The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 13

Juliet at Bay

Caranby’s reply took away Jennings’ breath. The case was one of surprises, but he was not quite prepared for such an announcement. He was in the brougham and driving towards the Avon Hotel with the old nobleman before he found his tongue.

“What can Mrs. Octagon have to do with Maraquito?” he asked amazed.

“Ah! that is the question,” replied Caranby, affording no clue.

“I did not even know she was acquainted with her.”

“Perhaps she gambles.”

“Even if she did, Maraquito’s salon would hardly be the place she would choose for her amusement. Moreover, Maraquito does not receive ladies. She has no love for her own sex.”

“What woman has?” murmured Caranby, ironically. Then he added after a pause, “You know that Mrs. Octagon was present when Emilia fell from the plank in the Rexton house?”

“Yes. She gave evidence at the inquest I understand. But Selina did not, if Cuthbert informed me rightly.”

“Selina was ill in bed. She could not come. Afterwards she went abroad. I have often wondered,” added Caranby, “why Selina didn’t seek me out when death broke my engagement to Emilia. She loved me, and her father being dead, there would have been no bar to our marriage. As it was, she threw over her American and dedicated herself to a hermit’s life at Rexton.”

“You never saw her again?”

“Never. I started to travel, and came to London only at rare intervals. I did write to Selina, asking her to see me, but she always refused, so I became philosophic and took to celibacy also.”

“Very strange,” murmured Jennings, his thoughts elsewhere, “but this does not explain Mrs. Octagon’s visit to the house.”

“I am not so sure of that, if you mean Maraquito’s house. Mrs. Octagon may know, as I do, that Maraquito is the niece of Emilia.”

“Are you sure of that?” asked the detective eagerly.

“As sure as I am that she is no Spaniard, nor even a Spanish Jewess, as she claims to be. She doesn’t even know the language. Her name, to fit a woman, should terminate in a feminine manner. She should be called Maraquita, not Maraquito. That little grammatical error doubtless escaped her notice. But as I was saying, Maraquito — we will still call her so — may have sent for Mrs. Octagon.”

“Mrs. Octagon, so far as I have seen, is not the woman to obey such a call,” said Jennings grimly.

“Maraquito may have compelled her to come.”

“For what reason?”

“Well, you see, Emilia was said by Isabella Loach — Mrs. Octagon that is — to have fallen from the plank. But Mrs. Octagon may have pushed her off.”

“May have murdered her in fact.”

“Quite so. Isabella loved me, and was, and is, a very violent woman. It may be that she pushed Emilia off the plank, and Maraquito, through her dead father, may have learned the truth. This would give her a hold over Mrs. Octagon.”

“But Selina may have killed Emilia. That would explain her hermit life, inexplicable in any other way.”

“No,” said Caranby in a shaking voice, “I am sure the woman I loved would never have behaved in that way. Isabella killed Emilia — if it was a murder — and then threatened to denounce Selina unless she gave up the idea of marrying me. And that,” added Caranby, as though struck with a new idea, “may be the cause why Selina never answered my letter, and always refused to see or marry me. She may have been — no, I am sure she was — under the thumb of Isabella. Now that Selina is dead, Isabella is under the thumb of Maraquito.”

“This is all theory,” said Jennings impatiently.

“We can only theorize in our present state of uncertainty,” was the reply of the nobleman. “But my explanation is a reasonable one.”

“I do not deny that. But why should Maraquito send for Mrs. Octagon?”

“Why?” echoed Caranby in surprise, “in order to stop the marriage with Cuthbert. Maraquito loves Cuthbert and hates Juliet. I daresay this is the solution of Mrs. Octagon’s strange behavior since the death. It is Maraquito who is stopping the marriage by threatening to denounce Mrs. Octagon for the murder of her aunt. Juliet knows this, and hence her reticence.”

“It might be so,” murmured Jennings, more and more perplexed. “But Miss Saxon won’t be reticent with me. I’ll see her tomorrow.”

“What means will you use to make her speak?”

“I’ll tell her that Cuthbert may be arrested for the crime. You know he was about the place on the night of the murder.”

“Yes. He went down to look after a possible ghost. But I hope you will not bring Cuthbert into the matter unless it is absolutely necessary. I don’t want a scandal.”

“Rest easy, Lord Caranby. I have the complete control of this affair, and I’ll only use Cuthbert’s presence at Rexton to make Miss Saxon speak out. But then, she may not be keeping silence for Cuthbert’s sake, as she can’t possibly know he was at Rexton on that night. My own opinion is that she is shielding her brother.”

“Do you suspect him?” asked Caranby quickly.

“He may not be guilty of the crime, but he knows something about it, I am sure.” Here Jennings related how Clancy had said Basil would speak out if pressed too hard. “Now Basil, for some reason, is in difficulties with Hale, who is a scoundrel. But Basil knows something which Hale and Clancy wish to be kept silent. Hale has been using threats to Basil, and the young man has turned restive. Clancy, who is by no means such a fool as he looks, warned Hale to-night. Therefore I take it, that Basil has some information about the murder. Miss Saxon knows he has, and she is shielding him.”

“But Clancy, Hale and Mrs. Herne were all out of the house when the woman was stabbed,” said Caranby, “they cannot have anything to do with it.”

“Quite so, on the face of it. But that bell —” Jennings broke off. “I don’t think those three are so innocent as appears. However, Mrs. Herne is coming back to her Hampstead house next week; I’ll see her and put questions.”

“Which she will not answer,” said Caranby drily. “Besides, you should have put them at the inquest.”

“The case had not developed so far. I had not so much information as I have now,” argued Jennings.

“Did you examine Mrs. Herne at the inquest?”

“No; she gave her evidence.” Jennings hesitated. “She also wore a veil when she spoke, and refused to raise it on account of weak eyes. By the way, do you notice that Maraquito uses a strong scent?”

“Yes. Clancy and Hale also use it.”

“Ha!” said Jennings, surprised. “I never knew that. Decidedly, I am growing stupid. Well, Mrs. Herne uses that scent also. It is a rare scent.” Then Jennings told what Susan Grant had said. “Now I think there is some significance in this scent which is connected with the association of Clancy, Hale, Maraquito and Mrs. Herne.”

“But Mrs. Herne doesn’t know Maraquito.”

“I am not so sure of that. Susan Grant thinks she may be Maraquito’s mother, she is so like her in an elderly way. Did you know this Mrs. Saul?”

“No. I knew the brother who came to speak to me after the death of his sister, and who afterwards was put in jail for coining. His wife I never met. I never even heard of her. But Maraquito takes after her father in looks and he was like Emilia.”

“It is a difficult matter to unravel,” said Jennings. “I think Mrs. Herne refused to raise her veil at the inquest so that the likeness between her and Maraquito might not be observed. I was there, and if Mrs. Herne is what I say, she would have been put on her guard by Maraquito. Though to be sure,” added Jennings in a vexed tone, “Maraquito did not know then, and perhaps does not know now, that I am a detective.”

“Clancy and Hale will enlighten her,” said Caranby, as the vehicle stopped, “will you not come in?”

“Not to-night. I will do myself the honor of calling on you later, when I have more to say. At present I am going to sort out what evidence I have. To-morrow I’ll call on Miss Saxon.”

“Call on Mrs. Octagon,” were Caranby’s parting words, “believe me, she knows the truth, but I’ll tell you one thing. Maraquito did not kill Miss Loach, for the death of Selina has given Juliet enough money to marry Cuthbert, independent of Mrs. Octagon’s wishes, and Maraquito would never have brought that about.”

“Yet all the same Miss Saxon will not marry.”

Caranby made a gesture to show that the matter was beyond his comprehension, and ascended the steps of the hotel. Jennings, deep in thought, walked away, wondering how he was to disentangle the skein which Fate had placed in his hand to unravel.

That night the detective surveyed the situation. So far as he could see, he seemed no further advanced than he had been at the inquest. Certainly he had accumulated a mass of evidence, but it threw no light on the case. From Caranby’s romance, it seemed that the dead woman had been connected with the Saul family. That seemed to link her with Maraquito, who appeared to be the sole surviving member. In her turn, Maraquito was connected in some underhand way with Mrs. Octagon, seeing that the elder woman came by stealth to the Soho house. Mrs. Octagon was connected with the late Emilia Saul by a crime, if what Caranby surmised was correct, and her daughter was forbidden to marry Mallow, who was the nephew of the man who had been the lover both of Miss Loach and Emilia Saul. Hale and Clancy were playing some game with Basil Saxon, who was the son of Mrs. Octagon, and he was associated with Maraquito. Thus it would seem that all these people were connected in various ways with the dead woman. But the questions were: Had one of them struck the fatal blow, and if so, who had been daring enough to do so?

“Again,” murmured Jennings, “who touched that bell? Not the assassin, who would scarcely have been fool enough to call anyone to examine his work before he had time to escape. Certainly it may have been a woman! Yes! I believe a man killed Miss Loach, for some reason I have yet to learn, and a woman, out of jealousy, wishing to get him into the grip of the law, touched the bell so that witnesses might appear before the assassin could escape. But who struck the blow?”

This was a difficult question. It could not have been Basil Saxon, for he was at the Marlow Theatre on that night with his sister. Cuthbert had no motive, and Jennings quite believed his explanation as to his exploration of the park between the hours of ten and eleven. Hale, Clancy and Mrs. Herne were all out of the house before the blow had been struck, and, moreover, there was no reason why they should murder a harmless old lady. Maraquito confined to her couch could not possibly have anything to do with the crime. Mrs. Octagon did hate her sister, but she certainly would not risk killing her. In fact, Jennings examining into the motives and movements of those mentioned, could find no clue to the right person. He began to believe that the crime had been committed by someone who had not yet appeared — someone whose motive might be found in the past of the dead woman. Say a member of the Saul family.

But Maraquito was the sole surviving member, and on the face of it was innocent. As yet Jennings did not know whether Mrs. Herne was her mother, in spite of the resemblance which Susan claimed to have seen. Also, Caranby said that Maraquito resembled her father, and the features of the Saul family were so strongly marked that it was impossible the elder Saul could have married a woman resembling him. “Though, to be sure, he might have married a relative,” said Jennings, and went to bed more perplexed than ever.

Next day, before calling at the “Shrine of the Muses,” he went to Scotland Yard, and there made inquiries about the rumor of false coins being in circulation. These appeared to be numerous and were admirably made. Also from France and Russia and Italy came reports that false money was being scattered about. The chief of the detective staff possessed these coins of all sorts, and Jennings was forced to own that they were admirable imitations. He went away, wondering if this crime could be connected in any way with the circulation of false money. “Maraquito is a member of the Saul family, who appear to have been expert coiners,” said Jennings, on his way to Kensington, “and, according to Le Beau, she gave him a false sovereign. I wonder if she keeps up the business, and if Clancy and Hale, together with Mrs. Herne, this supposititious mother, have to do with the matter. That unfinished house would make an admirable factory, and the presence of the ghosts would be accounted for if a gang of coiners was discovered there. But there is a fifteen-feet wall round the house, and the park is a regular jungle. Cuthbert examined the place by day and night and could see nothing suspicious. I wonder if Miss Loach, living near the place, learned that a gang was there. If so, it is quite conceivable that she might have been murdered by one of them. But how the deuce did anyone enter the house? The door certainly opened at half-past ten o’clock, either to let someone in or someone out. But the bell did not sound for half an hour later. Can there be any outlet to that house, and is it connected with the unfinished mansion of Lord Caranby, used as a factory?”

This was all theory, but Jennings could deduce no other explanation from the evidence he had collected. He determined to search the unfinished house, since Caranby had given him permission, and also to make an inspection of Rose Cottage, though how he was to enter on a plausible excuse he did not know. But Fate gave him a chance which he was far from expecting. On arriving at the “Shrine of the Muses” he was informed that Miss Saxon had gone to Rexton. This was natural enough, since she owned the cottage, but Jennings was inclined to suspect Juliet from her refusal to marry Cuthbert or to explain her reason, and saw something suspicious in all she did. He therefore took the underground railway at once to Rexton, and, alighting at the station, went to Crooked Lane through the by-path, which ran through the small wood of pines. On looking at the cottage he saw that the windows were open, that carpets were spread on the lawn, and that the door was ajar. It seemed that Mrs. Pill was indulging in the spring cleaning alluded to by Susan Grant.

At the door Jennings met Mrs. Pill herself, with her arms bare and a large coarse apron protecting her dress. She was dusty and untidy and cross. Nor did her temper grow better when she saw the detective, whom she recognized as having been present at the inquest.

“Whyever ‘ave you come ’ere, sir?” asked she. “I’m sure there ain’t no more corpses for you to discover.”

“I wish to see Miss Saxon. I was told she was here.”

“Well, she is,” admitted Mrs. Pill, placing her red arms akimbo, “not as I feel bound to tell it, me not being in the witness-box. She ‘ave come to see me about my rent. An’ you, sir?”

“I wish to speak to Miss Saxon,” said Jennings patiently.

Mrs. Pill rubbed her nose and grumbled. “She’s up in the attics,” said she, “lookin’ at some dresses left by pore Miss Loach, and there ain’t a room in the ’ouse fit to let you sit down in, by reason of no chairs being about. ‘Ave you come to tell me who killed mistress?”

“No! I don’t think the assassin will ever be discovered.”

“Ah, well. We’re all grass,” wailed Mrs. Pill; “but if you wish to see Miss Saxon, see her you will. Come this way to the lower room, an’ I’ll go up to the attics.”

“Let me go, too, and it will save Miss Saxon coming down,” said Jennings, wishing to take Juliet unawares.

“Ah, now you speaks sense. Legs is legs when stairs are about, whatever you may say,” said Mrs. Pill, leading the way, “an’ you’ll excuse me, Mr. Policeman, if I don’t stop, me ‘avin’ a lot of work to do, as Susan’s gone and Geraldine with ‘er, not to speak of my ‘usbin’ that is to be, he havin’ gone to see Mrs. Herne, drat her!”

“Why has he gone to see Mrs. Herne?” asked Jennings quickly.

“Arsk me another,” said the cook querulously, “he’s a secret one is Thomas Barnes, whatever you may say. He comes and he goes and makes money by ‘is doin’s, whatever they may be. For not a word do I ‘ear of ‘is pranks. I’ve a good mind to remain Pill to the end of my days, seein’ as he keeps secrets.”

Jennings said no more, but secretly wondered why Thomas had gone to visit Mrs. Herne. He determined to call on that lady at once and see if he could learn what message Thomas had taken her and from whom. But he had not much time for thought as Mrs. Pill opened a door to the right of a narrow passage and pushed him in. “An’ now I’ll go back to my dustin’,” said the cook, hurrying away.

Jennings found himself face to face with Juliet. She was standing on a chair with her hand up on the cornice. As soon as she saw him she came down with rather a white face. The room was filled with trunks and large deal boxes, and some were open, revealing clothes. Dust lay thick on others apparently locked, and untouched for many years. The light filtered into the dusty attic through a dirty window, and the floor was strewn with straw and other rubbish. Miss Saxon did not know the detective and her face resumed its normal color and expression.

“Who are you and what do you want?” she asked, casting a nervous look at the cornice.

Jennings removed his hat. “I beg your pardon,” he said politely. “Mrs. Pill showed me up here when I asked to see you.”

“She had no right,” said Juliet, looking at her dress, which was rather dusty, “come downstairs and tell me who you are.”

She appeared anxious to get him out of the room, and walked before him out of the door. As she passed through Jennings contrived to shut it as though her dress had caught the lower part. Then he lightly turned the key. He could hear Juliet fumbling at the lock. “What is the matter?” she called through.

“The lock has got hampered in some way,” said Jennings, rattling the key, “one moment, I’ll look at it carefully.”

As he said this he made one bound to the chair upon which she had been standing and reached his hand to the cornice at which she had looked. Passing his hand rapidly along it came into contact with an object long and sharp. He drew it down. It was a brand-new knife of the sort called bowie. Jennings started on seeing this object, but having no time to think (for he did not wish to rouse her suspicions), he slipped the knife in his vest and ran again to the door. After a lot of ostentatious fumbling he managed to turn the key again and open the door. Juliet was flushed and looked at him angrily. But she cast no second look at the cornice, which showed Jennings that she did not suspect his ruse.

“Your dress caught the door and shut it,” he explained, “the lock seems to be out of order.”

“I never knew it was,” said Juliet, examining it; “it always locked easy enough before.”

“Hum,” thought Jennings, “so you have been here before and you have kept the door locked on account of the knife probably,” but he looked smilingly at the girl all the time.

“I am sorry,” he said, when she desisted from her examination.

“It’s my fault,” said Juliet unsuspiciously, and closed the door. She led the way along the passage and down the stairs. “Who are you?” she asked, turning round half way down.

“I am a friend of Mallow’s,” said the detective.

“I have never met you?”

“Yet I have been to your house, Miss Saxon. Perhaps my name, Miles Jennings, may —”

The girl started with a cry. “You are a detective!” she gasped.

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