The Mystery Queen, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 17

At Bay

When Dan left Mrs. Jarsell he was very well pleased with the promise she had given concerning the safety of Lillian. He fully believed that she, in her role of Queen Beelzebub, would keep that promise faithfully, if only because her own interests demanded such honesty. The fact that the confession of Penn was in the hands of a third party to be made use of should anything happen to Miss Moon, prevented the Society of Flies from carrying out the threat made to him at the secret meeting. To save their own lives the members would be forced — much against their will no doubt — to spare those of Lillian and himself. Dan chuckled at the way in which he had circumvented the deadly organisation. But he had only scotched the snake, he had not killed it, and until he did so there was always the chance that it would strike when able to do so with safety. But while Penn’s confession remained in Laurance’s hands, all was well.

One thing struck Halliday as strange, and that was the persistence with which Mrs. Jarsell kept up the comedy of having-nothing-to-do-with-the-matter during so confidential a conversation. She knew that Penn had been a doubtful member of her gang; she knew that he had been despatched — as Dan truly believed — because he was not to be trusted, and now she knew that he had left a confession behind him, which was in the hands of her enemies. Also, she was aware that the man who spoke to her had read the confession and must have guessed that her name, as Queen Beelzebub, was mentioned therein. This being the case, it was to be presumed that she would speak freely, but in place of doing so, she had pretended ignorance, and for his own ends he had humoured her feigning. Either she doubted that such a confession existed or she guessed in whose possession it was, and intended to regain it.

“Queen Beelzebub knows well enough that Freddy is my best friend,” thought Dan, as he returned to The Peacock Hotel, “and it would be reasonable for her to believe that he had Penn’s confession, which is certainly the case. I should not be at all surprised if Freddy was inveigled into a trap as I was, so that he might be forced to surrender the document or rather what remains of it. If that were managed, Queen Beelzebub would revenge herself on Lillian and on me, since there would be nothing left to shielf us from her spite. And in any case Freddy is in danger, as I am certain she guesses that he holds the confession.” He mused for a few moments, and then added, aloud, “I shall return to town at once and see him.”

The more he thought the more he saw the necessity of doing this. Mrs. Jarsell’s first move to counterplot him would be to seek out Lord Curberry and learn all she could, relative to what Penn had left behind him. Certainly Curberry would assure her that he had burnt the confession, in which case Queen Beelzebub would think that she would be free to act. But Halliday believed she was of too suspicious a nature to be quite convinced that he had only bluffed. Before taking any steps she would decidedly ascertain for certain — although in what way it was difficult to say — if there really was any compromising document in Laurance’s hands. To do so, she would, as Dan had thought a few minutes before, set a trap for him, and brow-beat him into stating what he knew and what he held. Therefore, for Freddy’s sake, it was necessary to go to London, and report in detail the conversation on the moor. Then the two could arrange what was best to be done. They were dealing with a coterie of daring scoundrels, who would stop at nothing to secure their own safety, and it behoved them to move warily. “We are walking on a volcano,” was Halliday’s concluding reflection.

Of course, as it was useless to alarm the ladies, Dan said nothing of his meeting with Queen Beelzebub on the moor. However, on being questioned, he confessed the sudden thought which had sent him out of doors, and both Lillian and Mrs. Bolstreath agreed that it was entirely probable that Mrs. Jarsell did travel in up-to-date aeroplanes, like a mischief-making fairy. Then in turn, they told him that Mildred had stayed for quite a long time and was altogether more charming on each occasion she appeared. She suggested many trips and Mrs. Bolstreath was inclined to stay at Sheepeak longer than she intended in spite of the near menace of Queen Beelzebub. Lillian was delighted with the lovely scenery, so gracious after the drab hues of London.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t get a house here after we are married,” she said to her lover, “one of those delicious old manor houses of faded yellow stone. I could live quietly with Mrs. Bolstreath, while you ran up to business on your aeroplane.”

“And all the time you would be fretting lest any harm came to him,” said the chaperon, shaking her head; “besides, my dear, when you are married, you won’t want me to be with you.”

“Dear Bolly, I shall always want you, and so will Dan.”

“Nonsense!” said Mrs. Bolstreath, briskly, “two’s company and three’s none.”

“Well,” remarked Halliday, leisurely, “we can settle the matter when we are married, Lillian. Remember, before your uncle will consent, I shall have to discover who murdered your father.”

“You have discovered who murdered him. It was the false Mrs. Brown, who is Mrs. Jarsell, who is Queen Beelzebub.”

“So I believe, but I have to prove my case,” said Dan, drily, “and, moreover, I won’t find it easy to place the woman in the dock when she has this accursed society at the back of her.”

“You don’t think there is danger?” asked Lillian, hastily.

“No, no, no! Things are safer than ever, my dear. I go to town this evening and can leave you here with the certainty that all is well.”

“You go to town this evening?” said Mrs. Bolstreath, anxiously; “isn’t that a very sudden resolution?”

“Oh, I think not,” answered Dan, in an easy way, “I came down here only to settle you and Lillian. By the way, Sir John —”

“I wired our address, and he wrote me,” interrupted Mrs. Bolstreath; “he is quite pleased that we are away. I rather think,” the lady added, thoughtfully, “that Sir John is not ill-pleased we are away. At his age the constant presence of two women in his house is rather disconcerting. Finding we had left town, he returned there to enjoy having his own house to himself.”

“In that case,” said Dan, cheerfully, “he will be glad to see Lillian married.”

“But to Lord Curberry, not to you.”

“I would die rather than marry Lord Curberry,” said Lillian, decisively, and with her chin in the air.

“You won’t be asked to do either one or the other, my dear,” replied Dan, in his calmest tone. “We shall marry right enough whatever opposition Sir John may make. As to Lord Curberry,” he hesitated.

“Well?” asked Mrs. Bolstreath, impatiently.

“I intend to see him when I return to town.”

“I think it will be as well. Better have a complete understanding with him so that he will not worry Lillian any more.”

“He won’t,” answered Dan, grimly, “and now I shall have to get away. I see Mrs. Pelgrin has had the trap brought round. Take care of Lillian.”

Lillian kissed her lover and followed him to the door of the sitting-room with a gay laugh. “Lillian can look after herself,” she said lightly, “I am not afraid of Mrs. Jarsell or of any one else. But you take care, Dan. I fear much more for you than for myself.”

“I’m all right!” Dan, with an Englishman’s dislike for an emotional scene, kissed the girl again and slipped out of the door. They saw him drive away in the gloom of the evening, and then settled to make themselves comfortable. Neither Lillian nor Mrs. Bolstreath would admit as much, but both felt rather downcast at Dan’s sudden departure. Luckily, as he had been so cool and composed, they did not connect it with any fresh development likely to give trouble. In some vague way Mrs. Bolstreath guessed that Dan had spiked the guns of the enemy under which they were encamped, and her certainty of safety being infectious, Lillian also felt quite at her ease.

Meanwhile, Dan reached the Beswick station in the ramshackle trap and was lucky enough to catch the ingoing train to Thawley, just as it started to glide past the platform. The fortunate connection enabled him to board the 7.20 p.m. express to London, where he hoped to arrive shortly before eleven that same evening. Knowing that Laurance’s work kept him up late at night, he wired from Thawley, asking him to come to St. Pancras Station. Important as was Freddy’s time, Dan knew that he would respond to the call at once, guessing what large issues would be the outcome of the present situation. Therefore, as the train dropped south, Halliday felt quite comfortable, as he had done all he could to arrange matters for the moment. Indeed, so assured did he feel that he had taken all possible precautions, that he did not even trouble to think over the matter, but fell asleep and refreshed his weary brain and body. Only when the train arrived at St. Pancras did he tumble out, sleepy still, to catch a sight of his faithful friend on the platform.

“Nothing wrong?” asked Laurance, hurrying up.

“Nothing wrong,” responded Dan, with a yawn, “but I have much to talk to you about. Get a four-wheeler.”

“A taxi, you mean.”

“I don’t mean. I wish to travel as slowly as possible, so as to explain matters. Tell the man to drive to ‘The Moment’ office. There I can drop you and go on to my rooms.”

Thus understanding the situation, Freddy selected a shaky old cab, drawn by a shaky old horse, and the rate at which it progressed through the brilliantly-lighted streets was so slow that they were a very long time arriving at ‘The Moment’ office in Fleet Street. In the damp-smelling interior of this antique conveyance, Halliday, now quite alert and clear-headed, gave his friend a full account of all that had happened, particularly emphasising the interview with Mrs. Jarsell.

“H’m,” commented Freddy, when he ended, “so she didn’t give herself away?”

“No. And very wisely too, I think. She didn’t know how much I knew, and wasn’t keen on giving me rope to hang her.”

“But she knows you have read Penn’s confession — what there is of it.”

“I didn’t tell her that I had anything else than the full confession, old son. She may think I have the whole document intact, or — and this I fancy is probable — she may believe that there isn’t any confession in existence.”

“Curberry may have written to her, telling her that he burnt the confession.”

“No,” said Dan, after a pause, “I really don’t think he has done that. Mrs. Jarsell went dead white when I mentioned a confession.”

“Then she believes that you spoke the truth,” persisted Laurance, hopefully.

“She may, or she may not, as I said before,” retorted Halliday, “anyhow, as she can’t be sure if I’m in jest or earnest, she will delay proceedings until she sees Curberry. If he swears that he burnt the confession, Mrs. Jarsell may act; therefore I want you to send him an unsigned telegram, containing these three words, “All is discovered!””

“What will that do?”

“Put the fear of God into Curberry, into Queen Beelzebub, and into the Society of Flies as a whole. The warning will be so vague that they won’t know who will strike the blow.”

“They will suspect you, Dan.”

“In that case,” replied Halliday, promptly, “Queen Beelzebub will leave Lillian alone, and my object will be obtained. I want to gain time, and can only do so with safety to Lillian by keeping these beasts in a state of uncertainty as to how much or how little is known.”

“I see,” Laurance thought the plan a good one; “since you say that you have the confession and Curberry will say that he destroyed it, Queen Beelzebub will be undecided. This telegram, like a bolt from the blue, will clinch matters and make her and her gang pause before they take steps to hurt you or Miss Moon. I’ll send the wire. What then?”

“Then — tomorrow that is — I go down to see Curberry, and have it out with him. His name is mentioned in the portion of the confession which you hold and we know enough to ensure his arrest.”

“That is doubtful,” protested Freddy, thoughtfully, “I have read the confession. Penn hints a lot about Curberry, but doesn’t say enough to —”

“Never mind, he says enough for my purpose, which is to scare Curberry; belonging to the Society of Flies as he does. I believe he got his uncle and cousin put out of the way to inherit the title and property. I’ll harp on that string. If Queen Beelzebub calls —”

“There’s the danger, Dan,” interposed Freddy quickly and anxiously.

“I know. I am far from suggesting that there is not danger, as we are driving these people into a corner. If I don’t turn up at your office by five o’clock tomorrow, Freddy, or if I don’t send a wire saying that I am safe, you get Inspector Tenson, tell him all, show him the confession, and come down with him to Blackheath to see the inspector who has charge of the Durwin murder. Then, armed with the authority of the law, you can go to Curberry’s house. If I am missing, you will know how to act.”

Laurance drew a deep breath as the cab turned into Fleet Street. “It’s a big risk for you, Dan.”

“Pooh. As an aviator I am always taking risks. I must settle this business somehow, if I wish to marry Lillian and save her life as well as my own from these infernal beasts. Here you get down, Freddy. Don’t forget to do as I tell you,” and Laurance promised to adhere faithfully to his instructions, while the four-wheeler lumbered away in the direction of the Strand.

Halliday possessed one of those rare natures which invariably reveal their best in time of danger. He knew what to say and how to act when in a tight corner and his training as an aviator had learned him to take risks, which less level-headed men would have judiciously avoided. At the present moment he required all his energies to cope with unforeseen emergencies, since he did not quite know what action would be taken against him. Of course he was confident that some sort of action would be taken, since he had aroused the wrath of a brilliantly clever and intensely evil set of people. Fearful for its own safety, the Society of Flies would do its best to get rid of him and to get rid of Lillian, as its members had got rid of others who had stood in their crooked path. Both he and the girl were safeguarded so far by the confession, but it all depended upon what Curberry said to Queen Beelzebub as to how long such a safeguard would be efficacious. He had told the woman one story, but Curberry would tell her another, so it was doubtful which she would believe. The telegram from an unknown source might turn the balance in his favour, and lead both Mrs. Jarsell and her friends to believe that there was a chance of their devilish doings coming to light. Having arrived at this conclusion, Dan fell asleep, quite indifferent to the fact that the sword of Damocles hung over his head, and that the single hair might part at any moment. Herein he showed the steadiness of his nerves, and the value of a nature trained to face the worst smilingly.

Next morning Halliday arose brisk and cheerful, with the expectation of having a most exciting day, and as soon as he finished his breakfast made his way, by train, to Blackheath. On arriving there, somewhere about twelve o’clock, he did not go immediately to Curberry’s house, but walked to the place where the Vincent aeroplane was housed. It had just struck him that Mrs. Jarsell might have wired to one of her friends to damage the machine, so that it could not be used. She had procured it for him and he — to put it plainly — had abused her friendship, so it was not likely she would permit him to retain, unharmed, a wonderful airship, with which he could make money and win fame. But when he reached the shed and saw the man whom he had engaged to watch the machine, he found that his fears were groundless. No one had been near the place, and, so far as he could ascertain, the aeroplane was in perfect condition. Then it struck Dan, as it was yet too early to call on Lord Curberry, that he might indulge in a little fly. His enemy’s house was only a stone’s throw distant, on the borders of the open space, and Halliday did not intend to lose sight of the entrance gate, lest Mrs. Jarsell should steal in unobserved. In the air, and hovering directly over the grounds, he could see all who came and went. Also, incidentally, he might gain information as to what was going on in the gardens. Somewhat oddly it occurred to him that if Queen Beelzebub came, she might push Curberry into the ornamental pond, as Marcus Penn had been pushed. There was no knowing what she might do in her despair. In brutal English, Queen Beelzebub was at bay, and could fight, like the rat she was, in the corner into which she was being slowly driven by circumstances, engineered by Mr. Daniel Halliday.

Therefore, Dan saw to the fittings of the biplane, and ascertained by sight and touch that they had not been tampered with. He oiled the engine, saw that it did not lack petrol, and in fact was as careful of all and everything connected with the structure as though he were preparing for a long race. Of course there was the usual crowd of loafers who came to see him start, and he swept upward from the ground in a graceful curve. The aeroplane acted easily and truthfully, according to its very excellent design, and the aviator, after making a wide circle, dropped down to pass slowly over the grounds of Curberry’s mansion. He could see no one about, even though the day was fine and sunny, so concluded that the owner, having received the anonymous telegram, was shivering within doors, terrified to venture out. In his impatience to learn the absolute truth, Dan turned his machine back to the shed, and came to rest almost at the very door.

Owing to the examination of the aeroplane, and the experimental flight to test its working order, time had passed uncommon swiftly, and it was now fifteen minutes past one o’clock. Dan made up his mind to beard Curberry in his library, without waiting for the arrival of Queen Beelzebub, who, after all, might not arrive. His man and some willing onlookers wheeled the machine into the great shed, and the doors were about to be closed when one of the crowd uttered an exclamation, which was echoed by many others. Halliday, always on the alert for the unexpected, came quickly to the door of the building, and saw everyone looking upward and northward, to where a small black dot spotted the blue of the sky. It increased in size rapidly, and there was no difficulty in seeing that it was a flying-machine. At once a thought entered Dan’s mind that there was Mrs. Jarsell on a Vincent biplane, paying her expected visit, although he had no reason to suppose that she was the pilot. Wondering if he was right or wrong in his surmise, he waited with a fast-beating heart, and became certain of the truth of his guess very shortly. Travelling at a great height, the strange biplane poised itself directly over the open space, and then began to drop slowly into the enclosed grounds of Lord Curberry’s mansion. Not having field-glasses Halliday could not make out if the pilot was a man or a woman, but when the machine, cleverly managed, disappeared below the trees and walls of the park, he was convinced that Queen Beelzebub had arrived. At once he determined to make a third at her interview with Curberry, whatever objections might be raised. But first he arranged what to do in order to guard against future events of a dangerous nature.

“Wheel my machine out again,” he ordered the man and those who had assisted; “see that everything is in order, and have everything prepared to start. Do not let any one touch this,” and he tapped the aeroplane; “you understand?”

“Yes, Sir,” said the man, stolidly, “you’re going for another fly?”

“Exactly. The person who arrived is a friend of mine. I am going into yonder house to ask if a race can be arranged.”

Knowing that he could trust his man to guard the machine, and certain it would not be tampered with when hundreds of eyes were watching it, Halliday walked across the open space with serene confidence. It struck him that if Mrs. Jarsell wished to escape, she would certainly use her biplane, and it was just as well to follow in his own and run her to earth. As both machines were made by Vincent, the speed of each would be about equal, and in any case, Dan hoped to keep Queen Beelzebub in sight, if it was necessary to give chase. Having thus prepared for possible emergencies the young man entered the big gates of the park and hastened up the short avenue. Soon he found himself at the front door, and as he rang the bell, glanced round for Mrs. Jarsell’s flying-machine. It was not visible, so he presumed she had left it on the broad and spacious lawn on the further side of the house. It was in his mind to go and tamper with the engine to prevent her further flight, but before he could make up his mind to this course, the door opened and the footman appeared.

“I wish to see Lord Curberry,” said Halliday, giving the man his card, “on most important business. Can he see me?”

“I’ll inquire, Sir. He is with a lady just now, and has been for the last ten minutes. Please wait here, Sir,” and he introduced Dan into the hall.

Again, when left alone, Halliday had the impulse to go out and look to the gear of the machine, with the idea of putting things wrong, and again the footman appeared before he could decide if it would be wise to do so. “His lordship will see you, Sir,” said the man, who looked rather uncomfortable, “but he seems to be ill.”

“Ill,” echoed Dan, wondering what new devilry was taking place, “and the lady?”

“She is not with his lordship now, Sir,” said the footman, in a bewildered manner, “yet I showed her into the library a few minutes ago.”

“Do you know the lady?” asked Halliday sharply.

“No, Sir. At least, I can’t tell, Sir. She came in one of them flying-machines, and wears a thick veil. She’s a stout lady, sir, with a sharp manner.”

“Take me to your master,” commanded Dan, not caring to inquire further, since it was best to question Lord Curberry himself, and the man obeyed, still bewildered and nervous in his manner. The entrance of Queen Beelzebub into the house had evidently upset things.

Ushered into the library, Dan waited for the closing of the door, and then advanced to where Curberry was seated at his desk, near the window. The man looked gaunt and haggard, and very sick. When the young man advanced he rose as if moved by springs and held out a telegram in a trembling hand.

“You — you — sent this?” quavered Curberry, and Halliday could see that the perspiration beaded his bald high forehead.

In a flash Halliday guessed that this was the wire which Laurance had dispatched according to arrangement. “No, I did not send you any telegram,” he denied, calmly, and with perfect truth.

“You sent this, saying that all is discovered,” stuttered Curberry again, and dropped back into his seat, “you have learned too much. She says that you know everything.”

“Queen Beelzebub?”

“Ah, you know the name. I guessed as much. She is here; she is furious!”

“Who is Queen Beelzebub?” demanded Dan, anxiously.

“You know. Why do you ask questions you know the answer to? I know why you have come: to have me arrested. I thought I destroyed the confession of that infernal Penn. But she says —”

“I retained sufficient to show me —”

“Yes, yes! You know all. You have won. I fought you for Lillian, and there is no chance of my gaining her for my wife. You won’t either. You have to reckon with Queen Beelzebub. As for me, as for me —” he faltered and trembled.

Dan stepped right up to the desk. “What’s the matter?”

“I— I— I have taken poison,” gasped Curberry, and dropped his head on his hands with a sob.

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