The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 26

Cuthbert’s Enemy

Before leaving the death-chamber, Mallow — now Lord Caranby — sealed the confession in the presence of Yeo, and went with him into the sitting-room. “What will you do with that?” asked the doctor, indicating the envelope with a nod.

“I shall place it in the hand of my lawyers to be put with family papers,” replied Cuthbert. “I am sure you agree with me, Yeo, that it is unnecessary to make the contents public. My uncle is dead.”

“Even were he still alive, I should advise you to say nothing,” replied Yeo, grimly; “the woman deserved her fate, even though it was an accident. She destroyed Caranby’s life. He would have married Selina Loach and have been a happy man but for her.”

“There I think you wrong her. It is Isabella Octagon who is to blame. She has indeed been a fatal woman to my poor uncle. But for her, he would not have been prevented from marrying Selina and thus have fallen into the toils of Emilia. Emilia would not have murdered Selina, and the result would not have come out after all these years in the death of my uncle at the hands of Bathsheba Saul.”

“Who is she?”

“Maraquito. But you don’t know the whole story, nor do I think there is any need to repeat the sordid tragedy. I will put this paper away and say nothing about it to anyone save to Jennings.”

“The detective!” said Yeo, surprised and startled. “Do you think that is wise? He may make the matter public.”

“No, he won’t. He has traced the coiners to their lair, and that is enough glory for him. When he knows the truth he will stop searching further into the case. If I hold my tongue, he may go on, and make awkward discoveries.”

“Yes, I see it is best you should tell him. But Miss Saxon?”

“She shall never know. Let her think Maraquito killed Emilia. Only you, I and Jennings will know the truth.”

“You can depend upon my silence,” said Yeo, shaking Cuthbert by the hand; “well, and what will you do now?”

“With your permission, I shall ask you to stop here and arrange about necessary matters in connection with the laying-out of the body. I wish to interview Mrs. Octagon this evening. To-morrow I shall see about Caranby’s remains being taken down to our family seat in Essex.”

“There will be an inquest first.”

“I don’t mind. Maraquito is dead and nothing detrimental to the honor of the Mallows can transpire. You need say nothing at the inquest as to the bottle being thrown at Juliet.”

“I’ll do my best. But she will be questioned.”

“I intend to see her this evening myself.”

“What about Mrs. Octagon?”

“Oh,” said the new Lord Caranby with a grim smile, “I intend to settle Mrs. Octagon once and for all.”

“Surely you don’t intend to tell her of the murder.”

“Certainly not. She would make the matter public at once. But her knowledge of the real name of Emilia, and her hushing up of the murder of her sister, will be quite enough to bring her to her knees. I don’t intend that Juliet shall have anything more to do with her mother. But I’ll say very little.”

After this Cuthbert departed and took a hansom to the “Shrine of the Muses.” He arrived there at ten o’clock, and was informed by the butler that Miss Saxon was in bed with a headache, and that Mrs. Octagon had given orders that Mr. Mallow was not to be admitted. Basil was out, and Mr. Octagon likewise. Cuthbert listened quietly, and then gave the man, whom he knew well, half a sovereign. “Tell Mrs. Octagon that Lord Caranby wishes to see her.”

“Yes, sir, but I don’t —”

“I am Lord Caranby. My uncle died this evening.”

The butler opened his eyes. “Yes, m’lord,” he said promptly, and admitted Cuthbert into the hall. “I suppose I needn’t say it is really you, m’lord,” he remarked, when the visitor was seated in the drawing-room, “I am afraid the mistress will be angry.”

“Don’t trouble about that, Somes. Tell her Lord Caranby is here,” and the butler, bursting to tell the news in the servants’ hall, went away in a great hurry.

Cuthbert remained seated near the table on which stood an electric lamp. He had the confession in his pocket, and smiled to think how glad Mrs. Octagon would be to read it. However, he had quite enough evidence to force her into decent behavior. He did not intend to leave that room till he had Mrs. Octagon’s free consent to the marriage and a promise that she would go abroad for an indefinite period with her hopeful son, Basil. In this way Cuthbert hoped to get rid of these undesirable relatives and to start his married life in peace. “Nothing less than exile will settle matters,” he muttered.

Mrs. Octagon, in a gorgeous tea-gown, swept into the room with a frown on her strongly-marked face. She looked rather like Maraquito, and apparently was in a bad temper. Mallow could see that she was surprised when she entered, as, thinking Lord Caranby was incapacitated by the accident described by Juliet, she did not know how he came to call at so late an hour. Moreover, Lord Caranby had never visited her before. However, she apparently was bent on receiving him in a tragic manner, and swept forward with the mien of a Siddons. When she came into the room she caught sight of Cuthbert’s face in the blaze of the lamp and stopped short. “How —” she said in her deepest tone, and then became prosaic and very angry. “What is the meaning of this, Mr. Mallow? I hoped to see —”

“My uncle. I know you did. But he is dead.”

Mrs. Octagon caught at a chair to stop herself from falling, and wiped away a tear. “Dead!” she muttered, and dropped on to the sofa.

“He died two hours ago. I am now Lord Caranby.”

“You won’t grace the position,” said Mrs. Octagon viciously, and then her face became gloomy. “Dead! — Walter Mallow. Ah! I loved him so.”

“You had a strange way of showing it then,” said Cuthbert, calmly, and he also took a seat.

Mrs. Octagon immediately rose. “I forbid you to sit down in my house, Lord Caranby. We are strangers.”

“Oh, no, we aren’t, Mrs. Octagon. I came here to arrange matters.”

“What matters?” she asked disdainfully, and apparently certain he had nothing against her.

“Matters connected with my marriage with Juliet.”

“Miss Saxon, if you please. She shall never marry you.”

“Oh, yes, she will. What is your objection to the marriage?”

“I refuse to tell you,” said Mrs. Octagon violently, and then somewhat inconsistently went on:

“If you must know, I hated your uncle.”

“You said you loved him just now.”

“And so I did,” cried the woman, spreading out her arms, “I loved him intensely. I would have placed the hair of my head under his feet. But he was never worthy of me. He loved Selina, a poor, weak, silly fool. But I stopped that marriage,” she ended triumphantly, “as I will stop yours.”

“I don’t think you will stop mine,” replied Cuthbert tranquilly, “I am not to be coerced, Mrs. Octagon.”

“I don’t seek to coerce you,” she retorted, “but my daughter will obey me, and she will refuse your hand. I don’t care if you are fifty times Lord Caranby. Juliet should not marry you if you had all the money in the world. I hated Walter Mallow, your uncle. He treated me shamefully, and I swore that never would any child of mine be connected with him. Selina wished it, and forced me to agree while she was alive. But she is dead and Lord Caranby is dead, and you can do nothing. I defy you — I defy you!”

“We may as well conduct this interview reasonably.”

“I shall not let you remain here any longer. Go.”

She pointed to the door with a dramatic gesture. Cuthbert took up his hat.

“I shall go if you insist,” he said, moving towards the door, “and I shall return with a policeman.”

Mrs. Octagon gave a gasp and went gray. “What do you mean?”

“You know well what I mean. Am I to go?”

“You have nothing against me,” she said violently, “stop, if you will, and tell me the reason of that speech.”

“I think you understand what I mean perfectly well,” said Mallow again, and returning to his seat. “I know that your sister died years ago,” Mrs. Octagon gasped, “and that Emilia feigned to be Selina Loach. And perhaps, Mrs. Octagon, you will remember how your sister died.”

“I didn’t touch her,” gasped Mrs. Octagon, trembling.

“No, but Emilia Saul did, and you condoned the crime.”

“I deny everything! Go and get a policeman if you like.”

Cuthbert walked to the door and there turned. “The statement of Emilia will make pleasant reading in court,” he said.

Mrs. Octagon bounded after him and pulled him back by the coat-tails into the centre of the room. Then she locked the door and sat down. “We won’t be disturbed,” she said, wiping her face upon which the perspiration stood, “what do you know?”

“Everything, even to that letter you wrote to my uncle, stating he should see the pretended Selina Loach.”

This was a chance shot on Mallow’s part, but it told, for he saw her face change. In fact, Mrs. Octagon was the only woman who could have sent the letter. She did not attempt to deny it. “I sent that letter, as I was weary of that woman’s tyranny. I thought it would get her into trouble.”

“She would have got you into trouble also. Suppose she had lived and had told the story of Selina’s death.”

“She would have put the rope round her own neck,” said Mrs. Octagon in a hollow tone, all her theatrical airs gone. “I was a fool to wait so long. For twenty years that woman has held me under her thumb. It was Emilia that made me consent to your engagement to Juliet. Otherwise,” she added malevolently, “I should have died rather than have consented. Oh,” she shook her hands in the air, “how I hate you and your uncle and the whole of the Mallows.”

“A woman scorned, I see,” said Cuthbert, rather cruelly, “well, you must be aware that I know everything.”

“You don’t know who killed Emilia?”

“Maraquito said it was you.”

“I” shrieked Mrs. Octagon, “how dare she? But that she is dead, as Juliet told me, I would have her up for libel. Maraquito herself killed the woman. I am sure of it. That coining factory —”

“Did you know of its existence?”

“No, I didn’t,” snapped Mrs. Octagon. “I knew nothing of Emilia’s criminal doings. I let her bear the name of my sister —”

“Why?” asked Mallow, quickly, and not knowing what Maraquito had said to Caranby.

“I don’t know,” replied Mrs. Octagon, sullenly, “Emilia was in some trouble with the law. Her brother and mother were afterwards arrested for coining. She might have been arrested also, but that I agreed to hold my tongue. Emilia pushed Selina off the plank. Then she turned and accused me. As it was known that I was on bad terms with Selina, I might have been accused of the crime, and Emilia would have sworn the rope round my neck. Emilia made me help her to change the dress, and said that as the face of the dead was disfigured, and she was rather like Selina — which she certainly was, she could arrange. I did not know how she intended to blind my father. But my father died unexpectedly. Had he not done so, the deception could not have been kept up. As it was, I went to the inquest, and Emilia as Selina pretended to be ill. I saw after her and we had a strange doctor. Then we went abroad, and she came back to shut herself up in Rose Cottage. I tried to marry Caranby, but Emilia stopped that.”

“Why did she?”

“Because she loved Caranby in her tiger way. That was why she insisted you should marry Juliet. She always threatened to tell that I had killed Selina, though I was innocent.”

“If you were, why need you have been afraid?”

“Circumstances were too strong for me,” said Mrs. Octagon, wiping her dry lips and glaring like a demon. “I had to give in. Had I known of that factory I would have spoken out. As it was, I wrote to Caranby when in a fit of rage; but afterwards I was afraid of what I had done, as I thought Emilia would tell.”

“She certainly would have done so had she not died so opportunely.”

“Do you mean to say that I killed her? I tell you, Maraquito did so.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Mallow, delighted at the mistake.

“Because she was always fighting with Emilia about you. Maraquito wished to marry you, and Emilia would not let her. After Emilia died, Maraquito saw me, and we arranged to stop the marriage, and —”

“I know all about that. I saw you — or rather my uncle saw you — enter Maraquito’s Soho house.”

“I went on Basil’s account also,” said Mrs. Octagon, sullenly, “however, I have told you all. What do you wish to do?”

“I wish to marry Juliet.”

“Then I refuse,” said Mrs. Octagon, savagely.

“In that case I’ll tell.”

“You will disgrace Juliet. Besides, the law can’t touch me.”

“I am not so sure of that. You were an accessory after the fact. And if the public knew that you had acquiesced in the death of your sister and had held your tongue for years, you would not be popular. I fear your books would not sell then.”

Mrs. Octagon saw all this, and glared savagely at Cuthbert. She would have liked to kill him, but he was the stronger of the two, and knew much which she wished kept silent. Mallow saw the impression he was making and went on persuasively. “And think, Mrs. Octagon, Juliet can give you up the six thousand a year —”

“Not she,” laughed Mrs. Octagon, sneering.

“She will, at my request. I don’t want my wife to possess money made out of coining. The income will be made over to you by deed of gift.”

“Six thousand a year,” mused the lady, “and you will hold your tongue?”

“Of course, for Juliet’s sake as well as for yours. But I think it will be advisable for you to travel for a few years.”

“I’ll take up my abode in America forever,” said Mrs. Octagon, rising, “do you think I’ll stop here and see you my daughter’s husband? Not for all the money in the world. Besides, Mr. Octagon has been insolent over money, and I sha’n’t stay with him. Basil and myself will go to America and there we will become famous.”

“It is certainly better than becoming famous in another way,” said Mallow, dryly, “you will, of course be quite amiable to Juliet. Also to me, in public.”

“Oh,” she replied, with a short laugh, “I’ll kiss you if you like.”

“There is no need to go so far. I am sorry for you.”

“And I hate you — hate you! Leave me now at least. You can come tomorrow, and I’ll consent publicly to the marriage. But I hope you will both be miserable. Juliet does not love me or she would despise you. I wish you had died along with your uncle.”

She was becoming so wild in her looks that Cuthbert thought it best to leave the room. The key was in the door, so he departed, quite sure that Mrs. Octagon, to avoid scandal about her shady doings, would be most agreeable towards him in public, however much of a demon she might be in private. Thus ended the interview.

Next morning Mallow drove to Jennings and related everything, including the confession of Caranby regarding the accident, and added details of the interview with Mrs. Octagon. Jennings listened, astonished.

“I am glad you told me,” he said, “of course I don’t want you to make all this public. The general impression is the same as that of Mrs. Octagon, that Maraquito murdered Miss Loach. It need not be known that Emilia was masquerading under a false name. She need not be brought into the case at all. What a wonderful case, Mallow.”

Cuthbert assented. “It’s more like fiction than fact.”

“Fact is always like fiction,” said Jennings epigrammatically, “however, we’ve got a confession from Clancy about the other factories. The whole gang will be caught sooner or later. And, by the way, Mallow, on second thoughts, I think it will be best to state the real name of Emilia.”

“I think so too. If she is pilloried as Miss Loach, everyone will know that she is the aunt of Juliet. Tell the truth, Jennings.”

“We’ll tell everything, save that Lord Caranby inadvertently murdered that woman. She was the fatal woman —”

“No,” said the new Lord Caranby, “Mrs. Octagon is the fatal woman. She was at the bottom of everything.”

“And has been rewarded with six thousand a year. I don’t suppose the State can seize that money. However, I’ll see. I should like to punish Isabella Octagon in some way. And Susan Grant?”

“You can give her a thousand pounds on my behalf, and she can marry her baker. Then there’s Mrs. Barnes — Mrs. Pill that was. She is quite innocent. Thomas her husband will be punished, so you had better tell her, I’ll provide for her. As to yourself —”

“That’s all right, Mallow, this coining case means a rise of salary.”

“All the same, I intend to give you a few thousands on behalf of myself and Juliet. Without you I would probably have been accused of the crime. And, in any case, things would have been awkward. There might have been a scandal.”

“There won’t be one now,” said Jennings. “I’ll settle everything. Mrs. Octagon will go to the States with that young cub, and you can make Miss Saxon Lady Caranby. It is good of you giving me a reward. I can now marry Peggy.”

“We all seem to be bent on marriage,” said Mallow, rising to take his leave. “How’s the shoulder?”

“All right,” said the detective, “and it’s worth the wound to have Peggy nursing me. She is the dearest —”

“No, pardon me,” said Cuthbert, “by no means. Juliet is the dearest girl in the wide world,” and he departed laughing.

Needless to say, under the careful supervision of Jennings, all scandal was averted. The gang with Clancy at its head were sentenced to years of imprisonment, likely to put a stop to all pranks. Maraquito was buried quietly and Mallow erected a gravestone to her, in spite of her wicked designs against Juliet. In six months Jennings married Peggy and took a house at Gunnersbury, where Peggy and he live in the congenial company of Le Beau, who has become quite reconciled to Jennings’ profession. The old professor teaches dancing to the children of the neighborhood. Susan Grant also married her baker, and the two now possess one of the finest shops in Stepney. Mrs. Octagon went to America almost immediately. She managed to keep the six thousand a year, in spite of Jennings. No one knows how she managed to do this, but envious people hinted at Government influence. However, with Basil she departed to the States, as she confessed to being weary of constant triumphs in England. Mrs. Octagon now has a literary salon in Boston, and is regarded as one of the leading spirits of the age. Basil married an heiress. Peter, weary of playing the part of husband to a celebrity, remained in England but not in London. He sold the “Shrine of the Muses” and took a cottage on an estate in Kent belonging to Lord Caranby. Here he cultivates flowers and calls frequently on his step-daughter and her husband, when they are in the neighborhood. Peter never knew the true history of his wife. He always refers to Mrs. Octagon with respect, but shows no disposition to join her in America. Peter has had quite enough of sham art and sham enthusiasm.

And Cuthbert was married to Juliet within the year. The wedding was quiet on account of his uncle’s death, and then Lord Caranby took his bride for a tour round the world. To this day Lady Caranby believes that Maraquito murdered Miss Loach, and knows also from newspaper reports that the pretended aunt was really Emilia Saul. Mrs. Octagon also expressed surprise at the infamous imposture, and quite deceived Juliet, who never learned what part her mother had taken in the business. In fact Juliet thought her mother was quite glad she had married Cuthbert.

“Mother really liked you all the time,” she said to her husband when they set off on their honeymoon.

“I doubt that,” replied Lord Caranby, dryly.

“She told me that it was always the dream of her life to see me your wife, but that Maraquito had threatened to ruin Basil if —”

“Oh, that is the story, is it? Well, Juliet, I am much obliged to Mrs. Octagon for loving me so much, but, with your permission, we will not see more of her than we can help.”

“As she is in America we will see very little of her,” sighed Lady Caranby, “besides, she loves Basil more than me. Poor boy, I hope he will get on in America.”

“Of course he will. He will marry an heiress —” And Cuthbert’s prophecy proved to be correct —“Don’t let us talk of these things any more, Juliet. This dreadful murder nearly wrecked our life. My poor uncle talked of a fatal woman. Maraquito was that to us.”

“And I?” asked Juliet, nestling to her husband.

“You are the dearest and sweetest angel in the world.”

“And you are the greatest goose,” said she, kissing her husband fondly, “we have had enough of fatal women. Let us never mention the subject again.”

And they never did.

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