It would not be overstating the case if one were to say that Cleek's mind wa_bsolutely in a whirl when he closed the door of the dining-room behind hi_nd stood alone in the brilliantly lighted hall; for, added to the loathin_ontempt he felt for the young reprobate he had just left, there was th_nowledge that this new and unexpected development threatened to destroy th_hole fabric of his theories in almost every particular.
Not for one moment, heretofore, had he looked upon young Raynor as other tha_ shallow, empty-headed wastrel; a mere cuckoo hatched in an eagle's nest; _hing to be scorned, not dreaded; a mere mischievous atom that hadn't th_ourage to be a bird of prey, nor blood enough in its veins to be dangerous.
Now, however—— God! what a riddle life is! You never know!
The door that led out into the grounds of the Grange was but a rope's cas_istant. He felt that he couldn't trust himself to go in and face the ladie_ust yet a while; that he must think over this new and staggering turn whic_vents had taken: think over it for a time in the hush and darkness of th_uter world; and, turning on his heel, went swiftly to the door and le_imself out.
By this time the night had closed in, the moon had risen, and the gardens wer_imply a shadowy place of dark and fragrant mystery, with here and there _ilver arabesque on the earth where the moonlight shafted through the bough_f trees, and here and there a streak of yellower radiance where the window_f the house threw man-made light across the lawn and against the massed gree_f crowded leaves. Cleek took to the grass that his footsteps might not b_eard, and there, in the darkest shadow of all the darkened land, walked u_nd down, up and down, with his lower lip pinched up between his thumb an_orefinger, his brows knotted, and the elbow of one arm in the hand of th_ther: a quiet, slow-moving figure, as silent as the other soundless shade_hat were about it.
So that was how the cat jumped, was it? Directing suspicion—not openly, no_ith any positive hint of _what_ , but with deadly seriousness, considerin_hat last night a man had been mysteriously murdered and the police were ou_or the assassin—directing suspicion against his own father, and at such a_ppallingly significant time.
What a cur the fellow was! Even if his father could in any way have bee_mplicated in the crime, by any means, upon any pretext, what a devil's act i_as to lead the law into the right channel. But when there was not on_olitary circumstance that pointed, when it was merely to save his own skin,
merely to divert suspicion away from himself, what an act of unspeakabl_trocity! Couldn't the fellow reason? Couldn't he see that the very thing h_as doing to mislead justice was the one circumstance which directed its swor_gainst himself? That the simple fact of his endeavouring to direct suspicio_gainst one who was in no way implicated was absolute proof that he had _urpose in wishing it to be misdirected. And if he _had_ a purpose in doin_hat, the inference was so obvious that a child might read between the lines.
Heigho! It was just another exemplification of the truth of the old adage that
"when the wine's in the wit's out." If he'd let that brandy decanter alone, i_e hadn't fuddled his reason and clogged his wretched brain with alcohol, h_ust have seen what an ass thing he was doing, and what a fool his loosene_ongue was making of him.
True, as yet there did not seem any just cause for connecting him with th_urder of De Louvisan, any reason why he should have killed the man; an_ingle purpose he might serve, any solitary thing he might gain by slayin_im; but still—— Oh, well, you never know how deep a well is until you hav_eached the bottom of it. The thing had every appearance of being an Apach_rime, and he was "in" with Margot—Margot, who played for money and mone_lone; so if—— Good God! the little reptile hadn't let her lead him int_that_ folly, had he? Hadn't let her lure him into taking the oath an_nrolling himself a member of the Apache?
If he had been mad enough to do that, if that were the explanation, why, then,
all the rest was possible. The law of the Apache is the law of th_ommonwealth; and he would find that out, as Lovetski had found it out—to_ate. If St. Ulmer was in any way implicated, St. Ulmer's fortune would b_one_ stake. And if this brainless weakling should fall heir to his father'_oney, ho! there was the other "stake"; there the possible motive, there th_irst connecting link!
Was that Margot's little game? Was that the way the idiot had been tricke_nto becoming an accomplice? Just so! let's put the jumbled bits together an_ee if they fit; let's sum up two and two and learn if they really do mak_our.
First bit: De Louvisan with such a hold upon St. Ulmer that he can compel hi_ordship to cancel his daughter's engagement and force her to accept him as _iancé. Quite so! Second bit: De Louvisan, without any rupture occurrin_etween himself and St. Ulmer, suddenly murdered in cold blood. And not onl_urdered, but spiked up to the wall after the manner of Lanisterre and othe_raitors to the Apache. A clear proof that this De Louvisan himself was a_pache; and being a traitor to the cause—— Quite so! quite so! Prevented fro_arrying Lady Katharine, because that was not part of the agreement; becaus_e was making an effort to obtain for himself and his own personal use _ortune which it was intended should come into the commonwealth. Hum-m-m!
Those two pieces seem to fit together. Now for the next:
If St. Ulmer, over whom this De Louvisan undoubtedly had a hold of some sort,
bought that fellow's silence by promising him his daughter for a wife, then i_s quite certain that he was acquiescing in his traitorship to the Apache an_uite willing that the man should have Lady Katharine's dower for himself.
That bit fits also. Now for another: if in doing that thing this De Louvisa_erited the name of traitor, it must have been that he came between the Apach_nd the possession of the St. Ulmer fortune, and if the owner of that fortun_ad to make terms such as he did with the man, the inference is as plain a_he nose on your face. In other words, St. Ulmer, too, had reason to dread th_pache, and there must, therefore, be some connection between him and Margot.
Two and two—and it makes four exactly! St. Ulmer, then, is the game, St. Ulme_he pivot upon which the whole case revolves.
Where, then, does young Raynor come in? Hum-m-m! Ah! Of course, of course.
Very crafty, very crafty indeed. A beautiful woman could do anything in th_orld with such a worm as he. The stage-door Johnnie will be best caught by _horus girl. Yes, yes, just so. Get one who is out of an engagement or i_ebt—anything that will make her willing and eager to accept a bribe. She wil_o the introducing; the rest you can do yourself. Easy enough with such an as_s that fellow. Lovely women and jolly chaps for companionship; a lonel_ouse, music, dancing, champagne; a famous French variety star heels over hea_n love with him, letters, photographs, nights of revelry, and quarts of wine;
and then— _voilà_ , the fish is hooked!
Sworn in, by heaven! sworn in in a drunken fit, to wake and find himself no_nly an Apache, but to have his vanity tickled, his empty head turned, and hi_ove of being thought a regular ladies' man pampered to the full by being tol_hat he is in reality the _king_ of the Apaches, and that hundreds an_undreds of just such jolly fellows and girls as he sees about him are willin_nd eager to do the little worm homage and to be ruled by him as though h_ere actually royal.
It is an old, old game of yours, that, isn't it, Margot? So you have caugh_any a fool in your day, wiser fools than this one, and sillier, too, in thei_ay, but none of them ever held his kingship beyond the space of a month; non_t all but that bolder rascal, the Vanishing Cracksman.
And this little maggot of a Harry Raynor is the latest dupe, eh? Hooked in _runken moment, the silly gudgeon, hooked that you may get at St. Ulme_nd—get even—with the chap called De Louvisan. It must have been a shock whe_ou found what a cowardly cur the fellow is at heart. Still there must be a_ccomplice, and there must be a strong incentive to command the services o_his one.
How did you work it, then? How get him to assist in that thing, if he di_ssist? How lead him up to this abominable act regarding his own father? Yes!
To be sure, to be sure. Help you and your crew to St. Ulmer's money and you'_elp him to _his_ : to be rid of a father who kept him upon a short allowance,
who disapproved of all the things and all the people he cared for, and wh_reated him as though he were a little foolish boy instead of a great, noble,
splendid man, who ought to be free to live like the king he was.
Oh, it would be easy: just the mere turning of suspicion after the other thin_as done. A letter would do that—a forged letter—and that would be prepare_or him nicely. Oh, no, no! of course he wouldn't be hanged. Means would b_rovided to prevent that. He would be so deeply compromised, however, tha_here would be no possibility of his escaping but by death, and the means o_ringing that about would be conveniently supplied him. A swift but painles_oison; or, perhaps, a bottle of ether—something of the sort. No pain, n_uffering, all over in a minute or two; then "darling Harry" would come int_verything, and the clever little forged letter would explain everything away.
Would it? Cleek's jaws clamped together as the thought came, Would it, indeed?
Well, _he'd_ see that it wouldn't, then! If any one was to suffer it should b_he guilty, not the innocent; they should never pull that game off to the en_f time.
The forged letter, eh? Ah, be sure that Harry Raynor would take means t_reserve it and to have it handy against the time of need. And be sure, too,
that Margot would instruct him with the utmost carefulness just how to ac_ith regard to it, and just where to keep it in order to make everythin_ppear natural and in accordance with what he was to tell to his friend, Mr.
Barch, in order to set the ball rolling. Claimed to have received it thi_fternoon, didn't he? So, of course, it would be in the pocket of the coat h_ad worn at the time. Had to change into evening clothes for dinner, and wa_n evening clothes still. So, of course——
The thought had no more than shaped itself in Cleek's mind before he put i_nto action. As swiftly and as soundlessly as he had left the house he no_eturned to it. But whereas he had gone out unsuspected and unseen, it no_ecame manifest that he was not to be permitted to enjoy the same privilege i_eturning, for as he stepped into the hall he came face to face with Hawkin_dvancing from the direction of the servants' staircase.
"Out for another ramble in quest of a new plot you see, Hawkins," he sai_ayly as he entered. "The woes of the novelist are many when plots com_lowly. Where's Mr. Harry—upstairs or in the drawing-room with the ladies?"
"Neither, Mr. Barch, sir. Still sitting in the dining-room. Just on my wa_here with a message. Shall I say that you will rejoin him there, sir?"
"No, not at present, thanks. Just going upstairs to change my shoes—the gras_s very damp. By the way, Hawkins, do you happen to know what time Mr. Harr_ot home last night? Your mistress was asking Miss Lorne earlier in th_vening, and as he was with me until ten I shouldn't like to contradic_nything he may have said, _you_ know, should she conclude to ask _me_. Kno_hen he got back?"
"No, sir, that I don't. All I can tell you is that he wasn't home at half-pas_welve when I went to bed."
Cleek made a mental tally. Wasn't home at half-past twelve; and it was a_alf-past eleven, according to Mr. Narkom, that the limousine arrived at th_ead of Mulberry Lane and the first cry of murder was heard.
"Oh, all right," he said. "Don't worry him by mentioning that I asked. See hi_yself when I come down." Cleek then passed by and went up the stairs tw_teps at a time.
He did not stop at the second floor, however, but went up still anothe_light, and then, stopping a moment to look about to see if anybody wa_atching and to lean over the bannisters and listen if anybody was following,
went fleetly to Harry Raynor's den, passed in, and shut the door behind him.
The place was quite black, but a touch of the electric button flooded it wit_ight, and showed him at once what he had come to seek. On a chair close t_he open bedroom door lay the clothes which young Raynor had worn thi_fternoon, neatly folded, just as Hamer had placed them after brushing an_ressing, in case the young man should, by any chance, elect to wear the sam_uit to-morrow.
Cleek moved rapidly to the chair, partly unfolded the coat and slipped hi_and into the inside breast pocket. A letter was there— _the_ letter, as h_earned when he drew it out and opened it—typewritten by what was clearly th_and of a novice, and setting forth just such a message as young Raynor ha_tated.
"A bad move, Margot, and a little less carefully done than I should hav_hought _you_ would have countenanced, knowing how clever and cunning yo_re," was his mental comment as he read the thing. Then carefully refoldin_t, he slipped it into his own pocket, snicked off the light, and left th_oom.
In the lower passage he encountered Hamer.
"Begging pardon, Mr. Barch," the footman said, "but I was just going up to se_ou, sir. Hawkins tells me that you were anxious to know at what hour Mr.
Harry returned home last night, and it happens that I know."
"Do you?" said Cleek. "That's jolly. At what hour did he return last night,
"He didn't return last night at all, sir. It was four this morning and da_ust beginning to break, sir, when I heard a noise, and getting up, looked ou_f my window, and there he was, a-coming up the drive very cautious-like an_cting as though he didn't want to be seen, as no doubt he didn't, sir,
considering that master and mistress didn't know he was out at all."
"Didn't know he was out? How do you know that?"
"Because, sir, he said he was going to sit up and write letters when th_aster gave the order for Johnston to lock up after Lady Katharine and Mis_orne returned from Clavering Close; and Mr. Harry he gave me a half a crow_o see that the door wasn't bolted before I went to bed, as he intended t_lip out and visit a friend. Of course I wouldn't have said anything about i_o anybody, sir, if Hawkins hadn't told me that you said he was with you,
which, of course, means that you were the friend he was going to see, and not,