The Mystery Queen, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 13

A Bold Determination

Dan went to bed with an aching head, doubtless induced by the power of the drug which had been used to stupefy him. The Sumatra perfume was evidently both powerful and useful, as it was used by the Society of Flies not only as a means of recognition in the form of a harmless scent, but as a soporific to bring about insensibility. Probably many a person had been rendered unconscious by the drowsy smoke, and taken to the headquarters of the infernal association, there to become members. But where the headquarters were to be found, Dan had not the slightest notion. And, as his head pained him greatly, he decided to wait until the next morning before thinking out the matter. Off and on he managed to sleep a trifle, but it was not until the small hours that true slumber came to him. It was nine o’clock when he woke, and then he found his head clear, and the pain absent. Only an evil taste remained in his mouth, and after a cold bath he felt more himself, although a touch of languor remained to recall to his recollection what he had been through.

After breakfast he lighted a pipe, and began to think over late events as carefully as was necessary. On alighting at his own door he had paid the driver of the four-wheeled cab, and had asked questions, which the man was willing enough to answer. Halliday hoped by learning where the cabman had picked him up to discover at least the neighbourhood wherein the headquarters were situated. It was difficult to think that an unconscious person, as he had been, could have been taken any great distance along streets, or roads, or lanes, without attention being attracted. But the cabman explained that the friend who had placed his fare in the four-wheeler had removed him from a taxi, which the friend declared had broken down. “And he wanted to get you home, you being drunk,” explained the driver, “so he shoved you into my trap, and I drove off, having the address I was to take you to, leaving your friend to look after the broken-down taxi, along with the chuffer.”

From this explanation it was apparent that on being removed from the dark room Dan had been transported for some distance, long or short, in the taxi. He did not believe that the same had broken down, but that his friend — probably Marcus Penn — had hailed the first cab he saw, and on pretence of an accident had got rid of him in this clever way. It was West Kensington where this exchange had taken place, according to the cabman’s story, but since he had been driven an indefinite distance by Penn in the taxi, the headquarters might be in Hampstead, or Blackheath, or Ilford, or, indeed, anywhere round about London, if not in the heart of the metropolis itself. All bearings were lost by the clever way in which the return had been carried out.

And now Halliday scarcely knew what to do, or how to act. He did not dare to tell the police, as the first sign of activity on the part of the authorities would mean his own death in some mysterious way. He also would be found with an artificial fly near the wound, and the odour of the Sumatra scent on his clothes. As Dan did not wish to die, he therefore hesitated to make any statement to Inspector Tenson of Hampstead, who was so anxious to learn the secret and gain the reward. In fact, he hoped that the man would not come to his rooms — he had been there several times in quest of information — lest he should smell the Sumatra scent. Dan found that he had brought the perfume away on his clothes when he examined them, which was scarcely to be wondered at considering how powerfully the dark room had reeked of the odour. Certainly Tenson did not know the scent so well as Halliday did, although he had experienced a whiff of it when examining the body of Sir Charles Moon. But he might have forgotten the smell.

While Dan turned over his clothes — the blue serge suit he had worn on the previous night — he found a piece of paper in one of the trousers pockets which contained a message type-written in crimson ink. It was set forth in the third person, by no less an individual than Queen Beelzebub herself, and ran as follows —

“QUEEN BEELZEBUB warns Daniel Halliday that not only his own life depends upon his secrecy but the life of Lillian Moon also. Should he apply to the authorities, or in any way recount his adventures, the girl he loves will be put out of the way, and afterwards Daniel Halliday will be dealt with. At the end of thirty days Queen Beelzebub expects to receive homage from her new subject, who will receive notice of time and place fixed for the ceremony. Remember!”

“Quite a Charles-the-First ring about that last word,” thought Dan, frowning at the threatening message; “the scoundrels: they have tied my hands with a vengeance. What the deuce am I to do?”

It was useless for him to ask himself this question as the only answer could be, “Nothing!” If he moved in any way likely to harm the society he ran the chance of sacrificing, not only himself, but Lillian. It was bad enough that he should be done to death — he might have risked that so as to break up the organisation; but it was impossible to place the girl he loved in so dangerous a position. Queen Beelzebub knew what she was about when she used the phrase. And Halliday was well aware that the society had a long arm, and that nothing could protect Lillian from these moles who were working in darkness — clever, deadly, and unscrupulous.

For the next two days the young man went about in a dream, or rather in a nightmare. He did not dare to see Lillian, or to write to Lillian, lest the members of the Society should believe he was betraying them. They appeared to have spies everywhere, and there was no move on the chessboard which he could make which might not be detected. Yet he could not wait passively for the rest of the thirty days, since he had no idea of joining the band, and had only asked for a respite so as to think out some means of escape. More than ever he longed for the return of Laurance. He could trust him, and a consultation between the two might evolve some scheme by which to baffle the subjects of the accursed woman who called herself Queen Beelzebub. Dan wondered if she was Mrs. Jarsell, but the evidence of the perfume seemed too slight a link to join her with this deadly organisation. Of course, there was Marcus Penn, who was a member and knew everything; but he would not speak, since he also ran a risk of death should he betray too much. Still, Dan, being in the same boat and under the same ban, fancied that the secretary might be frank, as his confidence could not be abused. Now, if he could get Penn to state positively that Mrs. Jarsell was Queen Beelzebub, he might have something tangible upon which to work. But, taking into consideration the Egyptian mask, and the alteration of the voice by means of the artificial mouth-piece, Dan believed that she wished to keep her identity secret; always presuming that Queen Beelzebub was the “she” in question. On this assumption Halliday concluded that Penn could not speak out, and bothered himself for hours as to whether it would be worth while to ask the secretary questions.

While still in this undecided frame of mind he received a morning visit from Laurance, who turned up unexpectedly. Freddy, in pursuit of his business, played puss-inthe-corner all over the world, coming and going from London in the most unexpected manner. He reminded Dan of this when the young man jumped up with an exclamation at his sudden entrance.

“You might have known that I would turn up, anyhow,” he said, sitting down, and accepting an offer to have breakfast. “I never know where I shall be on any given date, and you must be always prepared for the unexpected so far as I am concerned. I heard you were looking for me, when I returned last night from Vienna, so I came along to feed with you.”

Halliday ordered his man to bring in a clean cup, and poured out coffee, after which he heaped Freddy’s plate with bacon and kidneys. “There you are, old fellow, eat away and get yourself ready for a long talk. I have heaps to tell you likely to be interesting.”

“About the murder of Durwin?” questioned, reaching for toast.

“Yes, and about the murder of Sir Charles Moon also. You don’t mind my smoking while you eat?”

“No. Smoke away! Have you seen ‘The Moment’ this morning?”

“No. Anything interesting in it about your Austrian excursion?”

“Oh, yes,” said Laurance, indifferently, “I managed to learn a good deal about these anarchistic beasts, and it’s set all out in print. But that’s not what I meant,” he fumbled in his pockets. “Hang it! I haven’t brought a paper, and I meant to. There’s a death chronicled this morning.”

Dan sat up and shivered. “Another of the murders?”

“Yes. Marcus Penn this time.”

“Penn!” Halliday dropped his pipe. “The devil,” he picked it up again. “I wonder why they killed him?”

“He told you too much, maybe,” said Laurance, drily; “anyhow, the gang has got rid of him by drowning him in an ornamental pond in Curberry’s grounds.”

“He might have fallen in,” suggested Dan, uneasily, “or he might have committed suicide out of sheer terror.”

“Well, he might have,” admitted Freddy, thoughtfully, “but from what I saw of the man I should think he was too great a coward to commit suicide.”

Dan smoked in a meditative manner. “I suppose she killed him, or had him killed,” he said aloud, after a pause.

“She? Who?”

“The she-devil who presides over the Society of Flies. Queen Beelzebub.”

Laurance dropped his knife and fork to stare hard at his friend. “So you have learned something since I have been away?”

“Several things. Wait a moment.” Dan rose and retired to his bedroom, while Freddy pushed away the breakfast things, as he did not wish to eat further in the face of Halliday’s hint, which had taken away his appetite. In a few minutes Dan came back to the sitting-room carrying the clothes he had worn on the night of his kidnapping, which still retained a faint odour of the fatal scent belonging to the gang. “Smell that,” said Dan, placing the clothes on his friend’s knee.

Laurance sniffed. “Is this the Sumatra scent?” he asked, “h’m; quite a tropical fragrance. But I thought you proved to your satisfaction that there was nothing in this perfume business?”

“I always had my doubts,” said Halliday, drily, “they were lulled by Penn’s lies and reawakened when I found the scent at Mrs. Jarsell’s. Now I know all about the matter. I place my life in your hands by telling you.”

“Is it as serious as that?” asked Laurance, uneasily.

“Yes. Serious to me and to Lillian also. Read that.”

The journalist scanned the crimson type-writing, and his eyes opened larger and larger as he grasped the meaning of the message. “Where the deuce did you get this?” he demanded, hurriedly.

“I found it in my pocket when I got back the other night.”

“Where from?”

“From the headquarters of the Society of Flies.”

“There is a gang then?” asked Laurance, starting.

“Yes. A very well-organised gang, presided over by Queen Beelzebub, the consort of the gentleman of that name, who is the god of Flies.”

“Where are the headquarters?”

“I don’t know.”

“We may be able to trace the gang by this,” said Freddy, examining the type-written paper. “If Inspector Tenson —”

“If Tenson gets hold of that and learns anything, which by the way I don’t think he can, from that paper, my life won’t be worth a cent; neither will that of Lillian. I might not care for my own life, but I care a great deal for her. I want to have a consultation as to what is best to be done to save her from these devils.”

“Well, you can depend upon my saying nothing, Dan. It seems serious. Tell me all about your discoveries.”

Halliday did so, starting with his visit to the cinematograph with Lillian, and his recognition of Mrs. Jarsell in the animated picture. Then he recounted his journey to Hillshire, and what he had learned from Mrs. Pelgrin and her nephew. “So on the face of it,” concluded Dan, earnestly, “I don’t see how Mrs. Jarsell could have got to London. She didn’t go by train and could not have gone by motor. Yet, I’m sure she was on the Blackheath grounds.”

“It is a puzzle,” admitted Freddy, drawing his brows together, “but go on; you have something else to tell me.”

“Rather,” and Dan detailed all that had taken place from the time he received Penn’s invitation to meet him in the Bakerloo Tube to the moment when he arrived at his rooms again in the four-wheeler. “What do you make of it all, Freddy?” asked Halliday, when he ended and relighted his pipe.

“Give me time to think,” said Laurance, and rose to pace the room. For a time there was a dead silence, each man busy with his own thoughts. It was Dan who spoke first, and said what was uppermost in his mind.

“Of course my hands are tied,” he said dismally, “I dare not risk Lillian’s life. These beasts have killed her father, and Durwin, and Penn, all because they got to know too much. They may kill Lillian also, and in the same mysterious way.”

“But she knows nothing,” said Freddy, anxiously.

“No. But I do, and if I speak — well, then you know what will happen. Queen Beelzebub saw that I cared little for my own life, so she is striking at me through Lillian. “The girl he loves!” says that message. Clever woman Mrs. Jarsell; she has me on toast.”

“But, my dear fellow, you can’t be sure that your masked demon is Mrs. Jarsell, since you did not see her face, or recognise her voice.”

“I admit that the mask concealed her features, and I believe that she spoke through an artifical mouth-piece to disguise the voice. Still, there is the evidence of her possessing the perfume, which plays such a large part in the gang’s doings. Also her appearance in the animated picture, which proves her to have been on the Blackheath ground.”

“But Mrs. Pelgrin and her nephew declare positively that she could not have been there.”

“Quite so, but Mrs. Pelgrin and her nephew may be paid to keep silence,” retorted Dan, in a worried tone; “then Miss Armour, if you remember, prophesied that I should have a wonderful offer made to me. If I accepted I should marry Lillian and enjoy a large fortune. Well, an offer in precisely the same words was made to me, on condition that I joined the gang.”

“But surely you don’t believe that a paralysed woman like Miss Armour has anything to do with this business?” questioned Laurance, sceptically.

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “Miss Armour is the friend of Mrs. Jarsell, whom I suspect, and certainly told my fortune, as you heard. Mrs. Jarsell may have told her what to say, knowing that the prophecy would be fulfilled. I don’t say that Miss Armour knows about this infernal organisation, as the very idea would horrify her. But Mrs. Jarsell may use the poor woman as a tool.”

“I can’t believe that Miss Armour knows anything,” said Freddy, decidedly; “to begin with, the Society of Flies needs useful people, and an invalid like Miss Armour would be of no use.”

“I admit that Miss Armour is in the dark,” replied Halliday, impatiently; “all the same, her prophecy, together with the perfume and the cinematograph evidence, hints at Mrs. Jarsell’s complicity. Again, the false Mrs. Brown who murdered Sir Charles was stout and massive. Mrs. Jarsell is stout and massive.”

“Plenty of women are stout and massive,” asserted the reporter, “but you saw the false Mrs. Brown yourself. Did you recognise Mrs. Jarsell as that person?”

“No. But Mrs. Brown was so wrinkled for a fat woman that I remember thinking at the time she might be a fraud. I daresay — I am positive, in fact — that her face was made up, and while I looked at her she let down her veil — another hint that she did not wish to be examined too closely.”

“If you think that Mrs. Jarsell murdered Moon and Durwin, and you have the evidence you speak of, you should reveal all to the police.”

“And risk Lillian’s life and my own? Freddy, you must take me for a fool.”

Laurance shook his head. “No. I don’t underrate your cleverness, and I see that you are in a tight place. You can’t move with safety to yourself and Miss Moon. Yet, if you don’t move, what is to be done?”

“Well,” said Dan, after a pause, “I have a month to think matters out. My idea is to hide Lillian somewhere under the care of Mrs. Bolstreath, and then take action. So long as Lillian is safe I am ready to risk my own life to bring these mysteries to light.”

“I am with you,” cried Freddy, enthusiastically, “it’s a good scheme, Dan. I wonder how Miss Moon is to be hidden though; since the Society of Flies may employ spies to find her whereabouts?”

“Oh, every member of the Society is a spy,” was Halliday’s answer, “although I don’t know how many members of the gang there are. Penn could have told us, and perhaps could have proved the identity of Mrs. Jarsell with Queen Beelzebub. But he’s dead, and —”

“And was murdered,” broke in Laurance decisively. “I am quite sure that — because he could prove too much for Mrs. Jarsell’s safety — he was got rid of.”

“Oh!” Dan looked up with a smile, “then you believe that Mrs. Jarsell —”

“I don’t know what to believe until more evidence is forthcoming,” said the reporter, impatiently, “but Miss Moon’s hiding-place, with Mrs. Bolstreath as her guardian?”

Halliday reflected, and then made the last answer Freddy expected to hear, considering the circumstances. “At Sheepeak with Miss Vincent,” he declared.

“Dan, are you serious? You place her under the guns of the enemy.”

“Quite so, and there has been proof that under the guns is the safest place in some cases. It is in this, I am sure. Should Mrs. Jarsell be the person we suspect her to be, she will not foul her own nest at Sheepeak. Therefore she will not dare to have Lillian killed within a stone-throw of her own house. By daring all, we gain all.”

“It’s a risk,” said Laurance, pondering. “I can see that.”

“So can I. Everything is risky in this business.”

“Then there’s Mildred,” rejoined the journalist, uneasily. “I really do not want her to be brought into the matter.”

“It will be all right, Freddy, and much the safer for Lillian. Mrs. Jarsell won’t have the courage to hurt my promised wife, when your promised wife is in her company. Still, if you have qualms —”

“No, no, no!” interrupted Laurance, eagerly, “after all, I cannot be half a friend, and if Mildred is willing, when she learns the whole circumstance, that is, I shall agree. After all, if anything does happen, we can accuse Mrs. Jarsell, and if she is Queen Beelzebub she will end her career in gaol. I don’t think she will risk that by hurting the girls.”

“Oh, she would never hurt Miss Vincent, I am sure, and would only harm Lillian because I have to be frightened into joining her gang. No, Freddy, a daring policy is the best in this case. We’ll place Lillian with Mrs. Bolstreath under Mildred Vincent’s charge — under the guns of the enemy as you say. I am sure the result will be good.”

“But Sir John Moon will make a row if you take his niece away?”

“Let him,” retorted Dan, contemptuously. “I can deal with that fribble of a man. After all, Lillian need only be absent from London for a month, and during that time we must break up the gang, with or without the aid of the police. If we don’t, I shall certainly be murdered, like Moon and Durwin and Penn have been, and on the same grounds — that I know too much. But I daresay Lillian will then be left alone, and Sir John can carry out his pet scheme and marry her to Curberry.”

“I wonder,” said Laurance, musingly, “if Curberry has anything to do with the gang in question.”

“I think not, he has nothing to gain.”

“Now he hasn’t,” said Freddy, drily; “but he had a good deal to gain when he was a barrister and two lives stood between him and a title and a fortune.”

The two men looked at one another. “I see what you mean,” said Dan, slowly, “h’m. Of course he may be a member and the society may have cleared his uncle and cousin out of the way. But we can’t be sure. One thing at a time, Freddy. I am going to see Lillian and Mrs. Bolstreath and get them to fly to Sheepeak.”

“But you will have to reveal what we know, and that will frighten them!”

Dan looked vexed and gnawed his nether lip. “I don’t want to say more than is necessary,” he replied, “as for their own safety, the less they know about the business, the better. Perhaps I may induce Lillian to elope with me to Sheepeak, and need not explain to her. But Mrs. Bolstreath must know more.”

“Well,” said Freddy, putting on his hat, “I leave these matters in your very capable hands. So far as I am concerned, I am going to Blackheath to see about this death of Penn. I may get into the house —” He paused.

“Well?” asked Halliday, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, if Curberry does favour this Society of Flies, who knows what I may discover? Also some truths may come out at the inquest. Penn belonged to the gang as we know, and when he wanted a situation, he was taken on by Lord Curberry. That hints at much. However, we shall see; we shall see!” and with a careless nod Freddy took his leave, while Dan changed his clothes with the intention of calling at Sir John Moon’s house.

Owing to a late breakfast, and the long conversation with Laurance, it was quite one o’clock before Dan reached his destination. He half expected to be refused admittance as usual, especially when he learned from the footman that Miss Moon was not in the house. But failing Lillian, who had no doubt gone out on a shopping expedition and would shortly return to luncheon, Dan sent in his name to Mrs. Bolstreath, with a request for an interview. It was best to explain the situation to her, he thought, since no time should be lost in assuring Lillian’s safety. The chaperon saw the young man at once, and when introduced into the room where she was seated, he was struck by her worried air. His thought immediately flew to the girl.

“Lillian?” he asked anxiously, “is anything the matter with Lillian?”

“Oh, that girl will break my heart with her freaks,” said Mrs. Bolstreath, in an irritable tone; “she knows that Sir John does not approve of her going out by herself, and that my retaining my situation depends upon my looking after her closely. Yet she has gone out without telling me.”

“Where has she gone to?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Bolstreath, looking at him, “I think she has gone to Lord Curberry’s house.”

Dan’s lip curled. “that ought to please Sir John. Is he with her?”

“No. Sir John is in the country for a few days. He would not be pleased at Lillian going to see Lord Curberry without my being present.”

“But why has she gone to see a man she hates?” asked Halliday, perplexed.

“It is not Lord Curberry she wishes to see.” Mrs. Bolstreath hesitated. “I suppose you saw that Mr. Penn is dead?” she asked, irrelevantly.

“It was in the morning paper, I know — that is, the announcement of his death,” said Dan. “Laurance came and told me. Well?”

“This morning Lillian received a letter from Mr. Penn, written a few days ago, saying that if anything happened to him, she was to go to Lord Curberry and find some important paper he has left behind him for her perusal.”

“Oh!” Dan started to his feet, “then Penn has left a confession?”

“A confession?” Mrs. Bolstreath looked puzzled.

“He must have guessed that his death was determined upon,” said Halliday to himself, but loud enough for his companion to hear, “perhaps the truth will come out in that confession.”

“What truth? For heaven’s sake, Mr. Halliday, speak plainly. I am worried enough as it is over Lillian’s escapade. Is anything wrong?”

“A great deal. Mrs. Bolstreath, I have to confide in you in order to save Lillian from death — from a death like her father suffered.”

Mrs. Bolstreath screamed. “Oh, what is it, what is it?”

“You must be silent about what I tell you.”

“Of course I shall. I can keep a secret. But tell me, tell me,” she panted.

“If you don’t keep the secret all our lives are in jeopardy. There is no time to be lost. I must follow Lillian to Curberry’s house at once. Listen, Mrs. Bolstreath, and remember every word I say is important.” Then Dan in a tearing hurry related much that he knew, though not more than was absolutely necessary. However, he told enough to make Mrs. Bolstreath almost crazy with terror. “Keep your head and my confidence,” said Halliday, sharply; “we must beat these demons at their own game. Get ready and come with me to Blackheath; on the way I can explain further.”

“You think that Lillian is safe?” implored Mrs. Bolstreath, preparing to leave the room and assume her out-of-door things.

“Yes. Yet, if Curberry is connected with the gang and thinks she is hunting for Penn’s confession, he may — but it won’t bear thinking of. We must go to Lillian at once. You will work with me to save Lillian?”

“With all my heart and soul and body,” cried the chaperon, wildly.

“Then get ready and come with me at once,” said Dan, imperiously.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42