The Mystery Queen, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 15

Absolute Proof

It did not require a particularly clever man to guess that Lord Curberry was connected with the Society of Flies. Had he been entirely ignorant of that association, he would not have displayed such agitation when he saw the paper in Dan’s hand, nor would he have struggled to gain possession of them, much less have destroyed them. Penn certainly was one of the gang, and on that account, probably, Curberry had engaged him as a secretary after the death of Moon. Also he may have had some suspicion that Penn was a traitor, and had guessed that the papers betrayed the society. Otherwise, he would have placed the same before the Coroner, so as to elucidate the reason why the secretary had been done to death. That he had been, Halliday was quite convinced, as Penn was too nervous a man to commit suicide and must have been assisted out of the world by some other person.

“But the verdict of suicide has been brought in,” argued Laurance, when Dan related his adventures.

“I daresay. Curberry’s evidence was to the effect that Penn had been considerably worried of late. Of course, that is true, but he wouldn’t have killed himself, I’ll swear. However!” Dan chuckled, “I have a sheet or two remaining of the confession, and we may learn much from that.”

“Will it state that Curberry belonged to Queen Beelzebub’s gang?”

“I think so. If Curberry does not, he would have made a row and kicked me out of the house. I had no business in the library and no right to take the papers, you know. But I defied Curberry to create a scandal, and left him in a pleasing state of uncertainty as to what I knew and what I intended to do. He was green with fright.”

“You had better take care, Dan, or the society will murder you,” warned Laurance, in an uneasy tone.

“Oh, I’m safe enough for the given month,” returned Halliday, positively; “so far, I have said nothing, and until I do notify the authorities all will be well with me.”

“But Miss Moon?”

“I join her, and Mrs. Bolstreath, at St. Pancras this evening, to catch the six o’clock express to Thawley. Have you written to Miss Vincent?”

“Yes. There is no time to receive a reply, but she is aware that the ladies will stay at the Peacock Hotel, Sheepeak, under the wing of Mrs. Pelgrin. I only hope,” added Freddy, emphatically, “that you are doing right in placing Miss Moon in the lion’s mouth.”

“Under the guns of the enemy, you said before. Oh, yes, I am right, especially now that I hold a part of Penn’s confession. I shall contrive to let Mrs. Jarsell know that I do, and that if anything happens to Lillian, I can make it hot for her.”

“Does the confession implicate Mrs. Jarsell?”

“Yes, it does. I have not had time to decipher the crooked writing of our late friend, but intend to do so when in the train this evening. But the little I saw, hinted that Mrs. Jarsell was in the swim.”

“I wish you would leave the confession with me,” said Laurance, who was desperately anxious to know the exact truth.

“Can’t, my dear fellow, nor have I time to let you read it, even if I had it on me, which I haven’t. My taxi is at the door of this office, and I’m off to St. Pancras in five minutes. Remember, Freddy, that this confession is my sole weapon to protect Lillian. When Mrs. Jarsell learns that I have it, she will not dare to move, and will keep her subjects off the grass also.”

“But Curberry will tell her that he has destroyed the confession.”

“So he thinks,” chuckled Halliday, “but I shall tell her that I rescued enough of it to damn her and her precious gang.”

“But how can you tell her without danger?”

“I shall find a way, although I haven’t formulated any scheme as yet. Perhaps she will ask me what all this — the story of Queen Beelzebub you know — has to do with her. I shall reply that it has nothing to do with her, but that I know how she desires to assist in my love affair. Oh, I’ll manage somehow, old son, you may be certain. Good-bye.”

“Wait a moment,” said Laurance, following Dan to the door, “what about Sir John Moon? He will make a row over Lillian’s flight, and you will get into trouble.”

“He may make a row if he likes, but as Lillian is under the wing of Mrs. Bolstreath, her duly-appointed chaperon, I don’t see what he can say. She is quite ready to take all blame.”

“Of course,” said Laurance, thoughtfully, “Sir John may belong to the society himself, in which case, like Curberry, he dare not make a row.”

“No,” rejoined Dan, positively, “I don’t believe Sir John belongs to the gang. I wish he did, as it would smooth things. Curberry dare not make open trouble, because he is one of Queen Beelzebub’s subjects, but Sir John may because he isn’t. However, I shall risk taking Lillian away with Mrs. Bolstreath to play the part of dragon, and Sir John can do what he jolly well likes. Luckily, he is in the country on a visit just now, so we can get clear away without a fuss. By the way, you were at the inquest. Was there any fly found on Penn’s body, or was there mention of any scent?”

“No. The man was drowned, and it was not possible for either scent or fly to be on his corpse or clothes. The evidence clearly pointed to suicide.”

“H’m. Curberry brought that about,” said Dan grimly; “however, I am jolly well sure that Penn was murdered by one of the gang.”

“Not by Curberry. He was away at the time of the death.”

“Perhaps. I’d like to be certain of that. But in any case, he may have others of the gang in his employment, who could polish off the traitor. Queen Beelzebub’s subjects are of all classes, Well, I’m off.”

Halliday took his way to St. Pancras forthwith, and found Mrs. Bolstreath and her charge waiting for him. Lillian was greatly excited and curious, as she did not yet know the reason for this sudden trip northward. Instructed by Dan, the chaperon had refused to impart knowledge, as the young man intended to tell the girl everything when they were in the train. However, Miss Moon was enjoying the unexpected journey and had every faith in her companion. Also, so long as she was in Dan’s company, she did not care where she went, or why she went, or when she went. She loved Halliday too completely for there to be any room for distrust in her mind.

“Dan,” said Mrs. Bolstreath, when they were stepping into the first-class compartment which Halliday had wired to reserve to themselves, “I have written to Sir John saying that Lillian required a change, and that I was taking her to Hillshire, to see some friends of mine. When he has this explanation he will not make any trouble, or even any inquiries. He has every trust in me.”

“Good,” said Dan, heartily, “you make an excellent conspirator.”

“Conspirator,” echoed Lillian, gaily, “now what does that mysterious word mean, Dan? I am quite in the dark.”

“You shall know all before we get to Thawley. Make yourself comfortable!”

“Do we stay at Thawley?” asked the girl, arranging her rug.

“For the night. I have telegraphed, engaging rooms for you and Mrs. Bolstreath at the best hotel. To-morrow we go to Sheepeak.”

“Where is that?”

“Some miles from Thawley. You must live quietly for a short time, Lillian.”

“It’s all immensely exciting, of course,” cried Miss Moon, petulantly, “but I should like to know what it all means.”

“Patience! Patience!” said Dan, in a teasing tone, “little girls should be content to wait. By jove, we’re off.”

The long train glided out of the station, gathering impetus as it left the lights of London behind. Mrs. Bolstreath made herself comfortable in one corner of the compartment, and Lillian did the same in another corner, while Dan sat on the opposite seat and addressed his conversation to both impartially. The girl could scarcely restrain her impatience, so anxious was she to learn the reason for this unexpected journey.

“Now, Dan, now!” she cried, clapping her hands, “there is no stop until Bedford, so we have plenty of time to hear the story.”

“One minute,” said Halliday, who was now in possession of the three sheets of foolscap, which he had rescued from Curberry’s grip, “I must bring the story up to date, and cannot do so until I read this statement. By the way, Lillian, why should Penn send to you about the matter?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. But, of course, he knew how grieved I was over my father’s murder, and perhaps wished to set my mind at rest.”

Dan looked at her curiously. “Why should you think that Penn knew of anything likely to set your mind at rest on that point?”

Lillian cast down her eyes thoughtfully. “I always thought that Mr. Penn knew much more than he would confess about poor father’s death. I quite forgot that I thought so until I got the letter asking me to look into the second volume of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ in Lord Curberry’s library. Dear me!” murmured the girl, folding her hands, “how I did try to get into the library.”

“Curberry would not let you?”

“No. I think he was puzzled why I wished to go. But he did not ask me any questions.”

“I quite believe that,” said Dan, grimly; “asking questions was a dangerous game for him to play. However, when he found me in the library, he evidently recalled your desire to go there, and it flashed across him that we were working in concert. No wonder he destroyed the papers on the chance that Penn might have left incriminating evidence behind him.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Lillian, fretfully.

“Well,” observed Dan, smoothing out the foolscap, “Penn, no doubt, left the clue as to the whereabouts of the confession to you, so that you might learn who murdered your father.”

“Ah, I always believed Mr. Penn knew. Is the name in that paper?” she asked eagerly, and leaning forward.

“It may or it may not be, dear. You see the greater part of the confession was destroyed by Lord Curberry. He was afraid.”

“Dan!” Lillian caught her lover’s hand, “you don’t think that Lord Curberry killed my father?”

“No, no, no!” said Halliday, quickly. “I am sure he did not. However, you shall hear all that I know, and Laurance knows, and all that Mrs. Bolstreath is acquainted with. Only let me read these few sheets first.”

The girl, on fire with curiosity, would have objected, but that Mrs. Bolstreath touched her shoulder significantly. With an effort to restrain her curiosity which was creditable considering the circumstances, she nestled into her corner of the carriage, while Dan glanced through the manuscript. In spite of Penn’s crooked handwriting — and it was very bad indeed — it did not take much time for the young man to master the contents of the confession. He uttered an exclamation of vexation when he reached the end.

“Like a serial story, it breaks off at the most interesting part,” he said, crossly. “However, I have learned something.”

“What have you learned?” demanded Mrs. Bolstreath immediately.

“All in good time,” said Halliday, quietly. “I must first tell Lillian what we both know, and then I can bring our discoveries up to date by saying what is in this confession,” and he tapped his breast-pocket, wherein he had placed the sheets. “Now then, Lillian.”

“Now then, Dan,” she mocked, “just tell me all, for I cannot keep silence any longer.”

“You will have to, if you desire to hear the story. Only don’t be worried by what I am about to tell you. You are safe with me.”

Lillian shrugged her shoulders, as if to imply that there was no need for him to state such a plain truth, and looked at him with inquiring eyes. As she appeared to be brave and collected, Dan had no hesitation in relating to her all that he had already told Mrs. Bolstreath, and thus the girl became thoroughly informed of the underhand doings which had taken place since the death of her father. As Halliday explained, her eyes became larger and rounder and more shining. Still, the colour did not leave her cheeks, and although she was intensely interested, she did not display any fright. This was creditable to her courage, considering that the revelation hinted at many possible dangers to herself and to her lover. Dan brought the story up to the time they started from London, and then waited to hear her opinion.

“It’s dreadful and wonderful, and very horrid,” said Lillian, drawing a deep breath; “do you think that Mr. Penn murdered my father?”

“No. The evidence of the girl to whom he was dictating letters to be type-written proves that he did not enter the library at the time when the death was supposed to have taken place —”

“Then Lord Curberry? He —”

“I don’t believe Lord Curberry, either directly or indirectly, had anything to do with the matter,” said Dan, decisively. “Sir Charles approved of his suit rather than of mine, so it was to Curberry’s interest to keep your father alive and well. My dear, it was the false Mrs. Brown who killed Sir Charles, and she came as an agent of this ghastly Society of Flies, because he got to know too much about the association.”

“Then Mrs. Brown is Mrs. Jarsell?” asked Mrs. Bolstreath, anxiously.

“I can’t be sure of that,” said the young man, thoughtfully; “of course, the sole evidence that proves Mrs. Jarsell to be connected with the gang is the presence of the Sumatra scent in her Hillshire house, and her presence on the Blackheath grounds when Durwin was murdered.”

“But, by your own showing, she could not have reached London in time.”

“That is quite true, and yet I recognised her plainly enough on the day Lillian and I saw the animated pictures. However, we can leave that fact alone for the moment. I am certain that Mrs. Jarsell is Queen Beelzebub, for Penn says as much.” He tapped his breast-pocket again.

“Oh,” cried Lillian, eagerly, “what does the confession say?”

“I’ll give you the gist of it,” replied Halliday, quietly. “Penn begins with a statement of his early life. He was the son of a clergyman, and his mother is still alive. From a public school he went to Cambridge, and thence to London, where he tried to make a living by literature. Not being clever he did not succeed, and fell into low water. I am bound to say that he did not trouble much about his own poverty, but seemed to be greatly concerned on account of his mother, who is badly off — so he says. Then he was tempted and fell, poor devil.”

“Who tempted him?” demanded Mrs. Bolstreath.

“A young man whom he met when he was staying in a Bloomsbury boarding-house, very hard up. The man said that he belonged to a society which could make its members rich, and proposed to introduce Penn. This was done, in the same way, I presume, in which I was taken to these mysterious headquarters. The first fruits of Penn’s connection with Queen Beelzebub was that Sir Charles Moon engaged him as secretary, so, getting a good salary, he was enabled to give his mother many comforts.”

Lillian looked alarmed. “But my father did not belong to the association.”

“No. Of course he didn’t. But Penn was placed as his secretary — the business was managed through Curberry, who does belong to the gang — so that he might inveigle Sir Charles into becoming a member. Penn appears to have lost his nerve, and did not dare to persuade Sir Charles, so another person was put on to the business. The name is not given.”

“But why did Queen Beelzebub wish my father to belong to her gang?” asked Lillian, with natural perplexity.

“The reason is plain, my dear. Sir Charles was an influential man, and could be of great service to the association. He learned enough to show him that a dangerous organisation existed, and then sent for Mr. Durwin, who belonged to New Scotland Yard, so that he might reveal what he knew. Penn learned this, since he saw the letter written by your father, Lillian, and at once told the society. Then the false Mrs. Brown was sent to stop Sir Charles, and —” Dan made an eloquent gesture with his hands. There did not seem to be much need of further explanation.

“Mrs. Brown undoubtedly murdered Sir Charles,” commented Mrs. Bolstreath, in a thoughtful way, “but is she Mrs. Jarsell?”

“Penn says as much,” repeated Dan, who had made the same remark earlier, “but it is just at that point he ends. Listen, and I shall read you the last sentence,” and Halliday took the papers from his pocket. The three sheets were intact, as Curberry only rent away the rest from the brass clasp. At the end of the third page Halliday read, “Mrs. Jarsell of the Grange, Hillshire, can explain how Mrs. —” Dan broke off with a frown. “Here we come to the end of the page, and can learn no more. Curberry burnt the most important part of the confession, which doubtless gave full details of Mrs. Jarsell’s connection with the gang.”

“She could explain about Mrs. Brown, I suppose,” said Lillian, quietly.

“Yes. The first word over the page is, I am certain, Brown. What is more, I believe Mrs. Jarsell and Mrs. Brown are one and the same.”

“If I see Mrs. Jarsell, I may recognise her, Dan. I saw the false Mrs. Brown, remember, and it was because of me that she was admitted to an interview with my father.”

“If you do recognise her, which I doubt, you must not let on that you know who she really is,” Dan warned the girl; “our business just now, and until we get more evidence, is to pretend entire ignorance of these things. You are up in Hillshire for a change of air, Lillian, and know nothing. Mrs. Jarsell, relying on the clever way in which she was disguised, will never dream that you connect her with the poor woman who came on that fatal night to see your father. You understand?”

“Quite,” put in Mrs. Bolstreath, before the girl could speak, “and I shall see that Lillian acts her part of knowing nothing.”

“Remember that you deal with an extraordinarily clever woman, Mrs. Bolstreath.”

“I am a woman also, so diamond can cut diamond.”

“But, Dan,” asked Lillian, timidly, “do you think that Mrs. Jarsell really did murder my father?”

“On what evidence we have, I believe she did. She murdered your father and Durwin because they knew too much, and I should not be surprised to learn, in spite of the verdict at the inquest, that she got rid of Penn.”

“Why should she?”

“Penn let out too much to me,” explained Dan, putting away the confession, “and, in any case, was a weak sort of chap, who was a source of danger to the society. Queen Beelzebub, who is, I believe, Mrs. Jarsell, evidently thought it was best to silence him. I am sure that Penn did not commit suicide, and was drowned by Mrs. Jarsell. Still, in the absence of further evidence, we can do nothing.”

“What action will you take now?” asked Mrs. Bolstreath, quickly.

“Before leaving Thawley tomorrow morning,” said Halliday, after a pause, “I shall post this confession to Laurance, and tell him to make use of it only should he hear that anything happens to me.”

“Or to me,” chimed in Lillian, and looked a trifle nervous.

“My dear, nothing can happen to you,” said Dan, decidedly, “cheek by jowl, as it were, with Mrs. Jarsell, you are perfectly safe. Queen Beelzebub confines her doings to London and keeps the name of Mrs. Jarsell clean in Hillshire, for obvious reasons. The Grange is her place of refuge, and no one would connect an innocent country lady with criminal doings in London. If she is what we think her to be, she will not hurt a hair of your head in Hillshire.”

“All the same, I don’t intend to see her,” said Lillian, determinedly.

“There is no reason that you should. She may call and try to learn why you are staying at The Peacock Hotel, and if so, will probably ask you to The Grange. Don’t go,” ended Dan, emphatically.

“Of course not,” put in Mrs. Bolstreath, equally decisive; “leave that to me, since I am responsible for Lillian.”

“You can say that I am ill with nerves or consumption, or something,” said the girl, vaguely. “I don’t want to meet the woman if she murdered my father.”

“If you do,” said Dan, impressively, “don’t reveal your suspicions,” and then he went on to instruct the two ladies how they were to behave in the enemy’s country. That they were safe there, so long as they pretended ignorance, Dan did not doubt, but should Mrs. Jarsell learn that they knew so much about her, she might adopt a counsel of despair and strike. It did not do to drive so dangerous a woman into a corner.

For the rest of the journey very little was said. The subject had been thoroughly threshed out. Lillian had been informed of what was going on, and all plans had been made for the future. The girl was to live at The Peacock and see Miss Vincent, and chat with Mrs. Pelgrin, and take walks and admire the country, and to conduct herself generally as one who came simply for a change of air. If she did not go to The Grange — and on the plea of illness, she could excuse herself from going — Mrs. Jarsell could not harm her in any way. And, indeed, even if Mrs. Jarsell did succeed in getting her to come to afternoon tea, Dan had a plan in his head whereby to ensure Lillian against any use being made of the Sumatra scent. It was a daring thing to take Miss Moon into the jaws of the lion, yet that very daring would probably prove to be her safeguard. But Halliday had done what he could to guard against the events of a threatening future, and now could only wait to see what would take place. At the moment there was nothing more to be done.

In due course the train arrived at Thawley Station, and Dan singled out George Pelgrin to convey luggage to a cab. Mindful of his last tip, George displayed great alacrity in performing his duties as porter, and, what is more, when he received another half-crown gave inadvertently a piece of valuable information, which Halliday was far from expecting.

“That’s the second two-and-six since yesterday,” said George, spitting on the coin for luck. “Mrs. Jarsell gave me the same when she came back yesterday evening.”

“Oh!” Dan was startled, but did not show it, “your Sheepeak friend has been to London then?”

“Went a couple of days ago, and came back last night,” said Pelgrin, “and she says to me, ‘George, look after my traps, for you’re the only smart porter in this station,’ she says. Ah, she’s a kind lady is Mrs. Jarsell, and that civil as never was. There’s the luggage in the cab all right, Sir. The Vulcan Hotel? Yes, sir. Drive on, cabby.”

Mrs. Bolstreath and Lillian had not heard this conversation, but Dan pondered over it on the way to the hotel. Mrs. Jarsell had then been in London at the time of Penn’s death, and probably — although he could not prove this — she was responsible for the same. When the young man arrived at the hotel, and the ladies went to rest, he wrote a letter to Laurance, detailing the new fact he had learned, and instructed him what use to make of the confession if anything happened to himself in Hillshire. Then he enclosed the confession and went out personally to register the packet. Once it was posted he felt that he had done all that was possible.

“And now,” said Dan, to himself, “we’ll see what more Queen Beelzebub will make.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55