|Chapter Title||DONNA MARIA.|
|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Red-Headed Man|
CHAPTER X.—DONNA MARIA.
Wray House was a charming villa on the banks of the Thames. The view of the mansion from the river was singularly pic turesque. From the banks a smooth green
lawn of closely shorn turf, diversinod ny oval flower-beds, brilliant with scarlet gera nium, sloped gently lip to a terrace, bor dered by a balustrade of white marble. On this plateau rose the bouse, a fairy edifice of two storeys, the upper smaller than the lower. A colonnade ran round the bouse, and .supported an upper balcony, broad and spacious, on to which opened the French windows of the bedrooms. French windows also gave access to the colonnade, which wns liberally sprinkled with small tables, and lounging chairs. The whole building painted a brilliant white had, in appearance and design, a tropical look, more suited to equatorial regions than to the cool green misty island of England. This miniature paradise was encircled by *
belt ot trees.
This particular summer, however, had proved particularly hot, so that Wray House was a perfect residence during the sultry months of June and August. Used to the ardent heats of South America. Donna Jnc-z, as Mrs. Grent loved to be called, found the warmth delightful, and basked like a. snake in the golden sunshine. In a like degree her niece was charmed with the unusual splendour of the summer, and the two Spanish women passed most of their time lounging in the colonnade, or swinging in silken hammocks suspended from the branches of convenient trees. To them, house and life and summer recalled the langtud la/.y existence of far distant Lima. There laziness is an art, and idleness lias been reduced to a science.
When the news came of Grout's tragic death, Donna Inez, a weak, lymphatic wo man, giving way to intolerable grief, had shut herself up to indulge in it. The. domes tic economy of the bouse was thus upset for the moment, but was speedily restored to order by Maria Sandoval, who had much more character and self-control than her aunt. Mr. Leighbourne, senior, came hastily over from Paris on receiving tin news of bis partners death, and at once paid u visit to Wray House. He could do nothing with Donna Inez., who was hyste rical from grief, so he insisted that Donna Maria should take command of the house hold. This the young girl, not without mis giving. agreed to do, and satisfied on this point, Mr. Leighbourne returned to London in order to arrange the affairs of the dead man. So far as the will was concerned lie. as one of the executors, took all the trouble on his shoulders, hut at Wray House the responsibility of looking after licr aunt and managing the servants devolved on Maria. Shortly she found that the task was too difficult, the more so as she was a foreigner, and a comparative stranger in English ways. In this dilemma she requested Lydia Hargone to come down and assist her.
Miss Hargone was a. woman of twenty seven, passably good-looking, and extremity clever. JSlie had been engaged to teach Maria English when the young girl first arrived from Lima, and had stayed nearly two years at Wray House. Then she had announced that Maria spoke the Anglo Saxon tongue excellently well, and that, as there was no necessity for further leaching, she, Miss Hargone, would seek, another s.ilnation, livery one in the house had pro tested against this, for Lydia was a general favourite, and Maria was quite overcome with giief at the thought of losing her. However, Miss Hargone had her own way, as usual, and had departed some three months before the death of Grent, when the tragic circumstance and the urgent message of her former pupil recalled her to Wray House. If is to Miss Ilargone's cre dit that she accepted the invitation at once, and strove in c-vciy way to pacify Donna Inez, and lighten the domestic burdens of Donna Maria. Things were in this position when Turry, accompanied by Darrel, paid a visit to the house of the dead man. And that visit was the first step in the dark and tortuous path which led to tlx, discovery of the truth.
At first Darrel had been unwilling to conic, or even to continue his partnership witii the detective in following up the va rious clues now in their possession. He excused himself on the ground of incapabi lity .
"I cannot assist yon in any way," he urged. "J see now that the unravelling of an actual criminal problem is far more difficult and complex than 1 thought. 1 have not- your indomitable perseverance, and the rebuffs which never daunt you, make me nervous and doubtful."
"Nonsense! nonsense!'' cried Torry, cheerfully. "I've set my heart 011 your go ing through with this. After all, why should you he discouraged? We have found out a good deal."
"Have we?" said Darrel sceptically.
"Of course. We have learnt that the dead man's name was Jesse Grent; that lie was attempting to fly with a woman and ten thousand pounds, and that he was killed, probably by the lover of the woman whose name wo have vet to discover. Also, we have learnt that the stolen money belongs to a secret Society who use the imago of a Green Minium- as a token. Come now, I think all these discoveries are very en couraging."
•'Thcv would be if von could prove them, ?
replied Barrel, "but you are mingling fact and fancy. \ou cannot prove that Grent stole the money, and indeed, on the face of 'it—if Vass is to be believed—he is in nocent. Also you cannot say for certain if Grent intended. fa> fly with a woman, or that he was killed by her lover. Finally, although I admit, on the authority of Manuel, that a secret Society exists, we dent know its aims; nor do we know that the Green Image has anything to do with
"There, now," cried Torry smiling, "you knock down my line castle of cards with your relentless logic. Never mind, I'll build it up with future discoveries, stron ger than ever. Come and help me to Jay
the first card."
"The first card?"
"The first brick, if you arc so parti
oulrny'said the detective, testily. "In j plain. English, come down to Wray House and assist me to question this young lady
about (lie hat."
"She won't tell you the truth.''
"Yes she will, provided she is not impli cated in the matter, and I hardly think that likely. Though, to be sure," added Torrv to himself, "it is strange that her hat should be 011 the dead woman's head."
"I should like to know the truth of that, certainly,'' said Barrel, fired by sud den curiosity. "Yes, I'll go with you.
When do we start?"
"In "an hour. We take the midday train from Waterloo. I am not fanciful, you kimw." remarked the detective, nodding, "hut 1 have an idea that this journey will
be a lucky one."
thank laughed. "We'll do our best to
make it so," said be.
This being arranged they drove to Water loo Station, and, after a hasty luncheon in the restaurant, departed l'or Wraybridge by the 12.30 train. In a surprisingly short time, considering the distance from town, they arrived at Wraybridge, and, hiring a fly, drove at once to Wray House. The road which led thereto was singularly beautiful, as it passed through a small forest of pirn; and fir trees. Here and there were villas and mansions and cottages, and occa sionally, through intervening trees, a glimpse could he caught of the smoothly flowing Thames, winding its silvery way through flowery meadows. In twenty minutes the tnivellem arrived at Wray bridge village, a quaint and picturesque hamlet, with old-fashioned houses, peak roofed and many-gabled. Through the nar row crooked thoroughfare, misnamed the High-.street, they passed; emerged again into a stretch of open country marching with the liver, and ultimately stopped be fore a. pair of elaborate iron gates which gave admission to Wray House. Having arrived at their destination, Torry paid oil the cabman and, followed bv Barrel' en
tered the grounds.
It must be confessed that Frank did not feel altogether easy in bis mind. To visit unsuspecting people with the idea of worin lag secrets out ni their inexperience seemed iq linn like getting into the house undc* fnfre pretences-. Torry, not being a genth man was not troubled by these fine scruples And indeed there was no need that lie should be. He was an officer of tiie law; lie urns acting entirely in the interests <>] justice, and it was only natural thin
snould attempt. by every means in In* power to bring the wrongdoer to the gal
,\s-, ^an'°' mentally tried to assure him soil oi this, for the salving of his own con science; but all the .same, be felt uneom imIn he, and devoutly wished tluit he had not embarked on a career which dealt witli he hi so underhanded a wnv. However lie ml f'n0 ,t(l° faV t0. rel,-eat; with com pulse 1\ philosophy be made the best of a had bargain and followed Torrv up to the (muse. Here they found some difficulty in
The servant brought back Tony's card, uic! announced that bis mistress was too ili I" receive any one. Thereupon the detective requested permission to see Boinia Maria, who a.so sent hack a message that she was nm l", be seen. ()„ Hi, second refusal lon\ lost Ins .smiling demeanour, and at once became the stern officer oi" justice— uliarp-toHgued and peremptory.''
"Ten your mistress," .said be to Hie ser vant, that it she will not sec me herself she must permit me to converse with Donna v(:V:'-'V Hld0^- a,I\ a detective froM •?-t •• . cotJand A aril, and have been charged 1o discover, it possible, the murderer of Air.
?^'Onl. In jmj- official character Donna
-ii-ina may not refuse to see inc."
apparently this peremptory .speech oa? ru'I weight, for in a few minutes the ser ver, returned and showed the two men ii,(0 a small room. Here lliey waited, and Torrv ?rat,sow himself by admiring the beaniv of the anartinent, which was luxiiri,,ms!V fui 11-;-.led, and ill contemplating the exquisite
.'rem the open J-rench windows which
w'( -HIV f /'1C t0,0",1;uie. The scene was
u ml In ot Ins praise.
'X "'f ™,cla1,1 ran the t. "\d iiasiimg diamonds in the Prime simhg ( t)n the further hank stretched £
tll.dr' h ifv 'r'-T^'l 1,1 e/' sfak,|y i'l nil n leafy pride; beyond were snwofh gicen meadows dotted with grazing cattle-'
''-r, r\f&d budges, dumps ,,!• trees. and
.isu iafiv a cluster ot red-roofed houses, .lint (lie square tower of some villain'
peaceful- bi t Toi ver.v Pastoral and PC..CCIUI, but lorry s eyes left tbe scene to
g.i/c on two people—a man ami a woman—
lo «"'<> f'o on the gva
xc,.ed path beside tbe river. Both were
do mli- en r rW?''? Ilam,sonle> both were
. },- ungaged in conversation
bonder who they are?"' speculated Tony. (ant guess w])0 tJle ? j I daresay the lady is Donna Maria "
"Biuma A)aria is here," said a sweet
xoiee behind linn.
i T'V,y ^ud rose to their feet to lieliok a beautiful woman in the first blush verv til ' h,?;lU.ty' rD°nna *Jai'ia "ot she wdLY ''«• figure was perfect; and tnft ccidT-ic T q the graceful undulating t l'"ui,ai to Spanish women. Her liair irid -1 n-fil(.^ere ias as midnight; she 11.1(1 a pale, oval, olive-bued fac-e a clnrm mg mouth, and, when she smiled' displayed a row of pearly teeth. Her hair m haiighty and imperious, and she looked at the visitors like a queen whose privacy has beeu intruded upon. Pmaty "MovainicP°"-"a ^aria>". sai<l she coldlv.
' Slr' why you msisl upon seeing rifie looked at Darrel, who did not re spond, so amazed was lie by her beautv; so attc-r a glance of disapproval, the liaiv turned towards lorry, and repeated hiw question ? J he defective iminediatey un \i rapped the parcel lie carried, and' Held U)£ nut out towards her.
"Cs this hat yours?" he asked.
Donna Maria looked at it closedc, then bowed, "ft was mine," she admitted, "hut some weeks ago I gave it to my maid."
. "What was her name?"
"Julia Brawn: but you say what wa,: her name. Why?"
"Because," replied Torry, looking stea dily at her. "Julia Brawn has been mur