The Scales of Justice - Fred M. White - ebook

The Scales of Justice ebook

Fred M White

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This dark story is full of mystery and unsolved mysteries. It was the first real day of Spring, and most people lingered out of doors till the bare branches of the trees melted in the gloaming, and it was possible to see and hear no more, save for the promise of the little black herald singing madly from the blackthorn. In certain places, the lights were grouped into masses, because they lit up a trio of Louis Quatorze card tables, where twelve people played bridge. From time to time, yellow flames revealed some brilliant objects on the walls or on the floor, hinting at the treasures of art, most of which have their own history.

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Liczba stron: 499

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Contents

I. The Skeleton At The Feast

II. The Letter

III. The Moat House

IV. In The Dead Of Night

V. The Yellow Stripe

VI. Suspense

VII. For Friendship’s Sake

VIII. A Friend In Need

IX. Dr. Beard

X. The Man And His Story

XI. In The Darkness

XII. Entangled

XIII. Nearly Lost

XIV. The Photograph

XV. Who Is The Man?

XVI. To The Rescue

XVII. The Cause Of Humanity

XVIII. The Scent Of Danger

XIX. At The Cottage

XX. A Startling Recognition

XXI. “Mrs. Dunlop-Gordon”

XXII. A Question Of Identity

XXIII. The Shadow Of A Doubt

XXIV. The Light That Failed

XXV. A Wasted Life

XXVI. Missing

XXVII. Misgivings

XXVIII. Face To Face

XXIX. The Next Move

XXX. The Arms Of Her Lover

XXXI. A Gleam Of Reason

XXXII. Gilbert Speaks

XXXIII. Face To Face

XXXIV. The Jewel Case

XXXV. The Missing Bonds

XXXVI. In The Net

XXXVII. Setting The Trap

XXXVIII. Within The Snare

XXXIX. Beaten

XL. A Blue Sky

I. THE SKELETON AT THE FEAST

Outside, a thin powder of snow was falling in fitful gusts; the low moan of the wind bent the elms like the masts of a ship in a gale. A solitary poacher, out from Longtown, glared through the swaying bushes, and wondered what was wrong at Grange Court, for the windows were all ablaze, and a string of carriages flashed to and fro along the drive. It was so black and cheerless and bitter without, that the poacher sighed for his own fireside.

The poacher was puzzled. Why were these carriages coming back so soon?

From his hiding-place he could see right into the spacious portico before the front door of Grange Court; he could see the brilliantly-lighted hall beyond, with its pictures and statues and belts of feathery ferns. Beyond, in the old oak-panelled ballroom, a dazzling kaleidoscope of figures moved in agitated groups. Somebody called loudly that no more guests were to be admitted. An unsteady voice was asking for a doctor. Tragedy was in the frosty air!

Had the Longtown poacher but known it, this was to have been a great occasion at Grange Court, for Sir Devereux Drummond was giving a dinner in honour of the twenty-first birthday of his niece, Sybil Drummond.

Sir Devereux had never married–he had remained faithful to a memory; but his only brother had died comparatively young, and his children had found a home at Grange Court. Sybil was twenty-one to-day; her brother, Captain George Drummond, was some years older. He was still with his regiment in Swaziland when the back of the campaign was broken, so that the heir to the estates of Grange Court and Longtown Rise might, it was thought, reach home any day.

Nevertheless, both uncle and sister had been a little anxious about George lately. There had been rumours, of a regiment cut off–one of the usual disasters of modern warfare–and of George nothing had been heard. He might even be a prisoner of the enemy.

There was another cause for anxiety, too, for Captain Ronald Cardrew, Sybil’s lover, had been attached to the ill-fated half battalion. Some papers had hinted at incompetence, and even downright cowardice; though the idea was received with contemptuous silence at Grange Court, which had been the cradle of soldiers, as the portraits in the long gallery proved. Thus it was that pretty Sybil’s smile was somewhat chastened as she stood in the drawing-room to receive the congratulations of her friends.

But why had not Sir Devereux joined her? He had promised to be down quite early, and the old friend and colleague of Loch and Havelock, was ever a man of his word.

Sir Devereux’s name had stood deservedly high in the annals of the Indian Army. He had been something more than a soldier and a strategist. The Drummonds had ever been fighters, but Sir Devereux was different from the rest of his race. He was a deep and earnest Christian, a philanthropist; his name was known wherever good works were done. A little hard and stern at times, his code of honour was simple and sincere. He had never regarded his men as so many fighting machines, but had treated them like members of his own family.

Sybil knew that noble creature thoroughly, and had seen with dismay that the iron had entered the old man’s soul. He had said nothing as to the paltry newspaper attacks; he did not allude to George’s singular silence. The War Office reported that George had escaped from the hills, but Sir Devereux vouchsafed no further information. That he had heard more Sybil felt certain, for his letters at breakfast-time had seriously disturbed him. But he would not hear of the party being put off. He would be better presently, he said.

And now the guests were arriving. Already some of them were in the hall. A vague sense of coming peril gripped Sybil as old Watson, the butler, came into the room.

“What is it?” Sybil gasped. “My dear uncle, is he ill, Watson?”

“I thought he was dying?” the old servant whispered. “It was after he had read the letters that came by the evening post. It’s bad, miss–something about Master George. And I’ve sent for Dr. Gordon. It looks like a kind of stroke, miss.”

One moment and Sybil was herself again. She thought nothing of her own disappointment, and had forgotten her new diamonds; she, too, was a Drummond.

“I can hear Dr. Gordon’s voice,” she said. “Thank God, he was at hand! Watson, you must send them all away. Tell them what has happened. Each carriage must be dismissed as it comes. Say how truly sorry I am. I could not possibly see anybody myself.”

The butler bowed and withdrew as Sybil flew up the stairs. She noted the hush that had suddenly fallen on the guests and heard the sincere murmur of regret. There was a rush of carriages coming and returning, and command for others to be recalled. A large door at the head of the corridor closed, and Sybil was grateful for the profound silence.

There was Sir Devereux in his dressing-room. He had finished his toilette; he sat in the big arm-chair by the dressing-table, with a letter or two clenched in his hand. The fine, kindly old face was white and set, the lips were grey as ashes.

“Dear uncle,” Sybil whispered, as she kissed the damp brow, “what is it?”

Sir Devereux Drummond looked up vaguely. He passed his hand across his forehead as if to collect his thoughts. Sybil noticed how the hand trembled.

“Have you sent them away?” he muttered. “I told Watson to do so. Little girl, I am very sorry. I tried to battle with it for your sake, but I am not so strong as I was. Gordon is in my bed-room. He said that I had had a kind of seizure. I must be very careful. I thought it was death at first. Indeed, I should have been glad. But if it be His will otherwise, I shall bow to it.”

“Everybody has gone,” Sybil said soothingly. “Uncle, what is it? You can trust me implicitly. I am sure you are in some deep trouble.”

With an effort Sir Devereux struggled from his chair. Perhaps the shock had passed. Still he looked very old and bent and broken.

“Disgrace,” he said–“dishonour! Mere shadowy words to me before to-day. Perhaps I have been too proud of my house and our good name. I have made too little allowance I fear. I never dreamt that anything of the sort could touch me. I was even too proud to ask a question till yesterday. Then I sent a long letter to Gilchrist at the War Office. I had his reply today, and a letter from Courtenay. I did not want you to know.”

“Uncle,” Sybil said, “is it anything–is it anything to do with George; and–”

“To do with George–yes. You need not speak; nothing could explain away the damning evidence that I hold in my hand. My poor child! Go and see if everybody has gone; go and talk to those friends who are staying in the house, and who will be anxious to learn what is amiss. I’ll come down presently; I must.”

Sybil went off immediately. She had forgotten the handful of intimate friends, and they had to be considered. Sybil made as light as she could of the matter. Dinner was ready, and the houseparty must dine. Indeed the meal was already served. Would not Lady Hellington and Mr. Norbury make the best of it? Sybil herself must look after her uncle. Oh, yes, he was better, and would be down later. There was nothing critical. There was nothing else to be done; it was too late for anybody to leave Grange Court to-night. Sybil slipped out presently, anxious to gain the hall, and there breathe the fresh air after the heated atmosphere of the drawing-room.

She shivered as the big door opened, bringing in the sting of the gale and the whirl of the snow-wreaths. Truly a bitter, night–a night not fit to turn a dog out. And inside was the scent of flowers, and the warm, sweet air of the house.

Sybil wondered why the door had been opened, for she knew that there were no more guests to come. Watson stood on the big mat, listening with forced politeness to the late caller. It was a woman, wrapped from head to foot in furs. The full flare of the electric chandelier flooded her face–a pure, slim face of ivory hue. A very noble face, Sybil told herself; clean-cut features and delicate, arched nose, a small, resolute mouth, and eyes of steadfast brown. On the whole, a pretty, refined high bred countenance, Sybil thought, touched and ennobled by a suggestion of sorrow and suffering. Sybil wondered where she had seen the girl before. She was evidently a lady, and one accustomed to the luxuries of life. Impelled by curiosity and attracted towards the stranger, Sybil went forward.

“Is there anything that I can do for you?” she asked.

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