first two that the detective
glanced at bore Lord Ashiel's initial, and the next was an old air-gun
with M. McC. engraved on a silver disk at the stock.
Side by side were the rifles used by the uncle and nephew for
stalking, Gimblet knew from Mark that the Mannlicher was his, while
Lord Ashiel had apparently used a Mauser or Ross sporting rifle, as
there was one of each in the case.
Gimblet lifted down the Mannlicher and laid it on the table. This,
then, was the kind of weapon with which the deed had been done. It was
a .355 Mannlicher Schonauer sporting weapon of the latest pattern. He
opened it and examined the mechanism, which he soon grasped. He
squinted down the glistening tunnel of the barrel and even closely
scrutinized the workmanship of the exterior, repressing a shudder at
the meretricious design of the chasing on the lock, and passing his
fingers caressingly over the wood of which the stock was made. It shone
with a rich bloom, as smooth and even as polished marble, except at the
butt end which was criss-crossed roughly to prevent slipping; but wood
in any shape has a homely friendly feeling, as different from any the
polisher can impart to a piece of cold stone as the forests, where it
once stood, upright and lofty, are from the inhospitable rocks on the
peaks above them.
These unpractical reflections flitted through the detective's mind,
together with others of a less fantastic nature, as he put the rifle
back in the rack he had taken it from. He closed the glass doors of the
cabinet, leaving them unlocked, as he had found them. Then, going back
to the table, he took an empty pill-box from his pocket, and with the
utmost care swept into it a trace of dust from off the bare deal top.
There was barely enough to darken the cardboard at the bottom of the
box, but he looked at it, before putting on the lid, with an expression
of some satisfaction.
Gimblet left the gun-room quietly; and after some more exploring
discovered the way to the back premises.
In the pantry he found Blanston, whom he invited to follow him to
the deserted billiard-room for a few minutes' conversation.
“You know,” he told him, “Miss Byrne and your new young master want
me to examine the evidence that Sir David Southern is the author of
this terrible crime.”
“I'm sure I wish, sir,” said the man, “that you could prove he never
did it. A very nice young gentleman, sir, Sir David has always been; it
seems dreadful to think of him lifting his hand against his uncle. I'm
sure it ought to be a warning to us all to keep our tempers, but of
course it was very hard on Sir David to have his dog shot before his
“No doubt,” agreed Gimblet. “You weren't there when it happened, I
“No, sir, but I heard about it from one of the keepers, and Sir
David was very much put out about it, so he says; and I quite believe
it, seeing how fond he was of the poor creature. Always had it to sleep
in his room, he did, sir, though it was rather an offensive animal to
the nose, to my way of thinking. But these young gentlemen what are
always smoking cigarettes get to lose their sense of smell, I've often
noticed that, sir. Oh, I understand he was very angry indeed, sir, but
I should hardly have thought he would go so far as to take his uncle's
life. Knowing him, as I have done, from a child, I may say I shouldn't
hardly have thought it of him, sir.”
“Life is full of surprises,” said Gimblet, “and you never know for
certain what anyone may not do; but, tell me, you were the first on the
scene of the crime, weren't you?”
“Hardly that, sir. Miss Byrne was with his lordship at the time.”
“Yes, yes, of course. But you saw him shortly after the shot was
fired. Did you hear the report?”
“No, sir. The hall is quite away from the tower, and so is the
housekeeper's room; and the walls are very thick. We were just
finishing supper, which was very late that night on account of the
gentlemen coming in late from stalking, and one thing and another. I'm
rather surprised none of us heard it, sir.”
“I daresay there was a good deal of noise going on,” said Gimblet.
“How many of you are there in the servants' quarters?”
“Counting the chauffeur and the hall boy,” replied Blanston, “and
including the visitors' maids, who are gone now, we were sixteen
servants in the house that night. I am afraid there may have been
rather a noise going on.”
“Were you all there?” asked Gimblet. “Had no one left since the
beginning of supper?”
“No one had gone out of the room or the hall since supper
commenced,” Blanston assured him. “We were all very glad of that
afterwards, as it prevented any of us being suspected, sir. Though in
point of fact I was saying only last night, when the second footman
dropped the pudding just as he was bringing it into the room, that we
could really have spared him better than what we could Sir David, sir;
but of course it's natural for the household to be feeling a bit jumpy
till after the funeral to-morrow. When that's over I shan't listen to
no more excuses.”
“Quite so,” said Gimblet. “What was the first intimation you got
that there was anything wrong?”
“About half-past ten the billiard-room bell rang very loud, in the
passage outside the hall. Before it had stopped, and while I was
calling to George, the first footman, to hurry up and answer it, there
came another peal, and then another and another. I thought something
must be wrong, so I ran out of the room and upstairs with the others.
When we got to the billiard-room there was Miss Byrne fainting on a
chair, and Mr. McConachan beside her, looking very upset like. 'There's
been an accident or worse,' he says, 'to his lordship. Come on,
Blanston, and let's see what it is. And you others look after Miss
Byrne. Fetch her maid; fetch Lady Ruth.'
“And with that he makes for the library door, at a run, with me
following him close, though I was a bit puffed with coming upstairs so
fast. Just as we came to the library door, he turns and says to me,
with his hand on the knob, 'From what Miss Byrne says, Blanston, I'm
afraid it's murder.' And before I could more than gasp he had the door
open, and we were in the room.
“There was his poor lordship lying forward on the table, his head on
the blotting-book, and one arm hanging down beside him. Quite dead, he
was, sir, and his blood all on the floor, poor gentleman. We left him
as we found him, and went back.
“Mr. McConachan locked the door and put the key in his pocket. 'No
one must go in there till the police come,' he says. 'But in the
meantime we must get what men we can together, and see if the brute who
did this isn't lurking about the grounds. It will be something if we
can catch him, and avenge my poor uncle,' he said.”
Gimblet considered for a moment.
“Are you sure you remember the position you found the body in?” he
“Yes, sir,” replied Blanston, in some surprise. “It was like I told
you. His head on the blotting-book and one arm with it. He must have
fallen straight forward on to the table.”
“Thank you,” said Gimblet. “One more question. I hear you witnessed
a will for Lord Ashiel a day or two before he died?”
“Yes, sir—I and Mrs. Parsons, the housekeeper.”
“How did you know it was the will?”
“We didn't exactly know it was, sir, but afterwards, when it came
out his lordship had told Miss Byrne he had made one, we thought it
must have been that.”
“I see,” said Gimblet. “Thank you. That is all I wanted to know.”
He sent for the other servants and interrogated them one by one, but
without adding anything fresh to what he had already learned.
He went thoughtfully away and sought out Mark in the smoking-room,
where he found him surrounded by packets of papers, which lay in heaps
upon the floor and tables.
“There's a frightful lot to look through,” said the young man
despondently, looking up from his self-imposed task. “I haven't found
anything interesting yet. How did you get on? Do you think those
footmarks can possibly be anyone's but David's?”
“The boot you gave me fits them too well to admit of doubt, I'm
afraid,” said Gimblet. And as the other made a half-gesture of despair,
“You must give me more time,” he said; “I may find some clue in the
course of the next two or three days. By the by, is your cousin a short
“No,” said Mark, “he's about my height. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, I had an idea,” said Gimblet evasively. “But if he's as tall as
you, I had better begin again. I think I'll take a little stroll
through the grounds,” he added, “and then back to Lady Ruth Worsfold's
house, and get a bath and a change.”
“I shall see you at dinner-time,” said Ashiel. “I am dining at the
cottage. Au revoir till then.”
Gimblet went out of the front door, and proceeded to make a tour of
the Castle buildings.
Turning to his left round the front of the house, he passed the
gun-room door, and went down a short path, which led to the level of
the servants' quarters. These were built on the slope of the hill, so
that what was a basement in the front of the house was level with the
ground at the back.
Here more remains of the old fortress were to be seen. The various
outbuildings that straggled down towards the loch had all once formed
part of old block-houses or outlying towers; and, as the path descended
farther down the hill, the detective found himself walking round the
precipitous rock from which the single great tower still standing—the
one in whose massive shell the room had been cut which was now the
library—dominated the scene from every side.
It had been built at the very edge of the hill which here fell
almost sheer to the level of the lake, and the old McConachans had no
doubt chosen their site for its unscalable position. Indeed, the place
must always have been impregnable from that side, the rock offering no
foothold to a goat till within twenty feet of the base of the tower,
where the surface was broken and uneven, and had, in places, been built
up with solid masonry. In the crevices up there, seeds had germinated
and grown to tall plants and bushes. Ivy hung about the face of the
escarpment like a scarf, and in one place a good-sized tree, a beech,
had established itself firmly upon a ledge and leant forward over the
path below in a manner that turned the beholder giddy. Its great roots
had not been able to grow to their full girth within the cracks and
crannies of the rocks; some of them had pushed their way in through the
gaps in the masonry, and the others curled and twisted in mid air,
twining and interlacing in an outspread canopy.
Beyond the tower ran the battlemented wall of the enclosed garden,
its foundations draped in the thrifty vegetation of the rocks.
At Gimblet's feet, on the other side of the path, brawled a burn,
hurrying on its way to the loch, and he followed its course slowly down
to the place where it mingled with the deep waters. A little beyond he
saw the point of a fir-covered peninsula, and wandered on under the
trees till he came to the end of it; there he sat down to think over
what he had heard and seen that afternoon. The wild beauty of the place
soothed and delighted him, and he felt lazily in his pocket for a
Below him, grey lichen-grown rocks jutted into the loch in tumbled,
broken masses, piled heedlessly one on the other, as if some troll of
the mountain had begun in play to make a causeway for himself. The
great stones, so old, so fiercely strong, stood knee-deep in the
waters, over which they seemed to brood with so patient and indifferent
a dignity that human life and affairs took on an aspect very small and
inconsiderable. They were like monstrous philosophers, he thought,
oblivious alike to time and to the cold waves that lapped their feet;
their heads crowned here and there with pines as with scattered locks,
the little tufts of heather and fern and grasses, that clung to them
wherever root hold could be found, all the clothing they wore against
the bitter blasts of the winds.
While he sat there a breeze got up and ruffled the loch; the ripples
danced and sparkled like a cinematograph, and waves threw themselves
among the rocks with loud gurglings and splashings. The air was
suddenly full of the noise and hurry of the waters. He got up and went
to the end of the peninsula. In spite of the dancing light upon the
surface and the merry sounds of the ripples, the water, he could see,
was deep and dark; a little way out a pale smooth stone rose a few feet
above the level of it, its top draped in a velvet green shawl of moss.
A fat sea-gull sat there; nor did it move when he appeared.
A little bay ran in between the rocks, its shore spread with grey
sand, smooth and trackless. At least so Gimblet imagined it at first,
as his eye roved casually over the beach. Then suddenly, with a
smothered ejaculation, he leaped down from his perch of observation,
and made his way to the margin of the water.
There, scored in the sand, was a deep furrow, reaching to within a
foot of the waves, where it stopped as if it had been wiped out from a
slate with a damp sponge. Gimblet had no doubt what it was. A boat had
been beached here, and that lately. A glance at the stones surrounding
the bay showed him that the water was falling, for in quiet little
pools, within the outer breakwater of rocks, a damp line showed on the
granite a full quarter of an inch above the water. By a rapid
calculation of the time it would take for that watermark to dry, the
detective was able to form some idea of the rate at which the loch was
falling, and he thought he could judge the slope of the beach
sufficiently well to calculate about how long it was since the track in
the sand had reached to the brink of the waves.
It was a rough guess, but, if he were right, then a boat had landed
in that bay some forty-two hours ago. But there were other traces,
besides, the tracks of him who had brought the boat ashore. From where
Gimblet stood, a double row of footprints, going and returning, showed
plainly between the water and the stones to which the sand quickly gave
place. They were the tracks left by large boots with singularly pointed
toes, and with no nails on the soles. Emphatically not boots such as
any of the men of those parts would be likely to wear.
Gimblet bent over the sand.
When he rose once more and stood erect upon the beach, he saw under
the shadow of the pines the figure of a tall thin man with a lean face
and straggling reddish moustache, who was watching him with an eye
plainly suspicious. He was dressed in knickerbockers and coat of rough
tweed of a large checked pattern, and carried a spy-glass slung over
his back. The detective went to him at once.
“Are you employed on the Inverashiel estate?” he asked civilly.
“I'm Duncan McGregor, his lordship's head keeper,” was the reply,
given in the cold tones of one accosted by an intruder.
Gimblet hastened to introduce himself and to explain his presence,
and McGregor condescended to thaw.
“I should be very much obliged,” said Gimblet, “if you would take a
look at the sands where you saw me standing. I'd like to know your
opinion on some marks that are there.”
The keeper strode down to the beach.
“A boat will have been here,” he pronounced after a rapid scrutiny.
“Lately?” asked Gimblet.
He saw the man's eyes go, as his own had done, to the watermarks on
“No sae vary long ago,” he said, “I'm thinkin' it will hae been the
nicht before lairst that she came here.”
“Ah,” said Gimblet, “I'm glad you agree with me. That's what I
thought myself. Do boats often come ashore on this beach?”
“It's the first time I ever h'ard of onybody doin' the like,” he
said at last. “The landin' stage is awa' at the ether side o' the
p'int; it's aye there they land. There's nae a man in a' this glen
would come in here, unless it whar for some special reason. It's no' a
vary grand place tae bring a boat in. The rocks are narrow at the
“Do strangers often come to these parts?”
“There are no strangers come to Inverashiel,” said the keeper. “The
high road runs at the ether side o' the loch through Crianan, and the
tramps and motors go over it, but never hae I known one o' that kind on
Gimblet observed with some amusement that the man spoke of motors
and tramps as of varieties of the same breed; but all he said was:
“Could you make inquiries as to whether anyone on the estate happens
to have brought a boat in here during the last week? I should be glad
if you could do so without mentioning my name, or letting anyone think
it is important.”
He felt he could trust the discretion of this taciturn Highlander.
“I'll that, sir,” was the reply.
And Gimblet could see, in spite of the man's unchanging countenance,
that he was pleased at this mark of confidence in him.
“Could you take me to the head gardener's house?” he asked, abruptly
changing the subject. “I should rather like a talk with him.”
McGregor conducted him down the road to the lodge.
“It's in here whar Angus Malcolm lives,” he remarked laconically.
“Good evening, sir.”
He turned and strode away over the hillside, and Gimblet knocked at
the door. It was opened by the gardener, and he had a glimpse through
the open doorway of a family at tea.
“I'm sorry I disturbed you,” he said. “I will look in again another
day. Lord Ashiel referred me to you for the name of a rose I asked
about, but it will do to-morrow.”
The gardener assured him that his tea could wait, but Gimblet would
not detain him.
“I shall no doubt see you up in the garden to-morrow,” he said. “The
roses in that long bed outside the library are very fine, and I am
interested in their culture. I wonder they do so well in this peaty
“Na fie, man, they get on splendid here,” said Malcolm. He liked
nothing better than to talk about his flowers, but, being a Highlander,
resented any suggestion that his native earth was not the best possible
for no matter what purpose. “We just gie them a good dressin' doon wie
manure ilka year.”
“Do you use any patent fertilizer?” Gimblet asked.
“Oh, just a clean oot wie a grain o' basic slag noo and than,” said
the gardener. “And I just gie them some lime ilka time I think the
ground is needin' it.”
“Well, the result is very good,” said the detective. “By the way,
have you been working on that bed lately? I picked this up among the
violas. Did you happen to drop it?”
He took from his pocket a small paper notebook, and held it out
“Na, I hinna dropped it,” answered the gardener. “It micht have been
some one fay the castel. I hinna been near that rose-bed for fower or
five days. And it couldna hae been lying there afore the rain.”
Indeed, the little book showed no trace of damp on its green cover.
“I asked in the castle, but no one claimed it,” said Gimblet.
“Perhaps it belongs to one of your men?”
“There's been naebody been workin' there this week. So it disna
belong tae neen o' the gair'ners, if it's there ye fund't,” repeated
Malcolm. “There's been nae work deen on that bed for the last fortnicht
or mair. I was thinkin' o' sendin' a loon ower't wie a hoe in a day or
twa. Ye see, wie the murrder it's been impossible tae get ony work
done; apairt fay that we've been busy wie the fruit and ether things.”
“I didn't notice any weeds,” said Gimblet. “But I won't keep you any
longer, now. Perhaps to-morrow afternoon I may see you in the garden,
and if so I shall get you to tell me the name of that rose.”
Juliet failed to extract much comfort from Gimblet when, about six
o'clock, she met him coming up through the garden to Inverashiel
All the afternoon she had possessed her soul in what patience she
could muster, which was not a great deal. Still, by dint of repeating
to herself that she must give the detective time to study the facts,
and opportunity to verify them at his leisure and in his own way, she
had managed to get through the long inactive hours, and to force
herself not to dwell upon the vision of David in prison, which, do as
she would, was ever before her eyes.
Events had followed one another so fast during the last few days
that her mind was dulled, as by a succession of rapid blows, and she
was hardly conscious of anything beyond the unbearable pain caused by
the cumulative shocks she had undergone.
First had come the heart-rending knowledge that David loved her;
heart-rending only because he was bound to Miss Tarver, for, if it had
not been for that paralyzing obstacle, she knew she would have gladly
followed him to the ends of the earth. Indeed, in spite of everything,
his betrayal of his feelings towards her had filled her with a joy that
almost counterbalanced the hopeless misery to which, on her more
completely realizing the situation, it gradually gave place.
Then had come the swift physical disaster from which she had barely
escaped with her life. She had not had time to recover from this when,
a few hours later, she had been called upon to face the emotions and
agitations aroused by the news of her relationship to Lord Ashiel, and
the history of her birth and parentage. In the midst of this excitement
had come the sudden tragedy of which she had been a witness, and which
had overwhelmed and prostrated her with grief and horror. Next day she
had been obliged to undergo the ordeal of being cross-questioned by the
police, and close upon that had come the final catastrophe of David's
arrest and departure. This last shock so overshadowed all the rest of
her misfortunes that it stimulated her to action, and she had herself
run most of the way to the post office two miles down the road, to send
the telegram of appeal to Gimblet.
Once that was dispatched, hope revived a little in her heart.
Lord Ashiel, her father, had told her to send for the detective if
she were in trouble. Well, she was in trouble; she had sent for him; he
would come, and somehow he would find a way of putting straight this
hideous nightmare in which she found herself living. How happy, in
comparison, had been her life in Belgium, in the household of her
adopted father and stepmother! She could have found it in her heart to
wish she had never left their roof; but that would have involved never
making the acquaintance of David, a possibility she could not
Even now the remembrance of the rapidity with which Miss Tarver had
packed her traps, renounced her betrothed and all his works, and fled
from the scene of disaster by the first available train, did much to
cheer her in the midst of all her depression.
It was not, however, until some time after Lady Ruth Worsfold had
asked her to stay with her for the present, and she had removed herself
and her belongings to the cottage, that she realized how impossible it
was for her to make good her position as Lord Ashlers daughter and
heir. She had his word for it, and that was enough for her; but she
understood, as soon as it occurred to her, that more would be required
by the law before she could claim either the name or the inheritance
which should be hers.
In the meantime, though touched by the generosity of the new Lord
Ashiel, who offered to waive his rights in her favour, and indeed
suggested other plans for enabling her to remain at the castle as its
owner, she felt that what he proposed was absolutely impossible, and
while she thanked him, declined firmly to do anything of the sort.
At the back of her mind was the conviction that the will her father
had spoken of would come to light. It would surely be found, if not by
herself, then by Gimblet. She acceded to Mark's request that she should
join him in looking through his uncle's papers. They went over those in
the library together before she left the house.
Now that Gimblet had come back from the castle, where he had spent
half the day, he must have good news for her, she felt persuaded. But
to all her questions he would only reply that he had nothing definite
to tell her, and that she must wait till to-morrow or even longer.
Indeed, she thought he seemed anxious to get away from her, and asked
at once if he might see his room.
“I want a bath more than anything,” he said. And then, taking pity
on her distress, “I wouldn't worry myself too much about Sir David's
safety if I were you,” he added, looking at her with a very kind,
friendly light in his eyes. But as she exclaimed joyfully and pressed
him to be more explicit, his look changed to one of admonition, and he
held a finger to his lips. “Not a word to a living soul, whoever it may
be,” he cautioned her, “and be careful not to show any hope you may be
so optimistic as to feel,” he added, smiling, “or you may ruin the
whole thing. This is a very dark and dangerous affair, and the less it
is spoken about, even between friends, the better.”
“Mayn't I even tell Lady Ruth?” she asked. “She is very anxious, I
“Better not,” he warned her. “It may be better for Sir David in the
long-run, if his friends think him guilty a few days longer. It will be
wisest if you let it appear that even you can hardly continue to cling
to the idea of his innocence. You can be trusted to act a part where
such great issues are involved, can you not? More may depend on it than
“I'll be silent as the grave,” she cried. “As the grave,” she
repeated more soberly, and turned away, reproaching herself silently,
since in her anxiety for David her sorrow for her father had been a
When Gimblet came down again, clean and refreshed, he found no one
but his hostess, Lady Ruth Worsfold.
Lady Ruth's hair was white, in appearance she was short and squat,
and she had a curiously disconnected habit of conversation, but for all
that she was a person of great discernment, and uncommonly wide awake.
She sided staunchly with Juliet in her belief in David's innocence.
“Never,” she said, “will I credit such a thing of the lad. You may
say what you like, Mr. Gimblet, you can prove till you're black in the
face that he murdered every soul in the house, it won't make any
difference to me.”
“Who do you think did do it, Lady Ruth?” Gimblet asked.
“What do I know? An escaped lunatic, one of the keepers, the under
housemaid, anyone you like. What does it matter? It wasn't David, even
though his namesake did kill Goliath, and I always disliked the name,
having suffered from a Biblical one myself. I said to his mother when
he was born. 'For goodness' sake give the poor child a name he won't be
expected to live up to. Just fancy how his friends will hate to be
known as Jonathans, let alone thingamy's wife. You're laying up a
scandal for your son,' I told her, and if my words haven't come true
it's more thanks to him than to his parents. A nice pink and white baby
he was, poor boy. There's just one good side to this dreadful affair,”
she went on without a pause, “and that is that the young lady with the
dollars whom he was to have married, and hated the sight of, has thrown
him over. The first least little breath of suspicion was enough for
her, and the moment he was downright accused she was off. And he's well
rid of her, dollars and all An Englishman of his birth and looks
doesn't need to go to Chicago for a wife.”
“Was Sir David in need of money?” asked Gimblet.
“He hasn't got a penny,” said Lady Ruth. “Not a red cent, as that
terrible young woman put it. His father left everything to the
moneylenders, so to speak, and David couldn't bear to see his mother
poverty-stricken. He did it entirely for her sake—got engaged, I
mean—but I don't think he'd have been such a self-sacrificing son if
he'd met Miss Juliet Byrne a little earlier in the day.”
“Indeed!” said Gimblet. “I thought Miss Byrne seemed very much
worried about his arrest.”
“Worried? Poor child, she's the ghost of what she was a few days
ago. Half-drowned, too, when it happened, which made it worse for her.”
“She must have had a narrow escape,” Gimblet remarked. “What was the
name of the man who pulled her out of the river?”
“Andy Campbell. He had been stalking with Mark McConachan.”
“Was young Lord Ashiel with him?”
“No, he was on ahead. He saw Juliet in the distance, just going up
to the waterfall, but he seems to have taken her for Miss Romaninov,
which is odd, because they aren't in the least like one another, one
being tall and the other short, in the first place, and one fair and
the other dark in the second. He can't have looked very carefully.
However, he was very positive about it till they both assured him that
Julia Romaninov had turned and gone home some time before she had
reached the top pool. And I certainly should have in her place. It
doesn't amuse me scrambling over rocks and scratching my legs in
bramble bushes. The path Andy came by goes along high above the water
for half a mile. I hate walking on a height myself. And for most of
that distance the river is not in sight. If he hadn't been thirsty and
come down to the water-side for a drink at a spring near by, he would
never have seen Miss Byrne floating down the stream, and she would have
been in the loch pretty soon. It just shows how much better it is to
drink water than whisky.”
“It was lucky he did,” said Gimblet. “Does the path pass in sight of
the pool she fell into?”
“No. The banks are high there, and you can't see down into the pool
unless you go to the very edge of the precipice. I did it once, to look
at the waterfall, and I very nearly joined it. It's a nasty giddy
place, though why one should feel inclined to throw oneself down I
can't imagine; but it seems a natural instinct, and it's certainly
easier to go down than up.”
“It appears almost miraculous that she wasn't drowned,” said
Gimblet. “She certainly can have been in no fit state to bear the
events that followed.”
“No, indeed. She has lost everything: father, family and lover at
one blow. You know Lord Ashiel said she was his daughter, and told her
he'd made a will leaving everything to her. For that matter the lawyers
say he didn't—not that I should ever believe anything a lawyer said.
They always mean something you wouldn't expect from their words. They
do it, I believe, to keep in practice for trials, you know, where they
have to make the witnesses say what they don't mean, poor things. And
what I shall have put into my mouth by them, if I'm called as a witness
against poor David, doesn't bear thinking of. But the Lord knows what
Ashiel did with the will, and, as I was saying, it can't be found.”
“So I heard,” said Gimblet “You talk of being called as a witness,
Lady Ruth. Do you know anything about the case? Where were you when the
shot was fired?”
“Oh no,” she said, “I shouldn't have anything to tell, but I don't
suppose that will matter. They'll twist and turn my words till I find
myself saying I saw him do it with my own eyes. My poor dear husband,
when I first met him, was an eminent Q.C., as you may know, Mr.
Gimblet, so I have a very good idea what they're like. I refused him
point-blank when he proposed, but he proved to me in three minutes that
I'd really accepted him; and it was the same thing ever after. A
wonderfully brilliant man, though slightly trying at times, especially
in church, where he always snored so unnecessarily loud—or so it
seemed to me. I often think deafness has its compensations, though I'm
sure I ought to be thankful at my age that my hearing is still so
acute. However, I didn't hear the shot the other night, but the castle
walls are thick even in that detestable modern addition, and besides,
Julia Romaninov has got such a tremendously powerful voice,''
“Were you talking to her?”
“Oh dear no! I was playing patience, and she was singing, while Miss
Tarver murdered the accompaniment. We little thought at the time that
some one else was murdering poor Ashiel while we were sitting there in
peace. I must say that girl sings remarkably well, and it was a pity
there was no one who could play for her. Though it wasn't for want of
practice on Miss Tarver's part. The moment we were out of the
dining-room she would sit down at the piano, and they would neither of
them stop till bedtime.”
“Had they both been playing and singing all that evening?”
“Yes, they hadn't ceased for a moment, and I found it prevented the
Demon from coming out, as I couldn't help counting in time with the
music. It was all right when it was one, two, three, but common time
muddled it dreadfully, though now I come to think of it, Julia was not
actually in the room when we heard the bad news. She'd gone upstairs to
look for a song or something. Of course there's no legal proof that
Juliet really is his child,” Lady Ruth continued; “she admits that he
was rather vague about it, fancied a resemblance, in fact. Not that I
or anyone else had any notion he had been married as a young man, but
that's a thing he would be likely to be right about. I must say Mark
has behaved extremely well about it, even quixotically. He wanted her
to take his inheritance, and when she refused—and of course she
couldn't decently do otherwise— I'm blessed if he didn't ask her to
Gimblet looked up with more interest than he had yet shown.
“Do you mean to say he proposed that, merely as a way out of the
“Well, more or less. I don't say he isn't attracted by the pretty
face of her, as much as his cousin was; privately I think he is, but I
don't really know. Anyhow, it certainly would be a very good solution;
but it was tactless of him to suggest it with David at the foot of the
gallows, poor boy.”
“She didn't tell me that,” murmured Gimblet.
At that moment Juliet came into the room, and they talked of other
“I hear the post is gone,” Gimblet said presently.
“I particularly wanted to catch it. I suppose there is no means of
posting a letter now?”
The last train had gone south by that time, however, so there was
nothing to be done till the next day.
He retired again to his room and gave himself up to his
First a long letter to Macross in Glasgow, begging for the loan of
prints of the photographs taken by the police during their visit,
together with any details they might see fit to impart as to their
observations and conclusions. “I have arrived so late on the scene that
you have left me nothing to do,” he wrote deceitfully. “But for the
interest of the case I should like to have a look at the photographs.”
He did not expect to get much help from Macross.
Then he took from his pocket the pill-box in which he had stored the
dust so carefully collected in the gunroom. He wrapped it carefully in
paper, and addressed the small parcel to an expert analyst in
Edinburgh. He wrote one more letter, and then went downstairs again.
The dressing-bell sounded as he opened his door, and at the foot of
the staircase he met the two ladies on their way to dress.
“Dinner is at eight, Mr. Gimblet,” Lady Ruth told him.
“I was just coming to find you,” Gimblet answered her. “I want to
ask if you would mind my not coming down? I am subject to very bad
headaches after a long journey; and, as I want particularly to be up
early to-morrow, I think the best thing I can do is to go straight to
bed and sleep it off. It is poor sort of behaviour for a detective, I
am aware, but I hope you will forgive it.”
“You must certainly go to bed if you feel inclined to,” said Lady
Ruth; “but you will have some dinner in your room, will you not? They
shall bring you up the menu.”
“No, really, thanks, I shall be better without anything. I know how
to treat these heads of mine by now, I assure you, and I won't have
anything to eat till to-morrow morning. The only thing I need is quiet
and sleep. If you will be so very kind as to give orders that I shall
not be disturbed....”
“Of course, of course,” said his hostess, full of concern. “And you
must let me give you an excellent remedy for headaches. It was given me
years ago by dear old Sir Ronald Tompkins, that famous specialist, you
know, who always ordered every one to roll on the floor after meals,
and I invariably keep a bottle by me.”
And she hurried off to fetch it.
Gimblet accepted it gratefully, and as he passed a hand across his
aching brow said he felt sure it would do him good.
Once again within his own room, however, the detective's headache
seemed to have miraculously vanished, and he showed himself in no hurry
to go to bed. Instead, having locked the door and drawn down the blind,
he sat down in an arm-chair and gave himself up to reflection. Mentally
he rehearsed the facts of the case as far as they were known to him,
and was obliged to admit that he found several of them very puzzling.
There were other problems, too, not directly connected with the
murder, of which he could not at present make head or tail. For
instance, where was he to find the documents which he knew it was Lord
Ashiel's wish he should take charge of. He had promised that he would
do so, and the recollection of his failure to guard the first thing the
dead peer had entrusted him with made him the more determined that he
would carry out the remainder of his promise. But how was he to begin
his search? He had so little to go on, and he dared not hint to anyone
what he wished to find. Yet, if he delayed, it was possible that young
Ashiel would come across the papers in his hunt for his uncle's will,
and Gimblet felt there was danger in their falling into the hands of
anyone but himself.
He took out his notebook and studied the dying words of his
“Gimblet—the clock—eleven—steps.” Or was it steppes?
Considering that he had lived in dread of a blow which should
descend on him out of Russia, the last seemed the more likely.
There was the strange circumstance of the body's being found by the
police in a position differing from that described by those who first
saw it. Young Ashiel, Juliet and the butler all agreed that it had
fallen forward on to the blotting-book in the middle of the table; but
Mark had told him that on his return with the police the attitude had
been changed. Had he been mistaken? Macross's photographs would show.
But if not, and the murdered man had really shifted his position, what
did it prove? That they had been wrong in thinking him dead? The
doctor's evidence was that the wound he had received must have been
instantly fatal, or almost instantly. Then some one must have moved the
body, and who but David knew where the key of the room had been put
away? But why should David have moved him?
Then there was the letter which had come two days after the murder;
the letter written in French and posted in Paris, but probably not
written by a Frenchman, and so timed as to reach its destination too
late. Was it intentionally delayed, or would Lord Ashiel's death come
as an entire surprise to the writer? It certainly would, if the police
were right, and Sir David Southern guilty of his uncle's death.
But was he guilty? Gimblet thought not.
These and other questions occupied the detective's mind so
completely that half an hour passed like a flash, and it was only when
the noise of the dinner-bell broke in upon his meditations that he
roused himself and pulled out his watch. Then he sat upright, and
His room was above the drawing-room, and he could hear Lady Ruth's
clear, rather high voice mingling with the deep tones of a man's, in a
confused, murmuring duet which after a few moments died away and was
followed by the distant sound of a closing door.
It was not difficult to deduce from these sounds that Lord Ashiel
had arrived, and that the little party of three had gone in to dinner.
It was half an hour more before Gimblet rose, and walked quietly
over to the window. He drew the blind cautiously aside and looked out.
Already the days were growing shorter, and the little house, embowered
in trees, and shut in by a tall hill from the western sky, was nearly
completely engulfed in darkness. Below him, on the right, he could just
discern the top of the porch, and beyond it a faint glow of light rose
from the window of the dining-room.
It did not need a very remarkable degree of activity to clamber from
the window to the porch, and so down to the ground. To Gimblet it was
as easy as going downstairs. In two minutes he was stealing away under
the trees in the direction of Inverashiel Castle.
“The worst of this Highland air,” he said to himself as he walked
along, “is that it makes one so fearfully hungry, even here on the West
Coast. I could have done very nicely with my dinner. But such is life.
And it's lucky I am not entirely without provisions.”
So saying, he took a box of chocolates from his pocket and began to
demolish the contents.
By the time he reached the castle, the night was dark indeed. He
approached it by the path along the burn, and felt his way cautiously
up the steep zigzags of the hill, and past the servants' quarters,
where a dog barked and gave him an uneasy minute till he found that it
was tied up, and that the noise which issued from a brilliantly lighted
window—which he guessed to be the servants' hall—did not cease or
diminish on account of it.
There were no other lights to be seen, and he edged his way round to
the front of the house, which loomed very black and mysterious against
the liquid darkness of the moonless sky. A little wind had risen, and
the sound of a million leaves rustling gently on the trees of the woods
around was added to the distant murmur of the burn, so that the night
seemed full of noises, and every bush alive and watching.
Keeping on the grass, and with every precaution of silence, Gimblet
crept along till he thought he was outside the drawing-room.
It did not take him long to find the window he had left unlatched
that afternoon, but it was an anxious moment till he made sure that no
one had noticed it and that it was yet unfastened. If a careful
housemaid had discovered it and shut it, he would have to begin
housebreaking in earnest. Luckily it opened easily at his touch, and he
lost no time in climbing in, though it was rather a tight squeeze
through the narrow imitation Gothic mullions, and he was thankful there
were no bars as in the library.
He had more than once during his career found himself obliged to
enter other people's houses in this unceremonious, not to say
burglarious fashion. But it was always an exciting experience; and his
heart beat a trifle faster than usual as he stood motionless by the
window, straining his ears for the sound of any movement on the part of
the household. Nothing stirred, however, and by the help of an
occasional gleam from his pocket electric torch Gimblet made his way to
the door, and through the deserted house to the distant passage leading
to the old tower. Once inside the library he breathed more freely, and
when, after holding his breath for some minutes, he had made certain
that the absolute silence of the place continued unbroken by any
suspicion of noise, he felt safer still. His first act was to draw the
curtains, and to fasten them together in the middle with a large
safety-pin he had brought for the purpose. Then, secure from
observation, he switched on his torch, placed it on the table with its
back to the window, and set about what he had come to do.
As he had not failed to observe, earlier in the day, the book-lined
walls of the library were broken, opposite the window, by a panelled
alcove where a small table stood, beyond which, against the wall, was a
very large and tall grandfather's clock of black and gold lacquer, in
imitation of the Chinese designs so popular in the eighteenth century.
Among Lord Ashiel's last words, “The clock” had been uttered
immediately after the detective's own name. No doubt they formed part
of a message he wished to convey; and, though they might refer to any
clock in or out of the house, it seemed to Gimblet worth while to begin
his investigations with the one nearest at hand, and he turned his
attention to it without loss of time.
Gimblet was a connoisseur of the antique, and a few minutes'
examination proved to him that this was a genuine old clock, untouched
by the restorer's hand, and in an excellent state of preservation. The
works appeared all right as far as he could make out, but through the
narrow half-moon of glass, so often inserted in the cases of old clocks
for the purpose of displaying the pendulum, that article was not to be
seen, and he found that it was missing from inside the case, as were
also the weights, so that it was impossible to set it going. There was
one odd thing about it, which the detective had already remarked: it
was firmly fixed to the wall by large screws, and he thought that there
must be some opening through the back into a receptacle contrived in
the panelling behind it. The case was so large that he was able to get
inside it, and examine inch by inch the wood of the interior, which was
lacquered a plain black.
But his most careful tappings and testings could discover no hidden
spring, nor, even by the help of the electric torch—which he passed
all over the smooth surfaces of the walls—could he discern the
slightest join or crack. Could there be a hiding place up among the
wheels of the motionless works? His utmost endeavours could discover
none. The clock was fully eight feet high, but with the help of a
stool, which he put inside on the floor of the case, he was able to
explore even the topmost corners. All to no purpose.
Presently he abandoned that field of research, replaced the stool
whence he had taken it, and gave his attention to the surrounding
walls. He examined each panel with the most painstaking care, but could
find nothing. There was no sign of secret drawer or cupboard anywhere.
It was disappointing, and he drew back, baffled for the moment
What was the connection between those broken words?
If eleven o'clock had anything to do with the answer to the riddle,
it could not refer to this particular clock, which pointed unwaveringly
to thirteen minutes past four. Could it be possible that at eleven
there appeared some change in its countenance? Was it controlled by
some invisible mechanism? Well, if so, he would witness the
transformation, but such a solution did not seem likely. Was there no
other meaning applicable to the words? He would try the last ones and
assume that eleven steps from somewhere, the clock, probably, would
bring him to the hiding-place where the precious papers had been
Placing his heel against the bottom of the black-and-gold case, he
walked forward for eleven paces, which brought him right into the bow
of the window. Here he bent down, and, with the torch in one hand, and
a small magnifying lens that he was never without in the other,
searched the floor eagerly for some join in the boards, which should
denote the edge of a trap-door or an opening of some sort.
He could find none.
Again and again he tried, till at last he had examined the whole
flooring of the embrasure of the window.
No other part of the room was wide enough to allow him to take
eleven steps, and he reluctantly came to the conclusion that he must be
on the wrong tack.
There seemed no more to do but to wait till eleven should strike, in
the faint hope that something would happen then; and Gimblet sat down
in one of the large arm-chairs and prepared for an hour's lonely vigil.
He put his lamp in his pocket and sat in the dark, for he had an uneasy
feeling that Mark might return from the cottage and catch him pursuing
his investigations in a way which might not appeal to the average
householder. True, it seemed unlikely that anyone would come so late to
that side of the castle; but one never knew, and the thought of being
caught at his housebreaking added to the irritation produced by the
failure of his search.
“The clock—eleven—steppes.” What had Lord Ashiel been trying to
say? Why in the world had he put off writing till so late? These and
like questions Gimblet asked himself fretfully, as he waited, curled in
a deep arm-chair among the black shapes of furniture which loomed
around him, indefinite and almost invisible, even to eyes accustomed to
the darkness, as his now were.
Suddenly he raised his head and listened, holding his breath in
strained attention. He had caught the sound of distant footsteps.
In an instant he was up and had leapt to the window, where his
fingers fumbled with the safety-pin that held the curtains together. No
tell-tale mark of his presence must be left.
But where should he hide? The sounds were becoming more distinct
every second; no escape seemed possible. There was no help for it, and
he was bound to be discovered; he must put as good a face on it as he
could contrive. The person approaching might, after all, not come into
the library, but go back again along the passage. It might only be some
one coming to see that the door to the garden was properly bolted.
These thoughts flashed through the detective's mind so quickly as to
be practically simultaneous, and then almost at the same moment he
realized that the footsteps did not come from the passage at all, but
from under the room he was waiting in. In a flash he had grasped the
full significance of this unexpected fact, and was tiptoeing across to
The handle turned noiselessly in his fingers, thanks to the
precaution he had taken of oiling it, and he slipped outside.
In the dark and empty passage he took to his heels and ran swiftly
back to the drawing-room, nor paused till he was outside on the lawn
once more. There he hung for an instant in the wind; bearings must be
taken, the nearest way to the enclosed garden decided on, any dangerous
reefs that lay on the way steered clear of. Then he was off again on
the new tack. This led him round to the back of the holly hedge, and
the arched opening by the gardeners' tool-shed.
He turned in under it and sped silently over the turf, till he found
himself outside the door to the old tower. From the library window a
narrow shaft of light was issuing out on to the flower-bed.
Gimblet took off his coat and threw it on to the bed. He put a foot
upon one sleeve, and, stooping down, spread the other out in front of
him as far as it would go. Then he stepped upon that one and twisted
the coat round under him to repeat the process. In this way he arrived
under the window without leaving any imprint of his boots upon the soft
earth. Once there he raised himself cautiously and peered into the
By the writing-table, and so close to him that he could almost have
touched her if they had not been separated by the glass, stood a young
She held a little electric lantern, much like his own, in her left
hand, while with the other she turned over the leaves of a bundle of
papers. An open drawer in the writing-table betrayed whence they had
been taken; and she was so entirely engrossed in what she was about
that the detective felt little fear of being noticed by her, concealed
as he was in the outer darkness.
He saw that she was short and slight, with a beautiful little head
set gracefully upon her upright slender figure. Her expression was
proud and self-contained, but the large dark eyes that glowed beneath
long black lashes were in themselves striking evidence of a passionate
nature sternly repressed, and an eloquent contradiction to the firm,
tightly compressed lips. Here, thought Gimblet, was a nature which
might pursue its object with cold and calculating tenacity, and then at
the last moment let the prize slip through its fingers at some sudden
call upon the emotions.
For the time being her thoughts were evidently fixed upon her
present purpose, to the exclusion of all considerations such as might
have been expected to obtrude themselves upon the mind of a young girl
engaged in a nocturnal raid. The dark solitude, the lateness of the
hour, the surreptitious manner of her entry into the room, all these,
which might well have occasioned some degree of nervousness in the
coolest of housebreakers, appeared to produce, in her, nothing of the
sort. As calmly as if she were sitting by her own bedside, she examined
the documents in Lord Ashiel's bureau, sorting and folding the contents
of one drawer after another as if it were the most commonplace thing in
the world to go over other people's private papers in the dead of
And what was she looking for?
Gimblet felt no doubt on that subject. This could surely be no other
than Julia, the adopted daughter of Countess Romaninov, whom Lord
Ashiel had for so long supposed to be his daughter. In some way or
other she must have discovered the problematic relationship, and now
she was hunting for proof of her birth, or perhaps for the will which
should deprive her of her inheritance. It was even possible that the
dead peer had been mistaken, and that Julia was indeed his daughter and
not unaware of the fact. But what was she doing here, and where did she
come from? Surely Juliet had told him that all the guests had left the
Gimblet had never seen her before; but, as he watched her slow
deliberate movements and quick intelligent eyes, he had an odd feeling
that they were already acquainted. She reminded him of some one; how,
he couldn't say. Perhaps it was the features, perhaps merely the
expression, but if they had never previously met, at least he must have
seen some one she resembled. Rack his brains as he might, he could not
remember who it was. He put the thought aside. Sooner or later the
recollection would come to him.
The night was a warm one, and Gimblet felt no need for his coat,
though he was a little uneasy lest his white shirt should show up
against the dark background if she should chance to look out. Behind
him the trees in the wood stirred noisily and untiringly in the wind,
and from time to time an owl cried out of the gloom; but no sound from
within the castle reached his ears throughout the long hour during
which he stood watching while deftly and methodically the young lady in
the library went about her business. He wondered if this girl, who
stealthily, in the night, by the gleam of a pocket lantern, was engaged
in such questionable employment, were unwarrantably ransacking the
belongings of her former host, or believed herself to be exercising a
daughter's right in going over the papers of a dead parent.
The time came when the last paper was examined, the last drawer
quietly pushed back into its place; then, with every sign of
disappointment, she slowly rose, and taking up her torch made the tour
of the room as if debating whether she had not left some corner
unexplored. But the library was scantily furnished, apart from the
books that lined the walls, and though she drew more than one volume
from its place, and thrust a hand into the back of the shelf, it was
with a dispirited air. Soon, with a glance at her watch, she abandoned
the search, and slowly and hesitatingly moved in the direction of the
door and laid her fingers upon the handle.
She did not turn it, however, but stood irresolute, her eyes on the
floor. After a moment of indecision, the detective saw her mouth
compress firmly, and with a quick movement of the head, as if she were
shaking herself free from some persistent and troublesome thought, she
turned and walked deliberately towards the alcove at the end of the
“Now,” thought Gimblet, “we shall see where the secret door is
Judge of his surprise and excitement, when the girl stopped before
the tall case of the lacquered clock and, opening it, stepped inside
and drew the door to behind her. For five minutes, with nose pressed to
the pane of the window, the detective waited, expecting her to
reappear; then an idea struck him, and he clapped his hand against his
leg in his exasperation at not having guessed before.
He turned immediately, and using the same precautions as before made
good his retreat, and returned by way of the drawing-room window to the
All was silent there, and the empty room displayed no sign of its
nocturnal visitors. Gimblet did not hesitate. He went straight to the
clock and pulled open the door. The black interior was as empty and
bare as when he had previously examined it, but he betrayed neither
astonishment nor doubt as to his next action.
Stooping down he ran his hand over the painted wooden flooring. As
he expected, his fingers encountered a small knob in one of the
corners, and he had no sooner pressed it when the whole bottom of the
case fell suddenly away beneath his touch. As he stretched down the
hand that held the electric torch, the light fell upon an open
trap-door and the topmost step of a narrow flight of stairs, which
descended into the thickness of the wall.
Gimblet stepped into the case, and lowered himself quickly through
the hole at the bottom.
The stairs proved to be but a short flight, ending in a low passage,
which wound away through the wall of the ancient building. The
detective felt little doubt that it led to another concealed opening in
some distant part of the castle. But he had other things to think of
for the moment.
“The clock—eleven—steps.” The meaning of Lord Ashiel's dying words
was, he thought, plain enough now.
Running up the stairs again, he descended more slowly, counting the
treads as he went.
There were fifteen.
Gimblet bent down and held his torch so that the light fell bright
upon the eleventh step.
It presented identically the same appearance as the rest, the
rough-hewn stone dipping slightly in the middle as if many feet had
trodden it in the course of the centuries which had elapsed since it
was first placed there, but in every respect the worn surface resembled
those of the steps above and below it, as far as Gimblet could see.
He tapped it, and it gave forth the same sound as its neighbours.
Then he lowered the torch and ran its beams along the front of the
step; high up, under the overhanging edge of the tread above it, it
seemed as if there were a flaw or crack in the stone. He knocked upon
it, and it gave back a different sound to the stone around it.
Clearly it was wood, not stone, though so cleverly painted to
imitate its surroundings that it was a thousand to one against anyone
ever noticing it; and yes, there was a little circular depression in
the middle of it. Gimblet's thumb pressed heavily against the place,
and immediately there was a click, and a long narrow drawer flew out.
In it lay a single sheet of paper, and Gimblet's fingers shook with
excitement as he drew it forth.
A moment's pause while he perused the writing upon it, and then the
exultation on his face dwindled away. He could perceive no meaning in
these apparently random sentences.
“Remember that where there's a way there's a will. Face curiosity
and take the bull by the horn.”
Was this the cipher, of which he had never received the key? The
papers he had hoped to find must be hidden elsewhere. No doubt in some
place whose whereabouts was indicated, if he could only understand it,
by the incomprehensible message he held.
He stared at it for some minutes in an endeavour to find the
translation; then, reflecting that this was neither the time nor place
for deciphering cryptograms, he placed it carefully in an inner pocket,
and after a hasty exploration of the passage beyond which did not
reveal anything interesting except from an archaeological point of
view, he thoughtfully mounted to the room above.
Closing the trap-door, and making sure that everything in the
library was left as he had found it, Gimblet made his exit from the
castle in the same manner as he had entered it, and groped his silent
way home through the darkness.
A convenient creeper made it easy to climb on to the porch of Lady
Ruth's house, now wrapped in peaceful slumber; and so in at his own
window once more. The noise of the wind, which had now freshened to the
strength of half a gale, drowned any sound of his return, and he lost
no time in getting to bed and to sleep. The puzzle must keep till
to-morrow. It was one of Gimblet's rules to take proper rest when it
was at all possible, for he knew that his work suffered if he came to
it physically exhausted.
Gimblet was up early next morning, refreshed by a sound and
For two hours before breakfast he wrestled with the cryptic message
on the sheet of paper, trying first one way and then another of solving
the riddle it presented, but still finding no solution. He was silent
and preoccupied during the morning meal, replying to inquiries as to
his headache, alternately, with obvious inattention and exaggerated
gratitude. Neither of the ladies spoke much, however, and his
absent-mindedness passed almost unnoticed.
Lord Ashiel was to be buried that day. Before they left the
dining-room sombre figures could be seen striding along the high road
towards Inverashiel: inhabitants of the scattered villages, and people
from the neighbouring estates, hurrying to show their respect to the
dead peer for the last time.
The tragic circumstances of the murder had aroused great excitement
all over the countryside, and a large gathering assembled at the little
island at the head of the loch, where the McConachans had left their
bones since the early days of the youth of the race.
From the surrounding glens, from distant hills and valleys, and even
from far-away Edinburgh and Oban, came McConachans, to render their
final tribute to the head of the clan. It was surprising to see how
large was the muster; for the most part a company of tall, thin men,
with lean faces and drooping wisps of moustache.
To a mournful dirge on the pipes, Ashiel was laid in his rocky
grave, and the throng of black-garmented people was ferried back the
way it had come. Gimblet, wrapped to the ears in a thick overcoat, and
with a silk scarf wound high round his neck, shivered in the cold air,
for the wind had veered to the north, and the first breath of the
Arctic winter was already carried on it. The waters of the loch had
turned a slaty black; little angry waves broke incessantly over its
surface; and inky black clouds were gathering slowly on the distant
horizon. It looked as if the fine weather were at an end; as if Nature
herself were mourning angrily at the wanton destruction of her child.
The pity and regret Gimblet had felt, as he stood by the murdered man's
grave, suddenly turned to a feeling of rage, both with himself and with
the victim of the crime.
Why in the world had he not managed to guard against a danger of
whose imminence he had had full warning? And why in the name of
everything that was imbecile had Lord Ashiel, who knew much better than
anyone else how real the danger was, chosen to sit at a lighted window,
and offer so tempting a target to his enemy?
Suddenly, in the midst of his musings, a sound fell on the
detective's ear; a voice he had heard before, low and musical, and
curiously resonant. He looked in the direction from which it came and
saw two people standing together, a little apart, in the crowd of those
waiting at the water's edge for a craft to carry them ashore. There
were only two or three boats; and, though the ghillies bent to their
oars with a will, every one could not cross the narrow channel which
divided the island from the mainland at one and the same time. A group
had already formed on the beach of those who were not the first to get
away, and among these were the two figures that had attracted Gimblet's
They were two ladies, who stood watching the boats, which had landed
their passengers and were now returning empty.
The nearest to him, a tall woman of ample proportions, was visibly
affected by the ceremony she had just witnessed, and dabbed from time
to time at her eyes with a handkerchief.
But it was her companion who interested him. She was short and
slender; her slightness accentuated by the long dress of black cloth
and the small plain hat of the same colour which she wore. A thick
black veil hung down over her face and obscured it from his view, but
about her general appearance there was something strangely familiar. In
a moment Gimblet knew what it was, and where he had seen her before. He
had caught sight, in her hand, of a little bag of striped black satin
with purple pansies embroidered at intervals upon it. Just such a bag
had lain upon the table of his flat in Whitehall a few weeks ago, on
the day when its owner had stolen the envelope entrusted to him by Lord
“It is she,” breathed the detective, “the widow!”
And for one wild moment he was on the point of accosting her and
demanding his missing letter. Wiser counsels prevailed, however, and he
moved away to the other side of the small group of mourners gathered on
the stony beach.
When he ventured to look at her again, it was over the shoulder of a
stalwart Highlander, whose large frame effectually concealed all of the
little detective except his hat and eyes. A further surprise was in
store for him. The lady had lifted her veil and displayed the features
of the girl he had watched in the library on the preceding night.
Gimblet had seen enough. He turned away, and found Juliet at his
She would have passed him by, absorbed in her sorrow for the father
she had found and lost in the space of one short hour, but he laid her
hand upon her arm.
“Tell me,” he begged, “who are those two ladies waiting for the
Juliet's eyes followed the direction of his own.
“Those,” she said, “are Mrs. Clutsam and Miss Julia Romaninov.”
“Ah,” Gimblet murmured. “They were among your fellow-guests at the
castle, weren't they?”
Juliet's reply was short and a little cold. She could not understand
why the detective should choose this moment to question her on trivial
details. It showed, she considered, a lamentable lack of tact, and
involuntarily she resented it.
“But surely you told me that every one had left Inverashiel,”
persisted Gimblet, unabashed.
He seemed absurdly eager for the information. No doubt, Juliet
reflected bitterly, he admired Julia. Most men would.
“Mrs. Clutsam lives in another small house of my father's, near
here,” she replied stiffly. “She asked Miss Romaninov to stay with her
for a few days till she could arrange where to go to. This disaster
naturally upset every one's plans.”
“She has a beautiful face,” said Gimblet. “Who would think—” he
murmured, and stopped abruptly.
“Perhaps you would like me to introduce you?”
Juliet spoke with lofty indifference, but the dismay in Gimblet's
tone as he answered disarmed her.
“On no account,” he cried, “the last thing! Besides, for that
matter,” he added truthfully, “we have met before.”
“Then you will have the pleasure of renewing your acquaintance,”
Juliet suggested mischievously. Gimblet had shown himself so genuinely
aghast that her resentful suspicions had vanished.
“I expect to have an opportunity of doing so,” he agreed seriously.
“That young lady,” he went on in a low, confidential tone, “played a
trick on me that I find it hard to forgive. I look forward, with some
satisfaction, to the day when the laugh will be on my side. I admit I
ought to be above such paltry considerations, but, what would you? I
don't think I am. But please don't mention my presence to her, or her
friend. I imagine she has not so far heard of it.”
“I won't if you don't like,” said Juliet. “I don't suppose I shall
see them to speak to. But why do you feel so sure she doesn't know you
“Oh, how should she?” Gimblet returned evasively. “I don't suppose
my presence would appear worth commenting upon to anyone but yourself
or Lord Ashiel, unless Lady Ruth should mention it.”
“I don't think she will,” said Juliet. “She said she could not speak
to anyone to-day, and she and Mark have gone off together in his own
boat. I said I would walk home.”
“Won't you drive with me?” Gimblet suggested.
He had hired a “machine” from the distant village of Inverlegan to
carry him to and from the funeral. But Juliet preferred to walk,
finding in physical exercise the only relief she could obtain from the
aching trouble that oppressed and sickened her.
Gimblet drove back alone to the cottage. He had much to occupy his
Once back in his room he turned his mind to the writing on the sheet
“Remember that where there's a way there's a will. Face curiosity
and take the bull by the horn.”
The message, as Gimblet read it, was as puzzling as if it had been
completely in cipher.
If certain of the words possessed some arbitrary meaning to which
the key promised by Lord Ashiel would have furnished the solution,
there seemed little hope of understanding the message until the key was
found. The word “way,” for instance, might stand for another that had
been previously decided on, and if rightly construed probably indicated
the place where the papers were concealed. “Will,” “face,” “curiosity,”
“bull” and “horn” were likely to represent other very different words,
or perhaps even whole sentences.
Without the key it was hopeless to search along that line; such
search must end, as it would begin, in conjecture only. He would see if
anything more promising could be arrived at by taking the message as it
was and assuming that all the words bore the meaning usually attributed
to them. For more than an hour Gimblet racked his brains to read sense
into the senseless phrases, and at the end of that time was no wiser
than at the beginning.
“Where there's a way there's a will.” Was it by accident or design
that the order in which the words way and will were placed was
different from the one commonly assigned to them? Had Lord Ashiel made
a mistake in arranging the message? Or did the “will” refer to his will
and testament? If so, why should he take so roundabout a way of
designating it? Doubtless because something more important than the
will was involved; indeed, if anything was clear, from the ambiguous
sentence and the precaution that Ashiel had taken that though it fell
into the hands of his enemies it should convey nothing to them, it was
that he considered the mystification of the uninitiated a matter of
transcendental importance. It was plain he contemplated the possibility
of the Nihilists knowing where to look for his message; and at the
thought Gimblet shifted uneasily in his chair, remembering his first
encounter with their representative.
“Face curiosity and take the bull by the horn.” Perhaps those words,
as they stood, contained some underlying sense, which at present it was
hard to read in them. What it was, seemed impossible to guess. To take
the bull by the horn, is a common enough expression, and might
represent no more than a piece of advice to act boldly; on the whole
that was not likely, for would anyone wind up such a carefully veiled
communication with so trite and everyday a saying, or finish such an
obscure message with so ordinary a sentiment?
“Face curiosity,” however, was perhaps a direction how to proceed.
The only trouble was to know what in the world it meant!
Whose curiosity was to be faced? The behaviour of members of a
Nihilist society could hardly be said to be impelled by that motive.
Gimblet could not see that anyone else had shown any symptom of it. Had
“curiosity,” then, some other meaning?
The detective, as has been said, was an amateur of the antique. When
not at work, a great part of his time was passed in the neighbourhood
of curiosity shops, and the merchandise they dealt in immediately
occurred to him in connection with the word.
Did the dead man refer to some peculiarity of the ancient keep? Was
there, perhaps, the figure or picture of a bull within the castle whose
horn pointed to the ultimate place of concealment? It would have
seemed, Gimblet thought, that the hidden receptacle in the secret stair
was difficult enough to find; but the reason the papers were not placed
in there was plain to him after a minute's reflection. It was doubtless
because they were too bulky to be contained in the shallow drawer. At
all events, there was certainly another hiding-place; and, on the
whole, the best plan seemed to be to see if the castle could produce
any curiosity that would offer a solution of the problem.
To the castle, accordingly, he went, and asked to see Lord Ashiel.
He was shown into the smoking-room, where Mark was kneeling on the
hearth-rug surrounded by piles of folded and docketed papers. The door
of a small cupboard in the wall beside the fireplace stood open,
revealing a row of deep shelves stacked with the same neat packets.
“Still hunting for the will, you see,” he said, looking up as
Gimblet entered, “I'm beginning to give up hope of finding it, but it's
a mercy to have something to do these days.”
“Rather a tedious job, isn't it?” said the detective, looking down
at the musty tape-bound bundles.
“Well, it gives one rather a kink in the back after a time,” Mark
admitted. “But I shan't feel easy in my mind till I've looked through
everything, and I'm getting a very useful idea of the estate accounts
in the meantime. It is rather a long business, but I'm getting
on with it, slow but sure. There are such a fearful lot.”
“Are all these cupboards full of papers?” Gimblet asked, looking
round him at the numerous little doors in the panelling.
“Stuffed with them, every blessed one of them,” Mark replied rather
gloomily. “And the worst of it is, I'm pretty certain they're nothing
but these dusty old bills and letters. But there's nowhere else to
look, and I know he kept nearly everything here.”
Gimblet sauntered round the room, pulling open the drawers and
peeping in at the piles of documents.
“What an accumulation!” he remarked. “None of these cupboards are
locked, I see,” he added.
“No, he never locked anything up,” said Mark. “I've heard him boast
he never used a key. Do you know, if one had time to read them, I
believe some of these old letters might be rather amusing. It looked as
if my grandfather and his fathers had kept every single one that ever
was written to them. I've just come across one from Raeburn, the
painter, and I saw another, a quarter of an hour ago, from Lord Clive.”
“Really,” said Gimblet eagerly, “which cupboard were they in? I
should like to see them immensely some time.”
“They were in this one,” said Mark, pointing to the shelves opposite
Gimblet stood facing it, and looked hopefully round him in all
directions for anything like a bull. There was nothing, however, to
suggest such an animal, and he reflected that interesting though these
old letters might be it would be going rather far to refer to them as
curiosities. Suddenly an idea struck him.
“I suppose you haven't come across anything concerning a Papal
Bull?” he inquired.
“No,” said Mark, looking up in surprise. “It's not very likely I
should, you know.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Gimblet. “Still, you old families did get
hold of all sorts of odd things sometimes, and your uncle was a bit of
a collector, wasn't he?”
“Uncle Douglas,” said Mark, “not he! He didn't care a bit for that
kind of thing. You can see in the drawing-room the sort of horrors he
used to buy. He was thoroughly early Victorian in his tastes, and ought
to have been born fifty years sooner than he was.”
“Dear me,” said Gimblet. “I don't know why I thought he was rather
by way of being a connoisseur. Well, well, I mustn't waste any more
time. I wanted to ask you if you would mind my going all over the
house. I may see something suggestive. Who knows? At present I have
only examined the library and your uncle's bedroom.”
“By all means,” said Mark. “Blanston will show you anything you want
to see. Oh, by the by, you like to be alone, don't you? I was
forgetting. Well, go anywhere you like; and good luck to your hunting!”
On a writing-table in one of the bedrooms, Gimblet found a
paper-weight in the bronze shape of a Spanish toro, head down, tail
brandishing, a fine emblem of goaded rage. But there was nothing
promising about the round mahogany table on which it stood: no drawer,
secret or otherwise could all his measurings and tappings discover; the
animal, when lifted up by the horn and dangled before the detective's
critical eye, proclaimed itself modern and of no artistic merit. It was
like a hundred others to be had in any Spanish town, and by no
expanding of terms could it be considered a curiosity.
Except for this one more than doubtful find, he drew the whole house
absolutely blank. There were very few specimens of ancient work in the
castle, which like so many other old houses had been stripped of
everything interesting it contained in the middle of the nineteenth
century, and entirely refurnished and redecorated in the worst possible
taste. With the exception of some family portraits, the lacquered clock
in the library was the one genuine survival of the Victorian holocaust,
and though Gimblet passed nearly half an hour in contemplating it he
could not see any way of connecting it with a bull, nor was he a whit
the wiser when he finally turned his back on it than he had been at the
Blanston, to whom he appealed, could give no useful information.
Yes, some of the plate was old, but that was all at the bank in London.
Mrs. Haviland, his lordship's sister, had liked it on the table when
his lordship entertained in his London house, and it had not been
carried backwards and forwards to Scotland since her ladyship's death.
He knew of nothing resembling a bull in his lordship's possession,
unless it was the picture of cows that hung in the drawing-room
opposite the one of the dead stag.
Gimblet had already exhausted the possibilities of that highly
varnished oil-painting, and he went forth from the house in a state of
As he descended the drive he heard his name called, and looking back
perceived the short, sturdy figure of Lady Ruth hurrying down the road
“If you are going back to the cottage, Mr. Gimblet,” she panted,
“let us walk together. I ran after you when I saw your hat go past the
window, for I couldn't stand those frowsty old papers of Mark's any
Gimblet waited till she came up, still talking, although
considerably out of breath.
“We will go by the road, if you don't mind,” she said, “the lochside
is rather rough for me. I have been paying a visit of charity, and very
hard work it is paying visits in the country when you don't keep a
conveyance of any kind, and I really can't afford even a donkey. You
see the Judge's income died with him, poor dear, in spite of those
foolish sayings about not being able to take your money with you to the
better land, where I am sure one would want it just as much as anywhere
else, for the better life you lead, the more expensive it is. No one
could be generous, or charitable, or unselfish, with nothing to give up
or to give away. That's only common sense, and I always say that common
sense is such a help when called upon to face problems of a religious
“My uncle was a bishop and a very learned theologian, I assure you;
but he always held that it was impious to apply plain common sense to
matters so far above us, and that is why he and my poor husband were
never on speaking terms; not from any fault of the Judge's, who had
been trained to think about logic and all that kind of thing which is
so useful to people at the Bar.
“But it takes all sorts to make a world, as he often used to say to
himself, and if every one was exactly alike one would feel almost as
solitary as if the whole earth was empty and void, while, as for
virtues and good qualities, they would automatically cease to exist, so
that a really good man would simply long to go to hell and have some
opportunity to show his goodness. That always seemed very reasonable to
me, but I am just telling you what my husband used to say, because I
really don't know much about these things, and he was such a clever
man, and what he said was always listened to with great interest and
respect at the Old Bailey. If it hadn't been, of course he would have
cleared the court.
“But as I was telling you, his money went with him, though I know he
always meant to insure his life, which is such a boring thing to think
of when a man has many calls on his purse. And so, I live, as you see,
in a very quiet way up here, and sometimes get down to the South for a
month or six weeks in the winter, where I have many kind friends. But I
find the hills rather trying to my legs as time goes on, and I don't
very often walk as far as I have to-day. Still charity, as they say,
covers a multitude of miles, and I really thought it my duty to come
and see how poor Mark was bearing up all alone at Inverashiel. I was
afraid he would be terribly unhappy, poor boy, so soon after the
funeral, and Juliet Byrne having refused him, and everything. Though of
course he can't be pitied for inheriting Inverashiel, such a lovely
place, is it not? And quantities of property in the coal district, you
know, besides. He is really a very lucky young man.”
“It is indeed a most beautiful country,” Gimblet observed, as Lady
Ruth's breath gave out completely, and she stopped by the roadside to
regain it. He was deep in thought, and glad to escape the necessity of
“Yes,” she said, as they moved slowly on, “I had a delightful walk
here, and found him much more cheerful than I had feared. It is such a
good thing he has all those papers to look over. It is everything, at a
time like this, to have an occupation. It is so dreadful to think of
dear David with absolutely nothing to do in that horrid cell. I wonder
if they allow him to smoke, or to keep a tame mouse, which I remember
reading is such a comfort to prisoners. I do hope, Mr. Gimblet, that
you will soon be able to get him out of it.”
Before Gimblet could reply, the silence was broken by the rumble of
wheels; and a farmer's cart came up behind them, driven by a thin man
in a black coat, who had evidently attended the funeral earlier in the
day. The road, at the point they had reached, was beginning to ascend;
and the stout pony between the shafts slowed resolutely to a walk as he
leant against the collar. The man lifted his hat as Lady Ruth wished
him good day.
“I saw you at the funeral, Angus McConachan,” she said. “A sad
business. A terrible business.” And she shook her head mournfully.
The farmer stopped the willing pony.
“That it is, my leddy,” he assented. “It's a black day indeed, when
the heed o' a clan is struck doon by are o' his ain bleed. It's a great
peety that the lad would ha' forgot what he owed to his salt. But I'm
thinkin' they'll be hangin' him afore the year's oot.”
“Oh, Angus,” cried Lady Ruth, in horrified tones, “don't talk in
that dreadful way. I'm quite, quite sure Sir David never had any part
in the thing. It's all a mistake, and this gentleman here is going to
find out who really fired the shot.”
“Well, I hope ye'll be richt, my leddy,” was all the farmer would
commit himself to, as he gathered up the reins. Then he hesitated,
looking down on the hot, flushed countenance of the lady in the road
beneath him. “If yer leddyship will be tackin' a seat in the machine,”
he hazarded, “it'll maybe save ye the trail up the brae.”
Lady Ruth accepted the suggestion with great content. She was
getting very tired, and was finding the walk more exhausting than she
had bargained for. She lost no time in climbing up beside Angus, and
the fat pony was induced to continue its reluctant progress.
Near the top of the hill the road forked into two branches, that
which led to the right continuing parallel with the loch, whilst the
other diverged over the hill towards Auchtermuchty, a town some fifteen
miles distant. The stout pony unhesitatingly took the turning to the
The farmer looked at Lady Ruth inquiringly.
“Will ye get doon here, my leddy?” he asked; “or will ye drive on as
far as the sheepfold? It will be shorter for ye tae walk doon fay
there, by the burn and the Green Way.”
“I should like to do that;” said Lady Ruth, “if you don't mind
taking me so far. Perhaps you would give Mr. Gimblet a lift too, now
that we're on top of the hill?”
The man readily consented, and Gimblet, who was following on foot,
was called and informed of the proposed change of route. He scrambled
into the back of the cart and they rattled along the upper road, the
stout pony no doubt wearing a very aggrieved expression under its
When another mile had been traversed, they were put down at a place
where a rough track led down across the moor by the side of an old
The cart jogged off to the sound of a chorus of thanks, and Lady
Ruth and Gimblet started down the heather-grown path. They rounded the
corners of the deserted fold, and walked on into the golden mist of
sunset which spread in front of them, enveloping and dazzling. The
clouds of the morning had rolled silently away to the horizon, the wind
had dropped to a mere capful; and the midges were abroad in their
hosts, rejoicing in the improvement in the weather.
“I don't believe it's going to rain after all,” said Lady Ruth. “The
sun looks rather too red, perhaps, to be quite safe, though it is
supposed to be the shepherd's delight. I can only say that, if he was
delighted with the result of some of the red sunsets we get up here,
he'd be easily pleased, and for my part I'm never surprised at
anything. These midges are past belief, aren't they?”
They were, Gimblet agreed heartily. He gathered a handful of fern
and tried to keep them at bay, but they were persevering and
ubiquitous. Soon the path led them away from the open moor, and into
the wood of birches and young oaks which clung to the side of the hill.
A little farther, and Gimblet heard the distant gurgling of a burn;
presently they were picking their way between moss-covered boulders on
the edge of a rocky gully. Great tufts of ferns dotted the steep pitch
of the bank below; the stream that clattered among the stones at the
bottom shone very cool and shadowy under the alders; and a clearing on
the other side revealed, over the receding woods, the broken hill-tops
of a blue horizon.
The path wound gradually downward to the waterside, and in a little
while they crossed it by means of a row of stepping-stones over which
Lady Ruth passed as boldly as her companion.
Another hundred yards of shade, and they came out into a long narrow
glen, carpeted with short springy turf, and bordered, as by an avenue,
with trees knee-deep in bracken. The rectangular shape and enclosed
nature of the glade came as a surprise in the midst of the wild
woodlands. The place had more the air of forming part of pleasure
grounds near to the haunts of man, and the eye wandered instinctively
in search of a house. The effect of artificiality was increased by a
large piece of statuary representing a figure carved in stone and
standing upon a high oblong pediment, which stood a little distance
down the glen.
Gimblet did not repress his feeling of astonishment.
“What a strange place!” he exclaimed. “Who would have expected to
find this lawn tucked away in the woods. Or is there a house somewhere
“No,” Lady Ruth answered, “there is nothing nearer than my cottage
half a mile away; and this short grass and flat piece of ground are
entirely natural. Nothing has been touched, except here and there a
tree cut out to keep the borders straight. The late Lady Ashiel, the
wife of my unfortunate cousin, was very fond of this place. Although it
is farther, she always walked round by it when she came to see me at
the cottage. That absurd statue was put up last year as a sort of
memorial to her—a most unsuitable one to my mind, she being a chilly
sort of woman, poor dear, who always shivered if she saw so much as a
hen moulting. I'm sure it would distress her terribly if she knew that
poor creature over there had to stand in the glen in all weathers, year
in and year out, with only a rag to cover her. And a stone rag at that,
which is a cold material at the best. Yes, this is only the beginning
of a track which runs for miles across the hills to the South. It is so
green that you can always make it out from the heights, and there are
all sorts of legends about it. It is supposed to be the road over which
the clans drove back the cattle they captured in the old days when they
were always raiding each other. They have a name for it In the Gaelic,
which means the Green Way.”
“The Green Way,” Gimblet repeated mechanically. For a moment his
brain revolved with wild imaginings.
“Yes,” repeated Lady Ruth. “Sometimes they call it 'The Way,' for
short. It is a favourite place for picnics from Crianan. My cousin used
to allow them to come here, and the place is generally made hideous
with egg-shells and paper and old bottles. One of the gardeners comes
and tidies things up once a week in the summer. People are so
absolutely without consciences.”
“Is there a bull here?” cried Gimblet. He was quivering with
“Goodness gracious, I hope not!” said Lady Ruth. “Do you see any
cattle? I can't bear those long-horned Highlanders!”
“No,” said Gimblet. “I thought perhaps—But what is the statue? The
design, surely, is rather a strange one for the place.”
“Most extraordinary,” assented Lady Ruth. “He got it in Italy and
had it sent the whole way by sea. It took all the king's horses and all
the king's men to get it up here, I can tell you. And, as I say,
nothing less apropos can one possibly imagine. That poor thin female
with such very scanty clothing is hardly a cheerful object on a Scotch
winter's day, and as for those little naked imps they would make anyone
shiver, even in August.”
They had drawn near the sculptured group. It consisted of the
slightly draped figure of a girl, bending over an open box, or casket,
from which a crowd of small creatures, apparently, as Lady Ruth had
said, imps or fairies, were scrambling and leaping forth.
Gimblet gazed at it intently, as if he had never seen a statue
before. In a moment his face cleared and he turned to Lady Ruth with
“It is Pandora,” he cried. “Curiosity! Pandora and her box. Is it
Lady Ruth stared at him amazed.
“I believe it is,” she said, “that or something of the sort. I'm not
very well up in mythology.”
“Of course it is,” cried Gimblet. “Face curiosity! And here's the
bull, or I'll eat my microscope,” he added, advancing to the side of
the group and laying a hand upon the pedestal.
Lady Ruth followed his gaze with some concern. She was beginning to
doubt his sanity. But there, sure enough, beneath his pointing finger,
she perceived a row of carved heads: the heads of bulls, garlanded in
the Roman manner, and forming a kind of cornice round the top of the
great rectangular stone stand.
Gimblet glanced to right and left, up the glen and down it. There
was no one to be seen. The sun had fallen by this time beneath the rim
of the hills; a greyness of twilight was spread over the whole scene,
and under the trees the dusk of night was already silently ousting the
day. He turned once more to Lady Ruth.
“Lady Ruth,” he said, “can you keep a secret?”
“My husband trusted me,” she replied. “He was judicious as well as
“I am sure I may follow his example,” Gimblet said, after looking at
her fixedly for a moment. “So I will tell you that I believe I am on
the point of discovering Lord Ashiel's missing will—and not that
alone. Somewhere, concealed probably within a few feet of where we are
standing, we may hope to find other and far more important documents,
involving, perhaps, not only the welfare of one or two individuals but
that of kings and nations. Apart from that, and to speak of what most
immediately concerns us at present, I am convinced that within this
stone will be found the true clue to the author of the murder.”
“You don't say so,” gasped Lady Ruth, her round eyes rounder than
“I found some directions in the handwriting of the murdered man,”
went on Gimblet, “which I could not understand at first. But their
meaning is plain enough now. 'Take the bull by the horn,' he says.
Well, here are the bulls, and I shall soon know which is the horn.”
He walked round to the front of the statue, so that he faced the
stooping figure of Pandora, and laid his hand upon one of the curved
and projecting horns of the left-hand bull. Nothing happened, and he
tried the next There were seven heads in all along the face of the
great block, and he tested six of them without perceiving anything
unusual. Was it possible that he was mistaken, and that, after all, the
words of the message did not refer to the statue?
When he grasped the first horn of the last head, the hand that did
so was shaking with excitement and suspense. It seemed, like the rest,
to possess no attribute other than mere decoration. And yet, and
yet—surely he had missed some vital point. He would go over them
again. There remained, however, the last horn, and as he took hold of
it with a premonitory dread of disappointment, he felt that it was
loose in its socket, and that he could by an effort turn it completely
over. With a triumphant cry he twisted it round, and at the same moment
Lady Ruth started back with an exclamation of alarm.
She was standing where he had left her, and was nearly knocked down
by the great slab of stone which, as Gimblet turned the horn of the
bull, swung sharply out from the end of the pediment, till it hung like
a door invitingly open and disclosing a hollow chamber within the
Within the opening, on the floor at the far end, stood a large tin
The door was a good eighteen inches wide; plenty of room for Gimblet
to climb in, swollen with exultation though he might be. In less than
three seconds he had scrambled through the aperture and was stooping
over the box. It seemed to be locked, but a key lay on the top of the
lid. He lost no time in inserting it, and in a moment threw open the
case and saw that it was full of papers.
Suddenly there was another cry from Lady Ruth as, for no apparent
cause and without the slightest warning, the stone door slammed itself
back into position, and he was left a prisoner in the total darkness of
the vault. He groped his way to the doorway and pushed against it with
all his strength. He might as well have tried to move the side of a
mountain. But, after an interval long enough for him to have time to
become seriously uneasy, the door flew open again, and the agitated
countenance of Lady Ruth welcomed him to the outside world.
“Do get out quick,” she cried. “If it does it again while you're
half in and half out, you'll be cracked in two as neatly as a walnut.”
Gimblet hurried out, clutching the precious box. No sooner was he
safely standing on the turf than the door shut again with a violence
that gave Pandora the appearance of shaking with convulsions of silent
“I wasn't sure how it opened,” said Lady Ruth, “but I tried all the
horns and got it right at last. How lucky I was with you!”
“Yes, indeed,” said Gimblet. “I am very thankful you were.”
They twisted the horn again, and stood together to watch the
recurring phenomenon of the closing door.
“It must be worked by clockwork,” the detective said, and taking out
his watch he timed the interval that elapsed between the opening and
shutting. “It stays open for thirty seconds,” he remarked after two or
three experiments. “No doubt the mechanism is concealed in the
thickness of the stone. At all events it seems to be in good working
Squatting on the grass, he opened the tin box, and examined the
papers with which it was filled. A glance showed him that they were
what he expected, and he replaced the box where he had found it, while
Lady Ruth manipulated the horn of the bull.
“I have no right to the papers,” he explained to her, as they walked
homeward in the gathering dusk. “It would be more satisfactory if a
magistrate were present at the official opening of the statue, and I
will see what can be done about that to-morrow. In the meantime, and
considering that we have been interfering with other people's property,
I shall be much obliged if you will keep our discovery secret.”
And talking in low, earnest tones, he explained to her more fully
all that was likely to be implied by the papers they had unearthed.
With her white paint and her scarlet smokestack, the Inverashiel
—one of the two small steamers that during the summer months plied up
and down the loch, and incidentally carried on communication between
Inverashiel and Crianan—was a picturesque addition to the landscape,
as she approached the wooden landing-stage that stood half a mile below
the promontory on which the castle was built. It was the morning of
Friday, the day following the funeral, and clouds were settling slowly
down on to the tops and shoulders of the hills in spite of the
brilliant sunset of the previous evening. The loch lay dark and still,
its surface wore an oily, treacherous look; every detail of the
Inverashiel's tub-like shape was reflected and beautifully
distorted in the water, which broke in long low waves from her bows as
she swerved round to come alongside the pier.
As the few passengers who were waiting for her crossed the short
gangway, a shower burst over the loch and in a few minutes had driven
every one into the little cabin, except the two or three men who
constituted the officers and crew of the steamer. One of these was in
the act of slackening the rope by which the boat had been warped
alongside, when a running, gesticulating figure appeared in the
distance, shouting to them to wait for him.
Waited for accordingly he was; and in a few minutes Gimblet, rather
out of breath after his run, hurried on board, and with a word of
apology and thanks to the obliging skipper turned, like the other
passengers, towards the shelter of the cabin.
With his hand on the knob of the door he hesitated. Through the
glass top he had just caught sight of a figure that seemed familiar. He
had seen that tweed before; the short girl with her back to him was
wearing the dress in which he had seen her on the Wednesday night,
searching among Lord Ashiel's papers in the library at the castle. It
was Julia Romaninov beyond a doubt, and Gimblet drew back quickly and
took up his position behind the funnels on the after-deck. In spite of
the rain he remained there until the boat reached Crianan, leaning
against the rail with his collar turned up and his soft felt hat pulled
down over his ears, so that little of him was visible except the tip of
His mind, always active, was busier than usual as he watched the
ripples roll away in endless succession from the sides of the
Inverashiel—which looked so strangely less white on closer
inspection—or followed the smooth soaring movements of the gulls that
swooped and circled around her, as she puffed and panted on her way
across the black, taciturn waters.
As they drew near to Crianan he concealed himself still more
carefully behind a pile of crates, and not till Miss Romaninov had left
the steamer did he emerge from his hiding-place and step warily off the
The young lady was still in sight, making her way up the steep pitch
of the main street, and the detective followed her discreetly,
loitering before shop windows, as if fascinated by the display of
Scottish homespuns, or samples of Royal Stewart tartan, and taking an
extraordinary interest in fishing-tackle and trout-flies.
But, though the girl looked back more than once, the little man in
the ulster who was so intent on picking his way between the puddles did
not apparently provide her with any food for suspicion; and she made no
attempt to see who was so carefully sheltered beneath the umbrella he
At last they left: the cobble-stones of the little town and emerged
upon the high road, which here ran across the open moorland.
It was difficult now to continue the pursuit unobserved: and Gimblet
became absorbed in the contemplation of an enormous cairngorm, which
was masquerading as an article of personal adornment in the window of
the last outlying shop.
From this position—not without its embarrassments, since a couple
of barefooted children came instantly to the door, where they stood and
stared at him unblinkingly—he saw the Russian advancing at a rapid
pace across the moor; and, look where he would, could perceive no means
of keeping up with her unobserved upon the bare side of the hill.
Just as he decided that the distance separating them had increased
to an extent which warranted his continuing the chase, he joyfully saw
her slacken her pace, and at the same moment a man, who must have been
sitting behind a boulder beside the road, rose to his feet out of the
heather, and came forward to meet her. For ten long minutes they stood
talking, driving poor Gimblet to the desperate expedient of entering
the shop and demanding a closer acquaintance with the cairngorm. It is
humiliating to relate that he recoiled before it when it was placed in
his hand, and nearly fled again into the road. However, he pulled
himself together and held the proud proprietress, a gaunt, grey-haired
woman with knitting-needles ever clicking in her dexterous hands, in
conversation upon the theme of its unique beauties until the subject
was exhausted to the point of collapse.
Every other minute he must stroll to the door and take a look up and
down the road. A friend, he explained, had promised to meet him in that
place; and though the shopwoman plainly doubted his veracity, and kept
a sharp eye that he did not take to his heels with the cairngorm, she
did not go so far as to suggest his removing himself from the zone of
At last, when for the twentieth time he put his nose round the
doorpost, he saw that the pair had separated, and were walking in
opposite directions, the girl continuing on her way, while the man
returned to the town. He was, indeed, not a hundred yards off.
Gimblet plunged once more into the shop, and fastened upon some
pencils with a zeal not very convincing after his disappointing
vacillation over the brooch. The gaunt woman cheered up, however, when
he bought the first seventeen she offered him, and, the stock being
exhausted, finished by purchasing a piece of india-rubber, a
stylographic pen, and a penny paper of pins, which she pressed upon him
as particularly suited to his needs and charged him fourpence for.
By the time he issued forth into the open air, his pockets full of
packages, the stranger had passed the shop and was turning the corner
of the next house. To him, now, Gimblet devoted his powers of
There was no great difficulty about it. The man walked straight
before him, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and as he
strode along the wet roads Gimblet noted with satisfaction the long,
narrow, pointed footprints that were deeply impressed in the muddy
places. He had no doubt they were the same as those he had noticed on
the beach on the day of his arrival at Inverashiel.
The stranger turned into the Crianan Hotel, which stands on the lake
front, fifty yards from the landing-place of the loch steamers. Gimblet
passed the door without pausing and went down to the loch, where he
mingled with the boatmen and loafers who congregated by the waterside.
He kept, however, a strict eye on the door of the hotel, and after a
quarter of an hour saw the object of his attentions emerge with
fishing-rod and basket, and cross the road directly towards him.
Gimblet had not been able to see his face before, but now he had a good
look as he passed close beside him.
He was a tall, fair man, evidently a foreigner, but with nothing
very striking about his appearance. A pointed yellow beard hid the
lower part of his face, and, for the rest, his nose was short, his eyes
blue and close together, and his forehead high and narrow. He looked
closely at Gimblet as he went by, and for a moment the eyes of the two
men met, both equally inscrutable and unflinching; then the stranger
glanced aside and strode on to where a small boat lay moored. The
detective turned his back while the fair man got in and pushed off into
“Gentleman going fishing?” he remarked to a man who lounged hard by
upon the causeway.
“He's axtra fond o' the feeshin',” was the reply, “for a' that he's
a foreign shentleman.”
Waiting till the boat had become a distant speck on the face of the
waters, Gimblet made his way into the inn and entered into conversation
with the landlord, on the pretext of engaging rooms for a friend. The
landlord was sorry, but the house was full.
“If ye wanted them in a fortnicht's time,” he said, “ye could hae
the hale hotel; but tae the end o' the holidays we're foll up. Folks
tak' their rooms a month in advance; they come here for the fishin' on
the loch, and because my hoose is the maist comfortable in the
“Indeed, I can well believe that,” Gimblet assured him. “I suppose
you get a lot of tourists passing through, though, Americans, for
“We hardly ever hae a room tae tak' them in. No, I seldom hae an
American bidin' here; they maistly gang doon the loch,” said the
“I thought,” said Gimblet, “that was a foreign-looking man whom I
saw a little while ago, coming out of the hotel.”
“We hae ae gintleman bidin' here wha belongs tae foreign pairts,”
the landlord admitted. “A Polish gintleman, he is, Count Pretovsky, a
vary nice gintleman. I couldna just cae him a tourist. He's vary keen
on the fishin' and was up here for it last year as well. He has his ain
boat and is aye on the water trailin' aefter the salmon.”
“A great many sporting foreigners come to our island nowadays,”
Gimblet remarked. “Does he get many fish?”
“Oh, it's a grand place for salmon,” said the inn-keeper with
obvious pride. “And there's troots tac. And pike, mair's the peety,” he
“Dear me,” said Gimblet, “just what my friend wants. I'm sorry you
can't take him in. I must tell him to write in good time next year if
he wants a room.”
As he parted from the landlord upon the doorstep of the Crianan
Hotel, the Rob Roy—the second of the two loch steamers—was
edging away from the pier, under a cloud of black smoke from her funnel
The rain had stopped; the passengers were scattered on the deck, and in
the bows of the vessel the detective caught sight of Julia Romaninov's
tweed-clad form. She was leaning against the rail, and gazing at a
distant part of the loch where a black speck, which might represent a
rowing boat, could faintly be discerned. She had come back, then, from
her moorland walk. It was as Gimblet had expected; and, though he
chafed at the delay, he regretted less than he would have otherwise
that he could not catch the Rob Roy.
The Inverashiel would be due on her homeward trip in a couple
of hours' time, and meanwhile he had other business that must be
He went first to the post office, where he registered and posted to
Scotland Yard a packet he had brought with him. Then, after asking his
way of the sociable landlord of the hotel, he proceeded to the police
station, a single-storied stone building standing at the end of a side
Here he made himself known to the inspector, and imparted
information which made that personage open his eyes considerably wider
than was his custom.
“If you will bring one of your men, and come with me yourself,” said
Gimblet, at the conclusion of the interview, “I think I shall be able
to convince you that a mistake has been made. In the meantime there
will be no harm done by a watch being kept on the foreign gentleman who
is at this moment trolling for salmon on the loch.”
The inspector agreed; and when the Inverashiel started, an
hour later, on her voyage down the loch, she carried the two policemen
on her deck, as well as the most notorious detective she was ever
likely to have the privilege of conveying.
It was nearly three o'clock when they landed on the Inverashiel
The weather, which for the last few hours had looked like clearing,
had now turned definitely to rain; clouds had descended on the hills,
and the trees in the valleys stooped and dripped in the saturated,
mist-laden air. Gimblet conducted the men to the cottage, where Lady
Ruth anxiously awaited them.
“If you don't mind their staying here,” he suggested to her, “while
I go up to the castle and consult Lord Ashiel about a magistrate, it
will be most convenient, on account of the distance.”
“By all means,” said Lady Ruth. “I feel safer with them. I expect
you will find Miss Byrne up there. She has not come in to lunch, and I
think she probably met Mark and went to lunch at the castle. She ought
to know better than to go to lunch alone with a young man, and I am
just wondering if she has changed her mind and accepted him after all.
Girls are kittle cattle, but I've got quite fond of that one, and I
hope she's not forgotten poor David so soon. I really am feeling
anxious about her.”
“I daresay she has only walked farther than she intended,” said
Gimblet, “or perhaps she came to a burn or some place she couldn't get
over, and has had to go round a mile or two. Depend on it, that's
what's happened. But I promise you that if she is at the castle I will
bring her back when I return.”
Behind the shrubberies, which lay at the back of the holly hedge
that surrounded the little enclosed garden outside the library, beyond
the. end of the battlements, and reached by a disused footpath, a great
tree stood upon the edge of the steep hillside and thrust its sweeping
branches over the void.
Its trunk was grey and moss-grown; moss carpeted the ground between
its protruding roots, but the bracken and heather held back, and left a
half-circle beneath it, untenanted by their kind. It would seem that
all vegetation fears to venture beneath the shade of the beech; and for
the most part it stands solitary, shunned by other growing things
except moss, which creeps undaunted where its more vigorous brothers
lack the courage to establish themselves.
Here came Juliet that morning.
A week ago, David Southern had shown her the path to the tree. It
had been a favourite haunt of his when he was a boy, he told her. It
was a private chamber to which he resorted on the rare occasions when
he was disposed to solitude; when something had gone wrong with his
world he had been used to retire there with his dog, or, more seldom, a
book. There he had been accustomed to lie, his back supported by the
tree, and hold forth to the dog upon the troubles and difficulties of
life and the general crookedness of things; or, if a book were his
companion, he would gaze out, between the pages, at distant Crianan
clinging faintly to the knees of Ben Ghusy, and watch the swift change
of passing cloud and hanging curtain of mist upon the faces of the
hills and loch.
It had been a place all his own; secret from every one, even from
Mark, his companion during all those holidays that he had spent at
Inverashiel. Somehow, David told Juliet—and it was a confidence he had
seldom before imparted to anyone—he had never quite managed to hit it
off with Mark. He couldn't say why, exactly. No doubt it was his own
fault; but there was no accounting for one's likes and dislikes.
And with quick regret at having betrayed his carefully suppressed
feelings in regard to his cousin, David had laughed apologetically, and
spoken of other things.
Here, then, just as the steamer Rob Roy was drawing close to
the wooden landing-stage at the edge of the loch, with Julia Romaninov
still standing in the bows; here, because she had once been to this
place with him, because without her he had so often sat upon these
mossy roots, came Juliet to dream of her love.
Like him, she seated herself against the tree trunk at the giddy
brink of the precipitous rock; like him, her eyes rested on the smooth
waters below her, or on the far-away misty distance where Crianan
slumbered; but, unlike him, her eyes, as they looked, were filled with
tears. Where was he now? Oh, David, poor unjustly treated David! In
what narrow cell, lighted only by a high, iron-barred window—for so
the scene shaped itself in her mind—with uncovered floor of stone,
bare walls and a bench to lie on, was the man she loved wearing away
his days under the burden of so frightful an accusation?
For the thousandth time Juliet's blood boiled within her at the
thought, and she grew hot with anger and indignant scorn. That anyone
should have dared to suspect him! Why were such fools, such wicked,
evil-working imbeciles as the police allowed to exist for one moment
upon the face of the globe? But no doubt they had some hidden motive in
arresting him, for it was quite incredible that they really imagined he
had committed this appalling crime. She could not understand their
motive, to be sure, but without doubt there must have been some reason
which was not clear to her.
Oh, David, David! Was he thinking of her, as she was thinking of
him? Did he know, by instinct, that she would be doing all that could
be done to bring about his release? But was she? Again her mind was
filled with the disquieting question, was there nothing that might be
done, that she was leaving undone? Had she forgotten something,
neglected something? She was sure Gimblet did not believe David to be
guilty, but was he certain of being able to prove his innocence? He did
not seem to have discovered much at present.
Suddenly, in the midst of her distress, she smiled to herself.
At least Miss Tarver had shown herself in her true colours, and was
no more to be considered. Juliet felt that she could almost forgive her
for her readiness to believe the worst. It was dreadful, yes, and
shameful that anyone else should think for a moment that David could be
capable of such a deed, but in Miss Tarver, perhaps, the thought had
not been inexcusable. On the whole, it was so nice of her to break the
engagement that she might be forgiven the ridiculous reason she had
advanced for doing it. Of course, Juliet assured herself, it was a mere
pretext, because no one could possibly believe it. And in this
manner she continued to reiterate her conviction that the suspicions
entertained of her lover were all assumed for some darkly obscure
So the morning wore away. A shower or two passed down the valley,
but under the thick tent of the beech leaves she scarcely felt it. She
was, besides, dressed for bad weather; and the grey and mournful face
of the day was in harmony with her mood.
There was something comforting in this high perch. She seemed more
aloof from the troubles and despair of the last few days than she had
imagined possible. There was a calm, a remoteness, about the grey
mountains, disappearing and reappearing from behind their screen of
cloud but unchanged and unmoved by what went on around and among them,
that was in some way reassuring.
The burn that ran at the bottom of the hill on which she sat,
hurrying down to the loch in such turbulent foaming haste, she was able
to compare, with a sad smile, to herself. The loch, she thought, was
wide and impassive as justice, which did not allow itself to be
influenced by the emotions. The burn would get down just the same
without so much turmoil and fuss; and she would see David's name
cleared, equally surely, if she waited calmly on events, instead of
burning her heart out in hopeless impatience and anxiety.
As she gazed, with some such thoughts as these, down to the stream
that splashed on its way below her, her attention was caught by a
movement in the bushes half-way down the steep slope at the top of
which she was sitting.
The day was windless and no leaf moved on any tree. There must be
some animal among the shrubs that covered the embankment, some large
animal, since its movements caused so much commotion; for, as she
watched, first one bush and then another stirred and bent and was
shaken as if by something thrusting its way through the dense growth.
What could it be? A sheep, perhaps; there were many of them on the
hillsides. This must be one that had strayed far from the rest. And yet
would a sheep make so much stir? Juliet drew back a little behind the
trunk of the beech-tree. Could it be a deer? She could not hear any
sound of the creature's advance, for the air was full of the clamour of
the burn, but she could trace the direction of its progress by shaking
leaves and swinging boughs. It seemed to be gradually mounting the
Suddenly a head emerged from the waving mass of a rhododendron, and
with astonishment Juliet saw that it was that of Julia Romaninov.
Her first impulse was to lean forward and call her, but as she did
so the cry died unheard upon her lips. For the manner of Julia's
advance struck her as very odd. The girl was bending nearly double, and
moving with a caution that seemed very strange and unnecessary. What
was the matter? Was she stalking something? Crouching as she was in the
bushes, she would not be seen by anyone on the path below. Did she not
want to be seen? It looked more and more like it. But why in the world
should Julia creep along as if she feared to be observed? Where was she
going, and why?
Suddenly Juliet came to a quick decision: she would find out what
Julia Romaninov was doing.
She backed hurriedly into the bracken, and made her way slowly and
cautiously around the clearing under the beech-tree to the edge of the
hill again, keeping under cover of the fern and heather. When she
peered over, Julia had disappeared from view beneath the rhododendrons.
For a minute Juliet's eyes searched the side of the slope below.
Then she drew back her head quickly, for she had caught sight of
another bush shaking uneasily a little way beyond the gap in which she
had had her first glimpse of the cause of the disturbance. Cowering low
in the bracken she crept along the top, keeping a foot or two from the
edge, where the rock fell nearly perpendicularly for a few yards before
its angle changed to the comparatively gradual, though actually steep
slope of the hill which Julia was climbing.
From time to time she looked cautiously between clumps of fern or
heath, to make sure that she was keeping level with her unconscious
The front of the hill swung round in a bold curve till it reached
the castle; and it soon became evident that, if both girls continued to
advance along the lines they were following, they would converge at a
point where the end of the battlemented wall met the great holly hedge
that formed two sides of the garden enclosure.
Juliet perceived this when she was not more than a dozen yards from
the corner, and dropped at full length to the soft ground, at a spot
where she could see between the stalks and under the leaves, and yet
herself remain concealed. She had not long to wait. In a minute,
Julia's face appeared over the brow of the hill. She pulled herself up
by a young fir sapling that hung over the brink, and stood for a
moment, flushed and panting after her long climb. She was dressed in a
greenish tweed, which blended with the woodland surroundings, and her
shoulder was turned to the place where Juliet lay wondering whether she
would be discovered.
Fronting them, the end of the little turret, with which the wall of
the old fortress now came to a sudden termination, could be seen
rearing its grey stones above the dark glossy foliage of the hedge,
which grew here with peculiar vigour and continued to the extreme edge
of the cliff, and even farther.
What was Juliet's surprise to see Julia, when she had found her
breath, and taken one quick look round as if to satisfy herself she was
unobserved, suddenly cast herself down, in her turn, upon the damp
earth, and inserting her head beneath the prickly barricade of the
holly leaves, begin to crawl and wriggle forward until she had
completely disappeared under it. What in the world could she be doing?
Minutes passed, and she did not reappear. Juliet waited, her nerves
stretched in expectation, but nothing happened. Overhead little birds,
tomtits and creepers, played about the bark of the fir-trees; a robin
came and looked at her consideringly, with a bright sensible eye; from
two hundred feet below, the murmur of the burn rose constant and
insistent; but no other sound broke the stillness, nor was there any
sign of human life upon the top of the cliff.
At last the girl could stand it no longer. Her patience was
exhausted. Curiosity urged her like a goad; and, if she had not much
expectation of making any important discovery, she was at least
determined to solve the mystery that now perplexed her.
Without more ado she got to her feet, and ran to the holly hedge.
There, throwing herself down once more, she parted the leaves with a
cautious hand, and followed the path taken by the Russian.
The hedge was old and very thick, more than three yards in width at
this end of it. In the middle, the trunks of the trees that formed it
rose in a close-growing, impassable barrier; but just opposite the
place where Julia had vanished Juliet found that there was a gap,
caused, perhaps, by the death in earlier days of one of the trees, or,
as she afterwards thought more likely, by the intentional omission or
destruction of one of the young plants. It was a narrow opening, but
she managed to wriggle through it.
On the other side, progress was bounded by the wall, whose massive
granite blocks presented a smooth unbroken surface. Where, then, had
Julia gone? The branches did not grow low on this, as on the outer side
of the hedge, and there was room to stand, though not to stand upright.
Stooping uncomfortably, the girl looked about her, and saw in the soft
brown earth the plain print of many footsteps, both going and coming,
between the place where she crouched and the end of the wall. She
looked behind her, and there were no marks. Clearly, Julia had gone to
the end; but what then? The corner of the wall was at the very edge of
the precipice; from what she remembered to have seen from below, the
rock was too sheer to offer any foothold; besides why, having just
climbed to the summit should anyone immediately descend again, and by
such an extraordinary route? While these thoughts followed one another
in her mind, Juliet had advanced along the track of the footsteps, and
clinging tightly to the trunk of the last holly bush she leant forward
and looked down.
As she thought, the descent was impossible: the rock fell away at
her feet, sheer and smooth; there was no path there that a cat could
take. It made her giddy to look, and she drew back hurriedly.
Where, then, could Julia have gone? Not to the left, that was
certain, for then she would have emerged again into view. To the right?
That seemed impossible. Still, Juliet leant forward again, and peered
round the corner of the wall.
There, not more than a couple of feet away, was a small opening,
less than eighteen inches wide by about a yard in height. Hidden by the
overhanging end of the hedge, it would be invisible from below. Here
was the road Julia had taken.
Juliet did not hesitate. She could reach the aperture easily, and it
would have been the simplest thing in the world to climb into it, but
for the yawning chasm beneath. Holding firmly to the friendly holly,
and resisting, with an effort, the temptation to look down, she swung
herself bravely over the edge and scrambled into the hole with a gasp
of relief. It was, after all, not very difficult. She found herself
standing within the entrance of a narrow passage built into the
thickness of the wall. Beside the opening through which she had come, a
little door of oak, grey with age and strengthened with rusty bars and
cross-pieces of iron, drooped upon its one remaining hinge. Two huge
slabs of stone leaning near it, against the wall, showed how it had
been the custom in former centuries to fortify the entrance still more
effectively in time of danger.
Juliet did not wait to examine these fragments, interesting though
they might be to archaeologists, but hurried down the passage as
quickly as she could in the darkness that filled it, feeling her way
with an outstretched hand upon the stones on either side. As her eyes
became accustomed to the obscurity, she saw that though the way was
dark it was yet not entirely so: a gloomy light penetrated at intervals
through ivy-covered loopholes pierced in the thickness of the outer
wall; and she imagined bygone McConachans pouring boiling oil or other
hospitable greeting through those slits on to the heads of their
neighbours. But surely, she reflected, no one would ever have attacked
the castle from that side, where the precipice already offered an
impregnable defence; the passage must have been used as a means of
communication with the outer world, or, perhaps, as a last resort, for
the purpose of escape by the beleaguered forces.
After fifty yards or so of comparatively easy progress, the shafts
of twilight from the loopholes ceased to permeate the murky darkness in
which she walked, and she was obliged to go more slowly, and to feel
her way dubiously by the touch of hands and feet.
The floor appeared to her to be sloping away beneath her, and as she
advanced the descent became more and more rapid, till she could hardly
keep her feet. She went very gingerly, with a vague fear lest the path
should stop unexpectedly, and she herself step into space.
Presently she found herself once more upon level ground, when
another difficulty confronted her: the walls came suddenly to an end.
Feeling cautiously about her in the darkness, she made out that she had
come to a point where another passage crossed the one she was
following, a sort of cross-road in this unknown country of shade and
stone. Here, then, were three possible routes to take, and no means of
knowing which of them Julia Romaninov had gone by.
After a little hesitation, she decided to keep straight on. It would
at all events be easier to return if she did, and she would be less
likely to make a mistake and lose her way. So on she stumbled; and who
shall say that Fate had not a hand in this chance decision?
Though the distance she had traversed was inconsiderable, the
darkness and uncertainty made it appear to her immense, and each moment
she expected to come upon the Russian girl. At every other step she
paused and listened, but no sound met her ears except a slight,
regular, thudding noise, which she presently discovered, with something
of a shock, to be the beating of her own heart. The sound of her
progress was almost inaudible. As the day was damp, she was wearing
goloshes, and her small, rubber-shod feet fell upon the stone floor
with a gentle patter that was scarcely perceptible.
At last she nearly fell over the first step of a flight of stairs.
She mounted them one by one with every precaution her fears could
suggest. For by now the first enthusiasm of the chase had worn off, and
the solitude and darkness of this strange place had worked upon her
nerves till she was terrified of she knew not what, and ready to scream
at a touch.
Already she bitterly regretted having started out upon this
enterprise of spying. Why had she not gone and reported what she had
seen to Mr. Gimblet? That surely would have been the obvious, the
sensible course. It was, she reflected, a course still open to her; and
in another moment she would have turned and taken it, but even as the
thought crossed her mind she was aware that the darkness was sensibly
decreased, and in another second she had risen into comparative
daylight. As she stood still, debating what she should do, and taking
in all that could now be distinguished of her surroundings, she saw
that the stairs ended in an open trap-door, leading to a high,
black-lined shaft like the inside of a chimney, in which, some two feet
above the trap, an odd, narrow curve of glass acted as a window, and
admitted a very small quantity of light. A streak of light seemed to
come also from the wall beside it.
Juliet drew herself cautiously up, till her head was in the chimney,
and her eyes level with the slip of glass.
With a sudden shock of surprise she saw that she was looking into
the room which, above all others, she had so much cause to remember
ever having entered.
It was, indeed, the library of the castle, and she was looking at it
from the inside of that clock into which Gimblet had once before seen
Julia Romaninov vanish.
The curtains were drawn in the room, but after the absolute
blackness of the stone corridors the semi-dusk looked nearly as bright
as full daylight to Juliet, and she had no difficulty in distinguishing
that there was but one person in the library, and that person Julia.
She was standing by a bookshelf at the far end, near the window, and
seemed to be methodically engaged in an examination of the books.
Juliet saw her take out first one, then another, musty, leather-bound
volume, shake it, turn over the leaves, and put it back in its place
after groping with her hand at the back of the shelf. Plainly she was
hunting for something. But for what? She had no business where she was,
in any case, and Juliet's indignation gathered and swelled within her
as she watched this unwarrantable intrusion.
She would confront the girl and ask her what she meant by such
behaviour. But how to get into the library?
Looking about her, she saw that the streak of light in the wall
beside her came through a perpendicular crack which might well be the
edge of a little door.
She pushed gently and the wood yielded to her fingers.
Later on in the afternoon, when Gimblet arrived at the castle, he
was immediately shown into the presence of Lord Ashiel, who was pacing
the smoking-room restlessly, a cigarette between his teeth. He looked
pale and haggard, the strain of the last few days had evidently been
too much for him.
Gimblet greeted him sympathetically.
“You have not found your uncle's will, I can see,” he began, “and
you are fretting at the idea of keeping his daughter out of her
fortune. But set your mind at rest; we shall be able to put that right.
Is she here, by the way?” he added, remembering Lady Ruth's anxiety.
“Here, of course not! What do you mean?” cried Mark, stopping
suddenly in his walk.
“Well, I was sure she was not,” Gimblet replied, “but I promised to
ask. Lady Ruth is rather upset because Miss Byrne did not come in to
lunch. I told her she had probably gone for a longer walk than had been
her intention,” he added soothingly, for Mark was looking at him with a
He seemed relieved, however, by the detective's suggestion.
“Yes, no doubt, that would be the reason,” he murmured, lighting a
fresh cigarette, and throwing himself down in an easy-chair, with his
hands clasped behind his head. “No, I haven't found any will, and
there's not a corner left that I haven't turned inside out. I suppose
he never really made it. Just talked about it, probably, as people are
so fond of doing. And now I'm at a loose end; all alone in this big
house with no one to speak to and nothing to do with myself. It's a
beast of a day, or I should go out and try for a salmon, in
self-defence. To-morrow I shall go South. And you, have you found out
anything new about the murder yet?”
“I have found out one thing which you will be glad to hear,” said
Gimblet, “and that is the place where the missing will is concealed.”
“What!” cried Mark, leaping to his feet. “Where is it? What does it
say? Give it to me!”
“I haven't got it,” Gimblet told him. “I don't know what it says,
but I know where to look for it. It is in the statue your uncle put up
on the track known as the Green Way. I have found a memorandum of his
which sets the matter beyond a doubt.”
And he related at length the story of the half-sheet of paper with
the mysterious writing, and of how he had learnt by accident of the
manner in which the statue fitted in with the obscure directions,
omitting nothing except the fact that he had already acted on the
information so far as to make certain of the actual existence of the
tin box, and saying that he should prefer the papers to be brought to
light in the presence of a magistrate.
“I believe there are other documents there besides the will,” he
said, without troubling to explain what excellent reasons he had for
such a belief. “I understood from your uncle that there might be some
of an almost international importance. In case any dispute should
subsequently arise about them, I wish to have more than one reliable
witness to their being found. Can you send a man over to the lodge at
Glenkliquart, and ask General Tenby to come back with him. I am told
that he is a magistrate.”
Gimblet did not think it necessary to relate how he had obtained
possession of the sheet of paper bearing the injunction to “face
curiosity.” His adventures on that night savoured too strongly of
house-breaking to be drawn attention to.
“Your uncle must have posted it to me in London the day before he
died,” he said mendaciously. “It was forwarded here, and at first I
could make neither head nor tail of it.”
“Why didn't you tell me?” Mark asked impatiently. “And yet,” he
added reflecting, “I might not have seen to what it referred. Yes, of
course I will send over for General Tenby. He can't come for three or
four hours, though, which will make it rather late. Are you sure we had
not better open the thing sooner? The bull's horn at the south-east
corner turns like a key, you say? Suppose some one else finds that out
and makes off with whatever may be hidden there.”
“I am absolutely sure we needn't fear anything of the sort, because
I have the best of reasons for being positive that no one has the
slightest inkling of the secret,” Gimblet assured him. “There is a
whole gang of scoundrels after the document of which your uncle told
me, who are ready to spend any money, or risk any penalty, in order to
obtain it. They will not be deterred even by having to pay for it with
their lives. You may be quite sure that if anyone had suspected where
it was concealed, it would not have been allowed to remain there, and
we should find the cache empty. But we may safely argue that
they have not found it, since in that case they certainly would not
hang about the neighbourhood.”
“Do you mean to say,” cried Mark, “that you think there are any of
these Nihilist people lurking about? That letter which came for Uncle
Douglas—the letter from Paris—I guessed it meant something of the
“There is a foreigner staying at Crianan,” said Gimblet, “whom I
have every reason to suspect. More than that, there has been a Russian
in your very midst who, I am afraid, you will be shocked to hear, is
hand in glove with him.”
“Whom do you mean?” exclaimed Mark, “not—not Julia Romaninov?” It
seemed to the detective that he winced as he uttered the name of the
girl. Silently Gimblet bowed his head, and for a minute the two men
stood without a word. “Then,” stammered Mark, “you think that she—that
she—Oh,” he cried, “I can hardly believe that!”
Gimblet did not reply, but after a few moments walked over to the
writing-table and spread out a piece of notepaper. He kept his back
turned towards the young man, who seemed thankful for an opportunity to
recover his composure.
His face was still working nervously, however, when at length the
detective turned and held out a pen towards him.
“Will you not write at once to General Tenby?” he suggested.
Mark sat down before the blotting-pad.
“He will be at home,” he said mechanically. “This weather will have
driven them in early if they have been shooting.”
The note was written and dispatched by a groom on horseback, and
then Gimblet bade an revoir to his host at the door of the castle.
“I will go back to the cottage,” he said; “I have an accumulation of
correspondence that absolutely must be attended to, and I do not think
there is anything to be done up here before General Tenby comes. Once
we have the Nihilist papers in our hands I have a little plan by which
I think our birds may be trapped. Will you meet me at the cottage at
half-past six? The General will have to pass it on the way to
Inverashiel, and we can stop him as he goes by.”
“It will be about seven o'clock, I expect,” said Mark, “when he gets
down from Glenkliquart. I'll be with you before he is. The Lord knows
how I shall get through the time till he comes. I loathe writing
letters, but this afternoon I'm dashed if I don't almost envy you and
“I know it is the waiting that tells on one,” Gimblet said, his
voice full of kindly sympathy. “What you want is to get right away from
this place. Its associations must be horrible to you. No one could
really be astonished if you never set foot in it again.”
Mark laughed rather bitterly.
“That's just what I feel like,” he said shortly. “My uncle killed;
my cousin arrested; my friend accused. Miss Byrne refusing to let me
behave decently to her about the money. Oh well,” he pulled himself up,
and spoke in a more guarded tone, “one gets used to everything in time,
no doubt, but just at present, I'm afraid, I am rather depressing
company. See you later.”
They went their ways, Gimblet going forth into the drenching rain
which was now falling down the road, through the soaking woodlands to
the cottage, where the Crianan policemen still smoked their pipes
undisturbed. Lady Ruth met him at the gate, running down in her
waterproof when she saw him approaching.
“Where is Juliet?” she cried. “Wasn't she at Inverashiel?”
“Hasn't she come back?” asked Gimblet, answering her question by
“No sign of her. What can have happened? Mr. Gimblet, I am really
getting dreadfully anxious. She must have gone on to the hills and lost
her way in the mist.”
“She is sure to get back in time,” Gimblet tried to reassure her,
though he himself was beginning to wonder at the girl's absence.
“Perhaps,” he added, “she is at Mrs. Clutsam's. I daresay that's the
truth of it.”
“She can't be there,” Lady Ruth answered. “Mrs. Clutsam told me she
was going out all day, to-day, to visit her husband's sister who is
staying somewhere twenty miles from here on the Oban road, and longing,
of course, to hear all about the murder at first hand. Relations are so
exacting, and if they are relations-in-law they become positive
Shylocks. Juliet may have gone to the lodge though, all the same, and
stayed to keep the Romaninov girl company.”
She seemed to be satisfied with this explanation; and Gimblet had
tea with her, and then went to write his letters.
Soon after six one of the policemen went down to the high road to
lie in wait for General Tenby, and about twenty minutes past the hour
wheels rattled on the gravel of the short carriage-drive, and the
General drove up to the door. He was a tall, soldierly-looking man of
between fifty and sixty, with a red face and a keen blue eye, and a
precise, jerky manner.
“Ah, Lady Ruth! Glad to see you bearing up so well under these
tragic circumstances,” he said, shaking hands with that lady, who came
to the door to welcome him. “Poor Ashiel ought to have had shutters to
his windows. Dreadful mistake, no shutters: lets in draughts and colds
in the head, if nothing worse. These old houses are all the same. No
safety in them from anything. Young McConachan wrote me an urgent note
to come over. Don't quite see what for, but here I am. Eh? What do you
say? Oh, detective from London, is it? How d'ye do? Perhaps you can
tell me what the programme is?”
“Young Lord Ashiel promised to meet us here at half-past six,”
Gimblet told him. “We expect to put our hands on some important
documents, and I was anxious you should be present.”
“Quite unnecessary. Absolutely ridiculous. Still, here I am. May as
well come along.”
The General went on talking to Lady Ruth, but after a few minutes
the inspector from Crianan sent in to ask if he could speak to him, and
they retired together to Lady Ruth's little private sitting-room, where
they remained closeted for some time. While the old soldier was
listening to what the policeman had to tell him, Gimblet began to show
signs of restlessness. He went to the door and looked about him. The
weather was clearing, the clouds breaking and scudding fast before a
wind which had arisen in the North; a tinge of blue showed here and
there in the interstices between them, while a veil of mist that
trailed after them shone faintly orange in the rays of the hidden sun.
Gimblet went back and sat down in the drawing-room with the
Scotsman in his hand. He put it down after a few minutes, however,
and began fidgeting about the room. Then he went and conferred with the
second of the two policemen, and as he was talking to him the General
and the inspector reappeared.
“I think,” said Gimblet, coming towards them, “that we will not wait
any longer for Lord Ashiel.”
General Tenby, staring at him with rather a strange expression,
nevertheless silently assented, and the four men started on their walk
to the green way.
As they went up the glen a ray of sunshine emerged from between the
flying clouds, and fell upon the statue at the end of the enclosed
glade. Away to the right their eyes could follow the track of a distant
shower; and as they went a rainbow curved across the sky, stretching
from hill to hill like some great monumental arch set up for the
celestial armies to march under on their return from the conquest of
“That statue,” Gimblet remarked to the General, who walked beside
him, “is a specimen of the worst modern Italian sculpture. The figure
of Pandora is modelled like a sack of potatoes; the composition is weak
and unsatisfactory; and the pediment on which the whole group is poised
large enough to support three others of the same size.”
The General grunted.
“I always understood that the late Lord Ashiel knew what he was
about,” he said stiffly. “He told me himself that it cost him a great
deal of money.”
Gimblet sighed. He could not help feeling that it was a pity Lord
Ashiel had not earlier fallen into the habit of consulting him.
Still, he was bound to admit that though the stone group, regarded
as a work of art, was altogether deplorable, the general effect of the
erection, in its rectangular setting of forest, was excellent. The
whole scene was one of peaceful and romantic beauty. Poets might have
sat themselves down in that moist and shining spot; and, forgetful of
the possibilities of rheumatism, found their muse inspiring beyond the
Gimblet was at heart something of a poet, but he felt no inclination
to communicate the feelings which the place and hour aroused in him to
any of his companions; and it was in a silence which had in it
something dimly foreboding that the party drew near to the statue.
In silence, Gimblet approached the great block of stone and laid his
hand upon the projecting horn of the bull. Equally silently the two
policemen had taken up positions at the end of the pedestal; the
General stood behind them, alert and interested.
After a swift glance, which took in all these details, Gimblet
turned the horn round in its socket.
The hidden door swung open, and there was a sound of muttered
exclamations from the police and a loud oath from the General. Gimblet
sprang round the corner of the pedestal, and there, as he expected,
cowering in the mouth of the disclosed cavity, and looking, in his fury
of fear and mortification, for all the world like some trapped vermin,
crouched Lord Ashiel, glaring at his liberators with a rage that was
Beyond him, on the floor at the back, they could see the tin
dispatch box standing open and empty.
The two policemen, acting on instructions previously given them,
made one simultaneous grab at the young man and dragged him into the
open with several seconds to spare before the door slammed to again, in
obedience to the invisible mechanism that controlled it. They set him
on his legs on the wet turf, and stood, one on each side of him, a
retaining hand still resting on either arm.
For a moment Mark gazed from the General to the detective, his eyes
full of hatred. Then he controlled himself with an effort, and when he
spoke it was with a forced lightness of manner.
“I have to thank you for letting me out,” he said. “The air in there
was getting terrible.” He paused, and filled his lungs ostentatiously,
but no one answered him. Losing something of his assumed calmness, he
went on, uneasily: “I just thought I'd come along and see if there was
any truth in Mr. Gimblet's story; and I was quite right to doubt it,
since there isn't. He's not quite as clever as he thinks, for he was as
positive as you like that my uncle's will was hidden here, but as a
matter of fact it's not, as I was taking the trouble to make sure when
that cursed statue shut me in. There's nothing in it of any sort except
an empty tin box.”
“There's nothing in it now,” said Gimblet, speaking for the first
time, “because I had no doubt you meant to destroy the will if you
found it, so I removed it to a safe place last night. As for the other
papers, I have sent them to London, where they will be still safer. I
knew you would give yourself away by coming here. That's why I told you
the secret of the bull's horn.”
Mark's face was dreadful to see. He made a menacing step forward as
if he would throw himself upon the detective. But the strong right
hands of Inspector Cameron and Police Constable Fraser tightened on his
arms and restrained his further action. He seemed for the first time to
be conscious of their presence.
“Leave go of my arm,” he shouted. “What the devil do you mean by
putting your dirty hands on me?”
“My lord,” said the inspector, “you had better come quietly. I am
here to arrest you for the murder of your uncle, Lord Ashiel, and I
warn you that anything you say may be used against you.”
“Are you going to arrest the whole family?” scoffed Mark. “Where's
your warrant, man?”
“I have it here, my lord,” replied the inspector, fumbling in his
pocket for the paper the astonished General had signed when the
inspector had imparted to him, in Lady Ruth's little sitting-room, the
information he had received from Mr. Gimblet.
As Inspector Cameron fumbled, the young man, with a sudden jerk
which found them unprepared, threw off the hold upon his arms and
As he did so, he plunged his hand into his pocket and drew forth a
“You shall never take me alive,” he cried, and lifted it to his
“Stop him!” shouted Gimblet.
Throwing his whole weight upon the uplifted arm, he forced the phial
away from Mark's already open mouth; the other men rushed to his
assistance, and between them the frustrated would-be suicide was
overpowered, and held firmly while the inspector fastened a pair of
handcuffs over his wrists. When it was done he raised his pinioned
hands, as well as he could, and shook them furiously at Gimblet.
“It's you I have to thank for this,” he shouted. “Curse you, you
eavesdropping spy. But there are surprises in store for you, my friend.
You've got me, it seems, and you say you've got the will. You'll find
it more difficult to lay your hands on the heiress!”
The words and still more the triumphant tone in which they were
uttered cast a chill upon them all.
“What do you mean?” cried Gimblet.
But not another syllable could be got out of the prisoner; and the
inspector, besides, protested against questions being addressed to him.
With all the elation over his capture taken out of him, and with a
mind full of brooding anxiety, Gimblet hurried on ahead of the
returning party, and burst in upon Lady Ruth with eager inquiries.
But Juliet had not returned.
How was anyone to know that she had that morning made her way into
the secret passage of the old tower, and watched through the slip of
glass in the case of the clock what Julia Romaninov was doing in the
But leaving Gimblet and Lady Ruth to organize a search for her, we
will return to Juliet in her hiding-place and see what was the end of
When Juliet, incensed and indignant at the Russian's behaviour,
discovered the door in the clock and was on the point of opening it and
making her presence known, a noise of steps in the passage made her
pause. As she listened, there was the sound of a key turning in the
lock, the library door was thrown suddenly open, and Mark stepped into
Juliet saw Julia's expression as she sprang round to face the
newcomer. She saw it change, swift as lightning, from a look of
horrified dismay to one of sudden transforming tenderness, as the girl
recognized the intruder, that the hand already in the act of pushing
open the door of the clock fell inert and limp to her side, and if she
had been able to move she would have lost no time in retreating. She
knew instinctively that she was seeing a secret laid bare which she had
no right to spy upon. And yet, though her impulse was to fly from the
place in embarrassment and confusion, something stronger than her
natural discretion and delicacy held her where she stood. For Julia had
not come here for the purpose of meeting Mark. She had come with a
purpose less personal: something, Juliet felt convinced, that was in
some way vaguely discreditable, and at the same time menacing. It could
be for no harmless reason that she had taken this secret, dangerous way
into the castle.
And so Juliet kept her ground, blushing at her role of spy, and
averting her eyes as Julia dropped the book she was holding and ran
forward to meet Mark, with that tell-tale look upon her face.
But Mark did not show the same pleasure. He stood, holding the
handle of the door, which he had closed gently behind him, and looking
with a certain sternness at the girl.
“Julia,” he said, “you here! What are you doing?”
“Oh, Mark,” she cried, not answering his question, “aren't you glad
to see me? It is so long, oh, it is so long since I saw you!”
She threw her arms round his neck with a happy laugh, and drew his
face down to hers.
“Darling! darling!” she murmured. “How can we live without each
other for one single day!”
She spoke in a low, soft voice. To Juliet, to whom every purling
syllable was painfully audible, it sounded cooingly, like the voice of
To the surprise of the girl to whom Mark had proposed marriage two
days before, when she ventured to peep through her spy window, Mark's
arms were round Julia and he was kissing her ardently.
But after a moment he released himself gently.
“You haven't told me, dear,” he said, “what you are doing here.”
His voice held a note of authority before which Julia's assurance
“I—I wasn't doing anything,” she muttered.
“Julia!” he remonstrated.
“Well,” she said, with some show of defiance, “I suppose anyone may
take a book from the library.”
“Of course,” he said, “you may take anything of mine you want Still,
as you are not staying in the house—In short, it seems to me that the
more obvious course would have been to have said something to me about
it; and besides,” he added, struck by a sudden thought, “how in the
world did you get in? The door was locked, and the key is on the
“Oh, if you're going to make such a fuss about nothing,” she
exclaimed petulantly, her toe beginning to tap the boards, “it's not
worth explaining anything to you.” She turned away and walked towards
“I'm not making a fuss,” Mark said quietly, “but you must tell me,
Julia, what you are doing here, and how you came. To speak plainly, I
don't believe you came for a book.”
“If you don't believe me, what's the good of my saying anything?”
she retorted. “Oh, how horrid you are to-day, Mark. I don't believe you
love me a bit, any more.” And leaning her head against the mantelpiece,
she burst into tears.
“You know it isn't that, Julia,” he said, looking at her fixedly.
“Don't cry, there's a dear, good girl. You know that I love you. Why,
you're the only thing in the whole world that I really want. But you
must tell me how you came here. Tell me,” he repeated, taking her hands
from her face, and forcing her to look at him, “what you want in the
library. Tell me, Julia, I want to know.”
She seemed to struggle to keep silence, but to be unable to resist
his questioning eyes.
“I suppose I must tell you,” she murmured; “it's not that I don't
want to. But they would kill me if they knew. Oh, Mark, I ought not to
tell you, but how can I keep anything secret from my beloved? Swear to
me that you will never repeat it, or try to hinder me in what I have to
He bent and kissed her.
“Julia,” he said, “can't you trust me?”
“I do, I do,” she cried. “While you love me, I trust you. But if you
left off, what then? That is the nightmare that haunts me. Mark, Mark,
what would become of me if you were to change towards me?”
He kissed her again, murmuring reassuring words that did not reach
Juliet's ears. “So tell me now,” he ended, “what you were doing here.”
“Mark,” she said nervously, “you know where my childhood was
“In St. Petersburg,” he replied wonderingly.
“Yes, in Petersburg. And you know how things are there. It is so
different from your England, my England. For I am English really, Mark,
although that thought always seems so strange to me; since during so
many years I believed myself to be a Russian. I am the daughter of
English parents; my father was a very respectable London plumber of the
name of Harsden, whose business went to the bad and who died, leaving
my mother to face ruin and starvation with a family of five small
children, of whom I was the last. When a lady who took an interest in
the parish in which we lived suggested that a friend of hers should
adopt one of the children, my mother was only too thankful to accept
the proposal, and I was the one from whom she chose to be parted. I
have never seen her since, but she is still alive, and I send her money
from time to time.
“The lady who adopted me was Countess Romaninov, and I believed
myself her child till a day or two before she died, when she told me,
to my lasting regret, the true story of my origin. But I was brought up
a Russian, and I shall never feel myself to be English. Somehow the
soil you live on in your childhood seems to get into your bones, as you
say here. It is true that I speak your language easily, but it was
Russian that my baby lips first learned. My sympathies, my point of
view, my friends, all except yourself, are Russian. And I have one
essentially Russian attribute, I am a member of what you would call a
Mark interrupted her with an interjection of surprise, but she
nodded her head defiantly, and continued:
“All my life, all my private ends and desires must be governed by
the needs of my country. First and foremost I exist that the rule of
the Tyrant may be abolished, and the Slav be free to work out his own
salvation; he shall be saved from the fate that now overwhelms and
crushes him; dragged bodily from under the heel of the oppressor. I am
not the only one. We are many who think as one mind. And the day is not
far distant when our sacrifices shall bear fruit. Ah, Mark, what a
great cause, what a noble purpose, is this of ours! Perhaps I shall be
able to convert you, to fire your cold British blood with my
She stopped and looked at him inquiringly. But he made no reply, and
after a moment she continued, placing her hand fondly upon his shoulder
as she spoke.
“Our plan is to terrify the rulers into submission. We must not
shrink from killing, and killing suddenly and unexpectedly, till they
abandon the wickedness of their Ways. They must never know what it is
to feel safe. And we see to it that they do not. Death waits for them
at the street corner, on their travels, at their own doorsteps. They
never know at what moment the bomb may not be thrown, or the pistol
fired. It is sad that explosives are so unreliable. There are many
difficulties. You would not believe the obstacles that we find placed
in our path at every turning. And for those who are suspected there is
Siberia, and the mines. But it is worth it. It is worth anything to
feel that one is working and risking all for one's country, and one's
fellow-countrymen. It is an honour to belong to a band of such noble
men and women. But now and then one is admitted who turns out to be
unworthy. Yes, even such a cause as ours has traitors to contend with.
And your uncle, Lord Ashiel, was one of them.”
“What,” said Mark incredulously, “Uncle Douglas a Nihilist?
Nonsense. It's impossible.”
“He was, really. For he joined the 'Friends of Man' when he was at
the British Embassy at Petersburg long years ago; and no sooner had he
been initiated than he turned round and denounced the society and all
its works. Worse still, he declared his intention of hindering it from
carrying out its programme. He would have been got rid of there and
then, but as ill-luck would have it he had, by an unheard-of chain of
accidents, become possessed of an important document belonging to the
society. It was, indeed, a list of the principal people on the
executive committee that fell into his hands, and he took the
precaution of sending it to England, with instructions that if anything
happened to him it should be forwarded to the Russian Police, before he
made known his ridiculous objections to our programme. Here, as you
will understand, was a most impossible situation with which there was
apparently no means of coping.
“For years that one man hampered and frustrated our entire
organization. He was practically able to dictate his own terms, for he
announced his intention of publishing the list of names if we carried
out any important project, and no device could be contrived to stop his
being as good as his word. The tyrant has walked unscathed except by
mere private enterprise, and the government we could have caused to
crumble to the ground has flourished and continued to work evil as
before. We have been crippled, paralysed in every direction. It was
only last year that there seemed reason to think that Lord Ashiel had
removed the document from the Bank of England where it had for so long
been guarded, and there appeared to be a possibility that he now kept
it in his own house. If that were so, there seemed a good chance of
getting hold of it, and how proud I am, Mark, to think that it was I
who was chosen to make the attempt!
“I came to England with the best introductions into society, and had
no difficulty in making friends with your aunt and obtaining an
invitation to stay here. Last year I did not succeed in gaining any
information. Your uncle, for some reason, seemed rather to avoid me,
and I did not make any headway towards gaining his confidence. I never
could be sure if he suspected me. This year there was a question of
replacing me by some one else, but it was judged that Lord Ashiel's
suspicions would be certainly awakened by the appearance of another
Russian, so, in the hope that I was not associated in his mind with the
people to which he had behaved so basely, I was ordered to try again.
“A member of the society, who occupies a high and responsible
position on the council, accompanied me to the neighbourhood, and from
time to time I report to him and receive his advice and instructions.
He stays in Crianan, so that I have some one within reach to go to for
advice. At least, so I am officially informed, but I know very well he
is really there to keep watch on me, for it is not the habit of the
society to trust its members more than is unavoidable. If it is
possible, I go once a week to Crianan and make my report, but I can't
always manage to go, and then he rows across the loch after dark and I
go out and meet him. He was to come on the night of the murder, and my
first thought when I heard of it was that he might be caught in the
shrubberies and mistaken for the murderer. But it appears that he had
already taken alarm, and I am thankful to say he was able to escape in
“So David really did see some one wandering about that night,” Mark
commented thoughtfully. “Ah, Julia, if you'd told me all this earlier
everything might have been different. Poor old David need never have
been dragged into it at all.”
She looked at him a moment, as if puzzled, and then continued her
“It was thought that I might be able to bring about your uncle's
death by some means that should have all the appearance of an accident,
and so perhaps not involve action on the part of those who hold the
document—that is, if it should prove not to be in his own keeping—for
he had always assured the council that no decisive step would be taken
except as a retort to signs of violence on our part, whether directed
towards himself or others.
“I have not been able to find any trace of the list. I thought I had
it one day in London, when I followed Lord Ashiel to a detective's
office, and managed to gain possession of an envelope given him by Lord
Ashiel, but as far as I could make out it contained nothing of any
importance. It was a bitter disappointment. You can imagine the
consternation into which we were thrown by the murder. It seemed
certain that his death would be attributed to our organization, and if
anyone held the list for him it would be published immediately. Four
days have passed, however, and my superior has received a cable saying
that so far all is well. It looks more and more as if the list had been
kept here, but I have hunted everywhere and found nothing. Oh, I have
searched without ceasing since the moment I heard of his death! I came
here even on the very night of the murder, and moved the body with my
own hands in order to get at the bureau drawers. There is a secret way
into the room through that old clock there, which leads into the
grounds; I found it long ago, one day when I was exploring outside in
the shrubberies. I have often been here, and searched, and searched
again. Do you know anything of this document, Mark? If you do, I beg
and implore you to give it to me. Otherwise I cannot answer for your
life; and, as for our marriage, that is out of the question unless I am
successful in my undertaking.”
It may be imagined with what amazement and growing horror Juliet
listened to this avowal. That Julia, the girl with whom she had
associated on terms of easy familiarity which had been near to becoming
something like intimacy in the close contact and companionship of a
country-house life, that this girl, an honoured guest in Lord Ashiel's
house, should have gained her footing there for her own treacherous
ends, or at the bidding of a band of political assassins! Juliet could
scarcely believe her ears as she heard the calm, indifferent tone in
which Julia spoke of the drawbacks to “getting rid” of Lord Ashiel, and
of the contemplated “accident” which was to have befallen him. She
would have fled from where she stood, if mingled fear and curiosity to
hear more had not rooted her to the spot. Her alarm was tempered by the
presence of Mark. If this girl should discover her hiding there and
show signs of the violence that might be expected from such a
character, Mark would be there to protect her. She could trust him to
know how to deal with the Russian, whose true nature must now be
apparent to him.
But Mark, to her astonishment, had not drawn away from Julia with
the repugnance and disgust that were to be expected. Instead, he was
looking at her, strangely, indeed, but almost eagerly.
“It was you, then, who moved the body! To think that I never
guessed!” he murmured, half to himself. “If I had known, I might have
spared myself the trouble to—” Then more loudly he reproached his
“And you have never said a word to me! Oh, Julia, you didn't trust
me.” He shook his head at her mournfully.
“Trust you!” she retorted. “Did you trust me? But I would have
trusted you,” she added, gazing fondly into his eyes, “if I had dared
risk the punishment that will surely be meted out to me if it is known
I have done so. You don't know how rigid the rules of our society are.
But you haven't told me yet if you have the list.”
“Not I,” he said. “I never heard of its existence. I suppose that
anonymous letter that came addressed to Uncle Douglas after his death
had something to do with that.”
“Did a letter come from Paris? They sent them to him from time to
time. It prevented his suspecting me. But you will give me the list if
you find it, won't you? It means everything to me.”
“Of course I will,” he promised. “It is no earthly good to me, so
far as I know. But you, when you were looking for it, did you, among
all the papers you examined, ever come across such a thing as a will?”
“No, never,” she replied. “Mrs. Clutsam told me it could not be
found. You may be sure, if I had discovered one which did not leave you
everything, I should have destroyed it.”
“Dear little Julia!” Mark drew her to him and kissed her. “How sweet
you are. There is no one like you!”
“Really? Do you really love me, Mark?”
“Darling, of course I do.”
“Will you always? Are you quite, quite sure that I am the one girl
in all the world for you, as you are the one man for me?”
“Darling, you are the only one in the world I have ever so much as
“Would you never, never forget me, or marry anyone else, no matter
“Never,” he assured her, “never.”
She sighed contentedly.
“What should I do if you forgot me, Mark? I should die. But,” she
added in a different tone, “I think I should kill you first!”
Mark laughed a little uneasily.
“Hush, hush,” he said, “you mustn't talk so much about killing. A
minute ago you were talking of killing my poor old uncle. If I took you
seriously what should I think? It is lucky I love you as I do,
otherwise doesn't it occur to you that it might get you into trouble to
talk in this wild way?”
“You can take me as seriously as you like,” she answered gravely. “I
am serious enough, God knows. But I shouldn't talk about it, even to
you, if I didn't know it was safe. You see, I know you are like
“Like you? I'm dashed if I am! How do you mean? I am like you?”
She looked at him squarely, and nodded.
“Yes,” she said, “you are like me. You would not hesitate to kill if
you thought it necessary. You think just the same as me on that
subject. Only you have gone farther than I have—yet.”
“Julia,” he cried, “what do you mean?”
“I mean that I know all about you, Mark,” she replied gravely. “I
know what you think you have kept secret from me. I know it was you who
killed your uncle.”
With a muffled cry Mark shook himself free, and sprang away from
“What are you saying?” he whispered hoarsely. “You are mad, girl!
But I won't have such lies uttered, I won't have it, I tell you.”
With terrified amazement Juliet saw his face change, become ugly,
distorted. But Julia showed no sign of alarm.
“Why get so excited?” she asked calmly. “What does it matter? Do you
imagine I would betray you? I, who would sell my soul for you! I know
you did it. It is no use keeping up this pretence of innocence to me,
who had more right to kill him than you. Why shouldn't you kill who you
wish? But don't say you didn't do it. It is foolish. I saw you.”
“It is a lie. You can't have seen me,” Mark declared again, but with
less assurance. “You were in the drawing-room all the time. Lady Ruth
and Maisie Tarver both said so. The drawing-room doesn't even look out
on the garden. There is no room that does, except the library, and you
weren't there then, anyhow.”
“I didn't see you fire the shot,” said Julia, “but I saw you
afterwards when you went to put back your rifle in the gun-room. I told
you that after the first search in the grounds was over, and everyone
had gone up to bed, I slipped out of the house by the door near the
gunroom, and came round to the library to see if Lord Ashiel had
carried the list on him. When I came back, I let myself in quietly by
the door which I had left unbolted, and had just got half-way up the
back stairs when I heard footsteps in the passage below, and crouched
down behind the banisters. I saw you come along the passage, carrying
an electric lantern in one hand and your rifle in the other. I saw you
look round anxiously before opening the gun-room door and going in.
When you had vanished, I hurried on up to my room, for it was not the
time or place to tell you what I had seen, but I left a crack of my
door open, and after rather a long while saw you pass along the passage
to your own room; this time without your gun. I knew, of course, that
you had been cleaning it and putting it away.”
She spoke with the indifference with which one may refer to a
regrettable but incontrovertible fact, and Mark seemed to feel it
useless to deny what she said.
“You had no right to spy on me,” he exclaimed angrily when she had
“Oh, Mark,” she cried, dismayed, “I wasn't spying. It was the merest
accident. And I think it's horrid of you to mind my knowing. Why didn't
you tell me all about it before. I might have helped you, I'm sure.”
But he would have none of her endearments, and threw off the hand
she laid upon his arm with a rough gesture.
“Mark, oh, Mark,” she wailed, “don't be angry with me! You know I
can't bear it. I can bear anything but that. Don't, don't be angry with
She had but one thought; it was for him, and he who ran might read
it shining in the depths of her great eyes. After a few minutes of
sulking, Mark relented.
“No one could be angry with you for long, Julia,” he declared.
Instantly she was once more all smiles.
“Don't ever be angry with me again,” she urged, her hands in his.
“And now that you have forgiven me, tell me all about it. What made you
do such a dreadful thing, Mark? You must have had some good reason, I
know. I never would doubt that.”
“There's nothing much to tell,” he said unwillingly. “I had a good
reason, yes. I must have money. It is for your sake, darling, that I
must get it. I can't marry you without it. I hadn't meant to kill him,
if I could get it without. He was ill, and had left his fortune to me.
I thought I should get it in time, by letting Nature take her course.
It was that or ruin, and I really had to do it for your sake, darling.
I didn't want to hurt the old boy. Why should I? It's not a pleasant
thing to have to do. But I had no choice—there was no other way of
getting enough money, and I simply had to get it. It was his life or
mine. You don't understand. I can't explain. It just had to be done,
and there's an end of it. Everything was going wrong. That girl, that
Byrne girl, I imagined he was going to marry her. You know we all did.
That would have spoilt everything. At first I thought she could be got
out of the way, but she seemed to bear a charmed life.”
“What?” cried Julia, “did you try to kill her too?”
“Why, if anyone had to be got rid of,” he admitted defiantly, “it
seemed better to go for a stranger, like her, than for my own uncle.
Come, you must see that, surely! She was nothing to me, and, anyhow, my
hand was forced. It's very hard that I should have been put in such a
position. I'm the last person to do harm to a fly, but one must think
Since it was no use denying the murder, he seemed to find some sort
of satisfaction in telling Julia of his other crimes. And yet, though
he tried hard to speak with an affectation of indifference, it was
plain that he kept a watchful eye upon his listener, and was ready to
fasten resentfully upon the first sign of horror, or even disapproval.
For all his efforts, the tone of his disclosures was at once swaggering
and suspicious; but he need have had no anxiety as to the spirit in
which they would be received. It was clear that Julia brought to his
judgment no remembrance of ordinary human standards of conduct. To her
he was above such criticisms, as the Immortals might be supposed to be
above the rules that applied to dwellers upon earth. What he did was
right in her eyes, because he did it, and she admired his brutality, as
she adored the rest of him, whole-heartedly, without reservation.
“I had a shot at her,” he went on, “one day on the moor when she was
with David; but I missed her. It was a rotten shot. I can't think how I
came to do it. Then when she fell into the river—I saw her standing by
it as I came home from stalking.... I had walked on ahead, and where
the path runs along above the waterfall pool I happened to go to the
edge and look over. There she was on a stone right at the edge, by the
deepest part. It looked as if she'd been put there on purpose, and I
should have been a fool to miss such a chance. It's no good going
against fate. As a matter of fact I thought I'd got her sitting this
time. I caught up the nearest piece of rock and dropped it down on her.
That was a good shot, though I say it, but it hit her on the shoulder
instead of the head as luck would have it, which was bad luck for me.
However, in she went, and I thought all was well and lost no time in
getting away from the place. If it hadn't been for that meddling fool
Andy!... Well, then, at dinner, Uncle Douglas came out with the news
that she was his daughter, not his intended, and everything looked
worse than ever. Afterwards when she went to talk to him in the
library, and passed through the billiard-room where I was knocking the
balls about and feeling pretty savage, I can tell you, I happened, by a
fluke, to ask her if she knew where David was. She said he'd gone into
“Then I saw my chance, and it seemed too good to miss. Why should I
let my inheritance be stolen from me? I ran off to the gun-room for a
gun. I meant to take David's rifle, but I found he hadn't cleaned it,
so I left it alone and took mine, as the thing was really too important
to risk using a strange gun unless it was absolutely necessary, and his
is a little shorter in the stock than I like. I nipped back and let
myself out of the passage door into the enclosed garden. It was a black
night, though I knew my way blindfolded about there. But the curtains
of the library were drawn, and I couldn't see between them without
stepping on the flower bed. I knew too much to leave my footmarks all
over them, but I had to get on to the bed to have a chance of getting a
shot. So I got the long plank the gardeners use to avoid stepping on
the flower beds when they're bedding out, from the tool-house behind
the holly hedge where I knew it was kept, and put it down near the
hedge. It is held up clear of the ground by two cross pieces of wood,
one at each end, you know, so there would be no marks left to identify
“When I walked to the end of the plank, I could see straight into
the middle of the room; but they must have been sitting near the fire,
for no one was in sight. I could see the writing bureau and the chair
in front of it, and dimly in the back of the room I could make out the
face of the clock, but that was all.
“Well, I stood there for what seemed a long while. You've no idea
how cramping it is to stand on a narrow plank with no room to take a
step forward or back, for long at a time. And I don't mind telling you
I got a bit jumpy, waiting there. If anyone chanced to come along, what
could I say by way of explanation? I couldn't think of anything the
least likely to wash. And somehow, in the dark, one begins to imagine
things. I saw David coming at me across the lawn every other minute.
And it seemed so hideously likely that he should come. I knew he was
somewhere out in the grounds. By Jove, if he had, he'd have got the
bullet instead of Uncle Douglas! But he didn't come. Those beastly
shadows and shapes and whisperings and rustlings that seemed to be all
round me, hiding in the night, turned out to be nothing after all. But
when I didn't fancy him at my elbow, I imagined he was in the gunroom,
wondering where the dickens my rifle had got to.
“Oh, I had a happy half-hour among the roses, I tell you! A rifle is
a heavy thing too. I leant it up against a rose-bush and tried to sit
down on the plank, but it wouldn't do, and I saw I must bear it
standing, or Uncle Douglas might cross in front of the slit between the
curtains without my having time to get a shot. You must remember I'd
been on the hill all day, so that I was very stiff to begin with. It
got so bad that I began to think it was hardly worth the candle at
last—and it's a wonder I didn't miss him clean—when, just as I was on
the point of giving the whole thing up and going in again, he came
suddenly into my field of vision, and actually sat down at the table.
“I took a careful aim and fired. I saw him fall forward, and then I
jumped off the plank and hurled it back under the hedge before I ran
for the house. I had left the door ajar, and I just stayed to close it,
and then darted into the empty billiard-room and thrust my rifle under
a sofa. It was a quick bit of work. I had counted on Juliet Byrne
waiting a moment or two to see if she could do anything to help him
before she roused the house, or it roused itself, and she was rather
longer than I expected. I don't mind owning I got into a panic when
minutes passed and no one appeared, and I began to think I must have
missed the old boy altogether. I was within an ace of going to make
certain, when the door opened and in she came. Oh well, you know all
the rest. That silly old ass, David, was still mooning about in the
garden, thinking of her, I suppose, which was very lucky for me.”
Julia had listened with absorbed interest.
“I think it is wonderful,” she said, “that you should have gone
through all that for my sake. I shall always try to deserve it, my
dear. Was it all, all for me, that you did it, truly?”
“Yes,” Mark assured her, gruffly monosyllabic.
“But how was it,” she asked caressingly, “that Sir David's
footprints were found all over the rose-bed. What was he doing there?”
“That was an afterthought,” Mark admitted. “It was a tophole idea.
After every one had gone upstairs, I crept down and got my Mannlicher
from where I had hidden it, and took it to the gun-room, where I
cleaned it and put it in its usual place. It was lucky for me that
David had left his weapon dirty. It was jolly unlike him to do it. I
was thinking what a good thing it was, and how well things looked like
turning out—for I thought I could manage the girl if she was able to
prove that she really was a McConachan—and it struck me I ought to be
able to contrive that the business should look a bit blacker against
poor old David. Every one knew he'd had a row with Uncle Douglas about
his beastly dog, and if I could only manufacture a little more evidence
against him I knew I should be pretty safe, one way and another. I was
going back to the garden to put by the gardener's plank, when I thought
of using his boots. It didn't take long to find them among all the
boots used that day by the household, which were ranged in a row in the
place where they clean them in the back premises. His bootmakers' name
was in them. I took them, and when I got to the garden door I put them
on, and went out and trampled about among the roses till I was pretty
sure that even the blindest country bobby couldn't fail to notice the
tracks I'd left, though of course I couldn't see them myself in the
dark. Then I got the plank out of the hedge and put it away where I'd
found it. After that, I took the boots back, and went to bed; and very
glad I was to get there. Now you've heard the whole story.”
“How clever you are,” murmured the girl. “There's no one like you,”
she said, “no one.” Mark smiled rather fatuously. He evidently shared
her opinion that his brains were something slightly out of the way.
“And everything happened just as you'd planned,” she went on
admiringly. “They suspected Sir David from the first. I should have,
myself, if I hadn't known it was you who had done it.”
“Yes,” said Mark, “they suspected him, the silly idiots! They might
have known he hasn't the initiative to do a thing like that. And the
girl can't prove her relationship to Uncle Douglas, just as I expected.
I thought there might be some difficulty about that. But I wish I could
find the will he made in her favour. I should feel safer then, for she
told me he said he'd worded it so that she should get the money whether
she was proved his daughter or not. And who knows what other mad
clauses he may have put in it. Lately, for some reason I could never
make out, I felt sure he had changed towards me. He let fall a hint one
day that his legacies to me were conditional on my good behaviour. I
don't feel easy about it at all. Some one must have been telling him
things—poisoning his mind. But I've hunted high and low, and found
nothing. I'm sick of looking over musty old bills.”
“Oh, we shall find it between us now,” said Julia hopefully. “I wish
I had some idea where the list I want is, though,” she added.
“There's that detective, too,” pursued Mark. “That fellow Gimblet.
I'm rather fed up with him. Not that he seems any use at his work,
though he's supposed to be rather first-class at it, I believe.”
“Gimblet! Is that who it is? Mrs. Clutsam told me a London detective
was here, but I didn't know who it was. I have met him before, and
found him very easy to manage. I don't think you need be afraid of
anything he may do.”
“I shall be glad when he's off the place, anyhow,” said Mark.
“I shall be glad when the whole business is over and forgotten,”
Julia rejoined. “I wish we could be married at once, Mark darling. But
why can't it be given out that we are engaged. I don't understand why
we should keep it a secret now. I can't stand seeing so little of you
as I have these last few days.”
“Be patient, darling, wait just a little longer. There are reasons,
as I have told you. I must get my financial affairs straight, for one
thing, before I allow you to tie yourself to me. Suppose I turn out to
be a beggar? I couldn't let you marry me then, you know.”
“Mark!” Julia's voice was full of reproach. “You know perfectly well
how little I care about your money. I would be only too glad to marry
you if you hadn't a penny. But perhaps you mean that if you were poor
you wouldn't want to burden yourself with a wife?”
“You know how I adore you, Julia. How can you suggest such a thing?
I couldn't even dream of a life without you. You show how little you
know me. But, believe me, it is wisest to wait a short time longer
before we are publicly engaged. You must take my word for it, and not
made me unhappy by imagining such cruel things. Come, let us look for
this list of yours. What were you doing—searching among the books?”
“Yes,” said she, rising, as he went towards a bookshelf, and
following him. “I thought it might be hidden between the leaves of one
of these old volumes. One reads of such things.”
“I wonder,” he said absently. “The will, too, may be here. Is there
a Bible anywhere? I believe that's a favourite place of concealment.
Then, when the heir is virtuous and reads his Bible, he gets the
legacy, you know; while, if he isn't, he doesn't. A sort of poetic
justice is meted out. If I find it in that way I shall take it as a
sign that I am really the virtuous one and that Heaven absolves me from
He spoke mockingly, but Julia answered very seriously:
“Of course you ought to have it; and if I don't blame you, why
should anyone else?”
“Well,” he said after a pause, “at all events I mean to get it,
whether or no, if I have to pull down every stone of the place. That
reminds me,” he added, “where is the secret entrance you use? Through
this old clock? Who would have thought it?”
In a moment Juliet realized that she was going to be caught. She had
been so absorbed in listening to the dreadful revelations that had been
made during the last half-hour that not till now had she considered how
dangerous was her position.
As he spoke, Mark threw open the door of the clock case. Too late,
she turned to fly; he caught her by the arm and, with a stifled oath,
dragged her into the room.
“How long have you been there?” he cried, and fell to swearing
horribly; while Julia stood by, not speaking, but looking at Juliet
with an expression which frightened her more than all his violence.
It did not occur to Juliet to deny that she had overheard their
talk. She had been found in the act of spying on them, and it was
inconceivable that they should believe she had not done so. Besides,
she was raging at the thought of what she had heard, and her anger gave
her a courage she might otherwise have found it hard to maintain.
“I have been there all the time,” she declared stoutly. “I heard all
you said, you wicked, wicked man. A murderer! Oh, how horrible it all
Julia laid a hand on Mark's arm.
“She will tell what she knows,” she said, trembling.
“She shall not,” Mark stammered furiously. He seemed to be half
suffocating with rage. “She shall not go unless she swears to say
nothing. Swear it, I say!”
He seized Juliet by the shoulder and shook her violently to
emphasize his words.
“I won't swear anything of the kind,” she retorted, trying to break
from his grasp. “Do you suppose you can kill me, too, without being
found out? There is a detective here now, and Sir David Southern is not
at hand to lay the blame on. You coward! How dare you touch me!”
The truth of her words seemed to strike home to Mark, for he left go
of her suddenly, and stood, biting his nails and scowling, the picture
of irresolution and malignance.
Juliet lost no time in following up any advantage she might have
“I can't help knowing that you care for him,” she said, addressing
herself to Julia, “though I wouldn't have listened to that part if I
could have helped it. But how can you? How can you? I can't understand
how you can feel as you do about killing people, but at least if you
did such a thing you would imagine it was for the good of your country,
while this man thinks of nothing but his own selfish ends. Money, that
is all he wants! How can you condone such a crime as his? To kill Lord
Ashiel, that good, kind man who had treated him like a son all his
life, who did everything for him. And just for the sake of money! It's
not even as if he wanted it really. He's not starving. He had
everything, in reason, that he wanted. If he needed more, urgently, I
believe he had only to tell his uncle, and it would have been given to
him. Oh, it is beyond all words! He must be a fiend.”
Indignation choked her. She spoke in bursts of trembling anger, her
words sounding tamely in her own ears. All she could say seemed
commonplace and inadequate beside the knowledge that this man was her
Even Julia, indifferent to every aspect of the case that did not
touch upon her relations with her lover, was shaken by the scornful
disgust with which the broken sentences were poured forth; and, if her
infatuation for Mark was too complete to allow her to consider any
action of his unjustifiable, still she realized, perhaps for the first
time, the feelings with which other people would view the thing that he
“You don't understand him,” she faltered. “He didn't want money for
himself alone. It was for me he did it. He was too proud to ask me to
marry a poor man. You could never understand his love for me. How can I
blame him? How many men would run such risks for the girl they loved? I
am proud, yes proud, to be loved like that!”
“You believe his lies,” Juliet cried contemptuously. “You believe he
loves you so much? Why it is not two days since he came to me and asked
me to marry him.”
“What!” Julia spoke in a panting whisper. Her face had suddenly lost
every particle of colour. “Say it's not true,” she begged, turning
miserably to the man.
He made an effort to deny the charge.
“Of course. Not a word of truth in it. Damned nonsense,” he
But his eyes fell before Juliet's scornful gaze, and Julia was not
“It can't be true, oh, it can't,” she moaned. “No man could be so
“No other man could,” Juliet amended. In spite of herself she was
sorry for the girl, whose stricken face showed plainly the anguish she
was undergoing. “Forget him, Julia; he is not worthy to tie your
shoe-lace. He came to me after they had taken David away, and asked me
first if I would take his inheritance even though I couldn't prove my
birth, which he must have known perfectly that I should never dream of
doing, and then proposed I should marry him, saying that he was very
fond of me, and that in that way justice would be done as regards Lord
Ashiel's money, however things turned out for me. I thought it
honourable and generous at the time, and so did Lady Ruth when I told
her—oh yes, she knows about it and can tell you it is true—but now I
see that all he wanted was to be on the safe side, and, if I had
accepted him and had turned out to have no claim upon his uncle's
fortune, he would have broken the engagement on some easy pretext. Can
you deny it?” she demanded of Mark.
But he could not face her, though he made an effort again to brazen
Every word she had spoken seemed to strike Julia like a blow. She
shrank quivering away, and threw herself down on to a chair, her face
hidden in her hands. Juliet went to her and touched her gently on the
“Don't think of him any more,” she said. “Presently you will hate
yourself for having cared for a murderer. Just now, I know, your love
for him makes you gloss over his crimes, but when you are yourself you
will see how odious they are. Poor Julia, I hate to hurt you so, but it
is better, isn't it, that you should know? You will forget this
madness. He is not worth your wasting another thought on. Think how
shamefully he has deceived you. Think of all his lying words, of how he
told you he had never looked at another woman.”
Julia raised her head and showed a face, white as chalk, in which
the great brown eyes seemed to burn like fires of hatred.
“Yes,” she said in a hard, even voice. “I am thinking of it. I shall
not forget him. No. Instead, I shall think of him day and night, be
sure of that. I shall laugh as I think of him; laugh at the thought of
him in his place in the dock, or in his prison cell. I shall laugh when
I give my evidence against him, and most of all I shall laugh on the
day when he is hanged. If his grave is to be found, I shall dance upon
it. Oh, it will be a merry day for me, that day when the cord is
tightened round his false neck!”
She went near to Mark, and hissed the last words into his face,
leaning forward, with one hand on her own throat. But he seemed to
shrink less before her vindictive passion than he had under the colder
scorn of Juliet's denunciations.
“Come, Juliet,” said Julia, calming herself a little, although hate
was still blazing in her eyes, “let us leave this place. We must send
for the police.”
“Julia,” said Mark, stepping forward, and speaking with some of his
former assurance, “you condemn me unheard. Why should you believe this
girl before me? It is not like you, Julia. It is not like the girl I
love. For I do love you, darling, in spite of what you may think; and,
till a few moments ago, I thought you loved me too. But I see now what
your love is. One whiff of suspicion, one word of accusation, and
without proof or evidence you condemn me, and your so-called affection
disappears. Julia, I think you have broken my heart.”
Juliet gave vent to a derisive sound which can only be called a
snort; but it was plain that his words, and more especially the manner
of sad yet tender reproach in which they were uttered, were not without
their effect on the other girl. Her eyes wavered uneasily; she twisted
and tore at her handkerchief.
“I have heard what you have to say,” she murmured. “I saw that you
could not deny what Juliet told me.”
“I did deny it. But what is the use of talking to you when you are
in such a state? You are determined beforehand to disbelieve me. And I
have no wish to justify myself to Miss Byrne, though I am willing to
swallow my pride and do so to you.”
“Well,” she said after a moment's hesitation, “justify yourself if
you can. No one shall say I would not listen. God knows I shall be glad
enough if you can clear yourself.”
“To begin with,” said Mark, “I admit that, superficially, there is
truth in what you have heard. But only superficially, for the person I
deceived was not yourself but this young lady. I certainly, as she
suggests, never had the slightest intention of marrying her. For one
thing I was absolutely certain she would refuse me, but it seemed a
good precautionary move to make what might appear a generous proposal,
and at the same time get a sort of mandate from the possible heiress
herself to stick to my uncle's fortune. You may be sure I should never
have given it up, in any case, but it is as well to keep up
appearances. The business was only a move in the game I am playing, and
no more affects the sincerity of my love for you than any of the social
equivocations we all find necessary from time to time. I love you,
Julia, and you alone. How can you doubt it? I love you so much that I
am willing to overlook your want of confidence in me, and to forgive
the cruel things you said just now. Darling, how can I tell you, before
a third person, what I feel for you? You are everything to me; and, if
you no longer love me, I don't care what happens. Give me up to the
police if you like. The gallows is as good a place as another, without
Long before he had finished, all traces of resentment had vanished.
When he ceased speaking, she gave in completely, and threw herself upon
his breast, sobbing passionately, and begging his forgiveness for
having doubted him for an instant, while he soothed and comforted her
in a low tone. Juliet did not know what to do or which way to look. The
two stood between her and the door, and she felt an absurd awkwardness
about trying to pass them. Was it likely she would be allowed to go out
free to denounce them? She was afraid of trying.
At last Julia was calm again, and there came a silence, during which
the pair glanced at Juliet and then at each other.
“What's to be done?” Julia asked at length, and then suddenly,
without waiting for an answer, “I have an idea, Mark, that will save
you. If her mouth can be stopped for a time, will you be able to get
“I shall have to try, I suppose,” he replied, with a trace of his
former sulkiness. “To think that everything should miscarry because of
a slip of a girl!”
“You had better go to Glasgow and get on board some ship there which
will take you to a place of safety. I shall have to stay behind till
the matter of the list is settled one way or the other. But then, when
I have reported to my superiors, I can join you, and we can begin life
together in some far-off country. I shall be as happy in one place as
in another with you, Mark; are you sure you will be, too, with only
Mark hastened to reassure her on that point, but his tone as he said
it did not carry conviction to Juliet. Julia, however, seemed
“Miss Byrne can choose,” she continued. “Either she swears not to
say a word till we are both safe away, or else we can shut her in the
dungeon of the castle. I know where it is, in the wall of this tower.
She will never be found there, and I can take her food from time to
time till I am ready to join you. Isn't that a good plan?”
“I don't think we will give her the option of swearing not to tell,”
he said presently.
“As if I would ever promise such a thing!” Juliet interrupted,
“But,” he went on, ignoring this outburst, “otherwise I think your
idea is good. Where is this dungeon? We may be disturbed at any minute,
and enough time has been wasted already.”
“I will go first and show the way,” said Julia. “I have an electric
torch,” and she stepped into the clock and lowered herself through the
Mark motioned to Juliet to follow.
“Ladies first,” he said with a sneer.
Juliet turned and made a dash for the door.
“I won't go! I won't! I won't!” she cried desperately, though in her
heart she knew she could not resist if he chose to use force. Perhaps
if she screamed, some one would hear. Oh, where was Gimblet? Why did he
leave her to the mercy of these people? “Help! Help!” She lifted up her
voice and shrieked as loud as she could.
With a vicious scowl Mark sprang upon her, and clapped a hand over
her mouth. Then, as she still continued to produce muffled sounds of
distress, he stuffed his handkerchief in between her teeth and, lifting
her bodily in his arms, thrust her before him into the clock, and
pushed her roughly down the hidden stair. Half-way down she lost her
footing, and fell to the bottom, where Julia was standing with her
little lamp in her hand.
Mark was following close behind, and between them they picked her up
and hurried her, limping and bruised, along the narrow passage. She was
allowed to take the handkerchief out of her mouth, for no cry could
penetrate the immense thickness of these blocks of stone. At the point
where there was a break to right and left in the walls of the passage,
Julia came to a standstill.
“Here it is,” she said, turning her light on to the opening in the
wall on the left-hand side. “The door is gone, so you will have to
fetch something to block it up with.”
It seemed to be a small, cell-like chamber, built into the side of
the tower. It may have contained a dozen cubic yards of space, and had
neither door nor window.
“There are some slabs of stone at the end of the passage,” said
Julia. “They are heavy, but you are strong, you will be able to bring
them. We must leave a little space at the top of the door to admit some
air, and for me to pass food through to our prisoner.” She laughed with
a feverish merriment. “It will be like feeding the animals at the Zoo,”
Mark signified his approval by a nod.
“And is this the way?” he asked, turning round and starting off in
the opposite direction.
“No, no!” Julie cried, laying a detaining hand upon his arm. “I
don't know what there is down there. I think it is a well. See, you are
on the very edge.”
She cast the light on to a round dark opening in the ground some six
feet in front of and below them. From where they stood the floor began
to slant suddenly and steeply downward, so that if Mark had taken
another step, it looked as if nothing could have prevented his sliding
down into the gaping circle of blackness at the bottom.
Julia shuddered violently.
“Oh,” she cried, “if you had gone over! Come away, do come away!”
“It's a funny sort of well,” he said, “Looks to me like something
else. Did you ever hear of oubliettes, Julia?”
Juliet, as she heard him, grew white with terror.
“Julia, Julia,” she cried, “you won't let him throw me down there?”
“No, no,” said Julia. “He would not. There is no reason.... Mark,”
she urged, “come away from here.”
But he only laughed shortly.
“Don't be so hysterical,” he said, and continued to bend his gaze
upon the hole at the bottom of the slope. It seemed to have a sort of
fascination for him. Finally he picked a piece of loose mortar from the
wall and threw it down into the gap. A second later there was a dull
sound which might have been a splash. “Perhaps it is a well after all.
Did you think it sounded as if it had fallen into water?”
“Yes,” said Julia, “I am sure it did. Do come away. I hate being
And indeed she was shivering from head to foot, and not Juliet
herself seemed more anxious to leave the place.
“Just one more shot,” said Mark. “Here, Julia, stoop down, and roll
that bit of stone slowly down the slope, while I hold on to our
prisoner. We shall hear better that way. Give me your lamp.”
Anxious to satisfy him, Julia picked up the fragment he had knocked
from the rough wall, and stooping down stretched out her hand to set
the stone in motion. But, as she did so, Mark loosened his grip on
Juliet, and bending quickly behind this poor girl who loved him seized
her by the shoulders and threw her forward on to her face. The steep
pitch of the floor finished what the impetus given by his onslaught had
begun. Julia shot head first down the slope, and disappeared into the
black chasm of the well.
One long agonized scream came up to them out of the darkness, and
rolled its echoes through the lonely passages.
Then the distant sound of a splash; and silence.
Back against the wall, Juliet cowered, her whole body shaken by
great sobs. She was petrified with terror of this fiendish man, but her
fears for herself gave way before the horror of what she had seen.
“Oh, what have you done, what have you done?” she wept.
Mark tried to summon up a jeering smile. The lantern threw no light
upon his white and twitching face.
“You don't suppose I meant to let her go free, after the taste she
gave me of her temper?” he asked, in a voice he could not keep from
shaking a little. “Do you suppose I like having to do these things? You
women have never the slightest sense of common justice. The whole thing
is perfectly beastly to me. But how could I live with a girl who would
be ready to threaten me with the gallows every time she got out of bed
wrong foot first? It's not fair to blame me for other people's faults.”
He spoke querulously, with the air of a much-injured man. Though
Juliet was beyond any coherent reply, he seemed afraid of meeting her
eyes, and looked resolutely away from her, his glance shifting and
wavering from the walls to the floor, from the floor to the stones of
the low roof; up, down, and sideways, but never resting on her. At
last, as if drawn there irresistibly and against his will, they fell
once more on the dark circle of the mouth of the pit, and he started
back, shuddering violently.
“As if I hadn't enough to bear without being saddled with hideous
memories for the rest of my life!” he cried with bitter irritability.
“If you had an ounce of common fairness in your composition you would
admit I could do no less. Why, any day she might have got jealous, or
something, and flown into a passion again, and denounced me to the
police. Besides, I have no wish to be obliged to fly the country. Why
should I? She was the only person who knew the truth; except you. That
is why you must follow her.”
“No, no!” cried Juliet despairingly, but without avail, for her
feeble strength could offer him no effective opposition, and he thrust
her easily on to the slope. She felt instinctively that at that angle
the merest push would make her lose her balance, and sank quickly to
her knees, catching him round the ankle with one hand, and clinging
He swore furiously, and bent down to unclasp her fingers from his
leg. Then he flung her hand away from him; and cut off from all
assistance she began instantly to slide backwards, slowly but
Juliet dug her nails into the cracks of the stone floor with all the
energy of despair, but in a moment her feet were over the edge of the
pit and she was falling. Her fingers gripped the edge with a fierce
tenacity, and for some minutes she hung there, minutes that seemed
longer than all the rest of her life put together.
And so she hung, her knees drawn up in a frantic effort to pull
herself out of the depths, till her muscles refused any longer to
contract, and she felt herself gradually straightening out and growing,
it seemed, heavier and heavier, till she knew that in one more second
her fingers would slip from their hold, and all would be over.
But as she dropped into a straight position, and wearily abandoned
her efforts to raise herself, one of her feet suddenly touched some
firm substance beneath it. Something narrow it was, for the other foot
as yet still hung in space, but some blessed solid thing on which it
was possible to stand. As, with a feeling of thankfulness and relief
such as she had never before experienced, she allowed her weight to
rest on it and found that it did not give, she felt a sharp blow on the
knuckles of her left hand, which made her withdraw it quickly and lean
against the wall to steady herself. Mark was throwing stones at her
fingers to make her leave go sooner. Another missed her narrowly, and
shot over her head.
She drew down her right hand, and still leaning against the wall
felt about with her other foot for a support.
She soon found it, a little farther back it seemed than the first
foothold; but more experimental investigation showed that it was really
part of the same object. There appeared, indeed, to be several of them
about, all near to the wall, so that it was plain that poor Julia, as
she shot over the brink, had fallen outside, and beyond them. What the
bars were that she seemed to be standing on, Juliet could not at first
imagine, and it was not till Mark, growing tired of waiting for a
splash that never came, reached the conclusion that his ears had
deceived him, and took himself and Julia's lantern off to other spheres
of usefulness, that she perceived that a faint light penetrated into
the upper part of the pit. When her eyes had become accustomed to it,
she was able to make out that she was perched upon a portion of the
roots of a tree, which had grown in through holes in the wall.
Three great roots there were, curling into and across the shaft of
the pit and disappearing down into the darkness below, where Juliet did
not dare to look.
She managed, with great caution, to stoop down and catch hold of the
highest of the roots, and so to settle herself in a fairly comfortable
position, sitting on the middle root of the three, with her feet on the
lowest, and her back against the top one.
“They might have been made on purpose,” she told herself, her
naturally high spirits and brave young optimism coming nobly to her
And she set herself to try and enlarge one of the holes in the wall;
but she could not make much perceptible difference there. What it had
taken centuries, and the growth of a great tree to effect, could not be
much improved on in an hour by one young girl, however strong the
necessity that urged her.
By the time she had exhausted her efforts and must needs lean back
and rest awhile, the biggest hole was just wide enough to put her hand
through, and she saw no prospect of enlarging it further.
Through it she could see a corner of the loch and the grey foot of
Ben Ghusy, but that was all. It showed, however, on which side of the
tower she was, and she remembered the great beech that clung to the
precipice below the place where the foundations of the castle sprang
from the rock. At least she had always imagined it was below the
foundations, but now she knew better.
She thrust her hand out and waved it, but did not dare leave it
there. The terror Mark had instilled in her was too recent and too real
If she put out her hand, he would see it, and perhaps shoot it off; or
at least know that he had failed to kill her as yet. Better he should
think her dead, like poor Julia. But was Julia really dead?
She leant over and called down into the darkness:
But no answer came, although she waited, holding her breath, and
called again and again.
Then she had fallen into the water? She must be drowned even if the
fall did not kill her. Poor, misguided Julia. Better dead, after all,
thought Juliet, with eyes full of tears, than alive, and at the mercy
of that terrible man. What disillusionments must have come to her
sooner or later; final disillusionings that could not be explained
away. How horrible to find that the man you loved was like that.
Nothing else in the world could be so appalling. Yes, Julia was better
dead. As Juliet thought of the dreadful manner in which death had come
to the unfortunate girl, she forgot her faults, forgot her strange
views upon the justifiability of taking human life, forgot even that
she had approved of Lord Ashiel's assassination and contemplated
bringing about his death herself, and remembered only the frightful
nature of her punishment.
And while she sat there, clinging precariously to the twisted roots
of the beech tree, Juliet's tears streamed down into the watery grave.
Hours passed, and darkness fell upon the world without. In the patch
of loch that was visible to her, she could see a star mirrored; it
cheered her somehow. What there was comforting about it she could not
have said, but in some way it seemed to be an emblem of her hopes. She
wedged herself tightly between the roots, laid her head down upon the
uppermost of them, and, such is the adaptability of youth and health,
slept on her dangerous perch like a bird upon a bough.
With the day she awoke, stiff and hungry. How long would it be
before she was found? She felt braver under this new stimulus of hunger
and more ready to risk detection by Mark. After all, he could hardly
get at her here, and someone else might see her if she signalled. She
took off her shoes and stockings and pushed them through the hole in
the wall, then her handkerchief, and finally the white blouse she wore
was taken off and thrust out between the stones. She kept her hold upon
one of the sleeves, and wedged it down between the wall and the beech
root, so that the blouse might hang out on the face of the rock like a
flag and catch the attention of some passer-by. From time to time, too,
she squeezed her hand through the gap and fluttered her fingers
backward and forward. She knew that the path by the burn ran below, and
it was used constantly by the ghillies and by the household. Only of
course so early in the morning there was not likely to be anyone about.
And she remembered with a sinking heart that people seldom look up as
Yet in the course of the day some one would surely see it. She
sternly refused to allow herself to expect an immediate rescue. She
would not, she told herself, begin to get really anxious about it till
evening. It would be long to wait, of course. She looked at the little
watch which Sir Arthur had given her on her last birthday. It was six
o'clock. She must be patient.
But in spite of all her forced cheerfulness the time passed terribly
slowly. She found an old letter in her pocket, and a pencil, with which
she scrawled painstaking directions for her rescue. She would push it
through the hole, she thought, if she heard any sound of voices above
the clamour of the burn. After that there remained nothing more to do,
and the hours seemed to creep along more and more slowly, till each
second seemed like a minute and each minute an hour. She tried to
divert herself by repeating poetry, and doing imaginary sums; and it
was about eleven o'clock, when she was in the middle of the dates of
the Kings of England, that she heard Gimblet's voice hailing her in a
shout from below.
It was not till after her rescue, not till after she was given
safely over to the affectionate ministrations of Lady Ruth, that Juliet
gave way under the strain to which she had been subjected, and broke
Up till that moment, the urgency of her own danger had prevented her
from feeling as acutely as she would have in other circumstances the
terrible fate of the Russian girl; but, as soon as she herself was
safe, the full horror of it settled upon her mind till thought became
an agony. She was shaken by alternate fits of shuddering and weeping,
until Lady Ruth, who had a scathing contempt for doctors, was on the
point of sending for one.
The arrival of Sir Arthur, an hour or so after her release, did much
to calm her. He had started post haste from Belgium as soon as he heard
of the tragedy, which was not till three days after it had occurred,
and had spent the long journey in incessant self-reproach that he had
ever allowed Juliet to go alone among these murderous strangers. The
sight of his familiar face was full of comfort to the distracted girl;
and the knowledge that Mark was arrested and powerless to harm her,
with the gladsome news that David was free again, combined to soothe
her nerves and restore her self-control.
The fear of one cousin began to give place insensibly to the dread
lest the other should find her red-eyed and woe-begone; and soon the
importance of looking her best when David should return occupied her
mind almost to the exclusion of the terrors she had experienced. Thus
does the emotion of love monopolize the attention of those it
possesses, so that individuals may fall thick around him and the
surface of the earth be convulsed with the strife of nations, and still
your lover will walk almost unconscious among such catastrophes, except
in so much as they affect himself or the object of his affections.
But not yet was Juliet to see David. His mother's health had broken
down under the distress and worry of the accusation brought against
him, and it was to her side that he hurried as soon as he was released
While Lady Ruth carried Juliet off at once to the cottage, there to
be comforted, fed, made much of and put to bed, Gimblet and the men who
had assisted him in the work of rescue stayed behind in the walls of
the tower, to rig up, with ropes and buckets, an apparatus by which to
descend to that lowest depth of the oubliette where poor Julia's
body must be lying.
They had little hope of finding her alive; nor did they do so. She
was floating, face downwards, in the water at the bottom of the pit.
In a grim, wrathful silence the men raised the poor lifeless body,
and with some difficulty brought it back to the light of day. When the
gruesome business was done, Gimblet returned to the cottage, tired out
with his night's work; for, like all the men on the place, he had been
scouring the moors since the previous evening, when Mark's derisive
words had first sent them, hot foot, to assure themselves of Juliet's
whereabouts. As he reached the cottage, the daily post bag was being
handed in, and among his letters was one from the colonel of Mark's
“MY DEAR SIR,” it ran, “I have sent you a wire in answer to your
letter received to-day, since in view of what you say I see that it is
necessary to disclose what I hoped, for the sake of the regiment, to
continue to keep secret. But if, as you tell me, the innocence and even
the life of Sir David Southern is involved, and you have such good
reason to consider McConachan the man guilty of his uncle's death, it
becomes my duty to put aside my private feelings and to confess to you
that I am unable to look upon Mark McConachan as entirely above
suspicion. When he was a subaltern in the regiment I have the honour to
command, he was a source of grave worry and trouble to me.
“From the day he joined I had misgivings, and, though his good
looks, lively spirits, and recklessness with money made him popular
with others of his age, I soon discovered that his moral sense was
practically nonexistent, and considered him a very undesirable addition
to our ranks. Still, I hoped he might improve, and for a year or two
nothing occurred to force me to take serious notice of his behaviour.
Unknown to me, however, he took to gambling very heavily, and must have
lost a great deal more than he could afford, for he appears to have got
deep in the clutches of moneylenders long before I heard anything about
it. So desperate did his financial affairs become, that shortly before
he left the regiment he was actually driven to forging the name of a
brother officer, a rich young man, with whom he was on very friendly
terms. The large amount for which the cheque was drawn drew the
attention of the bankers to it, and in spite of the extreme skill with
which, I am told, the signature had been counterfeited, the forgery was
detected, and the matter was brought before me.
“The victim of the fraud was as anxious as myself to avoid a public
scandal, and it was arranged that nothing should be done for a year, to
give time to McConachan to refund the money; if, however, he failed to
do so within that time, there would be nothing for it but to make the
matter public. These terms were agreed on and McConachan was told to
send in his papers at once.
“The year allowed is now drawing to a close, and the money has not
been forthcoming, so that there is no doubt that Mark McConachan's need
of obtaining a large amount is extremely pressing. My knowledge of his
character obliges me to add that I consider him one of the few men I
ever knew whom I could imagine going to almost any length to provide
himself with what he so urgently requires.
“Please consider this letter confidential unless you obtain actual
proof of his guilt.—I am, sir, yours faithfully,
“T. G. URSFORD,
“Colonel commanding 31st Lancers.”
Gimblet put the letter away with the other items of evidence of
Mark's guilt: the telegram from the analyst in Edinburgh, the
measurements of the footprints on the rose-bed, and of those other
marks near the hedge by which he had at first been mystified. It was
another thread in the thin cord that, like the silken line Ariadne gave
to Theseus, had led him to come successfully out of the bewildering
labyrinth into which the investigation of the crime had beguiled him.
It was after dinner that night, as he sat in the little drawing-room
of the cottage with Lady Ruth and Sir Arthur, that his hostess asked
him to explain to them how he had contrived to detect the way in which
the murder had been committed.
“You promised to tell me all about it,” Lady Ruth reminded him, “if
I would keep silent about your finding the papers in the statue.”
“Tell us the whole thing from the beginning,” Sir Arthur urged him.
“I will willingly tell you anything that may interest you,” Gimblet
consented readily. “Every one enjoys talking about their work to
sympathetic listeners such as yourselves. It is a bad thing to start on
a case with a preconceived idea, and I can't deny that when I first
came here I was very near having an idee fixe as to the origin
of the crime. I tried to deceive myself into thinking that I kept an
open mind on the subject; but I don't think I ever really doubted for a
minute that the Nihilist society to which Lord Ashiel had formerly
belonged was responsible for the murder. Even after my conversation
with the new peer, which showed me that things looked blacker against
Sir David Southern than I had expected, I was far from convinced that
he was guilty, though I was obliged to admit that there was some ground
for the conclusion come to by the police.
“But what was the evidence against him? Sir David was known to have
quarrelled with his uncle; he had even been heard to say he had a good
mind to shoot him. But that was more than twenty-four hours previous to
the crime, and the words were uttered in a moment of anger, when he
probably said the first thing that came into his head. Was he likely to
have hugged his rage in silence for the hours that followed, and then
to have walked out into the garden and shot his uncle in cold blood and
without further warning? It did not appear to me probable, but then I
did not know the young man.
“He was not to be found when the deed was discovered, and a hunt
instituted for the murderer. Well, he had an answer to that which
fitted in with my own theory. He said he saw some one hanging about the
grounds, and went to look for him. But it was said that the night was
so dark as to make it improbable that anyone should have been seen,
even if there had been anyone to see. That cut both ways, to my mind.
For it would account for the intruder making his escape undiscovered.
“Then there was the matter of the rifle, which he had told Miss
Byrne he had cleaned that evening, in which case it had certainly been
fired since then. He owned that he had locked it up and that the key
never left his possession afterwards, but now denied that he had told
the young lady that he had cleaned it. I asked young Lord Ashiel if he
could put any possible interpretation on these facts except the one
accepted by the police, and he replied that he could not. That, for the
first time, made me wonder if he were really anxious to believe his
cousin innocent. For I could put quite different interpretations on
“In the first place, though it was possible that Sir David lied in
making his second statement to the effect that he had not said he had
cleaned his rifle, it was equally possible that the first statement
that he had cleaned it was not strictly accurate. For some
reason, which he did not care to divulge, he might have told Miss Byrne
he had been cleaning his gun when he had been really doing something
entirely different. But had he told her he had cleaned it? His words,
as repeated by her to me, were, 'I went in there to clean my rifle,'
but not, 'I have been cleaning my rifle,' which would be another thing
altogether, he probably had not yet begun cleaning it when he heard
Miss Byrne coming and went out to speak to her; it is possible some
feeling akin to shyness might make him reluctant to confess this
afterwards in public. Indeed I now feel quite sure that this is the
explanation of the matter. Later on, when I questioned her again, she
did not appear certain which of the two forms of words he had used; but
there was, at all events, a considerable doubt. There were other
possibilities also. Some one might possess a duplicate key to the
gun-cabinet. It seemed to me impossible that none of these
considerations should have occurred to young Ashiel, if he were really
reluctant to believe in Sir David's guilt. But at the same time I
remembered the almost incredible lack of reasoning powers shown by most
members of the public where a deed of violence has been committed, and
knowing that there is nothing so improbable that it will not find a
host of ready believers, I did not attach much importance to the
circumstance until later.
“Still on the whole, after talking to young Lord Ashiel, I felt more
disposed to believe that there might be some truth in the accusation
that had been made than I had previously thought likely. But on that
point I reserved my opinion till I should have had an opportunity of
examining the scene of the tragedy for myself. So I prevailed upon the
new owner of the castle to leave me alone—which he was the more ready
to do since he had urgent need to be first in examining some papers of
his uncle's which were in another room—and proceeded to make a cast
round the garden from which the shot had been fired, in the hope of
lighting upon some trifle which had escaped the notice of Macross.
“It was when I came upon the footprints in the rose-bed which had
done so much to prove the guilt of Sir David Southern in the eyes of
his accusers, that I began to be certain of his innocence; and a very
little examination convinced me absolutely that whoever had shot Lord
Ashiel it was not his youngest nephew. For the tracks on the flower-bed
left no room for doubt.
“It is true they corresponded exactly with the shooting-boots Sir
David had been wearing on the day the crime was committed. I had
provided myself with a pair that I was assured was exactly like those
particular boots which fitted the tracks and which the police had taken
away with them, and I found that there was indeed no difference, except
for the matter of an extra nail or two on the soles. There was no doubt
that Sir David's boots had made those impressions, but to my mind there
was equally no doubt that Sir David had not been in them when they made
them. For the track which was so plainly distinguishable on the soft
mould of the flower-bed had certain peculiarities which I could hardly
“There was first a row of footmarks leading from the lawn to the
middle of the bed; then more marks as if the wearer of the boots had
moved from one position to another hard by; and finally, a track
leading back again to the mossy lawn at the side. Now all this was well
enough till it came to the last row of footsteps, those which led off
the bed, and which had presumably been taken after the fatal shot was
fired. But was it conceivable that a man who had that moment committed
a cold-blooded murder should leave the scene of his crime with the same
slow, deliberate footsteps with which he had approached it? Surely not.
“And yet this is what the wearer of the boots had done. The
imprints, as they advanced towards the lawn, were deep and well defined
from toe to heel. Not only that, but they were, if anything, closer
together than those which preceded them. Now a man, running, leaves a
deeper impression of his toe than he does of his heel, and his steps
are much farther apart in proportion to his increase in speed. I,
myself, ran from the middle of the bed, to the lawn, alongside of the
footmarks of the soi-disant murderer, and though I am a short man,
while Sir David's legs are reported long, I left only two footprints to
his five. To me it was as certain as if I had seen it happen that the
wearer of the boots trampled his way off the rose-bed as slowly as he
had trampled on. Those footprints had been made by some one who was
determined they should be seen, not by some one whose only thought was
to get away from the place; not, in short, by a man who had that moment
fired a murderous shot through the darkness. The tracks had undoubtedly
been made as a blind and with the intention of diverting suspicion to
the wrong man probably after the deed itself was done.
“I was satisfied, then, that the shot had not been fired from this
particular part of the rose-bed, and I proceeded to search for other
footprints farther down the bed. I did not feel much hope of being
successful, since, if our man had had the forethought to leave so many
traces of some one else's presence, it was unlikely he would have
neglected to ensure that his own should be absent. And as I expected, I
“But at the end of the garden, where it is bounded by the holly
hedge, I came across something which puzzled me. There were two narrow
depressions on the flower-bed, about an inch wide by less than a foot
long. They were parallel to each other, and at right angles to the
hedge, and separated by a distance of six or seven feet. Near one,
which was almost in the middle of the bed, was another mark which I
could not understand. It was only a few inches long and, in shape, a
narrow oval. I could not at first imagine what any of them represented,
and it was only quite suddenly, as I was giving it up and going away,
that the truth flashed across my mind. I had been looking regretfully
at the track I myself had left by the side of the hedge on my way to
and from the middle of the bed.
“'What I want,' I said to myself, 'is one of those planks raised off
the ground by two little supports, one at each end, that gardeners use
to avoid stepping on the beds when they are going through the process
of bedding out,' And even as I said it, I realized that the same idea
had occurred to some one else, and that the marks I had been examining
might have been made by just such a contrivance as the one I was
thinking of. A short search showed me the plank itself, kept in a
tool-house conveniently near the spot, and, with a rake taken from the
same place, I seized the opportunity of raking out my own footmarks
from the rose-bed.
“And now who could this be who had so carefully manufactured a false
scent, and so cleverly avoided being himself suspected? My previous
theory, that some envoy of the Nihilists had been lurking in the
neighbourhood, seemed not to meet the new conditions. For how could a
mere stranger have gained possession of the misleading boots, or how
returned them to their proper place? And how, for that matter, could a
stranger have obtained the use of Sir David's rifle, if his rifle had
indeed been used?
“That brought me to consider again whether after all there was any
proof that his rifle had been used by anyone. Supposing, as I saw no
reason to doubt, he spoke the truth when he said that Miss Byrne had
misunderstood him and that he had not cleaned the weapon since coming
in from stalking, was I driven back on the theory that some one
possessed a duplicate key to the case where the guns were kept? Not in
the least. The shot might have been fired from a rifle that had never,
at any time, been within the walls of the castle. Certainly, the bullet
fitted Sir David's Mannlicher rifle, but that, as young Lord Ashiel
said himself, was equally true of his own rifle, or probably of a dozen
others in the neighbouring forests, since a sporting Mannlicher is a
weapon in common use in the Highlands.
“The shot, then, might well have been fired by my hypothetical
Russian as far as the rifle was concerned; but he would have found it
difficult to borrow Sir David's boots, and it seemed unlikely that any
stranger would not only have dared to do so, but afterwards have had
the audacity to return them. No, on the whole the footmarks seemed to
clear the character of the Russian nation from any reasonable suspicion
of being directly concerned in the crime.
“And yet, in spite of reason, I could not help feeling that the
Society of the Friends of Man must be at the bottom of the whole thing
in some way I had not yet fathomed. I made every inquiry as to whether
any foreigner had visited the castle or been seen in the neighbourhood,
but the only strangers among the visitors had been Miss Julia Romaninov
and Miss Juliet Byrne's French maid, both of whose alibis appeared so
far unimpeachable. I had it on Lady Ruth's authority that Miss
Romaninov had been in the drawing-room with the other ladies at the
time of the murder, and all the servants were at supper in the
servants' hall. Otherwise I should have been inclined to look on Julia
Romaninov with a suspicious eye, as being the only Russian I knew to be
on the spot. The last word the dying man had been able to pronounce,
too, was, according to Miss Byrne, 'steps' which might very well have
been intended for steppes, and have some connection with the enemies he
“With these considerations running in my mind, I made my way to the
gun-room, not indeed with much expectation of its having anything to
tell me, but as part of the day's work of inspection, which must not be
shirked. I took down young Ashiel's rifle to examine. He had told me it
was of the same description as his cousin's, and I was not very
familiar with the make. It was owing to my wish to see for myself with
what kind of weapon the deed had been done that a very important clue
fell into my hands.
“As I put the rifle down on the bare deal table which forms the
principal piece of furniture in the gun-room, I saw a grain of
something dark, which looked like earth, fall off the butt end on to
the boards beneath. I picked up the rifle, and looked closely at the
butt; it was criss-crossed with small cuts, as they sometimes are, with
the idea of preventing them from slipping, and in the cuts some dust,
or earth, seemed, as I expected, to be adhering. I knocked the rifle
upon the table, and a little shower fell from it. Except for the first
grain, it might have been nothing but the ordinary dust of disuse, but
I could not help thinking it was of a darker hue than the accumulations
of years generally take upon themselves, and, further, I knew that the
rifle had lately been used for stalking. It was, moreover, specklessly
clean in every other part. I felt certain it had been leant upon the
ground at no distant date; and I remembered the mark I had not been
able to account for at the foot of the rose-bush, near the place where
the plank had been used and, as I was persuaded, the cowardly shot
actually fired. If a gun had been leant up against the large standard
rose that grew there, it would have left just such a mark upon the soft
“All this, of course, was a mere surmise, and rather wild at that,
but the deer forests of Scotland are not muddy, whatever else they may
be, and I felt an unreasoning conviction that the rifle had not
accumulated dust while engaged upon its legitimate business on the
mountain tops. The peaty moorland soil on which the castle stood would
hardly be the best thing in the world for rose-trees, I imagined, and
it seemed not too much to hope that some other kind of earth might be
artificially mingled with it. I carefully collected the dust in a
pill-box, and promised myself to lose no time in obtaining the opinion
of an expert analyst, as to whether or no some trace of patent
fertilizer, or other chemical, could not be traced in it.
“It was now for the first time that suspicion of young Lord Ashiel
began to oust my theory of the Nihilist society's responsibility for
the murder. He had, as I remembered, struck me as taking his cousin's
guilt for granted with somewhat unnecessary alacrity. His rifle, I
already believed, perhaps in my turn with needless alacrity, had fired
the fatal bullet, and it seemed perfectly possible that it was his
finger that pressed upon the trigger. He was, I knew, in the
billiard-room, and alone, both before and after the murder was
committed. It would have been quite easy for him to fetch his rifle,
place the gardener's plank in position, fire his shot and return to the
house, provided Miss Byrne did not rush immediately from the room. He
knew her to be a brave girl and not likely to fly without making some
attempt at offering assistance. But, if she had rushed from the spot
and met the murderer outside the library door, it would be simple
enough to convey the impression that he had heard the shot, and that he
was either dashing to their help, or making for the garden in the
attempt to catch the villain red handed. The rifle was the only thing
likely to provoke an awkward question, but he could have dropped it in
the dark and returned for it afterwards without much fear of detection.
As it happened, he thought it safer to risk carrying it indoors, and
hid it under the billiard-room sofa till he had a chance to clean it
and take it to the gun-room, as we now know.
“You can imagine the scene: Lord Ashiel falling forward upon the
writing-table under the light of the lamp; the scoundrel leaping from
his post upon the plank, but not so quickly that he did not see the
girl throw herself on her knees at the side of the fallen man. I can
fancy the frenzied haste with which McConachan thrust the plank into
the hedge and ran like a deer towards the door, which he had no doubt
left open. I imagine him, then, tiptoeing to the door of the library
and bending to listen, every nerve astretch. What he heard, no doubt
reassured him; it may have been the voice of the girl calling upon her
father, or it may have been the thud of her body falling upon the floor
when she fainted. Perhaps, even, he may have stayed outside long enough
to see her sink to the ground. Then he would steal back, shut the door
as gently as he had opened it, and not breathe again till he found
himself in the empty billiard-room, his tell-tale rifle still in his
hand. No doubt he wished he had left it in the hedge at that moment,
for he must have opened the billiard-room door with most lively
apprehensions. Supposing the shot had been heard, and the household was
rushing to the scene of the disaster? Supposing he opened the door to
find the room full of people demanding an explanation of himself and
his weapon? What explanation had he ready, I wonder? It must have taken
all his nerve to turn the handle of the door....
“But no one can deny the man his full share of courage and decision.
“I felt more and more sure that in some such manner the crime had
been gone about; and yet there were many complications, and more than
once it seemed as if my convictions had been too hastily formed. Later
that same afternoon I found, upon the sand of a little bay below the
castle, marks that told me as plainly as they told one of the keepers
who joined me there that a strange man had landed from a boat on the
night of the murder, and even, if our calculations were right, not far
off the very hour in which the deed was done. From the tracks left by
his boots, which were large and without nails and extraordinarily
pointed for those of a man, I felt sure that here one had landed who
was no native of these parts, and the theory of the unknown Russian
seemed to take on new life and vigour. The tracks, as we now know, were
no doubt those of the member of the Society of the Friends of Man who
was living at Crianan, and who hoped to have word with Julia Romaninov.
It was no doubt he whom Sir David saw lurking in the grounds, and it is
natural to suppose that when he perceived himself to be observed he
retreated to his boat and made off, abandoning his proposed meeting for
“I was to be further bewildered before my first day of investigation
came to an end. Young Lord Ashiel had spent the day in searching for
the will; and, if my inward certainty that he himself would prove to be
the guilty man should turn out to be right, I could very well
understand that he was anxious to find it. For, from what his uncle had
said to Miss Byrne, it seemed possible that he had so worded his last
will and testament, that whoever succeeded to the great fortune he had
to bequeath, it might not be Mark McConachan. But the will was not to
be found, and there was no doubt to whose interest it was that it
should never be found; so that I felt pretty sure that, if the
successor to the title were once able to lay his hands on it, no one
else would ever do so. However, he hadn't found it yet, or the search
would not be continued with such unmistakable ardour.
“Now I had a fancy myself to have a look for the will. I took the
last words of the dead man to be an effort to indicate how I was to do
so, and I had no idea of prosecuting my search under the eye of his
nephew. Young Ashiel was to dine at the cottage here, with Lady Ruth;
so I excused myself under pretence of a headache from appearing at
dinner, and hurried back to the castle as soon as I could do so
unobserved. I got in by a window which I had purposely left open, and
made my way to the library. The words that Lord Ashiel, as he lay
dying, had managed to stammer out to his daughter, were only five.
'Gimblet—the clock—eleven—steps.' I had decided to take the clock in
the library as the starting-point of investigation. He might, of
course, have referred to any other clock, but only one could be dealt
with at a time, and a beginning must be made somewhere. Moreover, I had
noticed a curious feature about that particular timepiece. It was
clamped to the wall, which struck me as very suggestive; and I thought
it quite likely I should be able to discover some kind of secret drawer
concealed within, or behind, the tall black lacquered case, where the
will and other papers of which Lord Ashiel had told me might be hidden.
But in spite of my best efforts I came across nothing of the kind.
“I then examined the floor of the room at spots on its surface which
were at a distance of about eleven steps from the clock, in the hope of
finding some opening between the oak boards; but all to no purpose. I
began to think that by some specially contrived mechanism the
hiding-place might only be discernible at eleven o'clock, and though
the idea seemed farfetched, I don't like to leave any possibility
untested, so I sat down to wait till the hour should strike.
“While I was waiting, I suddenly heard footsteps which appeared to
come from inside the wall of the room, or from below the floor. I
concluded instantly that there was a secret passage within the walls
although I had failed to find the entrance, so I left the library
quickly and quietly, and made my way to the garden, from which I was
able to look back into the room through the window. By the time I took
up my post of observation the person I had heard approaching had
entered. To my surprise it was a young lady about whom I seemed to
recognize something vaguely familiar, but whom I was not aware of ever
having seen before. She was occupied in examining the papers in Lord
Ashiel's writing bureau, and after watching her for some time, I
concluded that she must be Julia Romaninov; partly from certain foreign
ways and gestures which she displayed, and partly from her present
employment, as I knew of no one else who was interested in the papers
of the dead man. I imagined that she knew of the possible relationship
which Lord Ashiel supposed might exist between himself and her, and
that she was searching for evidence of her birth. Whether she was
staying at the castle, which I was told all visitors had left, or
whether, like myself, she had made her way into it from outside, was a
question I could not then determine, though the next day I discovered
that she was stopping with Mrs. Clutsam at the fishing lodge, near by.
“The fact of her being still in the neighbourhood, the business I
found her engaged upon—an unusual one, to put it mildly, for a young
girl—and the hour, at which she had chosen to go about it, all gave me
much food for thought, and I felt sure she could tell me news of the
stranger who had landed in the bay and who wore such uncommonly pointed
boots. When I recognized in her, on the following day, a young person
who had, a few weeks previously, made me the victim of a barefaced and
audacious robbery, I could no longer doubt that she and the unknown
boatman were in league together; and, since no Englishman would be
likely to wear boots so excessively pointed at the toes, I did not
hesitate to conclude that they were both members of the Society of the
Friends of Man, a conclusion which became a certainty when I
subsequently saw them together. This discovery rather shook my belief
in the guilt of young Ashiel, although I had an inward conviction that
in spite of everything he would turn out to be the murderer. Still, I
was after the Nihilist brotherhood as well, and I determined if
possible to put a spoke in the wheel of that association when I had
finished with the first and most important business.
“In the meantime, as I stood in the dark garden, watching the girl
ransack the private papers of her dead host, I felt no fear of her
finding what she was looking for. Lord Ashiel had convinced me that he
would hide his secret affairs more carefully than that; and, as I
expected, the time came when she gave up the search and departed the
way she had come. And that way, to my astonishment, was through the
grandfather's clock I had spent so much time in examining. No sooner
had she gone than I returned to the library, where I soon discovered
that the hidden entrance lay through the one part of the clock I had
not investigated. A trap in the floor could be opened by turning a
small knob, and I found beneath it the top of that flight of stairs
which we now know leads out to the door under the battlements. There
were fifteen steps in the flight, and my first idea was to examine the
eleventh one of them. I was rewarded by the discovery of a concealed
drawer, which in its turn disclosed a single sheet of paper.
“On it were written some words that I could not at first understand,
but of which finally, by good luck, and with your help, Lady Ruth, I
was able to decipher the meaning. They referred, in an obscure and
veiled fashion, to the great statue erected by Lord Ashiel in that glen
of which his wife had been so fond; where the beginning of the track
used by the cattle drivers and robbers of old, which is known as the
Green Way, leads up over the hills to the south. Guided by Lady Ruth, I
found on the pedestal of the statue a spring, which has only to be
pressed when a door in one end of the erection swings open, and
discloses the hollow chamber in the middle of the pedestal. At the far
end of the cavity was the tin box, of which the key lay temptingly on
the top. I lost no time in springing towards it, for here I felt sure
was all I wanted to find, but as I inserted the key in the lock the
door slammed to behind me and I found myself shut in the dark interior
of the pedestal. Luckily Lady Ruth was with me, and quickly let me out.
I found that the door was controlled by an elaborate piece of
clockwork, which is set in motion by the pressure upon the floor of the
feet of any intruder, causing the door to shut almost immediately
behind him. But for you, Lady Ruth, I should be there now. But the
incident gave me an idea.
“I returned to the cottage with the papers, and found two telegrams.
One was from the analyst in Edinburgh to whom I had sent the grains of
dust collected in the gun-room, saying that among other ingredients
lime was very predominant. Now there is no lime in a peaty soil such as
this, and the gardener, to whom I talked of soils and manures, with an
air of wisdom which I hope deceived him, told me that the rose-bed
outside the library had received a strong dressing of it. There was
also, said the report, traces of steel and phosphates, of which there
is a combination known as basic slag, which the gardener had mentioned
as being occasionally used. I considered that it was tolerably certain,
therefore, that young Ashiel's rifle had been the weapon the imprint of
whose butt was still discernible on the bed when I went over it.
“The second telegram contained an answer from the colonel of his
regiment, to whom I had written asking if there was anything in the
record of Mark McConachan which would make it appear conceivable that
he was badly in need of money, and likely to go to extreme lengths to
obtain it. I had told the colonel as much about the case as I then
knew, and pointed out that the life or death of a man whom I had strong
reason to think innocent might depend upon his withholding nothing he
might know which could possibly bear upon the matter. The telegram I
received in reply was short but emphatic. 'Record very bad,' it said,
'am writing,' This was enough for me. I went over to Crianan, saw the
police, and imparted my conclusions to the local inspector. I then
proposed that a little trap should be laid, into which, if he were not
guilty and had no intention of destroying his uncle's will, there was
no reason to imagine young Lord Ashiel would step. The inspector
consented, and I returned, with himself and two of his men, to
Inverashiel. You know how successful was the ruse I indulged in. I
simply went to the young man, and told him I had discovered the place
where his uncle had put his will and other valuable papers. I explained
to him where it was and how the pedestal could be opened, but I said
nothing about its shutting again. Neither, I am afraid, did I confess
that I had already visited the statue and taken away the documents. I
said, on the contrary, that I preferred not to touch the contents
except in the presence of a magistrate, and suggested he should send a
note to General Tenby at Glenkliquart to ask him to come over and be
present when we removed the papers. This he did, and I then left him
after he had promised to join us at the cottage in a couple of hours. I
knew very well where we should find him at the end of those hours; and,
as I expected, he was caught by the clockwork machinery of the pedestal
Sir Arthur Byrne took his adopted daughter back to Belgium on the
following day, since, although she would have to return to England to
give evidence against Mark in due course, some time must elapse before
his trial came on, and he judged it best to remove her as far as
possible from a place whose associations must always be painful.
Then ensued a series of weary long weeks for Juliet, in which she
had no trouble in convincing herself that David had forgotten her. She
heard nothing from him directly, though indirectly news of him filtered
through in letters they received from Lady Ruth and Gimblet. He had
not, it appeared, taken his cousin's guilt as proved so readily as Mark
had affected to do in his own case, refusing absolutely to hear a word
of the evidence against him, and maintaining that the whole thing was a
mistake as colossal as it was ghastly.
Only when he was persuaded unwillingly, but finally, that it was
Juliet's word which he must doubt if he were to continue to believe in
Mark's innocence, did he give in, and sorrowfully acknowledged himself
All this Lady Ruth wrote to the girl, together with the fact that
Sir David was still in attendance on his mother, now happily recovering
from the nervous shock she had sustained.
From Gimblet, and from Messrs. Findlay &Ince, they heard that by the
will which the detective had found all Lord Ashiel's money and estate
were left to the adopted daughter of Sir Arthur Byrne, known hitherto
as Juliet Byrne, with a suggestion that she should provide for his
nephews to the extent she should think fit.
The will, though not technically worded, was perfectly good and
legal, and Juliet could have all the money she was likely to want for
the present by accepting the offer of an advance which the lawyers
begged to be allowed to make.
Gimblet wrote, further, that the list of names of members of the
Nihilist society entitled the “Friends of Man” which he had discovered
at the same time as the will and, contrary to Lord Ashiel's wishes,
sent off by registered post to Scotland Yard, had been communicated to
the heads of the police in Russia and the other European countries in
which many of those designated were now scattered, with the result that
a large number of arrests had been quietly made, and the society
practically wiped out. The foreign guest of the Crianan Hotel was still
at large. The name of Count Pretovsky was not on the list and nothing
could be proved against him. He had moved on to another hotel farther
west, where he was lying very low and continuing to practise the gentle
art of the fisherman. A member of the Russian secret police was on his
way to Scotland, however, and it was likely that Count Pretovsky would
be recognized as one of the persons on Lord Ashiel's list who were as
yet unaccounted for.
Gimblet told them, besides, that he had succeeded in finding the
widow of the respectable plumber named Harsden, whom Julia had
mentioned as being her father. Mrs. Harsden corroborated the story, and
said that it was certainly the Countess Romaninov to whom Mrs. Meredith
had consigned the little girl they had given her.
Widely distributed advertisements also brought to light the nurses
of the two children; both the nurse who had taken Julia out to Russia
and the woman who had been with Mrs. Meredith when she took over the
charge of the McConachan baby, quickly claiming the reward that was
offered for their discovery. There was no longer any room for doubt
that Juliet Byrne was the same person as Juliana McConachan, or that
Julia Romaninov had begun life as little Judy Harsden.
All this scarcely sufficed to rouse Juliet from the apathy into
which she had fallen. To her it seemed incredible to think with what
excitement and delight such news would have filled her a few months
Now, since David plainly no longer cared for her, nothing mattered
any longer. Her depression was put down to the shock she had suffered,
and efforts were made to feed her up and coddle her, which she
She had nothing in life to look forward to now, so she told herself,
except the horrible ordeal of the trial which she would be obliged to
It was in the dejection now becoming habitual to her, that she sat
idly one fine October morning in her little sitting-room at the
consulate. She had refused to play tennis with her stepsisters, not
because she had anything else to do, but because nothing was worth
doing any more, and because it was less trouble to sit and gaze
mournfully through the open window at the yellow leaves of the poplar
in the garden, as from time to time one of them fluttered down through
the still air.
How unspeakably sad it was, she thought to herself, this slow
falling of the leaves, like the gradual but persistent loss of our
hopes and illusions, which eventually make each human dweller in this
world of change feel as bare and forlorn as the leafless winter trees.
On a branch a few feet away, a robin perched, and after looking at
her critically for a few moments lifted up its voice in cheerful song.
But she took no heed of it, and continued to brood over her sorrows.
All men were faithless. With them, it was out of sight, out of mind,
and she would assuredly never, never believe in one again. The best
thing she could do, she decided, was to put away all thought of such
things, and forget the man whom she had once been so vain as to imagine
really cared for her.
And just as she told herself for the hundredth time that she had
given up all hope and had resigned herself to the role of
broken-hearted maiden, the door opened, and David was shown in.
By good luck, she was alone. Lady Byrne was not yet down, and her
stepsisters were out; so there was no one to see her blushes and add to
In the surprise of seeing him, all her presence of mind vanished,
leaving her speechless and trembling with agitation.
For his part, David approached her with a confusion as obvious as
“Juliet,” he stammered as soon as they were left alone together, “I
know I oughtn't to have come, but I simply couldn't keep away.”
“Why oughtn't you to have come?” was all she could ask foolishly.
“Because I know you can't want to see me,” said the absurd young
man, “though I do think you liked me pretty well before, didn't you?
when Maisie Tarver tied my tongue; or ought to have, I'm afraid I
should say. But she had enough sense to drop me when I was arrested.
She couldn't stand a man arrested for murder any more than you or
anyone else could?”
He said the last words with an air of shamefaced interrogation.
“Why,” said Juliet, who was being carried off her feet on the top of
a rapturous flood, “what nonsense! You were as innocent as I was. What
would it matter if you were arrested twenty times!”
“Well, I shouldn't care to be, myself,” said David, without
apparently deriving much satisfaction from such a suggestion. “Once is
enough for me. And anyway,” he added inconsequently, “you can't very
well marry a fellow who is first cousin to a man who's as good as
“Oh, David, David,” cried Juliet; “as if that mattered! But who do
you suppose I am—don't you know that he's my first cousin just as he
“By Jingo,” said David, “I never thought of that, somehow. Then
we're both in the same boat!” And he stepped forward and caught her by
“Yes, David,” she said, as he drew her to him tenderly, “both in the
same boat. And what can be nicer than that?”