The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 16

Juliet’s Story

Instead of answering, Jennings looked at Mallow. “It was the merest chance I glanced at the wall and saw that one of the arms which form that trophy was missing. It was also a chance that I suggested the blank space might be filled up with this knife. Are you sure it is your property?”

Mallow with a puzzled expression took the weapon in his hand and examined it closely. “It is mine,” he admitted, “on the butts of my revolvers you will find I carve these notches. I also did so on this bowie, which I bought in New York when I went on my last big-game shoot to the Rockies. I marked my things in this way so that the other fellows should not use them by mistake. I brought back this knife, and although it is not a pretty ornament, I fixed it up on the wall yonder. I used it to cut up game. But if you did not take it off the wall — and I confess I never missed it until you drew my attention to the fact that it was missing — where did you get it?”

Jennings scarcely knew what to say. Cuthbert talked of the matter in so easy a manner that it was impossible to think he had killed Miss Loach. Also he was not the sort of man to murder an inoffensive old woman, the more especially as he — on the face of it — had no motive to commit so brutal an act, or to jeopardize his neck. Struck by his friend’s silence, Mallow looked up suddenly. Whether he read the truth in Jennings’ eyes or the recollection of Jennings’ profession brought the Crooked Lane crime into his mind, it is impossible to say. But he suddenly grew pale and dropped the knife with a look of abhorrence.

“Yes,” said Jennings, in reply to his mute inquiry, “that is the knife that was used to stab Miss Loach.”

“This knife?” said Mallow, with a gasp, “but how the dickens,” he used a stronger word, “did my knife come to be used in that way?”

“I should like you to explain that,” said the detective icily.

“Good heavens, Jennings, you don’t think —”

“What am I to think,” said Jennings coldly, “I swear I never suspected you, Mallow. To own the truth, I don’t suspect you now, but for your own sake — for your own safety, explain how that knife came to be in Miss Loach’s house.”

“I can’t say,” cried Cuthbert, vehemently, “really I can’t. I swear I never missed it until you drew my attention to the blank left in the trophy of arms yonder.” He flung himself into a seat, and passed his hand through his hair with a bewildered air. “Surely, Jennings, you do not think me guilty of killing that poor wretch?”

Jennings stretched out his hand, which Mallow grasped. “There is my answer,” said the detective, “of course I don’t suspect you. The mere fact that you own the knife is yours shows me that you are innocent. But the fact that this particular weapon was used reveals to me the strange behavior of Miss Saxon — her motive, I mean.”

Cuthbert jumped up. “What has Juliet to do with this?” he asked.

“I went to see her,” explained Jennings rapidly, “and was shown up to the attic of Rose Cottage by Mrs. Pill. Miss Saxon was standing on a chair with her hand on the cornice. I managed to place my hand in the same place — it matters not how — and there I found that.”

“This knife?” Cuthbert, still bewildered, took up the formidable weapon. “But how did she become possessed of it?”

“You must ask her that.”

“I? Why did you not ask her yourself?”

“She would have lied to me — for your sake.”

“For my sake? Do you mean to say she thinks I am guilty?”

“Yes, I do,” said Jennings decisively.

“It’s an infernal lie! I don’t believe Juliet would think me such a blackguard unless she did not love me — and she does love me.”

“Of course,” interposed Jennings swiftly, “so much so that she has concealed this knife so as to — as she thinks — save you. Now, can you not see why she asked you to proceed no further in the case for your — own sake. I thought she was shielding her brother. It is you she believes guilty —”

“And therefore will not marry me?”

“No. I don’t think for one moment she cares about that. When a woman loves a man she will stick to him through thick and thin. If he is a regular Cain, she will marry him. Bless the whole sex, they are the staunchest of friends when they love. No, Mallow, in some way Mrs. Octagon has learned that you have killed her —”

“But I never did — I never did. I told you everything.”

“What you told me may have been told to Mrs. Octagon with additions. She thinks you guilty, and therefore has threatened to denounce you unless Juliet gives you up. She has done so, therefore Mrs. Octagon holds her bitter tongue.”

“But her reason for wishing to break off the marriage.”

“We discussed that before. In the first place, you are Caranby’s nephew and she hates him. In the second, she and Basil want the fingering of the six thousand a year left by Miss Loach. Should you marry Miss Saxon, they know well you will look after her interests, therefore they don’t wish the match to take place. I am not quite sure if this is Basil’s plan, or if he knows so much, but I am quite certain that the scheme is of Mrs. Octagon’s concoction. But now you can see why Miss Saxon behaved so strangely.”

“She has no right to take up such a position,” cried Cuthbert, with a fierce look. “She should have been plain with me and have accused me to my face.”

“Do you think a woman cares to accuse the man she loves? Besides, Mrs. Octagon may have forced her to keep silence, so as to make the matter more difficult for you. The only way in which you can clear up matters is to see Miss Saxon and insist on an explanation.”

“And if she won’t give it?”

“I think she will this time,” said Jennings with a grim smile. “By now she must have discovered her loss, and she knows well enough that the knife is in my possession. Already she knows that I threatened to arrest you —”

“But you would never do that.”

“I would if it meant the clearing of your character. I tell you, Mallow, you are in danger. There is a conspiracy against you, and the using of your knife to kill that old woman proves it. To prepare the ground for an accusation, someone stole it. You must fight, man, or your enemies may bring about your arrest, in spite of all I can do.”

Mallow dropped into his seat, flushed and angry.

“I have no enemies,” he muttered, trying to collect his wits.

“Yes, you have, and of the worst kind. Two women are against you.”

“Two women? Mrs. Octagon, I know, hates me as Caranby’s nephew and because she wants to handle this money. But the other?”

“Maraquito Gredos.”

“Bosh! She loves me. I am sure she has worried me enough.”

“Of course she loves,” said Jennings satirically. “She loves you so deeply that she would see you on the scaffold rather than let you marry Miss Saxon. That is why Mrs. Octagon went the other night to see her. Mrs. Herne gave a different version, but —”

“How do you know Mrs. Octagon went to see Maraquito?”

“Your uncle saw her. Sit down, Mallow.” Jennings gently pushed back the astonished man into his seat. “Listen while I tell you all I have discovered lately.”

Mallow listened in silence, and saw very truly that Maraquito would stick at nothing to gain her ends. However, he made no remark. “Now,” went on Jennings, “it may be that Maraquito hired someone to kill Miss Loach and is trying to put the blame on you so that she may entangle you in her net. It will be either the gallows or marriage with you. Of course she could not kill the woman herself, but her aunt, Mrs. Herne —”

“She was out of the house an hour before the blow was struck.”

“Quite so,” rejoined Jennings dryly, “but she may have come back again. However, the main point is, that Maraquito in some way is working with Mrs. Octagon on this basis to prevent your marriage. In this way they have impressed Miss Saxon that you are guilty, and they have shown her this knife. This evidence she retained in order to save you and at the price of her marriage.”

“It might be so,” said Mallow, dazed with this view of the case. “I certainly seem to be in a hole. If I could see Juliet — but her mother prevents me.”

“I have a plan to bring you together. I am engaged to a girl called Miss Garthorne. She is the niece of an old dancing master who taught Maraquito —”

“Le Beau?”

“The same. Well, I learn from Peggy — that is Miss Garthorne’s name — that she was at school for a few months with Miss Saxon. Peggy, in spite of her poverty, has had a good education, thanks to Le Beau, who loves her like a father. Hence, in spite of the difference in rank, she was brought into contact with Miss Saxon.”

“Yes! Yes! I see. But the scheme?”

“Well, Peggy must write to Miss Saxon and ask her to come and see her at the Pimlico Academy. As Miss Saxon was great friends with Peggy, she will come. Then you can talk to her there and learn the truth. Find out who gave her the knife. She will answer, especially if you tell her that, owing to my finding the knife, I am inclined to have you arrested. You understand?”

“Yes,” said Cuthbert, a new fire in his eyes, and drawing himself up firmly. “I’ll get at the truth somehow, and Juliet will not leave that Academy until I learn it. I have had more than enough of this kind of thing. But how did the knife leave my rooms?”

“Who has called to see you within the last month?”

“Oh, dozens of people.”

“Has Mrs. Octagon?”

“No. She never liked me enough to pay me a visit. But Basil —”

“Ha!” cried Jennings, slapping his knee. “I believe Basil may have taken it. He is working with his mother to stop the marriage, and —”

“Stop — stop!” interposed Mallow, coloring, “you are accusing Juliet’s mother and brother of being accomplices to a crime. Basil is a fool and Mrs. Octagon is not a nice woman, but I don’t think either would kill a woman in cold blood.”

Jennings had his own opinion about this. Mrs. Octagon — as was proved by her early history — was capable of doing much, when number one was in question, and Basil was an irresponsible, hysterical fool. In a moment of rage he might have —“But no,” said Jennings, breaking off this train of thought. “I can’t see the truth. Miss Saxon knows it. You must ask her. Be careful, for your life may depend upon it.”

“Bunkum!” said Mallow roughly, “I am not afraid.”

“Then you ought to be,” said Jennings quickly, “you were down at Rose Cottage on that night and the knife is yours. Certainly you have no motive, but Mrs. Octagon and Maraquito will soon find one, if you don’t fall in with their wishes. However, you know what you have to do,” and Jennings rose to take his leave, first slipping the knife into his pocket.

“Wait a bit,” said Cuthbert, rising. “I’ll do what you say. Just drop me a line when the meeting is to be. But I want to tell you — At the Metropolitan Hotel at Brighton I met with my bank manager.”

“What of that?”

“He happens to be the manager of the bank where Miss Loach kept her money and where Juliet keeps it now.”

“Well,” said Jennings, becoming suddenly attentive.

“He didn’t tell secrets,” went on Mallow, “but we got talking of Basil, and the manager hinted that Basil had had a lucky escape.”

“From what?”

“I can’t say. The manager — French, his name is — refused to speak more openly, and of course he couldn’t. But if Miss Loach had not died, Basil would have got into trouble. He didn’t put the matter exactly in these words, but I gathered as much.”

“Humph!” said Jennings, his eyes on the carpet, “that supplies a motive for Basil killing the old woman.”

“Nonsense, Basil would not kill anything. He is a coward.”

“When a rat is in the corner it fights,” said the detective significantly. “Basil may have been between the devil, represented by Miss Loach, and the deep sea, which we may call Hale. He may have —”

“No! No! No!” said Mallow, “nothing will ever persuade me that Basil is guilty.”

Jennings looked doubtful. He had his own opinion as to young Saxon’s capability for crime. “However, the whole case is so perplexing that I fear to name any particular person,” said he, taking his hat. “Now I shall see Miss Garthorne and get her to write to Miss Saxon.”

Apparently there was no difficulty about this, for in three days he wrote to Mallow, telling him to come to Pimlico on Friday at four o’clock. Juliet was surprised when she received an invitation from an old schoolfellow of whom she had lost sight for years. However, owing to her troubles, she felt the need of some sympathetic soul in whom she could safely confide, and knowing Peggy was one of those rare friends who could keep her own counsel, Juliet readily agreed to pay the visit. She arrived at the Academy shortly before three o’clock, and the two girls had a long talk of their old days. Also Juliet told some of her difficulties — but not all — to Peggy. “And I don’t know how things will turn out,” said Miss Saxon disconsolately, “everything seems to be wrong.”

“They will continue to be wrong unless you act wisely,” said Peggy.

“In what way should I act?”

“Stick to Mr. Mallow. He loves you and you love him. I do not see why you should surrender your life’s happiness for the sake of your family. Of course you have not told me all,” and Peggy looked at her inquiringly.

Juliet shuddered. “I dare not tell you all,” she said faintly. “I have to think of other people.”

“Think of Mr. Mallow first.”

“I am thinking of him.”

“Then it is on his account you keep silence.”

Juliet nodded. “I must hold my tongue. If you could advise me —”

“My dear,” said clear-headed Miss Garthorne, rather impatiently, “I can’t advise unless I know all, and you will not trust me.”

“I have to consider others,” repeated Juliet obstinately; “if Cuthbert knew what I feel —”

“Why don’t you tell him? See here, Juliet, you are keeping something back from me. On my part, I have kept something back from you. But I see it is necessary to speak plainly. Juliet, I am engaged.”

“Oh, I am so glad,” cried Miss Saxon, embracing her friend. “Is he nice?”

“I think so; but I am not sure if you will be of that opinion.”

“Do I know him?” asked Juliet, opening her eyes widely.

“You do. Not very well, perhaps, but you know him.”

“What is his name?”

“I’ll tell you that after you have seen Mr. Mallow.”

Miss Saxon rose with rather an offended look. “I have no intention of seeing Mr. Mallow.”

“Supposing he was here, would you consent to an interview?”

“I don’t dare — I dare not! If he asked questions! — what do you mean?”

“Nothing,” said Peggy briskly. “We have joined issue, as the lawyers say. I advise you to speak out and you refuse.”

“I don’t understand all this. Is Cuthbert here?”

“Yes. To be plain with you, Juliet, a person I know arranged that I should write to you and that Mr. Mallow should meet you here.”

Juliet looked annoyed. “Who is interfering with my private business?”

“Someone who can help you.”

“No one can help me,” retorted Juliet.

“Oh, yes, and the advice of this person is that you should tell the truth to Mr. Mallow.”

“Who is this person?”

“I’ll tell you that after you have seen Mr. Mallow. He is in the room below.”

“This interfering person you refer to?”

“No, Mr. Mallow. Will you come downstairs and see him?”

Juliet drew back as Peggy opened the door. “I dare not.”

“In that case you will have to consent to the arrest of Mr. Mallow.”

Juliet shrieked. “Cuthbert arrested! For what?”

“For the murder of Miss Loach.”

“It is not true — it is not true,” gasped Juliet. “Oh, Peggy, what does it all mean? How do you come to know —?”

“Because I’m engaged to Miles Jennings.”

“The detective! The man who behaved so badly to me?”

“I don’t know what you call behaving badly,” said Miss Garthorne in an offended way. “Miles wishes to help you out of your difficulties, and you will not allow him. No! Don’t ask questions. I refuse to answer. Miles told me all about the case and I know everything —”

“Then you know that he came the other day to Rose Cottage and —”

“I know everything,” said Peggy, leaving the room; “and if you are wise you will come with me.”

When Peggy disappeared, Juliet hesitated. She really could not speak to Cuthbert, and resolved to steal out of the trap into which she had been inveigled by the treacherous Peggy. On the other hand, things were becoming so serious that she knew she would have to speak out sooner or later, especially as Cuthbert was in danger of arrest. But even if she confessed all, could she save him? “I should only make matters worse,” thought Juliet, descending the stairs, “he’ll thank me some day for holding my tongue. I’ll go.”

So she arranged, but meantime Peggy had informed the waiting Mallow of Juliet’s strange behavior. Determined to make her speak, and anxious to arrive at some understanding, Cuthbert waited at the foot of the stairs. Juliet, coming down, ran straight into his arms, and turned white.

“You!” she gasped, retreating, “you are here after all.”

“Did you not hear Miss Garthorne tell you so?” asked Cuthbert.

“Peggy is behaving very wickedly.”

“It is you who are behaving badly,” said Mallow bluntly, “you know much about this case and you are keeping me in the dark.”

“It is for your own good,” murmured Juliet.

“You should allow me to be the best judge of that. Come in here,” and Cuthbert drew her towards the open door of the dancing-room, “tell me what you know and how it affects me.”

The room was large and bare and empty. At one end there was a kind of dais on which was placed a few chairs. The young man walked up to this and turned to beckon Juliet, for whom he placed a chair. She still lingered at the door and seemed disposed to fly.

“Juliet, if you go now, all is over,” he said determinedly.

“Cuthbert, how can you?”

“Because I mean what I say. Things can’t go on like this. You think of your brother — of your mother. You never give a thought to me.”

Juliet came up the room hurriedly. “I am thinking of you all the time, Cuthbert,” she said angrily, “I keep silence for your good.”

“In what way?”

“This murder —” she began. Then her voice died away, “you know —”

“I know that Miss Loach was murdered, but who did it I don’t know.”

“Oh,” Juliet dropped into a chair, “are you innocent?”

“Surely you never thought me guilty?”

“I— I— don’t think you are, and yet —”

“You are going to accuse me of having been on the spot?”

Juliet could restrain herself no longer. “I saw you myself,” she burst out; “I was there also.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93s/chapter16.html

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