The Dark House, by George Manville Fenn.
It would be hard to praise this book highly enough. It is in essence a murder and detection mystery, the sort of thing that great mid-twentieth century writers like Agatha Christie wrote so well. This is a quite masterly book, a short one at that, a book full of suspense and surprises. Unusual to find such a book dating from the 19th century!
An extremely wealthy but reclusive man has died, leaving an eccentric will which hints at great riches hidden somewhere in the house. Most of the people at the reading of the will did not know the deceased in person, but had received kindnesses from him, for instance by the payment of school and university fees. The principal beneficiary, a great-nephew, also did not know him. The only two people who really knew him were the old lawyer who dealt with his affairs, and an old Indian servant. Yet when the will had been read, and they all went to where the treasure—gold, jewels and bank-notes—were supposed to be hidden, nothing could be found.
There are an unusual number of deaths, by murder and in self-defence, as the story unfolds, and we are left in total suspense until the very end of the very last chapter. The person who works out where the treasure must be, and how it got there, does not come on the scene until almost the last chapter, and even then he has to go on business to America before he can come in and explain his theory, which proves to be right.
This book makes an excellent audiobook, and you will certainly like it.
THE DARK HOUSE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
NUMBER 9A, ALBEMARLE SQUARE.
"Don't drink our sherry, Charles?"
Mr Preenham, the butler, stood by the table in the gloomy servants' hall, as if he had received a shock.
"No, sir; I took 'em up the beer at first, and they shook their heads and asked for wine, and when I took 'em the sherry they shook their heads again, and the one who speaks English said they want key-aunty."
"Well, all I have got to say," exclaimed the portly cook, "is, that if I had known what was going to take place, I wouldn't have stopped an hour after the old man died. It's wicked! And something awful will happen, as sure as my name's Thompson."
"Don't say that, Mrs Thompson," said the mild-looking butler. "It is very dreadful, though."
"Dreadful isn't the word. Are we ancient Egyptians? I declare, ever since them Hightalians have been in the house, going about like three dark conspirators in a play, I've had the creeps. I say, it didn't ought to be allowed."
"What am I to say to them, sir?" said the footman, a strongly built man, with shifty eyes and quickly twitching lips.
"Well, look here, Charles," said the butler, slowly wiping his mouth with his hand, "We have no Chianti wine. You must take them a bottle of Chambertin."
"My!" ejaculated cook.
"It's Mr Girtle's orders. They've come here straight from Paris on purpose, and they are to have everything they want."
The butler left the gloomy room, and Mrs Thompson, a stout lady, who moved only when she was obliged, turned to the thin, elderly housemaid.
"Mark my words, Ann," she said. "It's contr'y to nature, and it'll bring a curse."
"Well," said the woman, "it can't make the house more dull than it has been."
"I don't know," said the cook.
"I never see a house before where there was no need to shut the shutters and pull down the blinds because some one's dead."
"Well, it is a gloomy place, Ann, but we've done all these years most as we liked. One meal a day and the rest at his club, and never any company. There ain't many places like that."
"No," sighed Ann. "I suppose we shall all have to go."
"Oh, I don't know, my dear. Mr Ramo says he thinks master's left all his money to his great nephew, Mr Capel, and may be he'll have the house painted up and the rooms cleaned, and keep lots of company. An' he may marry this Miss Dungeon—ain't her name?"
"D'E-n-g-h-i-e-n," said the housemaid, spelling it slowly. "I don't know what you call it. She's very handsome, but so orty. I like Miss Lawrence. Only to think, master never seeing a soul, and living all these years in this great shut-up house, and then, as soon as the breath's out of his body, all these relatives turning up."
"Where the carcase is, there the eagles are gathered together," said cook, solemnly.
"Oh, don't talk like that, cook."
"You're not obliged to listen, my dear," said cook, rubbing her knees gently.
"I declare, it's been grievous to me," continued the housemaid, "all those beautiful rooms, full of splendid furniture, and one not allowed to do more than keep 'em just clean. Not a blind drawn up, or a window opened. It's always been as if there was a funeral in the house. Think master was crossed in love?"
"No. Not he. Mr Ramo said that master was twice over married to great Indian princesses, abroad. I s'pose they left him all their money. Oh, here is Mr Ramo!"
The door had opened, and a tall, thin old Hindoo, with piercing dark eyes and wrinkled brown face, came softly in. He was dressed in a long, dark, red silken cassock, that seemed as if woven in one piece, and fitted his spare form rather closely from neck to heel; a white cloth girdle was tied round his waist, and for sole ornament there were a couple of plain gold rings in his ears.
As he entered he raised his thin, largely-veined brown hands to his closely-cropped head, half making the native salaam, and then, said in good English:
"Mr Preenham not here?"
"He'll be back directly, Mr Ramo," said the cook. "There, there, do sit down, you look worn out."
The Hindoo shook his head and walked to the window, which looked out into an inner area.
At that moment the butler entered, and the Hindoo turned to him quickly, and laid his hand upon his arm.
"There, there, don't fret about it, Mr Ramo," said the butler. "It's what we must all come to—some day."
"Yes, but this, this," said the Hindoo, in a low, excited voice. "Is— is it right?"
The butler was silent for a few moments.
"Well," he said at last, "it's right, and its wrong, as you may say. It's master's own orders, for there it was in his own handwriting in his desk. 'Instructions for my solicitor.' Mr Girtle showed it me, being an old family servant."
"Yes, yes—he showed it to me."
"Oh, it was all there," continued the butler. "Well, as I was saying, it's right so far; but it's wrong, because it's not like a Christian burial."
"No, no," cried the Hindoo, excitedly. "Those men—they make me mad. I cannot bear it. Look!" he cried, "he should have died out in my country, where we would have laid him on sweet scented woods, and baskets of spices and gums, and there, where the sun shines and the palm trees wave, I, his old servant, would have fired the pile, and he would have risen up in the clouds of smoke, and among the pure clear flames of fire, till nothing but the ashes was left. Yes, yes, that would have been his end," he cried, with flashing eyes, as he seemed to mentally picture the scene; "and then thy servant could have died with thee. Oh, Sahib, Sahib, Sahib!"
He clasped his hands together, the fire died from his eyes, which became suffused with tears, and as he uttered the last word thrice in a low moaning voice, he stood rocking himself to and fro.
The two women looked horrified and shuddered, but the piteous grief was magnetic, and in the deep silence that fell they began to sob; while the butler blew his nose softly, coughed, and at last laid his hand upon the old servant's shoulder.
"Shake hands, Mr Ramo," he said huskily. "Fifteen years you and me's been together, and if we haven't hit it as we might, well, it was only natural, me being an Englishman and you almost a black; but it's this as brings us all together, natives and furreners, and all. He was a good master, God bless him! and I'm sorry he's gone."
The old Indian looked up at him half wonderingly for a few moments. Then, taking the extended hand in both of his, he held it for a time, and pressed it to his heart, dropped it, and turned to go.
"Won't you take something, Mr Ramo?"
"No—no!" said the Indian, shaking his head, and he glided softly out of the servants' hall, went silently, in his soft yellow leather slippers, down a long passage and up a flight of stone stairs, to pass through a glass door, and stand in the large gloomy hall, in the middle of one of the marble squares that turned the floor into a vast chess-board, round which the giant pieces seemed to be waiting to commence the game.
For the faint light that came through the thick ground-glass fanlight over the great double doors was diffused among black bronze statues and white marble figures of Greek and Roman knights. In one place, seated meditatively, with hands resting upon the knees, there was an Indian god, seeming to watch the floor. In another, a great Japanese warrior, while towards the bottom of the great winding staircase, whose stone steps were covered with heavy dark carpet, was a marble, that imagination might easily have taken for a queen.
Here and there the panelled walls were ornamented with stands of Indian arms and armour, conical helmets, once worn by Eastern chiefs, with pendent curtains, and suits of chain mail. Bloodthirsty daggers, curved scimitars, spears, clumsy matchlocks, and long straight swords, whose hilt was an iron gauntlet, in which the warrior's fingers were laced as they grasped a handle placed at right angles to the blade, after the fashion of a spade. There were shields, too, and bows and arrows, and tulwars and kukris, any number of warlike implements from the East, while beside the statues, the West had to show some curious chairs, and a full-length portrait of an Englishman in the prime of life—a handsome, bold-faced man, in the uniform of one of John Company's regiments, his helmet in his hand, and his breast adorned with orders and jewels of foreign make.
The old Indian servant stood there like one of the statues, as the dining-room door opened and three dark, closely-shaven and moustached men, in black, came out softly, and went silently up the stairs.
There was something singularly furtive and strange about them as they followed one another in silence, all three alike in their dress coats and turned-down white collars, beneath which was a narrow strip of ribbon, knotted in front.
They passed on and on up the great winding stairs, past the drawing-room, from whence came the low buzz of voices, to a door at the back of the house, beside a great stained-glass window, whose weird lights shone down upon a lion-skin rug.
Here the first man stopped for his companions, to reach his side. Then, whispering a few words to them, he took a key from his pocket, opened the door, withdrew the key, and entered the darkened room, closing and locking the door, as the old Indian crept softly up, sank upon his knees upon the skin rug, his hands clasped, his head bent down, and resting against the panels of the door.
THE DEAD MAN'S RELATIVES.
"I can tell you very little, Mr Capel. I have been your great uncle's confidential solicitor ever since he returned from India. I was a mere boy when he went away. He knew me then, and when he came back he sought me out."
"And that is twenty-five years ago, Mr Girtle?"
"Yes. The year you were born."
"And he made you his confidant?"
"Yes; he gave me his confidence, as far as I think he gave it to any man."
"And did he always live in this way?"
"Always. He filled up the house with the vast collection of curiosities and things that he had been sending home for years, and I expected that he would entertain, and lead the life of an English gentleman; but no, the house has been closed for twenty-five years."
Mr Girtle, a clean-shaven old gentleman, with yellow face, dark, restless eyes and bright grey hair, took a pinch of snuff from a handsome gold box, flicked a few grains from his white shirt-front, and said "Hah."
"Had my uncle met with any great disappointment?" said the first speaker, a frank-looking man with closely curling brown hair, and a high, white forehead.
"What, to make him take to this strange life? Oh, no. He was peculiar, but not unhappy. He liked to be alone, but he was always bright and cheerful at his club."
"You met him there, then?" said a fresh voice, and a handsome, dark young fellow, who had been leaning back in an easy chair in the dim drawing-room, sat up quickly, playing with his little black moustache.
"Oh, yes! I used to dine with Colonel Capel when we had business to transact."
"But, here you say he led the life of a miser!" continued the young man, crossing his legs, and examining the toe of his patent leather boot.
"I beg your pardon, Mr Gerard Artis, I did not say that. Your great uncle was no miser. He spent money freely, sometimes, in charities. Yes," he continued, turning to where two ladies were seated. "Colonel Capel was often very charitable."
"I never saw his name in any charitable list," said the darker of the two ladies, speaking in a sweet, silvery voice; and her beautiful regular features seemed to attract both the previous speakers.
"No, Miss D'Enghien, I suppose not," said the old man, nodding his head and rising to begin walking up and down, snuff-box in hand. "Neither did I. But he was very charitable in his own particular way, and he was very kind."
"Yes," said the young man who had first spoken; "very kind. I have him to thank for my school and college education."
"Well—yes," said the old lawyer; "I suppose it is no breach of confidence to say that it is so."
"And I have to thank him for mine, and the pleasant life I have led, Mr Girtle, have I not?" said the second of the ladies; and, but for the gloom, the flush that came into her sweet face would have been plainly visible.
At that moment the footman entered with a letter upon a massive salver, and as he walked straight to the old lawyer, he cast quick, furtive glances at the other occupants of the room.
"A note, eh?" said the old solicitor, balancing his gold-rimmed glasses upon his nose; "um—um—yes, exactly—very delicate of them to write. Tell them I will see them shortly, Charles."
The footman bowed, and was retiring as silently as he came over the soft carpet, when he was checked by the old solicitor.
"You will tell Mr Preenham to see that these gentlemen have every attention."
The footman left the room almost without a sound, for the door was opened and closed noiselessly. The only thing that broke the terrible silence that seemed to reign was the faint clink of the silver tray against one of the metal buttons of the man's coat. As for the magnificently furnished room, with its heavy curtains and drawn-down blinds, it seemed to have grown darker, so that the faint gleams of light that had hung in a dull way on the faces of the great mirrors and the gilded carving of console and cheffonier, had died out. It required no great effort of the imagination to believe that the influence of the dead man who had passed so many solitary years in that shut-up house was still among them, making itself felt with a weight from which they could not free themselves.
Paul Capel looked across at the beautiful face of Katrine D'Enghien, thinking of her creole extraction, and the half French, half American father who had married his relative. He expected to see her looking agitated as her cousin, Lydia Lawrence, but she sat back with one arm gracefully hanging over the side of the chair, her lustrous eyes half closed; and a pang strongly akin to jealousy shot through him as it seemed that those eyes were resting on the young elegant at his side.
"Yes," said the old solicitor, suddenly, and his voice made all start but Miss D'Enghien, who did not even move her eyelids; "as I was saying," he went on, tapping his snuff-box, "I can tell you very little, Mr Capel, until the will is read."
"Then there is a will?" said Miss D'Enghien.
The old lawyer's brows wrinkled, as he glanced at her in surprise.
"Yes, my dear young lady, there is a will."
"And it will be read, of course, directly after the funeral?" said the dark young man.
The lawyer did not reply.
"I suppose you think it's bad form of a man asking such questions now; but really, Mr Girtle, it would be worse form for a fellow to be pulling a long face about one he never saw."
"But he was your father's friend."
"Oh, yes, of course."
"Hence you, sir, are here," continued the lawyer. "My instructions were clear enough. I was to invite you here at this painful time, and take my old friend's place as your host."
"You have been most kind, Mr Girtle," said Miss D'Enghien.
"I thank you, madam, and I grieve that you should have to be present at so painful a time. My next instructions were to send for the Italian professor, who is here to carry out the wishes of the deceased."
"Horrible idea for a man to wish to be embalmed," said Artis, brutally.
Lydia Lawrence shuddered, and turned away her face. Paul Capel glanced indignantly at the speaker, and then turned to gaze at Katrine D'Enghien, who sat perfectly unmoved, her hand still hanging from the side of the chair, as if to show the graceful contour of her arm.
"Colonel Capel had been a great part of his life in the East, Mr Artis," said the old lawyer, coldly. "He had had the matter in his mind for some time."
"How do you know that?"
"By the date on my instructions, which also contained the Italian professor's card."
"And I suppose we shall have a very eccentric will, sir."
"Yes," said the lawyer quietly, "a very eccentric will."
"Come, that's refreshing," said the young man with a fidgetty movement. "Well, you are not very communicative, Mr Girtle. You family solicitors are as close as your deed boxes."
"Yes," said the old lawyer, closing his gold snuff-box with a loud snap.
"Well, come, it can be no breach of confidence to tell us when the funeral is to be?"
The old lawyer took a turn or two up and down the room, snuff-box in hand, the bright metal glistening as he swung his hand to and fro. Then he stopped short, and said slowly:
"The successor to Colonel Capel's enormous property will inherit under extremely peculiar conditions, duly set forth in the will it will be my duty to read to you."
"After the funeral?" said Gerard Artis.
"No, sir; there will be no funeral."
"No funeral!" exclaimed Artis and Paul Capel in a breath, and then they rose to their feet, startled more than they would have cared to own, for at that moment a strange wild cry seemed to come from the staircase, followed by a heavy crash.
"Good Heavens!" cried the old lawyer, dropping his snuff-box.
Katrine D'Enghien alone remained unmoved, with her head turned towards the door.
ONE GUARDIAN OF THE TREASURE.
Paul Capel was the first to recover from the surprise, and to hurry from the darkened room, followed by Artis and the late Colonel's solicitor, though it was into no blaze of light, for the staircase was equally gloomy.
The source of the strange noise was not far to seek, for, as they reached the landing, they became aware that a fierce struggle was going on in the direction of the room occupied by the late Colonel, and hurrying there, it was to find two men locked together, one of whom was succeeding in holding the other down, and wresting his neck from the sinewy hands which had torn off his white cravat.
"Why, Charles! Ramo!" exclaimed Mr Girtle, in the midst of the hoarse, panting sounds uttered by the contending men.
"He's mad!" cried the former, in a high-pitched tone, in which a man's rage was mingled with a schoolboy's whimpering fear. "He's mad, sir. He tried to strangle me."
"Thief! dog!" panted the old Hindoo, with his dark features convulsed with passion. "Wanted—rob—his master!"
The two young men had separated the combatants, who now stood up, the footman, his vest and shirt torn open, and his coat dragged half off— the old man with one sleeve of his dark silk robe gone, and the back rent to the waist, while there was a fierce, vindictive look in his working features, as he had to be held to keep him from closing with the footman again.
"What does this mean, Charles?" cried Mr Girtle, as the butler and the other servants came hurrying up, while the three Italians also stood upon the landing, looking wonderingly on.
"If you please, sir, I don't know," said the footman, in an ill-used tone. "I was just going by the Colonel's door, and I thought, as was very natural, that I should like to see what these gentlemen had done, when Mr Ramo sprang at me like a wild cat."
"No, no!" cried the old Indian, whose English in his rage and excitement was less distinct, "a thief—come to rob—my dear lord—a thief!"
"I hope, sir," said the footman, growing calmer and looking in an injured way at Mr Girtle, "you know me better than that, sir. Mr Preenham here will tell you I've cleaned the plate regular all the ten years I've been here."
The old solicitor turned to the butler.
"Yes, sir; Charles's duty has been to clean the plate, but it is in my charge, and I have kept the strictest account of it. A little disposed to show temper, sometimes, sir, but strictly honest and very clean."
"This is a very sad and unseemly business at such a time," said Mr Girtle. "Ramo, you have made a mistake."
"No, no!" cried the old Indian, wrathfully.
"Come, come," said Mr Girtle; "be reasonable."
"The police," panted the old Indian. "Send for the police."
"All right," cried Charles, defiantly; "send for the police and let 'em search me."
"Silence!" cried Mr Girtle. "Go down and arrange your dress, sir. Mr Capel, young ladies, will you return to the drawing-room? Signori, will you retire? That will do, Preenham. Leave Ramo to me."
In another minute the old solicitor was left with Ramo, who stood beneath the dim stained-glass window, with his arms folded and his brow knit.
"You do not trust and believe me, sir?"
"Don't talk nonsense, Ramo. You know I trust you as the most faithful fellow in the world."
He held out his hand as he spoke, but the old Indian remained motionless for the moment; then, seizing the hand extended to him, he bent over it, holding it to his breast.
"My dear lord's old friend," he said.
"That's better, Ramo," said Mr Girtle. "Now, go and change your dress."
"No, no!" cried the old man. "I must watch."
"Nonsense, man. Don't think that every one who comes means to rob."
"But I do," cried the old Indian, in a whisper. "They think of what we know—you and I only. Those foreign men—the servants."
"You must not be so suspicious, Ramo. It will be all right."
"It will not be all right, Sahib," cried the old Indian. "Think of what there is in yonder."
"But we have the secret, Ramo."
"Yes—yes; but suppose there were others who knew the secret—who had heard of it. Sahib, I will be faithful to the dead."
The old Indian drew himself up with dignity, and took his place once more before the door.
"It has been shocking," whispered the Indian. "I have been driven away, while those foreign men did what they pleased in there. It was maddening. Ah!"
He clapped his hands to his head.
"What now, Ramo?"
"Those three men! Suppose—"
He caught at his companion's arm, whispered a few words, and they entered the darkened room, from which, as the door opened and closed, a peculiar aromatic odour floated out.
As the door was closed the sound of a bolt being shot inside was heard, and directly after the face of Charles, the footman, appeared from the gloom below. He came up the stairs rapidly, glanced round and stepped softly to the closed door, where he bent down, listening.
As he stood in the recess the gloom was so great that he was almost invisible, save his face, while just beyond him a large group in bronze, of a club-armed centaur, seemed to have the crouching man as part of the artist's design, the centaur being, apparently, about to strike him down, while, to give realism to the scene, a dull red glow from the stained-glass window fell across his forehead.
As he listened there, his ear to the key-hole and his eyes watchfully wandering up and down the staircase, a dull and smothered clang was heard as if in the distance, like the closing of some heavy iron door. Then there was a louder sound, with a quick, short report, as if a powerful spring had been set in motion and shot home. Then a door seemed to be closed and locked, and the man glided quickly over the soft, thick carpet—melting away, as it were, in the gloom.
The door opened and, from the darkness within, Mr Girtle and the old Indian stepped slowly out, bringing with them a soft, warm puff of the aromatic odour, and, as they grew more distinct in the faint light of the stained-glass window, everything was so still in the great house that there was a strange unreality about them, fostered by the silence of their tread.
"There, now you are satisfied," said the old lawyer, gently. "Go and change your robe."
The Indian shook his head.
"I will stay till your return inside the room."
"Inside?" said the Indian.
"Yes—why not? You and I have reached the time of life when death has ceased to have terrors. He is only taking the sleep that comes to all."
There was a gentle sadness in the lawyer's voice, and then, turning the handle of the door, he opened it and stood looking back.
"You will not be long," he said. "They are waiting for me in the drawing-room."
The door closed just as the old Indian made a step forward to follow. Then he stood with his hands clenched and eyes starting listening intently, while the centaur's club seemed to be quivering in the gloom, ready to crush him down.
The old man raised his hand to the door—let it fall—raised it again— let it fall—turned to go—started back—and then, as if fighting hard with himself, he turned once more, and with an activity not to be expected in one of his years, bounded up the staircase and disappeared.
Ten minutes had not elapsed before he seemed to come silently out of the gloom again, and was half-way to the door, when there was a faint creak from below, as if from a rusty hinge.
The old man stopped short, crouching down by the balustrade, listening, his eyes shining in the dim twilight; but no other sound was heard, and he rose quickly, ran softly down, and with trembling hands opened the door.
Mr Girtle came slowly out, looking sad and depressed, and laid his hand upon the Indian's shoulder.
"You mean to watch, then," he said.
The Indian nodded quickly, his eyes gazing searchingly at the lawyer the while.
"Are you going in, or here?"
"My place was at the Sahib's door."
"Good!" said the solicitor, bowing his head; and he returned to the drawing-room, Ramo watching him suspiciously till the door closed.
As he stood there, the dusky tint of the robe he now wore seemed to lend itself to the surrounding gloom, being almost invisible against the portal, as he remained there with his fingers nervously quivering, and his face drawn by the agitation of his breast.
He shook his head violently the next moment, clasped his hands together, and sank down once more upon the lion-skin mat, bent to the very floor, more like some rounded mass than a human being: while the great centaur was indistinctly seen, with his raised club, as if about to repeat the blow that had crushed the old Indian into a motionless heap.
THE LAWYER'S TIN BOX.
"This has been a terrible week, Katrine," said Lydia Lawrence, taking her cousin's hand.
"Do you think so?"
"Oh, yes. I have not your sang froid. I would give anything to go back to the country."
"I have been curious to know all about the will. That old man has been maddening. He might have spoken."
"But his instructions, clear. The will was to be read after he had lain there a week."
"Lain in state," said Katrine, with a curl of her lip. "With a savage crouching on a lion-skin at his door like some dog. Pah! It is absurd. More like a scent in a French play than a bit of nineteenth century life."
"I felt greatly relieved when those dreadful men had gone."
"What, the Italian professors? Pooh! what a child you are. I did not mind."
Lydia gazed at her with a feeling of shrinking wonder, and there was something almost fierce in the beautiful eyes, as Katrine sat there by one of the tables of the ill-lit drawing-room, the two pairs of wax candles in old-fashioned silver sticks seeming to emit but a feeble light, and but for the warm glow of the fire, the great room would have been sombre in the extreme.
"What time is it, Lydia? There, don't start like that. What a kitten you are."
"You spoke so suddenly, dear. It is half-past ten."
"Only half-past ten. Nearly an hour and a half before the play begins. I wish we had kept the tea things."
"Pray don't speak so lightly, Katrine."
"I can't help it. It is so absurd for the old man to have left instructions for all this meretricious romance to surround his end. As for old Girtle, he seems to delight in it, and goes about the house rubbing his hands like an undertaker."
"Well, he does. Will read at half-past eleven at night on the tenth day after the old man's death. It is absurd. Ah, well, I suppose a millionaire has a right to be eccentric, if he likes."
"Dear Katrine, he was always so good."
"Good! Bah! What did he ever do for me? He hated my branch of the family, and our Creole blood. As if the D'Enghiens were not a fine old French family before the Capels were heard of."
"I will speak. I was dragged here to be present at this mummery, to have for my share a hundred pounds to buy mourning, and I vow I'll spend it in Chinese mourning, and wear yellow instead of black. Why don't those men come up instead of sitting smoking in that dining-room and leaving us alone in this mausoleum of a place? Here, ring, and send for them; I'm getting nervous, too. I'm catching it from you—weak little baby that you are."
At that moment the door opened, and the two young men entered to go up to them, both speaking to Lydia, and then drawing their chairs nearer to Katrine.
"Are you nearly ready for the play, Mr Capel?" she said, after a time.
"The play!" he exclaimed.
"Yes; the curtain will rise directly. How do you feel, Gerard?"
"Oh, I don't know. I want to hear how many chips the old boy has left me. Deuced glad to get out of this tomb. I say, would you mind me lighting a cigar?"
"I don't mind," said Katrine, lightly.
"Would you mind, Miss Lawrence?"
"Mind—your smoking—here?" said Lydia hastily. "I—I don't think I should, but—"
"No, no," said Capel; "it is impossible. For heaven's sake, pay a little respect to the ladies, if you cannot to the dead."
Artis started to his feet.
"Look here, Paul Capel," he cried angrily; "you have taken upon yourself several times since I have been locked-up here with you to use confoundedly offensive language to me. How dare you speak to me like that?"
"Dare?" cried Capel, rising. "Pooh!" he ejaculated, throwing himself back, and glancing at Katrine, whose eyes seemed to flash with eager pleasure, while Lydia half rose, with extended hands; "I am forgetting myself."
Lydia sank back with a sigh, while Katrine's eyes flashed, and her lip curled.
"Forgetting yourself!" cried Artis. "By Jove, sir, you've done nothing else! I suppose you expect to have all the old man's money, but we shall see."
"Don't be alarmed, Miss Lawrence," said Capel, smiling. "I am not going to quarrel. Ah, here is Mr Girtle."
The door opened, and Charles entered, with two more lighted candles, one in each hand, preceding Mr Girtle, who came in bearing a large tin deed box. This he slowly proceeded to place upon the carpet beside a small table, on which Charles deposited the candlesticks.
"I think I am punctual," said the lawyer, taking his old gold watch from his fob, and replacing it with a nod. "Yes, nearly half-past eleven. Charles, will you summon all the servants. I think everyone is mentioned in the will," he added, as Charles left the room. "You will excuse all formalities. I am strictly obeying instructions as to time and place."
The old gentleman took a jingling bunch of keys from his pocket, bent down and opened the tin box, from which he took out a square folded parchment, crossed with broad green ribbons, and bearing a great seal.
This he laid upon the table before him, and sinking back in his chair, proceeded to deliberately take snuff. A dead silence reigned, and, in spite of himself, Paul Capel felt agitated, and sought from time to time to catch Katrine's eye; while Lydia looked from one to the other sadly, and Gerard Artis lay back in his chair.
The door once more opened, and the servants filed in, led by Preenham, the butler, Ramo coming last, to stand with his arms folded and his head bent down upon his chest.
"Be seated," said Mr Girtle; and his voice sounded solemn and strange.
There was a rustling as the servants sat down in a row near the door, Ramo doubling his legs beneath him, and crouching on the floor.
"The last will and testament of John Arthur Capel, late Colonel in the Honourable East India Company's Service, Special Commissioner with her Highness the Ranee of Illahad; Resident at the court of her Highness the Begum of Rahahbad!"
So read the confidential solicitor and friend of the deceased, in a husky voice, his gold-rimmed glasses helping him to decipher the brown writing or endorsement of the yellow parchment. Then he continued:—
"I have followed out the instructions of the deceased to the letter, so far; and now, in continuance of these instructions, in your presence, I proceed to break this seal."
THE READING OF THE WILL.
There was a peculiar rustle in the gloomy room, a faint sound as of catching of the breath, and above all the sharp crackle of the broken wax as the seal was demolished, and the green ribbon thrown aside.
Then after a prefatory Hem! the old lawyer proceeded to read the will, which was in the customary form, and began with a series of bequests to the old and faithful servants of the house, in respect of whose services, and so that there should be no jealous feeling as to amounts, he left each the sum of five hundred pounds free of duty, and ten pounds to each to buy mourning.
"To my old and faithful servant, companion, and friend,"—read on the solicitor—"Ramo Ali Jee, two hundred and fifty pounds per annum for the rest of his natural life; the same to be secured in Three-per-cent Consols, reverting at his death as hereinafter stated."
Ramo did not move or utter a word.
"To my old friend and adviser, Joshua Girtle, of the Inner Temple, the plain gold signet ring on the fourth finger of my left hand."
Then followed a few more minor bequests, and instructions of a very simple nature, ending one long paragraph in the will; and as Mr Girtle removed his glasses, and proceeded deliberately to wipe them, the servants took advantage of the gloom where they sat to give each other a congratulatory shake of the hand.
"I now come to the important bequests," said Mr Girtle, rebalancing his glasses in his calm deliberate way.
"To Katrine Leveillee D'Enghien, daughter of my niece, Harriet D'Enghien, formerly Capel, the gold bangle presented to me by the Ranee, and one hundred pounds, free of duty, to buy mourning."
"There, what did I tell you?" said Katrine, in a low, sweet voice, as she smiled at her companions.
"To Gerard Artis, son of my cousin, William Artis," read on Mr Girtle, in the same monotonous, unmoved way; and then he stopped to draw one of the candles forward in front of the parchment.
The young man shifted his position uneasily, and drew in his breath quickly as he thought of the testator's immense wealth, and glanced at Katrine.
"I shall not get all," he thought, "for he will leave something to Paul Capel."
Then, after what seemed an age of suspense, the old solicitor went on:
"The sum of one hundred pounds, free of duty, to buy mourning."
There was a death-like stillness as the lawyer paused.
"Go on, sir, go on," cried Artis, in a harsh voice.
"To Lydia Alicia—"
"No, no, finish the bequest to me."
"I did, sir. One hundred pounds to buy mourning."
"What? Treat me worse than his servants?"
"I believe, Mr Artis, if you will excuse me, that a testator has a perfect right to do what he likes with his own."
"Then you influenced him," cried Artis furiously. "I shall dispute the will."
The old gentleman smiled.
"Influenced my old friend to leave me his signet ring, eh, Mr Artis? No, sir, the will was written by Colonel Capel himself, and afterwards transferred to parchment. If you will allow me. I will proceed."
"I shall dispute the will. I say so at once," cried Artis, "that there may be no mistake. One hundred pounds each to Miss D'Enghien and myself! It is absurd, paltry, pitiful."
"You never saw the testator, Mr Artis?"
"Neither did you, Miss D'Enghien?"
"I? Oh no."
"He told me himself," continued the old lawyer, "that he had never seen either Miss Lawrence or Mr Paul Capel."
Lydia murmured an assent.
"No," said Capel, who felt a curious oppression at the chest, "I never saw my great uncle. I never even heard from or wrote to him."
"May I ask why?"
"I knew he was reported to be immensely rich, and—well, I felt that he might think I was trying to curry favour."
"Let me see, Mr Artis, I think the deceased did pay your debts?"
"Is this meant for an insult, sir?"
"No, sir; it was a business-like defence of my old friend's memory. To proceed:—
"To Lydia Alicia Lawrence, my grand-niece, twenty-five thousand pounds, free of duty, the same to be invested in Consols, and if she marries, to be secured by marriage settlements to herself and children."
There was a buzz of congratulation here, as the old solicitor once more wiped his glasses and arranged them and the candles, while, in spite of his endeavours to preserve his calmness, Paul Capel, the only one present yet unmentioned, felt the oppression increasing, and the air in the great gloomy room seemed to have become thick and hard to breathe.
He was as if in a dream as the lawyer went on:
"To Paul Capel, son of my nephew, Paul Capel, I leave my freehold house and furniture, library, plate, pictures, statues, bronzes, and curios, conditionally that the house be kept during his lifetime in the same state as it is in now.
"Conditionally, also, that my body, after embalming, according to my instructions, be carried into the room leading out of my bedroom, and placed in the iron receptacle I had specially constructed, without religious rite or ceremony of any kind. I have tried to make my peace with my Creator; to Him I leave the rest. This done, the iron chamber to be locked in the presence of the said Paul Capel, who shall take the key. The doorway shall then be built-up with blocks of stone similar to those of which I had the room built, a sufficiency of which are stored up in cellar Number 4, sealed with my seal.
"And I here solemnly bind my heir and successor to observe exactly these my commands, that my body may rest undisturbed in my old home, under penalty of forfeiture of the said freehold as above named."
"He must have been mad," said Artis, in an audible voice.
"And as I, being now in full possession of my senses," continued Mr Girtle, slightly raising his voice, "know that this is a strange and arduous burden to lay upon my heir in chief, though I have taken such precautions that in a short time my presence in the house may entirely be forgotten, I give and bequeath to him for his sole use and enjoyment—and in the hope that with the help and advice of my old friend, Joshua Girtle, he will sensibly invest, and sell and invest—the Russian leather case containing Bank of England notes amounting to five hundred thousand pounds."
Artis drew a long breath through his teeth; Katrine D'Enghien leaned forward, with her beautiful eyes fixed on Paul Capel; Lydia sank back in her seat with a feeling of misery she could not have explained seeming to crush her; while Paul Capel sat now unmoved.
"And," continued the old lawyer, "the flat silver case containing the diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds, bequeathed to me by my mistresses, the Ranee of Illahad and Begum of Rahahbad, valued at one million sterling, more or less. These cases are in the steel chest in the iron chamber in which my coffin is to be placed when the cases are taken out, the keys of which, and the secret of the lock, being known only to my old friend, Joshua Girtle, whom I constitute my sole executor, and my old friend and servant, Ramo, whom I commend to the care of my grand-nephew, the said Paul Capel.
"Furthermore, the remainder of the sum of fifty thousand pounds in Consols, after providing for the payments hereinbefore stated as legacies, I desire my executor to distribute in twenty equal sums to as many deserving charities as he may select."
The reading of the rest of the document occupied scarcely a couple of minutes, and then the old solicitor rose. The servants slowly left the room, making a detour so as to bow and courtesy to the Colonel's heir, Ramo last—furtively watching Charles—to go slowly to the young man's side, bow reverently, take his hand, and kiss it, saying softly the one word:
"Don't go, Ramo," said Mr Girtle; and the old Indian slowly backed into the corner by the door, where he stood nearly invisible, waiting until such time as he should be called upon to give up his share of the secret of the chamber beyond the dead man's room.
A FIT OF GENEROSITY.
"Mr Paul Capel," said the old solicitor, "allow me to add my congratulations, and my hope that your fortune may prove a blessing."
"But it is like a dream—a romance," cried Paul Capel. "All that wealth here—in this house! I wonder that he was not robbed."
"My old friend took great precautions against that," said Mr Girtle. "As you will see, it was impossible for any one to have stolen the valuables and notes."
"But ought not this money to have been banked?"
"Of course—or invested. I have told him so, often; but he used to say he preferred to keep it as it was. He had plenty for his wants and charities. Your uncle was an eccentric man, Mr Capel; there is no denying that."
"Eccentric!" cried Artis. "Mad. Well, I give you all warning. I shall take action, and throw it into chancery."
He walked to the end of the room, and Paul Capel looked after him uneasily as he saw Katrine follow.
"You foolish boy!" she whispered; "am not I as badly used as you? Be patient. Wait."
"What do you mean?" he whispered, hastily.
She looked full in his eyes, and he tried to read the mystery in their depths, but without avail.
"Why don't you speak?" he cried.
"Some things are better left unspoken," she replied. "Don't be rash."
"I'll wait." he whispered, "if you wish it."
"I do wish it. Take no notice of what I say or do. Promise me that."
"Promise me you will not make me jealous, and I'll wait."
"But maybe I shall make you jealous," she said. "Still, you know me. Wait."
"I'm sorry for one thing, Mr Girtle," said Paul Capel, while this was going on.
"May I ask what that is?"
"Oh, yes. Your simple bequest of a ring. Will you—you will not be offended, Mr Girtle—out of this immense wealth allow me to make you some suitable—"
"Stop," said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon the speaker's arm. "My old friend wished to leave me a large sum, but I chose that ring in preference. Thank you all the same, my dear young friend, and I beg you will count upon me for help."
"Well, then, there is something I should like to do at once. Look here, Mr Girtle—a million and a half—"
"With its strange burden."
"Oh, I don't mind that. I want to do something over this money. Miss Lawrence is well provided for, but Miss D'Enghien—"
"Well, you had better marry her."
"Do—do you mean that?"
"No," said the old man, sternly; "I do not."
"There is Mr Artis, too. I should like—"
"To find him in funds to carry on a legal war against you for what he would call his rights. My dear Mr Capel, may I, as lawyer, give you a bit of advice?"
"Certainly; I ask it of you."
Capel drew back as the old gentleman proceeded to fold the will and lay it with other papers in the tin box, while Ramo, standing alone in the gloom, with folded arms and apparently seeing nothing, but observing every motion, hearing almost every word, noticed that Gerard Artis was watching the deposition of the will, his hungry looks seeming to devour it as he felt that he would like to destroy it on the spot.
Ramo noted, too, that Paul Capel took a step or two towards where Katrine was talking eagerly to Artis. Then he hesitated and turned off to where Lydia sat alone.
She, too, had been watching Paul Capel's actions, and now that he turned to her she seemed to shrink back in her seat, as if his coming troubled her.
"Let me congratulate you, Mr Capel," she said, rather coldly.
"Thank you," he said with a sigh; and she saw him glance in the direction of Katrine.
"I think," said Mr Girtle, loudly, "that we will now proceed to fulfil the next part of my instructions."
There was a sharp click heard here, as he locked a little padlock on the tin box, and Gerard Artis watched him, thinking what a little there was between him and the obnoxious will.
"Miss D'Enghien, Miss Lawrence, will you kindly follow me? Ramo, lead the way."
It was like going from one gloom into another far deeper, as the door was thrown open, and Ramo led the way along the short, wide passage, bearing a silver candlestick, whose light played softly on the great stained window when he stopped, and illuminated the bronze club of the centaur, still raised to strike.
The eyes of Gerard Artis were fixed upon the tin box containing the will—the keen look of Katrine D'Enghien on the old Indian servant, as he took a key from his cummerbund—while Paul Capel gazed, with his soul in his glance, on Katrine, ignorant that, with spirit sinking lower and lower, Lydia was watching him.
The solicitor gave a glance around full of solemnity and awe, as if to ask were all ready. Then, as if satisfied, he made a sign to Ramo.
The Indian raised the candlestick above his head, softly thrust in the key, turned it, and threw open the door, when once more, from the darkness within, the strange aromatic odour floated forth.
"Mr Capel, you are master here," said the old lawyer softly. "Enter first."
LYING IN STATE.
Paul Capel looked round at Katrine, who gave him a sympathetic glance, and entered the room, taking a step forward and pausing for the rest to follow. Ramo closed the door, and drew a heavy curtain across, whose rings made a peculiar thrilling noise on the thick brass rod.
Ramo then lit two wax candles upon the chimney-piece, and a couple more upon the dressing-table, whose united light was only sufficient to show in a dim way the extent of the room, with its old-fashioned bed and hangings of dark cloth, similar curtains being over the window, and across what seemed to be a second door opposite the couch.
There was an intense desire to look towards the bed, but it was mastered by a strange shrinking, and the visitors to the death-chamber occupied themselves first in looking round at the objects that met their eye.
It was richly furnished, and on every hand it seemed that its occupant had taken precautions to guard himself from the cold of England, after a long sojourn in a hotter land. A thick Turkey carpet was on the floor, large skin rugs were by the fire-place and bedside, dressing-table, and wash-stand. Similar rugs were thrown over the easy-chairs, and on the comfortable couch by the ample fire-place, while here and there were trophies of foreign arms; peculiarly-shaped weapons lay on the dressing-table, and formed the ornamentation of the chimney-piece.
In one corner of the room, carefully arranged and hung upon a stand, was a strangely grotesque object, that, in the semi-darkness, somewhat resembled a human figure, but proved to be the tarnished uniform worn by the old officer—coatee, helmet, sword and belts gorgeous with ornamentation, a pair of pistols with silver butts, and a small flag of faded silk and gilt stuff were grouped over a gold embroidered saddle and tarnished shabrack of Indian work.
Here, too, was one of the Indian figures of Buddha crouched upon an enormous bracket at this side of the room, looking in the obscurity like a living watcher of the dead, in an attitude of contemplation or prayer.
Ramo stood in the silent room, holding the silver candlestick above his head, motionless as another statue, so much in keeping was he in his garb and colour with the surroundings.
But he was keenly watching every one the while, and, taking his cue from a mute question addressed by Mr Girtle's eyes to Paul Capel, he walked solemnly to the head of the heavily hung bed, softly drew back one curtain, and held the candle over his dead master's mortal remains.
Paul Capel felt a natural instinctive shrinking from approaching the bed, but he did not hesitate, stepping forward with reverence, and even then his heart gave a throb of satisfaction that one of his female companions should have stepped calmly to his side.
Lying there as in a darkened tent, with a couple of Indian tulwars crossed upon the bed's head, was a perfectly plain oaken coffin of unusual size, and without the slightest ornamentation save that on the lid, resting against the side, was a brass breastplate bearing the dead man's name, age, and the date of death.
Within—wrapped in a rich robe of Indian fabric, glittering with flowers wrought in gold thread—lay the Colonel, his face visible, and presenting to those who gazed upon it for the first time, the fine features of the old soldier, with his closely cut grey hair, ample beard, and the scars of two sword cuts across brow and cheek.
There was no distortion. The old man, full of days, lay calmly asleep, and Paul Capel bent down and kissed the icy brow.
When he rose his companion pressed forward, and, as he gave way, imitated his action, when, to his surprise, he saw that it was not Katrine D'Enghien, but Lydia.
A low sigh fell upon their ears as they were leaving the bed's head, and Paul raised his eyes to see that the old Indian was watching, and in the semi-darkness he saw him quickly raise a portion of Lydia's dress and hold it to his lips.
Drawing back, they gave place to Katrine and Gerard Artis, who walked to the bed's head, stood for a moment or two, and then, as if moved by the same impulse, both drew away. The old Indian stepped back with his candlestick, the polished silver of which seemed to glimmer and flash in the gloom, the heavy curtain fell in its funereal folds, and the group turned to Mr Girtle.
The old man said a few words to Ramo, who crossed the room to the dressing-table, taking one by one the candlesticks, and placing them in Paul and Lydia's hands, after which he took those from the chimney-piece to give to Katrine and Gerard Artis, the old lawyer taking the one the Indian had carried.
This done, Ramo walked softly to the curtain that covered what seemed to be the second door, and again there was the thrilling sound as the rings swept with a low rattle over the rod, laying bare a strong iron door deep down in a narrow arched portal.
Opening his silken robe, he drew out three keys of curious shape, attached to a stout steel chain which seemed to be round his waist, and softly placing one of them in the lock he turned it easily, when a series of bolts shot back with a loud clang. Then taking out the key, he pressed the door with his shoulder, and it swung slowly and heavily open, apparently requiring all the old man's strength to throw it back.
"Iron, and of great thickness," said Mr Girtle, in a low voice. "Mr Capel, shall I lead the way?"
The Colonel's heir bowed, and, candle in hand, the old lawyer passed through the doorway, Ramo holding back the curtain, and standing like the guardian of the place.
They saw Mr Girtle take a couple of steps forward, turn sharply, and descend, and as Paul Capel followed, he found that to his left were half a dozen broad stone stairs, flanked by a heavy balustrade, and that the old lawyer was standing below, holding up his light.
The next minute, as they reached the floor of what seemed to be a good-sized chamber, there was the sound of the curtain being drawn as if to shut them in, and Ramo came softly down the little flight of steps, to stand at a distance, with reverent mien.
By the light of the five candles they now saw that they were in a perfectly bare-walled chamber, apparently floor, walls, and groined roof of stone, while in the centre stood a large massive cube of solid iron, painted thickly to resemble stone.
So large was it that it seemed as if the remainder of the chamber, left uncovered, merely formed a passage to walk about the four sides.
"This place the Colonel had constructed where a dressing room used to be," said Mr Girtle; and his voice sounded peculiar, being repeated in whispers from the wall in a hollow, metallic ring that was oppressive as it was strange.
"Why the place is like a vault with a tomb in it," said Artis, with an impatient tone in his voice.
"It is a vault, Mr Artis," said the old lawyer—"a vault in which is a tomb. This," he continued, "is all of enormous strength, blocks of stone and concrete being beneath us, and the walls and roof are of immense thickness. The space to be blocked up is six feet through."
"Humph, highly interesting, Mr Showman," muttered Artis; and then, at a look from Katrine, he became attentive.
"Colonel Capel," continued the old lawyer, "had his own peculiar ideas, and being an enormously wealthy man, accustomed to command, he considered he had a right to follow out his views. I more than once pointed out to him, when he made me his confidant, that the proceedings he proposed might meet with opposition from the authorities, but he replied calmly that the place was his own freehold, and that everything was to be carried out privately, but at the same time he would give as little excuse as possible for interference with his plans. Besides, he said, once get the matter over, and it would be forgotten in a week."
"But, in the name of common sense," broke out Artis, "why—"
"Will you kindly retain your observations, Mr Artis, until we have returned to the drawing-room," said the lawyer.
Artis was about to reply, but Paul Capel saw that a look from Katrine restrained him, and a jealous pang shot through his heart.
Balm came for the wound directly, as Katrine raised her eyes to his, let them rest there for a few moments, and then veiled them as she gazed upon the floor.
"Colonel Capel," continued the old lawyer, with his words whispering about the stone walls, "had a double intention in having the place constructed. It was for his mausoleum after death, for his strong room during life. Within this iron room or chamber, which would defy any burglar's tools, is a chest of steel, constructed from the Colonel's own designs, to contain his enormous fortune, and when that has been taken out at twelve o'clock to-morrow, it is to be replaced by the coffin that lies in the next room, by us who are present now; to be closed up and locked; the iron chamber is to be also closed; then the iron door; and lastly, we are to see that portal completely walled up, as I have already told you, and—forgotten."
"But," said Artis, quickly, "is the large sum in notes here—in this place?"
"And the diamonds—the pearls?" said Katrine.
"Yes, my dear young lady, all are here."
"And you have the keys?"
"I and Ramo, the deceased's trusted servant."
Artis was about to continue, "it safe to trust that man?" but, as he spoke, he glanced at Ramo, who was watching him.
"My guide is the series of rules written by Colonel Capel, sir," said Mr Girtle, coldly.
"Can we see the jewels?" said Katrine.
"Yes; you can show us the treasure," cried Artis, with a half-laugh. "As we two are to have nothing, we might be indulged with a peep."
"The treasure is Mr Paul Capel's, sir," said the old lawyer; "but, even if he expressed a wish, I could not depart from my instructions. To-morrow, at noon, I bid you all to meet me at the door of Colonel Capel's room."
"To-morrow?" said Artis. "To-day."
The old lawyer glanced at his watch.
"Yes," he said, "to-day. I had forgotten that it was so late. Will you kindly accompany me to the drawing-room?"
The Indian went first and drew back the curtain, and they passed up into the bedroom, where the old officer lay in state.
There they paused, as Ramo drew back the iron door and turned the key, when the bolts shot into their sockets, and the curtain was drawn.
Then, glancing at the bed, they passed out of the room, Ramo locking the door, listening sharply, with his ears twitching, as he caught a faint creaking noise made by a lock in the lower part of the house.
"How strange that bronze figure looks," said Mr Girtle, glancing up at the great centaur looming indistinctly against the stained-glass window, in whose recess it stood.
"Yes," said Paul. "It is a fine work, but it looks as if it were going to dash out some one's brains."
"That is what I have always thought whenever I have entered or left that room."
"I wish to Heaven it had—both of you," muttered Artis. "A hundred pounds. Good God! A hundred pounds!"
The same thought may have entered Katrine D'Enghien's head, for, as they moved towards the drawing-room, she laid her arm affectionately round Lydia's slight waist, and said softly to herself:
"A bangle and a hundred pounds! Mon Dieu!"
Then the drawing-room door closed, and Ramo stood in the dark, leaning over the balustrade of the great well staircase, listening intently till he saw a door open, and a flash of light came out, shining on the round, full face of the old butler, and the keen features of Charles, the footman, the latter bearing a tray of silver chamber candlesticks.
Ramo glided away, and the two servants bore the tray to the drawing-room, asked if they would be wanted again, and retired.
"Good-night, dearest," cried Katrine, kissing Lydia affectionately. "I congratulate you. I am not jealous. Good-night, Mr Girtle—how tired you must be," she said, shaking hands. "Good-night, Mr Artis. Good-night, Mr Capel. I congratulate you heartily. Good-night!"
Five minutes later the great drawing-room was as still as the chamber of the dead, and in the dark house—on staircase and in hall—statue and picture looked on, and the kneeling idols crouched with their eyes closed to what was passing, while the great bronze centaur stood with uplifted club, ready to strike there, where he seemed to be on guard, at his dead master's door.
But he struck no blow, and the night passed, and the morning came—a dull, drizzling morning—when the fog hung low, and it was still like night when Preenham, the butler, knocked heavily at Mr Girtle's door.
The old lawyer drew the wire, and the night latch allowed the butler to rush in.
"Hot water, Preenham?" said the old man.
"For Heaven's sake, get up, sir, and I'll call Mr Capel, sir!" panted the butler.
"What! Something wrong?"
"Yes, sir—quick! I'm afraid there's murder done."
THE HORRORS OF A MORN.
By the time Mr Girtle was partly dressed and had hurried out on the landing, Paul Capel and Gerard Artis had left their rooms, ready to question him upon the cause of the alarm.
"I don't know," he said, trembling. "Preenham came and roused me— speaking of murder—and, bless my soul! I did not know you were there. Miss Lawrence, too!"
Katrine and Lydia had joined them there on the landing of the second floor, where a chamber candlestick on a table was almost the only light, for that which came through the ground-glass at the top of the staircase was so much yellow gloom.
"One of the maids—Anne—came and woke me," said Katrine, speaking very calmly, as she looked from one to the other, the most collected of any one present. "She said there was something wrong."
"She woke me, too," cried Lydia, who was trembling visibly, and looked of a sallow grey.
"Mr Girtle, will you come down?"
It was the butler's voice, and Paul Capel ran quickly down the stairs to the drawing-room floor, where the old butler, ghastly pale, with his hair sticking to his forehead, had lit half-a-dozen candles and stood them, some on a table, some on the pedestal of the great bronze group outside Colonel Capel's door.
"What is it? Speak, man!" cried Capel.
"The ladies! Don't let the ladies come!"
It was too late; they were already there; and the women-servants were dimly seen in the gloom at the foot of the stairs.
"But what is wrong?" cried Capel.
The butler passed his hand over his humid face, and looked piteously from one to the other.
"Preenham! Speak, man! At once!" said Mr Girtle, sternly.
"I woke at half-past seven, sir," he said, in a trembling voice, "and wondered that I had not been called at seven. Mr Ramo, sir, always rose very early, and called me and Charles; but I was not surprised, for since master's death, he has slept outside his door, I think—I'm almost sure, though I never said anything to—"
"Man, you are torturing us!" cried Capel.
"Give him time," said Artis, who looked nervous and strange.
"Yes, let him speak," said Katrine. "Go on, Mr Preenham, and tell us."
"Thank you ma'am, I will," said the butler; "but—but would you ladies go back to your room or the drawing-room, I've something—something—"
"I'm not a child," said Katrine. "Lydia, dear, you had better go."
"I will stay with you," said Lydia, laying her hand upon Katrine's arm; and after a helpless look round, and a motion of his hands, as if he washed them of any trouble that might come, the old butler went on.
"I didn't take much notice, as we were late last night, but as soon as I was dressed, I knocked at Charles' door—he sleeps in a turn-up bedstead in the servants' hall."
The old man directed this piece of information to those around him, and then went on.
"There was no answer, so I went in, and Charles was not there."
"Not there?" said Mr Girtle, quickly.
"No, sir. The bed had not been slept in. His livery was on the chair by it, and his cupboard was open where he keeps his private clothes."
"This is strange," said Mr Girtle. "Go on."
"Yes, sir. I thought perhaps he had let himself out through the area gate, sir. He has done such things before, and at a time like this I must speak plain."
"Yes. Let me have the truth. Go on."
"I was very angry, sir, and I meant to tell you, for it seemed disgraceful at such a time."
"I will, sir," faltered the butler, "but you must not flurry me. I have had a shock."
"Let him go on his own way, Mr Capel," said the old lawyer.
Preenham gave him a grateful look and continued:
"I thought I'd go and speak to Mr Ramo, and then I met Cook and Anne."
"We were on the mat, Mr Preenham," said a husky voice from below.
"Yes, Mrs Thompson, quite right, and they went on to the kitchen while I went up into the hall, and undid the bolts of the front hall door, and let down the chain."
"Then I went up, sir, to see if Mr Ramo was at master's door."
"Yes; go on," said Capel, excitedly.
"And when I came to the door, sir, I found it was ajar, and though I listened, I could not hear a sound. So I pushed the door against the big curtain, and called softly, 'Ramo! Mr Ramo!' but there was no answer, and then I felt a bit alarmed, and, after waiting a moment, I went down and got a light."
"I called again, sir, twice; and then, pushing open the door, a puff of wind nearly blew out the light."
"Wind?" cried Mr Girtle; and he took a step towards the door.
"Stop a minute, sir, please," said the butler appealingly. "I went in quickly, and the first thing I saw was the curtain dragged aside and the window open."
"Yes—go on," cried Mr Girtle, for the butler was trembling so that he could hardly speak.
"And the next, sir—I nearly fell over him—there was poor Mr Ramo— lying—in—a pool of blood."
The cry came from Lydia as she tottered and clung to Katrine, calm amidst the horrors of the recital.
"I put the candle on the floor, sir, and went down on my knee beside him," cried the butler, growing more and more agitated. "Look," he said, piteously, pointing to his trousers and his hands. "I touched him, sir, but he was dead, sir, dead, and I came up then and alarmed the house."
Artis looked at the butler narrowly, as his eyes wandered from one to the other.
"Have you been in since, Preenham?"
"No, sir. I went and got the candles, and lit all I could."
Capel was about to rush into the room, but he stopped on the threshold.
"Miss D'Enghien—Miss Lawrence—this is no place for you. Pray go back to your rooms."
"Yes," said Katrine, slowly, "Mr Capel is right. Come, dear, with me."
She passed her arm round Lydia, and the two seemed to fade away into the darkness, as Capel, Mr Girtle, Artis, and, lastly, the butler went into the room.
It was precisely as the butler had said. There was the window open—a window looking out on to some leads. And beyond them the low houses of a mews which ran at the back. There, at a short distance from the bed, was the Colonel's faithful servant, in a pool of blood, with a kukri— one of those ugly curved Indian knives—clasped tightly in his hand.
"Dead!" said Mr Girtle; and then, rising quickly, he ran to the further portal, drew back the curtain, and found the iron door closed.
"There has been a terrible struggle here," said Capel. "Look."
He pointed to where, plainly seen on the white counterpane that half covered the heavy valance, there was the mark of a bloody hand that had caught the quilt and dragged it a little down.
"Yes," said Mr Girtle, looking about at overturned chairs, a small table driven out of its place, and a carriage clock swept off and lying on the floor. "Yes, there has been a terrible struggle."
He looked at the dead man, and then in the direction of the strong chamber.
Artis saw, and said maliciously:
"Murder must mean robbery."
"Impossible!" said the lawyer. "The door is shut. Stop. Let me see," and stooping, he thrust his hand inside the silken robe the old Indian wore.
There was a dead silence as he searched hastily, and then drew out the keys and chain.
"All safe," he cried; "see, here are the keys. They slip off and on this spring swivel; the old man always wore them there. The key of that door; the key of the iron chamber; the key of the steel chest. Gentlemen, I shall remove the keys. Mr Capel, they are yours, now. Take them."
"No," said Capel quietly. "Keep them, sir. Now, what do you make of this? It seems to me that the murderer must have come in by this door, and encountered Ramo, and, after the terrible struggle, have escaped by the window."
"Exactly," said Mr Girtle.
"Unless," said Artis, "some one killed this black fellow when trying to rob his master."
"Absurd!" cried Capel angrily, as he bent down over the dead man. "Look here," he cried, "whoever it was must have been wounded. This knife is covered with blood."
"His own, perhaps," said Artis.
"May be so, but I think not. Now, Mr Girtle, what next?"
"The police," said the old lawyer huskily. "Preenham, fetch me a little brandy; this terrible scene has made me faint."
"Go, sir? Leave you here?"
"Yes, go at once," said Mr Girtle, and there seemed to be an unwillingness to leave, as the butler went out and closed the door.
"You did not want that brandy," said Artis quickly. "You wanted to get rid of him for a few minutes. I know what you are thinking—that it was that scoundrelly-faced footman."
"Yes, you have guessed my thoughts."
"And you suspect the butler?"
"I do not say that, sir," said the lawyer coldly. "We do not know that there has been any robbery until the plate is examined, but we ought to have sent for a doctor at once."
"I'll go," said Capel, and hurrying out of the room, he ran down the stairs, caught his hat from the stand, and hurried from street to street till he saw the familiar red-eyed lamp.
Five minutes after he was on his way back in a cab, with a keen-looking, youngish man, to whom he gave an account of the morning's discovery.
"Have you given notice to the police?"
"If I were you, I should send a messenger straight to Scotland Yard. It will save you from the blundering of some young constable. Humph—too late."
For, as they reached the room, there was the familiar helmet of one of the force, the man having found the door left open by Capel and rung.
He was a heavy, dull-looking man, who seemed, as he stood in the darkened room, to consider it his duty to thrust his hand in his belt, and stare at the ghastly figure on the floor.
Meanwhile the doctor was busily examining the body of the Indian servant.
"Quite dead!" said Mr Girtle.
"Yes. Rigor mortis has set in."
"Suicide, sir? Oh, bless my soul, no."
"But that weapon?"
"Yes, some one had an awful cut with that, I should say," continued the doctor, and the constable mentally drew a line from the kukri to the open window, out on to the leads, and down into the mews.
"What has caused his death?"
"I cannot tell you yet," said the doctor. "Hold the light here, closer, please. Hah, that is the mark of a blow on the arm. There is this wound on the chin, and on the neck. Hah! Yes, this seems more likely. There has been a tremendous blow dealt here on the head—but no fracture, I think—sort of blow a life-preserver would give; but, really, I cannot account so far for his death. Unless—What is this peculiar odour?"
"I told you," said Capel, pointing to the bed.
"No, I don't mean that," said the doctor quickly. "I mean this about here. Can you see any bottle?"
He ran his hand down the side of the silk robe, and then looked round where he knelt.
"What do you mean, doctor?" said Mr Girtle.
"There is the same odour that I should expect to notice in a case of suicide with poison."
"Doesn't look much like that," said Artis. "Why, doctor, look at the traces of the struggle."
"I have looked at them, sir," replied the doctor; "but, so far, I detect no cause for death. A proper examination may give different results, but I must have the assistance of a colleague."
"Done, sir? Finished?" said the constable, who had remained for the time unnoticed.
"Yes, my man. You will give notice of this at once, and lock up the room."
"All in good time, sir. I should like a look round. Door open, you say?"
"Yes," said Mr Girtle.
"Well, then, the fellow who did it seems to have come in here and escaped there, after getting a cut with that crooked knife."
He turned on his bull's-eye lantern, and made the light play from where the body lay, over the Turkey carpet, to the window, where he turned off the light, for there was sufficient for him to see and examine the seat and sill.
No stains—no marks of hands on the window, no footmarks outside on the leads—not a spot.
He shook his head, and came back.
"Well, my man?" said Mr Girtle.
"Don't be in a hurry, sir. Law moves slow and sure. I was in the country before I got out of the rural into the metropolitan."
"What has that to do with this?" cried Artis.
"Everything, sir," said the constable, turning sharply on the young man, and watching him narrowly. "I've known cases where windows have been set open to make it seem that some one's gone through."
"But the murderer is not in the house," said Mr Girtle, uneasily; "and we suspect—"
"Who's that?" said the constable, sharply. "Oh, you, Mr Butler."
"Yes; I've brought the brandy for Mr Girtle, sir."
"Never mind, now," said the policeman. "Set it down. Gentlemen, I've got a theory about this here."
He turned on his bull's-eye again, as he spoke.
"A theory?" cried Capel, impatiently.
"Yes, sir. You see that crooked knife thing?"
"And the mark of the bloody hand on the counterpane, where it is dragged?"
"Yes, we saw that."
"Well, has any one looked under the bed?"
"Then we shall find him there."
He stepped forward and raised the heavy valance, directing the light beneath.
"There!" he exclaimed. "What did I say?"
"WHY, DOCTOR, HE'S DEAD!"
In one moment the slow, heavy-looking constable changed, from a rustic, loutish fellow, to a man full of intelligent observation, for, as he raised the valance of the bed, there, indistinctly seen, was the body of a man, either through fear or to escape observation.
With a quick motion of the hand, the constable opened the leather case at his side, and drew his truncheon.
"Stand at the window, sir," he said to Capel. "You, sir, keep the door. Now, then," he cried, as soon as he had been obeyed, and in a sharp, authoritative voice. "The game's up. Out you came."
Capel set his teeth hard, for all this was horrible in that chamber of death.
"Do you hear?" cried the constable, sharply, for there was neither word nor movement from beneath the bed. "Oh, very well," he continued, "only I warn you I stand no nonsense." And the occupants of the room prepared for a struggle, with beating hearts.
The constable stepped back to them, and from behind his hand, said, softly:
"Be ready, perhaps there's two."
He stepped back and stooped with his staff ready for a blow.
"Now, then," he cried; "is it surrender?"
There was no answer, and, he thrust his hand beneath the bed, seized the man's leg, and dragged him out into the room, but only to loose his hold and start away.
"Why, doctor!" he cried, "he's dead."
The doctor caught up a candlestick and dropped on one knee beside the fresh horror, while the light from the bull's-eye was again brought to bear, and mingled with the wan, yellow rays that struggled in through the panes.
"Good God, gentlemen!" gasped the butler, "it's Charles."
The horribly distorted features were, indeed, those of the footman, and the mystery of the death-chamber began to grow lighter, for it was evident that for some reason he had entered the room in the night. For no good mission, certainly, a short whalebone-handled life-preserver hanging by a twisted thong from his wrist.
The hideous stains upon the kukri were clearly enough explained by the sight of a terrible gash in the man's throat, and one of his hands was crimsoned and smeared—the one that had left its print upon the quilt, as, in his death struggle, he had rolled beneath the bed.
"No one else there, gentleman," said the constable, looking beneath the bed and making his lantern play there and about the curtains, whilst as it shed its keen light across the calm, sleeping face of the Colonel, the man involuntarily took off his helmet and stepped back on tiptoe.
"Dead some hours," said the doctor, rising.
"It is clear enough," said Mr Girtle, in the midst of the painful silence. "This poor Hindoo was the faithful old servant of my deceased friend, and he died in defence of his master's property."
"Yes, yes," cried the old butler, excitedly. "Charles used to talk about master's money and diamonds in the servants' hall. I used to reprove him, and say that talking about such things was tempting yourself."
"Never asked you to be in it, of course?" said the constable, going close up to him.
"Oh, no; never, sir; but are you quite sure both him and Mr Ramo are dead?"
"Quite," said the constable. "There, you can say what you like, but it's my duty to tell you that I shall take down anything you say, and it may be used in evidence against you."
"Against me!" cried the butler.
"Yes, against you."
But there was no occasion for the note-book, for Preenham closed his lips and did not speak again.
"I think I will satisfy myself, constable, that all is safe here," said Mr Girtle. "Gentlemen, will you come with me?"
He crossed the room, drew back the curtain over the portal and, taking out his keys, unlocked and pushed back the door, descending with the others into the vault-like chamber and examining the massive iron structure in the middle.
"It is quite safe," he said, as the constable made the light of his lantern play here and there.
"But you have not looked in the safe," said Artis, quickly.
"There is no need, sir. No one could have opened it, even with the keys, but Ramo or myself. Nothing has been touched."
The policeman drew a long breath and they returned to the death-chamber, Mr Girtle carefully locking the iron door.
"I don't think we shall want any detectives here, gentlemen," said the constable; "I shall stay on the premises, but perhaps you will let the butler—no, I think one of you, perhaps—will be good enough to send in the first constable you see."
"I am going back," said the doctor. "I can do no more now, policeman. I will send a man to you."
"Thankye, sir, if you will."
"Of course you will give notice to the coroner, and there will be a post-mortem?"
"You leave that to me, sir; only send me one of our men."
They were stealing out on tiptoe, when Capel went back and drew the heavy curtains right across the bed, to shut from the old warrior the horrors that lay in the middle of the room. The constable, too, stepped softly across to fasten the window. Then, following the others out, he closed and locked the door, turning round directly, ducking down, and involuntarily attempting to draw his truncheon, as he raised his left arm to ward off a blow.
"Bah!" he ejaculated. "Why, it's a stature. Looked just as if it was going to knock one down."
A week of horror and anxiety, during which the customary legal processes had been gone through.
A jury had visited the Dark House and been conducted through the two rooms, to go away disappointed at not seeing the inside of the great iron safe. Then, after the evidence had been given, by the various witnesses at the inquest, including that of the two doctors who had performed the post-mortem examination, a verdict was returned which charged Charles Pillar with wilful murder, and stated that the Indian had committed justifiable homicide.
The doctors had differed, as it is proverbially said that they will, Dr Heston, the young medical man, who had been called in first, telling the jury that he was not satisfied that the blows given had caused the death, and drawing attention to the peculiar odour he had noticed. But the Coroner, an old medical man, sided with the colleague, who pooh-poohed the idea, and the verdict was given.
The coroner was a good deal exercised in his mind whether some proceedings ought not to have been taken in respect to the remains of the late Colonel, but he obtained no legal support, and the terrible murder and attempted robbery at Number 9A, Albemarle Square, with the history of the embalming, and the mysterious inner chamber, were public property for the usual nine days, when something fresh occurred, and the interest died away.
Then, once more, there was the old peace in the Dark House, where the remains of Colonel Capel lay in state in the mystery-haunted room.
The servants were very reticent, and consequently but little was heard of the proceedings in Albemarle Square. A good many loiterers had stopped to stare at the darkened windows of the great mansion; but as two coffins had been borne from the place, it was forgotten outside that another still remained. What might have been some busy-body's business, became no one's, and the horrible tragedy tended towards the simplification, of the dead man's instructions.
"It is nine days now since the Colonel's commands should have been fulfilled," said Mr Girtle, as they were seated at lunch in the darkened dining-room—the same party, for Katrine had expressed her determination to stay in the house through all the trouble, and Lydia had offered to remain with her.
Katrine and Lydia had kept a great deal to their rooms; Mr Girtle spent most of his time in the library, busy over papers, only appearing at meal times, and, consequently, Paul Capel was thrown a great deal into the society of Gerard Artis, treating him always in the most friendly way, and declining to notice the barbs of the verbal arrows the other was fond of launching.
One of Artis's favourite allusions was to the house his companion inherited.
"I felt horribly jealous of you at first," he said. "Seemed such a pot of money; but with special commands to live here with a haunted room, and a mausoleum beyond it—no, thank you."
"What shall you do with the chamber of horrors?" said Artis, on another occasion.
"You heard—it is to be built-up."
"No, no; I mean the bedroom. Ugh!"
"I shall take that as my own."
"What? A room haunted with the spirits of three dead men! Bah! Impossible."
Then came the ninth day, and Mr Girtle announced that on the next his instructions should be carried out precisely at twelve.
"That will give you ample time, Mr Capel, to visit a banker afterwards; for, after the late experience, I should not lose an hour in depositing your great uncle's bequest in the hands of your banker."
"You will go with me, I hope."
The old man looked pleased, and nodded.
"But I had reckoned upon seeing the jewels," said Katrine, with a smile at the young heir, which made his heart throb, and Lydia shrink.
"That pleasure must be deferred, Miss D'Enghien," said the old lawyer, crustily; and no more was said.
At twelve o'clock punctually, the next day, Mr Girtle unlocked the door of the Colonel's room, and fulfilling Ramo's duty, held it back while the young men bore in lights; Katrine and Lydia followed, and the old butler, looking shrunken and depressed, came last, to close the door and draw the curtain.
It was mid-day, but it might have been midnight. Candles were lit again on chimney-piece and dressing-table, and after the old solicitor had seen that the door was fastened within, he took out his key, drew the portal curtain at the end, and then unlocked and slowly pushed open the iron door.
At a given order the butler solemnly carried a couple of candles down into the vault, and stood there in the gloomy stone chamber, where, to those who stood waiting his return, they seemed to cast a peculiarly weird light.
Then, in utter silence, the lid was placed over the calm, sleeping features, and the four men, taking each a handle, lifted and bore the coffin down. There was some little difficulty in the sharp turn of the steps, but in a few minutes all was done, and the coffin lay upon the flagstones, while the two girls stood hand clasping hand.
Mr Girtle walked round to the back of the iron safe and stooped down, when a peculiar clang was heard, as if a spring had been set free, and a large panel at the end where Capel was standing, dropped down.
As the old lawyer came back, candle in hand, it was now seen that the panel that had fallen laid bare a key-hole.
Upon the key being inserted in this, and turned, the panel flew back, and glided over the key-hole as soon as the key was drawn out, displaying a second key-hole, crossed by a row of lettered brass slides.
These the old lawyer manipulated till the letters formed in a row a particular word, when the second key-hole was laid bare, the key inserted and turned, and one end of the iron safe revolved on a pair of huge pivots, shewing the interior—plain, rectangular and dark, with an oblong mass of black metal in the centre.
"The steel chest," said the old lawyer, in a whisper, as he stepped inside the great safe, in which he could nearly stand upright.
Candle in hand he went to the other end, put down the light for a moment to set his hands free to get a second key—a curiously long, thin key, with the end of which he pushed something at the back of the chest. Then, going to one side, he repeated the act, went back round to the other side, and again repeated it, after which he came to the front, and as he held down the light, those who were intently watching his actions saw that there was a small circle of Roman figures, with a hand like that of a small clock, which he pushed round with the end of the key, till it was at the letter V. This done, he bent over the chest, and repeated the action twice upon the top.
Then, as he stepped out, a sharp sound was heard, and a key-hole was laid bare once more. In this he placed the key, turned it, and the steel chest seemed to split open from end to end, dividing in equal parts, which slowly turned over on massive hinges, leaving the centre—a space large enough to hold the coffin—wide open.
"Mr Capel," said the old lawyer, stepping aside, "the next duty is yours. There lie the bank notes and the case of precious stones. I give them over to your care."
Paul Capel hesitated for a moment, glanced at his companions, then back at the opening leading to the Colonel's room, where Katrine and Lydia were watching.
The young man's heart beat heavily as he took the candle, and, stooping down, entered the iron chamber to take from its hiding place his enormous fortune.
It was but a step, and he had only to stretch out his hand to pick up the two cases, but—
The steel chest held nothing.
The treasure was not there.
THE END OF THE INSTRUCTIONS.
Paul Capel did not realise his position. "Is there some mistake, Mr Girtle?"
"There is nothing here!"
"Nothing! See for yourself."
The old man stepped in, searched, and came out with drops of sweat upon his yellow forehead.
"Well?" exclaimed Capel, excitedly, as the old man stared in a dazed way.
"It is gone!" said the old lawyer, in a hoarse voice, and his hands trembling violently.
"Well, Mr Girtle," said Capel, at last, in a voice that he vainly strove to make firm; "what have you to say?"
"To say?" said the old lawyer, hastily.
"Oh, it is all a cock and bull story," cried Artis. "There never was any treasure."
"Silence, sir," cried the old lawyer recovering himself. "How can you speak like that in the presence of the dead?"
"Bah!" cried Artis. "Presence of the dead, indeed! Presence of a mummy. Would you have me pull a long face as I went through the British Museum?"
"I would have you behave—"
"You look here," cried Artis, sharply. "You are executor, and this treasure, if there was one, lay in your charge. It's nothing to me. If it were, I should call in the police."
"Mr Capel," cried the old lawyer excitedly, "I swear to you, sir, that the money and jewels were there a fortnight ago. I came down here with Ramo, and there lay the two cases with their contents."
"Well?" said Capel, "what then?"
"We carefully closed up the place."
"Then somebody must have been down since, and taken the treasure away."
"Only two men could have done this, sir, Ramo and myself."
"That throws it on to you," said Artis.
"And my reputation, sir, will bear me out when I proclaim my innocence."
"I don't know," said Artis. "Sudden temptation; kleptomania and that sort of thing."
The old lawyer turned his back.
"Mr Gerard Artis, this is no time for such remarks as these," said Capel. "Mr Girtle, what have you to say?"
"At present, nothing, sir. I am astounded. You know we came down on that dreadful morning, and found the chamber intact; besides it could not have been forced."
"There were the keys," said Artis.
"But they have never left my person. There were but the two sets of keys—the Colonel's and mine. Those were the Colonel's set that we found upon Ramo."
"Rather strange that the Colonel should have given you a set," said Artis.
"No more strange than that a gentleman should trust a banker," said Capel.
"What, going to side with the lawyer?"
Capel made no reply, only gazed searchingly at the old executor.
"There may have been other keys, Mr Girtle."
"Oh, no. The place was made some years ago, for a sarcophagus, and the makers never imagined that it would be used for a safe."
There was a dead silence.
"Let us search again. The cases may have slipped aside."
"It is impossible," said the old lawyer; and as they two passed into the iron chamber, Artis exchanged a glance with Katrine, while the old butler stood looking dazed.
"You see," said Mr Girtle, holding down the light, "there is nowhere for the cases to have slipped; all is of plain, solid steel, without a corner or crack."
"But underneath," said Capel.
"Underneath? Look for yourself," said Mr Girtle; "where there is not solid steel there is solid iron, and beneath that, massive stone. The treasure seems to have been spirited away."
"That's it," said Artis. "The old man was not satisfied, and he got up out of his coffin and hid it somewhere else."
Capel caught Artis by the collar.
"I will not—" he began; but mastering his indignant anger he let fall his arm.
"There is nothing here," he said; "let us look about the outside."
That was the work of a minute, for on every hand there was the blank stone—wall, floor and roof, and the exterior of the iron safe or tomb was perfectly rectangular and smooth.
"What was the size of the cases?"
"One was about twelve inches by eight, and three or four deep, and the other rather smaller," replied the old lawyer; "both too large for me to have juggled them into my pockets when I opened the steel chest, Mr Artis."
"You held the keys, and if you meant to take the treasure, you had it before."
"Enough of this," cried Capel. "It is plain that the bequest has been taken away. Mr Girtle, we will finish at once—fulfil my uncle's commands. Come."
He went to the head of the oaken coffin, and took one handle, when, influenced by his example, the others helped to raise it a little from the floor, and it was thrust in and onward, till it rested upon the bottom of the steel chest, nearly filling the space.
Capel stood on the right of the entrance, and for fully five minutes there was perfect silence in the solemn chamber.
"Go on, Mr Girtle," Capel said, at last, and the old man bent down, thrust the key in the end, gave a half turn, and the two ponderous sides slowly curved over till they were nearly together leaving only a few inches of the shining brass breastplate visible. Then there was a faint click, and the left side fell heavily, setting free the right, which descended with a loud clang, and closed tightly over a rebate in the lower side, so closely, that it was only by holding a candle near that the junction could be seen.
"Go on;" and the old lawyer again inserted a key.
There was no show of effort on his part, as the old lawyer turned the key, when the end of the iron chamber closed in tightly, and after once more examining the blank stone chamber, they slowly ascended the steps. Then the iron door was closed and locked, and Mr Girtle handed Capel the keys.
An hour later, a couple of masons were at work with the stones that were below in the locked-up cellar, and the next day they had filled in a wall of six feet thick, cemented over the face, so that only a dark patch showed where the entrance to the colonel's tomb had been.
THE YOUNG DOCTOR.
"Look here," said Artis; "you mustn't be offended with me. I speak very plainly, and if I can be of any use to you, I will."
They were in the drawing-room, Preenham, having announced that the masons had left.
"I am not going to think of your remarks."
"I was thinking of going to-day," continued Artis; "but I feel now that I ought not to go and leave you in a regular hole like this."
"There is no need for you to stay."
"Well, no need, of course; but I suppose you will not kick me out."
"Of course not. You are welcome."
"That's right," said Artis. "You see," he continued, looking round to where Katrine and Lydia sat together, "I feel it due to myself to stop and show that I had no hand in that."
"No one accused you, Mr Artis."
"Oh, no, of course not; that would be too good a joke. Then I shall stay."
"Our case is different," said Lydia, turning red, and then pale. "Mr Capel, Miss D'Enghien and I, if we can be of no more use, would like to say good-bye this afternoon."
"But why?" cried Capel, as he glanced at the speaker, and then fixed his eyes on Katrine. "There is no occasion for you to leave."
"I think Miss Lawrence is right," said Katrine.
"But I want help and counsel from both of you. You must not leave me yet."
"It is impossible for us to stay."
"Impossible! Why? Etiquette? Is not Mr Girtle here? Are not things as they have been since we met?"
"I did not know that Mr Girtle was going to stop?" said Katrine, softly. "If I felt that we could be of any service—"
"Then you will stay?" cried Capel, warmly.
Katrine hesitated, looked up, then down, raised, her eyes once more, and left her chair to take Lydia's hand.
"Let us go up-stairs," she said softly.
Lydia rose at once.
"You do not speak," said Capel.
Katrine did not answer till they reached the door, and then she raised her eyes to his with a long, timid look.
"If Lydia consents, so will I."
"And you will stay, Miss Lawrence, to help me?" cried Capel, warmly.
"I will," said Lydia, gravely.
"That's right," cried Capel, opening the door for them to pass out, and catching Katrine's eye for a moment as she passed.
"Curse her! She's playing a dangerous game," said Artis to himself, as he watched the ladies leave the room.
Glancing aside, he saw that the old lawyer was watching him narrowly.
"I suppose you are not glad that I am going to stay, Mr Girtle," he said.
"For some things I am," said the old man, coolly. "For others I am not."
Just then Capel returned.
The two girls separated as they reached their rooms, Katrine kissing Lydia's cheek, and then, as soon as she was alone, her countenance changed, and she sat gazing with glowing eyes, that seemed full of some purpose upon which she was bent.
At the same time Lydia Lawrence sat with her face buried in her hands, weeping silently and wishing that she were back in her country home.
Very little more was said below, for Mr Girtle had an engagement in the City, and left the young men together.
"You won't have a detective set to work?"
"Well, do as you like. I'm off for a run, to get rid of this gloom. Back to dinner."
"Thank goodness!" said Artis, breathing more freely, and five minutes after he was slowly crossing the square, wondering who the man was who had just gone up to the door he had left.
"I've seen his face before," he muttered. "Why, of course, the young doctor. What does he want?"
Capel was thinking of the fortune that had slipped through his fingers. Depressed, and yet at times overjoyed, for Katrine's glance had been full of hope. But he must trace the money that had been taken, and the gems—how lovely they would look on Katrine's neck!
He sighed as he pictured her thus adorned, and he was sinking into a day dream, when the door opened softly, and Preenham entered with the doctor's card.
"Doctor Heston? Show him up."
Capel motioned his visitor to a chair, when the keen-looking young doctor, who was watching him narrowly, said:
"I dare say you are surprised to see me here."
"Oh, no. A call?"
"I only make professional calls, Mr Capel, I have come to you on an important matter."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Capel.
"Yes. Respecting the death of one of those two men—the Indian, sir. I'm afraid there was some foul play there."
"Foul play? Why, he was killed with a life-preserver."
The doctor tapped with his fingers on his hat, as if he was beating a funeral march. Then, quickly:
"No, sir; the more I study this case, the more I feel convinced that he was not."
A CLEVER DIPLOMATIST.
"Doctor Heston, you surprise me. There was the inquest."
"Yes, where my opinion, sir, was overruled by the coroner and my colleague, both elderly medical men, sir, while I am young and comparatively inexperienced. You are disposed to think that this is a case of professional jealousy."
"I will be frank with you. I did think so."
"Exactly, but pray disabuse your mind. I am not jealous. I am angry with myself for giving way in that case. It seemed all very straightforward, but it was not."
"May I ask what you mean?"
"I mean, sir, that I am certain that our poor old Indian friend did not die from the blow that he received from that life-preserver."
"How then?" said Capel, huskily.
"It seems to me that he must have been poisoned in some way or another, and I could not rest without coming to you."
"Perhaps so, sir, but I am telling you what I believe. Do you think he had any enemies here?"
"Oh, no; the servants seemed to have been on friendly terms."
"Well, it hardly seems like it."