THE NEW DETECTIVE STORY.
THE DIAMOND COTERIE
BY LAWRENCE L. LYNCH
AUTHOR OF "SHADOWED BY THREE" "MADELINE PAYNE," ETC.
CHICAGO: HENRY A. SUMNER AND COMPANY. 1884.
Copyright, 1882, by DONNELLEY, LOYD & CO., CHICAGO.
Copyright, 1884, by R. R. DONNELLEY & SONS, CHICAGO.
R. R. Donnelley & Sons, The Lakeside Press, Chicago.
CHAPTER I. Two Shocks for W——
CHAPTER II. W—— Investigates
CHAPTER III. A Sample of the Lamotte Blood
CHAPTER IV. Sybil's Letter
CHAPTER V. The Deductions of a Detective
CHAPTER VI. Doctor Heath at Home
CHAPTER VII. A Falling Out
CHAPTER VIII. One Detective too Many
CHAPTER IX. The Deductions of Detective Number Two
CHAPTER X. Evan
CHAPTER XI. The End of the Beginning
CHAPTER XII. The Beginning of the End
CHAPTER XIII. Constance's Diplomacy
CHAPTER XIV. John Burrill, Aristocrat
CHAPTER XV. Diamonds
CHAPTER XVI. In Open Mutiny
CHAPTER XVII. The Play Goes On
CHAPTER XVIII. John Burrill, Plebeian
CHAPTER XIX. Nance Burrill's Warning
CHAPTER XX. Constance at Bay
CHAPTER XXI. Appointing a Watch Dog
CHAPTER XXII. The Watch Dog Discharged
CHAPTER XXIII. Father and Son
CHAPTER XXIV. A Day of Gloom
CHAPTER XXV. That Night
CHAPTER XXVI. Prince's Prey
CHAPTER XXVII. A Turn in the Game
CHAPTER XXVIII. Introducing Mr. Smith
CHAPTER XXIX. Openly Accused
CHAPTER XXX. An Obstinate Client
CHAPTER XXXI. Beginning the Investigation
CHAPTER XXXII. An Appeal to the Wardour Honor
CHAPTER XXXIII. "I Can Save Him if I Will"
CHAPTER XXXIV. A Last Resort
CHAPTER XXXV. A Strange Interview
CHAPTER XXXVI. Two Passengers West
CHAPTER XXXVII. Some Excellent Advice
CHAPTER XXXVIII. Belknap Outwitted
CHAPTER XXXIX. "Will Love Outweigh Honor?"
CHAPTER XL. "Too Young to Die"
CHAPTER XLI. Sir Clifford Heathercliffe
CHAPTER XLII. A Tortured Witness
CHAPTER XLIII. Justice, Sacrifice, Death
CHAPTER XLIV. A Spartan Mother
CHAPTER XLV. Told by a Detective
CHAPTER XLVI. The Story of Lucky Jim
CHAPTER XLVII. After the Drama Ended
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"Really, this is a sad affair."
"I have a clue."
"I am ready to do that at any and all times."
"John Burrill! Why, he is a brute!"
So he dines at Wardour Place
"Who are you?"
"Ah! This phial is one of a set."
"Are we alone?"
The tramp turned and looked back
"Doctor Heath flatters himself."
"Here is this man again."
"Poor Frank! don't let this overcome you so."
"Why, Evan, you look ghostly."
"You must not have a third attack."
"Conny, it has come."
"I am happy to know you."
"I have never once been tempted to self destruction."
Only a moment did Sybil listen
Evan saw Sybil and Frank canter away
"It is not in his power or yours to alter my decision."
"Then take that, and that."
"It's the other one," he muttered
"Stay a moment, sir."
"I'll be hanged if I can understand it."
"I hope you will excuse me."
"Well, Roake, are you ready for business?"
"If you ever see me again, you'll see me sober."
"You promise never to marry Francis LaMotte?"
The cottage stands quite by itself
"Prince, come away, sir!"
"Why, boy, bless me."
"Any of the stiff's friends in this gang?"
"Did you ever see that knife before?"
They find Corliss at the Sheriff's desk
"Softly, sir; reflect a little."
"Sybil Lamotte shall die in her delirium."
"Constance Wardour, you love Clifford Heath."
"Another, Miss Wardour, is—yourself."
"Mr. Belknap, it is I."
"Cap'n, you're a good fellow."
"My friend, come down off that."
"That hope is ended now."
"Prisoner at the Bar, are you guilty or not guilty?"
"It was found close beside the body of John Burrill."
They come slowly forward
"There is a flash—a loud report."
Bathurst telling the story
THE DIAMOND COTERIE.
TWO SHOCKS FOR W——.
On a certain Saturday in June, year of our Lord 1880, between the hours of sunrise and sunset, the town of W——, in a State which shall be nameless, received two shocks.
Small affairs, concerning small people, could never have thrown W—— into such a state of excitement, for she was a large and wealthy town, and understood what was due to herself.
She possessed many factories, and sometimes a man came to his death among the ponderous machinery. Not long since one "hand" had stabbed another, fatally; and, still later, a factory girl had committed suicide.
These things created a ripple, nothing more. It would ill become a town, boasting its aristocracy and "style," to grow frenzied over the woes of such common people. But W—— possessed a goodly number of wealthy families, and some blue blood. These were worthy of consideration, and upon these calamity had fallen. Let us read an extract or two from the W—— Argus, a newspaper of much enterprise and exceeding veracity:
MONSTROUS DIAMOND ROBBERY—BOLD BURGLARY.
This day we are startled by the news of a robbery in our midst, the like of which it has never been our fate to chronicle.
When the servants at Wardour Place arose this morning, they found confusion reigning in the library, desks forced open, papers strewn about, and furniture disarranged. One of the long windows had been opened by forcing the shutters, and then cutting out a pane of glass, after which the bolts were easily drawn.
Miss Wardour was at once aroused, and further examination disclosed the fact that her dressing room had been invaded, and every box, trunk and drawer searched. The beautiful little affair, which has the appearance of a miniature combined desk and bookcase, but which contains a small safe, that Miss Wardour believed burglar proof, had been forced, and the jewels so widely known as the "Wardour diamonds," stolen. Quite a large sum of money, and some papers of value, were also taken.
Most of our readers are familiar with the history of the Wardour diamonds, and know that they represented a fortune.
The burglary was effected without noise, not a sound disturbing Miss Wardour, or any of her servants, some of whom are light sleepers, and they have not a single clue by which to trace the robbers.
Miss Wardour bears the loss with great calmness. Of course every effort will be made to recover the jewels, and capture the thieves. It is rumored that Mr. Jasper Lamotte, in behalf of Miss Wardour, will visit the city at once and set the detectives at work.
This was shock number one for the public of W——.
Miss Constance Wardour, of Wardour Place, was a lady of distinction. She possessed the oldest name, the bluest blood, the fairest face, and the longest purse, to be found in W——; and, the Argus had said truly, the Wardour diamonds represented a fortune, and not a small one.
Emmeline Wardour, the great grandmother of Miss Constance, was a belle and heiress. Her fondness for rare jewels amounted to a mania, and she spent enormous sums in collecting rare gems. At her death she bequeathed to her daughter a collection such as is owned by few ladies in private life. She also bequeathed to her daughter her mania. This daughter, after whom Constance was named, added to her mother's store of precious stones, from time to time, and when, one fine day, a bank, in which she had deposited some thousands of her dollars, failed, and she found herself a loser, she brought her craze to a climax, by converting all her money into diamonds, set and unset.
At her death, her granddaughter, Constance, inherited these treasures, in addition to a handsome fortune from her mother; and, although the original collection made by Emmeline Wardour contained a variety of rare stones, opals, amethysts, pearls, cameos, etc., besides the many fine diamonds, they all came to be classed under the head of the "Wardour diamonds."
It is small wonder that W—— stood aghast at the thought of such a robbery, and it is impossible to say when the talk, the wonderment, the conjectures, suggestions, theories, and general indignation would have ended, had not the second shock overborne the first. Once more let the Argus speak:
A STARTLING DISCOVERY.
Yesterday afternoon, while the town was filled with the excitement caused by the Wardour robbery, Miss Sybil Lamotte, the beautiful daughter of our wealthy and highly respected citizen, Jasper Lamotte, Esq., eloped with John Burrill, who was, for a time, foreman in one of her father's mills. Burrill is known to be a divorced man, having a former wife and a child, living in W——; and his elopement with one of the aristocracy has filled the town with consternation.
Mr. Lamotte, the father of the young lady, had not been from home two hours, in company with his wife, when his daughter fled. He was en route for the city, to procure the services of detectives, in the hope of recovering the Wardour diamonds; both his sons were absent from home as well. Mr. Lamotte has not yet returned, and is still ignorant of his daughter's flight.
Thus abruptly and reluctantly ends the second Argus bombshell, and this same last bombshell had been a very different thing to handle. It might have been made far more sensational, and the editor had sighed as he penned the cautiously worded lines: "It was a monstrous mesalliance, and a great deal could be said in disparagement of Mr. John Burrill;" but Mr. Lamotte was absent; the brothers Lamotte were absent; and until he was certain what steps they would take in this matter, it were wise to err on the safe side. Sybil was an only daughter. Parents are sometimes prone to forgive much; it might be best to "let Mr. Burrill off easy."
Thus to himself reasoned the editor, and, having bridled his pen, much against his will, he set free his tongue, and in the bosom of his family discoursed very freely of Mr. John Burrill.
"My dear, it's unendurable," he announced to the little woman opposite, with the nod of a Solomon. "It's perfectly incomprehensible, how such a girl could do it. Why, he's a braggart and a bully. He drinks in our public saloons, and handles a woman's name as he does his beer glass. The factory men say that he has boasted openly that he meant to marry Miss Lamotte, or Miss Wardour, he couldn't decide which. By the by, it's rather odd that those two young ladies should meet with such dissimilar misfortunes on the same day."
Mrs. Editor, a small woman, who, from constantly hearing and absorbing into the vacuum of her own mind, the words of wisdom falling from the mouth of her husband, had acquired an expression of being always ready and willing to be convinced, looked up from her teapot and propounded the following:
"W-what do you s'pose she eloped with him for?"
"Maria, I believe I have told you frequently that there is no such word as 's'pose.' I don't suppose anything about it. It's enough to make one believe in witchcraft. Miss Sybil Lamotte held her head above us; above plenty more, who were the peers of Mr. John Burrill. Last year, as everybody knows, she refused Robert Crofton, who is handsome, rich, and upright in character. This Spring, they say, she jilted Raymond Vandyck, and people who ought to know, say that they were engaged. Why, Ray Vandyck comes of the best old Dutch stock, and his fortune is something worth while. I wonder what young Vandyck will say to this, and how that high-stepping old lady, his mother, will fancy having her son thrown over for John Burrill. I wish I knew how Jasper Lamotte would take it."
So, in many a household, tongues wagged fast and furious; misfortune had smitten the mighty ones of W——, and brought them within range of the gossiping tongues of their social inferiors; and, while the village oracles improve their opportunities, and old women hatch theories, the like of which was never heard on earth, let us make the acquaintance of some of the "mighty ones."
Wardour Place, the home of Miss Constance Wardour, and the scene of the "great Diamond robbery," lies a little east from the town, away from the clamor of its mills, and the contamination of its canaille.
It is a beautiful old place, built upon a slight elevation, surrounded by stately old trees, with a wide sweep of well-kept lawn, bordered with rose thickets, and dotted here and there with great clumps of tall syringas, white lilacs, acacias, and a variety of ornamental trees and flowering shrubs.
The mansion stands some distance from the road, and is reached by a broad, sweeping drive and two footpaths that approach from opposite directions.
In the rear are orchard and gardens, and beyond these a grassy slope that curves down to meet the river, that is ever hurrying townward to seize the great mill wheels and set them sweeping round and round.
The mansion itself is a large, roomy edifice, built by a master architect. It at once impresses one with a sense of its true purpose: a home, stately, but not stiff, abounding in comfort and aristocratic ease; a place of serene repose and inborn refinement. Such, Wardour Place was intended to be; such, it has been and is.
Miss Constance Wardour, mistress of the domain and last of the race, is alone in her own favorite morning room. It is two hours since the discovery of the robbery, and during those two hours confusion has reigned supreme. Everybody, except Miss Wardour, has seemingly run wild. But Miss Wardour has kept her head, and has prevented the servants from giving the alarm upon the highway, and thus filling her house with a promiscuous mob. She has compelled them to comport themselves like rational beings; has ordered the library and dressing room to be closed, and left untouched until the proper officer shall have made proper investigations; and then she has ordered her maid to serve her with a cup of strong coffee in the morning room; and, considering the glittering wealth she has just been bereaved of, Miss Wardour looks very calm and unruffled, and sips her coffee with a relish.
Presently the door opens and a lady enters: a very fat lady, with florid complexion, restless, inquisitive, but good-humored gray eyes, and plenty of dark crinkly hair, combed low about her ears.
This is Mrs. Honor Aliston, a distant relative of Miss Wardour's, who has found a most delightful home with that young lady, ever since the death of Grandmamma Wardour, for Constance Wardour has been an orphan since her childhood.
Mrs. Aliston comes forward, rather rolls forward, and sinking, with a grunt of satisfaction, into the largest chair at hand, fixes two gray eyes upon the heiress, which that young lady, perceiving, says: "Well?"
"Don't say 'well' to me. I've just come down from the mansard," gasped the widow Aliston.
"From the mansard?"
"Yes," fanning herself briskly with the pages of an uncut magazine.
Constance laughs musically. "Why, Aunt Honor, you didn't expect to see the robbers running across the country, did you?"
"Not I," disdainfully. "I wanted to see how long it took the news to get to—Mapleton."
"So soon! and the sheriff, or constable, or coroner,—who is it that make these investigations? He's coming, at any rate, whoever he is, with a mob at his heels. Who did you send for, Con?"
"For Mr. O'Meara, of course, and—I would like to see Ray Vandyck."
Constance laughed. "Oh, I am fond of Ray, you know, and I think he would offer some unique suggestions; besides—dear me, auntie!" breaking off suddenly, "I wish this farce was at an end."
Mrs. Aliston's gray eyes twinkled. "Why, child, you may be thankful it's no worse. Suppose—"
"Hush, Aunt Honor. 'Walls have ears,' you know. I have half a mind to take Mr. Lamotte into my—"
"Constance Wardour, what are you thinking about? 'Take Mr. Lamotte!' that means Frank Lamotte and Madame Lamotte, and that means all the rest."
"I said 'half a mind,' auntie. I don't think the notion will ever get its growth. I think we will see the end of this affair through our own spectacles; but—hear that noise! Are they bringing a legion of people? Auntie, I don't believe you have had a cup of coffee yet."
"Don't you? Well, I have, my child. Let's go out and meet those people. They will bring all the dirt that lay loose on the highway on the soles of their boots. Con," turning suddenly, "you don't look solemn enough."
Without heeding this last remark, Constance Wardour throws open the door, and passes out and down the hall to meet the party just entering.
There is Mr. Soames, the mayor of W——, very bustling and important; Corliss, the constable, exceedingly shrewd in his own opinion, and looking on this occasion as wise as an owl; Thomas Craig, Esq., sub-editor of the Argus; and some lesser lights, who, on one pretext and another, hope to gain admittance and sate their curiosity.
"Really, Miss Wardour," begins the bustling mayor, "really, this is a sad affair! miserable affair! Must have given you a terrible fright, and then the loss!—but we will find them. Of course your jewels, such valuables, can't be kept hid from sharp detectives—a—Corliss, what had we better do first?" for Mayor Soames, like many another mayor, is about as capable of fulfilling his duties as an average ten-year-old.
Corliss, however, comes gallantly to the rescue. He is equal to any emergency; there is nothing, if you take his word as proof, that Corliss is not equal to.
"First," says Corliss, "I think we had better—ahem—investigate."
"To be sure—investigate, of course—Miss Wardour, you have—"
"Closed up the disturbed rooms," interrupts Constance, promptly. "Yes, sir; I fear you will find little there to assist you. Nelly, throw open the library."
The servant, thus commanded, took from her mistress' hand a key, unlocked the library door and threw it open; and then the farce began.
If there is anything in all our dispensations of law and order that is calculated to strike astonishment to the heart and mind of a foreigner, it is our off-hand way of conducting a police investigation. In other countries, to be a magistrate, a notary, means to be in some degree qualified for the position; to be a constable, means to possess a moderate allowance of mother wit, and a small measure of "muscular christianity;" and to discover a crime, means to follow it up with a thorough and systematic investigation. Such is not our mode. With us, to hold office, means to get a salary; and to conduct an investigation, means to maunder through some sort of farce, which gives the criminal time to make good his escape, and to permit the newspapers to seize upon and publish every item, to detail every clue, as fast as discovered; all this being in favor of the law-breakers, and detrimental to the conscientious officers of justice.
In France, they complain of too much red tape in the police department. Let them supply us out of their superabundance; we have too little.
While Corliss "investigates," the mayor delivers an impromptu oration; and Mr. Craig, of the Argus, takes notes, according to his own light.
Out of his inner consciousness, the Argus man evokes an idea, which Corliss is not slow to adopt and use as his own.
"I suppose they will have a detective down as soon as possible," says Mr. Craig, as Corliss lays one ruthless hand on an overturned chair. "If I were you, Corliss, I would leave everything exactly as I find it, for the benefit of whoever works up the case."
Corliss slowly lowers the chair to its former position, and turns upon Craig a look of offended dignity.
"Why, what did you suppose I intended to do?"
"Umph!" retorted Craig, with a disrespectful sniff, "I rather thought you intended to sit down in that chair."
Turning his back upon the flippant young man, so sadly lacking in respect for the "powers that be," Corliss pursues his investigations. He has read, in many novels and sensational newspapers, vivid descriptions of similar examinations, and he goes to work after the most approved fashion. He scrutinizes the window, the open blind, the cut pane, the hangings within and the down-trodden shrubbery without; he darts out, and dives in; he peers under every thing, over every thing, into every thing; he inspects, over and again, the mutilated writing case, or safe, from which the treasure was actually taken; and raps and sounds it as if in search of some private receptacle that the thieves had overlooked, or Miss Wardour never found out. He goes down flat upon his stomach, and scrutinizes Miss Wardour's scrupulously swept carpets, in search of a footprint in the dust that is not there.
While he performs these feats, the mayor follows him about solemnly, and full of wondering admiration; and the man of the Argus scribbles, and chuckles and grins maliciously.
Meantime, there have been other arrivals at Wardour Place; and Constance, leaving the inspectors to their own devices, is standing in her drawing-room, talking earnestly with a broad-shouldered, handsome man, who looks much surprised at the tale she is telling.
"How unfortunate, and how fortunate," he says, depositing his hat upon the table beside him. "I came here to speak of our river excursion, and lo, I am in the midst of a sensation."
"And surrounded by forlorn females," she supplemented. "Aunt Honor won't recover from the fright in a week, although she looks so fierce at present."
Mrs. Aliston, who is seated at the farthest window, half buried by the lace draperies, and looking steadfastly down the road, pops out her head to retort:
"It's time to look fierce; don't I know that those Vandals in the next room will make as big a muddle as if they were in sympathy with the burglars?"
Constance laughed easily.
"They can't do much harm, auntie; the burglars did not leave a trace; I am positive of that." Then turning to the new comer, "I am very glad you came just now, Doctor Heath; you may help me with your advice. I have sent for my lawyer, Mr. O'Meara; but, for some reason he does not come."
"Mr. O'Meara left for the city last night."
"Oh! I am sorry for that; he would be sure to know how to proceed, and who to employ. Doctor Heath you are of course acquainted in the city; tell me of a good man, a really good one. I intend to spare no expense in hunting these robbers."
"And these diamonds," from behind the curtain.
"Aunt Honor, you are like the ghost in the pantomime; come out and be one of us."
"Very well, then; but seriously, Doctor Heath, if I can't secure but the one, let it be the robbers. Do you know I have a fancy that if we caught them or him, it would put an end to some of our mysteries. You have not been among us very long; but, don't you think we have more than our average of crime?"
"I had not observed, Miss Wardour."
"Less than a year ago, Brant, the jeweler, was a heavy loser. Within the year, three banks in this vicinity have been robbed. Last summer, Mark Olson, a farmer, drew from the bank several thousand dollars, intending to purchase land. Half way between W—— and his home he was waylaid, knocked from his horse, robbed, and left in the road senseless. I could name to you no less than seven private residences that have been burglarized within the past ten months, and if I related to you the circumstances attending each robbery, you would be satisfied, as I am, that, in every case, the robbers knew their ground, and did not work at random."
"And you have noted each of these events so accurately, Miss Wardour, and yet, were not—warned."
"I have noted all these events, Doctor Heath, and yet—have been robbed."
Doctor Heath bends his eyes upon the floor, and remains silent; there is no possibility of reading his thoughts in his face. It is a fine face, however, and Miss Wardour must be pardoned if she takes advantage of this temporary abstraction, to gaze full at him for one moment. The close cropped thick brown hair displays a well shaped head, the forehead is broad and full, the eyes large, dark gray, and capable of almost any expression; usually they look out from his handsome face with a half contemptuous indifference to all things, that leads one to fancy those eyes may have a history; this may or may not be the case. Doctor Heath came to W—— less than a year ago, armed with a personal certificate of merit from the first of the great New York physicians, bought out the practice of a broken down old resident doctor, fitted up a handsome office, and settled down to his business. He hired a small cottage as a place of residence, installed a deaf old woman as housekeeper and maid of all work, and lived a quiet bachelor life, riding a good horse, smoking a good cigar, and growing in favor with polite W—— society.
And this is absolutely all that W—— can tell concerning Dr. Clifford Heath. What was his past, whence he came, what the length of his purse or pedigree, no one knows. People have tried to find out something—of course—but Doctor Heath has a wonderful way of setting aside the hints of the curious, and he ignores the right of W—— to know his private history, with a cool impertinence that is as exasperating as it is effectual.
As he thinks, Miss Wardour watches; but no change comes over the calm, smooth shaven face, every feature expresses firmness and strength, and nothing more.
"And so you want an able officer to take this business in hand, Miss Wardour," says Clifford Heath, at length. "If it is as you suspect, it will need a shrewd man, and you have no clue, save those that are now being inspected," with a light laugh, "by our worthy constable and his supporters."
Constance Wardour arose and came close to the table, speaking in a low voice.
"Yes, Doctor Heath, I will trust you, although I intended saying nothing of this until an officer arrived. I have a clue, slight, although it may be, it is—"
She drew from her pocket a small white roll, and unfolding it, held up for his inspection half of a fine cambric handkerchief, and a tiny stoppered vial of finest cut glass.
Doctor Heath glanced at the vial and uttered one word.
"Chloroform," repeated Miss Wardour; "when I was awakened, by the knocking at my door, I found this," shaking the fragment of cambric, "lying lightly across my face; and the vial, on the little night stand beside my bed. Aunt Honor was rapping for admittance, and when she had made me comprehend the situation, we decided that it was best to say nothing of this. What seems most strange is, that it was administered with so much care; I am affected by the smallest quantity of the drug, and an ordinary dose would have put me under medical treatment. I could not have left my bed for a week, had they given me as much as would serve only to stupify Aunt Honor there."
"No," interrupted Mrs. Aliston, once more half emerging from her window. "It would have been worse than that; I think an overdose of chloroform would kill Constance. It seems as if they knew just how much to give."
Was it fancy, or did a troubled look rest for a moment in the eyes of Doctor Heath, and on his countenance a shade of pallor?
"This is, to my mind, the most serious aspect of the affair," he said gravely. "Mrs. Aliston is right; an overdose of that drug would be fatal to you. Your life has been jeopardized. I agree with Mrs. Aliston, your investigation is in the hands of bunglers; let us hunt these fellows down."
"I will see that an officer is telegraphed for at once; but—shall I send to the regular bureau, or—how?"
"There is one man in the city, if he is in the city now, who is qualified for the position he holds. He has withdrawn himself from the regular force, and acts solely on his own responsibility. He is much sought after, and possesses wonderful abilities; some of his exploits have been truly astounding."
"And this man is—"
"Mr. Lamotte; Mr. Francis Lamotte," announced a servant.
"Show them in," said Constance, at the same time gathering up the piece of cambric and the little vial and putting them in her pocket.
Doctor Heath arose, and taking up his hat, murmured an apology.
"I have a patient at this hour, Miss Wardour, and will call again during the day. You will not stand in need of my counsel now," smilingly. "Mr. Lamotte can give you all needful advice, and he is sure to be right," and Doctor Heath bowed himself out.
"The Wardour diamonds," he muttered, as he mounted his horse. "And to think that they almost cost her her life; a skilled hand was it? Well, when the detective comes, I, too, may have a clue for him."
A SAMPLE OF THE LAMOTTE BLOOD.
Mr. Jasper Lamotte is a tall man, a dark man, and a stately man. He is grave of speech, yet very suave and pleasing. He is open handed and charitable, and a very popular man among the people of W——. He will rein in his blooded horses to ask after the health of his factory hands, and doff his hat to the wife of his humblest tenant. He has been for many years a resident of W——. Years ago he was a great traveler, coming and going almost incessantly, but, after a time, he built the largest and newest of the W—— mills, and settled himself down to rear his family, and attend in person to his "bales and shekels."
Francis Lamotte is, what his father has been, a tall, dark eyed, sallow skinned young man, with a Greek profile, a profusion of curling dusky hair, a soft slow voice, a sweet and most pleasing smile; aristocratic hands and feet, a most affable manner; a very agreeable companion, and a dutiful son and brother. So saith W——. Such is Francis Lamotte, and being such, he is voted, with one consent, the handsomest young man in W——. Francis Lamotte, too, is popular with the people of W——; handsome and fascinating, the son of a father whose fortune is said to be enormous; he is welcomed in every household circle, and he brings pleasure and courtesy wherever he enters.
"Constance, my child, what is this that I hear?" exclaims Jasper Lamotte, taking the hand of Miss Wardour as she advances to meet him. "Have they not exaggerated the truth? The village is full of rumors."
"Constance, good morning," breaks in Francis Lamotte. "Father's head is a little turned by all this. Have you had a burglar? Have they stolen the Wardour diamonds? And are you frightened to death? And," with a malicious glance toward Mrs. Aliston, who had forsaken her window and was rolling slowly towards them, serene, and dignified, "did they bind and gag dear Mrs. A—?"
"Yes, yes! and no, no!" says Constance, cutting off the retort that was rising to the lips of her aunt. "Be seated, Mr. Lamotte; sit down Frank. I have 'had a burglar,' they did steal my diamonds. But—well, they did not frighten me for I was not aware of their presence, and they did not bind Aunt Honor for they—"
"Hadn't rope enough," interrupts that lady, at which they all laugh.
"But seriously, Constance," resumes Lamotte pere, "this is a bad business; a very bad business; good gracious! are we all to be robbed at the pleasure of these rascals? plundered whenever their pockets run dry? It's abominable! What has been done? There should be an officer on the spot now."
"So there is," breaks in Aunt Honor, with suspicious sweetness. "Constable Corliss and Mayor Soames, are examining the library and dressing room."
Mr. Lamotte retains his gravity, but after exchanging demure glances, and in spite of themselves, Constance and Francis Lamotte laugh outright.
"Then, my friends, let us await a revelation," Francis drawls in the most approved "camp meeting" fashion.
"Poor Corliss!" Mr. Lamotte smiles slightly; "at any rate he will try to do his duty. But, Constance, you should have an officer here as soon as possible; I should not come here venturing my suggestions but I learned, accidentally, that your lawyer O'Meara, is absent; that is another misfortune. O'Meara has a long clear head; would not make a bad detective himself. As he is away, and you need some one to act for you, why, I place myself at your disposal; if you have not already appointed an agent," with another smile.
"I have made no move in the matter, Mr. Lamotte; indeed, I have hardly had time to think, as yet. I suppose, too, that we have lost valuable time, and yet we can't get a detective down here in a moment. Pray take what measures you deem best, and let us have the best officer that we can get. I am especially anxious to capture the thieves if possible—and the diamonds—of course."
"England expects every man to do his duty," quoted Francis. "Constance give me an appointment, too."
"So I will," retorted Constance, wickedly. "I think you are eminently fitted to assist—Mr. Corliss."
"Frank, be serious," says Mr. Lamotte, with a touch of severity. "Now Constance, let us do what we can to make up for this unavoidable loss of time; first tell me, as minutely as you can, just how this robbery was discovered."
"It's a very brief story," says Constance, smiling slightly, and then she narrates, in a somewhat hurried manner, as if she were weary of the subject, and wanted to have done with it, the events of the morning, omitting, however, to mention the finding of the chloroform vial, and the half square of cambric.
"Mr. Soames and the constable—and several more, were on the spot with great promptness," finished she, with a comical glance toward Mrs. Aliston.
"We overlooked their proceedings until we discovered that they would do no actual damage, but would leave everything exactly as they found it, and then—"
"Yes," interrupted Francis, with a queer smile upon his lips, "and then you found a more agreeable occupation."
"And then," continued Constance, as if she had not heard him, but returning his half-malicious look with interest, "Dr. Heath called, and I told him all about it. He is very clear headed and sensible, and I was sorry his time was so limited; he might have been of some assistance, and—"
"Too bad," again broke in young Lamotte, with something very like a sneer upon his handsome face. "Let me repair the damage. I'll tell him to call—"
"Oh, not at all, Frank; pardon my interruption," said the girl, turning her eyes full upon him with artful artlessness. "You are very good, but it's quite unnecessary. Dr. Heath promised to call again during the day or evening."
Frank Lamotte bit his lip, but kept silent; and the elder man came to the rescue. He had been thinking, and without seeming to have noticed the little passage at arms, he arose and said: "Well, Constance, I don't see that talking will do much good just now; what the occasion demands is action. My first impulse was to telegraph at once for an officer from the city force, but, on reflection, I think it better not to use the telegraph. Our every movement may be closely noted, and to send a message would be to set some one watching for the arrival of a detective, and once his identity becomes known, farewell to his prospects of success. It will take a few hours longer to get him here, but I think I had better visit the city in person, lay the case before our man, and so enable him to enter the town prepared for his work, and able to maintain his incognito. I have business of my own in the city, and Mrs. Lamotte is anxious to do some shopping. Women are always anxious to shop, I believe. I will return home at once, and give her warning; it will look less like a business trip if she accompanies me. How does this plan suit you?"
"Any plan that brings us a competent officer as early as possible, will suit me," replied Constance. "It's very good of you to take all this trouble, Mr. Lamotte."
"Nothing of the sort," expostulated Mr. Lamotte, heartily. "I am always at the service of my daughter's dearest friend. By the by, Sybil is not yet aware of your loss. I did not enlighten her, for I knew she would insist upon coming with me, and that," smiling a little, "would have necessitated waiting for toilette."
"And apropos of toilettes," cried his son, springing up. "There is Mere, she will want due warning, for nothing short of a full hour will she take. So, sir, let's take a look at Soames and Corliss, and hasten our departure."
"Right; quite right, Frank, I will appoint you as my representative in my absence. You are to execute any and all of Miss Wardour's commands."
"I am ready to do that at any and all times," replied the young man, with sudden gravity, and letting his dark eyes rest for a moment upon the face of the lady in question. And then, without waiting for an answering remark, he turned from the room, followed by his father and the two ladies.
They found Corliss making his final sprawl, and the entire committee of investigation ready with any quantity of newly hatched theories, probable and improbable. Cutting short their eloquence, however, Mr. Lamotte recommended them to talk as little as possible among the townspeople, and to pursue the investigation quietly, after their own light. Then, after a few more words with the fair heiress, father and son took their leave.
Left alone, Constance sprang lightly out from the open library window, and began pacing the graveled walk, with a brow wrinkled in thought. Hearing a step behind her, she turned to encounter once more the gaze of Francis Lamotte.
"I beg your pardon," he said, quite humbly. "I was commissioned by Sybil to give you this," extending a dainty white note. "In the excitement of the morning I quite forgot it. Sybil gave me it last evening, asking me to deliver it this morning," and lowering his voice, "knowing it would be for me an exceedingly delightful mission."
Constance took the missive, and twisting it carelessly in her fingers, said:
"Of course, Frank; many thanks. And now, as you are under my commands, I forbid any more flattery and nonsense, sir. I am not in the mood to retort."
"So much the better for me," muttered the young man, moodily. "Constance, I—"
"Silence, sir! Have you not received your orders? My mind is on my losses. If you can think of no way to further our search, I shall dismiss you."
"I have thought of a way, then," he replied, with a touch of dignity. "I think one point has been overlooked. Those robbers have undoubtedly fled the town with their treasure, but it is hardly likely that they went by any very public thoroughfare. Now one, two or more strangers, traveling across the country, may have been seen by some cottager, farmer, or wood cutter; and I think it would be a mistake to neglect what might give us a clue. Probably the rascals took to their heels during the hours of darkness, making for some small railroad station. Now, I propose to go straightway, mount my horse, and scour the country in search of information. If I find a clew I shall follow it up; and so, if you don't see me by to-morrow morning, Constance, you may know that I have struck the trail."
"Why, Frank," cried Constance, in a burst of outspoken admiration. "I didn't think it was in you! Really, I admire you immensely; and you will really abandon your ease and comfort for—"
"No, don't put it in that way; say for justice."
"I don't care a fig for justice!" impatiently. "My motive is purely selfish. If I can be instrumental in recovering your diamonds, may I not hope for some very small reward?"
"To be—sure, Frank. I had overlooked that; a reward of course. I mean to have posters out right away, and—you may as well earn it as any one."
Francis Lamotte turned swiftly and stood for a moment with bent, averted head; then turning once more toward her a set, white face, he said:
"Even your cruelty shall not prevent me from serving you to the fullest extent of my power. And while I am gone you will receive—" he broke off abruptly, then went on, speaking huskily. "Constance, a girl like you can know little of the life led by a man who is an enigma even to his fellow men. I wish I could teach you to distrust—"
She lifted one hand, warningly. "You can teach me to distrust no one but yourself, Frank; and please don't perpetually talk of me as some unsophisticated school girl. I am twenty-one, nearly as old as you, my child,—old enough, certainly, to form my own judgment of people and things. Don't let's quarrel, Frank; you know I have been taught self-reliance, and never submit to dictation."
"As the queen pleases;" he lifted his hat with a graceful gesture. "Good-morning, Constance," and he turned and strode rapidly away.
He stopped and turned toward her, but did not retrace his steps.
"Are you really going, a la Don Quixote?"
"I really am," gravely.
He lifted his hat once more, and without uttering a word, resumed his rapid walk down the graveled footpath. Reaching the entrance to the grounds he paused, leaning for a moment against a stone pillar of the gateway; his hands were clenched until the nails left deep indentations in the flesh; his face was ghastly and covered with great drops of perspiration, and, whether the look that shone from his glittering dark eyes betokened rage, or despair, or both, an observer could not have guessed.
Meanwhile, Constance stood as he had left her, gazing after him with a mingled expression of annoyance and regret.
"It was very ungracious of me," she thought, half penitently, "but there's no other way with Frank, and his love-making annoys me exceedingly, especially since Aunt Honor's discovery. How she detests him, and Aunt Honor is too easy to lavish her hate upon many."
As if conjured up by her words, Mrs. Aliston appeared at the window.
"Handsome fellow, isn't he?" that is what her lips said, but the tone and look said quite as plainly, "detestable, abominable, odious." For Mrs. Aliston believed that she had discovered a good reason for disliking Frank Lamotte.
"Don't be exasperating, Aunt Honor," retorted Constance, re-entering the window with a slow, languid movement, as if the events of the morning had wearied her vastly. "Everybody has outdone themselves in the disagreeable line, myself included. I wish the burglars had carried me off along with my jewels. I am going up-stairs and try another dose of burglarious chloroform. But, first," dropping into the nearest chair, and assuming a tragic tone, "Let me peruse the letter of my beloved Sybil."
She broke the seal of the dainty envelope, to find that it enclosed another and still smaller one; and on this she read:
Constance, if I did not trust you so fully, I would not dare risk this: Do not open this envelope until sunset of to-morrow (Saturday); the contents will enlighten you as to my reasons for this strangeness then.
There was no signature, but the handwriting of Sybil Lamotte was too familiar to be mistaken. And, Constance Wardour sat silent and motionless, gazing at the little envelope with such a look of intense gravity upon her face as had not rested there during the entire morning.
Mrs. Aliston, who was a woman of tact, and understood her niece thoroughly, seemed not to have noticed the unopened envelope, and asked for no news from Sybil.
Presently, Constance arose, and, still wearing that weary air and solemn face, crossed the room; with her hand upon the door, she turned her face toward Mrs. Aliston, saying:
"Auntie, you hear about all that's going; did you ever hear that there was a streak of insanity in the Lamotte blood?" And then, without waiting for the astonished lady to reply, she quietly passed out and up the broad stairs.
It is almost sunset, and Constance Wardour is standing alone at her dressing-room window, which faces the west. It is still in confusion, but she cares little for that. Her thoughts are far away from the "Wardour diamonds" at this moment. Several things have occurred to vex and annoy her to-day, and Constance Wardour, heiress and autocrat, is not accustomed to being annoyed.
In fact, so peculiar is her nature, that very few things have power to annoy her; but, just now, she is annoyed because she is annoyed.
"As the queen pleases," Frank Lamotte had said; and all her fair twenty-one years of life events had been ordered "as the queen pleased." She had been taught self-reliance, so she told him; she had inherited self-reliance, she might have said, inherited it along with the rich, strong, fearless blood, the haughtiness, the independence, and the intolerance of the Wardours.
The haughtiness was only for those who presumed; the intolerance for those she despised; and Miss Wardour was quite capable of that strong sentiment, or feeling. The independence was an ever present element of her nature.
Of medium height, she was neither slender nor plump, graceful curves, perfect outlines, faultless gait and gesture; she, "slew her tens of thousands," and bore herself like a princess royal toward all.
Without being regularly beautiful, her face is very fair to see. Being, in spite of her haughtiness, most kind and considerate toward inferiors and dependents, and withal exceeding lovable, she is disqualified for a novel heroine by her excessive humanness; and, by that same humanness, eminently qualified to be loved by all who know her, gentle and simple.
Just now her firm little mouth is pursed up, and her brow is wrinkled into a frown, such as never is seen on the face of any orthodox heroine; but, her thoughts are very orthodox, as heroines go. She is wondering why Doctor Heath has not made his second appearance at Wardour Place, when she so plainly signified her desire to see him there, again, and soon.
Not that she had bidden him come in so many words; but, had she not looked? had she not smiled? Not that she felt any special interest in Dr. Heath; oh, not at all, only she was bored, and worried, and wanted to be amused, and entertained; and Clifford Heath could be entertaining.
Sybil Lamotte's unopened note lies on the dressing table. She has pondered over that half the afternoon, and has wondered, and guessed, at its meaning; turning over in her mind every explanation probable, and possible, but satisfied with none. She is wonderfully lacking in curiosity, for a woman, but for this she might not have withstood the temptation to anticipate the sunset; for she never has felt so curious about a mystery in her life.
She turns abruptly from the window, and her eyes fall upon Sybil's note, her thoughts return to it again. But it is not quite sunset.
Picking it up, she re-reads for the twentieth time the puzzling lines, then she throws it down impatiently.
"Bah!" she exclaims; "You wretched little white enigma! you are tempting me to forget myself. I shall flee from the fascination of your mysterious face, for I am quite certain that Joshua's chariot is abroad, and the sun is standing still in the skies."
So saying, she goes out, closing and locking the dressing-room door, and descends the stately stairs; at their foot she pauses in full view of the entrance, for there, hat in hand, appears the subject of her recent discontent, Doctor Heath. Surely there must be something depressing in the atmosphere, Constance thinks, as she goes forward to meet him; for his face wears a grave, troubled look not usually seen there.
"Oh, Doctor Heath," she says, half reproachfully, and fabricating after the manner of her sex, "here I have been trying to evoke from my 'inner consciousness' what manner of man your great detective might be. You barely introduced him, and then you flitted; and I do so much dislike the 'To be continued' style."
"So do I," he replies, soberly, as he follows her into the drawing room. "So much that I shall make the story I have come to tell, as brief as maybe. Miss Wardour, have you heard any news from the town—since noon?"
"Not a word," moving across the room, and drawing back the curtain so that the last rays of sunlight fall across the floor. "Is there any news? Have they found a trace of my robbers?"
"For the time being, your robbers, are forgotten," smiling slightly. "W—— has had a fresh sensation this afternoon."
"So! and I have become a lesser light? Well, so goes the world! Of course it won't be as interesting as the story of my own woes; but, who is the newest candidate for sensational honors?"
"Your friend, Miss Sybil Lamotte."
Instantly her careless tone changes to one of gravity. For a moment she has forgotten Sybil, and her note; now she remembers both, and involuntarily glances out toward the west. The sun is almost gone, but still darts red gleams across the sky. Moving nearer she seats herself, and scans his face a moment, and then, while she motions him to a seat opposite her, says, in that low even tone that is usual to her in all serious moods.
"And what of Sybil Lamotte?" Her eyes search his face; instinctively she knows that something serious has happened; she dreads, yet, with her natural bravery, resolves to hear the worst at once.
"Eloped! But why? Sybil eloped—then it must be with Ray Vandyck," drawing a breath of relief.
"No," gloomily. "It is not Raymond Vandyck. That would have been simply a piece of romantic folly, since no one would long oppose Ray, but this—this thing that she has done, is worse than folly, it is crime, madness."
"Not Ray! and yet Sybil lo—Doctor Heath tell the whole truth, the very worst, quickly."
"Sybil loved Raymond Vandyck, that is what you were about to say, Miss Wardour. You would have betrayed no secret; poor young Vandyck honors me with his confidence. I left him, not half an hour ago, prostrate, half maddened with grief and rage; grief, when he thinks of Sybil lost to him, and fury when he thinks of the man she has chosen. I never saw him; but if the public voice speaks truth, John Burrill is all that is vulgar and corrupt."
"John Burrill!" Constance springs to her feet with eyes flashing. "John Burrill! Why, he is a brute; mentally, morally, physically, a brute. And you couple his name with that of Sybil Lamotte? Doctor Heath, this is an infamous trick. Some one has lied to you. You have never seen him, you say; if you had you could not have been duped. I know him, as one grows to know any notorious character in a town like this, from seeing him reeling intoxicated through our streets, from hearing of his most startling escapades; a common lounger, a drunkard, a man with a divorced wife in our very midst. Doctor Heath, I know you are incapable of such a jest, but tell me who has caused you to believe a thing so shameful?"
"I thank you for your faith in me," he says, with the shadow of a smile upon his face. "The story is shameful indeed, but it is true. Sybil Lamotte has eloped, and with John Burrill. Listen, before you remonstrate. This afternoon at two o'clock, John Burrill, with a swift horse and shining new carriage, drove boldly up to the side entrance of Mapleton Park. There, Sybil Lamotte was awaiting him; he handed her to his carriage and then drove ostentatiously through the town taking the west road. It appears, that for several days, Burrill had been dropping hints in his sober moments, and boasting openly in his cups, of his coming marriage with one of the belles of W——, and, last evening, he openly avowed that to-day, he should 'carry off Miss Sybil Lamotte, in spite of her high and mighty family, and in the face of all the town.' Of course, no one who heard regarded these things, save as the bombast of a half drunken braggart and liar. To-day, young Evarts and his still wilder chum, encountered him just setting forth with his fine turnout and wonderfully gotten up. They jested on his fine appearance, and for once he evaded their questions, and seemed anxious to be rid of them. This piqued their curiosity, and, ripe for mischief, as usual, they resolved to follow him.
"They were mounted when they met him, having just ridden into town. They saw him stop at Mapleton and take up Miss Sybil, from there they followed them westward. Burrill drove at the height of his horse's speed, and the boys, who followed at a distance, arrived at Milton (you will see their policy in avoiding the railroad towns), ten miles distance, to find that Burrill had changed horses there, and driven away, still westward, at the same break-neck pace. Burrill's horse was badly used up, short as the drive had been, and the man who took it in charge said that the fresh horse was brought there by him, Burrill, yesterday, and that he had heard the lady complain that they 'could not go fast enough.'"
He ceases, and his eyes rest anxiously on her face. She does not seem to have observed that he is not speaking. She has heard every word, and, somehow, the conviction has been growing even in advance of his story, that it is all true. This will explain Sybil's strange letter, and—that letter! what does it contain? She turns and gazes, as if fascinated, towards the west. There are no more golden gleams athwart the windows, only a dull red flush upon the horizon. The sun, at last, has set.
At last! She turns, rises slowly and without once glancing toward him begins to pace the length of the room, and he sees that the queenly Miss Wardour is for once, unnerved, is struggling for composure.
Finally she speaks, still keeping up her slow promenade.
"Dr. Heath, I am bewildered. I am terrified! I—" She breaks off suddenly, as if to modify her speech. "This can be no common—elopement," she winces at the word. "Sybil is refined, honest and true-hearted, and she loves—another. There must be something yet, to be understood, and," with a sudden startled look in her eyes, "perhaps this might have been prevented; perhaps I might have prevented it if—" another break; then, "Doctor, it is just possible that I may find a clue to this strangeness. Will you pardon my absence for a short time, and await me here? This is a strange request, but—"
"It's a day of strange things," he interrupts, kindly, seeing her agitation. "Go, Miss Wardour; I am at your service this evening."
He crosses the room, seats himself at a table, and takes up a book; and Constance stands irresolute for a moment, then, without a word, hurries from the room.
Up the stairs she flies, hastily unlocks her dressing-room door, enters, and, in a moment, with a courage born of a nervous determination to know the worst at once, seizes the mysterious note and breaks the seal. A moment's hesitation, and then the page is opened, and the lines, only a few, dance before her eyes. She tries to steady her hand; she can not read them fast enough.
Constance, Dear Constance:
When you read this, you may have become already aware of the fate I have chosen for myself. I have no explanation to offer. Think of Beauty and the Beast; think of Titania's strange choice; think me mad. But oh, Constance, never censure me; never think that all the happy days, when you have been my friend, I was not worthy that friendship. And, Con., don't let others say things too bitter about me. Am I not dead to myself, and to you all? and for the dead, have we not charity only? Constance, I wish I were buried, too.
P. S.—Con., never let my relatives see this note. They will have enough to bear.
So runs the note.
Half an hour later, Constance Wardour comes quietly into the drawing-room. So quietly, that her approach is not observed by Dr. Heath, until her voice breaks the silence, and he starts up from the reverie in which he has been indulging, to see her standing before him, with pale cheeks, and troubled, anxious eyes.
"Has my rudeness been quite unpardonable?" she says, appealingly. "Truly, I have had no idea of the flight of time. I have been sitting up there," motioning toward the upper floor, "stunned, and yet trying to think. I have gained a little self-possession," smiling slightly, as she sinks into a seat, "but not my senses. I thought myself equal to most emergencies, but this is more than an emergency,—it is a mystery, a terror! For the first time in my life, I can't think, I can't reason. I don't know what to do!"
It is her turn to speak in riddles; his, not to comprehend. But, being a man, he closes his lips and waits.
"Something terrible has befallen Sybil Lamotte," she goes on, gradually regaining a measure of her natural tone and manner. "I need an adviser, or I had better say, a confidante, for it amounts to that. You know Sybil, and you know poor Ray. You are, I believe, a capital judge of human nature. This morning, just after you left, as you know, Mr. Lamotte and his son called here, and Frank put in my hand this note from Sybil." For the first time he observes the letter which she holds between her two hands. "For reasons stated on the outside of the envelope, which was enclosed in another, I did not break the seal until—now. It may seem like violating Sybil's confidence, but I feel justified in doing what I do. I have no one to advise me, Aunt Honor being worse than myself in a crisis like this; and I believe that both Sybil and I can trust you. Dr. Heath, please read that letter."
He looks at it doubtfully, but does not take it from her extended hand.
"You are sure it is best?" hesitatingly. "You wish it?"
"I wish it," with a touch of her natural imperiousness; "I believe it is best."
Silently he takes the letter from her hand, silently reads the lines upon the envelope, while she thinks how sensible he is not to have uttered some stereotyped phrase, expressive of his sense of the high honor she does him by giving him so much of her confidence.
Still in silence, he opens and reads the letter, then lays it down and thinks.
At last she grows impatient. "Well," she exclaims, "are you, too, stricken with something nameless?"
He leans toward her, his arm resting upon the table between them, his eyes fixed gravely upon her face,
"Miss Wardour, does your faith in your friend justify you in complying with her wishes?"
"Most assuredly," with a look of surprise.
"In spite of to-day's events?"
"In spite of any thing!"
He draws a long, sighing breath. "Oh," he says, softly, "it would be worth something to possess your friendship. Now,—do you really wish for my advice?"
"Have I not asked for it, or, rather, demanded it, like a true highwayman?"
"Then here is your case: You have a friend; you trust her fully; nothing can shake your faith in her. Suddenly, she does a thing, shocking, incomprehensible, and, in doing it, asks you not to question, for she can not explain; asks you to think of her kindly; to trust her still. Here is a test for your friendship. Others may pry, drag her name about, torture her with their curiosity; she has appealed to you. Respect her secret. Let her bury it if she will, and can; you can not help her. If she has become that bad man's wife, she is past human help. Undoubtedly there is a mystery here; undoubtedly she has acted under the control of some power outside herself; but she has taken the step, and—it is done!"
She draws a long, sighing breath. "You are right," she says, wearily, "your wisdom is simple, but it is wisdom, and I thank you for it; but, oh! if they could have been intercepted. If I could have known—have guessed."
He smiles oddly. "You do not consider," he says, "how cunningly their plans were laid; doubtless they have been waiting some such opportunity. At twelve o'clock, Mr. Lamotte and wife started for the city."
"In my service, alas!"
"At one, Frank Lamotte mounted his horse and rode eastward."
"Alas! also to serve me."
"At two o'clock, the coast was clear, and the flight commenced. When it became known, search was made for Evan, as the only member of the family within reach of a warning voice. They found him in a beer saloon, in a state of beastly intoxication."
"Of course he was surrounded by a crowd, eager to see and to hear how he would receive the news; and the work of sobering him up was at once commenced. It took a long time to make him comprehend their meaning, but after a while the name of his sister, coupled with that of John Burrill, brought him staggering to his feet, and a few moments later, a plain statement of the facts, hurled bluntly at him by one of the loungers, sobered him completely. In an instant he had laid his informant sprawling in the saloon sawdust. He declared it a calumny, as you did, and declared war upon the lot of them. Soon kinder hands rescued him from these tormentors, and men he could not doubt convinced him of the truth of the unhappy affair. And then, any who saw would have pitied him. The boy is wild and bad, but he has a heart, and he loves his sister. Poor fellow! he is not all bad."
"He telegraphed at once to his father, and then set out for Mapleton, looking like the ghost of himself, but carrying a freshly filled flask."
"Of course," mournfully.
"He would have started in pursuit, had they not convinced him of the folly of such an undertaking."
"Folly, indeed, for him."
"And now, Miss Wardour, we have arrived at the end of certainty, and to enter into the field of conjecture is useless. The time may come when some of us may be of actual service to this most unhappy friend of yours. I confess that I wait with some curiosity the movements of her parents in the matter."
"They will take her from him, at once. They will buy him off; compel him—anything to get her back."
"Perhaps; but—she may resist them. Think of that letter."
"True. Ah me! I can't think. Doctor Heath, I have kept you here starving. I had forgotten that dinner ever was, or could be. You shall dine with Aunt Honor and myself; and, for the present, we will not speak of poor Sybil's flight to her. She would run the entire gamut of speculation, for she is very much given to 'seeing through things,' and I can't bear to talk too much on this subject. I should get angry, and nervous, and altogether unpleasant. I say, 'you will stay;' will you stay?"
He has never before been invited to dine at Wardour Place, except when the dinner has been a formal one, and the guests numerous; but he accepts this invitation to dine en famille, quite nonchalantly, and as a thing of course.
So he dines at Wardour Place, and talks with Aunt Honor about the robbery, and listens to her description of the splendid Wardour diamonds, and looks at Constance, and thinks his own thoughts.
After dinner Aunt Honor occupies herself with the evening paper; and, after a while, Constance and Doctor Heath pass out through the low, broad French window, and stand on the balcony. The light from within falls upon them and that portion of the balcony where they stand. There is a young moon, too; and just beyond is a monster oak, that spreads its great branches out, and out, until they rustle, and sway above the lower half of the long balcony, and rap and patter against the stone walls.
"Have you thought," asks Constance, as she leans lightly against the iron railing, "that to-morrow is Sunday, and that Mr. Lamotte, unless he has already returned, can not reach home until Monday?"
"It has occurred to me."
"And poor Sybil! Where will she be by then?"
"Miss Wardour! What disinterestedness! I thought you were thinking of your detective."
"My detective! Why, what a lot of stupid people! He might as well not come at all. Why didn't you tell me to telegraph at once?"
"Because Mr. Lamotte was coming. I depended upon him."
"And he has made a blunder."
"He may have seen an officer immediately, and the man may be now on the way, by the night train. He will be sure to be here before Monday, or he is no detective. They depend very little on the regular trains."
"Oh; I am enlightened! All the same, I shall never see my diamonds more."
"You don't seem much troubled."
"Pride, all pride! I'm heart broken."
"You are a most nonchalant young lady."
Then they both laugh, and relapse into silence. Presently, she says:
"We are sure to have the wrong man. Why did you not tell me the name of your great detective, so that I might have commissioned Mr. Lamotte to bring him? That man has been in my mind all day. You have made me enamored of him."
"Why?" laughing indulgently; "I barely mentioned him."
"No matter; you say he is a splendid officer?"
"There is no better. I know of none as good."
"And his name?"
"A very romantic one: Neil J. Bathurst."
"Why!" stepping suddenly to the window. "Aunt Honor!"
"Well," replies Mrs. Aliston, from behind her newspaper.
"What is the name of your wonderful detective, who brought those two murderers from Europe, and had them properly hung?"
"Mr. Neil Bathurst. Why, my dear?"
"Oh, nothing special, auntie;" then returning to the window, "Auntie never loses trace of a crime or a trial in high life. I have heard her talk of this man's splendid exploits, by the hour. She is a walking catalogue in all aristocratic sensations. So this is your great man? Well, if he is in the city, we must have him. Mr. Lamotte shall bring his man, or send him; there should be work for two. As for me, I intend to secure the services of Mr. Neil J. Bathurst."
"He may not be within reach; he is constantly moving, and always busy."
"No matter. I tell you I want to see this man."
"That being the case, I may as well present myself."
They start at the sound of a strange voice near them. There is a rustling of leaves, and from one of the great oak's extended branches, a form swings downward, and drops lightly upon the grass, just before the place where they stand.
"Who are you?" demands Doctor Heath, sternly, as the eavesdropper approaches. "And what does this impertinence mean?"
Before they can think, the man approaches the balcony, puts his hands upon the railing, and springs lightly over; standing in the full light that falls from within, he doffs his hat like a courtier, and bending before Constance, says, in a voice that is, for a man, singularly rich and mellow:
"Madame, I am here at your service. I am Neil J. Bathurst."
THE DEDUCTIONS OF A DETECTIVE.
Both Constance and Dr. Heath fancy that they comprehend the situation almost instantaneously. The stranger's movements have been so cat-like, his voice so carefully modulated, that Aunt Honor reads on, never dreaming that an addition has been made to the party. Dr. Heath is the first to speak.
"Upon my word," he says, with a touch of coldness in his tone; "this is quite dramatic."
"It's a very good tableaux," admits the new comer, "but dramatic as the present day drama goes? No, it's too naturally brought about, as you will admit, when I explain my presence here. Your mention of my name, while I lay sprawled across the great branch, within easy hearing, was rather sensational, to me, but, of course you can explain that."
By this time Constance has recovered herself, and rises to the occasion; in fact, she rather enjoys the situation; this is one of the emergencies wherein she is quite at home. Without stopping for commonplace remarks, or expressions of surprise, she goes straight to the point.
"How we came to be discussing you, you must understand, if you are really Mr. Bathurst, and—have been very long in that tree."
"I have been 'very long' in that tree, I feel it," ruefully. "And I am Neil Bathurst, detective; never was anybody else, and by the by, here is this doctor; I heard him giving me a capital 'recommend;' now bid him step up and identify me," and he laughs as if he had uttered a capital joke.
Doctor Heath laughs now, as he comes closer and scrutinizes him by the light from the drawing room.
"Oh, I recognize you by your voice, which you have not attempted to disguise, and by your—a—assurance."
"I thought so!" rubbing his hands with a satisfied air.
"But that physiognomy, I never saw before."
The detective laughs.
"No, this is one of my business faces, and you, sir, are one of the few who have known me simply as a man, without inference to my occupation; a man like me may be expected to turn up anywhere, but you, sir, are the last man I expected to see in this place."
"Nevertheless, I have been an inhabitant of W—— for a year; but enough of me for the present. Mr. Bathurst, this lady is Miss Wardour, in whose service you have been retained."
Miss Wardour extends a gracious, welcoming hand.
"Mr. Bathurst has heard me express my desire to know him," she says, with a little ripple of laughter, "so no more need be said on the subject. Mr. Bathurst you came as opportunely as a fairy godmother; and now let us go in and take my aunt into our counsels."
She lifts the lace curtains and passes in; as she goes, Dr. Heath lays a detaining hand on the detective's arm.
"Mr. Bathurst," he whispers; "in W—— I am Dr. Heath, from nowhere."
"I comprehend," significantly.
"Thank you;" then they too pass through the window, and the detective goes through the ordeal of presentation to Aunt Honor.
Mrs. Aliston, being a thorough woman, who knows her perquisites, gets through with the necessary amount of astonishment, ejaculations, questionings, and expressions of delight; all things are overcome by time, even a woman's volubility. And during the flow of her discourse the detective is communing thus with his "inner consciousness:"
"So we have been retained by this handsome young lady? Well, that's intelligence! and what does the old lady mean by supposing that Mr. Lamotte has told me this and that? Who the deuce is Lamotte? Why the deuce don't somebody ask me how I came to be perched in that tree? Do they think it's the proper thing for detectives to tumble in among them out of the trees and the skies? After all, it is like a drama, for I'll be blessed if I see any sense in it all."
"I see you are all more or less attracted by my personal appearance," he says, after Aunt Honor has given up the floor. "Now that I think of it, it's not just the thing for a drawing room."
Mr. Neil Bathurst, or his present presentment, is a medium sized man, attired in garments that have once been elegant, but are now frayed, threadbare, travel worn; his feet are encased in boots that have once been jaunty; his hat is as rakish as it is battered; his face wears that dull reddish hue, common to fair complexions that have been long exposed to sun and wind; his hair and beard, somewhat matted, somewhat disordered, may have borne some tinge of auburn or yellow once, but they too, have, unmistakeably, battled with the sun, and have come out a light hay color. As Constance looks at him, she, mentally, confesses that he is certainly the oddest figure she has ever entertained in her drawing room.
"I have been wondering just what grade of humanity you are supposing yourself to represent just now," says Doctor Heath, eyeing him quizzically.
"What!" with mock humility, "am I thus a failure? Miss Wardour, look at me well; do you not recognize my social rank?"
Constance surveys him afresh, with critical eye.
"I think," she says, "I recognize the gentleman tramp; one of the sort who asks to wash his face before eating, and to chop your wood after."
"Right!" says the detective. "My self-respect returns; I am not a bungler. In the morning I shall be on the ground, to wash my face, and chop your wood; which reminds me, your servants, they must not see me here. I must depart as I came, and soon."
"And your search," asks Constance, "when will that begin?"
"My search?" hesitating oddly. "Oh, that has already commenced."
"What a curious thing it is that Mr. Lamotte should have secured you, of all men," breaks in Aunt Honor. "I did not think it possible Mr. Lamotte—"
"Pardon me, all of you," breaks in the gentleman tramp. "Something must be set right; I will come to the point at once. Who is Mr. Lamotte? What is Mr. Lamotte? I have never seen him; never heard of him."
"What!" from Constance.
"Oh!" from Mrs. Aliston.
"But—" from Doctor Heath.
"Let me finish," he interpolates. "Let me tell you just how I happened to drop down among you to-night. Recently we have had in the city several robberies similar to this of yours, Miss Wardour, as I understand it. Several times we have had a trace or clue, and have hoped to find the robbers, but so far have been baffled. We must necessarily have many ways of gathering up information, and I have some methods of my own. This is one of them. I have access to the offices of our daily papers. I have a friend or tool in each. When a special telegram, in the line of criminal intelligence, comes to one of these papers, I am in possession of its contents before it has reached the compositor's hands. This morning a 'special' arrived at the office of the Evening Bulletin. I have not with me a copy. It ran:
MONSTER DIAMOND ROBBERY.
[Special dispatch to the Evening Bulletin.]
Intelligence has this moment been received, that Wardour Place has been burglarized; and the splendid Wardour diamonds, valued at more than one hundred thousand dollars, stolen, besides money and papers of value. No particulars as yet.
"This is what brought me here. I came to see if this burglary was the handiwork of the thieves I have been trying to catch. I came solely on my own responsibility, not intending to make myself known to the inmates of this house, but to ferret out things quietly and go my way. While lurking in that tree I was surprised to hear myself made the subject of conversation; and then, impulse led me to respond to this lady's expressed desire to see me, and—I presented myself."
All sit silent, all are astonished, and inclined to think this odd complication out quietly.
Constance is the first to see the absurdity of the situation, and she breaks into a peal of laughter, in which she is presently joined by the others. Finally, she regains her composure and says:
"And so after all you are not our detective. Well, that shall not prevent us from appropriating your services. And you want to identify these robbers if possible? We are all at your disposal—tell us how we can help you most."
"You came with scant information," says Doctor Heath, "and you can't have been here long, but I'll wager you have picked up something."
"As to that," replies the detective, smiling slightly, "I left the city by the early afternoon express, before your Mr. Lamotte had arrived, you see. Twelve miles from W—— I left the train and boarded a freight; about three miles out I abandoned the freight, quite unceremoniously, while she was pulling up a heavy grade, and tramped into town. I lounged about, confining myself to the more obscure streets until I had got the story of the robbery, with full particulars, as far as the gossips knew it. Toward sundown I started in this direction. Stopping on the way, I begged a drink of water and a slice of bread, of an old woman, in a little brown house. She thought me a very well behaved tramp, and inquired after my private history and the condition of my soul."
"That is old Mrs. Malloy," she says. "She's very pious and very full of gossip."
"Precisely!" replies the detective, wickedly; "she told me how many lovers you had, Miss Wardour; and how many dresses; and just the color of your eyes, and hair; she told me all about the robbery, and a great many more things that were not quite to the point."
"Of course," assents Miss Wardour, not at all abashed. "Mrs. Malloy is an oracle."
"As soon as I could make my escape from her, I came nearer Wardour Place, and made a circuitous survey. Still later, I came upon your gardener, sitting, ruminating, upon a stone fence, in the rear of the premises. I found him inclined to be communicative, in fact, he seemed rather desirous to air his notions, and he has some peculiar ones, concerning this robbery. I gave him a drink out of my black bottle, and he grew quite eloquent."
"Oh, dear," interrupts Constance once more. "Then, no doubt, he has pruned away half the garden shrubs. Old Jerry always is seized with a desire to prune things, the moment he has taken a drink."
"It was getting too dark for pruning, Miss Wardour, and he went to his supper. Then, I approached the kitchen cautiously, found a comfortable lurking place, close to an open window, and listened to the table talk of the servants. From them I learned the bearings of the library, and so, while you were at dinner, I entered, without difficulty, and have explored that room to my entire satisfaction."
Amazement sits on the face of all three listeners.
"Well!" ejaculates Dr. Heath, "You are a modest tramp! What did you do next?"
"Next I prowled 'round and round the house,' examining all the windows, and drawing some conclusions; and then, having seen you, Doctor Heath, through the drawing-room windows, I established myself in yonder tree to wait until you should go home, and to waylay you."
"Much obliged, I'm sure," says the Doctor, gratefully. "What demoniac design had you on my defenseless self?"
"Several; to appeal to your hospitality; to renew an acquaintance, which in the beginning did me honor; and to quiz you unmercifully."
"Then I forgive you," grandiloquently. "And my doors are open to you, and my hand is extended, and the secrets of my bosom are laid bare. But Miss Wardour has something to say; I see it trembling on her lips."
"Right," smiles Constance. "I was about to ask if Mr. Bathurst, having effected his object thus far independently, will be satisfied to inspect my dressing room, the real scene of action, in the ordinary manner and without any obstacles in the way."
"Perfectly," says the detective, dropping his tone of badinage and becoming alert and business like at once. "And the sooner the better. I am anxious to complete my deductions, for my time is limited, and I must wait for daylight to overlook the grounds more closely than I could venture to do to-day."
"We are all anxious for your opinion, and so, will you take one of those lamps and my keys, or will you have an escort?"
"I wish you to point out to me the exact position of everything this morning, Miss Wardour. I think we may all go up."
So they all ascended to the disordered dressing room, and the detective seats himself, deliberately, upon the first unoccupied chair, and begins to look slowly about him. It is not a long survey, and then the safe is examined. Here he looks at Constance.
"This has not been done without noise; not loud enough to be heard across the hall, perhaps, but enough to be heard by a light sleeper, or, indeed, any one who did not sleep too soundly and with muffled ears, say, in that room," pointing through the curtained arch which divided the dressing from the sleeping room.
"Did you sleep there, Miss Wardour?"
Constance nods, then goes through the arch and returns with a little phial of chloroform, and a fragment of cambric in her hand.
She places them before him, telling him quietly how they were found before her that morning.
The detective takes them, turns them over in his hand, and examines them closely.
"Ah!" he exclaims, drawing out the fancifully carved stopper, "this phial is one of a set."
Doctor Heath nods. "So I thought," he says, glancing at Constance.
Once more, and in silence, the detective examines the safe, then he goes quietly about the room not overturning or handling, simply observing closely; then he says:
"Now, I think I am done here. We will go down, if you please, and I will give you the benefit of my conjectures." He puts the bottle and the piece of linen in his pocket, and turns from the room. Instinctively he takes the lead, instinctively they follow, naturally according him the leadership.
When they are once more seated, he turns to Constance.
"They gave you a very light dose of chloroform, Miss Wardour."
"Very light," she replies; "and that was most fortunate for me."
"Allow me to explain," interrupts Doctor Heath. "Miss Wardour possesses one of those peculiar constitutions upon which all opiates act with disastrous effect. It is fortunate that a cautious hand,—I was about to say a skilled hand,—administered the drug. I could swear that not the half of an ordinary dose was given her, for a full dose would have prostrated her for days; and the quantity it would require to make you or me sleep soundly for half the night, would kill her outright."
"Ah!" says the detective, softly, to himself. "Ah-h-h!"
"Now I wonder;" it is Mrs. Aliston who speaks. "I wonder how in the world you knew that they had given my niece only a small dose."
"Very easily, madame. The phial is very small, and it is now over two-thirds full."
"That, indeed!" murmurs Mrs. Aliston, feeling somehow extinguished, while the others smile at his simple explanation.
"And now," says the detective, "for my deductions. First, then, the robbers did not enter these grounds last night for the first time. They did not enter the library at random, or because that window could be easily forced. They, whoever they were, knew their grounds, not only from without, but from within. The disturbance in the library is only a ruse,—the robbers wanted nothing, knew they should find nothing, there. They were not amateurs; yet, somehow, in this case, they bungled somewhat in their work. Before they approached this house, every thing was planned, and all was done as planned. They were systematic, therefore successful; and yet—they bungled. They came by the river,—came in a boat, with oars muffled; they came by the footpath over the river slope, and entered your garden by leaping the fence just below the gate, which was locked. Then they followed the footpaths through the shrubbery, and straight to that library window. They came there because they knew it to be the library window, and they wished to cross the library because they knew that from the door of that room they stepped at once upon the stairs, thus having the nearest, easiest and safest route to Miss Wardour's rooms. Either they found her door unlocked, or they were prepared with skeleton keys. Was the door locked, Miss Wardour?"
"It was locked."
"It was locked. They then used a skeleton key, entered, and knowing just the proportion of chloroform Miss Wardour could bear, they administered it carefully, secured the booty without further trouble, and made their escape without detection."
No remarks from his listeners. They sit amazed, incredulous, admiring, yet speechless.
"Now, I see I had better prove my statements," goes on Mr. Bathurst, looking from one to another with a smile of easy superiority. "Miss Wardour is beginning to think that I do belong to the godmother species, and yet, it's all very simple."
"No doubt," retorts Doctor Heath, drily; "yet we are willing to endure your simple explanation."
"I say the robbers came by the river," continues the detective. "Before sundown I sauntered along the river bank; to-morrow I can show you traces, indistinct but sufficient, to prove that a boat has been drawn out of the water, and overturned upon the grass; keel, prow and oar-locks have left their traces. There is also the print of a clubbed and muffled oar, above the water mark, where an impatient hand has pushed off the boat. Here is blunder number one. All these traces might have been avoided or obliterated."
He pauses a moment, but his listeners sit, a very respectful audience, and are inclined neither to question or argue. So he continues:
"I said that the robbers entered purposely at that particular window, and because they were familiar with the interior of the house. Now I have examined all of the windows of this floor, and I find that a person unfamiliar with the inside of the building, and not aware which of the upper rooms were occupied, would have chosen differently. The dining-room windows, from without, would seem much more inviting; still more, the drawing-room windows. Naturally, our burglars would select a window which was tolerably easy of access, and where they knew there was the least chance of being overheard and observed from above. Now, the dining-room windows are close to the ground, and the awnings cut off all chance for observation from above; but—they knew that Miss Wardour's coachman sleeps in a small room just in the rear of the dining-room."
This was too much for Mrs. Aliston.
"Now, how did you find that out?" she asks, with staring eyes.
"From my friend, the gardener," he replies. "Oh, I am quite familiar with things about here. The very best place for a burglar to operate would be these windows," motioning toward the front of the drawing room; "he could stand in comfort on the lower balcony, screened by the upper, and cut away at shutters and panes; but, our burglars knew that Miss Wardour's rooms were directly above, and that Miss Wardour is a light sleeper. Now, the very place that would be shunned by an unfamiliar robber, is this very library window; it is higher than the others, has a little thicket of shrubs just beneath it, and is overlooked from above, being near an angle, by six windows. But our burglars knew that not one of those rooms to which the six windows belong, are occupied; and that the servants all sleep on the opposite side of the house. Now, then, I say that the robbers knew Miss Wardour's sensitiveness to the effects of chloroform; how else can we account for the fact of their giving just enough to cause her to sleep, and not enough to cause any unpleasant after effects. We can call it a coincidence, but it is one not likely to happen; Doctor Heath knows that."
"True," responds Doctor Heath; "in a matter of this sort one would hardly be likely to make so fortunate a blunder, or guess."
The detective pauses a moment, and then concludes: "My reasons for saying that the robbers entered the garden by leaping the low fence just below the gate, are, first, that gate creaks loudly when opened or shut, and they knew this, and therefore avoided it; and, second, one of them, the heavier of the two, came over with sufficient force to leave the imprint of his right boot heel in the ground. It was the right heel, because the deepest side of the indentation is to the right, and he would naturally strike the ground with the weight resting on the outside of the foot; and here, my friends, as the lawyers have it, I rest my case."
"And a very clear case it looks," says Doctor Heath.
"How easily and naturally you come at these things," exclaims Constance, in admiration. "It is a, b, c, to you, but it's awful Greek to the rest of us. I begin to think detectives are born, not made."
"You think right, Miss Wardour," replies Bathurst. "It is the made detectives who spoil and disgrace our profession."
"But," says Constance, with a look of anxiety upon her face; "I am sorry to have it proved that this thing was done by some of our people. I am reluctant to institute a search that may implicate some poor man whose wife and children may live in our very town."
The detective laughs softly.
"There it is," he exclaims. "An amateur must always judge by what appears uppermost. We detectives, as a rule, always distrust the most plausible theory. Now look, a skilled burglar is a man of many resources; a burglar studies his business as I study mine. You have no idea how much misapplied talent goes roaming about of nights with a jimmy and a dark lantern. Now let us suppose this case. A professional burglar in the course of his wanderings, hears, as would be quite natural, of the immense value of the Wardour diamonds, and he desires to possess them. Now it's a great prize, and he goes to work with his utmost care. He has confederates; they come, one or all, and manage to gain the necessary information; they may come as tramps, pedlars, what not; a talkative servant, a gossiping neighbor, like Mrs. Malloy, or fragments of information picked up here and there may help them to get the 'lay of the land;' they may even have entered the house, probably have, and it may have been last month, or last year; our burglar nourishes his job and studies it carefully. Finally he is ready; he strikes; he succeeds. I do not say this is the case, understand; I simply put it as a thing possible; and quite as probable as that the thieves are here in W——."