“What can I do for you, Mr. Campenhaye?” he asked, with a little tremor as of anxiety in his voice. “It’s not—not, I hope, about poor Mr. James?” “That, Mr. Armstead, is precisely what it is,” I answered. “Now, remember, we speak together in the strictest secrecy?” “Oh, yes, yes, sir—of course!” he exclaimed. “I understand. But—what can I tell you, Mr. Campenhaye?” I drew out the little leather-covered case, and held it out to him, open. “This,” I said. “For whom did you make, or to whom did you supply, this artificial eye?” I thought for an instant that he was going to fall, for he swayed visibly, and his face became very pale. But he steadied himself and took the case from me, his hand trembling visibly.
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Clue of the Artificial Eye
Author: J. S. (Joseph Smith) Fletcher, (1863-1935)
SPECIALIST IN CRIMINOLOGY
J. S. FLETCHER
Author of “The Secret Cargo,”
“The Amaranth Club,” etc.
THE FRENCH MAID
THE YORKSHIRE MANUFACTURER
THE COVENT GARDEN FRUIT SHOP
THE IRISH MAIL
THE HOUSE ON HARDRESS HEAD
THE CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE
THE SETTLING DAY
THE MAGICIAN OF CANNON STREET
It was the fourth day of October, 19—, and three o’clock in the afternoon. Killingley, my clerk, had just come back from his lunch. I heard him moving about in his room—the first of the three rooms in which I carried on my business in Jermyn Street. As for myself, I was reading a new essay on certain characteristics of Napoleon Bonaparte; it was clever and, in many respects, original, and I had no wish to be disturbed. But just then the outer bell rang.
Killingley came in a moment later.
“A lady wishes to see you, sir,” he said.
“In the usual way, Killingley,” I said, rising.
Now, I had a habit, during the comparatively short time in which I carried on the business, of taking care to see my clients before they saw me. I have said that I occupied three rooms; the first was used by Killingley as a sort of office, and contained himself, an American roll-top desk, a typewriter, and Killingley’s collection of light literature; the second was fitted up as a luxurious waiting-room; the third was my own apartment. And between it and the second was a cunningly-devised and quite secret arrangement by which I, unseen, could take minute stock of any person who called upon me. Often I kept clients waiting impatiently in that room while I watched and studied them; I was all the more ready for them when I admitted them to my presence.
I was at my post of ’vantage when Killingley ushered the lady into the waiting-room. A tall woman of perfect figure and distinguished carriage, she was so closely veiled that I could see nothing whatever of her face, but I learnt much in one minute from her movements. She examined her surroundings as a caged thing might look around its den. Impatiently she turned over and tossed about the newspapers and magazines which lay on the table, impatiently she kept glancing at the door which led to my room. From the quickness of her movements I knew that she was young, impetuous and ardent; from her impatience I knew that she was much agitated.
I stepped to my door and opened it, and was bowing to her before she was aware of my presence. She passed me quickly with a slight, somewhat condescending nod, and, entering my room, sank into the easy-chair which I placed for her.
“I am at your service, madam,” I said quietly. “But perhaps I had better explain that I never undertake any commission until I am made aware of my client’s identity.”
She sat for a moment in silence, her slender fingers, perfectly gloved, tapping the arms of her chair. Then, suddenly, she lifted one hand, and with a gesture almost imperious, swept aside the thick veil and revealed a face that was as troubled and agitated as it was beautiful, and—famous. I bowed once more, in genuine homage.
“I have the honour to receive the Countess of Langthwaite,” I said.
The Countess inclined her head a little and gave me a very keen and critical stare.
“I understand, Mr. Campenhaye, that whatever is said to you is said in the strictest confidence,” she began. “Is that so?”
“Whatever is told me by my clients, Lady Langthwaite, is regarded by me as sacred,” I answered. “But, in return, I expect my clients to tell me the plain, literal truth, even to the merest detail.”
“I—I suppose I had better begin at the beginning,” she said. “And since you know who I am, you will know that we—that Lord Langthwaite has a place in Yorkshire.”
“I left Langthwaite at nine o’clock this morning on my way to town, and arrived at King’s Cross just after one o’clock,” she continued. “My maid, Antoinette Marcel, was with me. I left Antoinette in the station—she was to lunch in the refreshment-room. She had with her some smaller luggage, bags, and—my jewel-case.
“I left the hotel at a few minutes to two and crossed to the station,” she went on. “In the booking hall I passed a porter who had charge of my trunks. He told me that Antoinette had left the smaller bags with him, and had gone to the refreshment-room. I went there to find her—she was not there. Nor could I find her anywhere about the station.”
“Of course, the jewel-case had disappeared with Antoinette,” I said. “But please tell me the rest, Lady Langthwaite.”
“There is nothing, or scarcely anything, to tell,” she said. “Of course, Antoinette had the jewel-case. That is why I came to you. I want to—I must recover it!”
“Naturally!” I remarked. “I suppose you informed the station people and the police at once?”
“No-o,” she faltered. “I—I was advised not to do so.”
“Now, Lady Langthwaite,” I said, settling down to work, “you will bear in mind that you are to tell me everything. And, first of all, who advised you not to mention your loss to the railway authorities and the police?”
“A—a friend,” she replied reluctantly.
“Man or woman?” I asked.
“A—a man,” she answered, still more reluctantly.
“Who must have had strong reasons for giving such extraordinary advice,” I commented. “However, we will leave that for the moment. Now, what did the jewel-case contain?”
At this question the Countess almost wrung her hands, and her beautiful eyes became suffused with unshed tears.
“Oh!” she answered. “It is terrible to think of! It contained five thousand pounds in bank-notes. I don’t mind the loss of the money at all. But it also contained all my jewellery—all. And—and the family jewels.”
“Not—not the famous Langthwaite pearls!” I almost shouted.
She bent her head, and I thought she was going to cry outright.
“Yes!” she whispered. “Yes!”
“Of course, you have communicated with Lord Langthwaite?” I said. “You would wire to him at once?”
She shook her head, miserably, despairingly.
“No!” she answered. “No, Mr. Campenhaye.”
“And why have you not communicated with the Earl, Lady Langthwaite?” I asked.
She made an effort, and at last faced me resolutely.
“Because, Mr. Campenhaye, I was running away from him!” she answered.
It has always been one of my greatest ambitions to be able to preserve an unmoved countenance under any circumstances, and I flatter myself that I usually do so. But I must have betrayed the most intense surprise, not to say utter astonishment, on this occasion, for my beautiful client suddenly turned crimson, and drawing out a cobwebby handkerchief, burst into genuine and abundant tears. I rose from my chair.
“I beg your pardon, Lady Langthwaite,” I said gently. “I will leave you for a little while.”
I placed a bottle of smelling salts within her reach and went into the next room. And as I stood there, waiting until her ladyship got the better of her emotion, I rapidly memorised all that I knew of her and her husband, and applied my recollections to the present situation.
William Guy Carter-Johnstone, sixth Earl of Langthwaite, was a pretty well-known man. Tall and clean-shaven, with the face of an ascetic and a pair of the most piercing black eyes I have ever seen, Lord Langthwaite was at the time of which I am writing about forty-eight years of age. It had often been said of him that he was never going to marry, but three years previously he had suddenly taken to wife the daughter of a north-country clergyman. Whether it was a mutual love affair Society was not permitted to know; as the bridegroom was forty-five and the bride scarcely twenty, Society thought not. However that may have been, there was no doubt that the Earl of Langthwaite was passionately fond of his young wife, whom he introduced to the world of fashion with great pride. And this was the lady who sat weeping in my room!
I went back after a decent interval and found Lady Langthwaite composing herself.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “I am very sorry, Mr. Campenhaye.”
“We must see what can be done,” I said, resuming my seat.
“Now, Lady Langthwaite, let us be business-like. Tell me the truth—all the truth. You said you were running away from your husband. Why were you running away from him?”
“Because—because our tempers are not compatible,” she answered with some hesitation.
“I see. And, usually, in these cases, one finds that there is some one with whose temper one’s own is compatible,” I suggested.
She hung her head, and twisted the damp handkerchief.
“I suppose that is so in your case, Lady Langthwaite?” I said.
She gave me a fluttering glance and bent her head.
“Yes,” she murmured.
“And that, I suppose, is the gentleman whom you met at the Great Northern Hotel?” I said.
She nodded, but said nothing.
“Lady Langthwaite,” I said, “you will have to tell me his name if I am to help you.”
She glanced at me quickly, hesitated, and hung her head again, while her fingers tugged nervously at the handkerchief.
“Captain Molesworth,” she said at last.
I betrayed no surprise there, at any rate. But I made a mental contrast between the worth of Lord Langthwaite and the utter worthlessness of Captain Molesworth, whose reputation was known to me.
“Then, of course, it was Captain Molesworth who sent you to me?” I said.
She nodded an affirmative.
“And counselled you not to tell the police and the railway people?” I continued.
“He said it would not be wise until I had seen you,” she answered.
I considered a good many things in a remarkably short space of time, having more on my mind than the mere finding of Mademoiselle Antoinette and the jewel-case.
“Does Captain Molesworth know what was in the jewel-case?” I asked.
She looked at me with some surprise.
“No-o,” she answered. “I told him that it contained the bank-notes and my own personal jewellery, but I did not tell him about—about the pearls.”
“But you were—or are—running away with Captain Molesworth,” I pointed out. “Why bring the family pearls—heirlooms?”
She almost tore the handkerchief at that, and her face expressed something like physical pain.
“Don’t torture me, please!” she exclaimed. “What am I to do? What is to be done? I dare not—dare not tell Lord Langthwaite—it would kill me!”
“Dare not tell him—what, Lady Langthwaite? That you have lost the pearls, or that you were running away with Captain Molesworth?” I asked, watching her keenly.
She made no answer to that, but regarded me as if I, and I alone, were the arbiter of her fate.
“I am wondering,” I continued, “if we cannot work out a little plan which will save the situation. Can you not go to Lord Langthwaite, invent some little story of a sudden necessity for coming to town, and of bringing the pearls with you for safety? Then we might get the police to work in a search for your maid.”
She pondered this proposition for a moment and then shook her head.
“Lord Langthwaite would not believe that Antoinette had stolen the jewel-case,” she said. “We had implicit faith in Antoinette—she has been with me ever since—since I was married.”
“But Antoinette and the jewel-case are missing,” I said. “Now, tell me this—did your maid know that you were running away?”
“No! No!” she answered.
“Did she know the precise contents of the jewel-case?” I asked.
The Countess shook her head.
“No?” I continued. “She would merely think, then, that it contained just the ordinary amount of jewellery with which you travel usually—which would not be much?—that is, in comparison with what really was in the jewel-case?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Lady Langthwaite,” I said suddenly, a new idea having occurred to me, “where did you get those bank-notes?”
“From the bank at Saxonstowe yesterday,” she answered. “The Saxonstowe and Normanchester bank, where I have an account.”
“Of course, you haven’t the numbers of the notes?” I suggested. “No, I thought not—fortunately, the bankers will have them.”
And I seized a telegram form and wrote out a message.
The message was in Lady Langthwaite’s name, and requested her bankers to wire her at once the numbers of the notes. I went out and sent Killingley off with it; then returned to ask her a few more questions.
“When, Lady Langthwaite, did you mention to Captain Molesworth that you had this money and your personal jewellery in the jewel-case?” I enquired. “Was it before or after you missed it?”
“Oh, as we were walking across to the hotel,” she replied. “I said to him that I hoped Antoinette and the jewel-case would be all right and mentioned what was in it.”
“Didn’t Captain Molesworth think it a dangerous thing to risk valuable property in that way?” I asked.
“No; he said Antoinette was not likely to let anybody rob her.”
“By the by,” I said, “did Antoinette see you with Captain Molesworth?”
“Oh, yes!” she answered. “He met us in the booking hall at King’s Cross.”
“This is rather a delicate question, Lady Langthwaite,” I said, “but it is easily answered. Was this maid of yours in your confidence?”
“No!” she replied promptly. “She knew nothing.”
“And suspected nothing?” I suggested.
“I do not see why she should,” replied Lady Langthwaite.
“During the time you were in the hotel at King’s Cross did Captain Molesworth ever leave you, Lady Langthwaite?” I enquired.
“He left me for a little time while he went to send a telegram,” she replied.
“How long?” I asked.
“About a quarter of an hour,” she said, staring at me. Then suddenly bursting out, she exclaimed, almost angrily: “Why do you ask these questions about Captain Molesworth? What has he got to do with it?”
“Those are questions which you must not ask me, Lady Langthwaite,” I answered. “Let us forget that you have asked them. One more, and I have done. You, of course, lunched with Captain Molesworth in a private room at the hotel? Now, after you entered that room, did you leave him alone in it?”
She stared at me more wonderingly than ever.
“Yes, for a few minutes,” she answered.
“That was before he went out?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, half peevishly.
I rose from my desk.
“Very good, Lady Langthwaite,” I said. “That is all we can do at present. Your object is to recover your jewel-case and to avoid all knowledge of its loss coming to the ears of Lord Langthwaite?”
“Yes—oh, yes!” she exclaimed.
“And yet,” I said, “if your original plans had been carried out, Lady Langthwaite, the Earl would have heard of his loss in—less pleasant fashion.”
She hung her head at that and said nothing.
“I am to understand, I suppose, that the original plans will now be altered, or postponed——?” I asked, regarding her keenly.
“Oh!” she burst out. “I don’t know what to do—I am so wretched, so miserable! Everything has gone wrong. Even if I were to go and tell Lord Langthwaite—I am frightened to death of doing so—he has so often been so very angry with me for allowing Antoinette to take charge of the jewel-case, and only last week I promised that I would never allow it out of my sight.”
“Ah!” I said. “I see—I see! Well, now, Lady Langthwaite, be guided by me. Where are your trunks? In the left luggage office at King’s Cross? Very good—now, go there, collect them, and drive to some hotel and remain there until you hear from me this evening—and, in the meantime, see no one, not even Captain Molesworth. What hotel will you go to?”
“I will go to Claridge’s,” she answered. “But—why may I not see Captain Molesworth? He will be anxious to know the result of my interview with you.”
“I will inform him of that myself,” I replied. “Leave all to me, Lady Langthwaite. Go to Claridge’s, and remain in absolute quiet until I call this evening. I hope—and I believe—I shall be able to relieve your anxiety in some way. But you must obey my wishes.”
She hesitated a little, but finally promised to do what I wished, and after she had drawn her thick veil about her face, I took her downstairs and put her in a cab for King’s Cross. And that done, I went back to await the wire from Saxonstowe, and to reckon up the precise value of the information I had received from my weak and foolish client.
Captain Molesworth! Well, that gentleman was known to me. I knew nothing of an absolutely criminal nature against him, but I did know that he was on his last legs from a financial point of view, and that the country was getting a bit too hot for him. A friend of mine, engaged in similar pursuits to my own, had told me only a few days before this adventure that Captain Molesworth was very much in Queer Street; and could it be possible that at such a juncture he was going to saddle himself with all the trouble which would necessarily arise from running away with a young peeress, the wife of a famous nobleman? My own opinion was that he was after what ready money the Countess of Langthwaite could get together.
Naturally, I had formed a conclusion while Lady Langthwaite was with me. That conclusion may seem a very obvious one, but obvious conclusions are usually safe ones. I believed that Molesworth had gone off with Antoinette and the jewel-case. It seemed to me that it came to this: he had known that his cousin could carry away with her a considerable sum in cash and in jewels; he had found out that all this wealth was in the jewel-case left with the maid. Leaving Lady Langthwaite in the hotel he had gone back to the station and arranged matters with Mademoiselle Antoinette, who had forthwith taken her departure. Packing his cousin off to me, where he knew she would be engaged for some little time, he had repaired to the Frenchwoman, and they were now, no doubt, on the first stages of a flight.
Such was my theory, and I think most people would have formed it on facts. Obviously, with such a theory, I must seek Captain Molesworth.
But first I wanted the telegram from Saxonstowe.
It came soon after four o’clock. The five thousand pounds had been paid to Lady Langthwaite in fifty notes of one hundred pounds each, the numbers of which were given in the telegram.
I had my own idea as to the precise value of this telegram. I put it into my pocket-book and went off to the Bank of England.
That solemn establishment was already closed, of course; but I had means of entrance to its high places. And within a very short time I discovered that Lady Langthwaite’s notes had been exchanged for gold at the West End branch of the Bank of England at ten minutes past three—just about five minutes after the time at which the Countess began to unfold her woes to me in Jermyn Street.
I suddenly saw what I conceived to be the true light on this matter. Molesworth, when he left Lady Langthwaite at the hotel on the pretext of sending a telegram, must have gone straight to Antoinette, procured the jewel-case on some pretext, abstracted the notes, and returned the jewel-case to the maid. This upset my first theory, but it was obviously more correct, this second one. But if it was—where was Antoinette?
To convince myself that it really was Molesworth who had dealt with the notes I set off to the West End branch, where they had been exchanged for gold, taking with me from Threadneedle Street certain credentials which immediately procured me audience of the agent. His staff was still on hand, and I had no difficulty in getting the information I wanted. The notes had been brought to the bank by a commissionaire, who, assisted by the driver of a taxi-cab, had carried away the gold in a strong leather bag. The clerk who had dealt with the matter gave me a description of the commissionaire, and in less than half an hour I ran him to earth outside a famous restaurant in the St. James’s district. And then I found that it was certainly Captain Molesworth who had dealt with the five thousand pounds’ worth of notes. He was well known to the commissionaire, whose return from the bank he had awaited at the St. James’s Street end of Jermyn Street. A cool customer, I thought, to carry on his operations under the unconscious nose and eyes of his beautiful and much-duped cousin!
A man cannot conveniently carry five thousand pounds in gold about him, much as most of us would cheerfully do so for the mere possession of it. What had Molesworth done with this gold? Why had he been in such haste to change the notes? I learnt from the commissionaire (who was communicative enough when I disclosed my identity) that he had gone off in the very taxi-cab in which the gold had been brought from the bank. And the commissionaire added that he knew the driver of that cab very well by sight, and that he was bound to come back to a stand in St. James’s Street, sooner or later.
As luck would have it, the driver came back while the commissionaire and I were talking. Questioned, he made no objection to giving me the information I wanted. He had driven Molesworth to a certain well-known bureau de change, had helped him to carry the gold inside, had been paid off, and had left him. How long since was that? Oh, well he had had two fares since. It would be about half-past three, he said, when he set Molesworth down. I glanced at my watch; it was now well past five o’clock.
I told this man to drive me to the bureau de change. There I met distinct opposition, a direct rebuff. They showed me, not quite metaphorically either, the door.
I walked out into a by-street, wondering what to do. I felt confident as to what Molesworth had done. He had changed that gold into Continental paper money—most likely French bank-notes. He would be off to the Continent. But, when, where, and how? He was scarcely likely to go openly from Charing Cross, or Victoria, or any of the London stations, for he would know that sooner or later suspicion must fall upon him. For it seemed to me that the position was now clear—the thief was Molesworth, and the loss of the five thousand pounds was a mere fleabite in comparison with the loss of the famous Langthwaite pearls.
But where was that Frenchwoman—Antoinette? Was she in it, or was she out of it? Well, Molesworth was certainly in it, and I must go for him. I jumped into the car, and bade the driver take me to Claridge’s Hotel.
I purposely assumed a very solemn and serious expression of countenance as I was shown into Lady Langthwaite’s sitting-room.
As the door was closed behind me she came forward with eager eyes.
“You have heard something!” she exclaimed. “You have discovered something!”
“Yes, Lady Langthwaite,” I replied at last. “Yes, I have heard something—and discovered something. Please sit down and hear what I have to say. My news is very serious.”
“You have heard of Antoinette?” she said, sinking into an easy-chair and regarding me with a tense expression.
“No,” I said, “I have heard nothing of Antoinette, Lady Langthwaite. But I have discovered who abstracted the bank-notes from your jewel-case this afternoon—have discovered it with ridiculous ease.”
“Yes! Yes!” she exclaimed. “Who was it?”
I watched her keenly for a few seconds, and then decided to tell her the truth straight out.
“Captain Molesworth,” I answered abruptly.
If I had had any doubts as to the Countess of Langthwaite’s possession of spirit, I had none now. She turned pale, flushed crimson, turned pale again, and, leaping to her feet, clenched her fists and looked at me as if it would have given her the greatest pleasure to drive a dagger through my heart.
“How dare you!” she exclaimed. “How dare you! This is unbearable; this is ——”
“Lady Langthwaite,” I said quietly, “the bank-notes which you obtained at the Saxonstowe and Normanchester Bank yesterday, and brought in your jewel-case to King’s Cross this morning, were exchanged for gold by Captain Molesworth at the West End Branch of the Bank of England at three o’clock this afternoon. That, unpleasant as it may sound, or be, is the truth.”
She went paler and paler as I spoke, and once I thought she would have fallen in a faint; instead, she sat down, clasped her hands tightly together between her knees, and rocked herself to and fro.
“He—he may not have meant ——” she began.
“Don’t try to excuse him, Lady Langthwaite,” I said. “The whole affair was well planned. Now answer me one or two questions. This—this elopement was doubtless arranged while your cousin was staying at Langthwaite?”
She nodded sullenly.
“Did he ask you what money you could bring away with you?” I went on.
“Yes, because he had so little,” she answered. “We meant to realise on my jewels.”
“And—on the pearls?” I suggested.
“No! No!” she exclaimed. “Indeed, no! I was mad to bring them. I meant to send them back.”
“I’m afraid that is too late,” I said, rising. “Now, Lady Langthwaite, let me give you the soundest advice you could possibly hear from anyone. Go and tell your husband everything. Then we can put the police on this man’s track.”
She stood tapping her foot on the hearthrug, and staring at me out of her great, frightened eyes. And I saw the exact moment wherein to play my great card had come.
“My own impression,” I said carelessly, “is that Mademoiselle Antoinette is with—your cousin. Tell Lord Langthwaite the whole truth, and let us set the police to work. They cannot have got far.”
I saw a dull flame creep into her eyes, and her hands clenched themselves.
“Please go away,” she said, in a half-choked voice. “Come back in—in two hours. I will decide on what to do by then.”
She closed the door on me herself, and I heard her lock it.
It seemed to me that that decision could only take one form. With those pearls missing, the earl must be informed of what had happened—his wife must tell him.
I returned to my office as soon as I had dined. Killingley was the most obliging of clerks; he never went away as long as there was a chance of my wanting him. Now, as I entered, he handed me a sealed letter which was addressed in an unfamiliar writing.
“This was brought by special messenger an hour ago, sir,” he said.
I carried the letter into my private room and cut it open. I drew from it a sheet of notepaper destitute of any address—the communication upon it was hastily written in pencil. I glanced first at the end, and saw that the letter was merely initialed. The initials were “G. M.”
“Captain Guy Molesworth,” I said to myself, spreading the sheet out. “Now for some more light—or darkness.”
“Dear Sir,” ran this precious epistle, “I sent my cousin to you this afternoon in relation to the loss of her jewel-case at King’s Cross Station somewhat earlier. As I don’t wish her to remain in suspense longer than is necessary, I write to you as to what I know of this affair. You will kindly communicate to Lady Langthwaite what I have to say.
“I may as well be brutally frank, and confess that when my cousin told me of the existence of the £5,000 in notes in her jewel-case, I made a very hasty alteration of my plans. It had been my original plan to obtain the £5,000 from her this evening; her remark that the sum was in the jewel-case, left in the maid’s custody, showed me a better way, and also a way which would not involve Lady Langthwaite any further with me.
“On entering the private room at the hotel to lunch, my cousin left me for a few moments. She also left, lying under her handbag, a bunch of keys, one of which I knew was that of the jewel-case. I took the keys, made an excuse to her when she returned, and went back to the station. The maid, who knew me very well, made no objection when I said that her mistress wanted the jewel-case. She handed it over at once, and I carried it to the hotel, possessed myself of the notes, and took the case back to Antoinette. I saw Antoinette then pass into the refreshment-room carrying the case with her.
“When Lady Langthwaite and I went to the station after lunch, we found that Antoinette had disappeared. I immediately saw that it would be very awkward for me to join in any search for her. My own object was attained, and after sending my cousin to you, I set about my own business.
“That business is now finished, and I am off. I may as well tell you that it would be as impossible to track me, or to find me, as to resuscitate Queen Anne. My plans are perfected. I shall never be seen again; I am starting a new life. But I want you to let my cousin know that wherever they may have got to, I did not appropriate her jewels. All I wanted was the £5,000. With that I shall make myself a man again.
“That’s all—except that I hope Antoinette and the jewel-case will come to hand. I understand that it only contained my cousin’s personal adornments—what a catastrophe if the celebrated Langthwaite pearls had been in it!—G. M.”
I folded this communication into its cover and, having looked at my watch, departed for Claridge’s. The two hours stipulated for by Lady Langthwaite had gone by, and I was prepared to give her my final advice.
The letter from Molesworth I regarded as a piece of bluff—the most impudent bluff I had ever known of. Did he really think that I was to be taken in by it?
I was admitted at once to Lady Langthwaite. It seemed to me that she had been through a scene with herself; she was very pale, and her eyes were unnaturally bright. I lost no time in handing her Molesworth’s letter. She read it through and handed it back to me without comment.
“Well?” she said.
“Lady Langthwaite,” I replied, “there is only one thing to do. Lord Langthwaite must be informed of all that has happened. You must inform him yourself in your own way. I have no doubt whatever that Molesworth and your maid were in collusion, and that they met after he left you. The police must be employed, and in order that they may be called in, you must tell your husband of what has happened.”
“Then I shall have to tell him everything,” she said, “and that will mean—oh, I don’t know what it will mean! I have been a fool—and now——”
“Pardon me,” I said; “but I don’t know that everything need be told. It was natural for you to travel to London; it was natural that your cousin should meet you. If he and the maid were in collusion, what better proof of your innocence can you have? And again——”
Before I could proceed further, there came sounds outside the door; a deep voice said, “This room?” the door opened, and a tall man walked in.
The Earl of Langthwaite!
It was said that the Earl had a reputation for cynical humour which was really not ill-natured. He smiled now as he nodded to his astonished wife and looked rather slyly at me.
“Well, my dear,” he said pleasantly, “as I was passing I thought I would call in and ask if you intend staying here or coming round to Berkeley Square. I see, however, that you are engaged with Mr. Campenhaye—I know you by sight, Mr. Campenhaye, as I do by reputation—and I have no doubt it is on important business.”
I bowed to Lord Langthwaite and turned to his wife. She had flushed a little, but she regarded her husband steadily. And with a sudden resolve she came straight to the point.
“William,” she said, “I have lost my jewel-case.”
The Earl gave a start of surprise.
“Ah!” he exclaimed.
“It is all my fault,” she said. “I—I broke my promise to you. I let Antoinette carry it.”
“Ah!” again exclaimed the Earl.
“Antoinette has disappeared with it,” continued Lady Langthwaite. “And—William—the family pearls were in it.”
The Earl had turned his back upon me and his wife, and appeared to be studying a picture on the wall. It seemed to be a long, long time before he faced Lady Langthwaite again.
“You have no doubt suffered greatly because of this?” he said.
She flashed a quick look at him.
“I have been—miserably contrite!” she answered.
I could swear that the Earl’s eye twinkled.
“When children say that they are really sorry and have suffered,” he said, “the only thing to do is—to forgive them. So we will go home and see if we cannot find Antoinette and the missing jewel-case.”
The Countess looked at him quickly. So did I. The Earl chuckled drily.
“The fact is,” he said, giving me an arch look, “Antoinette and the jewel-case are at Berkeley Square—safe. You see, I happened to go to King’s Cross this afternoon to meet a friend, and I encountered Mademoiselle Antoinette strolling out of the refreshment-room with the jewel-case, and as I remembered your promise, my dear, and my warning, I determined to give you a sharp lesson. So I bundled Antoinette into my motor-car without ceremony. She and the jewel-case are quite in safe keeping. Now put your things on and we will go to them.”
The Countess left the room in a great hurry, and the Earl turned to me.
“You can keep secrets, Mr. Campenhaye,” he said, “so I’ll tell you an interesting one. My wife thinks that the real Langthwaite pearls are in that case. They are not. What is in there is a magnificent imitation set, which only real experts could tell not to be the real ones. I keep that set down at Langthwaite. But the real ones—ah, they are safely locked up in the vaults of the Bank of England.”
As the little local train wound slowly along the narrow and tortuous valley to which I had hastily travelled down from London in response to an urgent summons received that day at noon, I thought, looking around and above me from the carriage window, that I had rarely found myself amidst wilder surroundings. I was aware that I was penetrating into the heart of the Penine Range at its highest and bleakest point, but I had never until then realised that we possess scenery in England which, under certain circumstances, can justly be termed savage. Although it was yet early autumn, the evening was cold and gloomy; overhead the sky was dull and grey; the treeless, verdureless sides of the hills loomed black and forbidding. Blackness and greyness, indeed, were the note of the scenery through which I was passing; in the valley itself was nothing but grey houses and the high, grey walls of factories and mills; here and there rushed down from the heights above foaming cataracts of water that did their work in some mill dam and emerged, having done it, turgid and discoloured, into the black river whose curves the railway follows. And as we followed it further the valley narrowed until it seemed that we must be presently swallowed up in some cavernous opening of the rocky and mountainous mass which loomed in front.
The train suddenly slackened its slow speed; we rounded a sharp curve and ran into a small station on the smoke-blackened railings of which appeared a board bearing the name Wolverdale. Beyond the railings and across the black river, I saw grey roofs and grey walls and amongst them tall chimneys which poured out thick clouds of dun-coloured smoke as if in tribute to the hills which looked down on them. This, then, was the place to which I had been peremptorily summoned; to me it suggested not crime, perhaps, but certainly the idea of an atmosphere in which the more sordid things of life might well happen.
I had scarcely opened the carriage door before a tall man, slender, slightly-bearded, very well attired in black, appeared before me and extended a hand. Behind him followed a man who seemed from his dress to be a groom, and at a sign from the other took charge of my baggage.
“Mr. Harthwaite?” I said, as I took the offered hand.
“Mr. John Harthwaite,” he responded, as if there were some reason for giving his Christian name. “I am much obliged to you for responding so promptly to my telegram. My motor-car is outside, let my man see to your things. And,” he added, giving me a side-glance as we walked along the narrow, wood-paved platform, “as to why I brought you down I will tell you in a few minutes—when we are alone.”
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