The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 25

Nemesis

In the midst of the confusion caused by Maraquito’s wickedness Cuthbert arrived. Juliet flew to him at once and flung herself sobbing into his arms.

“Oh, Cuthbert — Cuthbert!” she cried, her head on his shoulder, “that woman has been here. She tried to throw vitriol at me, and the bottle broke on Lord Caranby’s face. He has burnt his head also; he is dying.”

“Good heavens!” cried Mallow, pressing her to his heart, “thank God you are safe! How did Maraquito come here?”

“I don’t know — I don’t know,” sobbed Juliet, completely unstrung; “he asked me to see him, and she arrived disguised as an old woman. Oh, where is the doctor!”

“He has just arrived, miss. Here he comes,” said an excited waiter.

While the doctor examined Caranby’s injuries, Cuthbert, very pale, led Juliet out of the room, and taking her into an adjoining apartment, made her drink a glass of port wine. “An old woman,” he repeated, “it must have been the disguised Maraquito then who was killed.”

“Killed! She is not killed. She came here and —”

Juliet began to tell the story over again, for she was badly frightened. Mallow interrupted her gently.

“Maraquito is dead,” he said, “she was run over by a motor-car a quarter of an hour ago.”

“Was that her cry we heard?”

“I don’t know,” replied Cuthbert gloomily. “I was coming round the corner of the street and saw a woman flying along the pavement. A car was tearing towards me. I had just time to see the woman as she passed and note that she was old. She caught a glimpse of my face, and with a cry ran into the centre of the street. I never thought she was Maraquito, and could not understand why she acted as she did. I cried out in alarm, and ran forward to drag her back from before the approaching motor. But it was too late, the car went over her and she shrieked when crushed under the wheels. The impediment made the car swerve and it ran into a lamp-post. The occupants were thrown out. I fancy someone else is hurt also. Maraquito is dead. I heard a policeman say so. I then saw a waiter gesticulating at the door of the hotel, and fancied something was wrong; I ran along and up the stairs. But I never expected to find you here, Juliet, much less to witness the death of that wretched woman.”

“I am sorry,” faltered Juliet, as she sat with his arms round her, “I don’t know why she wanted to throw vitriol at me. She failed to hurt me, and I think she has killed Lord Caranby, and —”

“I must see to my uncle,” said Mallow, rising, “stay here, Juliet.”

“No! no,” she said, clinging to him, “let me go home. Get a cab. I dare not stop. That terrible woman —”

“She will never hurt you again. She is dead.”

“I wish to go home — I wish to go home.”

Mallow saw that the poor girl was quite ill with fright; and small wonder, considering the catastrophe of the last half hour. To have vitriol thrown is bad enough, but when the act leads to two deaths — for Maraquito was already dead, and it seemed probable that Lord Caranby would follow — it is enough to shake the nerves of the strongest. Mallow took Juliet down and placed her in a cab. Then he promised to see her that same evening, and to tell her of Lord Caranby’s progress. When the cab drove away he went again upstairs. As he went he could not help shuddering at the thought of the danger from which Juliet had escaped. He remembered how Maraquito had threatened to spoil the beauty of the girl, but he never thought she would have held to her devilish purpose. Moreover, he could not understand how Maraquito in disguise came to see Caranby. The disguise itself was an obvious necessity to escape the police. But why should she have been with his uncle and why should Juliet have come also? It was to gain an answer to these questions that Cuthbert hurried to the sitting-room.

Lord Caranby was no longer there. The doctor had ordered him to be taken to his bedroom, and when Mallow went thither he met him at the door, “He is still unconscious,” said the doctor, “I must send for his regular medical attendant, as I was only called in as an emergency physician.”

“Is he very ill?”

“I think the shock will kill him. He is extremely weak, and besides the shock of the vitriol being thrown, he has sustained severe injuries about the head from fire. I don’t think he will live. To whom am I speaking?” asked the young man.

“My name is Mallow. I am Lord Caranby’s nephew.”

“And the next heir to the title. I fancy you will be called ‘my lord’ before midnight.”

Mallow did not display any pleasure on hearing this. He valued a title very little and, so far as money was concerned, had ample for his needs. Besides, he was really fond of his uncle who, although consistently eccentric, had always been a kind, good friend. “Will he recover consciousness?”

“I think so,” said the doctor doubtfully, “I am not quite sure. His own medical attendant, knowing his constitution and its resisting power, will be able to speak more assuredly. How did this happen?”

Cuthbert, for obvious reasons, explained as little as he could. “Some old woman came to see my uncle and threw vitriol at Miss Saxon, the young lady who was with him. He intercepted the stuff and fell into the fire.”

“What a demon! I hope she will be caught.”

“She is dead,” and Cuthbert related the accident in the street. The doctor had strong nerves, but he shuddered when he heard the dreadful story. Nemesis had been less leaden-footed than usual.

In due time Dr. Yeo, who usually attended Caranby, made his appearance and stated that his patient would not live many hours. “He was always weak,” said Yeo, “and of late his weakness increased. The two severe shocks he has sustained would almost kill a stronger man, let alone an old man of so delicate an organization. He will die.”

“I hope not,” said Cuthbert, impulsively.

The physician looked at him benignly. “I differ from you,” he declared, “death will come as a happy release to Lord Caranby. For years he has been suffering from an incurable complaint which gave him great pain. But that he had so much courage, he would have killed himself.”

“He never complained.”

“A brave man like that never does complain. Besides, he took great care of himself. When he came back to London he was fairly well. I think he must have done something rash to bring on a recurrence of his illness. Within a few days of his arrival he grew sick again. In some way he over-exerted himself.”

“I don’t think he ever did,” said Mallow, doubtfully.

“But I am certain of it. Within a week of his arrival here he had a relapse. I taxed him with going out too much and with over-exertion, but he declined to answer me.”

“Will he become conscious again?”

“I think so, in a few hours, but I cannot be sure. However, you need not be alarmed, Mr. Mallow. His affairs are all right. In view of his illness I advised him to make his will. He said that he had done so, and that everything was in apple-pie order.”

“It is not that, doctor. I wish to ask him some questions. Will you remain here?”

“Till the end,” replied Yeo, significantly; “but it will not take place for a few hours, so far as I can see.”

“I wish to go out for an hour. Can I, with safety?”

“Certainly. Lord Caranby will live for some time yet.”

Mallow nodded and left the bedroom, while Yeo returned to the bed upon which lay the unconscious form of the old man. Cuthbert took a walk to the end of the street where the wreckage of the motor car had now been removed, and asked the policeman what had become of the victims. He was informed that the chauffeur, in a dying condition, had been removed to the Charing Cross Hospital, and that the body of the old woman — so the constable spoke — had been taken to the police station near at hand. “She’s quite dead and very much smashed up,” was the man’s report.

Mallow thanked him with half-a-crown and, having learned the whereabouts of the police station, he went there. He introduced himself to the inspector and, as the nephew of Lord Caranby, received every attention, particularly when he described how the vitriol had been thrown. Cuthbert thought it as well to say this, as the waiters at the Avon Hotel would certainly inform the police if he did not. He looked at the body of the miserable woman in its strange mask of age. “She went to see Lord Caranby in disguise,” said the inspector, “you can see her face is made up. Does his lordship know who she is?”

“Yes. And Mr. Jennings, the detective, knows also.”

“Perhaps you do yourself, Mr. Mallow?”

Cuthbert nodded. “She is Maraquito, the —”

“What! the gambling-house coiner we have been looking for?”

“The same. Jennings can tell you more about the matter than I can.”

“I’ll get Mr. Jennings to come here as soon as he is on his feet, and that will be tomorrow most probably. But why did Maraquito throw vitriol at Lord Caranby?”

“Jennings can tell you that,” said Mallow, suppressing the fact that the vitriol had been meant for Juliet. “Perhaps it had something to do with the raid made on the unfinished house which, you know, belonged to my uncle.”

“Bless me, so it did. I expect, enraged by the factory being discovered, Maraquito wished to revenge herself on your uncle. She may have thought that he gave information to Jennings about the place.”

“She might have thought so,” said Mallow. “I am returning to the Avon Hotel. If you want to see me you can send for me there. But Jennings knows everything.”

“What about his lordship?”

“He will die,” said Cuthbert abruptly, and departed, leaving the inspector full of regrets that Maraquito had not lived to figure in the police court. He looked at the matter purely from a professional standpoint, and would have liked the sensation such an affair would have caused.

When Mallow came back to the hotel he found that his uncle had recovered consciousness and was asking for him. Yeo would not allow his patient to talk much, so Cuthbert sat by the bedside holding the hand of the dying man. Caranby had been badly burnt about the temples, and the sight of one eye was completely gone. Occasionally Yeo gave him a reviving cordial which made him feel better. Towards evening Caranby expressed a wish to talk. The doctor would have prevented him, but the dying man disregarded these orders.

“I must talk,” he whispered faintly. “Cuthbert, get a sheet of paper.”

“But you have made your will,” said Yeo, rebukingly.

“This is not a will. It is a confession. Cuthbert will write it out and you will witness my signature along with him, Yeo.”

“A confession!” murmured Cuthbert, going out of the room to get pen, ink and paper. “What about?”

He soon knew, for when he was established by the side of the bed with his writing materials on a small table, Caranby laughed to himself quietly. “Do you know what I am about to say?” he gasped.

“No. If it is nothing important you had better not exhaust yourself.”

“It is most important, as you will hear. I know who murdered the supposed Miss Loach.”

Cuthbert nearly dropped the pen. “Who was it?” he asked, expecting to hear the name of Mrs. Octagon.

“I did!” said Caranby, quietly.

“You! — that’s impossible.”

“Unfortunately it is true. It was an accident, though. Yeo, give me more drink; I must tell everything.”

Yeo was quite calm. He had known Caranby for many years, and was not at all disposed to shrink from him because he confessed to having committed a murder. He knew that the Earl was a kind-hearted man and had been shamefully treated by three women. In fact, he was secretly glad to hear that Emilia Saul had met her death at the hand of a man she had injured. But he kept these sentiments to himself, and after giving his patient a strong tonic to revive his energies, he sat by the bedside with his fingers on the pulse of the dying man. Caranby rallied considerably, and when he began his recital spoke in stronger tones.

Cuthbert dipped his pen in the ink, but did not dare even to think. He was wondering how the death of Emilia had come about, and also how his uncle had gone to the unfinished house on the same night as he had done. Remembering how Basil stated he had been chased by someone unknown, Cuthbert began to fancy he saw light. However, at this moment Caranby began to speak, and as every moment was precious, both men forbore to interrupt him unless desirous to have a clearer understanding on certain points.

“When I came back to England,” said Caranby, “I never thought that Emilia was alive. Owing to the clever way in which the substitution was effected by Isabella, I always thought Selina lived at Rose Cottage. Several times I tried to see her, hoping she would marry me. But she always refused. I was puzzled at the time, but now I know the reason. I never thought of looking at the unfinished house. It was a piece of sentimental folly my shutting it up, but afterwards, as time slipped by, I never troubled about looking into the matter. As Cuthbert will tell you, Yeo, laziness is a vice with me.”

“Go on with the story and save your strength,” said Yeo softly.

“Yes.” Caranby heaved a sigh. “I haven’t much left. Well, Cuthbert, you told me about the ghosts supposed to be haunting the house. I asked you to go down and see. You came here one night and left at eight o’clock to go down to Rexton.”

“I never expected you to follow. Why did you not come with me?”

“Because I was keeping something back from you. On the previous day I received a letter. There was no name to it, and the writing was disguised. It advised me to see Selina Loach, and said I would be surprised when she spoke to me.”

“Because then you would recognize the woman you believed to be dead.”

“Exactly,” said Caranby faintly, “but at the time I knew nothing, and was much puzzled with the letter. On that night I intended to tell you, but I did not. Then I thought I would go down to Rose Cottage and prove the truth of the letter. I went almost immediately after you, Cuthbert.”

“What, in your state of health?”

“Yes. I was stronger then.”

“And have been less strong since,” murmured Yeo. “I understand now why you refused to tell me how you had over-exerted yourself.”

“I had my secret to keep,” said Caranby coldly, “some more drink, please.” Then, when he felt better, he continued “Yes! I was wonderfully well and strong on that night. I climbed the wall —”

“Impossible!” said Mallow, “I can’t believe that.”

“Nevertheless it is the truth. I expect the excitement made me unnaturally strong. I suffered greatly when it was over.”

“You were a wreck,” said the physician bluntly.

“When what was over?” asked Mallow, anxiously.

“The event of the night to which I am coming. It took me some time to get to Rexton, and a long time to walk to the unfinished house. I did not go down Crooked Lane, but round by the wall.”

“Did you come by, the railway station path?”

“I did not. I took a wide detour and arrived at the unfinished house on the side opposite to where Rose Cottage stood.”

“Ah!” murmured the young man. “No wonder I missed you. But I thought you were calling on Miss Loach.”

“I intended to, but first I thought I would assure myself about the ghosts. Certainly I had set you to perform that task, but, as I was on the spot, I determined to see for myself. I climbed the wall, not without difficulty, and found myself in the park —”

“About what time was this?”

“After ten. I can’t say how long. But I really cannot be precise as to the time. I wandered aimlessly about the park, threading my way amongst the trees and shrubs and undergrowth. I was astonished to find paths, and it struck me that someone used the park.”

“I believe Miss Loach did — that is, Emilia,” said Cuthbert. “Jennings learned that in some way. She always was on the watch for anyone coming into the park and learning the secret of the factory.”

“I did not know that at the time,” said Caranby, his voice growing weaker. “Well, I walked about. Sometimes it was moonlight and at other times the moon would be obscured by clouds. I struggled to get near the house and succeeded. Then I saw a man standing in the shadow. At once I went up to him — he fled. I don’t know who it was?”

“I can tell you,” said Mallow, quietly, “young Saxon.”

“Then why did he fly?”

“He was there with no very good purpose and his conscience smote the miserable creature,” said Cuthbert, “go on — or will you wait?”

“No! no! no!” said Caranby, vehemently; “if I stop now you will never know the truth. I don’t want anyone else to be accused of the crime. I know Maraquito hinted that Isabella Octagon was guilty, but she is not. I don’t want even Isabella to suffer, though she has been a fatal woman to me and wrecked my life’s happiness.”

His voice was growing so weak that Yeo gave him more cordial. After a pause Caranby resumed with a last effort, and very swiftly, as though he thought his strength would fail him before he reached the end of his dismal story.

“I followed the man, though I did not know who he was, and wondered why he should be trespassing. He fled rapidly and I soon lost him. But when the moonlight was bright I saw that he had dropped a knife from his pocket. In stooping to pick it up I lost sight of the man.”

“Basil crossed the park and ran away. But he came back for the knife afterwards,” explained Mallow. “Juliet saw him. He had on my coat. I wonder you didn’t think Basil was me, as Juliet did.”

“I am not acquainted with your clothes,” said Caranby, dryly, “as I have been absent from England for so long. But no wonder Saxon did not find the knife. I picked it up. It was a bowie —”

“Belonging to me, which Basil had stolen.”

“I didn’t know that either. Well, I went again towards the wall surrounding the park. I thought I might meet you.”

“I wonder you didn’t. I was about at that time.”

“The park was so thickly filled with trees and shrubs that we missed one another I suppose. Don’t interrupt — I am going. Write quickly, Cuthbert.” Then with a gasp Caranby resumed: “I halted to get breath near the large oak which the fire spared. I heard a rustling, and a woman came out of the shadow of the tree. I wondered who she was and where she had come from. The moon then came out brightly, and I recognized her face with a sensation almost of terror. It was Emilia.”

“How did you recognize her after all these years?”

“By her Jewish look, and especially by the eyebrows. Moreover, she revealed herself to me when dying.”

“What happened?” asked Yeo, sharply.

“I was standing with the knife in my hand. Emilia, seeing that I was an intruder, came swiftly towards me. She had a revolver in her hand but did not fire. She cried out something and rushed at me. In doing this she came straight against the knife. I was holding it instinctively in an attitude of defence, with the point outward. She rushed at me to bear me down by the weight and force of her charge, and the next moment she dropped to the ground dying.”

“She was not dead then?”

“No! not for the moment. I knelt beside her and whispered ‘Emilia!’ She opened her eyes and smiled. Then she replied, ‘Emilia — yes!’ and died. I did not know what to do. Then it struck me that I might be arrested for the crime, though it really was no crime. Had she not rushed at me, had I not been holding the knife, she would not have met with her death. I wonder she did not fire, seeing she had a pistol.”

“Perhaps she recognized you,” said Yeo, glancing at Cuthbert, who was writing rapidly.

“No. Had she done so, she would never have attempted to hurt me. She thought I was some spy searching for the factory, and without giving herself time to think dashed forward, believing I would give way and fly. It was all over in a second. I made up my mind to go at once. I did not even wait to pick up the knife, but climbed the wall and came home here. What happened then I don’t know.”

“I can tell you,” said Mallow. “Maraquito and Hale came to look for Miss Loach and took her body into the villa sitting-room. They placed the knife at her feet and the cards in her lap, thinking it would be thought she had been stabbed in the room, and —”

“Sign, sign!” said Caranby, unexpectedly, and Mallow hastily brought him the written document and the ink. He signed feebly, and the two men signed as witnesses. Yeo then turned to his patient, but he drew back. Death was stamped on the face.

Cuthbert called in the servant. “Lord Caranby is dead,” he said quietly.

“Yes, my lord,” replied the servant, and Mallow started on hearing the title. But he was now Lord Caranby and his uncle was dead.

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