The Mystery Queen, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 21


After the storm came the calm, and with the spring a realisation of Mr. Halliday’s hopes concerning his future. Sir John Moon no longer objected to Dan as the husband of his niece, and was indeed profoundly thankful that she had escaped becoming Lady Curberry. The story of the Society of Flies, and the wickedness of Queen Beelzebub and the blowing up of The Grange was a nine day’s wonder. The papers, for some weeks, were filled with little else, and “The Moment” almost doubled its circulation when the able pen of Mr. Frederick Laurance set forth the complete story. Halliday became quite a hero, as indeed he was, although he did not appreciate the rewards of his conduct. To be interviewed, to have his portrait, more or less unlike him, in dozens of illustrated papers, to receive offers from music-hall managers, and even proposals of marriage from various enthusiastic ladies, did not appeal to Dan. As soon as he could, he went out of London and took refuge in Sir John’s country seat so as to escape publicity.

Needless to say, Lillian was there, and Mrs. Bolstreath also. Laurance was due within seven days to be Dan’s best man at the June wedding, and with him Mildred was coming at Lillian’s special request. Once, twice, and again the owner of the house had heard the story of the late events, and also had read them more or less garbled in different newspapers. Yet he never wearied of the recital, and admired Halliday greatly for the part he had played. From objecting to Dan as a nephew-inlaw the baronet now urgently desired that he should make Lillian Mrs. Halliday. In fact, when he thought of what the young man had saved Lillian from, the uncle of the girl could not do enough for his estimable young friend. So Dan, having become famous was about to become rich, but neither fame nor wealth appealed to him so much as the undoubted fact that he was on the eve of wedding the girl he adored.

“And I think,” said Lillian, holding on to Dan as if she feared to lose him, “that you and I would be as happy in a cottage as in a palace. Money is a nuisance, I think, dear.”

“You say that because you have never experienced the want of it,” said Dan, in a sententious manner. All the same he slipped his arm round the girl’s slim waist, and kissed her for the pretty sentiment she had expressed relative to a poor but Arcadian existence.

The happy pair, not yet joined in holy matrimony, but to be made one in seven days, were seated in the delightful garden of Sir John’s house, which was situated in the pleasant county of Devon. They had strolled out after dinner, leaving Mrs. Bolstreath to chat with the baronet, who approved of the big placid woman, and enjoyed her society. Lillian and Dan, however, liked to be in one another’s company without any third person to spoil their pleasure, and on this occasion — being humoured as lovers — they were entirely alone. The garden sloped down to a yellow beach, which was the curve of a tiny bay, and under the orb of a brilliant May moon, the waters of the vast sea murmured softly almost at their feet. There was a marble bench here, with a marble statue of Cupid near at hand, perched on a pedestal, so the spot was quite that which lovers would have chosen. Dan chose it, because the screen of shrubs and trees quite shut off the nook they occupied from the many windows of the great house, and he could kiss Lillian when he wished to without any uneasy feeling that someone was looking on. It is quite unnecessary to say that he frequently availed himself of his privilege. The about-to-be bride fully approved of his ardour in this respect.

“But you really must be serious,” said Miss Moon sedately, after the last embrace given out of compliment to her love-ina-cottage sentiment. “I want to ask you a few questions.”

“Ask what you will, I can deny you nothing.”

“It’s about the Society of Flies,” hesitated the girl.

“My dear,” said Dan patiently, and coaxing a loose leaf round his cigar, “I don’t want to be disagreeable, but I am really tired of the Society of Flies.”

“Only a few questions,” said Lillian, nestling to his side, “and then we can forget all about the matter.”

“That won’t be easy for me to do,” replied Mr. Halliday, rather grimly, “I can never forget what I suffered when I was expecting to be tortured by that fiend.”

“Queen Beelzebub?”

“She could not have chosen a better name, my dear. I sometimes doubt if she was a human being at all.”

“Poor, misguided woman,” murmured Lillian, resting her head on Dan’s shoulder.

“Don’t pity her, dear. She does not deserve your pity. Now, Mrs. Jarsell — I have always been sorry for her.”

“So have I,” said the girl, promptly, “she was very good to you, dear.”

“Good is a weak way of expressing what I owe her,” retorted Halliday, “think of what she saved me from.”

“Perhaps Queen Beelzebub would not have tortured you, after all.”

Dan laughed incredulously. “I shouldn’t have cared to have trusted to her mercy. I tell you, Lillian, as I have told you before, that already the implements of torture were being made ready. They would have crowned me with a red-hot circlet of steel, and pinched my flesh with red-hot pincers, and —”

“Don’t, oh, don’t,” Lillian turned pale, “it is really too dreadful! And to think that I was with Bolly at Mrs. Pelgrin’s quite ignorant of the peril you were in. I wish I had been with you.”

“I am glad you were not. My one feeling of thankfulness was that you had escaped being hurt in any way. I didn’t mind dying so long as you were all right, my darling, although I much prefer being alive and here. Lillian, my dear, don’t cry; it’s all over weeks ago.”

“I— I— I can’t — can’t help it,” sobbed the girl, clinging to him, “it is all so dreadful. When Mr. Laurance came that day with the police and said you were at The Grange, I thought I should have died.”

“There, there,” Dan soothed her, as he would have soothed a fretful child, “it is all over and done with. By the way, how was Freddy so certain that I was at The Grange? He never quite explained his certainty.”

“Well, dear,” said Miss Moon, drying her eyes with Dan’s handkerchief, “when he did not hear from you in London he went down to Blackheath with Inspector Tenson of Hampstead. They saw the local inspector and called at Lord Curberry’s house, after what Mr. Laurance told. But already a policeman had been summoned by the servants. Lord Curberry was dead of poison, and they found his confession saying how he had taken it because he believed that his connection with the Society of Flies was found out. Then the servants explained how Queen Beelzebub had come in an aeroplane —”

“They did not call her Queen Beelzebub — the servants, I mean,” said Dan, who had heard the explanation before but was glad to hear it again told in Lillian’s soft voice.

“No. They did not know who she was, as she was cloaked and veiled. But they told Mr. Laurance that you had declared this veiled lady had murdered Lord Curberry — that wasn’t true, you know.”

“True enough in one sense,” interrupted Dan quickly, “seeing that she drove him to suicide. Well?”

“Well, then, Mr. Laurance guessed that she was Queen Beelzebub and wondered where you were. He went to the shed where you kept your aeroplane and heard that you had followed her. Those at the shed thought that it was a race.”

“It was,” said Dan grimly, again, “and I won.”

“Mr. Laurance guessed that you had followed her all the way to Sheepeak, although he fancied, and indeed hoped, that both aeroplanes had broken down. He dreaded lest you should get into trouble at Sheepeak.”

“Which I certainly did, although not quite in the way Freddy expected.”

Lillian laughed at the memory of his escape, and rubbed her soft face on the sleeve of his coat. “Mr. Laurance told the police all about the matter, and they wished to telegraph to Thawley, so that the police there might go over to Sheepeak. But Mr. Laurance stopped them, as he fancied you might have been taken captive by Queen Beelzebub, and that if such a move was made, she might hurt you.”

“She intended to hurt me very severely. And then Freddy heard from the police about those numerous telegrams all in the same words, calling thirty people to Sheepeak. It was the similarity of the messages that made the telegraph authorities suspicious and when the police came to ask — knowing where Queen Beelzebub lived from Freddy — they were shown the telegrams.”

“But by that time all those who got the telegrams had come north,” said Lillian, quite excited, “they all went up by the early train.”

“Yes, and the police, with Freddy, followed, delaying action until such time as they thought they could collar the whole gang. By Jove, they just came in time. Freddy was a fool to tell you that I was in The Grange.”

“He was not quite certain, and only thought so because the wrecked aeroplanes were found in the field near the house. Oh, Dan,” Lillian put her arms round her lover’s neck, “Mr. Laurance told me how thankful he was when he saw you running along the road and knew that you had escaped.”

“He might have been thankful also that I caused him and the body of police to halt,” said Dan, quickly, “if they had not, every one would have been blown up. As it was, I very nearly got smashed by the falling sticks and stones and what not. There must have been tons of dynamite in the cellars of The Grange.”

“Who do you think put it there, Dan?”

“Queen Beelzebub, of course. She said that she had made everything ready against possible discovery, and warned poor Mrs. Jarsell that she would have to commit a last crime. Crime, by Jove! Why the best day’s work the woman ever did was to blow up that gang of devils.”

“I suppose Mrs. Jarsell did blow up the house, Dan?”

“Of course she did. Her heart softened for some reason, and she pushed me out of danger. Then she must have gone straight down to the cellar, and set a light to the stored dynamite. The explosion happened so quickly after I was free that I am sure she acted in that way. It was certainly efficacious, for not one of the blackguards, either men or women, remained alive to be hanged.”

“Well, that was a good thing,” said Miss Moon, with a little shudder, “you know that their relatives would have been disgraced?”

Dan nodded. “Quite so, and the names have never become public. This person and that person and the other person disappeared from various neighbourhoods and from various family circles. But when the relatives read about the explosion in Hillshire and Freddy’s brilliant account of that infernal society, they made a pretty good guess as to what had happened to the disappearing party. Very few people gave information to the police that their relatives or friends had disappeared. Tenson was rather annoyed, as he wanted to make a big fuss over the matter.”

“I don’t see what bigger fuss could have been made, Dan. Why the papers were filled with nothing else for weeks.”

“All the same, Tenson wanted the names of those who belonged to the gang, and people declined to give names of those who had disappeared from their midst. We know that Curberry belonged to the gang, and Penn; also Mrs. Jarsell, Vincent, and Queen Beelzebub. But only one or two other names came to light in print.”

“I think,” said Lillian, thoughtfully, “that so many well-connected people were mixed up in the matter that everything was hushed up as much as was possible.”

“H’m!” said Halliday, throwing away the butt end of his cigar, “it is not unlikely that a hint was given in high quarters that no more need be said than was absolutely necessary. Heigh ho!” he rose and stretched, “I am weary of the business. Come down and walk on the beach, dear, and let us talk about ourselves.”

Lillian was only too glad and the lovers descended the marble steps which led down gently to the sands. The crescent moon glowed pure silver in a sky of the darkest blue with the old moon in her radiant arms. In dark ripples fringed with creaming white, the wavelets murmured on the sands, and at either side of the bay great cliffs bulked, huge and densely black. It was a night of soft winds and glorious moonshine, fit for Romeo and Juliet to converse about love, yet Lillian still harped on the prosaic facts of the dangers she and Dan had escaped. Perhaps it was natural, for they had assuredly passed through a most trying time.

“Why did Queen Beelzebub found such a wicked society?”

“She wanted power and perverted her talents to base ends in order to gain it, my dear. Well, well, she has gone to her account, so we need say no more about her. She was a clever woman, but a fiend incarnate.”

“And Mrs. Jarsell?”

“Poor soul! She was but an example of the influence of a strong mind on a weak one. I think she loathed the whole business thoroughly, but she had gone too far to retreat.”

“Do you think Mrs. Pelgrin or her nephew knew anything of the matter?”

“No, I don’t,” said Halliday, very decidedly, “although Tenson had his suspicions of George. Mrs. Jarsell, who was used as a blind by Miss Armour, in her turn used George as a blind to say, if necessary, how seldom she went to town. I forgot to tell you, Lillian, that the police discovered that both Mrs. Jarsell and the leader of the society used frequently to motor for miles and miles to different stations further down the line in order to reach London without remark being made. Mrs. Jarsell only used the Thawley station so as to get George Pelgrin’s evidence that she scarcely ever went to town. In that way of course it was next door to impossible to connect two harmless old ladies with these many dreadful murders.”

“It was only your cleverness about that scent which formed the link,” said Lillian, proud of Dan’s characteristic sharpness, “and by using the biplane to travel to Blackheath, when Mr. Durwin was murdered, Mrs. Jarsell was able to get Mrs. Pelgrin to prove an alibi.”

“Oh, it was chance that showed Mrs. Jarsell’s complicity on that occasion, my dear,” said Dan, modestly, “but that we went into that animated picture entertainment, we should never have known she was at Blackheath. I suppose Miss Armour did not feel equal to committing that particular crime, so sent Mrs. Jarsell to carry out the job.”

“Miss Armour was never really paralysed, I suppose?”

“No. She played the part of an invalid when any one paid a visit. Nor do I believe that either she or Mrs. Jarsell were so old as they pretended to be. What a queer thing human nature is,” went on Dan, thoughtfully, “here was Miss Armour who could have lived a very pleasant and comfortable life, plunging herself and that miserable woman into dangerous crime just for the love of power. One would have thought that she would have liked to show her power publicly, but she was quite content to be a secret despot. I suppose it gave her a certain amount of pleasure, though it is hard for a simple person such as I am to see where it came in.”

“But her power could not have been exercised amidst public applause, Dan, seeing what it meant.”

“Quite so. The police would soon have ended her career had her infernal sway been known.”

“Do you think,” asked Lillian, after a pause, “that the members of the society expected that explosion?”

“No,” answered Halliday, very promptly, “I do not, else in spite of the danger I believe the half, if not the whole, of them would have run out even into the arms of the police to be hanged in due course. But they seemed to have an enormous belief in Queen Beelzebub, who was undoubtedly as clever as her father the devil. The members expected that in some way she would manage to save them. But all the time — as I guessed, although I could not understand what she was aiming at — she was preparing some way of getting rid of the lot, herself included. She must have summoned them to a pretended conference so as to house all under one roof and then fire the mine. I expect she filled the cellars of The Grange ages ago with dynamite, and arranged with Mrs. Jarselll to explode the mine. Of course, where Mrs. Jarsell got the better of Queen Beelzebub was that she did not give her the pleasure of revenging herself on me, and fired the dynamite unexpectedly. While Miss Armour and her demons were thinking how to torture me they all went — well, we won’t say where they went. But there wasn’t enough left of them to form a single human being.”

“And there is an immense hole in the ground where The Grange stood,” said Lillian with awe, “Mr. Laurance told me, and Mildred also.”

“I daresay that hole will form the basis of a legend in years to come,” was Dan’s reply, “and a very picturesque story can be made out of the material supplied by that infernal woman. She was as wicked and cruel and callous as that Ezzelin who played dice with the arch-fiend. By the way, Lillian, I suppose Mildred Vincent was very much cut up over the death of her uncle?”

“No, she was not. Of course she regretted his awful end, and that he should have been so wicked, but he was never kind to her and she had not much love for him. I don’t know,” ended Miss Moon, reflectively, “if we can be sure that he ever committed a crime.”

“Yes, he did,” declared Halliday, quickly, “every single member of that society had to commit a crime in order to belong to the gang. Vincent, I truly believe, was not a bad man, as his sole idea was a craze for inventing aeroplanes. But Queen Beelzebub, wanting him for her purpose, no doubt inveigled him into committing himself as a criminal, as she inveigled Mrs. Jarsell and Curberry.”

“Poor Lord Curberry,” sighed Lillian, “he is more to be pitied than blamed. I don’t think the young man who holds the title now cared that he died.”

“Can you expect him to?” asked Dan, sceptically, “seeing he has got a title and a lot of money. In a clean way too, for Curberry consented to the murder of two relatives so as to secure what he wanted. No, Lillian, it is your kind heart that makes you pity Curberry, but he was not a good man. No decent fellow would have belonged to that association of demons. But I think we have discussed the subject threadbare. Let us talk of more pleasant matters.”

“About Mr. Laurance and his marriage?” cried Lillian, gaily.

“Well, yes, although being selfishly in love, I would much rather discuss our own. Freddy will be able to marry Mildred now since you have given him enough money to start a newspaper. It is very good of you.”

“I don’t think so,” said Miss Moon, as they began to climb the steps again, and return to the house. “Mr. Laurance helped you to learn who killed my dear father and deserved a reward as you did. I gave him money and —”

“And you give me yourself, so I have been rewarded, very richly. Well, Freddy will make a very good proprietor and editor of a newspaper, and Mildred can help him to make it a success. All’s well that ends well.”

“And you are quite — quite happy, dear?”

“Quite, quite. Only, I fear,” Dan sighed, “that some people will call me a fortune hunter, seeing that I, without a penny, am marrying a rich woman.”

Lillian stopped in the path up to the house, and took hold of the lapels of Dan’s coat to shake him. “How can you talk such nonsense!” she said reproachfully; “why, after your portrait and an account of all you have done appearing in the papers, you could have married half a dozen women.”

“But none so sweet as you, dear,” said Halliday, kissing her, for her lips were temptingly near his own; “well, I must not despise my good fortune. But what can I give you in return, Miss Croesus?”

“A promise,” said Lillian, earnestly, “that you will not go up any more in those horrid flying machines. I shall always be afraid of losing you if you do; you know that quite well.”

“Let me take a tiny little flight occasionally,” coaxed Dan, gaily.

“Well, yes, on condition that you take me. If there is an accident, we can be smashed up together. Don’t argue,” she placed her hand on his mouth, “that is the only way in which I shall agree to your flying.”

“Wilful woman will do what she wants,” said Halliday, resignedly, and tucked Lillian’s arm beneath his own; “hallo, there is Sir John and Mrs. Bolstreath on the terrace. They seem to be very happy together.”

“So happy,” whispered Lillian in his ear, “that I believe —” she pursed up her lips and looked unutterable things.

“Well,” said Dan, laughing, “it would not be at all a bad thing for Sir John to make Mrs. Bolstreath Lady Moon. She can nurse him and amuse him and bury him in due course. What a heap of marriages — you and I; Freddy and Mildred; Sir John and Mrs. Bolstreath. See, she’s waving her hand to us. Let us go inside, as it’s growing a trifle chilly.”

“Hark!” said Lillian, raising her finger, and Dan listened to hear the wild delicious strain of a nightingale singing from a distant thicket.

“It sings of my love for you,” he whispered, “and of your love for me. What other than such a song can express our feelings, darling?”

“This,” said Lillian, and kissed him fondly.

“Clever girl!”

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