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Chapter 28 LOISETTE IS VINDICATED

  • Ailsa caught her breath with a faint, little, sobbing sigh at this, and eve_f the moon had not chosen just then to slip out from the screen of th_nveloping clouds and throw a dusk of silver over everything, so that he coul_ee her face and the deep look of relief in her uplifted eyes, he still woul_ave known what a load his declaration of the General's innocence had lifte_rom her mind.
  • "Oh, I am so glad," she said fervently; "so very, very glad! Do you know, _ade sure from the manner in which you spoke that, horrible as it seemed, i_ust surely be he; that you must certainly have discovered something whic_eft no room for doubt in your own mind; otherwise you would not have told m_ll these terrible things regarding the forged letter and the drugged drin_nd his meeting with Lady Clavering at the wall door. And now to know that yo_o not suspect him, that you are sure it was not he that killed De Louvisan,
  • ah, I can't tell you how glad I am."
  • "How loyal you are to your friends," he said admiringly. "You needn't assur_e of your gladness; I can read it in your voice and face. No, General Rayno_s not guilty, although I am very positive that he not only was out las_ight, but was actually at Gleer Cottage; but I am absolutely certain his wa_ot the hand that killed De Louvisan. I will even go further, and say that i_ould not surprise me to learn that he was not even present at the time of th_illing, though there is, of course, always the possibility, in the light o_y theory of the whys and wherefores of the case, that he was."
  • "You have a theory regarding it, then?"
  • "Yes. I had a vague one in the beginning that became more pronounced when _eard Lady Clavering speak of 'letters' in her interview with the General a_he wall door to-night. She also spoke of Margot, recollect. And I have sai_rom the first that a woman was in it."
  • "And you think that she—that Margot—did it?"
  • "Did what—the murder? No, I do not. As a matter of fact, I am beginning t_elieve that the presence of that crafty female in England, and in thi_articular neighbourhood at this particular time, may possibly have led me t_eap to a conclusion which is a long way from the truth. That she meant to se_e Louvisan, and, with the aid of her band, deal pretty harshly with him—giv_im the 'traitor's spike,' in fact—I feel very nearly positive; but I am no_eginning to realize there is a possibility that the scrap of pink gauze ma_ot have come from Margot's dress, and that she may not have been at Glee_ottage last night, after all. In other words, that the woman in the case i_ot Margot."
  • "Who then? Lady Clavering?"
  • "Possibly. There is, however, a chance that it is not even she."
  • All in a moment Ailsa flamed up.
  • "You are leaving only Kathie," she said with spirit. "And if you were an ange_rom heaven you could not make me believe it is she. I know you declare tha_he was at Gleer Cottage last night; that you say Geoff swears he met he_here; but even so——"
  • "Oh, thank you for reminding me of that dear boy," interjected Cleek, whippin_ut his watch and glancing at it. "If he keeps his promise, as he doubtles_ill, he'll be at the lodge gates in exactly twelve minutes, Miss Lorne. An_here is another 'dear boy' to consider too, my poor Dollops, who's probabl_aiting at the wall angle for me to explain my change of tactics with regar_o the arrest and release of Sir Philip Clavering. Will you pardon me if _ush off and see him for a few minutes? I'll be back here to join you a_uickly as I can, and then, if you will honour me, we'll be off together t_he lodge gates to meet Geoff Clavering."
  • He did not wait for her to reply; did not stop to make any comment upon he_emarks regarding Lady Katharine. Moving off as briskly as if he wer_ndeavouring to evade that subject, he slipped soundlessly away through th_hrubbery and was gone before she could speak. He was absent for somethin_ike eight or ten minutes; then, as silently and as abruptly as he had lef_er side he issued from the bushes and returned to it.
  • "Shall we go to meet Geoff?" he asked; and again scarcely waiting for her t_eply, led the way in silence.
  • It was on the tip of Ailsa's tongue to ask him if, after so often expressin_is conviction of Lady Katharine's innocence and admitting to-night that h_ad changed his opinion with regard to one woman's part in this elusiv_iddle, he had suddenly changed it regarding her, too, when, without prefac_f any sort, he looked round at her.
  • "Rum how we English stick to precedent, isn't it?" he said. "Ever remark ho_aithfully old footmen cling to their 'calves' and old valets cleave to thei_ittle black side-whiskers? And, I say, Miss Lorne! what's the fashion i_vening petticoats these days? Coloured ones, I mean. Do they have to matc_he dress that's worn with them or not?"
  • "Certainly they don't," said Ailsa, looking round at him in surprise. "Goo_racious, Mr. Cleek, whatever in the world are you thinking about?"
  • "I? Oh, nothing in particular. There we are at the lodge gates at last; an_ere's our man. Come in, bonny boy, come in."
  • Geoff came up out of the shadow of the two big trees at the entrance and move_wiftly toward the gates.
  • "Wait a bit," went on Cleek. "I've got a skeleton key handy, and in two shake_f a ram's tail——Told you so! In with you, my lad. Miss Lorne's here with me;
  • and if Loisette wasn't a dreamer and I'm not a fool, you'll be the happies_hap in England to-night. Sh-h-h! don't speak. Walk on your toes, take to th_rass, keep in the shadow of the hedge, and get over there to that shrubber_s quickly and as noiselessly as you can. With you in a minute, my boy."
  • He was. Stopping just long enough to relock the gates and to motion Ailsa t_ccompany him, he travelled like a fleet-moving shadow across the lawn, an_as again with Geoff Clavering.
  • "Well, here I am as you requested, you see, Mr. Barch," said Geoff. "I don'_now what in the world you meant when you told me that thing over th_elephone; but whatever it is that's going to make Kathie and me as happy a_ou promised, I'm ready enough to hear it, God knows."
  • "Yes, God does know; you're right there, my boy. He knows that Lady Katharin_id call you into Gleer Cottage last night, and did send you into the roo_here that dead man's body hung; and—oh, yes, she did, Miss Lorne. He'll tel_ou that just as he told me; won't you, Clavering, eh?"
  • "Yes," said Geoff, and did forthwith, giving all the details just as he ha_iven them to Cleek hours earlier in the General's famous ruin.
  • "Will you believe now, Miss Lorne?" said Cleek, and then paused and gave _ittle, shaky, half-suppressed laugh. For, of a sudden, a cuckoo's note ha_isen softly over the stillness, sounding thrice in rapid succession, as i_he bird had mistaken the moon's glamour for the sheen of day dawn, and ha_ent forth this untimely call.
  • Hearing it, Cleek knew that what he had so fervently hoped might come to pas_eally _had_ come to pass, and that the theory of Loisette was about to b_indicated.
  • "Or, if you will not," he said, taking up the sentence just where the bir_ote had broken off, "come with me and find proof of it for yourself. Com_uickly. Hold your breath. Walk on your toes. Don't make a sound on you_ives. This way. Quickly. Come."
  • He took them each by the hand and, leading the way, passed on tiptoe with the_ut of the shrubbery and down the hedged path to the mimic ruin. The figure o_ollops rose out of the shadow of it as they came upon the place, move_leetly and quietly to Cleek's side, and then as quietly slipped round behin_im into the shade of the trees.
  • "All right, gov'ner," he whispered softly. "Over to the left there. Give yo_he signal the minute I spotted her. Lie low, all of you. Here she comes!"
  • "Here who comes?" Ailsa and Geoff spoke in concert.
  • "Lord, I dunno, miss," replied Dollops in a whisper. "Gov'ner said, 'Loo_harp for a lady in white, and "cuckoo" when she appears.' Dunno no more tha_hat."
  • Ailsa flashed round and looked at Cleek.
  • "Yes, Miss Lorne," he said, answering that look. "Lady Katharine Fordham! Sh_id steal out of the house last night, and— Loisette is right. The mirror o_o-night, reflecting the counterpart of yesterday, is duplicating events. He_adyship is stealing out of the house again, and on the selfsame mission: t_isit Gleer Cottage. She will certainly wear a cloak, though not an ermin_ne, to-night. I looked out to see that one was placed in the anteroom, t_ake sure of that. Quiet, quiet, all of you! Not a sound, not a breath! Loo_harp! You'll see her presently!"
  • They saw her even then. Of a sudden a footstep sounded, the rustle of move_eaves disturbed the stillness, then the figure of Lady Katharine rounded th_ngle of the ruin, and advanced toward them with great deliberation. A lon_ark cloak covered her almost to the feet, the hood of it being drawn up ove_er head until its loose frill framed her face; but it was easy to see, as sh_dvanced, that under that cloak she wore a gown of white satin and slipper_ith sparkling buckles on the toes. She came into view so suddenly, and wa_alking so rapidly, that she was upon them almost as they saw her, walkin_traight to them, walking straight by them, within touch of them, yet seemin_ot to care or even to notice, and taking the path which led to the stabl_ate, to the waste land beyond, and thence to Gleer Cottage. It was then, whe_he had deliberately walked past them, then, and then only, that Ails_nderstood.
  • "Dear God!" she said in a shaking whisper as she plucked at Cleek's sleeve.
  • "She does not know, she does not understand. She is asleep, Mr. Cleek!"
  • "Yes," he made answer. "You know now why she looked so haggard and weary thi_orning, despite her assurance that she had slept well. Poor little woman;
  • poor unhappy little woman! A sleep-walker, Clavering—and going back where he_eart leads her: to the cottage where she had often spent those happier day_hen she was so sure of love and of you!"