The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 12

Jennings Asks Questions

“Will you play, Lord Caranby?” asked Maraquito, when the introduction had been accomplished.

“Pardon me, not at present: in a little time,” said the old nobleman, with a polite bow and his eyes on the beautiful face.

“As you like,” she answered carelessly; “everyone who comes here does just as he pleases. Is your nephew coming?”

“I fear not. He is unwell.”

Maraquito started. “Unwell. Nothing serious, I hope?”

“A slight cold.”

“Ah! Everyone has colds just now. Well, Lord Caranby, I hope to have a conversation with you later when someone else takes the bank.”

Caranby bowed and moved away slowly, leaning on his cane. Jennings, who was beside him, threw a glance over his shoulder at Senora Gredos.

Maraquito’s face was pale, and there was a frightened look in her eyes. Catching Jennings’ inquisitive look she frowned and again addressed herself to the game. Wondering why Lord Caranby should produce such an effect, Jennings rejoined him at the end of the room, where they sat on a sofa and smoked. “Have you been here before?” asked the detective.

“No,” answered the other, lighting his cigar, “and it is improbable that I shall come again. My reason for coming —” he broke off —“I can tell you that later. It is sufficient to say that it has to do with your conduct of this case.”

“Hush!” whispered Jennings quickly, “my profession is not known here.”

“I fear it will be if these two have tongues in their heads.”

The detective glanced towards the door and saw Hale enter with Clancy at his heels. Jennings had not seen them since the inquest on the body of Miss Loach, when they had given their evidence with great grief and frankness. He was annoyed at meeting them here, for although he had seen them in Maraquito’s salon before, yet at that time they had not known his profession. But since the inquest the knowledge was common property, and doubtless they would tell Senora Gredos if they had not done so already. Jennings’ chances of learning what he wished would therefore be slight, as everyone is not willing to speak freely before an officer of the law.

“It can’t be helped,” said Jennings with a shrug; “and, in any case, Maraquito is too anxious to stand well with the police to make any trouble about my coming here.”

Caranby did not reply, but looked steadily at the two men who were walking slowly up the room. Hale was slender, tall, and dark in color, with a nose like the beak of an eagle. He was perfectly dressed and had even an elegant appearance. His age might have been forty, but in the artificial light he looked even younger. Clancy, on the other hand, wore his clothes with the air of a man unaccustomed to evening dress. He was light in color, with weak blue eyes and a foolish expression about his slack mouth. Jennings wondered why a man like Hale should connect himself with such a creature. The men nodded to Senora Gredos, who took little notice of them, and then repaired to the buffet. Owing to the position of the detective and Caranby, the new arrivals did not see them. Nor for the present was the detective anxious to attract their notice. Indeed, he would have stolen away unperceived, but that he wished to question Hale as to the whereabouts of Mrs. Herne.

“It is a long time since I have seen you,” said Caranby, removing his eyes from the newcomers, and addressing the detective; “you were not an — er — an official when we last met.”

“It is three years ago,” said Jennings; “no. I had money then, but circumstances over which I had no control soon reduced me to the necessity of earning my living. As all professions were crowded, I thought I would turn my talents of observation and deduction to this business.”

“Do you find it lucrative?”

Jennings smiled and shrugged his shoulders again. “I do very well,” he said, “but I have not yet made a fortune.”

“Ah! And Cuthbert told me you wished to marry.”

“I do. But when my fortune will allow me to marry, I don’t know.”

Caranby, without raising his voice or looking at his companion, supplied the information. “I can tell you that,” said he, “when you learn who killed Miss Loach.”

“How is that?”

“On the day you lay your hand on the assassin of that poor woman I shall give you five thousand pounds.”

Jennings’ breath was taken away. “A large sum,” he murmured.

“She was very dear to me at one time,” said Caranby with emotion. “I would have married her but for the machinations of her sister.”

“Mrs. Octagon?”

“Yes! She wanted to become my wife. The story is a long one.”

“Cuthbert told it to me.”

“Quite right,” said Caranby, nodding, “I asked him to. It seems to me that in my romance may be found the motive for the death of Selina Loach.”

The detective thought over the story. “I don’t quite see —”

“Nor do I. All the same —” Caranby waved his hand and abruptly changed the subject. “Do you know why I came here to-night?”

“No. I did not know you ever came to such places.”

“Nor do I. My life is a quiet one now. I came to see this woman you call Maraquito.”

“What do you call her?” asked Jennings alertly.

“Ah, that I can’t tell you. But she is no Spaniard.”

“Is she a Jewess by any chance?”

Caranby turned to look directly at his companion. “You ought to be able to tell that from her face,” he said, “can you not see the seal of Jacob impressed there — that strange look which stamps a Hebrew?”

“No,” confessed Jennings, “that is, I can see it now, but I came here for many a long day before I did guess she was a Jewess. And then it was only because I learned the truth.”

“How did you learn it?”

The detective related details of his visit to Monsieur Le Beau and the discovery that Maraquito Gredos was one and the same as Celestine Durand. Caranby listened attentively. “Yes, that is all right,” he said, “but her name is Bathsheba Saul.”

“What?” said Jennings, so loud that several people turned to look.

“Hush!” said Caranby, sinking his voice, “you attract notice. Yes, I made Cuthbert describe the appearance of this woman. His description vaguely suggested Emilia Saul. I came here to-night to satisfy myself, and I have no doubt but what she is the niece of Emilia — the daughter of Emilia’s brother.”

“Who was connected with the coining gang?”

“Ah, you heard of that, did you? Exactly. Her father is dead, I believe, but there sits his daughter. You see in her the image of Emilia as I loved her twenty years ago.”

“Loved her?” echoed Jennings, significantly.

“You are right,” responded Caranby with a keen look. “I see Cuthbert has told you all. I never did love Emilia. But she hypnotized me in some way. She was one of those women who could make a man do what pleased her. And this Bathsheba — Maraquito — Celestine, can do the same. It is a pity she is an invalid, but on the whole, as she looks rather wicked, mankind is to be congratulated. Were she able to move about like an ordinary woman, she would set the world on fire after the fashion of Cleopatra. You need not mention this.”

“I know how to hold my tongue,” said Jennings, rather offended by the imputation that he was a chatterer, “can I come and see you to talk over this matter?”

“By all means. I am at the Avon Hotel.”

“Oh, and by the way, will you allow me to go over that house of yours at Rexton?”

“If you like. Are you a ghost-hunter also?”

“I am a detective!” whispered Jennings quietly, and with such a look that Caranby became suddenly attentive.

“Ah! You think you may discover something in that house likely to lead to the discovery of the assassin.”

“Yes I do. I can’t explain my reasons now. The explanation would take too long. However, I see Senora Gredos is beckoning to you. I will speak to Hale and Clancy. Would you mind telling me what she says to you?”

“A difficult question to answer,” said Caranby, rising, “as a gentleman, I am not in the habit of repeating conversations, especially with women. Besides, she can have no connection with this case.”

“On the face of it — no,” replied Jennings doubtfully, “but there is a link —”

“Ah, you mean that she is Emilia’s niece.”

“Not exactly that,” answered Jennings, thinking of the photograph. “I will tell you what I mean when we next meet.”

At this moment, in response to the imperative beckoning of Maraquito’s fan, Caranby was compelled to go to her. The couch had been wheeled away from the green table, and a gentleman had taken charge of the bank. Maraquito with her couch retreated to a quiet corner of the room, and had a small table placed beside her. Here were served champagne and cakes, while Lord Caranby, after bowing in his old-fashioned way, took a seat near the beautiful woman. She gazed smilingly at Lord Caranby, yet there was a nervous look in her eyes.

“I have heard of you from Mr. Mallow,” she said flushing.

“My nephew. He comes here at times. Indeed,” said Caranby gallantly, “it was his report of your beauty that brought me here to-night.”

Maraquito sighed. “The wreck of a beauty,” said she bitterly, “three years ago indeed — but I met with an accident.”

“So I heard. A piece of orange peel.”

The woman started. “Who told you that?”

“I heard it indirectly from a professor of dancing. You were a dancer, I believe?”

“Scarcely that,” said Senora Gredos, nervously playing with her fan; “I was learning. It was Le Beau who told you?”

“Indirectly,” responded Caranby.

“I should like to know,” said Maraquito deliberately, “who has taken the trouble to tell you this. My life — the life of a shattered invalid — can scarcely interest anyone.”

“I really forget to whom I am indebted for the information,” said Lord Caranby mendaciously, “and a lady of your beauty must always interest men while they have eyes to see. I have seen ladies like you in Andalusia, but no one so lovely. Let me see, was it in Andalusia or Jerusalem?” mused Lord Caranby.

“I am a Spanish Jewess,” said Maraquito, quickly and uneasily, “I have only been in London five years.”

“And met with an accident a year or two after you arrived,” murmured Caranby; “how very sad.”

Maraquito did not know what to make of the ironical old gentleman. It seemed to her that he was hostile, but she could take no offence at what he said. Moreover, as he was Mallow’s uncle, she did not wish to quarrel with him. With a graceful gesture she indicated a glass of champagne. “Will you not drink to our better acquaintance?”

“Certainly,” said Caranby without emotion, and sipped a few drops of the golden-colored wine. “I hope to see much of you.”

“I reciprocate the hope,” said Maraquito radiantly, “and I’ll tell you a secret. I have been consulting specialists, and I find that in a few months I shall be able to walk as well as ever I did.”

“Excellent news,” said Caranby, “I hope you will.”

“And, moreover,” added Maraquito, looking at him from behind her fan; “I shall then give up this place. I have plenty of money, and —”

“You will go back to Spain?”

“That depends. Should I leave my heart in England —”

“How I envy the man you leave it with.”

Maraquito looked down moodily. “He doesn’t care for my heart.”

“What a stone he must be. Now I— upon my word I feel inclined to marry and cut my nephew out of the title.”

“Your nephew,” stammered Maraquito, with a flash of her big eyes.

“You know him well, he tells me,” chatted Caranby garrulously, “a handsome fellow is Cuthbert. I am sure the lady he is engaged to thinks as much, and very rightly too.”

“Miss Saxon!” cried Maraquito, breaking her fan and looking furious.

“Ah!” said Caranby coolly, “you know her?”

“I know of her,” said Maraquito bitterly. “Her brother Basil comes here sometimes, and said his sister was engaged to — but they will never marry — never!” she said vehemently.

“How can you tell that?”

“Because the mother objects to the match.”

“Ah! And who told you so? Mr. Basil Saxon?”

“Yes. He does not approve of it either.”

“I fear that will make little difference. Mallow is set on the marriage. He loves Miss Saxon with all his heart.”

Maraquito uttered a low cry of rage, but managed to control herself with an effort. “Do you?” she asked.

Caranby shrugged his thin shoulders. “I am neutral. So long as Cuthbert marries the woman he loves, I do not mind.”

“And what about the woman who loves him?”

“Miss Saxon? Oh, I am sure —”

“I don’t mean Miss Saxon, and he will never marry her — never. You know that Mr. Mallow is poor. Miss Saxon has no money —”

“Pardon me. I hear her aunt, Miss Loach, who was unfortunately murdered at Rexton, has left her six thousand a year.”

Senora Gredos turned quite pale and clenched her hands, but she managed to control herself again with a powerful effort and masked the rage she felt under a bland, false smile.

“Oh, that makes a difference,” she said calmly. “I hope they will be happy — if they marry,” she added significantly.

“Oh, that is quite settled,” said Caranby.

“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip,” said Maraquito viciously. “Yonder is Mr. Saxon. Tell him to come to me.”

Caranby bowed and crossed the room to where Basil was talking with a frowning face to Hale. “Don’t bother me,” he was saying, “it will be all right now that the will has been read.”

“For your own sake I hope it will be all right,” replied Hale, and Caranby caught the words as he came up. After giving his message, he sauntered round, watching the play, and seemingly listened to no one. But all the time he kept his ears open to hear what Hale and Clancy were talking about.

The two men were in a corner of the room, and Clancy was expostulating angrily with Hale. They held their peace when Caranby drifted near them, he saw that they were on their guard. Looking round, he espied Jennings playing at a side table, and crossed to him.

“Permit me to take your place,” said Caranby, and added in a low tone, “watch Hale and Clancy!”

Jennings seized the idea at once and surrendered the chair to the old nobleman. Then he lighted a cigarette and by degrees strolled across the room to where the two were again talking vigorously. “I tell you if Basil is pressed too hard he will —” Clancy was saying, but shut his mouth as he saw Jennings at his elbow. The detective came forward with a smile, inwardly vexed that he had not been able to hear more. As he advanced he saw Clancy touch Hale on the arm.

“How are you?” said Jennings, taking the initiative, “we met at that inquest, I believe.”

“Yes,” said Hale, polite and smiling, “I remember, Mr. Jennings! I had seen you here before, but I never knew your calling.”

“I don’t tell it to everyone,” said Jennings, “How do you do, Mr. Clancy? I hope you are well. An amusing place this.”

“I need amusement,” said Clancy, again assuming his silly smile, “since the death of my dear friend. By the way, have you found out who killed her, Mr. Jennings?”

“No. I fear the assassin will never be discovered.” Here the two men exchanged a glance. “I am engaged on other cases. There was only one point I wished to learn in connection with Miss Loach’s death.”

“What is that?” asked Hale calmly.

“Was Mrs. Herne in Miss Loach’s bedroom on that night?”

“I forget,” said Clancy before Hale could speak.

“That’s a pity,” resumed Jennings. “You see from the fact of the bell having been sounded, it struck me that the assassin may have been concealed in the bedroom. Now if Mrs. Herne was in that room, she might have noticed something.”

“I don’t think she did,” said Hale hastily. “Mrs. Herne and I left early, owing to Clancy here having offended her. Besides, Mrs. Herne told all she knew at the inquest.”

“All save that point.”

“The question was not asked,” said Clancy.

“No. I should like to ask Mrs. Herne now, but it seems she has gone away from Hampstead.”

“I don’t care if she has,” grumbled Clancy, “I hated Mrs. Herne. She was always quarrelling. Did you call to see her?”

“Yes, but I could not learn where she was. Now, as you are her lawyer, Mr. Hale, you may know.”

“She is at Brighton,” replied Hale readily, “at the Metropolitan Hotel, but she returns to Hampstead in a week.”

Jennings was secretly astonished at his question being thus answered, as he was inclined to suspect the men. However, he took a note of the address, and said he would attend to the matter. “But, to tell you the truth, it is useless,” he said. “The assassin will never be discovered. Moreover, there is no reward, and I should only work for no wages. You stay at Rose Cottage now, I believe, Mr. Clancy?”

“I do. Mrs. Pill has taken the place. Who told you?”

“I heard from Susan Grant. She was witness, if you remember. And has Mrs. Pill married Barnes yet?”

“I can’t say,” said Clancy, looking keenly at the detective. “I am not yet a boarder. I move in after a fortnight. I expect the marriage will take place before then. Susan Grant told you that also?”

“She did. But I don’t expect I’ll see her again. Well, gentlemen, I must go away. I hope you will be lucky.”

Jennings moved away and saw from the eager manner in which the two men began to converse that he was the subject of the conversation. He looked round for Caranby, but could not see him. When he was out of the house, however, and on the pavement lighting a cigarette, he felt a touch on his arm and found Caranby waiting for him. The old gentleman pointed with his cane to a brougham! “Get in,” he said, “I have been waiting to see you. There is much to talk about.”

“Maraquito?” asked Jennings eagerly.

“She has something to do with the matter. Love for Cuthbert has made her involve herself. How far or in what way I do not know. And what of Clancy and Hale?”

“Oh, I have put them off the scent. They think I have given up the case. But they and Maraquito are connected with the matter somehow. I can’t for the life of me see in what way though.”

“There is another woman connected with the matter — Mrs. Octagon.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jennings quickly.

“I saw her enter Maraquito’s house a few moments before you came down.”

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