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Chapter 13 A QUESTION OF VERACITY

  • Geoffrey Clavering's reply to Lady Katharine's staggering question was give_o promptly that one might have been tempted to believe he had expected it an_repared himself for the question beforehand.
  • "I had no idea of going there at first," he said. "I couldn't remain among th_uests after you had left the Close and Narkom's men had bundled that D_ouvisan out of the house; my head seemed full of fire, and I simply couldn't.
  • I got away as soon as I decently could, and went upstairs to my own room. _ouldn't stop there, either; the stillness and the loneliness half maddened m_nd set me to thinking and thinking until I thought my head would burst. So, in sheer desperation, I caught up a cap, sneaked down the back stairs, and le_yself out. Nobody saw me go, and, thank God, nobody saw me return, either. _alked about the Common for heaven knows how long before I turned round at th_ound of some one coming toward me through the mist, and the next thing I kne_ 'bumped' smack into that person, and found it to be my stepmother."
  • "Lady Clavering?" said the girl in a tone of the utmost surprise—and Clee_ould have blessed her for the words, since they voiced an inquiry upon _ubject which he much desired to have explained. "You mean to say that Lad_lavering was out there on the Common, away from her guests? What could hav_mpelled her to take such a step—and at such a time?"
  • "She had come in search of me, she said. She felt anxious, distressed, afraid, so she said, that I would do something desperate, and went to my room to tal_ith me. When she found it empty she jumped to the conclusion that I had gon_ut for the purpose of following De Louvisan and meeting him somewhere for th_ere satisfaction of thrashing him. She begged and implored me to come back t_he Close; to do nothing rash; to think of my father; to remember her; to b_areful to do nothing that would get your name mixed up in a vulgar brawl. An_he wouldn't leave me until I promised her on my word of honour that I woul_ake no effort to find De Louvisan. When I did that, she was satisfied an_ent back to the Close."
  • In the darkness of the stone staircase Cleek puckered up his brows an_houghtfully pinched his chin.
  • Oho! so that was the explanation of her ladyship's presence on the Common las_ight, was it? Mere solicitude for the welfare of a beloved stepson, eh?
  • Hum-m-m! Rather disappointing, to say the least of it, to find that she had n_ore connection with the case than just that. After all, she was merely "a re_erring drawn across the trail," eh? He shouldn't have thought so, but, o_ourse, if young Clavering spoke the truth, that eliminated _her_ from th_ffair altogether. Odd that she should have bribed the Common keeper not t_ay a word about having met her! In the circumstances, why should she hav_one so?
  • Ah, yes—just so! She wouldn't like to have the affair talked about; sh_ouldn't like to have young Geoff put on his guard, so that he might purposel_void meeting her, and she would be most anxious to get him back into th_ouse as quietly and as expeditiously as possible. No, decidedly, you neve_an be certain. Women are queer fish at the best of times, and mothers hav_dd methods of reasoning when beloved sons are concerned. But stepmothers?
  • Hum-m-m! Yes, yes! To be sure, there are always exceptions. Still, he hadn'_hought—he decidedly had not thought——
  • Young Clavering was speaking again. Cleek let the "thought" trail off and los_tself, and pricked up his ears to listen.
  • "I suppose it was her speaking of you that first put the idea into my head,"
  • Geoff went on, "and impelled me to walk over to the place where we had been s_appy before your father returned from Argentina and spoiled everything fo_s. That's why I went. That's how I came to meet you there."
  • "You did not meet me there!" she flung back indignantly. "Really this is pas_ jest."
  • "A jest? You think I'm likely to jest over it—a thing that threatens the lif_f the girl I love? In the name of heaven, Kathie, put an end to thi_onsense. You know I did meet you there! You know how surprised I was when _ot to the place to see you stealing out of the gates. Why, the very momen_ou saw me you spoke my name, and that I had no more than just time to say t_ou, 'For God's sake, Kathie, how did you come here?' when you plucked me b_he sleeve and said, 'Come in, come in; I'll show you something that wil_ight the way back to the land of happiness, dear!' And after all that to fac_e down like this—to pretend that you were not there. It is simpl_idiculous."
  • "I am glad you can give it so mild a name," said the girl coldly. "To me i_eems the cruellest and the wickedest falsehood a man could possibly utter.
  • Dear God! what has come over you, Geoff? Are you mad, or are you somethin_orse, to come here and make this abominable lying charge against me—agains_me_? And when you know in your heart that there is not one word of truth i_t!"
  • "Oh, for God's sake, don't treat me as if I were a fool, Katharine. Who i_here to impersonate you, and for what reason? I know what I know, I know wha_'ve seen, what I've heard, what I've been through! Then what in heaven's nam_s the use of keeping up this idle pretence with me?"
  • "It is not a pretence—it is the truth, the simple and the absolute truth!" sh_eplied with heat. "If they were the last words I had to say in this world, _ould repeat on the very threshold of the one to come: _I was not at Glee_ottage last night._ I came straight from Clavering Close to Wuthering Grange, and I never left my room for one instant from that time until I came down t_reakfast this morning. Ailsa Lorne was with me when I returned; she will tel_ou that I am speaking the truth."
  • Yes, decidedly Ailsa Lorne would tell him; that Cleek acknowledged to himself.
  • Had she not done so already? But again she might also have told him that sh_hought she heard Lady Katharine's bedroom door open in the night and some on_teal out of it. Besides, there was another thing—the golden capsule of th_cent bracelet—to be reckoned with. Hum-m-m! Was there, then, a possibilit_hat Geoff Clavering was speaking the truth, and that it was Lady Katharin_erself who was lying? Of course, in that case—— Stop a bit—they were going a_t again, and he could not afford to lose a single word.
  • "I don't care a hang what Ailsa Lorne or anybody else will say; I know what _now," young Clavering flung in doggedly. "You can't tell me that I didn't se_ thing when I did see it—at least, you can't and expect to make me believ_t. Give me credit for a little common sense."
  • "How can I when your own words so utterly refute it, when you convict yoursel_ut of your own mouth, when even the dead man himself is a witness to th_tter folly of this charge?"
  • "De Louvisan?"
  • "Yes. He speaks for me!"
  • "What nonsense!"
  • "He speaks for me," she repeated, not noticing the interruption, "and if yo_ill not believe a living witness, then you must believe a dead one. Uncl_aynor and Harry said this morning that the Count de Louvisan's body had bee_ound, not lying on the ground, but lifted up and spiked to the wall; and yo_ho claim to have seen me in that house last night claim also to have searche_he place and found no one but me present. Will you tell me, then, how I coul_ossibly have lifted the body of a man weighing ten or eleven stone at th_east computation, much less have lifted it high enough to spike it to _all?"
  • "One for the girl!" commented Cleek silently.
  • "You might have had help; there might have been somebody there who left befor_ arrived," replied Geoff.
  • "And another one for the man!" Cleek was obliged to admit. "Which of thi_nteresting pair is doing the lying? They can't both be speaking the truth. A_east, they can't unless—— By Jupiter! Hum-m-m! Quite so! Quite so! 'Write m_own an ass, gentlemen,' and an ass with a capital A." Then the curious one- sided smile travelled up his cheek, and lingered there longer than usual.
  • Young Clavering's last remark had hurt the girl more than anything he had ye_aid; hurt her so deeply that she gave a little shuddering cry and, womanlike, broke into tears.
  • "That is the wickedest thing of all!" she said. "The very wickedest thing o_ll. I can't doubt any longer that you have made up your mind to bolster u_his abominable thing by every possible insult to me!"
  • "Insult? What funny things are sometimes said by accident!" he flung bac_tridently. "I am likely to 'insult' you when I'm ready to stand by yo_hrough thick and thin, am I not? And to lie till I'm black in the face, s_hat I keep others from knowing what I know!"
  • "You don't know it—you can't know it! It never happened! I was not in tha_ouse last night, and you did not see me there!"
  • "Oh, well then, let us say I didn't," impatiently. "What does it matter on_ay or the other? Say I didn't, then! Say _I_ murdered him; but, for God'_ake, don't say I insult you when I have come here merely to show you how muc_ love you—how ready I am to fight the whole world for you. Come back into m_rms, and let me tell you what I want to tell, dear. Come back, and don't fea_nything or anybody on earth. They shan't touch you! They shan't lift a finge_o harm you, say one single word against you; and God help the first tha_ries it, that's all! A man doesn't cease to love a woman just because sh_oes a desperate thing for his sake. No, not he! If he's worthy of the name o_an, he loves her all the better for it. That's how I love you! Better to-da_han I ever loved you in all the days that were; better than I shall ever lov_nything in all the days that are to be. I don't care if you are red with th_lood of a hundred men, you're the girl I love, the girl I mean to marry, th_irl I'm going to stand up and fight for as long as there's breath left in m_ody!"
  • "Marry—marry?" Her voice struck through his even before he had finishe_peaking, and there was a sting in it that bit. "Do you think for one instan_hat I would marry you when you make such a charge as that against me? Do yo_hink I would? Do you? I'd no more marry you than I would cut off my righ_and, Geoff Clavering, after you have slandered me and lied about me lik_his."
  • "Kathie, dearest——"
  • "No—please! If you touch me I think I shall faint! Stay where you are! Let m_lone! Ah, please do—please! I have suffered and suffered and suffered, bu_ot like this; oh, never like this before! That you should say thes_hings—you! That you should even dream of saying them! You ought to be ashame_f yourself—ashamed!"
  • "Kathie, darling——"
  • "No, no—don't, please don't; it would be wicked to touch me when I a_uffering so much. I want to get back to my room— I want to lie down; my hea_ill split if I don't. Please do not follow me; please stay where you are. _on't say a word to anybody; I promise you I won't. I'll try to bear it, I'l_ry to forget it. Nine years! Dear God, nine years; and—those marks totalle_ine!"
  • He jumped as though some one had stabbed him; a red wave rushed up an_rimsoned all his face, then flashed out of existence again and left it waxe_hite.
  • "Good God! you won't attempt to suggest——" he began, then lost the power o_peaking altogether, and stood looking at her with blank eyes and wit_olourless lips hard shut as she crept on through the shadowy dusk to wher_he doorway of the ruin showed a pointed arch against the dimming saffron of _wilight sky. A moment her drooping figure stood there against that shield o_ellow light, pausing irresolute with one foot on the edge of the drawbridge, one hand pressed to her head; then she turned and looked back at the plac_here he stood. But in the dim dusk of the ruin she could scarcely see him.
  • "I will never speak, I will never tell—even to the day I die I won't!" sh_aid in a whisper; then waited an instant as if expecting a reply, and gettin_one, added yet more sadly, "Good-bye," and went across the drawbridge to th_arkening gardens, and was gone.
  • For a minute the man made neither movement nor sound till of a sudden ther_ame something so totally unexpected as to cause him to literally jump. Som_ne had given a none too perfect representation of a muffled sneeze, tellin_im that he was not alone.
  • "Who's there? Who are you?" he cried in an excited whisper
  • But nobody answered.
  • "Do you hear what I say? Come out and show yourself, whoever you are!" h_alled in a slightly louder tone; and then, getting no answer this tim_ither, he fumbled in his pocket, fished out his match box, and struck _esta.
  • The glimmering light showed him what the dusk had so successfully conceale_eretofore—namely, the gap in the floor and the underside of the slab whic_sually covered the entrance to the underground cells, but which was now lai_ack on its hinges with its lower side upmost and the way to the ston_taircase in full view. And in the very instant he made this discovery ther_olled up from that gap the sound of somebody running away.
  • In a sort of panic young Clavering made a dash for the trap, and was throug_t and down the stone steps in almost no time, the wax vesta flickering an_laring in the fingers of his upraised hand and sending gushes of ligh_eaving in and out among the arches of the passage and the gaping doorways o_he mimic cells.
  • Nobody in sight. He called, but nobody answered; he commanded, but nobody cam_orth. And with the intention of routing the author of the sneeze and th_ootsteps, he had just started forward to investigate the cells themselves, when the match burnt his fingers and was flung down sharply. Darkness shut i_s though a curtain had fallen. He fumbled with the box to get another match, and had almost secured one when he heard a movement behind him and flashe_ound on his heel.
  • "Anybody there?" he rapped out sharply.
  • "Yes; Cleek, of Scotland Yard!" answered a bland voice immediately in front o_im; then there was a sharp spring, a swift rustle, a metallic click-click!
  • His match box was on the floor, and a band of steel was locked about eac_rist.
  • "Good Lord! you've put handcuffs on me, you infernal scoundrel!" Claverin_ried out indignantly. "What is the meaning of this outrage? What are——Here!
  • chuck that! Confound your cheek! what are you doing to my ankles?"
  • "Same thing as I've done to your wrists," replied Cleek serenely. "Sorry, bu_ shall have to carry you, my young friend; and I can't risk getting my shin_icked to a pulp."
  • "Carry me? Carry me where? Good God, man! not to jail?"
  • "Oh, no. That may come later, and certainly will come if you are guilty. Fo_he present, however, I am simply going to carry you to a rather uncomfortabl_ell at the end of the passage, and put you where you won't be able to ru_way. I am afraid, however, that I shall have to gag you as well as handcuf_ou, and make you more uncomfortable still. But I'll manage somehow to ge_ome bedding of some sort, and to see that you don't miss your dinner. You ar_oing to spend the night here, my friend. Now, then, up you come and—there yo_re, on my shoulder. Steady, if you please, while I get out my pocket torch t_ight the way. I suppose you realize that I have heard all that passed betwee_ou and Lady Katharine Fordham this evening?"
  • "And you know that I lied, don't you?" put in Geoff eagerly. "You know tha_he _wasn't_ there last night, after all?"
  • "To the contrary, my friend, I know that she was."
  • "It's a lie—it's a dashed lie! She never was near the place. That was pur_luff. It was I who killed the man."
  • "Don't tell any more lies than you are obliged to, my lad. I don't believe sh_illed him, and I'm not so very sure that you killed him—and there you are."
  • "Then what are you arresting me for?"
  • "I'm not arresting you; I'm simply sifting evidence. Your stepmother—accordin_o _your_ story—must be very, very fond of you, and very, very solicitous fo_our welfare. And if she risked catching cold and having people talk and al_hat sort of thing to rush out after you when you had only been gone for _hort time, let's see how she'll act when you disappear mysteriously and don'_ome home all night!"