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The Mystery Queen written by Fergus Hume who was a prolific English novelist. This book was published in 1912. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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The Mystery Queen
ILLUSTRATIONS BYHOWARD SOMERVILLE
CHAPTER I. A STRANGE VISITOR
CHAPTER II. A COMPLETE MYSTERY
CHAPTER III. DUTY BEFORE PLEASURE
CHAPTER IV. AN AMATEUR DETECTIVE
CHAPTER V. MUDDY WATER
CHAPTER VI. THE INVENTOR
CHAPTER VII. THE HERMIT LADIES
CHAPTER VIII. AVIATION
CHAPTER IX. MAHOMET'S COFFIN
CHAPTER X. ANOTHER MYSTERY
CHAPTER XI. ON THE TRAIL
CHAPTER XII. AN AMAZING ADVENTURE
CHAPTER XIII. A BOLD DETERMINATION
CHAPTER XIV. A BUSY AFTERNOON
CHAPTER XV. ABSOLUTE PROOF
CHAPTER XVI. DAN'S DIPLOMACY
CHAPTER XVII. AT BAY
CHAPTER XVIII. THE FLIGHT
CHAPTER XIX. TREACHERY
CHAPTER XX. QUEEN BEELZEBUB'S END
CHAPTER XXI. SUNSHINE
"TAKE ME AWAY; TAKE ME AWAY!" SHE CRIED PITEOUSLY.
"A penny for your thoughts, dad," cried Lillian, suppressing a school-girl desire to throw one of the nuts on her plate at her father and rouse him from his brown study.
Sir Charles Moon looked up with a start, and drew his bushy gray eye-brows together. "Some people would give more than that to know them, my dear."
"What sort of people?" asked the young man who sat beside Lillian, industriously cracking nuts for her consumption.
"Dangerous people," replied Sir Charles grimly, "very dangerous, Dan."
Mrs. Bolstreath, fat, fair, and fifty, Lillian's paid companion and chaperon, leaned back complacently. She had enjoyed an excellent dinner: she was beautifully dressed: and shortly she would witness the newest musical comedy; three very good reasons for her amiable expression. "All people are dangerous to millionaires," she remarked, pointing the compliment at her employer, "since all people enjoy life with wealth, and wish to get the millionaire's money honestly or dishonestly."
"The people you mention have failed to get mine, Mrs. Bolstreath," was the millionaire's dry response.
"Of course I speak generally and not of any particular person, Sir Charles."
"I am aware of it," he answered, nodding and showed a tendency to relapse into his meditation, but that his daughter raised her price for confession.
"A sixpence for your thoughts, dad, a shilling—ten shillings—then one pound, you insatiable person."
"My kingdom for an explicit statement," murmured Dan, laying aside the crackers. "Lillian, my child, you must not eat any more nuts or you will be having indigestion."
"I believe dad has indigestion already."
"Some people will have it very badly before I am done with them," said Sir Charles, not echoing his daughter's laughter; then, to prevent further questions being asked, he addressed himself to the young man. "How are things going with you, Halliday?"
When Sir Charles asked questions thus stiffly, Dan knew that he was not too well pleased, and guessed the reason, which had to do with Lillian, and with Lillian's friendly attitude towards a swain not overburdened with money—to wit, his very own self—who replied diplomatically. "Things are going up with me, sir, if you mean aeroplanes."
"Frivolous! Frivolous!" muttered the big man seriously, "as a well-educated young man who wants money, you should aim at higher things."
"He aims at the sun," said Lillian gaily, "how much higher do you expect him to aim, dad?"
"Aiming at the sun is he?" said Moon heavily, "h'm! He'll be like that classical chap who flew too high and came to smash."
"Do you mean Icarus or Phaeton, Sir Charles?" asked Mrs. Bolstreath, who, having been a governess, prided herself upon exceptional knowledge.
"I don't know which of the two, perhaps one, perhaps both. But he flew in an aeroplane like Dan here, and came to grief."
"Oh!" Lillian turned distinctly pale. "I hope, Dan, you won't come to grief."
Before the guest could reply, Sir Charles reassured his daughter. "Naught was never in danger," he said, still grim and unsmiling, "don't trouble, Lillian, my dear. Dan won't come to grief in that way, although he may in another."
Lillian opened her blue eyes and stared while young Halliday grew crimson and fiddled with the nut-shells. "I don't know what you mean, dad?" said the girl after a puzzled pause.
"I think Dan does," rejoined her father, rising and pushing back his chair slowly. He looked at his watch, "Seven-thirty; you have plenty of time to see your play, which does not begin until nine," he added, walking towards the door. "Mrs. Bolstreath, I should like to speak with you."
"My dear Lillian, I have no time to wait. There is an important appointment at nine o'clock here, and afterwards I must go to the House. Go and enjoy yourself, but don't"—here his stern gray eyes rested on Dan's bent head in a significant way—"don't be foolish. Mrs. Bolstreath," he beckoned, and left the room.
"Oh!" sighed the chaperon-governess-companion, for she was all three, a kind of modern Cerebus, guarding the millionaire's child. "I thought it would come to this!" and she also looked significantly at Halliday before she vanished to join her employer.
Lillian stared at the closed door through which both her father and Mrs. Bolstreath had passed, and then looked at Dan, sitting somewhat disconsolately at the disordered dinner-table. She was a delicately pretty girl of a fair, fragile type, not yet twenty years of age, and resembled a shepherdess of Dresden china in her dainty perfection. With her pale golden hair, and rose-leaf complexion, arrayed in a simple white silk frock with snowy pearls round her slender neck, she looked like a wraith of faint mist. At least Dan fancifully thought so, as he stole a glance at her frail beauty, or perhaps she was more like a silver-point drawing, exquisitely fine. But whatever image love might find to express her loveliness, Dan knew in his hot passion that she was the one girl in the world for him. Lillian Halliday was a much better name for her than Lillian Moon.
Dan himself was tall and slim, dark and virile, with a clear-cut, clean-shaven face suggestive of strength and activity. His bronzed complexion showed an open-air life, while the eagle look in his dark eyes was that new vast-distance expression rapidly being acquired by those who devote themselves to aviation. No one could deny Dan's good looks or clean life, or daring nature, and he was all that a girl could desire in the way of a fairy prince. But fathers do not approve of fairy princes unless they come laden with jewels and gold. To bring such to Lillian was rather like taking coals to Newcastle since her father was so wealthy; but much desires more, and Sir Charles wanted a rich son-in-law. Dan could not supply this particular adjective, and therefore—as he would have put it in the newest slang of the newest profession—was out of the fly. Not that he intended to be, in spite of Sir Charles, since love can laugh at stern fathers as easily as at bolts and bars. And all this time Lillian stared at the door, and then at Dan, and then at her plate, putting two and two together. But in spite of her feminine intuition, she could not make four, and turned to her lover—for that Dan was, and a declared lover too—for an explanation. "What does dad mean?" Dan raised his handsome head and laughed as grimly as Sir Charles had done earlier. "He means that I shan't be asked to dinner any more."
"Why? You have done nothing."
"No; but I intend to do something."
"What's that?" Dan glanced at the closed door and seeing that there was no immediate chance of butler or footmen entering took her in his arms. "Marry you," he whispered between two kisses. "There's no intention about that," pouted the girl; "we have settled that ever so long ago."
"So your father suspects, and for that reason he is warning Mrs. Bolstreath."
"Warning the dragon," said Miss Moon, who used the term quite in an affectionate way, "why, the dragon is on our side."
"I daresay your father guesses as much. For that reason I'll stake my life that he is telling her at this moment she must never let us be together alone after this evening. After all, my dear, I don't see why you should look at me in such a puzzled way. You know well enough that Sir Charles wants you to marry Curberry."
"Marry Lord Curberry," cried Lillian, her pale skin coloring to a deep rose hue; "why I told dad I wouldn't do that." "Did you tell dad that you loved me?"
"No. There's no need to," said the girl promptly. Dan coughed drily. "I quite agree with you," he said rising, "there's no need to, since every time I look at you, I give myself away. But you surely understand, darling, that as I haven't a title and I haven't money, I can't have you. Hothouse grapes are for the rich and not for a poor devil like me."
"You might find a prettier simile," laughed Lillian, not at all discomposed, although she now thoroughly understood the meaning of her father's abrupt departure with Mrs. Bolstreath. Then she rose and took Dan by the lapels of his coat, upon which he promptly linked her to himself by placing both arms round her waist. "Dearest," she said earnestly, "I shall marry you and you only. We have been brought up more or less together, and we have always loved one another. Dad was your guardian: you have three hundred a year of your own, and if we marry dad can give us plenty, and——"
"I know all that," interrupted Halliday, placing her arms round his neck, "and it is just because Sir Charles knows also, that he will never consent to our marriage. I knew what was in the wind weeks ago, darling heart, and every day I have been expecting what has occurred to-night. For that reason, I have come here as often as possible and have arranged for you and the dragon to go to the theatre to-night. But, believe me, Lillian, it will be for the last time. To-morrow I shall receive a note saying that I am to stay away from Lord Curberry's bride."
"I'm not his bride and I never shall be," stamped Lillian, and the tears came into her pretty eyes, whereupon Dan, as a loyal lover, wiped them away with his pocket-handkerchief tenderly, "and—and—" she faltered. "And—and—" he mocked, knowing her requirements, which led him to console her with a long and lingering kiss. "Oh!" he sighed and Lillian, nestling in his arms, echoed the sigh. The moment of perfect understanding and perfect love held them until the sudden opening of the door placed Dan on one side of the table and Lillian on the other. "It won't do, my dears," said the new-comer, who was none other than Mrs. Bolstreath, flaming with wrath, but not, as the lovers found later, at them. "I know quite well that Dan hasn't wasted his time in this league-divided wooing."
"We thought that one of the servants——" began the young man, when Mrs. Bolstreath interrupted. "Well, and am I not one of the servants? Sir Charles has reminded me of the fact three times with the information that I am not worth my salt, much less the good table he keeps."
"Oh! Bolly dear," and Lillian ran to the stout chaperon to embrace her with many kisses, "was dad nasty?"
"He wasn't agreeable," assented Mrs. Bolstreath, fanning herself with her handkerchief, for the interview had heated her. "You can't expect him to be, my sweet, when his daughter loves a pauper." "Thank you," murmured Dan bowing, "but don't you think it is time we went to the theatre, Bolly dear."
"You must not be so familiar, young man," said the chaperon, broadly smiling at the dark handsome face. "Sir Charles wants Lillian to marry——"
"Then I shan't!" Lillian stamped again, "I hate Lord Curberry." "And you love Dan!"
"Don't be so familiar, young woman," said Halliday, in a joking way, "unless you are on our side, that is."
"If I were not on your side," rejoined Mrs. Bolstreath, majestically, "I should be the very dragon Lillian calls me. After all, Dan, you are poor."
"Poor, but honest."
"Worse and worse. Honest people never grow rich. And then you have such a dangerous profession, taking people flying trips in those aeroplanes. One never can be sure if you will be home to supper. I'm sure Lillian would not care to marry a husband who was uncertain about being home for supper."
"I'll marry Dan," said Lillian, and embraced Dan, who returned the embrace. "Children! Children!" Mrs. Bolstreath raised her hands in horror, "think of what you are doing. The servants may be in at any moment. Come to the drawing-room and have coffee. The motor-car is waiting and —hush, separate, separate," cried the chaperon, "someone is coming!" She spoke truly, for the lovers had just time to fly asunder when Sir Charles's secretary entered swiftly. He was a lean, tall, haggard-looking young fellow of thirty with a pallid complexion and scanty light hair. A thin moustache half concealed a weak mouth, and he blinked his eyes in a nervous manner when he bowed to the ladies and excused his presence. "Sir Charles left his spectacles here," he said in a soft and rather unsteady voice, "he sent me for them and——" he had glided to the other side of the table by this time—"oh, here they are. The motor-car waits, Miss Moon."
"Where is my father?" asked Lillian irrelevantly. "Tell me, Mr. Penn."
"In the library, Miss Moon," said the secretary glibly, "but he cannot see any one just now—not even you, Miss Moon."
"He is waiting to interview an official from Scotland Yard—a Mr. Durwin on important business."
"You see," murmured Dan to Lillian in an undertone, "your father intends to lock me up for daring to love you." Miss Moon took no notice. "What is the business?" she asked sharply. "Indeed, I don't know, Miss Moon. It is strictly private. Sir Charles has related nothing to me. And if you will excuse me—if you don't mind—these spectacles are wanted and——" he babbled himself out of the room, while Mrs. Bolstreath turned on her charge. "You don't mean to say, you foolish child, that you were going to see your father about 'this'!" she indicated Halliday. "I don't care about being called a 'this'!" said Dan, stiffly. Neither lady noticed the protest. "I want to make it clear to my father as soon as possible, that I shall marry Dan and no one else," declared Lillian, pursing up her pretty mouth obstinately. "Then take him at the right moment," retorted Mrs. Bolstreath crossly, for the late interview had tried even her amiable temper. "Just now he is seething with indignation that an aviator should dare to raise his eyes to you."
"Aviators generally look down," said Dan flippantly; "am I to be allowed to take you and Lillian to the theatre this evening?"
"Yes. Although Sir Charles mentioned that you would do better to spend your money on other things than mere frivolity." "Oh!" said Halliday with a shrug, "as to that, this particular frivolity is costing me nothing. I got the box from Freddy Laurance, who is on that very up-to-date newspaper The Moment as a reporter. I have dined at my future father-in-law's expense, and now I go in his motor-car without paying for the trip. I don't see that my pleasures could cost me less. Even Sir Charles must be satisfied with such strict economy."
"Sir Charles will be satisfied with nothing save a promise for you to go away and leave Lillian alone," said Mrs. Bolstreath, sadly, "he has no feeling of romance such as makes me foolish enough to encourage a pauper."
"You called me that before," said Dan, coolly, "well, there's no getting over facts. I am a pauper, but I love Lillian."
"And I—" began Lillian, advancing, only to be waved back and prevented from speaking further by Mrs. Bolstreath. "Don't make love before my very eyes," she said crossly, "after all I am paid to keep you two apart, and—and—well, there's no time for coffee, so we had better finish the discussion in the car. There is plenty of time between Hampstead and the Strand to allow of a long argument. And remember, Dan," Mrs. Bolstreath turned at the door to shake her finger, "this is your last chance of uninterrupted conversation with Lillian."
"Let us make honey while the flowers bloom," whispered Halliday, poetically, and stole a final and hasty kiss before he led the girl after the amiable dragon, who had already left the room. The lovers found her talking to a poorly-dressed and rather stout female clothed in rusty mourning, who looked the picture of decent but respectable poverty. The entrance door stood open, and the waiting motor-car could be seen at the steps, while the footman stood near Mrs. Bolstreath, watching her chatting to the stranger and wearing an injured expression. It seemed that the decent woman wished to see Sir Charles, and the footman had refused her admission since his master was not to be disturbed. The woman—she called herself Mrs. Brown and was extremely tearful—had therefore appealed to the dragon, who was explaining that she could do nothing. "Oh, but I am sure you can get Sir Charles Moon to see me, my lady," wailed Mrs. Brown with a dingy handkerchief to her red eyes, "my son has been lost overboard off one of those steamers Sir Charles owns, and I want to ask him to give me some money. My son was my only support, and now I am starving." Lillian knew that her father owned a number of tramp steamers, which picked up cargoes all over the world, and saw no reason why the woman should not have the interview since her son had been drowned while in Moon's service. The hour was certainly awkward, since Sir Charles had an appointment before he went down to the House. But a starving woman and a sorrowful woman required some consideration so she stepped forward hastily and touched Mrs. Brown's rusty cloak. "I shall ask my father to see you," she said quickly, "wait here!" and without consulting Mrs. Bolstreath she went impulsively to her father's study, while Mrs. Brown dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and called down blessings on her young head. Dan believed the story of the lost son, but doubted the tale of starvation as Mrs. Brown looked too stout to have been without food for any length of time. He looked hard at her face, which was more wrinkled than a fat woman's should be; although such lines might be ascribed to grief. She wept profusely and was so overcome with sorrow that she let down a ragged veil when she saw Dan's eager gaze. The young gentleman, she observed, could not understand a mother's feelings, or he would not make a show of her by inquisitorial glances. The remark was somewhat irrelevant, and the action of letting down the veil unnecessary, but much might be pardoned to a woman so obviously afflicted. Dan was about to excuse his inquiring looks, when Lillian danced back with the joyful information that her father would see Mrs. Brown for a few minutes if she went in at once. "And I have asked him to help you," said the girl, patting the tearful woman's shoulder, as she passed to the motor-car. "Oh! It's past eight o'clock. Dan, we'll never be in time."
"The musical comedy doesn't begin until nine," Halliday assured her, and in a few minutes the three of them were comfortably seated in the luxurious car, which whirled at break-neck speed towards the Strand. Of course Lillian and Dan took every advantage of the opportunity, seeing that Mrs. Bolstreath was sympathetic enough to close her eyes to their philanderings. They talked all the way to the Curtain Theatre; they talked all through the musical comedy; and talked all the way back to the house at Hampstead. Mrs. Bolstreath, knowing that the young couple would not have another opportunity for uninterrupted love-making, and being entirely in favor of the match, attended to the stage and left them to whisper unreproved. She did not see why Dan, whom Lillian had loved since the pair had played together as children, should be set aside in favor of a dry-as-dust barrister, even though he had lately come into a fortune and a title. "But, of course," said Mrs. Bolstreath between the facts, "if you could only invent a perfect flying-machine, they would make you a duke or something and give you a large income. Then you could marry."
"What are you talking about, Bolly darling?" asked Lillian, much puzzled, as she could not be supposed to know what was going on inside her friend's head. "About you and Dan, dear. He has no money and——"
"I shall make heaps and heaps of money," said Dan, sturdily; "aviation is full of paying possibilities, and the nation that first obtains command of the air will rule the world. I'm no fool!"
"You're a commoner," snapped Mrs. Bolstreath quickly, "and unless, as I said, you are made a duke for inventing a perfect aeroplane, Lord Curberry is certainly a better match for Lillian."
"He's as dull as tombs," said Miss Moon with her pretty nose in the air. "You can't expect to have everything, my dear child."
"I can expect to have Dan," retorted Lillian decidedly, whereat Dan whispered sweet words and squeezed his darling's gloved hand. "Well," said Mrs. Bolstreath, as the curtain rose on the second act, "I'll do my best to help you since I believe in young love and true love. Hush, children, people are looking! Attend to the stage." Dan and Lillian did their best to follow her advice and sat demurely in their stalls side by side, watching the heroine flirt in a duet with the hero, both giving vent to their feelings in a lively musical number. But they really took little interest in "The Happy Bachelor!" as the piece was called, in spite of the pretty girls and the charming music and the artistic dresses and the picturesque scenery. They were together and that was all they cared about, and although a dark cloud of parental opposition hovered over them, they were not yet enveloped in its gloom. And after all, since Mrs. Bolstreath was strongly prejudiced in their favor, Lillian hoped that she might induce Sir Charles to change his mind as regards Lord Curberry. He loved his daughter dearly and would not like to see her unhappy, as she certainly would be if compelled to marry any one but Dan. Lillian said this to Mrs. Bolstreath and to Dan several times on the way home, and they entirely agreed with her. "Although I haven't much influence with Sir Charles," Mrs. Bolstreath warned them, "and he is fond of having his own way."
"He always does what I ask," said Lillian confidently. "Why, although he was so busy this evening he saw Mrs. Brown when I pleaded for her."
"He couldn't resist you," whispered Dan fondly, "no one could." Mrs. Bolstreath argued this point, saying that Lillian was Sir Charles's daughter, and fathers could not be expected to feel like lovers. She also mentioned that she was jeopardizing her situation by advocating the match, which was certainly a bad one from a financial point of view, and would be turned out of doors as an old romantic fool. The lovers assured her she was the most sensible of women and that if she was turned out of doors they would take her in to the cottage where they proposed to reside like two turtle doves. Then came laughter and kisses and the feeling that the world was not such a bad place after all. It was a very merry trio that alighted at the door of Moon's great Hampstead mansion. Then came a shock, the worse for being wholly unexpected. At the door the three were met by Marcus Penn, who was Moon's secretary. He looked leaner and more haggard than ever, and his general attitude was that of the bearer of evil news. Dan and Lillian and Mrs. Bolstreath stared at him in amazement. "You may as well know the worst at once, Miss Moon," said Penn, his lips quivering with nervousness, "your father is dead. He has been murdered."
It was Mrs. Bolstreath who carried Lillian upstairs in her stout arms, for when Penn made his brusque announcement the girl fainted straight away, which was very natural considering the horror of the information. Dan remained behind to tell the secretary that he was several kinds of fool, since no one but a superfine ass would blurt out so terrible a story to a delicate girl. Not that Penn had told his story, for Lillian had become unconscious the moment her bewildered brain grasped that the father she had left a few hours earlier in good health and spirits was now a corpse. But he told it to Dan, and mentioned that Mr. Durwin was in the library wherein the death had taken place. "Mr. Durwin? Who is Mr. Durwin?" asked Dan trying to collect his senses, which had been scattered by the dreadful news. "An official from Scotland Yard; I told you so after dinner," said Penn in an injured tone, "he came to see Sir Charles by appointment at nine o'clock and found him a corpse."
"Sir Charles was alive when we left shortly after eight," remarked Dan sharply; "at a quarter-past eight to be precise. What took place in the meantime?"
"Obviously the violent death of Sir Charles," faltered the secretary. "What evidence have you to show that he died by violence?" asked Halliday. "Mr. Durwin called in a doctor, and he says that Sir Charles had been poisoned," blurted out Penn uneasily. "I believe that woman—Mrs. Brown she called herself—poisoned him. She left the house at a quarter to nine, so the footman says, for he let her out, and——"
"It is impossible that a complete stranger should poison Sir Charles," interrupted Dan impatiently, "she would not have the chance."
"She was alone with Sir Charles for thirty minutes, more or less," said Penn tartly; "she had every chance and she took it."
"But how could she induce Sir Charles to drink poison?"
"She didn't induce him to drink anything. The doctor says that the scratch at the back of the dead man's neck——"
"Here!" Dan roughly pushed the secretary aside, becoming impatient of the scrappy way in which he detailed what had happened. "Let me go to the library for myself and see what has happened. Sir Charles can't be dead."
"It's twelve o'clock now," retorted Penn stepping aside, "and he's been dead quite three hours, as the doctor will tell you." Before the man finished his sentence, Dan, scarcely grasping the situation, so rapidly had it evolved, ran through the hall, towards the back of the spacious house, where the library was situated. He dashed into the large and luxuriously furnished room and collided with a police officer, who promptly took him by the shoulder. There were three other men in the room, who turned from the corpse at which they were looking, when they heard the noise of Halliday's abrupt entrance. The foremost man, and the one who spoke first, was short and stout and arrayed in uniform, with cold gray eyes, and a hard mouth. "What's this—what's this?" he demanded in a raucous voice. "Who are you?"
"My name is Halliday," said Dan hurriedly. "I am engaged to Miss Moon and we have just returned from the theatre to hear—to hear——" He caught sight of Moon's body seated in the desk-chair and drooping limply over the table. "Oh, it is true, then! He is dead. Good heavens! Who murdered him?"
"How do you know that Sir Charles has been murdered?" asked the officer sternly. "Mr. Penn, the secretary, told me just now in the hall," said Dan, shaking himself free of the policeman. "He blurted it out like a fool, and Miss Moon has fainted. Mrs. Bolstreath has taken her upstairs. But how did it come about? Who found the body, and——"
"I found the body," interrupted one of the other men, who was tall and calm-faced, with a bald head and a heavy iron-gray moustache, perfectly clothed in fashionable evening-dress, and somewhat imperious in his manner of speaking. "I had an appointment with Sir Charles at nine o'clock and came here to find him, as you now see him"—he waved his hand toward the desk—"the doctor will tell you how he died."
"By poison," said the third man, who was dark, young, unobtrusive and retiring in manner. "You see this deep scratch on the back of the neck. In that way the poison was administered. I take it that Sir Charles was bending over his desk and the person who committed the crime scratched him with some very sharp instrument impregnated with poison."
"Mrs. Brown!" gasped Dan, staring at the heavy, swollen body of his late guardian, whom he had dined with in perfect health. The three men glanced at one another as he said the name, and even the policeman on guard at the door looked interested. The individual in uniform spoke with his cold eyes on Dan's agitated face. "What do you know of Mrs. Brown, Mr. Halliday?" he demanded abruptly. "Don't you know that a woman of that name called here?"
"Yes. The secretary, Mr. Penn, told us that Miss Moon induced her father to see a certain Mrs. Brown, who claimed that her son had been drowned while working on one of the steamers owned by Sir Charles. You saw her also, I believe?"
"I was in the hall when Miss Moon went to induce her father to see the poor woman. That was about a quarter-past eight o'clock."
"And Mrs. Brown—as we have found from inquiry—left the house at a quarter to nine. Do you think she is guilty?"
"I can't say. Didn't the footman see the body—that is if Mrs. Brown committed the crime—when he came to show her out? Sir Charles would naturally ring his bell when the interview was over, and the footman would come to conduct her to the door."
"Sir Charles never rang his bell!" said the officer, drily. "Mrs. Brown passed through the entrance hall at a quarter to nine o'clock, and mentioned to the footman—quite unnecessarily, I think—that Sir Charles had given her money. He let her out of the house. Naturally, the footman not hearing any bell did not enter this room, nor—so far as any one else is concerned—did a single person. Only when Mr. Durwin——"
"I came at nine o'clock," interrupted the baldheaded man imperiously, "to keep my appointment. The footman told Mr. Penn, who took me to Sir Charles. He knocked but there was no answer, so he opened the door and we saw this." He again waved his hands towards the body. "Does Mr. Penn know nothing?" asked Halliday, doubtfully. "No," answered the other. "Inspector Tenson has questioned him carefully in my presence. Mr. Penn says that he brought Sir Charles his spectacles from the dining-room before you left for the theatre with the two ladies, and then was sent to his own room by his employer to write the usual letters. He remained there until nine o'clock when he was called out to receive me, and we know that Mr. Penn speaks truly, for the typewriting girl who was typing Sir Charles's letters to Mr. Penn's dictation, says that he did not leave the room all the time. "May I look at the body?" asked Dan approaching the desk, and, on receiving an affirmative reply from Durwin, bent over the dead. The corpse was much swollen, the face indeed being greatly bloated, while the deep scratch on the nape of the neck looked venomous and angry. Yet it was a slight wound to bring about so great a catastrophe, and the poison must have been very deadly and swift; deadly because apparently Sir Charles had no time to move before it did its work, and swift because he could not even have called for assistance, which he surely would have done had he been able to keep his senses. Dan mentioned this to the watchful doctor, who nodded. "I can't say for certain," he remarked cautiously, "but I fancy that snake-poison has been used. That will be seen to, when the post-mortem is made."
"And this fly?" Halliday pointed to an insect which was just behind the left ear of the dead man. "Fly!" echoed Inspector Tenson in surprise, and hastily advancing to look. "A fly in November. Impossible! Yet it is a fly, and dead. If not," he swept the neck of the corpse with his curved hand, "it would get away. H'm! Now I wonder what this means? Get me a magnifying glass." There was not much difficulty in procuring one, as such an article lay on the desk itself, being used, no doubt, by Sir Charles to aid his failing sight when he examined important documents. Tenson inspected the fly and removed it—took it to a near electric light and examined it. Then he came back and examined the place behind the left ear whence he had removed it. "It's been gummed on," he declared in surprise—a surprise which was also visible in the faces of the other men; "you can see the glistening spot on the skin, and the fly's legs are sticky." He balanced the fly on his little finger as he spoke. "I am sure they are sticky, although it is hard to say with such a small insect. However," he carefully put away the fly in a silver matchbox, "we'll have this examined under a more powerful glass. You are all witnesses, gentlemen, that a fly was found near the wound which caused Sir Charles Moon's death."
"And the scent? What about the scent?" Dan sniffed as he spoke and then bent his nose to the dead man. "It seems to come from his clothes."
"Scent!" echoed Durwin sharply and sniffed. "Yes, I observed that scent. But I did not take any notice of it."
"Nor did I," said the doctor. "I noticed it also."
"And I," followed on the Inspector, "and why should we take notice of it, Mr. Halliday? Many men use scent."
"Sir Charles never did," said Dan emphatically, "he hated scents of all kinds even when women used them. He certainly would never have used them himself. I'll swear to that."
"Then this scent assumes importance." Durwin sniffed again, and held his aquiline nose high. "It is fainter now. But I smelt it very strongly when I first came in and looked at the body. A strange perfume it is." The three men tried to realize the peculiar odor of the scent, and became aware that it was rich and heavy and sickly, and somewhat drowsy in its suggestion. "A kind of thing to render a man sleepy," said Dan, musingly. "Or insensible," said Inspector Tenson hastily, and put his nose to the dead man's chin and mouth. He shook his head as he straightened himself. "I fancied from your observation, Mr. Halliday, that the scent might have been used as a kind of chloroform, but there's no smell about the face. It comes from the clothes," he sniffed again, "yes, it certainly comes from the clothes. Did you smell this scent on Mrs. Brown?" he demanded suddenly. "No, I did not," admitted Halliday promptly, "otherwise I should certainly have noted it. I have a keen sense of smell. Mrs. Bolstreath and Lil—I mean Miss Moon—might have noticed it, however." At that moment, as if in answer to her name, the door opened suddenly and Lillian brushed past the policeman in a headlong entrance into the library. Her fair hair was in disorder, her face was bloodless, and her eyes were staring and wild. Behind her came Mrs. Bolstreath hurriedly, evidently trying to restrain her. But the girl would not be restrained, and rushed forward scattering the small group round the dead, to fling herself on the body. "Oh, father, father!" she sobbed, burying her face on the shoulder of her dearly-loved parent. "How awful it is. Oh, my heart will break. How shall I ever get over it. Father! father! father!" She wept and wailed so violently that the four men were touched by her great grief. Both Mr. Durwin and Inspector Tenson had daughters of their own, while the young doctor was engaged. They could feel for her thoroughly, and no one made any attempt to remove her from the body until Mrs. Bolstreath stepped forward. "Lillian, darling. Lillian, my child," she said soothingly, and tried to lead the poor girl away. But Lillian only clung closer to her beloved dead. "No! No! Let me alone. I can't leave him. Poor, dear father—oh, I shall die!"
"Dear," said Mrs. Bolstreath, raising her firmly but kindly, "your father is not there but in Heaven! Only the clay remains."
"It is all I have. And father was so good, so kind,—oh, who can have killed him in this cruel way?" She looked round with streaming eyes. "We think that a Mrs. Brown—" began the Inspector, only to be answered by a loud cry from the distraught girl. "Mrs. Brown! Then I have killed father! I have killed him! I persuaded him to see the woman, because she was in trouble. And she killed him—oh, the wretch—the—the—oh—oh! What had I done to her that she should rob me of my dear, kind father?" and she cried bitterly in her old friend's tender arms. "Had you ever seen Mrs. Brown before?" asked Durwin in his imperious voice, although he lowered it in deference to her grief. Lillian winced at the harsh sound. "No, No! I never saw her before. How could I have seen her before. She said that her son had been drowned, and that she was poor. I asked father to help her, and he told me he would. It's my fault that she saw my father and now"—her voice leaped an octave—"he's dead. Oh—oh! my father—my father!" and she tried to break from Mrs. Bolstreath's arms to fling herself on the dead once more. "Lillian darling, don't cry," said Dan, placing his hand on her shoulder. "You have not lost the dearest and best of fathers!" she sobbed violently. "Your loss is my loss," said Halliday in a voice of pain, "but we must be brave, both you and I." He associated himself with her so as to calm her grief. "It's not your fault that your dear father is dead."
"I persuaded him to see Mrs. Brown. And she—she—she——"
"We can't say if this woman is guilty, as yet," said Durwin hastily, "so do not blame yourself, Miss Moon. But did you smell any scent on this Mrs. Brown?" Lillian looked at him vacantly and shook her head. Then she burst once more into hard and painful sobbing, trying again to embrace the dead man. "Don't ask her any questions, sir," said Halliday, in a low voice to Mr. Durwin, "you see she is not in a fit state to reply. Lillian," he raised her up from her knees and gently but firmly detached her arms from the dead. "My darling, your father is past all earthly aid. We can do nothing but avenge him. Go with Mrs. Bolstreath and lie down. We must be firm."
"Firm! Firm!—and father dead!" wailed Lillian. "Oh, what a wretch that Mrs. Brown must be to kill him. Kill her, Dan—oh, make her suffer. My good, kind father, who—who—oh"—she flung herself on Dan's neck—"take me away; take me away!" and her lover promptly carried her to the door. Mrs. Bolstreath, who had been talking hurriedly to Inspector Tenson, came after the pair and took the girl from Dan. "She must lie down and have a sleeping-draught," she said softly. "If the doctor will come——" The doctor was only too glad to come. He was a young man beginning to practise medicine in the neighborhood, and had been hurriedly summoned in default of an older physician. The chance of gaining a new and wealthy patient was too good to lose, so he quickly followed Mrs. Bolstreath as she led the half-unconscious girl up the stairs. Dan closed the door and returned to the Inspector and the official from Scotland Yard. The former was speaking. "Mrs. Bolstreath did not smell any perfume on Mrs. Brown," he was saying, "and ladies are very quick to notice such things. Miss Moon also shook her head."
"I don't think Miss Moon was in a state of mind to understand what you were saying, Mr. Inspector," said Halliday, drily. "However, I am quite sure from my own observation that Mrs. Brown did not use the perfume. I would have noticed it at once, for I spotted it the moment I examined the body."
"So did I," said Durwin once more; "but I thought Sir Charles might have used it. You say he did not, therefore the scent is a clue." "It does not lead to the indictment of Mrs. Brown, however, sir," said Tenson thoughtfully, "since she had no perfume of that sort about her. But she must have killed Sir Charles, for she was the last person who saw him alive."
"She may come forward and exonerate herself," suggested Dan after a pause, "or she may have left her address with Sir Charles."
"I have glanced through the papers on the desk and can find no address," was the Inspector's reply; "yet, if she gave it to him, it would be there." Durwin meditated, then looked up. "As she was the mother of the man in Sir Charles's employment who was drowned," he said in his harsh voice, and now very official in his manner, "in the offices of the company who own the steamers—Sir Charles was a director and chief shareholder, I understand from his secretary, Mr. Penn—will be found the drowned man's address, which will be that of his mother."
"But I can't see what motive Mrs. Brown had to murder Sir Charles," remarked Dan in a puzzled tone. "We'll learn the motive when we find Mrs. Brown," said Tenson, who had made a note of Durwin's suggestion. "Many people think they have grievances against the rich, and we know that the late Sir Charles was a millionaire. He doubtless had enemies—dangerous enemies."
"Dangerous!" The word recalled to Dan what Moon had said at the dinner-table when Lillian had playfully offered him a penny for his thoughts. "Sir Charles at dinner said something about dangerous people."
"What did he say?" asked the Inspector and again opened his note-book. Dan reported the conversation, which was not very satisfactory as Moon had only spoken generally. Tenson noted down the few remarks, but did not appear to think them important. Durwin, however, was struck by what had been said. "Sir Charles asked me here to explain about a certain gang he believed was in existence," he remarked. "What's that, sir?" asked the Inspector alertly. "Did he tell you anything?"
"Of course he didn't. How could he when he was dead when I arrived," retorted Durwin with a frown. "He simply said that he wished to see me in my official capacity about some gang, but gave me no details. Those were to be left until I called here. He preferred to see me here instead of at my office for reasons which he declared he would state when we met in this room."
"Then you think that a gang——"
"Mr. Inspector," interrupted Durwin, stiffly, "I have told you all that was said by the deceased. Whether the gang is dangerous, or what the members do, or where they are, I cannot say. Have you examined those windows?" he asked suddenly, pointing to three French-windows at the side of the room. "Yes," said Tenson promptly, "as soon as I entered the apartment I did so. They are all locked."
"And if they were not, no one would enter there," put in Dan quickly. "Outside is a walled garden, and the wall is very high with broken bottles on top. I suppose, Mr. Durwin, you are thinking that some one may have come in to kill Sir Charles between the time of Mrs. Brown's departure and your coming?"
"Yes," assented the other sharply, "if the perfume is a clue, Mrs. Brown must be innocent. Penn, as we know from the statement of the typewriter girl, was in his room all the time, and the servants have fully accounted for themselves. We examined them all—the Inspector and I did, that is—when you were at the theatre," he waved his hand with a shrug. "Who can say who is guilty?"
"Well," said Tenson, snapping the elastic band round his note-book and putting it into his pocket, "we have the evidence of the fly and of the perfume."
"What do you think about the fly?" asked Dan, staring. "I don't know what to think. It is an artificial fly, exquisitely made and has been gummed on the dead man's neck behind the left ear. The assassin must have placed it there, since a man would scarcely do such a silly thing himself. Why, it was placed there I can't say, any more than I can guess why Sir Charles was murdered, or who murdered him. The affair is a complete mystery, as you must admit." Before the inquest and after the inquest, more people than the three men who had held the discussion in the presence of the dead, admitted that the affair was a mystery. In fact the evidence at the inquest only plunged the matter into deeper gloom. Tenson, acting on Durwin's advice, sought the office of the tramp-steamer company—The Universal Carrier Line—in which the late Sir Charles was chief shareholder and director, to learn without any difficulty the whereabouts of Mrs. Brown, the mother of the drowned man. She proved to be an entirely different person to the woman who had given the name on the fatal night, being lean instead of stout, comparatively young instead of old, and rather handsome in an elderly way in place of being wrinkled and worn with grief. She declared that she had never been near Moon's house on the night of the murder, or on any other night. Mrs. Bolstreath, Lillian, the footman, and Dan all swore that she was not the Mrs. Brown who had sought the interview with Sir Charles. Therefore it was argued by every one that Mrs. Brown, taking a false name and telling a false story, must have come to see Moon with the deliberate intention of murdering him. Search was made for her, but she could not be found. From the moment she passed out of the front door she had vanished, and although a description was published of her appearance, and a reward was offered for her apprehension no one came forward to claim it. Guilty or innocent, she was invisible. Inspector Tenson did not speak at the inquest of the gang about which Sir Charles had intended to converse with Mr. Durwin, as it did not seem to have any bearing on the case. Also, as Durwin suggested, if it had any bearing it was best to keep the matter quiet until more evidence was forthcoming to show that such a gang—whatever its business was—existed. Then the strange episode of the fly was suppressed for the same reason. Privately, Tenson informed Dan that he would not be surprised to learn that there was a gang of murderers in existence whose sign-manual was a fly, real or artificial, and instanced another gang, which had been broken up some years previously, who always impressed the figure of a purple fern on their victim. But the whole idea, said Tenson, was so vague that he thought it best to suppress the fact of the artificial fly on the dead man's neck. "If there's anything in it," finished the Inspector, "there's sure to be other murders committed, and the fly placed on the victim. We'll wait and see, and if a second case occurs we'll be sure that such a gang exists and will collar the beasts. Best to say nothing, Mr. Halliday." So he said nothing, and Dan said nothing, and Durwin, who approved of the necessary secrecy, held his tongue. Of course there was a lot of talk and many theories as to who had murdered the millionaire, and why he had been murdered in so ingenious a manner. The postmortem examination proved that Moon had died of snake-poison administered through the scratch on the neck, and the circumstantial evidence at the inquest went to show that he must have been taken unawares, while bending over his desk. Some people thought that Mrs. Brown was innocent because of the absence of the perfume; others declared she must be guilty on account of her false name and false story, and the fact that Moon was found dead a quarter of an hour after she left the house. No doubt the circumstantial evidence was very strong, but it could not be said positively that the woman was guilty, even though she did not appear to defend her character. So the jury thought, for they brought in the only possible verdict twelve good and lawful men could bring in: "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown," and there the matter ended for sheer want of further evidence. The affair was a mystery and a mystery it remained. "And will until the Day of Judgment!" said Tenson, finally.
The year ended sadly for Lillian, since she had lost her father, her lover, and her home; gaining instead the doubtful companionship of a paternal uncle, who stepped into the position of guardian. The girl, although she did not know it at the time, was leaving a pleasant flowery lane to turn into a flinty high road, arched by a dismal sky. It is true that she still possessed Mrs. Bolstreath to comfort her, but the loss of Dan could scarcely be compensated by the attentions of the chaperon. Not that Halliday was altogether lost; but he had been pushed out of her life by Sir John Moon, who approved as little of this suitor as the late baronet had done. "You see, my dear child," he exclaimed to Lillian, immediately after the New Year and when things were more restful, "as your guardian and uncle, I have to see that you make a good match." "What is marriage without love?" queried Miss Moon scornfully. "Love!" Sir John shrugged his elegant shoulders and sneered. "Love is all very well, but a title is better. I say nothing about money, as you have any amount of that useful article. Now, Lord Curberry——"
"I detest Lord Curberry, and I shan't marry Lord Curberry," interrupted Lillian, frowning, and her mind held a picture of the lean, ascetic peer with the cruel, grey eyes. As a barrister, Curberry was no doubt admirable; as a nobleman, he filled his new position very well; but she could not see him as a lover, try as she might. Not that she did try, for under no conditions and under no pressure did she intend to become his wife. "Your father wished you to marry Lord Curberry," hinted Uncle John softly. "My father wished me to be happy," cried Lillian hotly, "and I can't be happy unless I marry Dan."
"That aviator man! Pooh! He has nothing to give you."
"He gives himself, and that is all I want."
"I see. Love in a cottage and——" Lillian interrupted again. "There's no need for love in a cottage. I have plenty of money; you said as much yourself, Uncle John."
"My dear," said the new baronet gravely, "from what I saw of young Halliday he is too proud a man to live on his wife. And you would not respect him if he did. I think better of you than that, my child."
"Dan has his profession."
"H'm! And a dangerous one at that. Besides, he doesn't make much money."
"He will though. Dan is a genius; he has all kinds of ideas about flying machines, and some day he will conquer the air." "Meantime, you will be growing old waiting for him."
"Not at all," Lillian assured him. "I shall be with him, helping all I can."
"You won't with my consent," cried her uncle, heatedly. "Then I shall do without your consent. I shan't give up Dan."
"In that case," sighed Sir John, rising to show that the interview was ended—and certainly it had ended in a clash of wills—"there is nothing for me to do but to make young Halliday give you up."
"He'll never do that," said Miss Moon, pausing at the door with a fluttering heart, for her uncle spoke very decidedly. "Oh, I think so," replied Moon, with the air of a man sure of his ground. "He has, I am sure, some notion of honor."
"It isn't honorable to give up a woman."
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