The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 23

A Scamp’s History

When Jennings came to himself he was lying on a sofa in the dining-room on the ground-floor of the villa. His shoulder hurt him a trifle, but otherwise he felt well, though slightly weak. The doctor was at his side. It was the same man who had attended to the body of the late occupant of the house.

“Are you feeling better?” said Doctor Slane, when he saw the eyes of the detective open. “You had better remain here for a time. Your men have secured the rascals — all five of them.”

“And Twining?” asked Jennings, trying to sit up.

“He is dead — shot through the heart. Clancy killed him.”

“Then he’ll swing for it,” said Jennings in a stronger tone, “we lose a good man in poor Twining. And Hale?”

“You have wounded him severely in the lungs. I fear he will die. We have put him in Mrs. Barnes’ room on her bed. The poor woman is wild with grief and terror. I suppose you know her husband was amongst those rascals.”

“I thought as much. His going out was merely a blind. But I must get up and look at the factory. Send Atkins to me.”

Atkins was the man next in command now that the inspector was dead.

The doctor tried to keep Jennings on his back, but the detective would not listen. “There is much to do,” he said, rising unsteadily. “You have bound up my shoulder. I won’t lose any more blood.”

“You have lost a good deal already.”

“It’s my business. We detectives have our battles to fight as well as soldiers have theirs. Give me some brandy and send Atkins.”

Seeing that the man was resolved, Slane gave him the drink and went out. In a few minutes Atkins entered and saluted. Jennings, after drinking the fiery spirit, felt much better, and was fairly steady on his legs. “Did you see any women amongst the men we took?” he asked.

“No, sir,” replied the other, “there were five men. Two are wounded — one slightly, and the other — Hale — severely. He wants to make a confession to you, and I have sent to the office for a clerk to take down his words. Dr. Slane says he will not live till morning.”

“He will cheat the law, I suppose,” said Jennings, “give me your arm, Atkins. I want to visit the factory.”

“Are you strong enough, sir?”

“Quite strong enough. Don’t bother,” replied the other as a twinge of pain made him wince. “We’ve made a good haul this time.”

“You’ll say that, sir, when you see the factory. It is the most complete thing of its kind.”

“Tell the clerk when he arrives not to take down Hale’s confession till I arrive. I won’t be more than a quarter of an hour. Give me your arm when you return.”

Atkins departed on his errand, and Jennings sat down, wondering what had become of Maraquito. He made sure she would go to the factory, as being a place of refuge which the police would find hard to discover. But, apparently, she had taken earth in some other crib belonging to the gang. However, he would have all the ports watched, and she would find it hard to escape abroad. Maraquito was so striking a woman that it was no easy matter for her to disguise herself. And Jennings swore that he would capture her, for he truly believed that she had killed Miss Loach, and was the prime mover in the whole business. Hitherto she had baffled him by her dexterity, but when they next met he hoped to get the upper hand.

His underling returned and, resting on his arm, Jennings with some difficulty managed to get down the stairs. The whole house now blazed with light. Formerly the detective had wondered why Miss Loach had been so fond of electric lamps, thinking that as an old lady she would have preferred a softer glow. But now he knew that she required the electricity for the illumination of the factory, and for manipulating the metals required in the manufacture of coins. There was no doubt that she was one of the gang also, but Jennings could not conceive why she should take to such a business. However, the woman was dead and the gang captured, so the detective moved along the narrow passage with a sense of triumph. He never thought that he would be so lucky as to make this discovery, and he knew well that such a triumph meant praise and reward. “I’ll be able to marry Peggy now,” he thought.

The coiners had been removed to the Rexton cells, and only Hale remained under the charge of Mrs. Barnes and Dr. Slane. The body of Twining lay in the dining-room of the villa. A policeman was on guard at the door of the villa, and two remained at the forked passage. When Jennings arrived here he felt inclined to turn off to the right and explore the other passage, but he was also anxious to see the factory and assure himself of the value of his discovery. He therefore painfully hobbled along, clinging to Atkins, but sustained in his efforts by an indomitable spirit.

“Here you are, sir,” said Atkins, turning on the light and revealing the workshop. “A fine plant, isn’t it?”

“It is, indeed,” said Jennings, glancing up to the rough roof where five or six lamps blazed like suns, “and a nice hiding-place they found. I’ll sit here and look round, Atkins.”

He dropped into a chair near the bench and stared at the cellar. It was large, and built of rough stones, so that it looked like a prison cell of the Bastille. The floor was of beaten earth, the roof of brick, built in the form of an arch, and the door was of heavy wood clamped with iron. The brilliant illumination enabled Jennings to see everything, even to the minutest detail of the place.

In one corner were three large dynamos, and in another a smelting pot, and many sheets of silver and copper. Also, there were moulds of gutta-percha arranged to hold coins in immersion. On a bench were a number of delicate tools and a strong vice. Jennings also saw various appliances for making coins. On rough deal shelves ranged round the walls stood flasks and jars containing powders, with tools and a great many chemicals. Also there were piles of false money, gold and silver and copper, and devices for sweating sovereigns. In a safe were lumps of gold and silver. Beside it, a bath filled with some particular liquid used in the trade. Electric cells, acids, wooden clips to hold the coins could also be seen. In fact the whole factory was conducted on the most scientific principles, and Jennings could understand how so many cleverly-prepared coins came to be in circulation. There were even moulds for the manufacture of francs and louis.

“I daresay the gang have other places,” he said to Atkins, “but this is their headquarters, I fancy. If I can only get some of them to tell the truth we might find the other places.”

“Hale wants to confess.”

“Yes. But I fancy it is about the murder of Miss Loach. She was apparently killed to ensure the safety of this den. We must root the coiners out, Atkins. Maraquito, who is the head of the business, is at large, and unless we can take her, she will continue to make false money in some other place. However, I have seen enough for the time being. Keep guard over this place till we hear from the Yard tomorrow.”

“You’ll go home and lie down, sir.”

“No. I intend to hear Hale’s confession. By tomorrow it will be too late. I wouldn’t miss hearing what he has to say for anything.”

“But can you keep up, sir?”

“Yes, yes — don’t bother,” said Jennings, rising, the pain making him testy, “give me your arm, Atkins. By the way, where does the other passage lead to? I have not enough strength to explore.”

“It leads to the top of the ground, sir, and comes out into the trunk of a tree.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, sir, it’s very clever. There’s an old oak near the wall, and the trunk is hollow. All anyone has to do is to climb up through the trunk by means of stairs and drop over the wall. The coiners were making for that when we captured them.”

“Humph! Have that place watched. Maraquito may come here to-night after all. It is now one o’clock.”

“I don’t think she’ll come, Mr. Jennings. But we have every point watched. No one can come or go unless we know.”

“Come along then,” said Jennings, who was growing weak, “let us see Hale. The sooner his confession is written and signed the better.”

Not another word did Jennings say till he got on to the ground floor of the villa. But he had been thinking, for when there he turned to the man who supported him. “How is it the oak with the hollow trunk still stands?” he asked.

“Oh, it escaped the fire, sir. Some of the boughs were burnt off but the trunk itself is all right. It is close to the wall too.”

“Humph!” said Jennings, setting his teeth with the pain, “give me a sup of brandy out of your flask, Atkins. Now for Hale.”

When he arrived in the bedroom where Hale was lying groaning, Jennings had the factitious strength of the spirit. A sleepy-eyed clerk was seated at the table with sheets of paper before him. A lamp was on the table. Mrs. Barnes was crouching in a chair near the bed. When she saw Jennings she flung herself down weeping.

“Oh, sir, I knew no more of this than a babe unborn,” she wailed, “I never thought my second was a villing. To think that Thomas —”

“That’s all right, Mrs. Barnes, I quite acquit you.”

“Not Barnes. Pill I am again, and Mrs. Pill I’ll be to the end of my days. To think Thomas should be a blackguard. Pill drank, I don’t deny, but he didn’t forge and coin, and —”

“Wasn’t clever enough, perhaps,” said Hale from the bed in a weak voice, “oh, there you are, Jennings. Get that fool out of the room and listen to what I have to tell you. I haven’t much time. I am going fast.”

Jennings induced Mrs. Pill, as she now insisted on being called, to leave the room. Then he sat down on the bed beside the dying man. Atkins remained at the door, and the doctor seated himself by Hale’s head with a glass of brandy. It might be needed for the revival of Hale, who, having lost much blood, was terribly weak. But the poor wretch was bent upon confession, and even told his story with pride.

“You had a job to take us, Jennings,” he said with a weak chuckle. “I don’t know how you found us out though.”

“It’s too long a story to tell. But, first of all, tell me did Maraquito come here to-night?”

“No. Are you after her?”

“Yes, I know she isn’t an invalid.”

“Ah, she diddled you there,” said Hale with another chuckle, “a very clever woman is Maraquito. I wished to marry her, but now I’m done for. After all, I’m not sorry, since my pals are taken. But I did think I’d have been able to go to South America and marry Maraquito. I’ve made plenty of money by this game. Sometimes we sweated four hundred sovereigns a day. The factory has been here for five years, Jennings —”

“I know. The man Maxwell, who was Susan Grant’s father, made the secret entrance, and you had him killed.”

“No, I didn’t. Miss Loach did that. I thought she was a fool at the time. I told her so. We could have taken Maxwell as a pal. He was willing to come. But she thought death was best.”

“And Maraquito killed Tyke?”

“No. I did that. I sent Gibber to fix him up. Tyke was a drunkard and made a fool of himself in being arrested. He would have given the show away, so I sent Gibber with a poisoned bottle of whisky. I knew Tyke couldn’t resist a drink. He died, and —”

“Did you kill Miss Loach also?” interrupted Jennings, casting a glance over his shoulder to make sure that the clerk was noting all this.

Hale laughed weakly.

“No!” he said. “I fancied you would ask that. I tell you honestly that none of us know who killed her.”

“That’s rubbish. You do know.”

“I swear I don’t. Neither does Maraquito. You haven’t caught her yet and you never will. I’m not going to split on the pals I have left, Jennings. You have nabbed some, but there are others, and other factories also. I won’t tell you about those.”

“Clancy is captured — he will.”

“Don’t you make any mistake. Clancy is not the fool he looks. He has the cleverest head of the lot of us. But I’d better get on with my confession, though it won’t do you much good.”

“So long as you say who killed Miss Loach —”

“Miss Loach,” sneered Hale, “why not Emilia Saul?”

Jennings was almost too surprised to speak. “Do you mean to say —”

“Yes, I do. All the time you and Miss Saxon and that idiot of a brother thought she was Selina Loach. She wasn’t, but she was very like her. Emilia met Selina in the house that is now burnt and pushed her off the plank. The face was disfigured and Selina was buried as Emilia.”

“Then Mrs. Octagon must know —”

“She knows a good deal. You’d better ask her for details. Give me a sup of brandy, doctor. Yes,” went on Hale, when he felt better, “I laughed in my sleeve when I thought how Emilia tricked you all. She was Maraquito’s aunt. Her name —”

“Maraquito’s name is Bathsheba Saul.”

“Yes. I expect Caranby told you that. He was too clever, that old man. I was always afraid that he would find out about the factory. A long while ago I wished Maraquito to give up the business and marry me. Then we would have gone to South America and have lived in peace on no end of money. Emilia left six thousand a year, so you may guess that Maraquito and I made money also. But she was in love with Mallow, and would not come away. I feared Caranby should take it into his head to search the house —”

“Was that why you had it burnt?”

“No. Tyke did that out of revenge, because Maraquito marked him with a knife. Do you think I would have been such a fool as to burn the house. Why, Caranby would have probably let out the land, and foundations would have been dug for new villas, when our plant would have been discovered.”

“Who are you, Hale?”

“Who do you think?” asked the dying man, chuckling.

“One of the Saul family. You have the same eyebrows as Maraquito.”

“And as Mrs. Herne, who really was Maraquito.”

“Yes, I know that. But who are you?”

“My real name is Daniel Saul.”

“Ah! I thought you were a member of the family. There is a likeness to Maraquito —”

“Nose and eyebrows and Hebrew looks. But I am only a distant cousin. My father married a Christian, but I retain a certain look of his people. He died when I was young. Emilia’s mother brought me up. I knew a lot about the coining in those days, and I was always in love with Bathsheba, who is my cousin —”

“Bathsheba?”

“You know her best as Maraquito, so by that name I shall speak of her. Jennings,” said Hale, his voice growing weaker, “I have little time left, so you had better not interrupt me.” He took another sup of brandy and the doctor felt his pulse. Then he began to talk so fast that the clerk could hardly keep pace with his speech. Evidently he was afraid lest he should die before his recital ended.

“When old Mrs. Saul lost Emilia —” he began.

“But she didn’t lose Emilia,” interrupted Jennings.

“She thought she had. She never knew that Emilia took the name of Selina Loach. You had better ask Mrs. Octagon for details on that subject. Don’t interrupt. Well, when Mrs. Saul lost Emilia, she took more and more to coining. So did her son, Bathsheba’s father. They were caught and put in prison. I was taken in hand by a benevolent gentleman who brought me up and gave me the profession of a lawyer. I chose that because I thought it might be handy. Then Mrs. Saul came out of prison and her son also. Both died. Maraquito tried various professions and finally went in for dancing. She hurt her foot, and that attempt to gain a living failed. I was in practice then and we started the gambling-house together. But by this time I had found Emilia living here as Selina Loach. Mrs. Octagon can tell you how we met. Emilia persuaded me and Maraquito to go in for the coining. She already had Clancy interested. He was a good man at getting the proper ring of the coins. Well, we managed to make a tunnel to the cellars of the unfinished house, and then Emilia built the extra wing to the villa. The secret entrances were made by —”

“By Maxwell. I know that. Go on.”

“Well, we started the concern. I haven’t time to tell you in detail how lucky we were. We counterfeited foreign coins also. We all made plenty of money. Emilia suggested Maraquito feigning to be an invalid, so as to make things safe. False coins were passed at the gambling-house. Maraquito came here as Mrs. Herne and had a house — or rather lodgings — at Hampstead. We came here three times a week, and while supposed to be playing whist, we were at the factory. Emilia kept guard. Sometimes we went out by the door of this house and at times by another way —”

“I know. Up the tree-trunk.”

“Ah, you have found that out,” said Hale in a weak voice; “what a place it is,” he murmured regretfully, “no one will ever get such another. I can’t understand how you came to find us out.”

“Tell me what happened on that night?” asked Jennings, seeing that the man was growing weaker, and fearful lest he should die without telling the secret of the death.

“On that night,” said the dying scamp, rousing himself; “well, Maraquito quarrelled with Clancy, and went with me to the factory.”

“Then you were not out of the house?”

“No. We went by the underground passage to work. Clancy went away, as he had business elsewhere. The moment he had gone I came up from the passage. Emilia was seated with the cards on her lap. She came with me to the factory, and thinking Clancy might come back, she went out by the tree-trunk way.”

“What, that old lady?”

“She wasn’t so very old, and as active as a cat. Besides, she did not want Clancy to come down, as she was afraid there might be a fight between him and Maraquito. They had quarrelled about the division of some money, and Maraquito can use a knife on occasions.”

“She did on that night.”

“No. Miss Loach — I mean Emilia — never came back. We became alarmed, as we knew people had been round the house of late —”

“Mr. Mallow —”

“Yes, the fool. We knew he had come prowling after ghosts. But he found nothing. Well, I—” here Hale’s voice died away. The doctor gave him some more brandy and looked significantly at Jennings.

“Get him to tell all at once,” he whispered, “he’s going.”

“Yes, I’m going,” murmured Hale. “I don’t mind, though I am sorry to leave Maraquito. Well,” he added, in a stronger voice. “I went out to see what was up. We found Emilia lying dead near the tree. She had been stabbed to the heart. A bowie knife was near. In great alarm I got Maraquito to come out, as the body could not be left there. We dropped it down the tree-trunk and got it into the factory. Then we wondered what was to be done. Maraquito suggested we should take it back to the sitting-room, and then, people being ignorant of the passage, no one would know how Emilia had met with her death. I thought there was nothing else to be done. We carried the body through the passage and placed it in the chair. I arranged the cards on the lap, knowing the servant had seen Emilia in that position, and that it would still further throw prying people”— here Hale glanced at Jennings —“off the scent. Hardly had we arranged this and closed the floor, over us when we heard that someone was in the room. It was a woman, and we heard her speaking to the corpse, ignorant that the woman was dead. Then we heard a suppressed shriek. We guessed it was a woman, at least I did, but Maraquito was quicker and knew more. She said it was Miss Saxon, and at once became anxious to fix the blame on her. But I was afraid lest things should be discovered, so I dragged Maraquito back to the factory. I believe Miss Saxon found the knife and then ran out, being afraid lest she should be discovered and accused. This was what Maraquito wanted. She suddenly escaped from me and ran back to the secret entrance. By shifting the floor a little she saw into the room. It was then eleven. She saw also that the knife was gone, and it struck her that Miss Saxon could not be far off.”

“She was not,” said Jennings, “she was hidden in the field of corn.”

“Ah. I thought so. Well, Maraquito fancied that if she was arrested with the knife before she could leave the neighborhood she would be charged with the murder.”

“But would Maraquito have let her suffer?” asked Jennings, horrified.

“Of course she would,” said Hale weakly, “she hated Miss Saxon because she was engaged to Mallow, the fool. To get her caught, Maraquito jumped up into the sitting-room and rang the bell.”

“At eleven o’clock?”

“Yes, I believe — I believe —” Hale’s voice was getting weaker and weaker. “She did ring — bell — then closed floor. Servant came — I— I—” he stopped and his head fell back. Suddenly he half rose and looked wildly into blank space. “Maraquito,” he cried strongly, “the game’s at an end. Fly, my love, fly. We have fought and — and — lost. Maraquito, oh my —” his voice died away. He stretched out his hand, fell back and died with a look of tender love on his pallid face.

“Poor wretch!” said Slane pityingly, “at least he loved truly.”

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