The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 24

Revenge

The capture of the coiners caused an immense sensation, and the papers were filled with descriptions of the raid. Jennings came in for much congratulation, and his feat considerably improved his position with the authorities. He was confined to his bed for some days by his wound and, meanwhile, events transpired in which he would have been considerably interested had he heard of them. They had to do with Maraquito.

Since her flight from the Soho house nothing had been heard of her, although every inquiry had been made. Guessing that Jennings knew much more than was suspected, she was wise enough not to go to the Rexton factory, and congratulated herself on her foresight when she read the accounts of the raid in the papers. But she was furiously angry at losing all, when on the point of realizing her desires. She had sent her money to be banked abroad; she hoped, by means of threats to induce Mallow to give up Juliet, and she had trusted to win his love by assiduous attentions. But the trick played by Jennings which revealed her deception, and the raid on the factory and the consequent death of Hale, upset her plans, and caused her to take refuge in hiding. She did not fear being arrested, especially as her arch-enemy, the detective, was confined to bed, so she had time to make her plans. Maraquito particularly wished to revenge herself on Mallow and Juliet. She still loved the young man as much as ever, despite his contemptuous rejection of her suit. But she blamed Juliet Saxon for the hardening of his heart, and it was on the girl that she determined to revenge herself. At first she intended to call at the “Shrine of the Muses,” but thinking she would meet with opposition from Mrs. Octagon, likely to prevent the realization of her malignant wishes, she changed her mind. It was no use visiting Mallow, as with him she could do nothing. Therefore she resolved to write to Lord Caranby and arrange a meeting with Juliet at his rooms in the Avon Hotel. Then, when in the presence of the girl, she hoped to revenge herself in a way likely to cause Mallow exquisite pain.

Thus it happened that Lord Caranby, who was very ill and confined to his rooms, received a letter from Maraquito, asking him to invite Miss Saxon to a meeting with the writer. “I see that the game is up,” wrote the artful Maraquito, “and I am willing to put things straight. I know much which will be of service in clearing up matters, as I was a partner with Hale and Clancy in the coining. I do not mind admitting this, as I am not afraid of the police arresting me. I can look after myself, and I am quite sure that you will not betray me when I call at your rooms. I also have something to tell you about my dead Aunt Emilia whom you so deeply loved. Therefore, if you will arrange for me to meet Miss Saxon, and allow me to make a clean breast of it, all will be well.”

When Caranby received this letter his first idea was to send for Mallow. But he reflected that Cuthbert was bitterly angered against Maraquito, and would probably hand her over to the police. Caranby, from a remembrance of his love for Emilia, did not wish this to happen; therefore, he refrained from letting Mallow learn of Maraquito’s determination. He hoped to get the complete truth from her and arrange matters once and for all. Also, there was another reason, and a very strong one, which prevented the old gentleman from having his nephew present at the projected interview.

Maraquito soon received an answer to her letter. It stated that Lord Caranby would be pleased to receive her on Sunday afternoon at three o’clock, and that Miss Saxon would be present. When Maraquito read this she smiled an evil smile and went out to make a certain purchase which had to do with her visit. Had Lord Caranby known of her wicked intention he would rather have cut off his right arm than have subjected Juliet to the danger she was about to undergo. But he never credited Maraquito with such calculated wickedness.

On Sunday afternoon the old gentleman was seated near the fire, carefully dressed as usual, but looking very ill. He suffered, as he had told Jennings, from an incurable complaint, and there was no chance of his recovering. But he refused to take to his bed, and insisted on keeping his feet. Cuthbert often came to see him, but on this particular afternoon Caranby had manoeuvred him out of the way by sending him to see an old friend with a message about his illness. Cuthbert never suspected what was in the wind or he certainly would not have gone. Afterwards, he bitterly regretted that he had not told Caranby of Maraquito’s threat against Juliet. Had he done so, Caranby would never have received her. As it was, the old lord waited patiently for the woman who was about to bring disaster in her train. Precisely at three o’clock his servant showed up a lady. “Madame Durand,” he announced, and then retired, leaving his master alone with a bent, crooked old woman who walked with the aid of a cane, and seemed very ill.

“I should never have known you,” said Caranby, admiring Maraquito’s talent for disguise.

“Necessity has made me clever,” she replied in a croaking voice, and glanced at the door.

Caranby interpreted the look and voice. “You can speak freely,” he said ironically, “I have no police concealed hereabouts.”

“And Miss Saxon?” asked Maraquito, speaking in her natural voice.

“She will be here at half-past three. I wish to have a talk with you first, Miss Saul.”

The woman darted a terrible look at her host. In spite of the mask of age which she had assumed, her eyes filled with youthful vigor and fire betrayed her. They shone brilliantly from her wrinkled face. Her hair was concealed under a close cap, above which she wore a broad-brimmed hat. This head-dress would have been remarkable a few years back, but now that ladies are reverting to the fashions of their grandmothers, it passed unnoticed. With a plain black dress, a black cloak trimmed profusely with beads, mittened hands and an ebony cane, she looked quite funereal. To complete the oddity of her dress a black satin bag dangled by ribbons from her left arm. In this she carried her handkerchief and — something else. As usual, she was perfumed with the Hikui scent. Caranby noticed this, and when she did not reply to his remark, pointed out its danger to her.

“If you wish to escape the police, you must stop using so unusual a perfume, Miss Saul —”

“Call me Maraquito; I am used to that name,” she said harshly, and seated herself near the fire, shivering to keep up a character of old age, with slowly circulating blood.

“Let us say Maraquita,” answered Caranby, smiling, “we may as well be grammatical. But this perfume betrays you. Jennings knows that your friends use it as a sign.”

“Quite so,” she answered, “it was clever of Jennings to have guessed its meaning. I invented the idea. But he is ill, and I don’t think he has told anyone else about it. He is fond of keeping his discoveries to himself. He wants all the glory.”

“Surely he has had enough by this time, Maraquita. But the scent —”

“You are quite right, I shall not use it for the future. But what do you think of my disguise? Would anyone know me?”

“Certainly not. But I wonder you have the courage to show yourself so disfigured to the woman who is your rival.”

“Oh, as to that, she is my rival no longer,” said Maraquito, with a gesture of disdain, “your nephew is not worthy of me. I surrender him from this moment.”

“That is very wise of you. I expect you will go abroad and marry a millionaire.”

“I might. But I have plenty of money of my own.”

“The way in which you made it is not creditable,” said Caranby.

“Bah!” she sneered. “I did not come here to hear you talk morality, Lord Caranby. You were no saint in your young days. I have heard all about you.”

“From whom?”

“From my Aunt Emilia.”

“I scarcely think that. You were but a child when she died.”

“She did not die,” said Maraquito coldly. “I have come to tell you that she lived as Miss Loach at Rose Cottage.”

Caranby started to his feet. “What is this you tell me?”

“The truth. Emilia is dead now, but she lived alone for many a long day. I knew that Selina Loach was my aunt, and,” Maraquito looked at him with piercing eyes, “Mrs. Octagon knew also.”

By this time Caranby had recovered from his emotion. “There is nothing bad I don’t expect to hear of Isabella Octagon,” he said, “so this then was why she visited you?”

“Yes. I ordered her to come by threatening to reveal what she knew to the police. I could have done so by an anonymous letter. She came and then I forced her to promise to stop the marriage. I may as well add that I wrote insisting on the marriage being stopped as soon as Emilia died.”

“Ah! And I thought along with Cuthbert that it was hatred of me that made Mrs. Octagon —”

“Oh, she hates you sure enough. But are you not astonished by my news?”

“Very much astonished,” responded Caranby thoughtfully, “how came it that Selina died and Isabella lived?”

“The three met in the unfinished house,” explained Maraquito. “I had the story from Emilia myself. There was a quarrel. All three were in love with you. Selina was standing on a plank at a considerable height from the ground. In a rage Emilia pushed her off. Isabella held her tongue as she hated Selina.”

“But the substitution?”

“Well. In the fall Selina’s face was much mutilated. I believe,” added Maraquito, in a coldblooded manner, “that Emilia made it worse”— here Caranby shuddered and Maraquito laughed —“oh, my aunt was not a woman to stick at trifles. She insisted on changing dresses with the dead. It was the workmen’s dinner-hour and no one was about. She forced Isabella to assist her by threatening to tell the police that Isabella had murdered her sister. As the sisters were on bad terms, Isabella knew that she might be accused, and so she held her tongue.”

“But she could have accused Emilia.”

“Emilia would have denied the accusation. Moreover, Isabella was intimidated by the fierce nature of my aunt.”

“A fierce nature, indeed, that would mutilate the dead. But I do not see how Emilia hoped that the substitution would pass undiscovered by Selina’s friends, to say nothing of her father.”

“The idea was that Emilia, as Selina, should go abroad and return to England in a few years. Owing to the unexpected death of Mr. Loach, the father, the substitution was easy. You know how Isabella alone appeared at the inquest, and how Selina — really my aunt — pretended to be sick. Then the two went abroad and came back; Emilia as Miss Loach went to Rose Cottage, and Isabella married Mr. Saxon.”

“But why did Emilia take Selina’s name and —”

“Because Emilia was in danger of being arrested along with her mother and brother for coining. You could not have saved her. The accident of Selina’s death —”

“The murder of Selina, you mean.”

Maraquito made a gesture of indifference. “Call it what you like. It happened opportunely however. It gave Emilia safety, and by threatening to denounce Isabella, she stopped her from marrying you.”

Caranby looked up. “Ah! Now I see why Isabella left me alone. She made one attempt, however.”

“And did not succeed in inducing you to marry her. But had she succeeded, Emilia would have stopped the marriage. Emilia loved you.”

“No,” said Caranby coldly, “she loved my title and my name and wealth. I never loved her nor she me. She exercised a kind of hypnotic influence over me, and I dare say I would have married her. But her heart I am sure was always in the coining business.”

“You are quite right,” said Maraquito, looking keenly at him, “though I can’t guess how you came to think so, seeing you thought my aunt dead. Yes, she loved coining. When I grew up she sent for me and for Daniel Saul —”

“Who is he? Another of your precious family.”

“A distant cousin. You know him best as Hale the lawyer.”

“Oh, indeed,” said Caranby, considerably surprised, “and what did Emilia do with you two?”

“She got us to help her to coin. We made use of your house. I need not tell you how we dug the tunnel and arranged the factory. Emilia knew that you would not disturb the house —”

“I was a sentimental fool. If I had been wiser you would not have carried on your wickedness for so long.”

“Oh, we have other factories,” said Maraquito coolly, “Jennings has not discovered everything. But your house was certainly an ideal place. I can’t understand how Jennings learned about the secret —”

“The entrance. He learned that from plans left by Maxwell who designed the same. Emilia poisoned him.”

“She did — to preserve her secret. Hale and I thought it was unwise; he would have joined us. But it was all for the best.”

“Apparently you think so,” returned Caranby, looking at her with abhorrence, “seeing you poisoned Tyke in the same way.”

“Hale did that and I agreed. It was necessary,” said the woman coldly, “but you appear to know all about the matter.”

“Jennings has told me everything. Even to the fact, which he learned from Hale that you rang that bell.”

“I did. I knew Juliet Saxon was in the room, and I wished to get her arrested. She left the house and I rang the bell as soon as I could get away from Hale, who did not wish me to draw attention to the murder. But Juliet was too far away by that time to be caught.”

“Why did you wish to hang the poor girl?”

“Because I loved Cuthbert. I would have hanged her with pleasure,” said Maraquito vindictively. “I hate her!”

“Then why do you wish to see her today?”

“To tell her that I give up your nephew.”

“That is not in accordance with the sentiments you expressed now.”

Maraquito made a gesture of indifference and made no reply. Caranby now began to suspect that she intended harm to Juliet, and wondered if she had any weapon about her. That dangling bag could easily carry a stout knife or a neat little revolver. And Maraquito, as was evident from the deaths of Maxwell and Tyke, had no idea of the sacredness of life. Caranby wished he had kept Cuthbert at hand to avert any catastrophe. He was about to ring and order his servant not to bring Miss Saxon into the room when Maraquito roused herself from her reverie.

“Do you wish to know anything further?” she asked.

“No. I think you have told me everything.”

She smiled scornfully. “I have told you very little. But for the rest of the information you must apply to Mrs. Octagon.”

“Ah! Supposing I wish to learn who killed Emilia?”

“Mrs. Octagon can tell you!” said the woman significantly.

“Do you mean to say —”

“I say nothing. Emilia came to the factory and went out into the open air by another exit to see if anyone was about. She never returned and Hale and I went in search of her. We found her dead, and —”

“I know all this. Hale confessed it. But he does not know who killed her. Do you?”

“I can’t say for certain. But I suspect Mrs. Octagon stabbed her.”

“But how could Mrs. Octagon get the knife?”

“Basil got that from Mallow’s room. He gave it to his mother, and —”

“This is all theory,” said Caranby angrily, “you have no grounds.”

“None at all,” replied Maraquito calmly, “but if anyone had a wish to kill my aunt, Mrs. Octagon had. Emilia kept a tight hold over that woman, and made her do what she wished.”

“About the marriage?”

“Yes, and other things. I have never been able to understand why Aunt Emilia took such a fancy to Cuthbert and that girl. But she certainly wished to see them married. She asked Juliet for a photograph of your nephew, and Juliet gave her one. I took it, and that girl Susan Grant stole it from me. It was strange that the photograph should have gone back to the cottage. Aunt and I quarrelled over the marriage. She knew I loved Cuthbert, but she would never help me to marry him. It was all Juliet with her — pah! I detest the girl. I could do nothing while Emilia lived. She knew too much. But after her death I made Mrs. Octagon stop the marriage.”

“I think Mrs. Octagon will consent now,” said Caranby, calmly.

“I doubt it. She hates you too much. However, she can, for all I care, Lord Caranby. I have done with Cuthbert.”

The old man hoped she had done with Juliet also, for he was still uneasy. The expression of her face was most malignant. More than ever persuaded that she intended harm, Caranby again was about to summon his servant and forbid the entrance of the expected girl, when suddenly the door opened and Juliet; looking bright and happy, entered. She started back when she saw the supposed old woman, who rose. Caranby jumped off the sofa with an activity he had not shown for years, and got between Juliet and her enemy. Maraquito burst into tears. “Ah, you will be happy with Cuthbert,” she wailed, “while I-” a fresh burst of tears stopped her speech and she groped in the satin bag for her handkerchief.

Juliet looked amazed. “Who is this, Lord Caranby?”

“Senora Gredos.”

“Maraquito!” cried Juliet, starting back with an indignant look. “I never expected to meet that woman —”

“You call me that?” cried Maraquito, flashing, up into a passion. “I am the woman Cuthbert loves.”

“He does not. He loves me. You, so old and —”

“Old!” shrieked Maraquito, snatching off her hat and cap. “I am young and much more beautiful than you. Look at my hair.” It came streaming down in a glorious mass on her shoulders. “My face is as beautiful as yours. I disguised myself to see you. I hate you! — I loathe you! I forbid you to marry Cuthbert.”

“How dare you — how dare —”

“I dare all things — even this.” Maraquito raised her arm, and in her hand Caranby saw a small bottle she had taken out of the bag. “What will Cuthbert say to your beauty now?”

She flung the bottle straight at Juliet. It would have struck her in the face, but Caranby, throwing himself between the two, received it fair on his cheek. It smashed, and he uttered a cry. “Vitriol! Vitriol!” he shrieked, his hands to his face, and fell prone on the hearth-rug. His head struck against the bars of the grate, and a spurt of flame caught his hair. Juliet seized him and dragged him away, calling loudly for help.

“You devil — you devil!” cried Maraquito, striking the girl on the face. “I dare not stay now. But I’ll spoil your beauty yet. Wait — wait!”

She hastily put on her hat and ran out of the room. The servant of Lord Caranby burst into the room, followed by some waiters. “Send for the doctor,” cried Juliet, trying to raise Caranby —“and that woman-”

“She has left the hotel,” said a waiter, but at this moment there was a loud shout in the street, followed by a shriek and a crash.

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