|Newspaper Title||Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931)|
|Trove Title||The Crime of a Christmas Toy|
THE Crime of a Christmas Toy;
If my suspicions were well founded, it waa quite natural that I might see a box like that iu Lady Bent's rooni. Yet the discovery so surprised me that, for a few heart beats* space, I gazed at the thing as I might have done at a snake. In nearly the same flash of time, however, I was calm again.
'That's a clever woniaiv I said to myself. 'Those cigai-ettes were eujjpiiea to her by Biodie. She had been smoking them all along; and had she changed the brand or style of boxes it might have attracted atten* lion and ? aroused suspicion.'.' ?, . . . |, . Lady Bent erid^t||y-BO^ce-^t^t^I:^n^L& fll at ease, for ehe said, % do hppl^tfiSt Voti'ye' bi'oiiglit us good news, Mr,. Grey, because I'm so aetvous and prostrated this morning.' As she hesitated, I said, 'I only came to ask you a question.' She heaved a long sigh. 'Go on,'' she said, wearily, as if preparing for torture. 'I want you to give tne some information Lady Bent,' I said- 'which ie of the, utmost importance. A bank-note — a ten-pound note —has been found in the lxjom in which that pvl Orauo poisoned herself-'1 ??7-'c41V' she ejaculated. ? 'That note was paid to Lord Bent by his bankers on the seeontl of the present month.' She- bad been i-eclining dreamily until them She rose with, parted lipe and .eyes wide open. 'To L/oi'd Bent?' slie asked, with a nervous quiver of the voice. 'Yes,' I retorted. 'It was issued by the Bank of England to the St. James's Branch of tt-i London and Westminster Bank. They in their turn paid it to Lord Bent.*' I paus ed for a second to 6ee the effect of my speech upon heh She had with one hand gripped ihe satin pillow of her couch, and was. crush- ing it between her fingers. Her teeth were liard set. and ehe wftB visibly nerving herself for ah onslaught. 'Well! well I well!' ehe repeated twice or thrice. 'I thought,' I went on, slowly and mea suredly, 'I would come to you, Lady Bent, to ask if you knew any person by whose agency that note might have come Into Mafia Ota no's room,' The assault was direct, and she winced be neath it. She looked into my eyes pitifully for a second and gasped. 'I don't quite understand,' she whispered hoarsely at last ?Til explain myself more fully* Lady Bent,'. I said. 'I came here to you first of all be-' eauge, to start With, I didn't wteh to shock or unnecessarily distress Loi'd Bent. Secondly, my purpose island believe me that in this matter I'm doing my best for everybody con eerned^to avoid a public exposure. That note was Undoubtedly issued to Lord Bent I re peat my question, and I would ask you, Lady Bent, to Weigh it well, and to give me your answer. Do you know anybody to Whom, on the second of May, you paid a tea-pound note, and who mighi.nave given that note to Maria Orano?' The hunted deer, driven into a hopeless cor ner of the moors, might look at pie pursuing hounds as Lady Bent gazed at me. I notic ed the feverish twitching of the fingers and the excited heaving of the bosom, but it was momentarily only. She bit her lip and drew herself Up. 'What _a question to aek me,' ehe Said, vriih a sickly smile, accompanied by a little peal of laughter, that had no gaiety in it '?How am I to know?' I, gay my notes to all sorlj of people.' ? ? ? I had my own purpose in this interrogatory* It was twofold. It was my business to try to discover whether Lady Bent was a victim or afl' accdinpllcs -& that villain Brodie; and, secondly, if she Were an' accomplice, I wanted to rouse my Maltese friend from his lethargy of self-confidence. Threatened oebple and people who think themselves in danger are always more likely to do foolish things jand fd act unguardedly than persons who think themselves secure, and can weigh their chances with an evenly balanced mind, tt Count Brodie thought himself in danger, he would most likely attempt to escape, and thus he Would prove a much more easily hunted quarry. 'Lady Bent,' I,eaid, 'Tin sorry that you can give ine no information. I shall nave to ask Lord Bent to trace the note for me. - I regret having troubled you, and hope that you'll forgive my Intrusion.' I rose and made a movement towards the door. She followed me With her eyes as if ehe were daised. He¥ right hand wandered towards her heart and the other fumbled the air nervously as ? sae hoarsely Whispered, 'Stay— stay, for a moment, Mr,— Mfc Crfey^ Ill— I'll see what I can do. Tin flurried ana upset. Have pity on a poor woman, and be a« patient as you can.' I sat down again. 'Well, my lady, I'm awaiting your an swer.' She had, bitten her Up so hard that I could see a tiny speck of blood standing upon it. The fingers; of one hand had again wandered towards the 6atin pillow, and were crushing it more hysterically than before. I pitied her for the moment If she were a victim and not a criminal, she was a miserable by fate persecuted woman indeed. I scanned the face. It was still handsome, but it was hard. Had misfortune or viciousness hard ened those f eatures? A. woman with such a face might make a terible struggle for exist ence, for wealth, for power, for rank, and a woman with such a face might also make a violent fight against untoward fate and bear its stings and torture with .silent courage. I could read nothing there that finally decided rue. On a sudden her fear-hardened features brightened, and nearly a smile creamed -upon them. 'I can see your drift, Mr, Grey,' she said, with a little £asp, and evidently with a fierce straggle- to appear unconcerned. , - 'I do re member ..now, #mi'— she drooped. lier voice to a whisper and looked towards the door— 'I ran also see that 'it might be wise not to ask Lord Bent about, it' She moved a few inches on her seat,1 and approached me more closely. 'People's tongues wag dangerously sometimes,' she went on, 'and a woman like myself cannot afford to set them wagging. As I remember now, I paid two hundred pounds to Count Brodie about that time. It was- mostly in ten-pound notes. , He bad bought some lace for me at a ealerat Chris-. tie's, and that wis part of the money. And you see, Mr. Grey,' she added, with another half hysterical laugh* -'people might «ay all kinds of things If they wete told that a note which liad passed through my bands was found in that girl's room. What the Count's connection with Tier can hare .?heetf'-^jBiie drew herself up, and her -eyes flashed as^she spoke— 'I cannot fathom, but I suppose it was— charity.' A elckly umile parted the lips, and she gasped for breath before she had finished. I had listened to her and watched, her in silence, and even -when she ceased I spoke not a word. __ 'I hope, Mr. -Grey,' «he pleaded, placing her hand upon mine— «nd I felt it cold and clammy as she did so-^'that you will see .your way to hush up this business. Of course 1 could easily explain how I came to pay Count Brodie that money, but I should prefer that Lord Bent leoeV nothing of It' t shook my head. v 'I cannot see at present how I can avoid informing Lord Bent'' I «aid. '.Lady Geor pna especially lives in the hope that her dead intended husband's memory should ,be clear ed, and here I've discovered that not Lord Senfrey, but Count Brodie, paid that girl money. I think it ie my duty to mention it at the inquest to-morrow.' ? She rose and .stood before toe with such
terror depicted Oh her face that I could fiOt help feeling Sprry for her. 'Do not-' Shi gSEpea, 'for. heaven's sake, do not! JfoU doh't know al£ and I dare not tell you; but if you knew you would .pity Toa#s*m ?: £ .y^-rt .-??-.??;. ? ? ' 't do know, and I do pity y6u,' I said, slowly. 'I 1316% the Hfeto¥y of BerhaTfl Clankton and Lavutla Meredith.' She threw her arms abroad, and staggereQ forward tot a moment Thefi, .pressing her hands against her temples, she sank back on the Sofa with her face ae white as a sheet, and her eyes protruding from their sockets. Her lips had gone ashen'grey, and her whole frame ehook as hi- a palsy. Then she sank down slowly on to her knees and dragged herself towards me, clasping my hands, and crying hoarsely— 'Have pityl Hare mercy! Have pity! Have mercy! . For heaven's sake have mer '?£ -f 'fretsT' myMhahds from her grip, 'which I felt tightening nervously, and tried to raise her, but she slipped sideways to the floor, apd lay there in a dead faint. I ran to the bell and rang it, and Lady Bent's maid appeared. 'Your mistress has fainted suddenly,' I said. 'You'd better see to-iier and bring her round. When she is well tell her. that I, will try and see her again to-morrow. , If not, when she wants me she can send for me.' I left the house without asking to see either Lord Bent or Lady Georgina. r had Sown my seed. I now left it to ripen and to bear fruit. I returned to James-fifcreet that evening. Whether Jasper Byrne were dead or Tilive, I argued: with myself/ my little room was. the. plac6 'ivterei most likely, the fifcst'etue would spring up. I had, I though^ most of the threads of the tangled web in my hand, and they all seemed to lead me irresistibly to wards Brodie. 'Brodie,' I said to myself, 'has had a hand in this, as in the first crime, and patience is the game to play.' Ott the morrow, Wednesday, the adjourned hearing of the charge against Luigi Qrano, and the adjourned inquest upon the body of the dead girl, would both take place. Much might be learnt at either of them, but some' how or other my little room at Mrs. Rodney's had its peculiar magic. It seemed to me like a trap specially prepared in which I might catch the unwary criminal That same evening my man Humphrey brought me a letter from Lady Bent. I had left special instructions with Humphrey to bring to me any letter bearing a semblance to the handwriting of Lady Bent, and, to be sure, twilight had barely set in when he came and brought me a missive from her. 'My dear Mr. Grey*'— it ran— 'You know my secret, and you have kept silence eo far. This gives me hope that per haps, after all, you may find it in your heart to have pity on a poor sorely tried woman, and to spare her. If you only knew what a life of trial and unmerited misfortune mine has been, you would have mercy on me. Be lieve me that I did not know when I gave my hand to Lord Bent that that man was alive; Since then my existence has been one of perpetual torture. .1 have to show a smiling face to the World, while the terror which surrounds me eats my heart away. I have often thought of 'ending this life of sham and golden misery, but the one hope that per haps, after all, gome flay I might be fid of my millstone has stayed my hand. Come and see me when you can; and in the meantime, for God's sake, keep silent L. B.' No reference to the murder of Lord Sen frey! That seemed to be the letter of an innocent woman. Would ehe have dared to so address me if her hands had been stained With Lord Senfrey's blood, she knowing all the while that I Was specially charged to un ravel that mystery? Yet the theory of her £uilt was not incompatible With the letter ehe had written, or. she might have been an Un willing or an Innocent tool in Brodie's hands. I turned the pros and cons over In my mind, and I said* to myself: 'A Woman who could wear such a mask of deceit to her husband and to the World, hard though her struggle might be, might perhaps— I said to myself, might— at a moment of severe temptation consent to the sweeping away of a human creature to leave her path unobstructed.' The next morning came, and there was etili no news of Jasper Byrne. Mrs. Itooney's face was more elongated even than before, and her cap as rebellious as ever. She walk ed about listlessly as I had not seen he$ and talked incoherently about her good man,, dead these ten years past, and Jasper Byrne, and the girt Orano, and myself— all mixed up in an inextricable jumble. I was debating within my mind whether or not to go to the hearing of the case against Luigi Orano, when Mrs. Rooaey came to me with a face which, whether tearful or happy, none might have told. 'Here's a rum go, Mr. Grant,' she said, 'and if whether to be pleased or to be savage you was to aek toe, I couldn't tell That there Mr. Byrne has been staying away all this while and him not giving a sign of him self any more'n a mummy in the British Mu seUm. It's enough to make a policeman swear. it's a flying in the face of Provi dence, it is.'* 'Oh, you have news of him, then?' I ex claimed. . 'Yes,' replied Mrs. Sooney, 'though what tc make of it I don't know any more'n Adam. There's a little red-haired girl downstairs— a cheeky chit— she brought me this note, and asks for the pocket-book out of Mr. Byrne's trunk.'* 'She wants a pocket-book2' I asked. 'Let me have a look at the note, please, Mrs. Roo ney.' The good woman handed me the missive. It was written on half a sheet of stained notepaper, and it was worded and spelt as follows: 'Missus Roonie,— - 'Plese send me ml pokit-book wats in mi tronk on top 'eres the kei i'm stain with frens dont you troble about me I'm ol rite i'l come back next weke.— ' . 'Jasper Birn.' 'Have you ever before had a letter from Mr. Byrne'?' I asked. .^ . . 'No,' was the answer. 'He isn't a. great scholar,' I said, not being able to restrain a smile, 'and he doesn't know how to spell his own name. What are you going to do?' '-? ' 'I suppose I most give that girl the pocket book. He has sent the key.' , . 'MmnphV was my ejaculation. 'Do you mind me going with you and having a look at the thing? One never knows— ^thiB letter might not come from Mr. Byrne. It might be a forgery.' 'You don't ^nean. to say so, Me. Grants cried Mrs. Rooney, aghast 'Do you think as he might havelteen hocussed and inveigled into «ome toad place?' — 'Quite possible,' I said quietly. 'I don't say he has been, hut each things have hap pened. Suppose we look at the trunk and pocket-book together?' When the box was opened we found, t}uits on top of it, a brown leather wallet, smoothed by long wear, I opened it carefully, and saw that it contained in' one pocket another case, la one partition fbere 'was a ten-pound note. In the others tttere were some papers, 'There's money in this pocket-book,9' I«atd to Mrs. Rooney— 'a ten-pound note. T think Pd better take fbe Bomber *-f that note ^be fore we eend it' 'By all means, Mr. Grant,' replied Mrs. Booney. 'You're much, cleverer pian I ain, and much more careful; and I'm so glad.' *'Very well,' I sald;-*iyotf d ,better go down to that girl and ask her to opme op, I don't want to be present, bnt I want to see her; I'd, like to get a glimpse at her through the open* floor, and hear what she Jiae got to say, In case of .anything being wrong;.' 'Sight,' said Mbb. fiooney, and went down stairs. I Hew with the pocket-book to my room,
looked at the note, and hastily scribbled the number on a bit of paper. It wae C 69939. Then I quickly tore out the second letter-ease. It was -ornamented by a silver monogram 'G.B.,' with a coronet on top. It contained several lettecs. ' 'That's Count Gyffa Brodie's pocket-book,' I said to myself. 'He must have lost it, and hefe trying to get it back again.' In a flash I also looked over the other pa pers. One was a letter from Brodie, evi dently written to Maria Orano. I took that out also. Others were papers referring, to both Brodie and Byrne, but I had not time to rush through them when' I already heard footsteps on the lower stairs. I. darted back into Byrne's room and threw the pocket-book into the trunk,, retaining Count Brodie's case and his letter, which I put into my pocket The nest moment I heard Mrs. Rooney in the next room. I put on my hat, and took my stick, and waited with my. ear at my ear trumpet. 'I can't make this out, my ..dear,'. Miss. Rooney was saying. 'Where did you say Mr. Byrne was staying?' 'Mr. Byrne 'e's a-styin' with friends,' re plied a shrill and youthful female voice. 'And why doesn't Mr. Byrne come back himself?' asked Mrs. Rooney. 'You see, 'e can't,' the girl answered. 'Him an' his friends been on the booze, blind, an' 'e's got the staggers, an' 'e sez, sez 'e, that 'e wants 'is pockit-book wot*s in the trunk.' -...-... 'And who are Mr. Byrne's friends, if you please?' 'His friends?' retorted the girL 'Gaw along. Wot's, it got to do with you?' 'Much, my little dear,' was Mrs. Rooney's remonstrance. 'I should have liked to have known who Mr. Byrne's friends are.' 'You're a downy old Woman, you are,' ex claimed the girL 'Mr. Byrne's friends— that's Dad an' Leggie.' 'And who is your father?' asked Mis. Roo ney, with more complacence and good humor than I had ever given her credit for. There was a pause, and /then the shrill voice pealed out again — 'It ain't noe o' your business. Are you goin' to give me the pOeklt-book, or won't you? 'Gos if you won't, I'm a-goin', that's wot I am. Hookey Walker's my name.' 'I'm afraid,*' suggested Mrs. Rooney, 'you've been badly brought up, my dear. But as Mr. Byrne wants the book, there, take it' The girl replied, 'Rumbo!' I had heard enough, and quietly opened my door, and elipped downstairs, and crossed the road; A minute or two afterwards Mrs. Rooney appeared at the hall door wife a girl of about fourteen or fifteen. She was a red haired little niinx of the saucy Cockney ga min type, dressed rather gaudily in a check cotton dress, and a straw hat ornamented by rod feathers and a profusion of corh-floWers. No sooner had she gained the afreet than she ran away at top-speed, and I had to use my limbs nimbly to follow her on the other side. She darted in and out of courts like- an eel, and I had to keep pace with net. Luckily she never turned or looked back. When she arrived In Holborn she scrambled on top of an omnibus going to the Bank, and i follow ed, and sat myself down near the door. 'Ohi she's going to the East End,' I said to myself, 'to some of the cut-throat dens down by Wapplng.' Such, however,.; was not the case, for at the Holborn Viaduct she got off and rushed down the steps leading to the JParringdon-road, and I kept close to her. Here she evidently thought herself clear of all possible pursuit, for she strolled along blithely, even stopping at one paper shop for fully a minute or two, gaping at the illustrated journals. At Black friars^roaa she took a halfpenny omnibus, which went across the bridge. When she ajv ? rived on the southern side of the^Tnames she 7turned into Stamford-street, and kept along that thoroughfare until she came to York road. Then she turned sharp up one of the little streets leading to the Belvedere-road, and at the end of it I was just in time to see her dart into a littie cotteershop. 'Oh,' I said to myself, 'that's the hyena's lair, then.' I crossed the street, and surveyed the house from the opposite side. It was a two-storey building, and at the bottom was one of the ordinary coffee-shops of the poorer class, with the lower part of the window covered with green curtains and the usual list of prices. It looked innocent enough, and as I peered through a crack in the curtain I could see that customers were evidently not plentiful, for the place was empiy* 'That doesn't look much like a murderer's den,*' I argued, 'aUd yet there's something mightily wtong. I shall have to get Morris Angel to rig me out, and pay a visit to ^his place.' (To be continued.)