The Secret Passage, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 8

The Course of True Love

The most obvious thing for Cuthbert to do was to seek Juliet and ask for an explanation of her mysterious note. He went to the “Shrine of the Muses” the very next day, but was informed that Miss Saxon and her mother had gone out of town and would not be back for a few days. He could not learn where they were, and was leaving the house somewhat disconsolately when he met Basil.

“You here, Mallow,” said that young gentleman, stopping short, “have you been to see my mother?”

“I went to see Juliet,” replied Cuthbert, not sorry that the meeting had taken place, “but I hear she is out of town.”

“Well, not exactly. The fact is, she and my mother have gone down to Rose Cottage and intend to stop there until the funeral is over and the will is read.”

“The will?” echoed Mallow.

“Yes. Aunt Selina is likely to leave a great deal of money. I expect it will all go to Juliet. She never liked me.”

“Yet you were frequently at her house.”

“I was,” confessed Basil candidly. “I tried to make myself as civil as possible, so that she might remember me. Between ourselves, Mallow, I am deuced hard up. My mother hasn’t much money, I have none of my own, and old Octagon is as stingy as he well can be.”

This sounded well coming from an idler who never did a stroke of work, and who lived on the charity of his step-father. But Basil had peculiar views as to money. He considered himself a genius, and that Peter should be proud to support him until, as he phrased it, he had “stamped his name on the age”! But the stamping took a long time, and Basil troubled himself very little about the matter. He remarked that genius should not be forced, and loafed away the greater portion of his days. His mother kept him in pocket-money and clothes, Peter supplied board and lodging, and Basil got through life very pleasantly. He wished to be famous, to have his name in every mouth and his portrait in every paper; but the work that was necessary to obtain these desirable things he was unwilling to do. Cuthbert knew that the young fellow had been “born tired”! and although something of an idler himself, liked Basil none the more for his laziness. Had Mallow been poor he would certainly have earned his bread, but he had a good income and did not work. And, after all, he only pursued the way of life in which he had been brought up. But Basil was poor and had his career to make, therefore he certainly should have labored. However, for Juliet’s sake, Cuthbert was as polite as possible.

“If I were you, Saxon, I should leave cards alone,” said Mallow.

“Nonsense! I don’t play high. Besides, I have seen you at Maraquito’s also losing a lot.”

“I can afford to lose,” said Cuthbert dryly, “you can’t.”

“No, by Jove, you’re right there. But don’t preach, Mallow, you ain’t such a saint yourself.”

“Can I help you with a cheque?”

Basil had good breeding enough to color.

“No! I didn’t explain myself for that,” he said coldly, “and besides, if Juliet comes in for Aunt Selina’s money, I’ll get some. Juliet and I always share.”

This meant that Juliet was to give the money and Basil to spend it. Mallow was disgusted with this candid selfishness. However, he did not wish to quarrel with Basil, as he knew Juliet was fond of him, and moreover, in the present state of affairs, he was anxious to have another friend besides Mr. Octagon in the house. “Perhaps Miss Loach may have left you some money after all,” he remarked.

“By Jove, I hope so. I’ll be in a hole if she has not. There’s a bill —” here he stopped, as though conscious of having said too much. “But that will come into Juliet’s possession,” he murmured.

“What’s that?” asked Cuthbert sharply.

“Nothing — nothing — only a tailor’s bill. As to getting money by the will, don’t you know I quarrelled with Aunt Selina a week before her death. Yes, she turned me out of the house.” Here Basil’s face assumed what may be described as an ugly look. “I should like to have got even with the old cat. She insulted me.”

“Gently, old fellow,” said Mallow, seeing that Basil was losing his temper, and having occasionally seen him in fits of uncontrollable passion, “we’re in the public street.”

Basil’s brow cleared. “All right,” he said, “don’t bother, I’ll be all right when Juliet gets the money. By the way, mother tells me you are not going to marry her.”

“Your mother is mistaken,” rejoined Mallow gravely. “Juliet and I are still engaged. I do not intend to give her up.”

“I told mother you would not give in easily,” said Basil, frowning, “but you can’t marry Juliet.”

“Why not?” asked Cuthbert sharply; “do you know the reason?”

Basil appeared about to say something, then suddenly closed his mouth and shook his head.

Cuthbert pressed him. “If you know the reason, tell me,” he said, “and I’ll help you out of your difficulties. You know I love Juliet, and your mother does not seem to have any excuse to forbid the marriage.”

“I would help you if I could, but I can’t. You had better ask Juliet herself. She may tell you the reason.”

“How can I find her?”

“Go down to Rose Cottage and ask to see her,” suggested Basil.

“Your mother will not admit me.”

“That’s true enough. Well, I’ll tell you what, Mallow, I’ll speak to Juliet and get her to make an appointment to see you.”

“I could write and ask her for one myself.”

“Oh, no, you couldn’t. Mother will intercept all letters.”

“Upon my word —” began Mallow angrily, then stopped. It was useless to show his wrath before this silly boy, who could do no good and might do a deal of harm. “Very well, then,” he said more mildly, “ask Juliet to meet me on the other side of Rexton, under the wall which runs round the unfinished house.”

Basil started. “Why that place?” he asked nervously.

“It is as good as any other.”

“You can’t get inside.”

“That’s true enough. But we can meet outside. I have been inside though, and I made a mess of myself climbing the wall.”

“You were inside,” began Basil, then suddenly appeared relieved. “I remember; you were there on the day after Aunt Selina was killed.”

“I have been there before that,” said Cuthbert, wondering why the young man avoided his eye in so nervous a manner.

“Not at — at night?” murmured Saxon, looking away.

“Once I was there at night. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing — nothing. I was just thinking it’s a wild place in which to find one’s self at night. By the way,” added Basil, as though anxious to change a disagreeable subject, “do you think Jarvey Hale a nice fellow?”

“No, I don’t. I have met him at Maraquito’s, and I don’t like him. He’s a bounder. Moreover, a respectable lawyer has no right to gamble to the extent he does. I wonder Miss Loach trusted him.”

“Perhaps she didn’t know of his gambling,” said Basil, his eyes wandering everywhere but to the face of his companion; “but, should you think Hale would be hard on a fellow?”

“Yes, I should. Do you owe him money?”

“A few pounds. He won’t give me time to pay. And I say, Mallow, I suppose all Aunt Selina’s affairs will be left in Hale’s hands?”

“I can’t say. It depends upon the will. If everything is left to Juliet, unconditionally, she may take her affairs out of Hale’s hands. I should certainly advise her to do so. He’s too intimate with Maraquito and her gambling salon to be a decent lawyer.”

“You do seem down on gambling,” said Basil, “yet you gamble yourself a lot. But I expect Juliet will change her lawyer. I hope she will.”

“Why?” asked Cuthbert sharply.

“Oh,” replied Basil, confused, “because I agree with you. A gambler will not make a good lawyer — or a good husband either,” he added in an abrupt tone. “Good-day. I’ll tell Juliet,” and he was off before Mallow could find words to answer his last remark.

Cuthbert, walking back to his rooms, wondered if it was on account of the gambling that Mrs. Octagon objected to the marriage. He really did not gamble much, but occasionally he dropped into Maraquito’s house, and there lost or won a few pounds. Here he had often met Basil, and without doubt the young man had told his mother. But he could hardly do this without incriminating himself. All the same, Basil was a thorough liar, and a confirmed tattler. He might have blackened Mallow’s character, and yet have told a story to exonerate himself. His friendship appeared feigned, and Cuthbert doubted if he would really tell Juliet of the appointment.

“That young man’s in trouble,” thought Mallow, “he is anxious about Hale, and I shouldn’t wonder if that respectable person had lent him a large sum of money. Probably he counts on getting the money from Juliet, should she inherit the fortune of Miss Loach. Also he seems annoyed that I should have been in Caranby’s unfinished house at night. I wonder what he would say if he knew my reason for going there. Humph! I must keep that quiet. The only person I dare tell is Juliet; but I can’t speak to her about the matter just yet. And after all, there is no need to mention my visit. It does not concern her in the least. I wonder,” here Cuthbert stopped, struck with an idea. “By George! can it be that Basil was near Rose Cottage on the night the crime was committed? Juliet may know that, and so, fearful lest he should be accused of the murder, asked me to stop proceedings. Can Basil Saxon be guilty? No,” Mallow shook his head and resumed his walk, “he has not pluck enough to kill a fly.”

After this he dismissed the matter from his thoughts and waited expectant of a letter from Juliet. None came, and he was convinced that Basil had not delivered the message. This being the case, Cuthbert determined to act for himself, and one afternoon went down to Rexton. That same evening he had an appointment with Jennings, who was to bring Susan Grant to Mallow’s rooms. But the young man quite expected to be back in time to keep the appointment, and meantime he spent an hour wandering round Rexton in the vicinity of Rose Cottage. But afraid lest Mrs. Octagon should see him and keep Juliet within doors, he abstained from passing in front of the house and waited on the path which led to the station.

While watching the cottage, a young woman came along the path. She was neatly dressed and looked like a servant. Cuthbert pressed himself against the quickset hedge to allow her to pass, as there was very little room. The girl started as she murmured her thanks, and grew crimson on seeing his face. Cuthbert, not thinking, gave a passing thought to her looks and wondered why she had blushed. But when he saw her enter the gate of Rose Cottage — she looked back twice — he recalled the description of Jennings.

“By George!” he thought, “that was Susan Grant. I wish I had spoken to her. I wonder why she blushed. She can’t be in love with me, as I never saw her before. All the same, it is strange about the portrait.”

It was now about four o’clock, and Cuthbert fancied that after all it would be best to boldly ring at the door and ask admission, in spite of Mrs. Octagon.

But while hesitating to risk all his chances of seeing Juliet on one throw of fortune’s dice, the matter was decided for him by the appearance of Juliet herself. She came out of the gate and walked directly towards the path. It would seem as though she expected to find Cuthbert, for she walked straight up to him and caught his hand. There was no one about to see their meeting, but Juliet was not disposed to behave tenderly.

“Why are you here?” she asked. “Susan Grant told me you —”

“Susan Grant!” echoed Cuthbert, resolved not to know too much in the presence of Juliet. “I saw her name in the papers. How does she know me?”

“I can’t say,” said Juliet quickly; “come along this way.” She hurried along the narrow path, talking all the time. “She came in just now and said you were waiting in the by-path. I came out at once. I don’t want my mother to see you.”

“Really!” cried Cuthbert, rather nettled. “I don’t see that I have any reason to avoid Mrs. Octagon.”

“She will not allow me to see you. If she knew I was meeting you she would be very angry. We are here only till tomorrow. Now that Aunt Selina is buried and the will read, we return to Kensington at once. Come this way. Let us get into the open. I don’t wish my mother to follow and find me speaking to you.”

They emerged into a waste piece of land, distant a stone-throw from the railway station, but secluded by reason of many trees and shrubs. These, belonging to the old Rexton estate, had not yet been rooted up by the builder, and there ran a path through the heart of the miniature wood leading to the station. When quite screened from observation by the friendly leafage, Juliet turned quickly. She was pale and ill in looks, and there were dark circles under her eyes which told of sleepless nights. But she was dressed with her usual care and behaved in a composed manner.

“I wish you had not come, Cuthbert,” she said, again taking his hand, “at least not at present. Later on —”

“I wanted to see you at once,” said Mallow, determinedly. “Did not Basil tell you so?”

Juliet shook her head. “He said he met you the other day, but gave me no message.”

“Then he is not the friend I took him to be,” said Mallow angrily.

“Don’t be angry with Basil,” said Juliet, gently. “The poor boy has quite enough trouble.”

“Of his own making,” finished Cuthbert, thoroughly annoyed. “See here, Juliet, this sort of thing can’t go on. I have done nothing to warrant my being treated like this. Your mother is mad to behave as she is doing. I insist on an explanation.”

Juliet did not pay attention to this hasty speech. “How do you know Basil has troubles?” she asked hurriedly.

“Because I know he’s a dissipated young ass,” returned Mallow roughly; “and I daresay you know it also.”

“Do you allude to his playing cards?” she asked quickly.

“Yes. He has no right to tell you these things. But I know he is in debt to Hale — he hinted as much the other day. I would say nothing of this to you, but that I know he counts on your paying his debts. I tell you, Juliet, it is wrong for you to do so.”

“How do you know I can?” she asked.

“I know nothing,” said Cuthbert doggedly, “not even if you have inherited the money of Miss Loach.”

“I have inherited it. She left everything to me, save legacies to Thomas her servant, and to Emily Pill, the cook. It is a large fortune. The will was read on the day of the funeral. I have now six thousand a year.”

“So much as that? How did your aunt make such a lot of money?”

“Mr. Hale speculated a great deal on her account, and, he is very lucky. At least so he told me. But the money is well invested and there are no restrictions. I can easily pay the few debts Basil owes, poor boy. You are too hard on him.”

“Perhaps I am. But he is so foolish, and he doesn’t like me. I believe he puts you against me, Juliet.”

The girl threw her arms round his neck. “Nothing in the world would ever put me against you, Cuthbert,” she whispered vehemently. “I love you — I love you — with all my heart and soul, with every fibre of my being do I love you. I don’t care what mother says, I love you.”

“Well, then,” said Cuthbert, between kisses, “since you are now rich and your own mistress — not that I care about the money — why not marry me at once?”

Juliet drew back, and her eyes dilated with fear. “I dare not — I dare not,” she whispered. “You don’t know what you ask.”

“Yes I do. Juliet, what is all this mystery about? I could not understand the meaning of your letter.”

“Did you do what I asked?” she panted.

“It was too late. I had told Jennings the detective all I knew.”

“You were not afraid?”

“Afraid!” echoed Cuthbert, opening his eyes. “What do you mean?”

She looked into his eyes. “No,” she said to herself, “he is not afraid.”

Cuthbert lost his temper. “I don’t understand all this,” he declared, “if you would only speak out. But I can guess why you wish me to stop the proceedings — you fear for Basil!”

She stepped back a pace. “For Basil?”

“Yes. From what he hinted the other day I believe he was about this place on the night of the —”

“Where are your proofs?” she gasped, recoiling.

“I have none. I am only speaking on chance. But Basil is in monetary difficulties — he is in debt to Hale — he counted on you inheriting the money of Miss Loach to pay his debts. He —”

“Stop! stop!” cried Juliet, the blood rising to her face, “this is only supposition. You can prove nothing.”

“Then why do you wish me to hold my tongue?”

“There is nothing for you to hold your tongue about,” she answered evasively. “You know nothing.”

Cuthbert caught her hands and looked into her troubled eyes. “Do you, Juliet — do you? Put an end to this mystery and speak out.”

She broke from him and fled. “No,” she cried, “for your sake I keep silent. For your own sake stop the action of the detective.”

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