The Project Gutenberg EBook of For the Defence, by Fergus Hume This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook. Title: For the Defence Author: Fergus Hume Release Date: August 23, 2017 [EBook #55420] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FOR THE DEFENCE *** Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by the Internet Archive (University of California Libraries)
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|I.||THE MAJOR AND HIS HOUSEHOLD.|
|II.||THE ASHANTEE DEVIL-STICK.|
|V.||DR. ETWALD'S WARNING.|
|VI.||A STRANGE OCCURRENCE.|
|VIII.||A CRY IN THE NIGHT.|
|IX.||AFTER THE DEED.|
|XI.||MAJOR JEN, DETECTIVE.|
|XII.||THE STRANGE PERFUME.|
|XVI.||THE EVIDENCE OF JAGGARD.|
|XVII.||THE STORY OF THE NIGHT.|
|XVIII.||THE DEVIL-STICK THIEF.|
|XX.||A STRANGE REQUEST.|
|XXI.||A NINE DAY'S WONDER.|
|XXII.||FOR THE DEFENSE,|
|XXIII.||THE RESULT OF THE TRIAL.|
|XXIV.||A FINAL SURPRISE.|
Laurence Jen was a retired major, a bachelor, and the proprietor of a small estate at Hurstleigh, in Surrey. On leaving the service, he decided--not unwisely--that it was better to be a Triton in the country than a minnow in town; and acting upon this theory he purchased "Ashantee" from a ruined squire. Formerly the place had been called Sarbylands, after its original owners; but Jen had changed the name, in honor of the one campaign in which he had participated.
He had been present at the downfall of King Koffee; he had contracted during the expedition an ague which tormented him greatly during his later life, and he had received a wound and a medal. In gratitude, it is to be presumed, for these gifts of fortune, the major, with some irony, had converted the name Sarbylands into the barbaric appellation of a West African kingdom; and here, for many years, he lived with his two boys.
These lads, named respectively Maurice Alymer and David Sarby, were in no way related to the major, who, as has been stated before, was a bachelor; but they had entered into his life in rather an odd fashion. Alymer was the son of a beautiful girl with whom Jen had been passionately in love, but she did not return his affection, and married one of his brother officers, who was afterward killed in the Ashantee war. On returning to England Jen cherished a hope that she would reward his love by a second marriage, but the shock of her husband's death proved too much for the fragile widow. She died within a week after receiving the terrible news, and left behind her a wailing infant, which was consigned to the cold charity of indifferent relatives.
It was then that the major displayed the goodness of his heart and the nobility of his character. Forgetting his own sorrows, he obtained permission from the relatives to adopt the child, and to take charge of the trifle of property coming to the lad. Then he bought Sarbylands; set estate and house in order under the name "Ashantee," and devoted his life to cherishing and training the lad, in whose blue eyes he saw a look of his dead love. This Platonic affection begotten by the deathless memory of the one passion of his life, filled his existence completely and rendered him entirely happy.
With regard to David Sarby, he had passed with the estate to Jen. The boy's father, a libertine, a drunkard and a confirmed gambler, had been forced, through his vices, to sell his ancestral home; and within a year of the sale he had dissipated the purchase money in debauchery. Afterward, like the sordid and pitiful coward he had always proved himself to be, he committed suicide, leaving his only son, whose mother had long since been worried into her grave, a pauper and an orphan.
The collateral branches of the old Sarby family had died out; the relatives on the mother's side refused to have anything to do with a child who, if heredity went for anything, might prove to be a chip of the old block; and little David might have found himself thrown on the parish, but that Major Jen, pitying the forlorn condition of the child, saved him from so ignominious a fate. His heart and his house were large enough to receive another pensioner, so he took David back to the old deserted mansion, and presented him to Maurice as a new playfellow. Henceforth the two boys grew to manhood under the devoted care of the cheerful old bachelor, who had protected their helpless infancy.
The major was fairly well-to-do, having, besides his pension, considerable private property, and he determined in the goodness of his heart, that "the boys," as he fondly called them, should have every advantage in starting life. He sent them both to Harrow, and when they left that school, he called upon them to choose their professions. Maurice, more of an athlete than a scholar, selected the army, and the delighted major, who highly approved of his choice, entered him at Sandhurst. Of a more reflective nature and studious mind, David wished to become a lawyer, with a possible idea of ending as Lord Chancellor; and accordingly his guardian sent him to Oxford.
Both lads proved themselves worthy of Jen's goodness, and were soon in active exercise of the professions which they had chosen. Maurice joined a cavalry regiment and David was admitted to the bar. Then the major was thankful. His boys were provided for, and it only remained that each should marry some charming girl, and bring their families to gladden an old bachelor's heart at "Ashantee." The major had many day dreams of this sort; but alas! they were destined never to be fulfilled. In the summer of '95 Fate began her work of casting into dire confusion the hitherto placid lives of the two young men.
Frequently the young barrister and the soldier came to visit their guardian, for whom they both cherished a deep affection. On the occasion of each visit Jen was accustomed to celebrate their presence by a small festival, to which he would ask two or three friends. With simple craft, the old man would invite also pretty girls, with their mothers; in the hope that his lads might be lured into matrimony.
The major, owing to circumstances heretofore related, was a confirmed bachelor, but he did not intend that his boys should follow so bad an example. He wished Maurice to marry Miss Isabella Dallas, a charming blonde from the West Indies; and David he designed as the husband of Lady Meg Brance, daughter of Lord Seamere. But Jen was mistaken in thinking that he could guide the erratic affections of youth, as will hereafter be proved. Sure enough, the lads fell in love, but both with the same woman, a state of things not anticipated by the major, who was too simple to be a matchmaker.
On this special occasion, however, no ladies were present at the little dinner, and besides Jen and his two boys. Dr. Etwald was the only guest. About this man with the strange name there is something to be said.
He was tall, he was thin, with a dark, lean face, and fiery watchful dark eyes. For three years he had been wasting his talents in the neighboring town of Deanminster; when, if intellect were in question, he should have been shouldering his way above the crowd of mediocrities in London. The man was dispassionate, brilliant and persevering; he had in him the makings not only of a great physician, but of a great man; and he was wasting his gifts in a dull provincial town. He was unpopular in Deanminster, owing to the absence of what is termed "a good bedside manner," and the invalids of the cathedral city and Hurstleigh, for he had patients in both places, resented his brusque ways and avoidance of their scandal-mongering tea parties. Also he was a mystery; than which there can be no greater sin in provincial eyes. No one knew who Etwald was, or whence he came, or why he wasted his talents in the desert of Deanminster; and such secret past which he declined to yield up to the most persistent questioner, accentuated the distrust caused by his sombre looks and curt speeches. Provincial society is intolerant of originality.
Etwald had become acquainted with Jen professionally, and having cured the major of one of his frequent attacks of ague, he had passed from being a mere medical attendant into the closer relationship of a friend. The boys had met him once or twice, but neither of them cared much for his sombre personality, and they were not overpleased to find that the major had invited the man to meet them on the occasion of this special dinner.
But Jen, good, simple soul, was rather taken with Etwald's mysticism, and, moreover, pitied his loneliness. Therefore he welcomed this intellectual pariah to his house and board; and on this fine June evening Etwald was enjoying an excellent dinner in the company of three cheerful companions.
Outside, the peaceful landscape was filled with a warm amber light, and this poured into the oak-paneled dining-room through three French windows which opened onto a close-shaven lawn. Dinner was at an end; Jaggard, the major's valet, butler and general factotum, had placed the wines before his master, and was now handing around cigars and cigarettes. All being concluded to his satisfaction--no easy attainment, for Jaggard, trained in military fashion, was very precise--he departed, closing the door after him. The warm light of the evening flashed on the polished table--Major Jen was sufficiently old-fashioned to have the cloth removed for desert--and lighted up the four faces around it with pale splendor. This quartette of countenances is not unworthy of a detailed description.
Major Jen's calls for least. His face was round and red, with a terrific blonde mustache fiercely curled. He had merry blue eyes, sparse hair, more than touched with gray, and an expression of good-humor which was the index to his character. Man, woman and child trusted Jen on the spot, nor was it ever said that such trust was misplaced. Even the most censorious could find no fault with the frank and kindly major, and he had more friends and more pensioners and fewer enemies than any man in the shire. Can any further explanation be required of so simple and easily understood a character?
Lieutenant Maurice Alymer was also blonde, and also had blue eyes and a jaunty mustache, somewhat smaller than his senior's. His hair was yellow and curly, his features were boldly cut, and his six foot of flesh and muscle was straight and lithe. Athlete was stamped strongly on his appearance, and if not clever, he was at least sufficiently good-looking and good-natured to make him almost as popular as the major. Jen always maintained that Maurice was the living image of himself when a dashing young officer, out in Ashantee; but as the good major was considerably under the middle height and Maurice considerably over it, this statement must be accepted with some reserve. It passed as one of Jen's jokes, for a mild quality of which he was noted.
The other two men had dark and strong faces, which differed entirely from the Saxon simplicity and good looks of the major and Maurice. David was clean-shaven and almost as swart as Etwald, and his expression was that of a being with powerful passions, held in check by sheer force of will. He was broad and strongly built; and his smooth black hair, parted in the middle, was brushed carefully from a bold and rather protuberant forehead. The young barrister was somewhat of a dandy, but no one who once looked at his face thought of his dress affectations or dapper appearance. They saw intellect, pride and resolute will stamped upon the pale countenance. Men with such faces end usually in greatness; and it seemed unlikely that David Sarby, barrister and ambitious youth, would prove an exception to the rule.
Lastly Etwald. It is difficult to describe the indescribable. He was austere in face, like Dante, with hollow cheeks, and a pallid hue which told of midnight studies. If he had passions, they could not be discerned in his features. Eye and mouth and general expression were like a mask. What actually lay behind that mask no one ever knew, for it was never off. His slightly hollow chest, his lean and nervous hands, and a shock of rather long, curling hair, tossed from a high forehead, gave Etwald the air of a student. But there was something sinister and menacing in his regard. He looked dangerous and more than a trifle uncanny. Physically, mentally, morally he was an enigma to the bovine inhabitants of Deanminster and Hurstleigh.
Major Jen sustained the burden of conversation, for Maurice was absent-minded, and David, physiognomically inclined, was silently attempting to read the inscrutable countenance of Etwald. As for this latter, he sat smoking, with his brilliant eyes steadily fixed upon Maurice. The young man felt uneasy under the mesmeric gaze of the doctor, and kept twisting and turning in his seat. Finally he broke out impatiently in the midst of the major's babble, and asked Etwald a direct question.
"Does my face remind you of anyone?" he demanded rather sharply.
"Yes, Mr. Alymer," replied Etwald, deliberately, "it reminds me of a man who died."
"Dear me!" said Jen, with a sympathetic look.
"Was he a friend of yours, doctor?"
"Well, no, major, I can't say that he was. In fact," added Etwald, with the air of a man making a simple statement, "I hated him!"
"I hope you don't hate me?" said Maurice, rather annoyed.
"No, Mr. Alymer, I don't hate you," replied the doctor, in a colorless tone. "Do you believe in palmistry?" he asked, suddenly.
"No!" said Maurice, promptly,
"All rubbish!" added the major, selecting a fresh cigar.
"What do you say, Mr. Sarby?" asked Etwald, turning to the lawyer.
"I am a skeptic, also," said David, with a laugh. "And you?"
"I am a believer."
Here Etwald rose and crossed over to where Maurice was sitting. The young man, guessing his errand, held out his left hand with a smile. Etwald scrutinized it closely, and returned to his seat.
"Life in death!" he said calmly. "Read that riddle, Mr. Alymer. Life in death."
"Life in death!" repeated Maurice, in puzzled tones. "And what do you mean by that mystical jargon, doctor?"
"Ah, my friend, there comes in the riddle."
"Paralysis?" suggested David, in a jesting manner, but with some seriousness.
"No; that is not the answer."
"Catalepsy?" guessed Major Jen, giving his mustache a nervous twist.
"Nor that, either."
Maurice, whose nerves were proof against such fantasies, laughed disbelievingly.
"I don't believe you know the answer to your own riddle," he said calmly.
Etwald shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know for certain, Mr. Alymer, but I can guess."
"Tell us your guess, doctor; as it interests me so nearly, I have a right to know."
"Bad news comes quickly enough in the telling," said the doctor, judicially, "so I shall say nothing more. Life in death is your fate, Mr. Alymer; unless," he added, with a swift and penetrating glance, "you choose to avert the calamity."
"Can I do so?"
"Yes, and in an easy manner. Never get married."
Maurice flushed crimson, and, resenting the mocking tone of Etwald, half rose from his seat; but without moving a finger, Etwald continued in a cold tone:
"You are in love with a young lady, and you wish to marry her!"
"Quite right, quite right!" broke in Major Jen, heartily. "I want Maurice to marry."
"Then you want him to meet his fate of life in death!" said Etwald, curtly.
The others stared at him, and with the skepticism of thoroughly healthy minds refused to attach much importance to Etwald's mysticism. Jen was the first to speak, and he did so in rather a stiff way, quite different from his usual jovial style of conversation.
"My dear Etwald, if I did not know you so well, I should take you for a charlatan."
"I am no charlatan, major," rejoined Etwald, coolly. "I ask no money for my performance."
"So it is a performance, after all?" said David, carelessly.
"If you choose to call it so. Only I repeat my warning to Mr. Alymer. Never get married."
"I am afraid it is too late for me to take your advice, doctor," he said, merrily. "I am in love."
"I know you are, and I admire your taste."
"Pardon me, doctor," said Maurice, stiffly. "I mention no names."
"Neither do I, but I think of one name, my friend."
Here David, who had been fidgeting with his cigar, broke in impatiently.
"Now you are making a mystery out of a plain, common-sense question," he said, irritably. "We all know that Maurice is in love," here he raised his eyes suddenly, and looked keenly at his friend, "with Lady Meg Brance."
Major Jen chuckled and rubbed his hands together in a satisfied manner. Etwald bent his sombre looks on Maurice, and that young man, biting his lip, took up the implied challenge in Sarby's remark, and answered plainly:
"I am not in love with Lady Meg, my dear fellow," said he, sharply; "but if you must know, I admire"--this with emphasis--"Miss Dallas."
The brow of Sarby grew black, and in his turn he rose to his feet.
"I am glad to hear it is only 'admire,'" he remarked, slowly, "for had the word been any other I should have resented it."
"You! And upon what grounds?" cried Alymer, flushing out in a rage.
"That is my business."
"And mine, too," said Maurice, hotly. "Isabella is--"
"I forbid you to call Miss Dallas by that name," declared David, in an overbearing manner.
"You--you--you forbid me!"
"Come, come, boys!" said Jen, annoyed at this scene between two hot-headed young men, who were not yet gifted with the self-restraint of experience.
"Don't talk like this. You are at my table. There is a stranger" (here he bowed ceremoniously to Etwald) "or shall I say a friend, present!"
"Say a friend," observed Etwald, calmly, "although I am about to say that which may cause these two young gentlemen to look upon me as an enemy."
"What do you mean?" asked Maurice, turning his still frowning face toward this strange and enigmatic man.
"What I say, Mr. Alymer! You--admire Miss Dallas?"
"Why bring her name into the question? Yes, I admire Miss Dallas."
"And you, Mr. Sarby, I can tell from your attitude, from your look; you love Miss Dallas."
David was taken aback by this strange speaking.
"Yes. I--I--I do love Miss Dallas."
"I guessed as much," resumed Etwald, with a cold smile. "Now, it is strange--"
"It is strange that a lady's name should be thus introduced," said Jen, annoyed at the tone of the conversation. "Let us drop the subject. Another cigar, Maurice. David, the wine is with you. Dr. Etwald--"
"One moment, major. I wish we three to understand one another"--here the doctor hesitated, then went on in an impressive voice--"about Miss Dallas!"
"Why do you speak of her?" asked Maurice, fiercely, while David looked loweringly at Etwald.
"Because I love her!"
"You love her!"
The two young men burst out simultaneously with the speech in tones of sheer astonishment, and stared at Etwald as at some strangle animal. That this elderly man--Etwald was midway between thirty and forty, but that looked elderly to these boys of twenty-five--should dare to love Isabella Dallas, was a thing unheard of. She so young, so beautiful, so full of divine youth and diviner womanhood; he so sombre, pale and worn with intellectual vigils; with a mysterious past, a doubtful present and a problematic future.
Maurice and David, divided one against the other by their passion for the same woman, united in a feeling of rage and contempt against this interloper, who dared to make a third in their worship of Isabella. They looked at Etwald, they looked at one another, and finally both began to laugh. Jen frowned at the sound of their mirth, but Etwald, in nowise discomposed, sat unsmiling in his seat waiting for further developments.
"Oh, it is too absurd!" said Maurice, resuming his seat.
Etwald put the question with the greatest calmness, stared steadily at the young man, and waited for the reply, which he knew would be difficult to make.
"Never mind explaining, Mr. Alymer. I can guess your objection. I am too old, too plain, too poor for this charming young lady. You, on the contrary, are young, passing well off, and handsome--all the gifts of fortune are on your side. Decidedly," added the doctor, "you hold the best hand. Well, we shall see who will win this game--as we may call it."
"And what about me?" said David. "You forget that I am a third player. Come, Etwald, you have prophesied about Maurice; now read my fate."
"No," said Etwald, rising. "We have talked long enough on this subject. It is plain that we three men are in love with the same woman. You can't blame me, nor I you. Miss Dallas is a sufficiently beautiful excuse for our madness. I spoke out simply because I want you both to understand the position. You are warned, and we can now do battle for the smiles of this charming lady. Let the best man win!"
"Nothing could be fairer than that," said Jen, quickly; "but I agree with you, doctor, that the subject has been sufficiently discussed; but, indeed, if you will pardon me saying so, it should have never been begun. Let us go to the smoking-room."
Thither the three young men went in the wake of the major. It was a comfortable room, with one wide window, which at the present moment was open. Outside, the light of the newly-risen moon bathed lawn and trees and flowers in a flood of cold silver; and the warm radiance of the lamp poured out rays of gold into the wonderful white world without. The three men sat down in comfortable chairs, and the major went to get out a particular brand of cigars which he offered to favored guests.
Self-contained as ever, Etwald looked up at the wall near him, and seemed to be considering a decoration of savage arms, which looked barbaric and wild, between two oil-paintings. When Jen came back with the cigars, his gaze followed that of his guest, and he made a remark about the weapons.
"All those came from Ashantee and the West Coast of Africa," said he, touching a vicious-looking axe. "This is a sacrificial axe; this murderous looking blade is the sword of the executioner of King Koffee; and this," here he laid his fingers lightly upon a slender stick of green wood, with a golden top set roughly with large turquoise stones, "is a poison-wand!"
"A poison-wand!" echoed Etwald, a sudden light showing in his cold eyes. "I never heard of such a thing."
David, who was watching him, felt an instinctive feeling that Etwald was telling a lie. He saw that the man could hardly keep his seat for his eagerness to examine and handle the strange weapon. However, he said nothing, but watched and watched, when Maurice made a remark about the stick.
"Oh, that is Uncle Jen's greatest treasure," he said, smiling. "He can tell twenty stories about that innocent-looking cane."
"Innocent-looking!" echoed Jen, taking down the green wand. "How can you say such a thing? Look here, Etwald," and he laid the stick on the table. "No, don't touch it, man," he added, hastily, "there is plenty of venom in it yet. 'Tis as dangerous as a snake bite. If you touch this slender iron spike projecting from the end, you die!"
Again David noted that the tigerish light leaped up in the eyes of Etwald, but he had sufficient control of his features to preserve a look of courteous curiosity. He carefully handled and examined the instrument of death.
It was a little over a foot long, of a hard-looking green wood; the handle of gold was coarsely molded in a barbaric fashion round the turquoise stones, and these, of all hues, from green to the palest of blue, were imbedded like lumps of quartz in the rough gold. Round this strange implement there lingered a rich and heavy perfume, sickly and sensuous.
"See here!" said Jen, pressing or rather squeezing the handle. "I tighten my grip upon this, and the sting of the serpent shows itself!" Whereupon Etwald glanced at the end of the wood and saw a tiny needle of iron push itself out. When Jen relaxed his pressure on the gold handle, this iron tongue slipped back and disappeared entirely.
"I got this at Kumassie," explained Jen, when he had fully exhibited the gruesome mechanism of the devil-stick. "It belonged to the high priest. Whenever he or the king disliked any man who was too powerful to be openly slain, they used this wand. What excuse they made I don't know, but I suppose it had something to do with fetish worship. However, the slightest touch of this needle produces death."
"It is poisoned at the tip?"
"Not exactly. The needle within is hollow, and a store of poison is contained in the handle up here. When squeezed these turquoise stones press a bag within and the poison runs down to the point of the needle. In fact, the whole infernal contrivance is modeled upon a serpent's fang."
"But it is quite harmless now," said David, as Jen replaced the wand in its old place on the wall. "Else you wouldn't have it there."
"Well, no doubt the poison has dried up," said Jen, with a nod. "All the same, I shouldn't like to prick myself with that needle. I might die," finished the major, with the naive simplicity of a child.
"You may break, you may shatter the vase as you will,
But the scent of the roses will cling round it still"--
quoted Maurice, with a laugh. "No doubt the devil-stick can still do harm. Ugh! What a gruesome idea. I'd remove it from so conspicuous a position if I were you, Uncle Jen; someone might come to grief over it."
"Rubbish, my boy. It has been hanging on the wall for years, and has never hurt anyone yet!"
Etwald said nothing. With his eyes fixed upon the devil-stick, he meditated deeply. The barrister, whose belief was that Etwald knew more about the wand than he chose to say, watched him closely. He noticed that the doctor eyed the stick, then, after a pause, let his gaze wander to the face of Maurice. Another pause, and he was looking at David, who received the fire of this strange man's eyes without blanching.
There was something so mesmeric in the gaze that David felt uncomfortable and as though he were enveloped in an evil atmosphere. To his surprise he found that his eyes also were attracted to the devil-stick, and a longing to handle it began to possess him. Clearly Etwald was trying to hypnotize him for some evil purpose. By an effort of will David broke through these nightmare chains and rose to his feet. The next moment he was in the open air, in the cold moonlight, breathing hard and fast.
Within, Maurice and the major were talking gaily, and the sound of their voices and laughter came clearly to the ears of David. But silent in his deep chair sat Etwald, and the burning glance of his eyes seemed to beam menacingly through the air and compel the young man to evil thoughts. David looked at Etwald, dark and voiceless; and over his head, in the yellow lamplight, he saw the glittering golden handle of the devil-stick.
Some little distance from the major's abode stood a long, low rambling house on a slight rise. Surrounded by deep verandas, it was placed in the middle of emerald green lawns, smoothly clipped; and these, lower down, were girdled by a belt of ash and sycamores and poplars, which shut out the house from the high road.
The mansion, with its flat roof and wide verandas, had a tropical look, and indeed it had been built by a retired Indian nabob at the beginning of this century. When he died the house had been sold, and now it was occupied by Mrs. Dallas, who leased it because of its suggestion of tropical habitation. She came from the West Indies, and had lived in "The Wigwam," as the house was called, for over ten years.
Mrs. Dallas was a large, fat and eminently lazy woman, who passed most of her time in knitting or sleeping or eating. Her husband had died before she had come to England, and it was the desire to preserve her daughter's health which had brought her so far from the sun-baked islands which her soul loved.
Her languid Creole nature and lethargic habits were unsuited to brisk, practical England, and she hated the gray skies, the frequent absence of sunlight and the lack of rich and sensuous coloring. Often she threatened to return to Barbadoes, but she was too lazy to make the effort of again settling herself in life. With all her longings for the fairy islands of the West, it seemed as though she would end her days in gray and misty England. But she was out of place in this northern land, and so was Dido.
This latter was a tall and massively framed negro woman, with very little of the traditional merry nature of the black about her. She looked rather like a priestess, with her stern face and stately mien; and, indeed, in the West Indies, it was known among the negroes that Dido was high in power among the votaries of Obi. She could charm, she could slay by means of vegetable poisons, and she could--as the negroes firmly believed--cause a human being to dwindle, peak and pine, by means of incantations.
This black Canidia had left a terrible reputation behind her in Barbadoes; and though in skeptical England her powers were unknown, and if they had been made manifest, would have been flouted at, yet her looks, the tragic tones of her voice, inspired the white servants of Mrs. Dallas with distrust. Dido was not a favorite in the servants' part of The Wigwam, but for this unpopularity she cared little, being devoted to Isabella Dallas. She adored her nursling.
The girl was about twenty years of age, tall and straight, with dark hair and darker eyes, with a mouth veritably like Cupid's bow, and a figure matchless in contour. With her rich southern coloring and passionate temperament--she was of Irish blood on the paternal side--Miss Dallas looked more like an Andalusian lady than a native of the English-speaking race. She had all the sensuous loveliness of a Creole woman; and bloomed like a rich tropical flower with poison in its perfume amid the English briar roses of Surrey maidenhood.
If Mrs. Dallas was a bore--and her friends said she was--the daughter was divine, and many young men came to The Wigwam to be spellbound by her dark beauty. More men than the three who had dined at "Ashantee" were in love with Isabella.
Upon her Dido exercised a powerful, and it must be confessed, malignant influence. She had fed the quick brain of the girl with weird tales of African witchcraft and fanciful notions of terrestrial and sidereal influences. Isabella's nature was warped by this domestic necromancy, and had she continued to dwell in the West Indies, she might almost have become a witch herself. Certainly Dido did her best to make her one, and taught her nursling spells and incantations, to which the girl would listen fearfully, half-believing, half-doubting. But her residence in England, her contact with practical English folk, with the sunny side of life, saved her from falling into the terrible abyss of African superstition; and how terrible it is only the initiated can declare. It only needed that she should be removed from the bad influence of the barbaric Sybil to render her nature healthy and fill her life with pleasure.
But Dido was like a upas tree, and the moral atmosphere with which she surrounded Isabella was slowly but surely making the girl morbid and unnatural. Mrs. Dallas, versed in the negro character, half-guessed this, but she was too indolent to have Dido removed. Moreover, strange as it may appear, she was more than a trifle afraid of the negress and her unholy arts.
Maurice had met with and had fallen in love with Isabella, and she returned his affection with all the ardor of her passionate nature. His handsome and frank face, his sunny nature and optimistic ideas appealed strongly to the girl who had been environed from her earliest infancy by the pessimism of Dido.
Maurice saw well how Isabella had deteriorated under the bad influence of the negress, and he did his best to counteract her insidious morality and morbid teachings. He laughed at Isabella's stories and superstitions, and succeeded in making her ashamed of her weakness in placing faith in such degraded rubbish. While with him Isabella was a bright and laughing girl; quite another sort of being to the grave and nervous creature she was while in the presence of Dido. She felt that if she married Maurice his bright strong nature would save her from a lamentable and melancholy existence; and as all her affections and instincts inclined to the young man, she hoped to become his wife.
Dido saw her thoughts, and hating Maurice as one who scoffed at Obi, she did her best to put evil ideas in the girl's head concerning the young man. But as yet she had failed to sow dissension between the lovers.
On the day after the major's dinner party, Isabella was sitting in the veranda with a book open on her lap and Dido standing gravely near her. Mrs. Dallas, in the cool depths of the drawing-room, was indulging in an after-luncheon siesta. The sunlight poured itself over the velvet lawns, drew forth the perfumes from the flower-beds, and made the earth languorous with heat.
In the veranda all was cool and restful and pleasingly silent. Isabella, in her white dress, looked beautiful and pensive; while Dido, in a reddish-hued robe, with a crimson 'kerchief twisted round her stately head, gleamed in the semi-gloom like some gorgeous tropical bird astray in our northern climes. Both mistress and maid were silent.
It was Dido who spoke first. She noticed that the eyes of her mistress constantly strayed in the direction of "Ashantee," and with the jealousy begotten of deep affection, she guessed that the girl's thoughts were fixed upon the much-hated Maurice. At once she spoke reproachfully, and in the grotesque negro dialect, which, however, coming from Dido's mouth, inspired no one with merriment.
"Aha, missy," said she, in deep, guttural tones, "you tink ob dat yaller-ha'r'd man!"
"Maurice! Yes, I am thinking about him; and you know why."
Dido's fierce black eyes flashed out a gleam of rage, and she cursed Maurice audibly in some barbaric tongue which Isabella seemed to understand. At all events she interrupted the woman's speech with an imperious gesture.
"No more of that. Dido. You know that I love Maurice; I wish to marry him. Why are you so bitter against him?"
"He take you from me."
"Well, if I marry anyone the same thing will happen," responded Isabella, lightly; "and surely. Dido; you do not want me to remain a spinster all my life."
"No, missy, no. You marry, an' ole Dido am berry pleased. But dat yaller-ha'r'd man, I no like him; if he marry you, he take you away. He a fool--a big fool!"
"Oh, you say that because he does not believe in Obi or Voodoo!"
Dido threw up one dark hand with an ejaculation.
"Not in de sunlight; dose am de names for de darkness, honey. In de night dey--"
"No, no!" cried Isabella, with a shudder. "Don't tell me any more of those horrible things."
"Aha, dat de yaller-ha'r who makes you fear!" cried Dido, bitterly. "He hate Obi an' me. He will not marry you, missy!"
"Yes he will; we are engaged."
"Your mudder, she say no!"
"Nonsense! She likes Maurice herself," replied Isabella, uneasily. "Maurice wants our engagement kept quiet for the present, but when I do tell Major Jen and my mother, I am sure neither of them will object."
"H'm, we see, missy, we see," said Dido, darkly. "But why you marry dis man I no like?"
"Because I marry to please myself, not you," said Isabella, sharply. "Oh, I know your thoughts, Dido; you would like me to marry David Sarby. The idea; as if he can compare with Maurice!"
"Wrong, missy. I no wish dat man."
"Then Dr. Etwald--that horrid, gloomy creature!"
"Him great man!" said Dido, solemnly. "Him berry--berry great!"
"I don't think so," retorted Isabella, rising. "Of course, I know that he is clever, but as to being great, he isn't known beyond this place." She walked to the end of the veranda, and stood for a moment in the glare of the sunshine. Suddenly an idea seemed to strike her, and she turned toward the negress.
"Dido, you wouldn't like to see me the wife of Dr. Etwald?"
"Yes, missy. Him berry big great man!"
"But I hate him!"
"Um! He lub you. He told ole Dido so."
"He seems to have been very confidential," said Isabella, scornfully, "and from what I have seen, Dido, he has some influence over you."
"No," said the negress. But while her tongue uttered the denial, her eyes rolled uneasily around the lawn, as though dreading some invisible presence. "No, missy. Dido a great one, you know. She no 'fraid ob dat doctor; but him big man, missy; you marry him."
"No, no, no! I would rather die. I love Maurice."
"You nebber marry him, missy. Nebber, nebber!"
"How do you know?"
"I make de spell. I know. De spell say dat doctor, he marry you!"
This time Isabella burst out into a girlish laugh of genuine amusement.
"The spell seems to know more about me than I do myself," said she, contemptuously. "I don't believe in your spells, Dido. I know from Maurice that they are nonsense!"
"You take care, missy! Obi! dat not nonsense!" said Dido, in a threatening tone.
"What does Dr. Etwald say about it?"
Dido looked sullenly at the fire.
"I no hear him say anytink about Obi," she replied; "but de spell; it say you marry dat man and no de yaller-ha'r."
"Well, Dido, we shall see. And now--"
She never finished what she was about to say, for at that moment Dido stretched out one arm, and uttered one name, "Batt'sea!"
Across the lawn there crept a wizen, gray-haired little man, with a cringing manner. He was white, but darkish in the skin, and there was something negroid about his face. This dwarfish little creature was a tramp, who had become a pensioner of Isabella's. He had attached himself to her like some faithful dog, and rarely failed to present himself at least once a day.
What his real name was nobody knew, but he said that he was called Battersea, after the parish in which he had been reared as a foundling.
Battersea was cringing, dirty, and altogether an unpleasant object to look upon; but Isabella was sorry for the creature, and aided him with food and a trifle of money. It may be here mentioned that Battersea, although he knew nothing of Obi, was terribly afraid of Dido. Perhaps some instinct in the negro blood--for he undoubtedly had something African in his veins--made him fear this unknown priestess of fetish worship.
"Well, Battersea," said Isabella, kindly, "how are you to-day?"
"Very well, lady, very well, indeed. I met Mr. Alymer, and he gave me half a crown."
"That was generous of him. But why?"
"Because I said that a certain lady was--"
"Now, now," laughed Isabella, "no more of that nonsense, Battersea." She turned and ran along the veranda into the house. The tramp and the negress were alone.
"What de doctor say?" asked Dido, in a low-voiced whisper.
"Two words. The devil-stick!"
The negress started and threw up her hands in surprise.
Evidently there was an understanding between these two strange creatures, and thereby an occult connection with the ideas and doings of Dr. Etwald. What the trio were plotting against Isabella and her lover remains to be seen; but it can be guessed easily that the message of the devil-stick carried by Battersea to Dido was of some significance.
Battersea himself knew nothing of its esoteric meaning, but to the negress the mention of the emblem conveyed a distinct understanding. She let her arms fall listlessly by her side, and, with an unseeing gaze, she stared at the green trees bathed in hot sunshine. After a moment or so she muttered to herself in negro jargon and clenched her hands.
"Baal! the wand of sleep! the bringer of death!"
"What are you saying, Dido?" asked Battersea, his feeble intellect scared by the fierce gestures and the unknown tongue.
"I say deep things which you no understan'. Look at ole Dido, you white man."
Battersea whimpered, and, rubbing one dirty hand over the other, did as he was requested with manifest unwillingness. With an intensity of gaze, Dido glared at him steadily, and swept her hands twice or thrice across his face. In a moment or so the tramp was in a state of catalepsy, and she made use of his spellbound intelligence to gain knowledge. There was something terrible in her infernal powers being thus exercised in the full sunlight, in the incongruous setting of a homely English landscape.
"De debble-stick! Whar is it?"
"In the house of Major Jen. In a little room, on the wall, with swords and axes."
As he said this in a monotonous tone, Dido looked across the tree-tops to where the red roofs of "Ashantee" showed themselves against a blue July sky. She shook her fist at the distant house, and again addressed herself imperiously to Battersea, commanding:
"Tell ole Dido ob de debble-stick."
"It is green, with a handle of gold, and blue stones set into the gold."
Dido bent forward and touched the tramp on his temples.
"See widin dat stick," she muttered, eagerly. "I wish to see."
"There is a bag in the handle," repeated Battersea, with an effort. "Under the bag a long needle;" then after a pause, "the needle is hollow."
"Is dere poison in de bag, white man?"
"No, the poison is dried up."
"Is dere poison in de hollow ob de needle?"
"No," said Battersea again. "The poison is dried up."
At this moment a noise in the house disturbed Dido, and with a pass or two she released Battersea from the hypnotic spell. He started, rubbed his eyes, and looked drowsily at the tall negress, who had resumed her impassive attitude.
"What have you been doing. Dido?" he asked, stupidly.
"Obi!" was the brief reply. "You hab told ole Dido what she wish about de debble-stick."
"The devil-stick," repeated the tramp, in wide-eyed surprise. "S'elp me, I don't know anything of it. Dr. Etwald met me, and ses he: 'You go to Miss Dallas?' and I ses, 'I does;' and he ses, 'You'll see Dido,' and I ses, 'I will;' and he ses, 'Say to her "Devil-stick,"' an' I ses, 'Right y'are, sir.' But es to knowing--"
"Dat nuffin!" said Dido, with a lordly wave of her hand. "I black; you hab de black blood in youse also. I mek you do Obi. Um!"
"What's Obi? What's you torkin of?" asked Battersea, rather nervously. "An' ow does yeou know I hev black blood?"
"Obi say dat to me. Your mudder black."
"Yah!" cried Battersea, derisively. "You're out of it. My mother white; but my father--" here he hesitated, and then resumed: "Yes, you're right. Dido; my father was a negro! A Seedee boy, who was a fireman on a P. and O. liner."
"I hab seen dat," replied Dido, nodding her head. "Black blood in youse, an' I can do Obi on you. I send your spirit to de house of Massa Jen. You tell me ob de debble-stick."
Battersea drew back and began to whimper again.
"I knows es you wor at that devilry," he said, nervously. "When you claps your eyes on me I gets afeard."
"Dat's so. But I take care ob you. Now get to de kitchen; dere am food for you."
The old man's eyes brightened in anticipation of a feast, and he shuffled off round the corner as quickly as his age would allow him. Dido looked after him for a moment, considering the message he had brought from Dr. Etwald, and then began to think of the devil-stick.
She knew very well what it was, for her grandmother had been carried off as a slave from the west coast of Africa, and knew all about Ashantee sorcery and fetish rites. These she had repeated to her granddaughter Dido, with the result that Dido, cherishing these recollections, knew exactly how to use the wand of sleep. She had spoken about it to Dr. Etwald, quite ignorant that Jen kept one as a curiosity, and now Etwald had intimated through Battersea that he wished her to do something in connection with the stick. What that something might be Dido at the present moment could not guess.
She had exerted her magnetic and hypnotic influence over Battersea, not that she wished for a detailed description of the wand, for already she knew its appearance, but because it might happen that it would be necessary to use the tramp for certain purposes connected with the discovery of secrets. Dido exercised a strong influence over this weak old creature, partially on account of his half negro blood and partially because she had terrified his feeble brain by her dark hints of Obi worship.
Battersea was supposed to be a Christian; but the barbaric fluid in his veins inclined him to the terrible grotesqueness of African witchcraft, and Dido and her words stirred some dim instinct in his mind. The negress saw that accident had placed in her way a helpless creature who might be of use in her necromantic business; therefore, by hypnotizing him once or twice, she contrived to keep him within her power. All of which fantasy would have been denied by the average British newspaper reader, who can not imagine such things taking place in what he calls euphoniously a Christian land. But this happened, for all his denial.
Having dismissed Battersea, the negress turned to seek Isabella. She was so devoted to her nursling that she could hardly bear to be away from her, and since her infancy Isabella had scarcely been absent an hour from her strange attendant. The girl had gone into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Dallas was still sleeping; and there, relieved for the moment from the prying eyes of the negress, she took a letter out of her pocket. It was from Maurice, stating that he was coming to see her that afternoon at three o'clock, as he had something particular to say.
It was now close upon the hour, and Isabella was wondering how she could get rid of Dido, whom she did not wish to be present at the coming interview. The inborn jealousy of the woman, and her advocacy of Dr. Etwald's suit, made her an unpleasant third at such a meeting. Moreover, Maurice instinctively disliked this sullen creature, and was never quite easy in her presence.
Finally, Isabella decided to slip round by the back of the house and meet Maurice at the gate. Dido was occupied in questioning Battersea about the devil-stick on the verandah. So, after a glance to assure herself that the pair were in earnest conversation, Isabella put on a straw hat and ran lightly away to see her lover. She passed out by a side door, danced like a fairy across the intervening space of lawn, and slipped laughingly into the narrow path which wound through the wood to the avenue near the gates.
Just as she emerged into the open she heard a sharp click, and saw Maurice approaching. He was dressed in his flannels, and looked particularly handsome, she thought; the more so when she beheld his face lighting up at her unexpected appearance. The magnetism of love drew them irresistibly together, and in less time than it takes to write, Isabella was lying on the broad breast of her lover and he was fondly kissing her lips.
"My own dear love," he murmured, softly. "How good of you to meet me."
"I came down here to escape Dido," explained Isabella, slipping her hand within his. "You don't like her to be with us."
"I don't like her in any case, my darling. She is like a black shadow of evil always at your heels. I must get your mother to forbid her trespassing upon our meetings."
"My dear Maurice, how can you possibly do that, when you refuse to tell my mother of our engagement?"
"Oh, I had a reason for keeping our engagement secret, but it is no longer necessary, and to-day--at this moment--I am going straight to ask your mother to give me this dear hand in marriage. If she consents, we will soon get rid of Dido."
"But my mother may not consent," said Isabella, a trifle nervously.
"Why not? I have a profession and a small property. We love one another dearly, so I don't see what grounds she has for refusal."
"Well, Dido can do nothing," said Maurice, in a jesting tone, "unless you want her to forbid the banns."
"She may even be able to do that," replied Isabella, seriously. "My mother is afraid of her, and is often influenced in her decisions by Dido."
"What, the black witch? Bah! She is only a servant."
"She is something more than that in Barbadoes."
"Oh, you mean that Obi rubbish, my dearest," said Maurice, slipping his arm round the slender waist of the girl. "It is on that very account that I wish to tell your mother of our engagement, for I must rescue you from the influence of that dark Jezebel. She is dangerous."
"I know she is; but she hates you."
"I don't care for her hate," replied Maurice, carelessly. "It is a poor thing, and can not possibly harm me. But I mean to extricate you from her toils, and I don't care how she attempts to prevent our marriage. Surely Mrs. Dallas will not let herself be guided in so important a business by the will and feelings of that black wench."
"My mother is weak where Dido is concerned," said Isabella, shaking her head.
"And so are you, my dear," responded Maurice, kissing her. "Both of you are weak and have yielded up your wills to that woman. But the announcement of our engagement will give me some influence in the house and do away with all that. It will be a fight between white and black magic, and I, as a civilized wizard, intend to win."
"Why do you particularly wish to announce our engagement to-day?"
Maurice grew serious, and paused at the top of the drive, just out of sight of the house, to reply to this question.
"My dear child," he said slowly, "I kept our engagement secret on account of David. I have seen for a long time that he loves you, and knowing his fiery temper, I did not wish to provoke a quarrel by telling him that you had promised to be my wife. But last night the truth was forced from me at dinner, and David declared that he intended to ask you to marry him."
"But I don't love him. I love you!"
"I knew that, but he didn't. He knows now that we love one another, but he is ignorant that we are engaged. When the fact is publicly announced, he may give up his idea of marrying you, and so a quarrel may be averted."
"Are you afraid of quarreling with him?"
"Yes. Not on my account, but it distresses our good major to see us at variance. We nearly quarreled over you last night, though, upon my word," added the young man half to himself, "I believe Etwald promoted the row."
"Etwald!" repeated Isabella. "Dr. Etwald?"
"Yes; he is in love with you."
"I know he is," replied the girl, quietly. "But, of course, I could never be his wife; the more so, as I fear him. But Dido wishes me to marry him."
"Oh, hang Dido!" cried Maurice, vigorously. "I wish she would mind her own business."
At this moment, as if summoned by his remark, Dido appeared round the bend of the path. She looked straight before her, turning neither to right nor left, and passed the pair like one in a sleeping fit. The negress seemed to be under the influence of some strange excitement, and ran stumbling down to the gate.
"Voodoo! Voodoo!" she cried, hoarsely.
"Oh," said Isabella, nervously, "Dr. Etwald must be at hand. When Dido says 'Voodoo' he comes."
"When Dido says 'Voodoo' he comes," repeated Maurice, greatly puzzled. "Are you talking of Dr. Etwald?"
"Yes. He seems to possess some strange power over Dido, for she always knows when he is approaching. See, Maurice, Dido is waiting at the gate; in a few moments you will see Dr. Etwald enter it."
The two young people looked steadfastly at the brilliantly-colored figure of the negress, standing in a statuesque attitude near the great iron gate. On either side of her waved the summer foliage of the trees; overhead the sun, like a burning eye, looked down from a cloudless sky, and beyond, the dusty white road showed distinctly through the slender bars of the gate. All was bright and cheerful and English, but in that sinister red figure, with its black face and hands, there was a suggestion of evil which seemed to dominate and poison the whole beautiful scene. Maurice felt Isabella shudder with nervous dread as she pressed closely to his side.
"Dearest, you must not be afraid," said he, glancing down anxiously at her face. "You must throw off the terror you have of this woman. If the law--"
At this moment he broke off his speech with an ejaculation of surprise, for, true to the prognostication of Isabella--in answer to the expectant attitude of the negress--Dr. Etwald turned in at the gate.
"Ho! ho!" murmured Maurice, rather taken back. "So the art of devil-raising is not a lost one after all. Dido can still call spirits from the vasty deep."
"She has called flesh and blood," said Isabella, with a shiver. "But there is nothing strange about Dr. Etwald's appearance just now. Dido did not call him; she simply felt that he was at hand, and went to meet him at the gate."
They continued to watch the pair, and saw Dido throw herself at the feet of Etwald, who raised his hand over her in a threatening manner. He pointed into the wood with an imperious gesture, and in a slinking attitude the usually stately Dido passed out of sight into the little path down which Isabella had come to meet Maurice. When the gleam of her red dress disappeared Etwald wiped his face and walked briskly up the avenue toward the young couple.
"Shall we go on or wait for him here?" asked Isabella in a whisper.
"Wait," replied Maurice, in the same tone. "I shall not let him think that either of us is afraid of his charlatan tricks."
Dr. Etwald approached, with what was meant for a smile on his usually sombre face, and took off his hat to Miss Dallas. But he did not speak as he made his salutation, so the girl was forced, by reason of this uncomfortable silence, to make the first observation.
"Good-morning, doctor," she said, as he replaced his hat; "I suppose you have come to see my mother."
"Partly, Miss Dallas, and partly to see you; also this gentleman."
"To see me!" said Maurice, looking at his rival. "Then why did you not go to 'Ashantee?'"
Etwald shrugged his shoulders.
"I never give myself unnecessary trouble," he answered, calmly, "and, of course, I knew that I should find you here."
"By what right do you say that?" demanded Maurice, sharply.
"By the right of our conversation last night, Mr. Alymer. You have forestalled me, I see. No matter," added Etwald, with a sneer. "To-day to you; to-morrow to me."
All this was quite unintelligible to Isabella, who looked from one to the other of her companions in bewilderment, not guessing for the moment that she was the bone of contention between them. She saw the suppressed mockery on Etwald's face, and noted also that Maurice, roused by the quiet insistence of the doctor, had much difficulty in keeping his temper. Knowing how her lover disliked Etwald, and fearing lest there should be a quarrel between the two men, she cut the Gordian knot by hastily proposing that they should go up to the house.
At the same time she was afraid lest further trouble should occur therein, for it seemed to her that Etwald had paid this visit for the express purpose of making himself disagreeable.
However, he did not say anything further at the moment, but walked beside Isabella toward The Wigwam. Behind them Maurice strolled slowly, fuming and fretting at the attitude assumed by Etwald by the side of Isabella. She cast a backward glance at his frowning face, and to avert possible trouble she began hastily to question the doctor about the strange conduct of Dido.
"What was the matter with my nurse, doctor?" she asked. "What have you been doing to her?"
"She was agitated, my dear young lady, and I have calmed that agitation."
"After having previously caused it," said Maurice, in a significant tone.
The doctor looked at the young man calmly.
"What possible reason have you to make such an accusation?" he demanded.
"I think it is my fault," said Isabella, hastily. "I remarked that Dido was always agitated when you came to this house."
"I can explain that in a measure, Miss Dallas. If you remember I cured Dido of a bad nervous headache by hypnotic suggestion. Her mind, therefore, became habituated in responding to mine, and doubtless she feels a kind of impression which tells her that I am near."
"In other words," said Maurice, pointedly, "you have obtained an influence over her."
"It is not improbable," rejoined Etwald, in measured tones. "I am one of those people, Mr. Alymer, who can, by strength of will and power of character, obtain power over anyone I wish."
As he spoke, Etwald cast a sudden glance at Isabella. The girl was looking toward the house, out of which her mother had just emerged, and did not see the menace in his regard; but Maurice noted the gaze, and felt enraged at all it implied.
In plain words, Etwald intimated in a veiled manner that Isabella was a nervous subject, over whom he could obtain influence, if he so chose, by the unlawful means of hypnotism. This power Maurice was determined he should not gain, and by asking a direct question he tried to force Etwald into a confession of illegitimate practices. By this he hoped to warn Isabella, and make her afraid of trusting herself too much in the doctor's company.
"You have been in the West Indies, doctor?" asked Maurice, bluntly.
"I have been all over the world, Mr. Alymer," parried Etwald, dexterously.
"Do you know anything of Voodoo worship?"
"I know something of most things," assented the doctor. "But I confess I take but little interest in African barbarities."
"Oh, what about Dido and her meeting you?"
"I have explained that to the best of my ability," responded Etwald, coldly, "and now, Mr. Alymer, as our hostess is approaching you must excuse my replying to any further questions. If you want further insight into my character, call upon me at Deanminster."
"That I shall certainly do," said Maurice, for he was resolved to learn all he could about this strange man, so that he could protect Isabella from his arts.
"Ah," said the doctor, with irony, "we shall see if you will venture so far."
Before Maurice could take up the implied challenge, which threw doubts upon his moral courage, Mrs. Dallas advanced heavily to meet her visitors. Isabella had already flitted like a white butterfly into the drawing-room, and her mother received the two young men alone. Her reception was, as usual, ponderous and vague.
"So pleased to see you, Mr. Alymer. Dr. Etwald, I am charmed. It is a delightful day, is it not? Reminds one of Barbadoes."
"I have never been in Barbadoes," said Maurice, toward whom her languid gaze was directed. "But Dr. Etwald may be able to answer your question, Mrs. Dallas."
"I know the West Indian islands," observed Etwald as they walked into the house, "and this day does remind me a little of the climate there; but it is scarcely hot enough."
"No," murmured Mrs. Dallas, sinking into a large chair. "You are right. I have been in the sun all the morning, and only now am I beginning to feel warm, I shall certainly go back to Barbadoes."
Mrs. Dallas had made this threat so many times that nobody paid any attention to it, and, not expecting an answer, she began to fan herself slowly. Through her half-closed eyes she looked anxiously at the subtle face of Etwald. With the instinct of a woman she guessed that something important had brought the doctor to see her; he was not a man to waste his time on visits of ceremony.
Now Mrs. Dallas was secretly afraid of Etwald, as she had received hints from Dido, in whose truth she implicitly believed--that the doctor knew more about secret things than most people. She dreaded lest his visit should portend harm, and so, in some trepidation, she waited for him to speak. But Etwald, guessing her frame of mind, took his time and it was only when Isabella approached with some tea for her mother that he broke the silence.
"Don't go away, Miss Dallas," he said, entreatingly. "I have something to say to your mother which concerns you."
Isabella turned pale, for she guessed what was coming. As Etwald had raised his voice purposely, Maurice, who was standing by the tea-table, also pricked up his ears. Mrs. Dallas, with some curiosity, raised herself to look closer at Etwald and he, seeing that his auditory was attentive, prepared to launch his thunderbolt.
"My dear Mrs. Dallas," he said, in a soft voice, "you must have seen for a long time that my visits here have not been made without an object. To-day I come to ask you and your sweet daughter a question."
"What is it?" asked the mother, devoured by curiosity.
"Pray don't ask it," said Isabella, better informed by Etwald's glance as to his purpose. "It will only give you pain."
"I must risk that," said the doctor, slowly, "Mrs. Dallas, I love your daughter, and I wish to marry her. Miss Isabella, will you be my wife?"
Here Maurice set down his cup with a crash, and strode across the room, where he faced Etwald in no very pleasant frame of mind.
"I shall answer that question. Dr. Etwald," he said, loudly. "Miss Dallas shall not and can not marry you. She has promised to be my wife."
"Isabella!" said Mrs. Dallas, in an aggrieved tone. "Is this true?"
"Perfectly true," assented Isabella. "I love Maurice. I wish to marry him." And slipping her arm within that of her lover, she prepared to face the storm.
"You are a disobedient girl," cried Mrs. Dallas, making no attempt to control her temper. "You shall not marry without my permission. Mr. Alymer, I am astonished at you; I am disappointed in you. It is not the act of a gentleman to steal away the affections of my daughter without informing me of your intentions."
"I had my reasons for not doing so, Mrs. Dallas," replied Maurice, quickly. "But I was about to tell you of our engagement when Dr. Etwald forestalled me by making his unexpected offer."
"Unexpected, Mr. Alymer!" smiled Etwald. "After my statement last night?"
"Unexpected so far as time and place are concerned," said Maurice, firmly. "But as you have asked Miss Dallas to marry you, take her refusal from her own lips."
"Miss Dallas!" said Etwald, in no wise moved by this speech.
"Isabella!" cried her mother in an angry tone.
Isabella looked calmly at them both.
"I love Maurice. I intend to marry him," she repeated, and an obstinate expression came over her face.
"In that case," said Etwald, rising, "I must take my leave, and shall be content with that answer until such time as you are free; then," he added, coolly, "I shall ask you again."
"I shall never be free," said Isabella, proudly.
"Oh, yes, you will; when Mr. Alymer is dead."
"Dead!" shrieked Mrs. Dallas, all her superstition roused by the word. "Come away from that man, Isabella."
"Maurice dead!" repeated the girl, with a pale cheek.
The young man shrugged his shoulders.
"Pooh! pooh! some nonsense that Dr. Etwald was talking about last night," he added, contemptuously. "He says if I marry, it will be a case of life in death, whatever that means."
Etwald rose to his feet and stretched out a menacing hand.
"I have warned you, Alymer," he said, sternly. "Your marriage, after or before it, means life in death. Take care! Ladies," he added, with a bow, "I take my departure."
Outside Etwald found Dido waiting for him. He looked at her significantly.
"I have failed," he said. "There is nothing left but the devil-stick."
Maurice returned home after a somewhat stormy interview with Mrs. Dallas. For once the mother of Isabella was roused out of her habitual indifference, and she refused absolutely to accept Alymer as her son-in-law. In vain the lovers implored her to give some reason for her strange refusal, but beyond expressing a personal dislike for Maurice she declined to explain her conduct. The young man saw in this uncalled for behavior the hostile influence of Dido.
"It is because that black woman distrusts me that you object," he said, when Mrs. Dallas had talked herself hoarse. "I wonder that an English lady, a Christian and an educated person should be dominated by that uncivilized creature."
"Dido has nothing to do with my refusal," said the widow, coldly, "and although I take her advice in some things I do not in this. I do not wish Isabella to marry you, and I request you to leave my house--"
"Mother!" cried Isabella, with a pale face.
"And never come back to it again!" finished Mrs. Dallas, sharply.
Maurice went to the window of the room which opened on to the veranda and put on his hat.
"As a gentleman, I must accept your dismissal," he said, quietly; "but I decline to give up Isabella."
"And I," cried the girl, "swear to remain true to Maurice."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said her mother, violently. "I forbid you even to think of that young man. You shall marry whom I choose."
"Dr. Etwald, I suppose?"
"No. Mr. Sarby."
"David!" ejaculated Maurice, in an astonished tone. "You wish Isabella to marry him?"
"Yes. He loves Isabella much more than you do, and he asked permission--which you didn't--to pay his addresses to her. I consented, and so," Mrs. Dallas raised her voice, "he shall marry her."
"I refuse to marry Mr. Sarby," said Isabella, vehemently. "I hate him!"
"That is no matter," replied her mother, coldly. "You must marry him."
"Must!" repeated Maurice, with great indignation.
"Yes, Mr. Alymer. Must! Must! Must! If you want an explanation of that you can ask--" Here Mrs. Dallas paused with a strange smile and added slowly: "Major Jen."
"The major! My guardian!" cried Alymer, quite thunderstruck. "Is he against me?"
"I don't believe it."
"Ask him," repeated Mrs. Dallas.
"Nor I," said Isabella. "The major is a kind man, and he wants to see me happy. He is--"
"That is enough," interrupted Mrs. Dallas, rising in a cold fury. "I want no further speeches from you. Go to your room, Isabella. Mr. Alymer, your way lies yonder," and with a swift gesture she pointed to the window.
Resigning himself to the inevitable, Maurice gave one glance at Isabella, and went outside with a heavy heart. Dido was standing upon the veranda with her eyes glowing like two coals. Yet there was an ill-concealed expression of triumph in her gaze, which Maurice, in his then disturbed and angered state of mind, could ill brook. He paused abruptly as he passed by her, and asked a direct question:
"Why do you hate me. Dido?"
The negress glared savagely at him.
"Voodoo!" said she, in a harsh voice.
"What do you mean by that jargon?" he demanded, in angry tones.
"Voodoo!" said Dido again, and showed her teeth in anything but a pleasant fashion.
"Bah! you black parrot!" muttered Maurice scornfully and turned upon his heel. As he vanished down the walk Dido clapped her hands together with great satisfaction and began to sing in low tones. Her song was barbaric in words and strange beyond all telling in the music. It rose and fell, and moaned and drawled, in a curiously painful manner. In the drawing-room Mrs. Dallas had risen to her feet at the first deep contralto note, and now stood rocking herself to and fro with an expression of alarm on her face. Isabella was terrified in her turn by Dido's song and her mother's strange conduct, though by this time she should have been used to these eccentricities.
"Mother, what is it? What does Dido sing?"
Mrs. Dallas, closing her eyes, continued rocking herself to and fro, saying but one word in answer.
"Voodoo!" she said, and that was all. But it was enough for Isabella. She shrieked and ran out of the room. Then Dido, still singing, appeared at the window, and looked at Mrs. Dallas with an expression of triumph.
"Why do you sing the death song?" asked Mrs. Dallas, opening her eyes,
"Because de master hab doomed dat yaller-ha'r," said Dido, and continued her song.
In the meantime Maurice walked slowly homeward, puzzling out in his own mind as to what could be the meaning of these strange things. He could not understand why Mrs. Dallas objected to him as a son-in-law; nor could he surmise the meaning of the mysterious word, "Voodoo," pronounced so significantly by Dido, However, he saw plainly that the negress was the disturbing element in the Dallas household, and by a half-hypnotic control over the weak will of her mistress, she could act as she pleased. The widow had been born and brought up in the Barbadoes. She was a half-educated woman of feeble intellect, and having been left during the time her mind and character were being formed solely to the society of black servants, she had imbibed--not unnaturally--many of the debased superstitions of Africa. Dido knew this, and by means of her claims to a knowledge of Obi, she was enabled to rule Mrs. Dallas, and also, as has been stated, to exercise a powerful influence over the plastic mind of Isabella.
"But I'll spoil her designs in that quarter," muttered Maurice, as his thoughts led him to this conclusion. "Isabella shall not be dragged down to the level of her mother. I shall marry her, and so destroy the influence of that vile negress."
This was easier said than done, as Maurice, simple and upright in conduct and character, was no match for the unscrupulous machinations of Dido. She hated the young man, and was determined that he should not marry her nursling. But whether she had, like Mrs. Dallas, a preference for David over Etwald, Maurice could not determine. The more he thought over affairs, the more incoherent and complicated did they become; so Alymer gave up the task in despair. Then it occurred to him that Mrs. Dallas had referred him to Major Jen; so to his guardian Maurice went the moment he arrived at the big house. But to his surprise, the major was not to be found.
"Major gone out, sir," explained Jaggard, to whom Maurice applied for information. "He got a message from Dr. Etwald, and went to see him. Be back to dinner, sir, I b'lieve."
"Where is Mr. Sarby?"
"Gone over to Brance Hall, sir."
"Ho, ho!" thought Maurice, as he turned away. "So David has gone to see Lady Meg and the countess. Now, if he is in love with Isabella, and Mrs. Dallas favors his suit, I wonder why he acts in that way?"
The question he could not answer, so dismissing it from his memory, he retired to the smoking-room with a pipe and a novel. When Jen and David returned he intended to question both, and, if possible, get to the bottom of these thickening mysteries.
"Hang it!" soliloquized Maurice over his book, "since yesterday everything seems to have gone wrong. That negress and Dr. Etwald are at the bottom of affairs. But I can't see their reasons for mixing things up so."
Then he laid aside his book to think, and through the smoke curling from his pipe he stared idly at the opposite wall. It chanced to be that upon which the barbaric weapons before alluded to were arranged, and conspicuous among them glittered the golden handle of the devil-stick. Recalling the mention of Voodoo, and Etwald's reference to African witchcraft, Maurice connected in his own mind the devil-stick with those barbarisms, and on the impulse of the moment he rose to examine the magic wand. Handling it carefully--for he dreaded the poison, although it was said to be dried up--he wondered if Dido could make use of it were it in her possession.
"I heard Mrs. Dallas say that Dido's people came from Ashantee," soliloquized Maurice, "so I have no doubt she can work the infernal thing. Perhaps she knows enough to fill the bag with fresh poison. If she did so, I wouldn't trust myself near her. She would be sure to experiment on me."
At this moment Major Jen, looking slightly worried, entered the room, and seeing the devil-stick in the hand of Maurice, he stopped short with an ejaculation of surprise.
"You are looking at that thing, Maurice?" said he, wonderingly. "Now that is strange."
"Why should it be strange?"
"Because I have just been talking about it with Dr. Etwald."
"Oh!" said Maurice, his thoughts flying back to the mysterious influence which he had seen Etwald exercise over Dido. "And what was the doctor saying?"
Major Jen threw himself into a chair and frowned.
"A great deal. He saw the devil-stick the other night--"
"Yes, last night, and to-day he sent a note asking if I would ride over and see him this afternoon. I did so, and he then explained that he wished to buy that thing."
"The devil-stick? Why?"
"I can't say. He explained that he had been in the Barbadoes, and that he took a great interest in the subject of African fetish worship. He had heard of these 'wands of sleep,' as they are called, and greatly wished to obtain one, but he was unable to do so. Since seeing mine he has been seized with a desire to possess it."
"Why?" said Maurice again.
"As a curiosity, I suppose. I've told you all he told me. But I refused to sell it to him, and he seemed greatly vexed, a display of irritation which in its turn vexed me. I was quite annoyed when I left him."
"Why don't you wish to sell it, Uncle Jen?"
"Because it is a dangerous thing to handle. Although the poison is dried up, yet there may be enough in it to kill a man. If I parted with it and anyone was injured by it I should never forgive myself. Pray put it up, Maurice; I dislike to see you touch it. To-night, after dinner, I shall lock it up in a safe place. David is right; it should not be on the wall there."
"David has gone over to see Lady Meg."
"Yes. I don't think he will be back until after dinner," said Jen, rising. "So you and I had better sit down as soon as we are dressed. I am very hungry."
"Uncle Jen, I want to ask you something."
"What is it?" asked the major, pausing at the door.
"Do you wish David to marry Isabella Dallas?"
"I really can't say," he said. "That is a matter which lies in the hands of the girl herself. If she likes you better than David--"
"What! Have you spoken to her?"
"I have, and to Mrs. Dallas, who declines to sanction our engagement. She wants Isabella to marry David, and said--"
"I can guess what she said," interrupted Jen, hastily. "No more of this till after dinner, my dear lad. Then I'll explain all."
"Why Mrs. Dallas wants Isabella to marry David." Not another word would the major say on the subject at that moment, so Maurice was forced to seek his room in a very unsatisfied frame of mind. However, as he thought, here was one mystery about to be explained, and that was a comfort. As Jen prophesied, David did not return to dinner, and Maurice had a tête-à-tête with his guardian. But they talked of indifferent things, and it was not until they were once more in the smoking-room with cigars and coffee that the major consented to speak on the subject of Mrs. Dallas' strange conduct.
"Now, my boy, I'm ready to tell--" Here Jen stopped and looked blankly at the wall.
"What is the matter?" asked Maurice, in surprise.
"The devil-stick!" gasped Jen, pointing a shaking finger at the wall. "The devil-stick!"
Maurice looked--the devil-stick was gone!
For some moments the two men looked at one another; and then Major Jen, seeing the necessity for prompt action, rang the bell. Jaggard entered with military swiftness, and stared blankly at his master, who was pointing at the wall; an action inexplicable to the servant at that moment.
"Where is the devil-stick?" demanded Jen, wrathfully.
"The what, sir?" asked Jaggard, doubtfully.
"The green stick with the gold handle which was placed among the weapons here. It is gone. What has become of it?"
Jaggard advanced to the trophy of weapons, and examined them with some deliberation, after which he turned to face the irate major.
"It's gone sure enough, sir, but I don't know where."
"Find out if any of the servants have taken it."
Jaggard saluted and vanished, while his master walked up and down the room, fuming at the loss of the curiosity. He had all the talk to himself, for Maurice, whose mind was busy with conjectures as to Dido or Dr. Etwald being the thief, did not think it necessary to speak. In a few minutes Jaggard returned with the news that none of the servants had been in the smoking-room that evening.
"Who lighted the lamp?" demanded Jen, sharply.
"I did, sir."
"We found the window open when we came in," said Maurice. "Did you open it?"
"Yes, sir. The major told me to always air the room during dinner."
"Do you think that someone has stolen the stick, Maurice?" said the major. "Someone from outside, I mean."
"I am sure of it," replied Alymer, with decision.
"Jaggard, did you notice that negress of Mrs. Dallas' about the grounds, since five o'clock?"
"Why no, Mr. Maurice, I can't say as I did."
"The tramp then; Battersea?"
"No, sir. Haven't set eyes on him for a week."
"When you lighted the lamp it was eight o'clock?"
"About that, sir. I lighted it just after dinner, while you and the major were over your wine, so to speak, sir."
"And the room was in darkness--that is, comparative darkness--before then," mused Maurice. "I don't think anyone could have seen the devil-stick unless the lamp was lighted. Was it gone when you lighted up?"
"I didn't observe, sir!"
"Very good, Jaggard," broke in the major, "you can go. Maurice!" he turned to the young man when Jaggard left the room, "what do you mean by all these questions and examinations? Do you suspect anyone?"
"Yes," replied Maurice, deliberately. "I suspect Dido, the negress."
"Why?" asked Jen, with military brevity.
"It's a long story," returned Maurice, lighting a fresh cigar. "Look here, Uncle Jen, I went to dress at half-past six; you did also. When we left the devil-stick was in the room on the wall. Now we are here again at half-past eight, the devil-stick is gone. In these two hours Dido has had time to cross the lawn yonder and steal it."
"But why do you suspect Dido?"
"Because the room was in darkness, as you heard Jaggard say. To steal that stick the thief must have known its position on the wall."
"Well, Dido didn't know that; she was never in this room."
"No, but Dr. Etwald was."
"Dr. Etwald! Do you think he has anything to do with it?" queried Jen, perplexed and a trifled startled.
"I am certain of it," replied Maurice. "He employed Dido to steal it from you, as you refused to sell it. Listen, uncle, and I'll give you my reasons for this belief," and then Maurice told succinctly all that had taken place at The Wigwam during the afternoon.
Major Jen listened quietly, and waited until Maurice ended his story before he spoke. The information about Mrs. Dallas and her reference to himself did not surprise him so much as Alymer expected it would do. In fact he only made one brief remark upon this point.
"I am sorry Mrs. Dallas said that," he remarked, when Maurice paused in his narrative.
"But what does she mean by it. Uncle Jen? Didn't you wish me to marry Isabella?"
"I am neither for nor against," replied Jen, enigmatically. "As I said before, let the girl marry who she loves best."
"She loves me best."
"In that case I am sorry for David," retorted the major.
"So am I," rejoined Maurice, promptly. "All the same, you can hardly expect me to give up to David the girl I love, and who loves me. But why does Mrs. Dallas support David's suit?"
"Ask her to explain that, my dear lad."
"I did so, and she referred me to you."
Major Jen wriggled uneasily in his seat, and carefully knocked the ash off his cigar. He disliked telling what appeared to him to be a silly story, but as such story bore strongly upon the present position of things, and as Maurice was impatiently waiting to be enlightened, Jen was forced to put his scruples on one side and speak out.
"If what I relate appears impossible don't blame me," he said, abruptly, "and I feel certain that you will laugh when I tell you about Voodoo!"
"That word again!" cried Maurice, in a puzzled voice. "Dido used it when we met Etwald; she repeated it to me before I left. Voodoo! Voodoo! What does it mean, Uncle Jen?"
"African witchcraft! Obi! Fetish worship! The adoration of the bad spirit who catches mortals by the hair. Any one of these things explains the meaning of the term."
"H'm!" said Maurice. "It is devil-worship, pure and simple."
"Yes, and Mrs. Dallas knows more about it than is good for her."
"But you don't mean to say that she believes in it!"
"My boy," Jen laid his hand upon the arm of the young man, "when you reach my age you will find that there is no limit to the credulity and folly of human beings. When I was stationed in the Barbadoes many years ago I met Mrs. Dallas."
"Oh! so she is an old friend of yours?"
"Yes. I knew her in the West Indies shortly before Isabella was born. It was through knowing me," explained the major, "that she came to this neighborhood and rented The Wigwam. You see, Maurice, I was one of the few people she knew in England, and she remained near me for company's sake, and"--here the major hesitated--"and because she was afraid of herself," he finished significantly.
"I don't quite understand."
"I shall explain, and it is lucky for you that Mrs. Dallas gave you permission to ask me for an explanation, otherwise I should have been forced, from a sense of honor, to hold my tongue. As it is, I can tell you; Mrs. Dallas fears that if Isabella marries anyone but David her death will take place."
"Whose death? Isabella's or Mrs. Dallas'?"
"The latter. You must know, Maurice," continued the major, "that Mrs. Dallas, though well born and well married, is an extremely ignorant woman. She was brought up mostly by Dido's grandmother, who was the most accursed old witch in Barbadoes, or out of it for the matter of that. This old hag instilled into the mind of Mrs. Dallas all kinds of superstitions in which she really believes. When the grandmother died Dido became nurse to Isabella, and private witch of the Dallas household. She is clever--wonderfully clever--and she has continued her grandmother's system of terrorizing both Mrs. Dallas and Isabella."
"Yes; I can see that. Uncle Jen, and it is for that reason I want to marry Isabella, and take her away before her mind is degraded further by that old fury."
"Well, the old fury sees what you want, my dear lad, and so she is determined that Isabella shall marry David and not you. To accomplish her aims she went through some hocus-pocus of devilry, or fortune-telling, or incantation, and discovered that if Isabella marries you, Mrs. Dallas will die."
"And does Mrs. Dallas believe that rubbish?" asked Maurice, incredulously.
"Implicitly! I tell you she is ignorant and superstitious. Come what may, she is convinced that your marriage with Isabella means her own death; so you may rest assured, Maurice, that she will never, never accept you as her son-in-law."
"I understand," said Maurice, with a shrug. "It seems hopeless to contest this decision of a diseased and feeble mind. I can understand Dido stopping my marriage, as she wants to retain her sinful influence over Isabella; I can understand Mrs. Dallas, weak and silly, being dominated by this negro Jezebel; but I can't understand why David is chosen as the future son-in-law. If he marries Isabella, he will no more put up with Dido than I should have done."
"Of course not; I can't explain the reason," repeated Jen, shaking his head. "But you know all that I know, Maurice; and you can see that it is hopeless for you to attempt to marry the girl."
"I'm not so sure of that," retorted Maurice; "I love Isabella, and come what may I intend to make her my wife."
"But what about me?" said a voice outside the open window; "what about me?" And a moment later David, in dusty riding-dress, stepped into the room. He looked disturbed and angry, and his strongly marked face bore traces of agitation and haunting thoughts.
Disturbed by the unexpected appearance of David, and seeing from his expression that he was bent upon making himself disagreeable, Jen hastily interposed to prevent a quarrel between the two young men.
"What, David, back again!" he said, ignoring the question asked by Sarby. "So you did not stay to dinner?"
"No," replied David, shortly. "I didn't!" He flung himself into a chair and resumed in a significant tone, "Lady Seamere didn't ask me, and if she had I couldn't have accepted in this dress. Besides, I am not the man whom she delights to honor. Now if Maurice had been there, Lady Meg--"
"For heaven's sake don't couple my name with Lady Meg's," interrupted Maurice, sharply. "You know quite well--"
"Yes I do," rejoined David, interrupting in his turn. "And so does she!"
"What do you mean?"
"What I say. It's no use your assuming that innocent air, Maurice. You have not treated Lady Meg well!"
"I have! How dare you say such a thing? Lady Meg knew that I was in love with Isabella."
"Oh!" said David, with a sneer. "I overheard you arrange to marry her. But you'll never do that while I am alive, or Mrs. Dallas either."
"I know that Mrs. Dallas is on your side, and I know the reason."
"Then you know more than I do," retorted Sarby. "I told Mrs. Dallas that I loved Isabella and she said that nothing would give her greater pleasure than to see us married."
"You shan't marry her!" cried Maurice, angrily rising.
"I shall!" said David, and rose also.
"Boys! boys!" said Jen, annoyed at this quarrel, "do not be so positive. If you are both in love with the same woman, let the woman decide."
"She has decided!" said Alymer, sharply. "She loves me."
"I don't care two straws about that," said David, coldly. "I have not spoken to her yet, but all the same I intend her to become my wife. I give you fair warning, Maurice, that you are not to poach upon my preserves."
"Your preserves. Confound your insolence!"
"Upon my word, David," said Jen, seeing that Maurice could hardly speak for rage, "you go too far. The girl loves Maurice and not you; and it would be much more honorable for you not to press your suit."
"I don't care two pins for honor, major! I love Isabella, and I intend to marry her. But become the wife of Maurice she never shall; I'd rather see her married to Etwald."
"The third Richmond who is in the field," scoffed Maurice. "Well, he has as good a chance as you. Dido supports his pretensions; Mrs. Dallas is your champion. As for me, I have the love of Isabella, so I'm afraid of nothing."
"Are you not?" said Sarby, with a peculiar smile. "Remember what Etwald said about your life-in-death!"
"I don't believe in that rubbish, David, and I should be very sorry to think you did."
"As to that, I don't care about discussing the point," was the reply. "Our own beliefs are our own business. But I must say that Etwald is a dangerous man, both to you and to me."
"I daresay," replied Maurice, coolly. "The more so, as I believe he has stolen the devil-stick."
"What!" David made a step forward and stared at the wall. His face was quite pale, and his hands trembled in spite of his efforts to control himself.
"The devil-stick gone!" he said, turning on his heel. "Both you and I must be careful, Maurice."
So far the reader may wonder at the constituent elements of this story. African witchcraft, mysterious strangers, and barbaric women seem to be out of place when set in the sober framework of an English provincial town. But romance is not dependent upon landscape or on surroundings for its occurrence: it is to be found everywhere, and very often in the most unlikely places. Here, for instance, by some trick of Fate, certain people had come together, certain passions had been aroused, and now that the drama had been set in motion, it seemed likely that it would play itself out to a tragical conclusion. Tragical, certainly; for herein the elements of comedy seem to be wanting. But then Fate is so pessimistic.
For a whole week after the events already related, nothing new took place likely to alter the situation. Maurice and David remained coldly polite, and very watchful of one another; neither mentioned the name of Isabella, nor did the one or the other see the girl. Mrs. Dallas took care of that. Acting, no doubt, under the advice of Dido (for she had no will of her own), she kept Isabella within doors, and refused to allow her to communicate with Maurice. But, on the other hand, she did not force her to see David; and Isabella was thankful for the consideration.
But there was one visitor to The Wigwam whom Isabella would gladly have avoided--no less an individual than Dr. Etwald. After the violent scene with Maurice, the widow so overtaxed her strength that she became ill, and the doctor was sent for. His mere presence appeared to soothe Mrs. Dallas, and he came frequently. When she could, Isabella absented herself; but this she was not able to do on all occasions, and so she had to endure his complimentary speeches, and the mesmeric quality of his gaze. This last, especially, was a trial to one of her sensitive organization, and one day she felt so uncomfortable that she remonstrated with Etwald.
"You make me afraid, doctor," she said, impetuously. "Your gaze is disagreeable to me."
"My dear young lady," replied the man, blandly, "I must look at you when I address you."
"Then don't address me!"
"Isabella, do not be rude!" cried Mrs. Dallas, who had overheard this passage at arms; whereupon the girl, with a defiant glance at her tormentor, left the room.
"I'm sure I don't know what I'll do with Isabella," sighed Mrs. Dallas; "she is getting so disobedient."
"Perhaps I can assist you."
Mrs. Dallas looked uneasily at her medical attendant.
"No," she said, quietly "I may persuade her into doing what I want."
"Which is, to marry Mr. David Sarby," said Etwald coolly. "In that case I can only hope that the young lady will continue obstinate, as I wish to marry her myself."
"I know--I know! But I don't want her to marry you, doctor. Mr. Sarby is the man for my daughter. He is good-looking and clever and--"
"And poor!" finished Etwald.
"Well, yes," assented Mrs. Dallas, "there is that objection. But it is not much of an obstacle, as Isabella has money. The young couple can live on three thousand a year."
Dr. Etwald went home with this sum running in his head, and more than ever he resolved to marry Isabella. He was in love with her, and would have taken her without a penny; but all the same, if she was an heiress in a small way, it was all the better. The doctor was clever but poor, and with an income like that he could move to London and do great things. There were many schemes in Etwald's head, and certain of these he determined to put into execution at once, in order to secure Isabella to wife.
Some time previously Major Jen had asked Etwald about the devil-stick, but only to be informed that the doctor knew nothing of the missing article.
"I have not set eyes on it since that night you showed it to me," declared Etwald, coolly. "You refused to sell it to me, so of course I gave up all idea of possessing it. All the same," finished he, politely, "I am sorry that it is lost."
"Lost! Stolen, you mean," growled Jen, tartly. "That negress--"
"Dido! Well, I admit that such a barbaric treasure would tempt her, the more particularly as she knows about such wizard instruments. Ask her if she took it."
"I have done so, and I have asked Mrs. Dallas also," replied Jen; "but it seems that Dido wasn't out of the house on that night. She was ill--and, oddly enough, I hear, Etwald, that it was you who made her ill."
"Really!" said Etwald, quite self-possessed. "I suppose Mr. Alymer told you so. I thought as much," he continued, as Jen nodded. "He saw me calming Dido's agitation when I arrived to ask Mrs. Dallas for her daughter's hand. This negress is hysterical, and on that day she happened to be so. I quieted her, yet Mr. Alymer accuses me of having caused her illness."
"I don't know anything about it, Etwald; but truth to tell, Maurice does not like you!"
"Because I prophesied ill concerning him!"
"Oh, that was rubbish," said Jen, contemptuously. "You didn't mean it."
"Didn't I! Wait and see!"
After which Etwald bowed his visitor politely to the door of the gloomy old house which he occupied in Deanminster, and Jen returned home, quite baffled as to what could have become of the devil-stick. All his inquiries proved futile, and he was unable even to conjecture how it had disappeared; yet knowing its fatal qualities, he was in constant dread lest it should reappear in connection with a tragedy. Maurice still held to his idea that Dido had taken the wand, but Jen's inquiries proved that the negress had not been out of the house the night in question.
"Then it must have been Battersea!" said Maurice, decidedly. "He is a friend of Dido's, and a pensioner of Isabella's. I'll find out if he stole the stick for the negress or for Dr. Etwald."
This was easier said than done, as Mrs. Dallas would not allow Maurice to set foot in the house. Still Maurice hoped to learn the truth from the tramp himself, a hope that proved futile also, Battersea had gone on one of his begging excursions, and for quite a week was not seen in the neighborhood of "Ashantee." Then he suddenly made his appearance at the house, and asked to see Maurice. On being led into the hall, Alymer came out to speak with him, and after a few words he took the old man into the library. Jen, who was rather curious to know what Maurice might learn from the disreputable old scamp, waited patiently for the termination of the interview. As Alymer did not reappear, he sought the library, and found the young man alone.
"Where is Battersea?" asked Jen, glancing round.
"Oh, he has gone away!"
"What did he wish to see you about?"
"He had heard that I accused him of taking the devil-stick," explained Maurice, "and came here to exculpate himself."
"Well! And did he do so?"
"Yes, he is quite innocent. He did not take the devil-stick."
"Then who did?"
Maurice paused, reflected, and looked anxiously at Jen.
"I'll tell you that to-morrow," he said, after a pause.
"Why not to-night?" asked Jen, sharply.
"Because I have a suspicion, which I can not prove at present. Battersea gave me a hint, upon which I am determined to work. To-night I may learn the truth."
"Don't ask me. Uncle Jen; I can't answer you yet."
Jen frowned, then laughed.
"Well, just as you please," he said, raising his eyebrows, "but you are as mysterious as David."
"Why, what about David?"
"Only this, that he has gone up to town without bidding me good-by, save in this short note. I can't understand such conduct."
"Nor I," said Maurice, stretching out his hand. "Please let me read the note. Uncle Jen. I wish to see precisely how it is worded."
The note which the major handed over was curt to the verge of rudeness. It merely stated that the writer had gone to London for a couple of days on business, and would be back as soon as possible. No explanation of what the business might be was given. Maurice did not wonder than Jen was annoyed at receiving such a missive from one whom he regarded in the light of a son; but in handing it back to the major he excused the writer.
"The fact is David has not been quite himself since this trouble about Isabella," he said, gravely, "and he thinks it best to go away for a time. You know how he tortures himself over trifles."
"Egad, this love business of you two young men is getting to be anything but a trifle," said Jen, testily. "What between the lot of you and Etwald, there seems to be nothing but trouble. I wish you'd marry the girl, Maurice, and have done with it."
"Perhaps I may settle affairs sooner than you think," said Alymer, rising. "Uncle Jen, I won't be back to dinner to-night, as I have to go into Deanminster."
"Business connected with the devil-stick and Isabella."
"H'm! You are pleased to be mysterious. Why not tell me your business?"
"Because I may fail," said Maurice. "Here, Uncle Jen, don't be cross; I'll tell you all about it to-morrow, and then you will see and approve of my silence to-night."
"Well," said Jen, with a shrug, "you are old enough to guide your own actions. But I must say that I don't like to be shut out of the confidence of my two boys in this way."
"You'll know everything to-morrow.'
"About David also?"
"Perhaps I can even promise you that!" said Maurice, with a smile.
"What!" cried Jen, "do you know why David has gone to town?"
"Not for certain; but I can guess. Now, Uncle Jen, I shan't answer another question just now, as I must go into Deanminster."
"Will you take the dogcart?"
"No; I'll walk."
"Walk--in evening dress?"
"I'm not going to put on evening dress," said Maurice, impatiently. "I'll get some dinner in Deanminster, and then go about my business."
It was useless to ask further questions, as Jen saw that the young man was getting irritated; so, in no very pleasant temper himself, the major went up to his dressing-room. He was of a peace-loving and easy-going nature, fond of quietness, so it annoyed him not a little that all this disturbance should take place on account of a woman. "The sex is at the bottom of everything," said the major, uttering the old truth with conviction.
David and Maurice both being absent, the one in London, and the other at Deanminster, Major Jen was compelled to dine alone. This he disliked doing, so hurrying over his dinner with all speed, he betook himself to the smoking-room, with a book. Here he lighted a cigar, chose a comfortable chair near the open window, and attempted to read; but the somnolent influence of the evening was upon him, and before his cigar was half done the good major was sound asleep.
Outside a warm wind was blowing, and the air was filled with the perfume of flowers. In the dark blue sky hardly a cloud could be seen, and the moon, just showing her orb above the tree-tops, flooded the still loveliness of the night with wave after wave of cold light. All was full of charm, spellbound, as it were, by the magic of moonlight, when suddenly a long, wild cry struck shuddering through the silence.
Accustomed as an old campaigner to sleep lightly. Major Jen was on his feet in an instant, and again heard that terrible shriek. It seemed to come from the direction of the high-road, and thinking that some evil was being done, Jen, without loss of time, raced across the lawn and into the avenue. In a few minutes he arrived at the gate, and stepped out into the white and dusty road: a black mass was lying some distance down, and toward this ran Jen with an indefinable sense of evil clutching at his heartstrings. The black mass proved to be the body of a man, cold and still. Jen turned the corpse over and recoiled. The dead man was Maurice Alymer.
While the major, hardly able to credit his own eyes, was staring at the dead body of his dear lad, Jaggard, attracted also by the strange cry, came running up.
"What is it, sir?" he asked, saluting Jen even in that moment of anxiety. "I heard an awful cry, sir, and came arter you."
Jen pointed to the corpse but said nothing. Jaggard, ignorant of the truth, bent down to place a hand upon the dead man's heart. Then he saw and recognized the face.
"Mr. Maurice! God, sir, what does this mean?" he cried, aghast with sudden horror.
"It means murder, Jaggard!" replied Jen in a hollow voice which he hardly recognized as his own. "Mr. Maurice went to Deanminster before dinner, and now--" the major pointed again to the remains.
"Murder!" echoed Jaggard, his ruddy face growing pale. "And who, sir--"
"I don't know--I can't say!" interrupted his master, impatiently. "Go and get the men to bring down a stretcher for the body, and send the groom for Dr. Etwald."
"Ain't it too late, sir?"
"Do as I tell you," said Jen, so fiercely that Jaggard did not dare to disobey, but ran off, leaving the major alone with his dead.
The road which ran past "Ashantee" toward The Wigwam was lonely even in the daytime, and at this hour of the night--for it was close upon nine o'clock--it was quite deserted. Not a person was in sight, although the major could see up and down the road for a considerable distance, owing to the bright moonlight. He raised Maurice--or rather all that remained of Maurice--in his arms, and placed the body on the soft grass by the wayside. Then he sat down and began to think out the reason for the committal of this cowardly crime.
That it was a crime he was certain, for there was no reasonable idea to suppose that Maurice had committed suicide. He had left for Deanminster hardly three hours before, full of health and spirits; and now he was dead. A dead body, a lonely road--all the evidence of an atrocious assassination having been committed, and not one trace of the assassin. Undoubtedly the twice-uttered cry had come from Maurice, and as Jen had raced out of the house after the first time he heard it, he must have reached his boy almost immediately after he died; before, so to speak, the body had time to grow cold. Yet the strange part of the affair was that the body was cold, and that there did not seem to be any wound whereby the murder could have been achieved.
"I am taking too much for granted," muttered Major Jen, passing his hand across his brow, "Maurice may not have been killed after all. It is Etwald and his horrible prophecies which have put the idea into my head. Let me have a look at the poor lad's body."
In the bright moonlight he carefully examined the body, but could find no trace of any wound, until he came to the right hand. Here, in the palm, he saw a ragged rent clotted with blood, but it was a mere scratch not likely to have caused death, unless poison were--. Here Major Jen uttered an oath, and rose to his feet with a new and terrible idea in his brain.
"The devil-stick, by heaven!" he said aloud.
Again he bent down and examined the face and hands. Both were swollen and discolored; he tore open the shirt at the neck, and saw that the young man's breast was all distended and bloated. Undoubtedly the cause of death was blood-poisoning, and the devil-stick had been the instrument used to effect the deed. But here the problem proposed itself: Who had killed Maurice? The person who had stolen the devil-stick! Who had stolen the devil-stick? The person who--Major Jen came to an abrupt pause. He could think for the moment of no answer to that question; but it is only fair to say that, dazed by the terrible occurrence of his dear lad's death, Jen had not his wits about him.
While he was still considering the affair in a confused manner Jaggard reappeared with the men from "Ashantee" carrying a stretcher. While they placed the body of Maurice thereon, the groom bound for Deanminster passed them driving the dogcart, and Major Jen stopped the man to tell him that at all risk he was to bring back Dr. Etwald with him. Jaggard wondered at this, for Maurice--poor lad--was beyond all earthly aid--but Jen was thinking of a certain person who might have committed the crime, and he wished for the aid of Dr. Etwald to capture that person. In the meantime the necessities of the case called for the immediate removal of the body to "Ashantee."
It was a melancholy procession which bore the body up to the house. Four men carried the bier--for it was nothing else since it bore the dead body of a young man--and behind came Major Jen bowed to the ground with sorrow. He could hardly believe that Maurice was dead--that he had perished upon a lonely country road by an unknown hand. But that was the question! Jen began to think the assassin was not unknown; that he had a clew to find the guilty one; and he waited the coming of Dr. Etwald with great impatience to see what his opinion was regarding the course to be pursued.
In due time Etwald arrived, for the groom had been fortunate enough to find him at home. On hearing of the affair he expressed the deepest concern, and putting all other business on one side he came back to "Ashantee" in the dogcart. Before seeing Jen, he went up to Alymer's room, and examined the body of the unfortunate young man. Having satisfied himself so far as he was able, without making a post-mortem examination, he came down to the library where Jen awaited him.
"Well, Etwald," cried the major, when he saw the tall form of the doctor at the door, "have you seen him?"
"I have seen it," corrected Etwald, with professional calmness, "the poor fellow is dead, major--dead from blood-poisoning."
"I knew it; I guessed it--the devil-stick."
"That may be," rejoined Etwald, taking a seat, "but I can not be sure. You see neither you nor I know anything of the poison which was in the handle of that African instrument. It--"
"But what are you talking of?" broke in Jen, impetuously. "You say that my poor boy died from blood-poisoning. How else could he have come by that, save through being touched or struck with the devil-stick? No one in the neighborhood was likely to possess any weapon likely to corrupt the blood. If Maurice had been stabbed, or shot, or if his head had been smashed in, I could understand the crime--or rather the motive for the crime--better; but as it is, the person who stole the devil-stick must have killed him."
"And who stole the devil-stick?" asked Etwald, coolly. "If I forget not, major, you asked me the other day if I did."
"Yes, but I was wrong; I made a mistake."
"A mistake that under the present dispensation of things might prove awkward for me," said Etwald. "I was no friend to the dead man; I did not like him, nor he me. We both loved the same woman--we were rivals. What then so easy as for you to say--for a jury to believe--that I had stolen the devil-stick and killed Mr. Alymer, so as to get him out of my way."
"I never thought of such a thing," protested Jen. "I do not suspect you."
"Then whom do you suspect?" asked Etwald, fixing his dark eyes on the major.
"Dido--the negress, of Mrs. Dallas!"
Etwald shook his head and smiled.
"But that is ridiculous," said he. "The commission of a crime presupposes a motive. Now what motive had Dido to kill your friend?"
"She hated Maurice, and she did not want him to marry Miss Dallas."
"Neither did I, if I remember rightly," said Etwald, dryly, "Besides, Dido--as you proved--did not steal the devil-stick. However, if you are suspicious of her, go over to-morrow and see Mrs. Dallas. It will be as well to be sure of your ground before making a public affair of it. By the way, I suppose you will have a detective down from London, to sift the affair to the bottom?"
"I don't know; I'm not sure."
"I should if I were you. Mr. Sarby is in London. Why not wire up to him to bring down a clever man from Scotland Yard?"
"If I thought that--. But," added Jen, breaking off, "how did you know that David was in London?"
"Oh!" rejoined Etwald, quietly, "Mr. Alymer told me so to-night."
"To-night!" echoed Jen, starting up. "You saw Maurice to-night?"
"Certainly! About an hour and a half before he was murdered."
"At my house at Deanminster," replied the doctor with great deliberation.
"So it was you whom he went to see on business to-night?"
Etwald shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know if you call it business," he said, after a pause. "I asked Mr. Alymer to call and see me, and sent the message by that tramp named Battersea."
"I remember his coming. Go on, please."
"Mr. Alymer called, as I said," continued Etwald, "And then I told him that Miss Dallas was ill from being prevented by her mother from seeing him. That I was sorry for the poor young lady, and that I gave up my position as a rival. In fact," added the doctor, "I advised Mr. Alymer to see Miss Dallas and marry her as soon as he could."
"But why did you wish to act in this generous manner?"
"For the very simple reason that Miss Dallas is of a delicate and nervous constitution," said Etwald. "If she does not marry Mr. Alymer, with whom she is in love, she may die. I quite forget that I should speak in the past tense now, major. Mr. Alymer is dead, and Miss Dallas may pine away of grief. It was to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring that I surrendered my claim to her hand."
"Very generous of you indeed," said Jen, ironically; "but I do not see why you should behave in such a noble manner when you were so much in love with the girl."
"It is for that reason that I changed my mind. As you know I have been attending upon Mrs. Dallas this week, and I saw plainly enough that my case was hopeless; that the girl was dying to marry Alymer. Besides," added Etwald, carelessly, "the mother was not on my side."
"She wants Isabella to marry David."
"So I hear; and he is in town, as Mr. Alymer told me to-night. But what are you going to do about the matter, major?"
"Give notice to the police."
"There will be a post-mortem, of course," said Etwald, carelessly.
"No, no! I hope not," cried Jen, horrified at the idea.
"But there must be," insisted Etwald, cruelly. "Alymer died of poison, and it must be proved that such was the case. Then we may learn if he perished from the poison of the devil-stick. Afterward you must get a detective to search for the person who stole it from your smoking-room. Once he or she is found, and the assassin of your poor friend will be in custody."
"'He or she,'" repeated Jen, slowly. "Dido I mentioned; but 'he!' who is 'he?'"
"Ah, that is what we wish to find out," said the doctor, gravely. "But how do I know? Battersea may be the thief."
"The thief and the murderer!"
"Well, no, major. On second thought I do not think it is wise to couple those two words as yet. The thief may not be the murderer, and--but what can I say?" broke off Etwald, suddenly. "As yet we know nothing. It is late, now, major, and I must get back. Shall I give information to the police?"
"If you will be so kind," said the major, listlessly, and he let the doctor go away without another word.
All through that long night he knelt beside the bed upon which lay the corpse of the man whom he had loved as a son. The bedroom of Maurice was on the ground floor and the windows looked out onto a little lawn, which was girdled by thick trees in which the nightingales were singing. The sorrowful songs of the birds, flitting in the moonlight and amid the cloistral dusk of the trees, seemed to Jen like a requiem over the young life which had passed away. The major was broken-hearted by the sorrow which had come upon him, and when he issued from the chamber of death he looked years older than when he entered it. It seemed to his big loving heart as though the woman he loved had died anew in the person of her son.
Fortunately he was not forced to sorrow alone; toward midday David arrived from town, filled with grief and surprise at the untimely end of Maurice. He found the major in the library, and grasped him by the hand with genuine sorrow.
"My poor uncle," he said in a low voice. "I cannot tell you what I feel. Etwald telegraphed to me the first thing in the morning, and I came down by the earliest train there was. Poor Maurice!--and we parted in anger."
"More's the pity," sighed Jen, leaning upon the shoulder of Sarby; "but you cherish no anger in your heart now?"
"God forbid, sir!"
David spoke so fervidly that Jen saw plainly he meant what he said. The massive face of the young man looked worn and haggard in the searching light of the morning, and whatever enmity the love of the same woman had sown between him and the dead, it was not to be denied that he was suffering cruelly from remorse at their unhappy difference. Jen was sorry, but even in his own grief he could not forbear a stab.
"You can marry Isabella now," he said, bitterly.
"No!" said David, faintly, turning his face away. "At least not yet."
The major looked at him for a moment or two, then, with a new idea in his head, he took David by the hand and led him into the chamber of death.
"Swear," said he, "that you will not marry Isabella Dallas until you have discovered and punished the murderer of Maurice."
Great was the dismay throughout the countryside when it became known that Maurice Alymer had been murdered. The dead man was well known in drawing-room and in hunting-field, so that there was hardly a person of consequence in the county who could not claim at least a bowing acquaintance with him. Moreover, Maurice was one of those men who are always popular, and much sympathy was manifested for his untimely death. Also the mysterious way in which he had come to his end, the absence of any known motive, and the knowledge that the deceased had no enemies--all these thing's combined to raise public curiosity to the highest pitch. The inquest on the dead body was awaited with much anxiety.
Crowds of people came from all parts of the country to view the scene of the crime, and, if possible, to gain a glimpse of Jen and David, who as relatives--as it might be said--of the deceased were notorious for the time being; but thanks to the presence of the police and the vigilance of Jaggard, the morbid crowd of sight-seers were unable to gratify their curiosity. The two men remained in seclusion, and saw no one save Dr. Etwald. A sympathetic message arrived from Mrs. Dallas, which, considering the way she had behaved toward Maurice, the major regarded as a gratuitous insult.
"Can't she let the poor man rest in his grave?" said Jen, wrathfully. "It is all through her opposition to the match that this has come about!"
"Oh, you can't say that, Uncle Jen," remonstrated David.
"Yes, I can, sir. If Maurice had not been prevented from seeing Isabella, there would have been no necessity for him to call on Etwald at Deanminster; and if he had not done that he would not have been on the high road in the night to meet with his death. Mrs. Dallas and her infernal negress are at the bottom of the whole accursed business."
Of course this was mere raving on the part of Jen, who had no reason to connect either woman with the crime; but the poor man was beside himself with grief at the loss of Maurice, and hardly knew what he was saying. Being in this frame of mind he was by no means pleased when shortly after the delivery of Mrs. Dallas' message Dido made her appearance with a request for a personal interview.
"I shan't see that black witch," cried the poor major. "David--Etwald, send her away."
"I wouldn't if I were you, major!" said Etwald, judiciously; "she might be the bearer of valuable information, likely to lead to the detection of Alymer's assassin."
"Then let her see the police, sir, although I don't agree with you. She is not the woman to put a rope round her own neck--black as it is."
"But surely, Uncle Jen, you don't look upon her as the guilty person!"
"How do I know who is guilty?" snapped Jen. "I wish I did! I'd hang him or her. But this black wretch and her confounded mistress have to do with the death of my poor boy, I am certain."
"I doubt it. But will you see Dido or shall I send her away?"
"Yes--no--yes. That is, I don't wish to see her. Ask her what she wants, David."
David left the room and remained absent for some time. On his return he stated that Dido had come with a message from Isabella, and that she refused to deliver it to anyone save the major. Seeing that the negress was thus insistent, and wondering what Miss Dallas might want with him at so painful a time, Jen yielded, and Dido was admitted into the library. She looked taller, more massive, and more sullen than ever, and though she trembled at the sight of Dr. Etwald--who, by the way, kept his dark eyes studiously fixed on her--she was fairly composed when she addressed the major.
"My lil missy want you, sar," said Dido, going straight to the point.
"What does she want to see me about?" asked Jen, coldly.
"I no know, massa. She weep! She ill! She make terrible bobbery, dat poo' girl. Massa, come an' see my lil missy dis day."
"I can't at present. The police are in the house; there is a lot to be attended to. Tell your mistress, Dido, that I will see her to-morrow."
"She want you to-day," insisted Dido, obstinately.
"I have given you the message," said Jen, sharply. "Tell her I'll see her to-morrow. And now, Dido, I want to know what you have to do with this crime?"
"I, massa! Ole Dido she do nuffin. Massa Maurice he die Voodoo! Oh, yes."
"By that devil-stick poison?"
"Me don't know what debble-stick is. I no touch him."
It was clearly impossible to learn anything from so obstinate a creature, so Jen repeated that he would call upon Isabella on the morrow, and dismissed the negress. As she left the room Dr. Etwald followed her, and on his return mentioned casually that he had been giving Dido some instructions as to what was to be done with Isabella.
"The girl is nervously excited," he explained; "and now that she has sustained this shock of Mr. Alymer's death there is no knowing what complications may ensue."
"You don't think her life is in danger?" asked David, in a faltering tone.
"No; but I fancy her reason is."
Here Jen looked suddenly at Etwald, and recalled the dinner at which the doctor had read the dead man's hand. Then he had prophesied ill of Maurice--an ill which it would seem had been fulfilled. Now, with equal curtness, he was prognosticating evil for Isabella. Vexed at such croakings, Jen spoke abruptly:
"You are a prophet of evil, Etwald," said he. "First my poor Maurice, now Miss Dallas."
"As to that," replied Etwald, with deliberation, "I foretell that Miss Dallas may get ill from perfectly natural signs. She was in love with Alymer; she is of a highly excitable and nervous character, so it is easy to know that unless great care is exercised her brain may be affected."
"But with regard to Maurice?"
"Quite a different thing. I read in his hand that he would be subject to a state of life in death."
"Which, as we guessed, meant paralysis or catalepsy," said David. "But, as you see, poor Maurice is dead. Your prophecy was false."
Etwald shrugged his shoulders.
"It would seem so," he assented. "Mr. Aylmer is dead, as you say; so the term life in death can not be applied to his present state of non-existence. But you will admit that I foretold that evil would happen to him if he decided to marry Miss Dallas. It has turned out as I thought."
"True, doctor," remarked Jen, keeping his eyes fixed upon the swart face of the other, "and is that all you have to say?"
"All? What else do you expect me to say?" demanded Etwald, coldly.
"Say who you think killed Maurice."
"That is beyond my powers."
"Then who stole the devil-stick?"
"I can't answer that question either," said the doctor, taking up his hat. "A detective may be able to assist you on those points. Engage one."
"No," said Jen, linking David by the arm, "we don't need aid from the law to learn who killed Maurice and avenge his death. David and myself will find the guilty person."
"Really! I hope you will succeed. But a case like this requires a trained intelligence such as you will find in a detective. Of course you may command my services, major, but I am afraid you will not succeed."
"We shall see," replied Jen, who was as obstinate as a mule on some points. "I am no fool."
"Certainly not," rejoined Etwald, with something like a sneer; "but you are also no detective."
"That we shall see," retorted the major, vexed by the sarcasm, and thereupon gave Etwald to understand by look and manner that he wished to be alone with David. When the doctor had taken himself off, and was walking past the library windows toward the curve of the avenue where it ran into the woods, Jen looked after him with a lowering face, and laid an inquiring finger on David's arm.
"Do you trust that man, my boy?" he asked, gravely.
"No," returned Sarby, after a pause. "I think he is a bad lot."
"I am sure of it, and what's more," added Jen, nodding, "it is my opinion that he knows who killed Maurice, if indeed he did not do it himself."
David shook his head.
"I don't think so," said he, with conviction. "Why should he kill Maurice?"
"The lad was his rival."
"Mine also, major. Yet you don't suspect me of the deed."
"God forbid that my heart should harbor so ill a thought," cried Jen, with natural horror. "But I tell you what, David. We must sift this affair to the bottom. Maurice is dead, his assassin is at large, so we must catch him."
"Him, Uncle Jen?"
"Or her," added the major. "For all I know that black witch may have something to do with the crime. Likely enough, if she knows how to manipulate the devil-stick."
"But she denied knowledge of the devil-stick."
"Lies, lies, lies!" said Jen, scornfully. "If I could only--but enough of this for the time being," he added, abruptly. "We will talk of these things on a more fitting occasion."
The hours dragged heavily along in that house of mourning. The body of the dead man lay in the little chamber which looked out upon the laurel-encircled lawn. It was covered with a white sheet, the hands were folded upon the breast, and flowers had been laid thereon by the major. Over the face a handkerchief had been thrown, as the once handsome features were so discolored as to be absolutely repulsive to the sight. There was something terrible in the rigidity of the long form, stretched out so stiffly under the sheet. In the chamber candles were burning, and Jaggard was watching near the corpse. He was to watch throughout the night.
On the morrow the post-mortem examination was to take place, and the inspector of police at Deanminster had left a man in the house to look after the interests of justice. As yet the inspector--no very gifted man at the most--was doubtful of the proper course to pursue. A crime had been committed; the victim was a well-known gentleman; so here, if anywhere, was a chance of his covering himself with glory by discovering the assassin. But Arkel--the inspector in question--had only experience in bucolic crimes of the rick-burning order, or, at the worst, the poker murders of laborers. The subtlety with which this deed had been accomplished baffled him. He could not grasp the idea of the devil-stick, or even take in the mode of the death. If Arkel were to be the avenger of Alymer's death the assassin ran an excellent chance of getting off scot free.
David retired early to bed, as he was quite worn out with the anxieties of the day; but Jen was too grieved to sleep. He remained in the library, thinking over his great loss and wondering what wretch could have taken that young life. Toward twelve o'clock he went to the kitchen and had a short conversation with the policeman, who was a stupid, bucolic youth with no more brains than a pumpkin. Afterward he sought the chamber of death to see that Jaggard was not sleeping at his post. Finally, like the good old soldier he was, Jen went round the house to satisfy himself that the windows and doors were bolted and barred. All these things done, he returned to the library.
At first he read and smoked, then he paced up and down, thinking of his dead lad, and finally, as the hands of the clock drew to midnight, he threw himself into a chair, and worn out in body and in mind, the old man slept profoundly. Hour after hour passed in silence; the moon set and the night grew darker, as the wind rose and moaned through the woods round the house. Save the muttering of the breeze and the ticking of the clock not a sound was to be heard in that silent room wherein Jen slept heavily.
Suddenly he woke with a start. Somebody was rapping gently on the shutters of the middle window. Glancing at the clock, Jen saw that it was three in the morning, and wondering who could be outside at so untimely an hour, he rose to open the window. With care, begotten by old experience, he picked up his revolver and held it ready while unbolting the window shutters. When they were thrown open he saw a white figure with outstretched hands standing before the window.
"Good Lord, Miss Dallas! You here? At this hour!"
"Yes, yes," whispered the girl, stepping into the room. "I got out of my bedroom window and escaped from my mother and Dido. I want to see Maurice."
"But if you--"
"Maurice! Maurice!" interrupted the girl, wildly. "Take me to the dead chamber."
Seeing from her looks that she was too distraught to be argued with, Jen led her out of the library and into the dead man's room. Then he uttered a cry, which was echoed by a wild shriek from the girl.
The bed was empty--the corpse was gone.
Astounded and horrified, the major, with Isabella Dallas clinging to his arm, stood staring at the empty bed. The candles were still burning, but Jaggard had fallen from his chair and was lying, a huddled heap, upon the floor. The one window of the room was wide open, and the wind--now blowing freely--was shaking a loose shutter to and fro. The shock of the discovery was so terrific that Jen for once in his life lost his presence of mind. He was recalled to his senses by the wild voice of Isabella.
"Maurice! Maurice! Where is he?" she cried, leaving the major and rushing toward the empty bed. "You said he was here--my poor dead love; but I can't see him. Where is he? Where is he?"
"God knows!" stammered Jen, turning his horrified gaze on the poor girl. He did not know what to do. Isabella was in a dangerous state of hysteria. She had on but a loose white dressing-gown, and her presence in the house at three o'clock in the morning was enough to overpower Jen's sense of the reasonable, independent of the crowning horror of the missing corpse. At this juncture the much-needed aid came from without. David Sarby rushed into the room.
He was half-clothed, pale as the white dress of Isabella Dallas, and evidently, from the wild look in his eyes and the quivering of his nether lip, badly scared. Stopping short a few paces from the door, he held up the lamp which he carried, to survey the astonishing scene before him. The sight of Jen tongue-tied and immovable, of Isabella weeping on her knees by the bedside, of the bed itself vacant of its dead occupant--all these things were calculated to shock even stronger nerves than those of David Sarby. Nevertheless, after a pause of sheer astonishment, he managed to stammer out a question:
"Did--did she cry out?" he asked, nodding toward the girl. "I heard a shriek."
His presence and question unlocked the major's tongue.
"Yes," he replied, in a hesitating manner, as of one unused to speech. "She came to the library window ten minutes ago, having escaped from the custody of her mother and Dido. Quite hysterical, as you see, and bent upon seeing our poor dead lad. To pacify her I brought her, but as you see--"
"The body is gone!" cried David, hurrying toward the bed.
"Gone! gone!" moaned Isabella, rising. "Oh, my dear, dead lover."
"There," said Jen, pointing to the inanimate form of his old servant. "He is asleep or dead."
"Dead!" wailed Isabella, catching at the word, "Maurice dead!"
"We must alarm the house," cried Sarby, in a horrified tone, and thereupon walked swiftly toward the door. But before he could reach it the major, having recovered his presence of mind, seized him by the arm.
"No, no!" said Jen, hastily. "Do not bring any one here as yet, David. We must think of this poor girl. Take her home at once. When you are both out of the house I shall give the alarm. You understand--no one must know that Miss Dallas has been in my house at this hour."
"I quite agree with you," said David, simply, and, turning to Isabella, he took her gently by the hand. "Come, Miss Dallas. This is no place for you."
"Maurice!" muttered Isabella, looking piteously at him.
"Maurice is not here. Come, Miss Dallas, let me take you back to your mother."
"My mother is so cruel," said Isabella in a low tone, "and I feel so ill," she continued, raising her hand to her loose hair. "Yes, yes; I must go home. But Maurice--my dear Maurice."
"I shall tell you all about it to-morrow," answered Jen, soothingly, and led her out of the room. "At the present moment you must go home with Mr. Sarby. David, there is a loose cloak of mine in the hall. Wrap it round her and come into the library. It is best that she should leave in the way she came."
David did as he was told, and snatched up his own ulster after wrapping up Isabella. In the library they found the major reopening the shutters of the window, which he had closed on the girl's entry. When he flung them aside a gust of wind blew inward, sprinkling him with moisture.
"Rain," said Jen, drawing back, "All the better; there will be no spies about, and you can take Miss Dallas home without being observed."
Taking the girl by the hand, David led her toward the window. She was in a half-dazed condition, the result of the strong excitement which had impelled her to make this midnight visit, and her nerves being thus dulled, she surrendered herself passively to the guidance of David. Only at the window did she pause and look steadfastly at the major.
"You must find out what has become of my dear Maurice's body," she said, quietly.
"I promise you," replied Jen, with a look of stern determination in his face.
"And you will let me know?"
"I promise you," said Jen again. "Please go. Miss Dallas. There is no time to be lost, and you must not be found here."
Thus entreated, Isabella stepped out into the night, and in a moment or so she was swallowed up in the darkness with her companion. Left alone, the major closed the window, bolted and barred the shutters, and then hastened back to the death chamber, where he rang the bell. In a few minutes the footman, half-dressed and half-asleep, made his appearance; then came the policeman hastily from the kitchen; finally, as the bell still continued ringing, all the other servants, male and female, poured into the room. A single glance showed them what had occurred--the insensible Jaggard, the empty bed, the open window. A babel of voices ensued.
"Silence, all of you," cried Jen, authoritatively. "We must act, not talk. Two of you take Jaggard to his room. Tell the groom to ride at once to Deanminster for Dr. Etwald and Inspector Arkel. Sampson," he added, turning to the policeman, who was stolidly staring at the empty bed, "rouse yourself. Take lanterns and search for footmarks. There must have been more than one person to carry off a dead body."
These directions were obeyed at once. The house, the grounds, the whole wild night with its driving tempest became radiant with lights and alive with terrified men. That a human being should be murdered was sufficiently ghastly without this crowning horror of a missing body coming after. Every man looked on his fellow with suspicion; in the yellow light of the lanterns, dimly through the steady downpour of rain, could be seen pallid faces and scared expressions. And while the men folk scoured the house, the park, and the adjacent lanes environing "Ashantee," the female servants, unnerved and hysterical, crowded together in the kitchen, whispering over hastily prepared tea. It was a wild night, and full of the vague horrors of death and mystery.
Etwald came immediately from Deanminster in company with Arkel, whom this last extraordinary event took entirely by surprise. He questioned Sampson--the young policeman left in charge--he searched the chamber of death, stepped out of the window and across the lawn toward the belt of laurels which divided the lawn from a winding and tortuous lane. This, a tenebrous pathway even in the noonday, slipped eel-like through darkling trees to emerge into the high road a quarter of a mile away. Arkel was so long absent that Jen could only surmise that he had gone into this outward darkness, and on the inspector's return it appeared that the major was right in his conjecture. Furthermore Arkel brought back certain news.
"Without doubt the body was taken out through the window," he said to Jen. "The flower-bed beneath the lattice is trampled down. It was carried across the lawn--for I could see by the light of the lantern the footmarks of four feet--and through the bushes into the lane. The way can be traced easily enough to that point; but it is too dark to note any further sign."
"Nothing more can be done to-night," said Jen, gloomily. "The men have returned dead tired, but they have seen nothing and no one."
"Where were you when the body was stolen?"
"Sleeping in the library. I saw that all was safe about midnight, and then sat down over a book and fell asleep. I woke somewhere about three--"
"You are sure it was that hour?"
"Certain. I heard the hall clock strike. On waking I went into the room where the dead body was laid out to assure myself that all was well. I found the bed empty, the window open, and Jaggard insensible."
"Did you hear any noise?"
"None at all. But the wind and rain were wild outside, so that they may have drowned the noise made by those who broke in."
"We must question your servant," said Arkel, having noted the major's answers in his pocket-book. "He was stunned, I believe?"
"I can't say. I haven't examined him. Stunned or drugged, I suppose."
"And where is Mr. Sarby?" asked the inspector, as they turned to leave the room.
The major was prepared for this question, and as he did not intend that the visit of Isabella to the house should become known to the police, he answered it in a guarded fashion.
"Mr. Sarby went out as soon as we discovered the loss, and he has not yet returned."
"Was he with you when you made the discovery?"
"No. He had retired to bed," rejoined Jen. "But as soon as I saw what had taken place I called him up, and he jumped through the window to see if he could espy any traces of the robbers. Then the servants came, and I sent for you."
Inspector Arkel, who could not see one inch beyond his nose, was quite satisfied with this explanation, and nodded in reply. He left the room with the major to seek out Jaggard, and, if possible, to learn from him what had occurred. But this they were unable to do. The man had been stunned by a blow on the head, and was quite insensible.
"And yet he was a strong man," said Etwald, when he conveyed this intelligence. "He must have been taken by surprise."
"Undoubtedly," asserted Jen, readily. "But he must also have been asleep, else he would have called out as the men burst through the window."
"How do you know there were more than one?" asked Etwald, in a jesting tone.
"Because Maurice was an unusually heavy man," replied the major, "and he could not have been carried off--that is, his body could not have been carried off," he corrected, with a sigh, "unless by two men. There may have been three, for all I know. But what is the meaning of it all?" cried Jen, in bewildered dismay. "Why was the poor lad's body stolen?"
"Resurrectionists!" suggested Arkel; whereupon Major Jen shuddered.
"For God's sake, don't even hint at such a thing," he cried, vehemently. "It would be too terrible; and, as it happens, quite unbelievable. It is incredible that such a thing could occur nowadays."
"It is incredible that such a thing as the theft of a body should occur," said Etwald, dryly. "Yet it has taken place. But where is Mr. Sarby? I should think that he would be present to aid you." Jen was just about to repeat his feigned explanation regarding David's absence, when the door opened, and the young man, wet and exhausted, entered the room. To give him his cue, the major spoke to him at once.
"You are just in time, David, as I was telling these gentlemen about your hunt after those wretches. Did you see anyone?"
"I saw nothing," said David, wearily. "God knows what has become of the body!"
"Have you any theory, Mr. Sarby?"
"No, doctor! I am too weary to frame theories at this hour of the night. But, no doubt, Mr. Inspector yonder, can--"
"Certainly not," interrupted Arkel, sharply. "I can prove nothing. I am quite puzzled."
"And no wonder," said Etwald, counting off events on his fingers. "The devil-stick, the murder, the theft of the body. This is a catalogue of horrors. A man might do worse than write a story on these things."
"I agree with you!" remarked the major, sharply. "A man might make a jest of these horrors--as you are doing."
"I assure you I never felt less like jesting in my life," replied Etwald, coldly. "But it is no use discussing such a thing at five in the morning. If you can do without me, major, I shall return to Deanminster. I am tired."
"But Jaggard?" asked David, rising stiffly from his chair.
"He is all right for the time being. I have detailed a housemaid as nurse, and she knows what to do. I'll come back again in the morning and see if he has recovered his senses."
When Etwald took his departure, Major Jen sent David to bed, in spite of the young man's remonstrances, but remained up himself to talk to Arkel. For a long time Jen discussed the matter with the inspector, but the conversation proved extremely unsatisfactory. Arkel was not a clever detective, or even a keen-witted man, and in a case like the present--difficult and involved--he was quite at a loss how to proceed. Finally, Major Jen dismissed him in despair, and while Arkel went to see his men, who were posted round the house--a clear case of shutting the stable-door after the steed was stolen--Jen remained alone to think of what he should do. "I must be my own detective," he thought, pacing the library. "This man is a fool. He will find out nothing, and I won't have even the satisfaction of burying the body of my poor lad. I must do the work myself, with the assistance of David. To find out who stole the devil-stick; that is the first step. To discover who killed Maurice; that is the second step. To learn who carried away his body; that is the third step. Three very difficult things to find out, and I don't see where to begin. I must learn all I can about Maurice's past life, for he may have enemies of whom I know nothing. Once I learn who his enemies are--if he had any--and I may discover the truth. I shall go and sleep, and when I awaken I shall set to work to solve these mysteries."
As he spoke the major unbarred the shutters of the window. The rain had ceased, the dawn was breaking, and the terrible night was at an end.
"It is an omen!" said the major, "an omen of good!"
The sensation caused by the news that the dead body of Maurice Alymer had been stolen was even greater than that occasioned by the discovery of the murder. Even the London papers took up the matter, and sent down reporters to make investigations and build up theories as to the reason of this strange disappearance. Everywhere people were talking of the matter, and giving their opinions as to the proper course to be pursued in recovering the corpse. Would-be detectives haunted the roads and lanes around "Ashantee"; they would have penetrated into the park itself but for the vigilance of Major Jen.
His attitude at this moment was rather displeasing to his friends. He refused to permit anyone to see the chamber whence the body had been stolen, and even declined to discuss the matter or accept advice as to the best thing to be done. To all who spoke to him--and these were many--he had but one reply.
"I know what I am doing," he would say, a trifle tartly, "and I prefer to keep my own counsel. If the murderer of my dear boy can be found, he or she will be found by me. If the wretch who stole his body can be discovered, I am the man to make that discovery. How I intend to set about it is my own affair."
Of course, busybodies, who saw their well-meant but meddlesome advice thus rejected, were by no means pleased, and some even went so far as to say that the shock of death and disappearance had unsettled Jen's reason. They spoke to David and counseled him to look well after his guardian, and said also that the major, if he had his senses about him, which was doubtful, should engage a smart London detective to investigate the case. But, as has been before stated, Jen had concluded to be his own detective.
It must be conceded that for an amateur, the major set about his unaccustomed task in a very methodical manner. He offered a reward of five hundred pounds for the detection of the murderer, and a further sum of the like amount to anyone who should discover the thief who had desecrated the chamber of death. These munificent rewards set everybody on the alert, and Jen, without putting down actual money, thus became possessed of some hundreds of spies who would bring him any information likely to assist him in his investigation. Also, the major examined all the servants in the house. He questioned Sampson, the young policeman who had been in the kitchen on the night when the body had been stolen, and finally he paid a visit to the police office at Deanminster, where he saw Mr. Inspector Arkel.
"Well, Arkel," said Jen, after the first greetings were over, "have you any clew?"
"No, major," replied Arkel, rather gruffly, for disappointment was beginning to tell on his temper, "nor are we likely to find any until that servant of yours regains his senses. How is he now?"
"In a state of high fever, poor soul," said Jen, with a depressed look. "He does nothing but rave. Yet, in all his wild talk he never lets slip a single word likely to help us."
"That's a pity, major. By the way, I questioned Dr. Etwald about the matter, and he is of opinion that the man was stunned by a blow on the head."
"I know that. I can only suppose that Jaggard fell asleep at his post and woke up in time to see the men getting in by the window. A struggle would then ensue, and he would be struck on the head, as Etwald supposes."
"I don't agree with that theory. There are flaws in it."
"Yes?" queried Jen, eagerly. "I am open to correction. Please go on."
"We will proceed on the questions and answers system," said Arkel, precisely, "and thrash out the matter in that way. You were in the library on that night?"
"Yes, I saw all was right in the house at twelve o' clock, and I slept on in my chair from that hour until three."
"Good, Then between twelve and three the body must have been stolen. You are a light sleeper, I heard you say, major?"
"Well, yes," returned Jen, with a thought upon the rapping of Isabella upon the window. "It does not take much to waken me."
"You would have heard Jaggard call out, I suppose?"
"Certainly. The bedroom is no great distance from the library, and the door of the latter was open. But then Jaggard didn't cry out!"
"Precisely," said Arkel, laying his forefinger on Jen's chest with an air of triumph. "He did not cry out. Had he been asleep and woke up in time to see the robbers get in by the window, he would have called out at once for assistance."
"True enough," rejoined the major, struck by this sensible deduction. "Still, he might not have heard them forcing the window."
"I doubt that, I doubt that. Jaggard, like yourself, is an old campaigner, and no doubt an alert sleeper; that is," explained Arkel, "he would wake up at the least sound."
"Yes, I think he would. But what does all this tend to?"
"Simply to a theory I have in my head. Jaggard was drugged, sir."
"But the wound at the back of the head which stunned him?"
"There you have it," cried Arkel, with a nod. "The wound at the back of the head was caused by his falling like a log when he was drugged."
"H'm! This is all building on sand," said Jen, doubtfully. "Even to drug him, these men must have entered by the window."
"No. Do you not remember when we examined the window that it was opened from the inside?"
"Egad, you are right. Then you think that someone must have been concealed in the room, and sprung out from hiding to drug Jaggard."
"No," said Arkel again, "no one was concealed in the room."
"Confound it, man, you don't mean to say that Jaggard opened the window?" cried Jen, starting from his seat with some show of temper.
"Ay, but I do, major. Jaggard helped to steal the body of Mr. Alymer. He opened the window to admit his accomplices. When they fulfilled their task and got the body out of the room they turned on Jaggard and betrayed him. That is, they drugged him and knocked him down."
"I don't agree with you at all, Arkel. Jaggard is perfectly honest and was as devoted to Maurice as he is to me. Besides, even granting the possibility of such a thing, which I do not in the least, why should Jaggard's accomplices betray him?"
"I can't say," returned Arkel, shrugging his shoulders. "They may have been bribed to steal the body, and on accomplishing their task did not want to share the bribe with Jaggard."
"Rubbish!" said Jen, tartly. "They must have known that he would betray them when he recovered his senses!"
"No doubt. But in the meantime they would make themselves scarce. Jaggard has been insensible or raving for over a week, major. The scoundrels counted on that!"
"I say again that I believe in Jaggard's honesty, and I do not agree with you," said Jen, putting on his hat, "and after all, I do not see how you deduce this drugging theory!"
"Oh, as to that, I was once a bit of a chemist," explained Arkel; "and when you took me to see Jaggard I smelt a curious perfume which seemed to be hanging about him. As a servant is not likely to use perfumes, I thought it curious."
"What kind of a perfume?"
"I can't exactly describe it. A rich, heavy, deadly sort of thing, likely, I should think, to dull the sharpest senses."
"Did Etwald notice it?" asked Jen, thoughtfully.
"Yes; but he professes his inability to explain it. He thinks the man was stunned and not drugged. I think, on the grounds I have explained, that he was first drugged and then stunned."
"H'm; it's queer! I'll have to think it over. But when the body was taken out of the window, Arkel?"
"The thieves carried it across the lawn!"
"Then down through the bushes to that winding lane, I suppose?" said Jen. "I know all that; but afterward?"
"They put it into a cart and took it away."
"How do you know that?" asked the major, all on the alert.
"Why," said Arkel, fingering his fat chin, "it was raining, as you may remember on that night."
"Not until after the body had been stolen," returned Jen, mindful that Isabella had come into the library dry-shod.
"How do you know that?" asked the inspector sharply.
Jen was rather taken aback by the quickness of this query, and saw that if he wished to preserve the secret of Isabella, upon which depended her reputation, it behooved him to be careful.
"Well," said he cautiously, "I looked out at the night when the hour was twelve, and--"
"It might have rained between that time and three," said Arkel, with swift interruption; "and I believe it did rain, for you see, major, we found the mark of wheels in the lane, which would not have been left had not a considerable amount of rain fallen."
"Did you follow the trail?" asked the major, waiving the question of rain or no rain.
Arkel made a gesture of disappointment.
"To the high road only," said he; "and there the wheel marks became mixed up with those of other vehicles. Lord knows where they took the body to, for once on the high road they had the wide, wide world to choose from. It's the devil's own mystery," he said, biting his finger. "I never met the like of it before, and am fairly puzzled. Why should these wretches steal the mortal remains of a murdered man?"
"True," said Jen; "and why should these wretches have murdered that man?"
Arkel looked up sharply.
"As to that," he said, "we are by no means certain that they are the same."
"I don't follow you."
"No? And yet it is easy enough. If those who slew Mr. Alymer wanted his body, they could have stolen it on the high road, where they struck him down. It was mere foolishness to venture liberty and life in a raid upon the house."
"It may have been an afterthought."
"People don't have afterthoughts in grim matters of this kind," said Arkel, rising. "Well, major, good-by, good-by. Should I learn anything else I shall let you know; but depend upon it, the truth of the matter is to come from Jaggard."
"He is honest. Honest!" cried Jen. "I'll stake my existence upon that."
When riding homeward after this interesting conversation, the major could not but admit to himself that Arkel had brightened up wonderfully in his intellects since first taking charge of the case. The man was not brilliant, not even clever; yet in the present instance he displayed more readiness of resource than Jen would have given him credit for. The theory of the drugging was worthy of investigation, and the major determined to see if anything could be discovered likely to support this view of the matter. He still held to his belief in Jaggard's honesty, for it was incredible that an old servant of thirty years' standing should turn traitor at once; but he thought it probable that someone might have taken him by surprise and drugged him. But as the window was closed the person in question must have been concealed in the room. Here Jen's train of thought became confused.
"I don't see how anybody can have been in the room," he reflected, as he entered his house. "I saw that all was safe myself at midnight. The servants were abed, Sampson keeping vigil in the kitchen, and Jaggard sentry in the death-room. Moreover, I left the library door open, and the sound of footsteps stealing to the door of my poor lad would have wakened me out of the deepest sleep. Isabella's raps were light enough, yet I was up on the instant. No, I can't see myself that the devil who drugged the man could have been in the house; and yet the window opened from the inside. H'm! it is strange; very strange. I wish Jaggard were able to talk sensibly."
But Jaggard was far from the condition of connected thought or coherent words. He turned and tossed upon his poor bed with bright eyes, burning skin and babbling tongue. His head was swathed in bandages, and the housemaid who watched beside him had frequently to replace the clothes he tossed off in his violent movements. This nurse was a sickly, dark-eyed creature, who was strongly attached to Jaggard; and it was her love for him that made her proffer her services to look after him, and that chained her to his bedside. She reported to her master that Dr. Etwald had been in that morning, and was coming again in the afternoon, but that there was nothing to be done until the delirium had expended itself.
"Ay," thought Jen, as he stood by the bed, "or until the man dies. If he dies without regaining his senses, we will never know the truth."
He bent down to replace the bedclothes which the sick man had thrown off, and as he did so, a faint perfume, sickly and rich, struck his nostrils. It seemed to come from the bandages at the back of the head, and on bending down for a closer inspection, Jen saw that one of these--it was the merest corner which peeped out--was of finer linen than the rest. The fabric was cambric, and with a start which made the blood turn to ice in his veins, Jen realized that it was a woman's handkerchief--its delicacy and border-embroideries assured him of this.
"How came this here?" he asked the housemaid, pointing to the scrap of linen.
"Oh, that was on the first night, sir," she hastened to explain. "It was put on his head when in the room where he fell, sir. The doctor, sir, says as it ain't safe to take it away yet."
A curtain interposed between the head of the patient and the light of the window. This Jen drew aside, and lightly removed the outside wrappings of the wound. The housemaid looked on in horror, for she did not dare to prevent her master from meddling, yet she felt sure that he was doing wrong. But Jen was bent on making the discovery as to whom the handkerchief belonged; and in a few minutes he had the outside bandages removed, and saw the handkerchief discolored with dry blood lying over the wound. With deft fingers he lightly touched the four corners. In one of them were the initials "M. D."
"M. D.!" said the major to himself. "Margaret Dallas, the mother of Isabella. How did her handkerchief come into the room on that night? And the perfume?"
It struck his sense of smell with the belief that he had smelt it before. Nothing is so strong to awaken memory as odor, and in less than half a minute the mind of the major leaped back to where he had smelt it before. It was the perfume of the dried poison of the devil-stick.
This discovery at once irritated, amazed and perplexed the major. That the handkerchief of Mrs. Dallas should be bound around the head of Jaggard was strange, but that it should be perfumed with the deadly scent which impregnated the devil-stick was stranger still. Had Mrs. Dallas found the wand of sleep? Had Mrs. Dallas perfumed the handkerchief with its cruel poison? Had Mrs. Dallas drugged or stupefied Jaggard on that fatal night by means of that saturated handkerchief? These were the vital questions which presented themselves to the puzzled major, and which he found himself unable to answer.
And here, at this point, the personality of Dr. Etwald intruded itself into the affair. It was Etwald who had bound up the wound with the handkerchief in question, and who, according to the housemaid, had forbidden its removal. The question was, had he received it from Mrs. Dallas, or had he found it on that night by the side of the insensible man. If the first, Mrs. Dallas must have perfumed it designedly with the poison, and Etwald, knowing that it was so impregnated, must have used it advisedly as a bandage. If the second, Mrs. Dallas must have been in the room on the night in question, and have used the handkerchief to render Jaggard insensible. And in either case, as the major very sensibly concluded, Mrs. Dallas must be in possession of the devil-stick. Otherwise, how could she have obtained the deadly scent?
"And the plain conclusion of the whole affair," soliloquized Jen, "is that Mrs. Dallas must have stolen the devil-stick, must have murdered Maurice, and must have drugged Jaggard for the purpose of completing her devilish work by stealing my poor boy's body. But her reason?"
That she did not desire Maurice for a son-in-law was an insufficient motive for the commission of a triple crime. She had declined to sanction the engagement; she had forbidden Maurice the house; and, assisted upon all points by social rules, she had ample power to prevent the match, which, as she averred, was distasteful to her. Why, then, with this power, should she jeopardize liberty and life by thieving the devil-stick and killing the man? In his perplexity, Jen sought out David and asked his opinion. The young lawyer gave a very decided verdict in favor of Mrs. Dallas.
"I don't believe Mrs. Dallas has anything to do with the matter," he said, in a decisive voice. "She had no motive to commit these three crimes, each one of which is more terrible than the other. Nor, major, do I think that she has nerve or brain enough to design or accomplish assassination or theft."
"But I assure you, David, the handkerchief is hers."
"Granted; but you forget that Isabella was in the room on that night. She might have dropped the handkerchief."
"Well," said Jen, after a pause, "that is not improbable. But the perfume?"
"Oh," replied David, with a shrug, "we know that the scent is an Ashantee preparation. Dido's grandmother came from Ashantee, so it is just probable that Dido herself, knowing the secret, might have prepared a dose of the poison."
"Even so. Why should she have perfumed the handkerchief?"
"I can't say, major. You had better ask her."
"Egad, I shall," cried Jen, starting from his chair. "And also I'll find out why she needed to prepare the poison at all. In my opinion, David, that black Jezebel is at the bottom of the whole affair. She thieved the devil-stick, she prepared the poison, murdered Maurice, and stole his body."
"You accused Mrs. Dallas of all these things five minutes ago," said David, ironically, "and now you think--"
"I don't know what to think," cried Jen, in desperation. "Dido or Mrs. Dallas, I don't know which, but one of them, must be guilty. I'll go over to The Wigwam at once."
"To accuse them upon insufficient evidence?"
"No. I'll see Isabella, and hear what she has to say. She loved Maurice, and will aid me to avenge his death."
"That is improbable, if to do so she has to betray her mother or her nurse. I don't think you'll learn much in that quarter, major."
"I'll learn what I can, at all events," retorted Jen; and in this unsatisfactory manner the conversation concluded. David retired to his room, and Jen went off to interview Isabella at The Wigwam.
He walked meditatively down to the gates, and here, on the high-road, his thoughts led him to a sudden conclusion respecting the coming conversation with Miss Dallas. Without much consideration he retraced his steps rapidly, and sought out David in his room. Then and there he asked him a question which was of vital importance.
"David," said he abruptly, "owing to the coming of Etwald and Arkel on that night--the night upon which the body was stolen, I mean--I forgot to ask you what reception Miss Dallas met with on her return home. Who received her?"
"Mrs. Dallas. She had missed her daughter and had been seeking for her in a state of terror, surely natural under the circumstances. I found her pacing the veranda, wondering what had become of Isabella."
"Pacing the veranda?" echoed Jen, thoughtfully. "Was she fully dressed?"
"Well, yes, so far as my memory serves me, I think she was."
"I saw nothing or heard nothing of Dido. When I found Mrs. Dallas, I simply performed my mission, and delivered Isabella into her hands. The poor girl was quite distraught with the horror of the night, and was led unresistingly to bed by her mother."
"Mrs. Dallas dressed! Dido missing!" said the major. "Thank you, David, you have told me all I want to know," and with a nod Major Jen set off for the second time to The Wigwam.
The major was rather inclined to agree with David that it would be difficult to learn anything of material value from Isabella. On the night she had visited the house at three o'clock in the morning her brain had been unsettled for the time being by the terrible death which had overtaken her lover, and she had been thrown into a frenzy by the mysterious theft of his body. The question which the major wished answered was, whether she had been sufficiently herself to remember the events of that night, and especially those which had taken place prior to her escape from The Wigwam. But the only way to decide this doubt was to see the girl personally, and Major Jen feared lest he should find Mrs. Dallas and Dido obstacles to his accomplishment of this object.
However, fortune favored him, and to state the truth, fortune rather astonished him; for upon arriving within the grounds of Mrs. Dallas, the major met with Isabella herself. In a light-colored dress, with sunshade and straw hat, she was strolling down the walk which led to the gate. On coming up with Jen, he was surprised to see that her manner was calm and collected; in all respects different from that displayed during the frenzy of the midnight visit. He could hardly believe that she was the same girl.
"I am glad to see you, major," said she, holding out her hand. "You have saved me the trouble of a journey, as I was on my way to your house."
"To see me, Miss Dallas?"
"Yes, to see you," she replied, with a serious face. "In order to talk with you about my last visit--on that terrible night."
"My dear young lady," he remonstrated, "why distress yourself with recollections of these things?"
"Because it is necessary that I should do so, major. It is my intention to aid you in your search for the assassin of Maurice. Oh, yes, you may look doubtful as to my ability to help you, but I can and will. I am not the mad woman who burst into your library at three in the morning. I am cool and calm and bent upon revenge. Maurice is dead. I loved him. And I intend to devote myself to avenging his death. Come, major, sit upon this seat beside me, and relate all you have heard, all you have discovered. With my woman's wit I may be able to help you in the way the mouse aided the lion. Begin!"
Jen was astonished, both at her peremptory tone and her quiet manner. Whatever influence had been at work, it was certainly wonderful how she had calmed down from the nervous, hysterical girl into the reasonable and cool-headed woman. Isabella noted the amazement of the major, and guessing its cause, she explained the reason of the change in her looks, manner and nervous system.
"Dr. Etwald cured me, major," she said quietly.
"He has preserved my sanity, and I owe him a debt of gratitude."
"You certainly do," said Jen, dryly. "Will you repay it by marrying him?"
"No. I shall marry no one; not even Mr. Sarby, much as my mother wishes me to do so. I live only to avenge the death of Maurice, to recover his body from those who have stolen it. Come, major, tell me what you know."
Thus adjured, and feeling that he could not do without her assistance, Jen related all that he had heard from Arkel, and also his own personal experience with regard to the finding of the handkerchief marked "M. D." Isabella heard him to the end in silence, her large and shining eyes fixed upon his face.
When he paused, she pondered and finally spoke out.
"It would seem that you suspect Dido or my mother of having something to do with the matter," she remarked coldly.
Major Jen equivocated.
"No," he replied. "I don't say that exactly, but you must admit that the finding of the handkerchief bound round Jaggard's head is strange."
"Not at all. Dr. Etwald used it as a bandage."
"So I understand; but did Dr. Etwald bring it to the house with him?"
"No. He picked it up in the bedroom."
"Precisely," assented Jen, eagerly. "Therefore your mother--"
"Had nothing to do with it," interrupted Isabella. "I dropped the handkerchief in the room. Is there anything so very extraordinary in that?" she added, impatiently. "The matter is very simple. I brought with me one of my mother's handkerchiefs instead of my own. In the agitation of finding the body gone I dropped it, and Dr. Etwald found it to use as a bandage. That is quite plain, I think."
"Quite plain," agreed the major, "saving the presence of the perfume similar to that of the devil-stick."
"I don't know anything about the devil-stick. I never saw it; but with regard to the perfume I can explain. I was ill on that night, as you know, and Dido applied some of her negro remedies; among them the perfume with which that handkerchief of my mother's was saturated. It was bound across my forehead to soothe the nerves. During my journey to your house I snatched it off, and--"
"I can understand all that," interrupted Jen, "but the similarity of the perfumes? I must have that point cleared up."
"I daresay it can be," said Isabella, quietly. "Come up to the house, major, and speak to Dido. I feel sure she can explain."
"Very good," said Jen, as they turned their steps toward the house. "If her explanation is only as clear as your own, I shall have nothing to say. By the way, Miss Dallas, how did you escape from your room that night?"
"So far as I can remember, I left by my bedroom window. I had only to step out through it like a door, as it is a French window and opens onto the lawn."
"H'm!" said Jen. "But seeing that you were so ill, was no one watching beside you?"
"Yes, my mother was. So you see, major, she could not have dropped the handkerchief in the bedroom of poor dear Maurice."
"No; I understand. You have explained the affair of the handkerchief clearly. All the points have been elucidated save that dealing with the perfume."
"You will now be satisfied on that point," said Miss Dallas, rather dryly, "for here is Dido. She prepared the drug and perfumed the handkerchief, and for all I know," added the girl, ironically, "she may have taken the hint from your wand of sleep."
"One moment!" said Jen, as they approached the veranda, whereon Dido was waiting them. "How do you know Etwald picked up the handkerchief in the room?"
"Because I overheard his apology to my mother for having put her handkerchief to such use," replied Isabella, with suspicious promptitude.
"Humph! Didn't the doctor think it strange that he should find it there?"
"I don't know, major. He made no remark."
"Rather peculiar, don't you think, seeing that he must necessarily have been ignorant of your visit on that night?"
The color of Isabella rose in her cheeks.
"He was not ignorant of that!" she said in a low voice. "To account for the fever which seized me, my mother explained all that took place to Dr. Etwald. He quite understood that I had dropped the handkerchief."
"Did he apologize for his use of it before or after the explanation?" was Jen's final question.
"After!" replied Isabella, with some hesitation; then abruptly left the major's side to exchange a few words with Dido. Jen, as was natural, looked after her with a glance full of doubt and suspicion. Notwithstanding her love for Maurice and her expressed desire to avenge his death by hunting down the assassin, she appeared to be anything but frank in the matter. In plain words, her conduct suggested to Jen's mind an idea that she knew more than she cared to talk about; and that such half-hinted knowledge implicated her mother. In which case--but here Dido interrupted Jen's meditations.
"My missy tell me you wish to hear my Obi," she said, abruptly, fixing her eyes on the face of the visitor. "Why you wish? You laugh at Obi."
"I don't particularly wish to learn your Voodoo secrets," answered Jen carelessly. "All I desire to know is why you manufactured that scent with which you saturated a certain handkerchief of your mistress."
"Mother's handkerchief, Dido," explained Isabella, interrupting. "The one you bound round my head."
"Oh, dat a Voodoo smell to drib away de evil spirit," said Dido, solemnly addressing herself more particularly to the major. "My witch-mudder, she learn to make dat in her own land--"
"Ho! yis. It berry strong, dat smell. Too much of it kill--kill--kill!"
"By means of its odor?"
"No, dat only drib away bad debbils. But you scratch de skin with one leetle bit of it, and you die, die, die!"
"And the scratch is made by means of the wand of sleep?"
"Yis. Dat so," said Dido, with pretended surprise, turning on him sharply. "But you no b'lieve in Obi, massa. What you know of de wand of sleep--de debble-stick?"
"Because I had one, Dido."
The negress laughed with scornful doubt.
"Ho, dat one big lie. Der ain't de debble-stick but in de king's palace at Kumassi."
"You are wrong. I had one, and it was stolen by--"
"Why, of course," interrupted Isabella again. "Don't you remember. Dido, you were asked if you had taken it?"
"Ho, yis. Now I do tink," said Dido. "Ah, massa, you say I took de debble-stick and made de new smell to fill him. Den dat I kill wid him massa, who lubbed lil missy, and dat I made spells in your house to steal de body. Heh, dat not so?"
"It certainly is so," assented Jen, astonished to hear her put his suspicions into such plain words. "Mr. Alymer was killed by means of this poison. It was used again to render my servant insensible while the body was stolen. So I thought--"
"I know, I know!" broke in Dido, impatiently. "But dat not to do wid me. De poison in your debble-stick."
"There was; but it was all dried up."
"No! Dat nossin. If you pour wather in dat stick de poison come alive. Well, dat stick taken, but I no take it. Dat poo' young massa killed wid it--I no kill him. But de udder ting, sah. Dat smell! I mek it for missy, dat all!"
And having made this explanation, Dido folded her arms, and waited in scornful silence to hear what her accuser had to say. He considered the absolute absurdity of her story, which, on the face of it, was a manifest invention, and one which, it would seem, was supported by the testimony of Isabella.
"You are satisfied now, I think," said this latter, seeing that the major did not speak.
"Well, yes. Miss Dallas," returned he, with much deliberation. "I am' satisfied, for the time being."
"Does Dido's explanation give you any clew?" she asked quickly.
Major Jen considered again, and looked her straightly in the eyes.
"Yes," he replied, with point and some dryness. "It gives me a clew in a direction for which I should not have looked for it. Thank you, Miss Dallas, and you, Dido. I shall now say good-day."
"When will you return?"
"When I have followed to its end the clew of which we have been speaking," replied Jen, and taking off his hat he walked swiftly away from the house. Swiftly, as he was afraid lest Isabella would ask him indoors, and for certain reasons not unconnected with the late conversation, he did not wish to face Mrs. Dallas at the present moment. There were large issues at stake.
When he vanished round the curve of the drive, Isabella, with a very pale face, turned toward Dido.
"I have told all the lies you wished me to tell," she said, hurriedly. "I have hidden from the sharp eyes of Major Jen those things which you wished hidden, and all at the cost of my honor and honesty."
"Der noting wrong, missy," said Dido, eagerly. "I swear--"
"Don't," cried Isabella, with a shudder. "You have done enough evil. Do not add perjury to your other sins."
She ran hastily into the house, as though to escape further conversation on a distasteful subject, while Dido, with her eyes on the ground, remained in deep thought. The old negress knew that she was placed in a perilous position, which might be rendered even more so should Isabella speak freely. But of this she had little fear, as by her conversation with Major Jen the girl had gone forward on a path of concealment whence there was now no retreat. Yet Dido was not satisfied. She did not trust those around her, and she was uneasy as to what might be the result of Jen's pertinacity in investigating both the death of Maurice and the disappearance of the body. Thus perplexed it occurred to her to seek out and consult with Dr. Etwald.
"I shall tell the master all!" she muttered in her own barbaric dialect, "and he will tell me what to do. The spirit in the Voodoo stone will tell him." Having come to this resolution she went into the house to ask, or rather to demand, permission to visit Deanminster. That she was about to call upon Etwald, the negress did not think it necessary to tell Mrs. Dallas. There were matters between her and the doctor of which Mrs. Dallas knew nothing, which she would not have understood if she had known. When she inquired, Dido merely hinted that such secrets had to do with Obi, when the superstitious nature of Mrs. Dallas immediately shrank from pursuing an inquiry into what were, even to this civilized so-called Christian woman, secret mysteries.
But while Dido goes on her dark path and takes her way toward Etwald in his gloomy house at Deanminster, it is necessary to return to the doings of Major Jen. On leaving The Wigwam he returned forthwith to his own house with the intention of repeating to David the conversation which had taken place between himself. Dido and Isabella. On his arrival, however, he learned that David had gone out for a walk, and that Lady Meg Brance was waiting for him in the library. At once the ever-courteous major hastened to apologize to his visitor.
"My dear Lady Meg, I am so sorry to have been absent when you called. I hope you have not been waiting long!"
"Only half an hour," replied Lady Meg, in a low, grave voice. "I should have waited in any case until your return, as I have something important to say to you."
The major looked inquiringly at his visitor. She was a tall and stately woman, with a fair complexion, steady blue eyes and hair of a deep red shade. Although close on twenty-five years of age, she was still a spinster, as much to the annoyance of her mother--a match-making matron--she had hitherto declined the most eligible offers for her hand. Her reasons for such refusals she would not state, but Jen, from certain observations, had long since guessed the truth. Lady Meg was deeply in love with Maurice Alymer, and it was for his sake that she remained single. Whether she knew that the young man loved Isabella Dallas it is impossible to say; but at all events she showed him very plainly the drift of her desires. The very indifference of Alymer had rendered her passion more violent and persistent. What would have been the conclusion of this one-sided love it is difficult to conjecture; but the death of Maurice had brought this and all other things to an abrupt conclusion.
Lady Meg was dressed in black out of regard for the dead man, and she looked worn, red-eyed and very dejected. But in coming forward to greet the major, her fine blue eyes lighted up with the fire of hope, and it was with something of her old impetuosity--quenched since the death of Maurice--that she gave him her hand and repeated her last remark.
"I have something to say to you," she said, quickly. "Something likely to help you in your investigations."
"Concerning the theft of the body?" asked Jen, eagerly.
"No, with regard to the murder."
"What is it?"
"I will inform you in a few minutes," replied Lady Meg. "But first tell me if you have found out anything likely to reveal the truth."
"No." Jen shook his head mournfully. "I am completely in the dark, and so is Inspector Arkel. The whole case is a profound mystery."
"Well, mysteries, even the most profound, have been cleared up before now, major. Come, tell me precisely how the matter stands, and I may be able to help you."
"You know something?"
"Yes, I do; and it is to tell that something that I have driven over to-day. Well, now, major, let me know all about the matter from the beginning. I have heard nothing but the most garbled accounts, and it is necessary, for the sake of the information which I am about to impart, that I should know the exact truth."
"I shall tell it to you," replied Jen, with some hesitation; "but I am afraid I shall give you pain."
"I guess what you mean--Miss Dallas."
Jen bent his head gravely.
"Maurice wanted to marry her."
"I know, I know," replied Lady Meg, while a wave of color passed over her fair face.
"You do!" cried Jen, in surprise, "And who told you?"
"Oh!" The major considered a moment, and his thoughts were anything but benevolent toward David. "I can guess why he told you."
"What do you mean, major?"
"Never mind at present," said Jen, evasively. "I'll tell you that later on. In the meantime, let me state the case. Maurice was killed on the high road by means, as I verily believe, of the devil-stick. You know about that, of course."
"Yes, I read the report of the inquest, and I have heard rumors. I agree with you, major, that Mr. Alymer was killed by the poison of the devil-stick. Go on."
"On the night that the body was stolen," continued Jen, deliberately, "Jaggard was drugged."
"I can't say. If I knew that I'd know who stole the body. But he was drugged by means of a perfume which is the same as that impregnating the devil-stick."
"How do you know?"
Jen was about to explain when he remembered the necessity of keeping silent concerning the visit of Isabella to the house.
"I can't tell you that just now," he said, in a hesitating manner. "But I know it for certain."
"Well," said Lady Meg, "it would seem that the devil-stick is the center of this mystery."
"I fancy it is."
"If you found the devil-stick you would know the truth?"
"I don't go so far as that," protested Jen. "If we found the person who stole the devil-stick from my smoking-room I might guess the truth."
"In that case, major, look at this," said Lady Meg, and produced an article from her pocket, an article which she held up triumphantly before the astonished eyes of the old man.
"The devil-stick!" he cried. "By all that is wonderful, the devil-stick!"
"Yes, the devil-stick. I got it from the assassin of Mr. Alymer!"
"The assassin--you know the assassin? Who is he or she?"
"It is not a woman, but a man. Battersea!"
Major Jen sprang to his feet with a loud cry. This information that Battersea was the criminal took him so utterly by surprise that for the moment he was tongue-tied. Then, when he recalled the feeble and emaciated form of the old tramp, when he recollected his weak intelligence, he altogether declined to believe that such a creature, one so wanting in activity, could have conceived and executed a triple crime--the theft of the devil-stick, the murder of Maurice, the stealing of the body. Battersea had not sufficient craft or strength to do such things. With a shrug of his shoulders the major resumed his seat.
"You must be mistaken, Lady Meg," he said in a quiet voice. "Whosoever may be guilty, Battersea, for physical and mental reasons, must be innocent."
"That you must prove," replied Lady Meg, dryly.
"And in accusing Battersea I go only on your own premises. You said that the man who stole the devil-stick, who had it in his possession, must be the guilty person. You see the devil-stick there." She pointed to the table. "Well, I obtained that from Battersea."
"How did you obtain it?"
"Knowing that I collected curiosities, he came to sell it to me."
"A proof of his innocence," cried Jen, promptly.
"If the man had been guilty, he certainly would not offer the evidence of his guilt for sale. Where did he obtain this devil-stick?"
"Out of your smoking-room, I presume," said Lady Meg, "But I have not questioned him, as I thought it best that you should examine him yourself."
"Certainly, when I can find him. Where is he now?"
"Round at your stables with my groom. I brought him over with me."
"Thank you, Lady Meg," said Jen, cordially. "I congratulate you on your presence of mind, and on your courage."
"There is no necessity to congratulate me at all," replied the other, coloring. "I knew that it would not be wise to let him out of sight after I saw the devil-stick in his possession. And as to my courage," she added carelessly, "the poor old creature is so feeble that even I, a woman, could overpower him. But ring the bell, major, and have him in. I may be wrong. He may be innocent, but if you force him to confess how he obtained possession of the devil-stick you may get at the truth, and perhaps at the name of the murderer."
"It won't be the name of Battersea," said Jen, touching the button of the bell. "He had no motive to steal my devil-stick or to kill Maurice, nor could he have any reason to take possession of a dead body. Besides," added Jen, returning to his seat, "if this tramp were guilty, he would scarcely put his neck in danger by offering you the devil-stick for sale."
At this moment the footman appeared in answer to the bell, and in obedience to his master's peremptory order left the room again for the purpose of bringing in old Battersea for examination. While waiting, neither Lady Meg nor the major spoke, as they both considered, and truly, that nothing further could be said until the truth was forced from the tramp. Then the present aspect of the case might change, and an important step might be taken toward the solution of the mystery.
As dirty and disreputable as ever, Battersea, rolling his cap in his dirty hands, made his appearance on the threshold of the library, conducted by the disgusted footman. When the door was closed behind him, and he stood alone before those who were about to examine him, he shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, blinked his bleared eyes, and blushed as with the shame of guilt through the sallow darkness of his skin. Jen, with the military instinct of command fully awakened within him, looked sternly at the feeble old creature, and questioned him sharply, as though he were talking to a soldier who had done wrong. On her part, Lady Meg left the most part of the examination to the major; but she listened with anxious looks and parted lips to every word which fell from the tramp's lips. The death of the man whom she had loved so deeply had inflicted terrible anguish upon her loving heart, and, as a tribute to his memory, she was anxious to punish his assassin. But at present, influenced by the views of the major, she began to waver in her opinion regarding the guilt of the weak-brained creature who stood trembling nervously at the doorway.
"What is your name, man?" demanded Jen, commencing in the orthodox manner.
"Nothin' else," retorted the tramp sullenly. "My father was black, an' my mother she was white; an' they weren't married. I was brought up in Battersea parish, so I took that name, I did, not havin' any right to another name."
"How do you get your living?"
"I begs!" said Battersea, candidly. "And when I can't get nuffin I steals."
"I am sure of that," remarked Jen, taking the devil-stick off the table. "And you stole this, I'll be bound."
"I didn't. I found it."
"Oh!" said the major, in a satirical tone. "You found it? Where?"
"At Missus Dallas' place."
Jen started, and looked sharply at the old man, who, to all appearances, was answering his questions with all possible candor.
"Be more explicit, man," he said sternly. "What do you mean by Mrs. Dallas' place? The house or the grounds?"
"The groun's, near the gate."
"When did you find it?"
"The day arter th' young gen'man was killed."
"And why didn't you give it up to the police?"
"I wanted money for it, I did," he said huskily, "an' they wouldn't give no tin to me fur findin' it. She," pointing to Lady Meg, "is fond of pretty things, so I guv it her for five shillin'; but she didn't pay me for it."
"No," said Lady Meg, speaking for the first time, "because I did not know if you had come by it honestly."
"I tell 'ee I found it, I did," growled Battersea, becoming restive under the constant questioning. "Found it near the gate of Missus Dallas' place."
"Inside the gate," asked Jen, "or outside, on the road?"
"Inside; jus' among the grass. I was comin' up to get some food from missy, and I sowr that 'andle shinin' in the sun. I goes an' I looks, an' I fin's it. I knowed as the perlice wanted it, 'cause I 'eard talk of it doin' murder; but as perlice wouldn't give me tin, I wouldn't guv it to they," added Battersea, cunningly, "so I keeps it for 'er, but she ain't paid me yit," he concluded, with the whine of a mendicant.
For the moment Major Jen did not ask any more questions, for the very simple reason that he did not exactly know what course to take. Undoubtedly the tramp was telling the truth. He had no reason to conceal it; for in his own mind Jen quite acquitted him of any complicity in the crime. That so feeble and elderly a creature, debauched by intemperance, weak from insufficient food, should attack a vigorous young athlete like Maurice, was out of the question, even though he had the advantage of possessing the devil-stick. But here the question of the dried-up poison occurred to Jen. If the poison had evaporated by the lapse of time, the devil-stick must have been innocuous and incapable of inflicting death. Therefore, upon the evidence of the saturated handkerchief, the bag concealed in the turquoise-studded handle must have been refilled by Dido!--Dido, for the significant reason that she, inheriting the traditions of her Ashantee grandmother, alone must have been capable of manufacturing the deadly drug. To prove this assumption, a feasible one, the devil-stick was close at hand.
Jen picked it up and slightly pressed the handle. At once the turquoise gems indented the concealed bag; at once the iron fang protruded from the end of the stick, and on looking closely the major at the end of the spike observed an oblong drop of greenish hue.
The evidence of his own eyes was enough, and Jen replaced the devil-stick upon the table, with the full conviction that the bag had been filled with a fresh preparation of its original venom. This discovery, to the major's mind, confirmed the guilt of the negress.
"What is the matter?" asked Lady Meg, as she saw the major's face grow dark with his thought. "Is anything wrong?"
"Yes, Dido is wrong," he said. "I always thought that black witch was at the bottom of everything. I am sure of it now."
"Dido!" repeated Lady Meg, thoughtfully. "I have heard Mr. Alymer and Mr. Sarby talking about her. A negress, is she not?"
"Yes, and a murderess!"
"Major! Do you think--"
"Certainly I do. I believe she killed Maurice; but the evidence is as yet too slight upon which to accuse her. If I thought that she--" here the major checked himself and resumed in an altered tone--"but I must think of these things later on. In the meantime I must conclude my examination of this man."
"Do you think he knows anything?"
"No. I believe he found the devil-stick as he says. Within the grounds of Mrs. Dallas, mind you!"
"Well, and what does that prove?"
"Prove!" retorted Jen sharply, "simply that it was dropped there by that black fiend after she had killed Maurice."
"Do you really think she killed him?" asked Lady Meg, her face growing pale with the intensity of her excitement.
"I do," replied Jen, decisively. "But the evidence--ah, the evidence. Well," he added, after a pause, "I have something to go on, in this refilled devil-stick, and the saturated handkerchief."
"But I don't understand--"
"Never mind, my dear lady, you will later on," retorted Jen, with a nod. Then turning to Battersea, he resumed his examination. "You know the negress. Dido, who is in the employment of Mrs. Dallas?" he asked, mildly.
"Yes, sir, an' hawful female she is!"
"Well, sir." Battersea scratched his shock head. "She knows things as ain't good for 'er. 'Bout that devil-stick es you talks of."
"Oh," cried Jen, recalling Dido's denial, "she knows of that, does she?"
"Yes, sir, she do. Arsked me 'bout it, but I knowed nuffin, I didn't."
"What did she say to you concerning it?"
"Well, sir, when I brought a message from Dr. Etwald 'bout that devil-stick--"
"What!" cried Jen, interrupting sharply. "Did Dr. Etwald know about it also?"
"He did, sir. Leastways he arsked me to arsk Dido 'bout it."
"I thought as much," said Jen, in an excited tone. Then after a pause, he added: "Battersea, would you like free quarters and plenty of food and drink for a week?"
"I ain't a fool, sir," said the tramp, with a sheepish grin. "I should, you bet."
"In that case go down to the kitchen and tell my servants from me that you are to stay there. Later on I'll see you."
"Thankee, sir. I'll get free quarters and grub for a week," cried Battersea, rubbing his grimy hands. "My eye, 'ere's oppolance. Can I go now, sir?"
"At once," replied Jen, and pointed to the door. Battersea bowed awkwardly to Lady Meg and his benefactor; then he went out of the room and left the major alone with his visitor.
"What does all this mean?" asked Meg, quite surprised at Jen's excitement.
"Mean!" cried Jen, in a tone of conviction. "Why! that Etwald is mixed up in this business also!"
"Etwald!" repeated Lady Meg, thoughtfully. "Is he not the doctor of whom you have made so great a friend?"
"Yes. I took a viper to my bosom, and it stung me," replied Jen, who, in his excitement, was pacing backward and forward with hasty steps. "But I shall be even with him. In some way or another I believe it is possible to bring home to him this triple crime."
"Do you think he is guilty?"
"I am certain of it. Etwald prophesied to my poor lad, in his charlatan way, that if he wed Miss Dallas, or even announced his engagement with her, his fate would be of life in death."
"What did that mean?"
"Mean? Death without the addition of life. That word was brought in solely to render the prophecy--if it may be called so--confusing. Etwald was in love with Miss Dallas. He found in Maurice a formidable rival. He warned him by his pretended prophecy that he should slay him if he persisted standing in his path. Maurice announced his engagement upon the very day when Etwald, the designing scoundrel, went to pay his addresses to the girl. From that moment he doomed Maurice to death. Yes, I truly believe that such was his design, and that he offered to buy the devil-stick in order to carry out his criminal intention."
"Did he ask to buy the devil-stick?" demanded Lady Meg, in surprise.
"Twice; and both times I refused to part with it. Failing to get it honestly, he stole it."
"You have no proof of that."
"I don't know so much about that," retorted Jen sharply. "You heard what Battersea confessed, that he had taken a message from Etwald to Dido about the devil-stick. Well, this doctor has some mysterious, influence over this negress--what sort of influence I do not know, but she appears to be afraid of him. I believe he incited her to steal the devil-stick, and that by his directions she filled it with a fresh poison."
"But could she prepare the special kind of poison required?"
"Assuredly. She confessed as much. Her grandmother came from Ashantee, where this devil-stick is used for the purpose of destroying people. Dido inherits a knowledge of the family secrets, and knows how to make this poison. It cures nervous headaches--that is, the perfume of it does--and Dido made some with which she saturated a handkerchief to bind round the head of her young mistress."
"How do you know that the poisons are the same?"
"From the peculiar, sickly, heavy odor," explained Jen, promptly; and continued: "Well, you can see the rest for yourself. Dido filled that devil-stick with the poison," he pointed to the article on the table, "some of it remains in the wand yet. Etwald used the devil-stick to kill Maurice, and on going back to tell Dido of his success I have no doubt he dropped it inside the gates of Mrs. Dallas' grounds, where, as you have heard, it was found by Battersea. Oh, it is as plain as day to me," cried Jen, vehemently. "Etwald killed Maurice and stole the devil-stick to accomplish the murder."
"You have certainly made out a strong case against this man," said Meg, after a pause, "but it is all theory. Your proofs?"
"I shall find them."
"That will be difficult."
"Doubtless. I hardly anticipated an easy task when I undertook to learn who killed my dear lad. Besides, David will help me."
Lady Meg sighed, and rising to her feet, she drew her cloak round her tall form.
"I shall help you also," she said sadly. "That is, if you will accept of my help."
"Assuredly. You loved Maurice--"
"To my cost, major; but he did not love me. This girl--this Miss Dallas," she added in a faltering voice, "she must be very lovely, for Mr. Sarby loves her also. A woman who has three men at her feet must be wonderful."
Jen shrugged his shoulders.
"She is certainly beautiful," said he, indifferently, "but she is not clever, and her weak nature is enslaved by the gross superstitions of Dido."
"I should not think from your description that she was likely to attract Maurice," said Lady Meg, in a low voice; "but undoubtedly he loved her dearly; and I--" She made a gesture of despair and moved toward the door. On the threshold she paused and held out her hand. "Good-by, major; should I hear anything further I shall let you know. But the tramp?"
"I shall keep him here."
"Be careful lest he goes away."
"Oh, there is no fear of that," said Jen, in a confident tone. "Free quarters and plenty of food will keep Battersea in my kitchen. If he were guilty of the crime, he would not stay, but as it is he will remain under my eye. I intend to question him further about the connection between Dido and Etwald; I wonder what power the doctor holds over the negress."
"You can learn that only from the woman herself."
"Or from Etwald," rejoined Jen. "If I can only succeed in having him arrested he may confess all."
"Let us hope he will," replied Lady Meg, and after shaking hands again with Jen, she took her departure.
When the major had seen her carriage drive away he returned to look after the devil-stick, and examined it long and carefully. Undoubtedly it had been filled with fresh poison, and undoubtedly the poison, from the evidence heretofore set forth, had been prepared by Dido. Jen was more certain than ever that Etwald and the negress had stolen the devil-stick and had slain Maurice with it. But the theft of the body! It was that which puzzled him. He could understand why Etwald wanted Maurice removed from his path. He could explain, on those grounds, why the devil-stick had been stolen. But what reason could the pair have for the removal of the body? The poor boy had died, and his corpse could be of no use to those who had murdered him. Yet it had disappeared, and the only person who could give any evidence as to who had entered the room on that fatal night was Jaggard. But up to the present moment Jaggard had remained incapable of giving any clear evidence. Absolutely certain that Etwald was guilty, that Dido was an accomplice, Jen could not see his way to proving his case without the assistance of Jaggard.
At first he thought of going into Deanminster for the purpose of speaking with Inspector Arkel about the discovery of the devil-stick; but upon reflection he deemed it wiser not to do so, at all events for the present. Arkel could come only to the same conclusion as himself--namely, that Battersea, innocent of the crime, had picked up the devil-stick on the grounds of Mrs. Dallas. Regarding his suspicions of Etwald, the major determined to keep these to himself until he was in a position to prove them; for if Etwald were guilty, the slightest hint that the police were on his track would be sufficient to put him on his guard. Against so clever a man as the doctor, Arkel, with his clumsy methods, could do nothing. For the present, therefore, Jen decided to hold his tongue.
While the major was thus considering what step he should take, David, returning from a long and solitary walk, entered the room. Of late the young man had indulged in these lonely excursions, whence he always returned more melancholy than ever. His fine face was lean and worn, there were dark circles under his eyes, and his manner, formerly noted for its composure, was now nervous and hesitating. On approaching his guardian he saw the devil-stick on the table, and at once his pale face grew yet paler.
"Where did you find it?" he asked, pointing a trembling finger at the terrible piece of evidence.
"I did not find it at all," rejoined the major, gloomily; "Lady Meg brought it to me."
"She has nothing to do with the matter," replied Jen, surprised at the agitation of the young man. "It was Battersea who found it. He offered it for sale to Lady Meg, and she brought it and the tramp to me."
"Battersea!" said David, repeating the name in a puzzled tone. "How did he become possessed of it? Has he anything to do with the crime?"
"No. He found the devil-stick within the grounds of Mrs. Dallas, near the gates."
"Who lost it there?" asked Sarby, abruptly.
"Ah!" replied Jen, in a meaning tone. "Tell me that and I'll have the assassin of our dear Maurice within the walls of Deanminster jail before the year is twenty-four hours older."
David looked at Jen in astonishment.
"Have you any idea as to the guilty person?" he asked, in a hurried tone.
"I think so; it is my belief, David, that Dr. Etwald killed Maurice!"
"Impossible! For what reason?"
"Because he wants to marry Isabella Dallas."
"In that case he should rather have killed me than poor Maurice, for, as my suit to Isabella was supported by Mrs. Dallas, I was the more formidable rival of the two."
"I don't think so, my boy. Isabella loved Maurice, and to marry him she would have rebelled against her mother. But I daresay if you become engaged to her, Etwald will remove you also from his path."
"There will be no need for him to do that," replied David, coldly. "I shall never marry Isabella."
"What do you say? I thought you loved the girl?"
"I do love her," cried David, vehemently. "I have always loved her, and shall continue to do so until the day of my death. All the same, I shall never become her husband."
"For certain reasons!" said Sarby, evasively.
"What are those reasons?"
"I can't tell you."
"Have they anything to do with the death of Maurice?"
"Don't ask me, major. I would tell you if I could, but it is impossible."
Jen rose to leave the room, more wounded than he chose to confess.
"Of course, my boy," he said rather bitterly, "if you choose to withhold your confidence from me, I have no right to force you to speak. All the same as I have been a second father to you, I think you should be more open with me."
"I would tell you if I could," said David again, but in rather a sullen manner; "but I have reasons, strong reasons, for not doing so. Later on--" he paused nervously.
"Well?" demanded Jen, coldly, seeing the hesitation of the man.
"Later on, I may tell you all I know."
"All you know!" repeated Jen, in a startled tone. "About this crime?"
"Yes. I know something, but what it is I dare not tell you now, Uncle Jen," he added, gravely looking at the elder. "If you are wise, you will not pursue your inquiry."
"And why not, may I ask, David?"
"Ah!" said Sarby, walking toward the door, "you will know the reason when you learn the truth!"
After this enigmatical remark he hurriedly left the room, for the purpose, without doubt, of escaping further questioning. His demeanor completely puzzled Jen, who could not make out the meaning of his conversation. Evidently David knew something which he was unwilling to reveal--something which might lead to the solution of the profound mystery which enwrapped the death of Maurice and the extraordinary disappearance of his body.
The more Jen thought about the matter the more perplexed did he become. The recovered devil-stick, found in the grounds of Mrs. Dallas, the saturated handkerchief found in the bedroom of the dead man; and now the unaccountable hints of David that he knew something likely to throw a light upon these mysteries, joined with an equally unaccountable refusal to afford such revelation, all these things puzzled him; but as it was impossible in the absence of actual knowledge, to come to any reasonable decision, Jen determined to see Jaggard and see how he was. If Jaggard could only recover his senses, argued the major, he would be able to say who had stolen the body. Moreover, in Jen's opinion, the person who committed the second crime would most probably, by the force of analogous reasoning, have committed the first.
To the major's surprise, he found that Jaggard had recovered his senses, and although still weak from his accident and long insensibility, he was able to talk fairly well. Jen was puzzled by this sudden--that is, this comparatively sudden--recovery; and he expressed himself somewhat forcibly to the housemaid Anne, who had been watching for so long by the bedside of the sick man. The woman, with the shrewdness of her class, gave her opinion as to its reason.
"Ever since that handkerchief has been removed sir," said she, earnestly, "Jaggard has got well. I do believe, sir, that the scent on it kept the poor dear stupid."
Another light was let in on Jen's mind. Here was the handkerchief again--perfumed with the devil-stick decoction of poison by Dido, applied by the hand of Etwald, and its design was evidently to keep Jaggard in a state of stupor and prevent him from, making dangerous disclosures. Dido and Etwald once more in partnership. Jen was more convinced than ever that the pair were at the bottom of the whole terrible affair.
"I am glad to see that you are better, Jaggard," he said, while standing by the bed.
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir," replied the man, in a weak voice. "I'm sorry, sir, but I couldn't help myself. I was drugged, sir."
"I guessed as much," said Jen, grimly. "And who drugged you?"
"That black devil, Dido, sir," replied Jaggard, faintly.
"I guessed as much," said the major once more.
Exhausted by the few words which he had spoken, Jaggard fell back on his pillows in a dead faint. Seeing that further conversation was impossible at the present moment, Jen left the patient to the tender attention of Anne, and withdrew to seek David. He found him in a melancholy mood, pacing up and down the lawn before the window of the smoking-room. On perceiving his guardian, Sarby turned pale, for he thought that Jen had come to continue their previous conversation, and so force his confidence. But the first words of the major at once undeceived him.
"Well, David!" said the newcomer, with significance, "I have made one discovery without your help."
"A discovery. What is it?"
"I know who drugged Jaggard. I have learned who stole the body of Maurice!"
"Then you know more than I do," replied David, with all the appearance of truth. "My knowledge extends only to the death; not to the seizure of the body."
"And you refuse to aid me," said the major, reproachfully; "well, keep your secret, I may be able to do without your help. But," added Jen, fixing a piercing glance on the young man, "I notice that you do not ask me the name of the person who drugged Jaggard."
"Because I guess the name."
"Mrs. Dallas," said David, faintly. "It was Mrs. Dallas."
Jen drew back a step and looked at his ward with marked surprise.
"No," he said, at length. "Mrs. Dallas has had nothing to do with it."
"But I thought from what you said of the handkerchief dropped in the room--"
"That being the property of Mrs. Dallas, she had lost it there," interrupted Jen, smartly. "No. I told you also that Isabella had confessed to having dropped it at the time of her midnight visit. But now I know that she told me a lie!"
"Isabella! A lie! Impossible!"
"Not at all," rejoined Jen, coldly. "I can understand her reason for telling the lie. She wanted to shield--"
"Her mother!" cried David, quickly interrupting in his turn.
"Your mind seems to run on the mother, David," said Jen, looking again at Sarby with keen inquisitiveness. "Can you prove by any chance that she committed the crime?"
Sarby flushed and drew back with cold reserve.
"No, Uncle Jen, I can't. I have my suspicions."
"Against Mrs. Dallas?"
"Well, yes; but I can prove nothing against her."
"It pleases you to be mysterious, David. Shortly I shall insist upon an explanation."
"Insist!" repeated the young man, annoyed by the peremptory tone of his guardian.
"Yes. You owe it to me--your second father--to tell the truth. You owe it to your dead brother's memory--for assuredly Maurice was your brother."
David stared sullenly at the ground, but in a moment or two he lifted his head in a defiant manner.
"I owe you much more than I can ever repay," said he, in harsh tones. "All the same, Uncle Jen, I cannot reveal, even to you, what I know. If I did so, you would be the first to blame me."
"I don't understand you."
"I don't understand myself," said the young man, despondently, "save that I am the most miserable man alive."
"You must be, if you know who killed Maurice, yet refuse to confess," retorted Jen, with some heat. "Will you tell me the truth? I ask you for the last time."
"And I answer for the last time that the truth is not mine to tell," replied David, coldly. "If you doubt me question Etwald."
"What! that criminal?"
David looked up quickly.
"How do you know he is a criminal?"
"I can't give you my reasons. They would take too long to explain. But I believe that out of jealousy he killed Maurice."
"Oh," said Sarby, ironically; "and out of jealousy he stole the body?"
"No. Dido did that."
An expression of surprise appeared on the pale face of the younger man.
"Yes, Dido!" repeated Jen, firmly. "Jaggard has just informed me that it was Dido who drugged him. Why did she drug him? To steal the body of my poor lad. Why did she steal the body! To conceal the crime committed by Etwald."
"I don't quite understand."
"Listen, then, and I shall explain," resumed the major, with growing excitement. "I firmly believe that Etwald stole the devil-stick, and with it killed Maurice."
"From a motive of jealousy?"
"Precisely. As you know the body was stolen before the post-mortem examination could be made. Why was this? Does not your own reason find an answer to that question?"
"No," replied David, still obstinately unconvinced.
"Why," said Jen, with a nod, "if a post-mortem examination had been made, traces of poison would have been discovered. The poison would have been proved as identical with that of the devil-stick. Thus, beyond all doubt, we should have learned that Maurice had been killed by the devil-stick."
"Well!" repeated Jen, in an irritated tone, "can you not rouse that dull brain of yours to some understanding? To avert the discovery, and to prevent the analysis of the poison in the body. Dido, under the direction of Dr. Etwald, committed the third crime."
"But why should Dido act so under Etwald?"
"Because the man has some power over her. What that power may be, I know no more than you do. Although," added Jen, with an afterthought, "you may be able to explain."
"No. I have no idea why Dido should serve Etwald."
Evidently it was impossible to extract information from so impenetrable a man. Jen was thoroughly enraged by this display of obstinacy in a quarter where he least expected to find it. Usually sweet-tempered--especially toward his boys--the major quite lost control of his passion at the moment.
"Take care, David," he said, in an angry manner. "You are forcing me to believe that you are acting in this way from an unworthy motive. It is your duty to aid me in discovering and punishing the murderer of Maurice. Yet you leave me to do all the work and refuse your assistance in any way. Unless you alter your manner, and take me into your confidence regarding the reason of this strange behavior, a breach not easily mended may occur between us."
He paused, waiting for his ward to make some reply in defense of his conduct. The young man neither moved nor spoke, but, paler than usual, he stood before the major with his eyes on the ground. More in sorrow than in anger, Jen looked at him, then turned on his heel with a shrug, and walked into the house. David looked after him with quivering lips.
"If he only knew the truth," said he, wiping the perspiration from his face, "what would he say? What would he do? He blames me now; would he blame me then?"
In the meantime, while Sarby was indulging in this enigmatical soliloquy. Major Jen was pursuing his way toward the room of Jaggard. Despairing of obtaining information from David he thought it possible to learn the truth--at all events of that fatal night--from Jaggard. Honestly speaking the major was puzzled by the conduct of his ward. Hitherto, he had always considered David to be an honest man, but at the present time his conduct savored of duplicity. Did he know of anything relative to the triple crime which had been committed? If so, why did he not speak? Finally, was David also under the fatal influence of Dr. Etwald--the man who, Jen verily believed, was the source of all these woes?
To none of these questions could the major find feasible answers; therefore for the time being--i.e., pending the narration of Jaggard--he dismissed them from his mind. It was possible that the story of the invalid might throw light on the darkness which overshadowed the case.
As Jen anticipated, he found that Jaggard had recovered from his faint, and having had a sleep during the long absence of his master, was much better. As usual, Anne, the ill-favored housemaid, was watching by his bedside; but on a sign from Jen, she left the room. Finding himself alone with his servant, Jen addressed himself immediately to the business in hand.
"Do you feel stronger, Jaggard?" he asked.
"Much stronger, sir."
"Are you able to talk?"
"I think so, major--for half-an-hour, at least!"
"Half-an-hour will be sufficient," said the major, in a serious voice. "I wish you to tell me what took place on the night you were drugged."
"About Dido, sir?"
"Yes, Jaggard, about Dido."
The invalid remained silent for a time, then began to speak slowly and with some little difficulty.
"After you left me, sir," he said in a weak voice, "I remained seated in my chair beside the bedside of my poor young master. If you remember there was only one candle in the room, which was placed on the table, some little distance away. I examined the window and found it closed."
"You are sure of that?" demanded Jen, anxiously.
"Quite sure, sir. It was bolted and barred. The door was simply closed, for I never thought of locking it, as I fancied, sir, that you might return after midnight to see if all was right."
"I did not, however, Jaggard. I fell asleep in the library, after Mr. Sarby had gone to bed; and, of course, I had every confidence in you."
"Please don't say that, major," said Jaggard, imploringly, "as I did my best. It was not my fault that Dido drugged me. I'm sure I don't know why she did so," continued Jaggard, half to himself. "I never did her any harm."
The major looked fixedly at the man.
"Do you not know what occurred during the time you were insensible?" he asked, gravely.
"No, sir. I've only got my wits about me now."
"Has not Anne told you?"
"She hasn't told me anything, sir."
"Well," said Jen, seeing that the man spoke in all good faith, "the body of Mr. Maurice was stolen on that night."
"The body stolen!" repeated Jaggard, in amazement. "For why, sir?"
"I can't tell, nor can anybody else. All we know is that at three o'clock in the morning we entered Mr. Maurice's room and found the window open, the body gone, and you insensible."
"The window open," said Jaggard, thoughtfully. "Then it must have been opened from the inside, sir."
"By Dido, no doubt."
"I'm certain of it, major; and it was that black witch who stole the body."
"How did she get into the room?"
"She was hidden under the bed, sir."
"Under the bed! Are you sure?" said Jen, greatly startled by this information.
"Yes, major. It was this way. I was seated by the bed, at the foot of it, with my face to the door. The window, as I said, was locked. She could not have got in at the window, and had she entered by the door I should have seen her. Besides," added Jaggard, in a faint voice, "she grabbed me from behind."
"Yes, sir. I was not quite asleep, but a kind of dozing in my chair. I don't know what it was made me sleepy, as I was wideawake when you left, sir. But there was a kind of heavy, sleepy smell about."
"I know, I know--the devil-stick perfume."
"Well, sir, the smell made me sleepy; and though I heard a noise behind me I could not turn my head. I was just as if in a nightmare, sir. Then the black arm of that witch came from behind me and grabbed at my throat, and she held a handkerchief with that stuff on it to my nose."
"Ah," said Jen, to himself, "I knew that Isabella was speaking falsely. Go on, Jaggard," he added aloud. "Why did you not call out?"
"I couldn't, sir. I felt as in a dream; but I turned and tried to fight her. She pushed me over, and I fell like a log. I think I must have hit my head on a corner of the bed, for I felt a cruel pain at the back of it."
"You did wound your head, Jaggard; and after that fall you remembered no more?"
"No, sir, not till to-day. I don't know what it all means, sir, but I'm sure I know how Dido got into the room."
"Ah! That is what I wish to learn. Well?"
"If you remember, sir. Dido called to see you that day."
"Yes. To ask if I would see her mistress; a most unnecessary question."
"It was a blind, sir; and when she left the room I don't believe she left the house."
"What makes you think so?"
"Sir, I took Dido out to the door, and while I was telling her to go away. Dr. Etwald came out. He told me he would see after her, and I left them alone. Now, sir," said Jaggard, with emphasis, "I do believe as Dr. Etwald took that black jade to the room of Mr. Maurice and hid her under the bed."
This long conversation had somewhat exhausted Jaggard, who was yet weak, so, telling him to cease from talking, Jen recalled the housemaid, and left the room to think over all that he had learned. The story of Jaggard convinced him more than ever that Dr. Etwald was the cause of all the terrible events which had occurred within the last few weeks. Without doubt it was he who had treacherously hidden Dido in the chamber of death. After drugging Jaggard, the negress no doubt had opened the window to admit Etwald, and between them this precious pair had carried off the dead body. But for what reason? This Jen could not determine.
To learn the truth, he thought it advisable to call at "The Wigwam" and interrogate Dido. With the evidence of Jaggard to go on, the major felt satisfied that he could by threatening her with arrest, force her into confessing the whole nefarious plot. Who had thieved the devil-stick? Who had slain Maurice? Who had stolen the body? Undoubtedly, Etwald was the villain who was guilty of all three crimes, and the evidence of Dido would be sufficient to convict him of the deeds.
"Yes," said Jen to himself that night, as he retired to bed, "to-day I have learned sufficient to implicate Etwald; to-morrow I shall be able to convict him. Dido must confess or go to prison."
Angered by the selfish way in which David had acted, Jen did not communicate his discoveries to the young man. During the night he took counsel with himself, and the next morning he acted upon the plans which he had formed. These were, to see Dido and force the truth from her, to send Battersea to Deanminster to fetch both Arkel and Dr. Etwald to "Ashantee," and finally to communicate his discoveries to the inspector and get him to arrest Etwald. Once in prison, and the doctor, intimidated by a fear of death at the hands of justice, might confess his crimes, and his reasons for committing them. This straightforward course was the only one to pursue.
After breakfast, therefore, the major wrote two notes. One for Arkel, asking him to be at "Ashantee" by noon, as the writer had important matters to discuss; the other for Etwald, requesting him to call and see Jaggard, who, added Jen, significantly in the letter, had recovered his senses. Having thus prepared his trap for the doctor to walk into, Jen delivered the letters to Battersea, with instructions to set off at once for Deanminster. The tramp, anxious to keep in favor with Jen for cupboard reasons, lost no time in departing, and when the major had seen him safely out of the gates, he took his way toward "The Wigwam" for the all-important interview with Dido.
Before his departure he had left a message for David, who had not made his appearance at breakfast, requesting the young man to be in the library at noon.
"If I can force the truth out of Dido," thought Jen, strolling slowly along in the hot sunshine, "I may get the better of Etwald. Then, when David sees that the doctor is in the trap, and in danger of arrest for murder, he may relate what he knows. Though upon my word," considered the major, frowning, "I don't see what information he can possibly add to what I have obtained from Jaggard, or what I am likely to wring from the unwilling lips of Dido. Etwald is the guilty person. David can tell me no more than that."
On arriving at "The Wigwam," Jen presented his card, and was shown into the drawing-room, there to wait the arrival of Mrs. Dallas. Although it was nearly eleven o'clock the indolent Creole was not yet out of bed, but on hearing that the major had called to see her, she sent Dido to inform him that she would shortly accord him an interview. The negress, as gloomy and sullen as ever, delivered this message with folded arms and bent head. Then, without even a look at him, she turned to leave the room, when Jen placed himself between her and the door.
"Not yet. Dido," he said, in a cold voice. "It is true that I called to see your mistress; but I wish to speak to you also."
Dido started, and cast an inquiring look at the impassive face of the white man.
"What you wish, sah?" she said, in a grave voice, as emotionless as that of Jen's.
"To ask you a few questions about the devil-stick."
"Massa, I say all I know ob de debble-stick!"
"Indeed, you did not. Dido. You did not inform me that by Dr. Etwald's directions you filled the devil-stick with poison, or that you steeped the handkerchief found in the room of Mr. Alymer in the same poison for the purpose of drugging my servant; or again, that you concealed yourself under the bed, and afterward drugged him."
A kind of terror showed itself in the dilated eyes of the negress. She could not understand how Jen had become possessed of a knowledge of her crimes, and at first was struck with stupor by the recital.
Speedily, however, she recovered herself, and with a dark smile of contempt and pity she was about to deny all, when Jen brought out his last accusation.
"Nor," said he, fixing his eyes on the woman, "did you confess that you opened the window of Mr. Alymer's room, and aided Dr. Etwald to carry away the dead body?"
"De--de--dead--dead!" she stammered, shrinking back.
"Yes, the dead body of Mr. Alymer, which you and Dr. Etwald took to his house at Deanminster. No denial, woman," said Jen, raising his voice, as she was about to speak. "I see by your face that you are guilty."
Dido trembled all over, whether from rage or fear Jen could not determine, and opened her mouth to give the lie to her accuser. Then she shut it again, as a heavy step was heard outside the door. A moment later and Mrs. Dallas, with a face expressive of astonishment, was standing on the threshold of the room; and Dido at her feet was making the room resound like a jungle with howlings like those of a wild beast. All the savage nature of the woman was now on the surface, and had broken through the sullen restraint of her impassive demeanor. "What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mrs. Dallas, with an uneasy glance at the frantic negress.
"I shall explain when Dido stops her howling," said Jen, quite undisturbed.
"Dido! Dido!" remonstrated Mrs. Dallas, shaking the woman. "Rise; stop."
"Oh, missy! missy!" wept the negress, getting onto her feet. "It all am a lie, what dat massa say. Poo' ole Dido know nuffin'--do nuffin'. Lordy! Lordy! de big lie."
Major Jen took Dido by the shoulder, and giving her a good shake, commanded her to be silent. At once the negress--who was evidently acting a part--ceased her outcries, and after casting her eyes significantly at her mistress, stared sullenly at the floor. Mrs. Dallas turned pale at this rapid glance, and was obliged to take a seat to prevent herself from falling. Not a detail of this by-play was lost upon Jen, who saw in the conduct of mistress and servant a confirmation of his suspicions. However, he added nothing to his previous speech, but merely recapitulated--for the benefit of Mrs. Dallas--the points of his accusation against the negress. Dido heard him in silence, but this time she made neither outcry nor denial.
Mrs. Dallas appeared to be horrified by the recital. Every now and then she cast a look of terror at Dido, while passing her handkerchief over her white lips. When the major concluded she could only shake her head and stammer a few words.
"It can not be true," she murmured. "It is impossible."
"It is a fact," insisted Jen. "I have the evidence of Jaggard to prove that Dido was in the room on that night."
"Dido," cried Mrs. Dallas, in a trembling voice, "is this true?"
The negress raised her wild eyes slowly to the face of her mistress. What she saw therein evidently determined her reply. Without a word she bent her head.
"Ah," cried Jen, "you admit your guilt?"
"No," said Dido, bluntly, "I say dat I in de room, but I no kill dat man."
"But you filled the devil-stick with fresh poison?"
"No," said Dido again. "I saw no debble-stick."
"It was found in these grounds."
"Dat so; but I not see dat debble-stick."
"Woman," cried Jen, with energy, "no one but you could manufacture the poison with which the devil-stick was filled."
"Dat I know; but I no fill de debble-stick."
"Then who did?"
Dido hesitated, looked at Mrs. Dallas, and came out with a lie.
"I don't know," she said, in a stolid tone.
Her mistress rose to her feet and approached the major.
"Do you mean to say that Dido killed Mr. Alymer?" she asked, nervously.
"No; but she supplied the means to the man who did."
"The man who did!"
"Yes; Dr. Etwald."
"Dr. Etwald!" repeated Mrs. Dallas, in what seemed to Jen to be a tone of relief. "Why do you think he killed Mr. Alymer?"
"Because Maurice was engaged to your daughter, whom he wished to marry. Etwald killed my poor lad, so as to remove a dangerous rival from his path."
"By no means; and Dido manufactured the poison which was used."
Mrs. Dallas considered.
"I know to what you allude," she said, after a pause. "Dido does manufacture the drug, but only for the cure of nervous headaches."
"Or to kill men with," rejoined Jen, ironically; "or to drug the watchers of the dead."
"The watchers of the dead!" echoed Mrs. Dallas, with a start.
"Well, let us say my servant, Jaggard. He was drugged by Dido, and she stole the body, or rather she aided Etwald to do so."
"Dido, is this true?"
"Yis," said the negress, coldly; "de great massa told me to do dat."
"The great master," repeated Jen; "you mean Dr. Etwald?"
"Yis. Dat so."
"He took away the body of Mr. Alymer, and you helped him?"
"Why did you steal the body?"
Dido shrugged her shoulders.
"Ask de great massa."
"Where did you take it to?" demanded Jen, baffled in one direction and trying another.
"Ask de great massa," said Dido once more.
"The law will do that."
"The law, Major Jen?" said Mrs. Dallas, alarmed.
"Yes. I intend to have Dr. Etwald arrested."
"You dare not. Why?"
"On three charges. First, that he thieved the devil-stick; second, that he killed Maurice; and third, that he stole the lad's body."
Mrs. Dallas fell back on the sofa, with a white face. Dido laughed in a guttural fashion, and shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.
"Voodoo!" she said, and laughed again.
The major guessed that she meant that African witchcraft would avert disaster from Etwald, and at once flung the word back in her face.
"Voodoo will not help the doctor," said he, quietly. "This is a civilized country, and we who inhabit it are above being influenced by such degrading superstitions. You believe in Voodoo; in Obi; let us see if such things will protect you."
"Do you mean that Dido is in danger of arrest?" cried Mrs. Dallas, in a terrified tone.
"Certainly, as the accomplice of Etwald."
"But she did not kill Mr. Alymer."
"She filled the devil-stick with the poison which was used to kill him," retorted the major, coldly, "and she confesses to having aided him in stealing the body."
"Ah!" murmured Mrs. Dallas, casting a haggard look around. "All is lost."
"Are you alluding to Dido?" demanded Jen, rather surprised at her tone.
Mrs. Dallas was about to speak, when the negress silenced her with a look, and raised her head proudly.
"Yis. It ole Dido," she said. "But ole Dido not lost. Dat great massa, he look after ole Dido."
"If you mean Dr. Etwald, he will have enough to do to look after himself. Well, Mrs. Dallas, as I have learned what I wished to know, I shall now take my leave."
"You go to ruin us," wept Mrs. Dallas.
"No," said Jen, in an inflexible voice. "I go to punish the man who killed my boy."
Without another word he left the room. His last glance showed that Dido had gathered her sobbing mistress in her arms, and was staring after him in a defiant manner. At the front door Jen heard his name called softly, and Isabella, with a rich color in her usually pale cheeks, came flying after him.
"Major, major, I have heard all! I have been listening at the window."
"Then you know that I am aware of your deception about the handkerchief?"
"Yes. I did not speak truly," stammered Isabella, "but I could not act otherwise. It was to save a certain person."
"No, not Dr. Etwald, but the person who stole the devil-stick."
"Ah! you know who committed the first of the crimes," cried Jen, seizing the young girl's arm. "Confess. It was Dr. Etwald who stole the wand of sleep."
"No! no! It was--it was--"
"Not Dido. Oh!" cried Isabella, in a tone of anguish, "it was my mother."
Major Jen recoiled from the young girl in amazement.
"Your mother," he muttered, hardly believing the evidence of his own senses. "Your mother stole the devil-stick?"
"Yes; but she did not know what she was doing!"
"That is impossible!" he said, positively. "Quite impossible!"
"No! no! Wait! Listen!" said Isabella, much agitated. "I told you falsehoods before to shield my mother. Now that I know that you have discovered so much, that you are bent on punishing Dr. Etwald, I must tell you the truth, so that she may not be dragged down to ruin. But not here--not here: my mother may see us--and Dido," the girl shuddered. "Dido, of whom I am afraid. Come with me, major. Quickly!"
Without glancing toward the house Isabella ran down a secluded path which led through a kind of shrubbery to the flower-garden, and then disappeared into a light cane summer-house, constructed in the Chinese fashion, and which was overgrown with greenery. Major Jen followed her as rapidly as his more mature age would permit him; and as he hastened, he felt a wild thrill of delight that at last he was about to hear the truth. That it should be told to him by so unexpected a person as Isabella Dallas, was not the least strange part of this strange affair.
"Major," she said, when somewhat out of breath he had taken his seat beside her in the summer-house, "although I relate what inculpates my mother, it is to save her that I do so. Both she and I are in a net woven by Dido."
"Ah! poor Maurice always mistrusted that negress!"
"He was right to do so. Oh, you do not know what a terrible woman she is. For years both I and my mother have been under her influence; and have submitted to her will. Now, I see her in her true colors, and I am determined to speak the truth. Save myself and my mother, major; for we are innocent. Dr. Etwald and Dido are the guilty persons."
"They killed Maurice!"
"Yes. I am sure of it."
"They stole the body?"
"I can swear they did," said Isabella, with emotion.
"Why did you not tell me of this before?" asked the major.
"I have only been certain of these things since our last interview. I lied to you then because Dido said if I told the truth she would accuse my mother of the murder."
"I see," said Jen, thoughtfully, "and I can understand their motives. Dido wished you to marry Etwald."
"Yes; and it was to force my mother into compliance with that desire that the whole of these crimes were committed. Dido--"
"One moment, Miss Dallas. What influence has Etwald over the negress?"
"He is the possessor of the Voodoo stone," she said in a low voice.
"The Voodoo stone," echoed Jen, much puzzled. "And what may that be?"
"It is a small black pebble of a peculiar shape," explained the girl, "and it was brought from Africa to Barbadoes over a hundred years ago. The negroes believe that a spirit dwells in this stone, and that when it is worshiped the indwelling devil can work woe to those against whom the possessor of the stone bears malice. You can have no idea how this talisman is venerated by all the blacks; they will go miles to look on it, to adore it; they would burn down a city to possess it; to gain it they would murder a hundred human beings. Well, Dr. Etwald was in Barbadoes some years ago, and he gained possession of this Voodoo stone. He has used it while here to intimidate Dido. While he holds it she will not dare to disobey him, and all this plotting and assassination designed to bring about my marriage with Dr. Etwald, has been designed by him, and carried out by Dido, solely on account of his ownership of the Voodoo stone. You know that she calls him the 'great master!' Well--now you can guess the reason for her service worship of this man."
"Yes," assented Jen, turning his sharp eyes on Isabella, "and you--do you believe in this Voodoo stone also?"
"No. When I was a child I did, and I fancy that my mother also had some belief in it. Brought up among the negroes of Barbadoes both she and I imbibed the superstitions of the black race; but now we have no faith in such follies. For my part," added the girl, anxiously, "I should be glad to get rid of Dido, seeing that with Dr. Etwald and his malignant influence of the Voodoo stone, she is dragging us toward disgrace; but my mother still clings to her as an old servant, and will not let her go."
"I see. And about the theft of this devil-stick?"
"Oh, on the night it was stolen, I was seated on the veranda after dinner, and I saw my mother come out with Dido. They did not know I was there, as I sat in the shade. I saw Dido speak to my mother and point toward your house. Then she waved her hands before my mother's face, whereupon my mother turned and walked swiftly past where I was seated. I saw her face; it was quite white, and her eyes were open and glassy. She--"
"In a word," interrupted Jen, "this black witch had hypnotized Mrs. Dallas."
"Yes; but I did not know that until later on. When my mother disappeared Dido re-entered the house. At once--terrified by my mother's action--I ran down the little path which leads to the gate and followed her out onto the road. She went into your grounds by the postern in the wall. I saw her cross the lawn, and enter the smoking-room, wherein a lamp was burning. When she came out it was with the devil-stick in her hand. I recognized it by the golden handle. I reached home before she did, and again hid on the veranda. Dido reappeared as my mother came up the walk, and took the devil-stick from her. Then she led her indoors."
"And what did you do?" asked Jen, much interested in this strange history.
"I went in later on, and found that my mother had gone to bed. I said nothing at the time as I was afraid of Dido. Afterward, when Maurice was killed, and you said that the devil-stick had killed him, I went to Dido and accused her of the crime.
"She was fearfully angry and warned me that if I said a word about the theft of the devil-stick I would be in danger of hanging my own mother."
"What!" cried Jen, jumping up, "did Dido accuse your mother of the crime?"
"To me, yes. To my mother, no. Afraid lest such an accusation should kill my mother, who is not strong as you know, I said nothing to her, or indeed to anyone. I told a lie to you to save my mother; what else could I do? But now I tell you the truth, and I wish you to protect us both against the evil of Dido and Dr. Etwald."
"You believe that Dr. Etwald killed Maurice?"
"I am sure of it. When I became ill through the terror of the secret which I possessed. Dido prepared that poison under the pretense of curing me, but I now know that she did so to refill the devil-stick. She then sent it to Etwald, and he killed Maurice. Also he stole the body with the assistance of Dido."
"Why should this pair of wretches steal the body?"
"I know no more than you do," said Isabella, with great despondency. "But now. Major Jen, you can understand my not speaking the truth at our last interview."
"Yes, and I honor you for it," said Jen, kissing her hand. "But tell me one thing. Why did you make that midnight visit?"
"Well, I was not quite myself, major, in the first place; and in the second I missed Dido!"
"On that night?" asked Jen, eagerly.
"Yes. I was ill, as I have said, and my mother was watching by my bedside. Usually it is Dido who does so. I asked my mother about Dido, and she said that Dido had asked permission to go out for the evening."
"To see Dr. Etwald, I suppose?"
"No. I thought so at first, but one of the servants who brought me a cup of tea late at night told me that Dido had gone to your house to offer her services in laying out the body of my dear Maurice."
"Oh!" said the major, suddenly recollecting what had taken place. "I remember her visit; but she gave as her excuse that you wanted to see me."
"One of her lies," said Isabella, vehemently. "I did not know she had gone to your house until the servant told me. Then when I remembered how the devil-stick had been stolen I was afraid lest Dido should be contriving further mischief. Although it was late I could not rest in my bed. I tossed and turned with my brain burning with the fever. I felt that I must learn what was taking place at your house. My mother left me about two o'clock in the morning quite worn out with her watching. Then I rose, put on a dressing-gown, and escaped by the window. I reached your library at three o'clock. You know the rest."
"Yes," assented the major, with a nod, "and I know that, as you imagined. Dido was up to some mischief. She stole the body with Etwald; but why? why?" muttered Jen, in perplexed tones.
"I cannot guess," said Isabella, for the second time. "But now that I have told you all, major, what do you intend to do?"
"Return to my house and see Etwald!"
"Is he there?"
"I expect him at noon along with Inspector Arkel. Then I may force the truth out of him. Certainly I shall have him arrested on suspicion of murder."
"I shall take no steps concerning her at present," said Jen, glancing at his watch, "especially as there is no fear of her leaving the neighborhood."
"No!" replied Isabella, interpreting the major's thought. "While the Voodoo stone is with Dr. Etwald she will not leave the place where he is staying."
"In that case, she will have to live in Deanminster jail; for there---as sure as I am a living man--Etwald shall find himself before another twelve hours are over his head. And now, my dear young lady," added Jen, rising, "I must leave you, to keep my appointment with the scoundrel. Do not speak of our conversation to anyone!"
"You can depend upon my silence," said Isabella, who held out her hand.
Major Jen shook it in his usual kindly manner, and moved a step toward the door of the summer-house. All at once he paused and looked back.
"One moment, Miss Dallas!" he said, quickly. "Does David know about the theft of the devil-stick? That is," he added more precisely, "does he know that your mother stole it?"
"I cannot be quite certain if he does!" she said, after a pause, "but I fancy he has some idea of it. When he has seen me of late he has always been so nervous and silent. At our last meeting, also, he told me that we were to fear nothing."
"H'm!" said Jen, reflectively. "Undoubtedly you are right. Miss Dallas. David must have learned the truth in some way; but I cannot imagine how. Well, good-by, good-by. I shall see you later on when we have this scoundrel under lock and key."
The major hurried off, leaving Isabella alone in the summer-house. He walked on slowly, notwithstanding that it was past the hour he had appointed to meet Arkel and Etwald. His thoughts were busy with what Isabella had said concerning David's knowledge of the trick.
"Undoubtedly he believes that Mrs. Dallas killed Maurice," thought Jen, "and that is why he refuses to confess to me. He said that I would be the first to blame him for telling all he knew, and as he is under the delusion that Mrs. Dallas is guilty, I understand now the reason of his silence. Also he said that he would never marry Isabella; which shows that he is afraid of becoming the husband of a woman whose mother has committed a crime. Poor boy, how he must suffer; and after all I must say that I approve of his honorable silence. But!" added the major to himself, "when he knows that Mrs. Dallas is innocent and that Etwald is guilty, he will then be able to marry Isabella!"
On consideration Jen thought it would be best to say nothing definite to David about his discovery. If the young man, from a feeling of honor toward an unhappy woman, kept silent, the major was the last person in the world to tempt him to break it. Jen decided to merely hint to David that he knew the truth, and let the arrest of Etwald tell its own tale, and unseal the lad's lips, by showing that Mrs. Dallas was innocent. As Jen came to this conclusion, he entered his own gates, and rather to his surprise, he saw David, considerably agitated, advancing to meet him.
"Inspector Arkel and Dr. Etwald are waiting for you in the library," said Sarby, rapidly.
"I know it. I sent for them."
"You sent for them?"
"Well, why not? I wish the first to arrest the second."
"Arrest Dr. Etwald! On what grounds?"
"On the grounds of having murdered Maurice," said Jen, coldly. "Yes, you may look astonished, David, but it is the truth. Without your assistance I have discovered that Etwald is guilty. Also," added the major, in a kindly tone, "I know the reason of your silence."
"Of ray silence?" echoed David. "You know the reason?"
"Yes, and I honor you for it."
"Who--who--told you?" stammered the young man, as pale as death.
"Isabella! My God!" David looked terrified.
Before Jen had time to inquire the meaning of David's strange exclamation, the young man had turned on his heel and was walking rapidly back to the house. Surprised by this behavior, and suspicious of its reason, the major called out to him to stop; but without taking any notice the young man increased his pace, and was soon lost to sight. Still marveling, Jen went after him, and on entering the library found that only Arkel was present.
"Where is Dr. Etwald?" demanded the major, anxiously.
"He went upstairs a few minutes ago to see your servant," replied the inspector, rising.
"Alone, Mr. Arkel?"
"Why no, major. Mr. Sarby was with him."
Jen started. Evidently David had returned before him in order to see Etwald, and to gain private speech with the doctor, had conducted him to Jaggard's sick-room. For the moment Jen--still suspicious of Sarby's behavior--had it in his mind to follow; but a few minutes of reflection convinced him that this was unnecessary. David did not know all the conversation which had taken place between himself and Isabella, therefore he could inform Etwald of nothing new. But, indeed, the major wondered why David wished to speak privately with the doctor. It looked, to his mind, as though the two men were in league.
"I'll find out what it all means after I have had speech with Arkel," said Jen to himself. "The doctor cannot escape me, and if David has an understanding with him, I'll force them both to confess. There can be no harm in leaving them together for a few minutes."
In this Jen was wrong, but, as he was only an amateur detective, he cannot be blamed very severely for his negligence at this particular moment. He acted--as he thought--for the best, and therefore hastened to explain to Arkel the position of affairs before the return of Dr. Etwald. Afterward, when the matter of the accusation and arrest were settled, he intended to have speech with David, and insist upon an explanation of the young man's mysterious behavior. Thus did the situation present itself to his inexperienced eyes.
"Well, never mind Dr. Etwald just now," he said aloud, pointing to a chair. "He has his duties to perform, and I have mine. Sit down, Mr. Arkel. I suppose you wonder why I have sent for you?"
"Well; no, major. I presume it is in connection with the case."
"You are right. I wish to know if you have discovered anything new."
"Yes. Your messenger, Battersea, was wandering about your grounds on that night."
"Battersea!" cried Jen, thunderstruck. "Did he see the body carried off?"
"He did not see it taken out of the house," explained Arkel, referring to some notes which he held in his hand, "but he saw it put into the carriage."
"Yes, which was waiting in the winding lane at the foot of your grounds. Two people carried the body between them--a man and a woman--but Battersea cannot give me their names."
"I can, however," said Jen, grimly. "Oh, it is just as I thought."
"What are the names, major?" asked Arkel, anxiously.
"I'll give you the names later on, Mr. Inspector. In the meantime, be good enough to conclude your report of Battersea's confession. It interests me deeply."
"I thought it would," replied Arkel, with a look of satisfaction. "Well, Battersea wondered at the body being put into the carriage--"
"Did he know that it was Alymer's corpse?" interrupted Jen, sharply.
"He guessed as much from the circumstance that the body was carried through your grounds to the lane where the carriage was waiting. You know, major, that this tramp is rather stupid, and it is not an easy thing for him to put two and two together."
"On this occasion, however, he discovered that they made four," replied the major, dryly. "Well, the man and the woman put the body into the carriage--a closed carriage, I suppose?"
"Yes," assented Arkel, with a nod, "a brougham."
"A doctor's brougham?"
"What," cried the inspector, with a look of surprise, "has the scamp told you?"
"He has told me nothing. Please go on."
"Well," said Arkel, making his invariable beginning, "when the body was placed in the carriage and the door closed, the woman went away."
"In what direction?"
"She returned through your grounds, but where she went Battersea does not know."
"I do, however," muttered Jen, divining that Dido had taken the usual route back to "The Wigwam."
"And the man?"
"He mounted the carriage-box and drove off. It appears that there was no coachman."
"I don't wonder at that," rejoined the major. "This precious pair were afraid to trust their infernal secret to a third party. No doubt the horse, being quiet, was left to stand in the deep shadow of the lane, while the robbers stole the corpse. However, I understand. The woman went away, the man mounted the box, and I suppose, drove off with the corpse."
"Also with Battersea," added Arkel, with a significant smile. "It seems that the tramp wished to see the end of this singular adventure, or, no doubt, he wished to make money out of it."
"By blackmailing? I see. I suppose he hung on behind."
"Yes; like a street arab. He was one, once, you know, major, and has not forgotten his early habits. Well, he was driven with the carriage to Deanminster."
"Quite so, and into that gloomy courtyard which surrounds the house of Dr. Etwald," added Major Jen, with a satisfied smile, "Battersea saw the doctor take the body out of the carriage and carry it into the house. Then, on his return--Etwald's I mean--he unharnessed the horse and put it into the stable; also the carriage into the coach-house. Is that not so, Mr. Arkel?"
"Battersea told you," stammered Arkel, amazed at his insight.
"I assure you he told me nothing. But I am as clever as Battersea, and can put two and two together. Next day Battersea went to Etwald, did he not, and tried to blackmail him, but this clever doctor compelled him to keep silent."
"It's all quite true," assented the inspector, thunderstruck; "though how you guessed it all I cannot say. But, as you know so much, perhaps you can tell me one thing more, which bothers me not a little. How did Dr. Etwald compel Battersea to keep silence?"
"Very easily," said Jen, with a shrug. "Battersea is half negro. The black race adore the Voodoo stone, of which Dr. Etwald is the possessor. Etwald simply threatened Battersea with the vengeance of the Voodoo stone if he spoke. Therefore, he held his tongue, and was forced to confess all this only by your threatening to have him arrested as the murderer of Mr. Alymer.
"I did threaten him; but how you know--"
"I know a great many things, Mr. Inspector. For instance, I know that the woman who assisted Dr. Etwald to steal the body is Dido, the negress of Mrs. Dallas; also that Dr. Etwald is a murderer as well as a thief."
"Heavens! If I had only known that I would have had the warrant altered."
"What!" cried Jen, with an expression of ferocious joy lighting up his face, "you have a warrant for the arrest of Etwald?"
"Yes, but on the charge of stealing the body only. I took it out after hearing the evidence of the tramp, Battersea."
"Very good. Then you can take out a warrant for his arrest as a murderer, after hearing my evidence."
"Can you prove him guilty?"
Jen rose to his feet and stretched out one hand toward Arkel.
"I swear, on my sacred honor, that Maurice Alymer was killed by Max Etwald!"
At this moment the door of the library opened slowly, and Dr. Etwald, calm and composed, appeared on the threshold. Behind him, over his shoulder, peered the pale countenance of David. From the ironical look on the doctor's face it would appear that he had overheard the accusation of the major, and was prepared to treat it with contempt. That such was the case appeared by the first words which issued from his mouth as he faced his accuser.
"I hear the name of Max Etwald coupled with the crime of murder. Is this the way you treat your guests, major?"
"You are not my guest," retorted Jen, furiously.
"No; rather your victim, seeing that you have lured me into a trap. It was not to see Jaggard that you asked me here; but rather to force me--if you can--into confessing that I am guilty of a triple crime."
"You make one slight mistake, sir," said Jen, coldly. "I accuse you of two crimes, not of three."
"Ah, you are lenient," replied Etwald, a shade of surprise passing over his features, a surprise which was reflected in the agitated face of David Sarby.
"Well, sir, let me hear of what I am accused."
With the utmost coolness he entered the room and sat down in a chair near Arkel. The inspector, with his hand in his breast-pocket, fingered the warrant, but did not deem it wise to execute it until he had heard what proof the major possessed against Etwald for the murder of Maurice Alymer. David sat down near the door, and followed every movement of the scene which ensued with keen eyes. Thus, three of the occupants of the room were seated--Sarby, Arkel, and Etwald. Only one man stood up--Major Jen--and he stood as the accuser.
"Dr. Etwald," said the major, with great calmness and deliberation, "you are a clever and ambitious man, who wishes to make his way in the world, but has hitherto failed to do so for lack of money. To procure money for your experiments in chemistry, you would do anything--even marry a rich woman!"
"Or murder the man formerly engaged to her," retorted Etwald, with a pale smile. "Go on. Major Jen, I see the mark you are aiming at."
"You found this rich match here," resumed Jen, without noticing the interruption, "in the person of Miss Dallas, already engaged to the late Mr. Alymer."
"And also loved by Mr. Sarby," said the doctor, coolly.
"We will come to that later on, if you please," said the major, making a gesture to David to be silent. "You loved her and wanted your rival, Mr. Alymer, out of the way. To do so you had my devil-stick stolen."
"Ho, ho; and by whom?"
"By Mrs. Dallas!"
"Mrs. Dallas?" cried David, starting from his seat. "Did she steal the devil-stick?"
"It would seem so from this veracious history the major is telling us, said Etwald, with irony.
"Mrs. Dallas stole the devil-stick," resumed Jen, imperturbably, "and gave it to Dido, who, by your directions, filled it with fresh poison. Dido gave the newly-prepared weapon of death to you, and with it you killed my poor boy at the very gates of the girl he loved."
"Really!" said Etwald, with pointed satire. "Was I as cruel as that!"
"Afterward you stole the body of the man you murdered. Dido helped you to do so, and drugged my servant, Jaggard, with the perfume of the devil-stick poison, in order that the theft might be carried out with safety."
"It would seem that Dido has a great deal to do with these matters," said Etwald, looking up to the roof.
"She has everything to do with them. She will be brought up against you as a witness."
"Indeed! Then it appears that I am to be arrested."
"I can answer that," broke in Arkel, amazed at the self-possession of the man. "I have here a warrant to arrest you for stealing the body of Maurice Alymer."
Etwald glanced over the warrant and smiled.
"How can you prove that I did so?" he demanded.
"By the evidence of the tramp Battersea."
"Battersea!" repeated the doctor, and for the first time he frowned.
"Yes. He saw you place the body in your brougham, with the assistance of Dido. He followed you to Deanminster, and saw you take the body into your house."
"Really! But all this evidence is circumstantial. Have you searched my house?"
"We intend doing so."
"I am afraid you will have your trouble for nothing," rejoined Etwald, coolly. "Moreover, you can't arrest me without actual proof."
"I can arrest you on suspicion," said Arkel, rising with his warrant, "and I arrest you now in the Queen's name."
"On what charge?"
"On the charge of stealing the body of Maurice Alymer."
"Oh, then," said Etwald, turning toward Jen, "I am not to be accused of the murder."
"Later on, my friend Cain," said the major, grimly. "You will have quite enough to do to save your neck from the halter."
"I am afraid so, indeed, major, therefore I must have assistance. There is nothing like being provided in time with counsel for the defense; therefore, I must ask Mr. David Sarby to defend me from these absurd charges."
"I!" cried David, starting up with pale cheeks. "I defend you!"
"Assuredly," replied Etwald, fixing a piercing glance on the young man. "Do you refuse?"
"Of course he does," cried Jen, wrathfully.
David raised his head and looked at the major, at the doctor, at the inspector.
"No," he said in a firm voice to all three. "I accept. I shall defend Max Etwald."
Great was the astonishment throughout the neighborhood when it became known that Dr. Etwald, the clever physician of Deanminster, had been arrested on a double charge of murder and theft of a dead body. Those who did not like him--and they were the majority--rejoiced openly that the assassin of Maurice Alymer had been found in Etwald's person; but there were some that regretted that so brilliant a man should be consigned to a felon's cell, and--possibly in the hereafter--to a felon's doom. But whatever opinions, for or against the prisoner, were held by the good people of Deanminster and the surrounding neighborhood, there was no doubt of one thing: The trial of Max Etwald at the assizes would be the great sensation of the year.
Major Jen worked hard to procure evidence against the prisoner, and David Sarby worked just as hard to obtain materials for the defense. The attitude taken up by the young barrister astonished everybody and was universally condemned. That he--who might almost be called the brother of the dead man--should defend the assassin of such brother was almost incredible of belief. People were astonished and angered by the very idea, and when that idea became known to be an actual fact the conduct of David was disapproved of on every side. Only one man said nothing, and that man was the very person who had the best right to speak. While all talked, Major Jen remained silent. His reticence on the subject caused almost as much scandal as David's inexplicable conduct.
Yet Jen knew what he was about, and he was acting merely in accordance with an agreement he had made with Sarby. After that memorable interview in the library, when Etwald was accused and arrested, Arkel took away his prisoner in custody by virtue of the warrant, and left Major Jen alone with the counsel for the defense. The assassin--so-called--and Inspector Arkel left the room; they left the house. When the sound of Etwald's carriage--for he went to Deanminster jail in his own brougham--had died away in the distance, Jen, who had hitherto kept silence, raised his head and looked at David.
"Well, sir!" he said in an icy tone to his adopted son, "I am waiting for you to explain this very extraordinary conduct."
David replied in equally as cold a manner.
"Major Jen, I have no explanation to give you."
"What!" cried his guardian, rising. "Do you dare to sit there and tell me that you are a traitor, a coward, and an ungrateful man?"
"A traitor?" echoed David, with a flush rising in his pale cheeks.
"Yes, sir. A traitor to your foster-brother, who was your rival. It is because Maurice loved the woman who hates you that you act the unworthy part of defending his murderer."
"Very good, major; I understand why I am a traitor. But a coward?"
"You are a coward in submitting yourself to the influence of this base assassin," cried Jen, enraged by the calmness of the young man. "And as an ungrateful man--do you want an explanation of that term?--you whom I have loved and brought up as my own son?"
"No. I can understand your anger from your point of view."
"My point of view! My point of view!" raged Jen, stamping. "From the point of view of the world, sir! What will everyone say when they learn that you intend to defend Etwald?"
"They will say almost as cruel things as you have said," returned David, still composed. "But I do not care for the opinion of the public. I act according to the dictates of my own conscience."
Jen drew back and stared at the young man in angry surprise.
"Your own conscience!" he repeated, in disdain. "How can you talk in that manner? What excuse can you--"
"I have an excellent excuse," interrupted David, rising.
"What is it, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
"I refuse to tell you--at present."
"Indeed! And am I ever to learn the reason of your extraordinary behavior?"
"Yes, major," said he at length. "You shall learn my reason--at the trial."
"At the trial?"
"I shall explain it when I make my speech for the defense."
"What do you mean?" cried Jen, his curiosity getting the better of his anger. "Is it possible that you believe in the innocence of this man?"
"As counsel for the defense you can hardly expect me to answer that."
"As your adopted father, I demand an answer."
"You shall have it, sir--at the trial."
The obstinacy and marvelous composure of the young man were not without their due effect on Major Jen. He drew back, and after a few moments' consideration, he spoke in all seriousness.
"David," said he, quietly, "there is something very extraordinary in your behavior, and you refuse to give me your reasons therefor. If I wait until the trial, will you explain?"
"Yes. I have already told you so. In my speech for the defense you will be fully satisfied that I have good cause to act as I am doing."
"Very good," said Jen, calmly. "Then I shall say nothing to any one about your very curious behavior. I shall work hard to secure the condemnation of this scoundrel. You can do your best to save him. But against you, or for you, I shall not open my mouth. At the trial I shall expect an explanation."
"You shall have it."
"But," added Jen, raising his head, "as until that explanation we are enemies--although not openly so--I shall require you to leave my house."
"I expected that you would do so," rejoined David, bowing his head. "Indeed, you can act in no other way. To-day I shall take lodgings in Deanminster and wait for the trial. I shall defend Etwald to the best of my ability, and then you can decide whether I am fit to re-enter this house."
"I can't understand you, sir," said Jen, with a sigh. "Whatever your reasons may be, I feel sure that I shall not approve of them."
"You approved of my reasons before, major. You shall approve of them again. In the meantime, until the trial, let us remain strangers."
He bowed, and without offering his hand--which it is very probable Major Jen would have refused to take--he left the room. When the door closed the older man sank into a chair and passed his hand across a brow moist with perspiration.
"There can be only one explanation," he muttered. "David is mad."
The result of this conversation was that David took up his residence in Deanminster near the jail, and saw Etwald frequently about his defense. The doctor assured him that he possessed sufficient power over Dido, by reason of owning the Voodoo stone, to prevent her from becoming a witness against him. Sarby was satisfied that if Dido did not appear to give evidence the case for the prosecution would fall through. She was the only witness of whom the barrister and the prisoner had any fear.
On his part, Major Jen, together with Arkel, built up a strong case against the man whom they fully believed to be the culprit. Search had been made in Etwald's house, but no traces of the dead body could be found. Its disappearance was almost as profound a mystery as the reason which had induced Etwald to steal it. The reasons for the theft of the devil-stick, for the murder of Maurice, were plain enough; but what had induced the doctor to make away with the corpse no one could discover. Etwald himself, even to his counsel, was silent on the subject.
Arkel had sought out as witnesses against Etwald seven persons. First, Mrs. Dallas, who was to prove that she was hypnotized frequently by Dido. Second, Isabella, who was to depose that before the murder her mother had been sent by Dido to "Ashantee" to steal the devil-stick, while under the influence of hypnotism. Third, Battersea, who was to give evidence that he had found the devil-stick within the grounds of Mrs. Dallas. Fourth, Lady Meg, who was to prove the offer of Battersea to sell her the stick. Fifth, Major Jen, who could explain the engagement of the dead man to Miss Dallas and the rivalry of his assassin. Sixth, Jaggard, whose evidence would tend to show that Dido had drugged him for the purpose of stealing the body. And seventh, the most important witness of all. Dido, who was to depose to the manufacture of the poison, the refilling of the devil-stick, and the giving of it to Dr. Etwald, so that he might perpetrate the crime. With these seven witnesses Jen did not see how Etwald could escape the gallows.
"Are you certain that all these people will speak out?" asked the major of Arkel when the list was submitted to him.
"I am certain of all save one," replied Arkel, in a dissatisfied tone, "and the worst of it is that Dido is the one."
"Does she refuse to give evidence against Etwald?"
"I should think so. Simply because he is the holder of the Voodoo stone."
"Can we force her by threats to give evidence?" said Jen, angrily.
"I don't think so; it wouldn't be legal," answered Arkel. "The only chance of getting the negress to confess to the whole truth is for either you or I to gain possession of that stone."
"Where is it?"
"Etwald carries it on his watch chain. I saw him the other day in prison and he showed it to me. A common little black stone it is, but Dido would kill him with pleasure to get it."
"Kill Etwald!" ejaculated Jen. Then, after a pause, he added: "I believe you are right, Arkel, for it is not the man himself she cares about, but the stone. However. I'll see Isabella and make her persuade Dido to speak against Etwald."
The major went at once to "The Wigwam," but, notwithstanding all his eloquence, in spite of the tears and implorings of Isabella, the negress positively declined to say a word against the Great Master.
"While dat big man hab de Voodoo stone I do notin'--notin'," she said. And from this obstinate position they all failed to move her.
When Major Jen departed both Isabella and her mother were in despair. Failing the proving of the crime against Etwald, accusations might be made against Mrs. Dallas. And this result could be brought about by Dido, did she choose; but the spell of the Voodoo stone was on her, and she refused to say anything likely to inculpate its master.
"Why don't you get the Voodoo stone yourself, if you adore it so much?" cried Mrs. Dallas, exasperated by this obstinacy.
Dido opened and shut her hand convulsively.
"Ah, if I hab dat Voodoo stone I be great; great--de queen ob de debbles. But he no let it go."
"Go and see Dr. Etwald and tell him you will give evidence against him unless he gives you the stone."
This suggestion came from Isabella, but of it Dido took no notice. Without a word to mother or daughter, who were both in tears, she left the room. In the afternoon she was nowhere to be found, and both Mrs. Dallas and Isabella came to the conclusion that she had fled to avoid being forced into giving incriminating evidence. They fell into one another's arms and were beside themselves with terror. All the evil done by Dido and Etwald seemed likely to fall upon their innocent heads.
"Still there is hope," said Isabella, recognizing the occasion for prompt action. "We shall speak to Major Jen and ask him to send the police after this wretched woman."
This opinion was at once acted upon, and a messenger was sent to "Ashantee," but Major Jen was from home, and it was not until six o'clock that he presented himself at "The Wigwam" and heard the story of Dido's flight.
"But she can't be very far away," said Jen, hopefully. "I saw her in Deanminster, and thought she had gone there with a message from you."
"No, no," cried Mrs. Dallas, wringing her hands. "She will catch the train there and go to London. Oh, why didn't you stop her?"
"I wish I had known," said Jen, rather dismayed to find his fine case against Etwald breaking down. "But even if we had forced her into court she would not have given evidence against the holder of the Voodoo stone."
"Dat so?" said a hoarse voice at the door.
The three people turned and saw Dido, with an expression of triumph on her dark face, enter the room.
"Dido!" cried Isabella. "You did not run away?" "No, missy. I tell de truth against dat man."
"But the Voodoo stone?" said Jen, wondering what she meant.
Dido opened her clenched fist. The Voodoo stone lay in the palm of her hand.
How she became possessed of the Voodoo stone Dido refused to say. Jen had learned from Inspector Arkel that Etwald wore the talisman on his watch chain, and he wondered in what fashion Dido had contrived to penetrate into the prison and to obtain it from the doctor. The whole result of the trial depended upon the transfer of the stone. If Etwald kept it, Dido would not dare to give evidence against him, and so, in the absence of the incriminating details, he would go free. As it was, the stone was now in the possession of Dido, and for some reason, which Jen was unable to fathom, she was quite content to betray her share in the plot. By changing hands, the Voodoo stone had transformed Dido into a traitress.
However, as the advantage derived from the transfer was all on the side of the prosecution, Jen did not think it wise to inquire too closely into the means which Dido had employed to regain the talisman. He saw nothing of David, who pointedly kept out of his way. He made no inquiries of Dido, and simply informed the inspector that the negress was ready to explain Etwald's secrets, without telling him why she was willing to do so.
Her Majesty's judges on circuit came to Deanminster, the court was formally opened, and after some trivial cases had been disposed of, the trial of Regina v. Etwald was announced. The hall in which the court sat was crowded with people from far and near. There were even reporters from London, sent down by the great dailies, for the case had obtained more than a local celebrity. Inspector Arkel, with his seven witnesses on behalf of the crown, was at the table before the judges, and with Major Jen had held several conversations with the public prosecutor. David, calm and composed, but paler than a corpse, was in his place glancing over his brief and exchanging curt sentences with Etwald's solicitor. Lastly, Etwald himself, the terrible criminal who, in the eyes of the public, was a hardened and bloodthirsty monster, stepped into the dock. Suave and smiling, he pleaded not guilty to the indictment, and the trial commenced.
The public prosecutor stated the case in all its fullness. The prisoner, said he, was a medical man practicing in Deanminster. He had seen Miss Isabella Dallas, and had fallen in love with the lady, and also--which was more important--with the fortune of the lady. Evidently he had made up his mind that no obstacle should stand in the way of his marriage with Miss Dallas. But it so happened that there was one obstacle--the young lady was in love with Mr. Maurice Alymer, a young gentleman of position, who held a commission in Her Majesty's army. Her love was returned, and the young people were engaged.
Interruption by the prisoner's counsel: "But without the consent of the mother."
The public prosecutor thought that the interruption of his learned friend was out of place; as the refusal of Mrs. Dallas--"mother, gentlemen of the jury, to the young lady engaged to the deceased gentleman, Mr. Maurice Alymer"--had nothing to do with the actual facts of the case. The prisoner, seeing that while Mr. Alymer lived, he could never marry Miss Dallas, determined to rid himself of a rival. The prisoner had been in Barbadoes, and while there he had learned many things concerning African witchcraft, and had become possessor of the Voodoo stone, a talisman which the black race held in peculiar reverence. On his return to England the prisoner had become acquainted with Mrs. Dallas, with the daughter, whom he designed to marry, and with a negress called Dido, the servant of the aforesaid Mrs. Dallas. By means of the Voodoo stone, the prisoner made an absolute slave of the negress, and could command her services at any time, even to the extent of crime.
The counsel for the defense objected to the use of the word crime. Nothing, he submitted, had yet been proved.
Counsel for the prosecution accepted the correction of his learned friend, and withdrew the obnoxious word crime--if not altogether, at all events for the time being. He would resume his explanation of the case. Major Jen, the adopted father of the deceased, possessed a barbaric curiosity called by civilized people the devil-stick; by barbarians the wand of sleep. This he had obtained from Ashantee, where it was used to kill people inimical to the king by the injection of poison. There was no need to describe the devil-stick, as it was on the table, and would be shown to the jury. This devil-stick--
With some impatience prisoner's counsel admitted that the devil-stick had been used to kill the deceased, and requested the prosecutor to pass on to more important details.
The counsel for the crown thanked his learned friend for the admission, and would continue. The devil-stick was stolen by Mrs. Dallas, who committed the theft under the hypnotic influence of the negress Dido. By the direction of Dr. Etwald, Dido refilled the stick with fresh poison, being enabled to manufacture the same from a recipe of her grandmother's--said grandmother having come from Ashantee, where the stick--the devil-stick, be it understood--had been constructed and used. She had given this terrible weapon to the prisoner, who with it had killed Mr. Alymer, his rival.
Counsel for the defense submitted that the crime had yet to be proved. His learned friend was assuming too much.
The public prosecutor said that he asserted no more than he could prove to their lordships and the gentlemen of the jury. The prisoner had killed Mr. Alymer, and it was for this offense that he stood in yonder dock. As regards the theft of the body---
The lesser offense, said prisoner's counsel, was swallowed up and merged in the greater; therefore, he protested against the introduction of the theft of the body.
The judge thought that the two crimes were, judicially speaking, one and the same. It was right that the crown prosecutor should place before him the whole facts of the case. One part might neutralize or enhance or explain the other. The crown prosecutor was quite in order.
Counsel for the prosecution accepted his lordship's ruling and would proceed. The body of Mr. Alymer was taken to the residence of his adopted father. Major Jen. There it was placed in the bedroom which had formerly belonged to the living man. Thence it was stolen by the prisoner.
Counsel for the prisoner: "All this has yet to be proved."
Counsel for the crown: "I shall prove it and at once. The jury are now in possession of all the facts of this very interesting case, and every detail will be confirmed by the most responsible witnesses. Call Major Jen."
Evidence--in brief--of Major Jen: "I was the guardian of the deceased Maurice Alymer. I adopted him as my son. He was in love with, and engaged to, Miss Dallas, but the mother did not approve of the engagement. Dr. Etwald, the prisoner, also loved Miss Dallas, but she refused to marry him. I showed the prisoner the devil-stick and explained its use, whereupon he wished to purchase it. I declined to part with it, and afterward it was stolen. After its disappearance, Mr. Alymer was killed by means of the devil-stick poison. His hand was but slightly scratched, and he could not have died from so trivial a cause had not the weapon used been poisoned. Moreover, I recognized the perfume which emanated from the body as that of the devil-stick poison. Dr. Etwald had threatened the deceased once or twice. Afterward the body of deceased disappeared, and the drug used to stupefy the watcher of the dead was the poison of the devil-stick."
Miss Dallas deposed that she had been engaged to deceased. Prisoner wished to marry her, and was jealous of the late Mr. Alymer. Once or twice he had threatened him. The negress, Dido, was accustomed to hypnotize Mrs. Dallas for nervous headaches. While under the influence of hypnotism Mrs. Dallas would act according to the dictates of Dido. On the night that the devil-stick was stolen from the house of Major Jen, Mrs. Dallas had been hypnotized by Dido. Witness had followed her, and had seen the theft of the stick. Afterward Mrs. Dallas had delivered it into the hands of Dido. Witness never saw the devil-stick again. She had seen Mr. Alymer on the night he was murdered, as he had called to see her. Witness had parted with him at the gates, and had seen him go down the road toward "Ashantee." It was the last time witness saw him. It was well known to witness that Dido was under the influence of Dr. Etwald, on account of the latter possessing the Voodoo stone charm. Dido had manufactured the fresh poison of the devil-stick as a panacea for nervous headache, from which witness suffered. So far as witness knew, deceased was in the best of spirits at the time of his death, and had no intention of putting an end to his life. Witness could swear that prisoner was a bitter and jealous enemy of deceased.
Mrs. Dallas declared that she suffered--like her daughter--from nervous headaches. To cure these she submitted frequently to hypnotic treatment at the hands of Dido, who was gifted with a strong will. On the night the devil-stick was stolen she had been hypnotized, but she did not know what she did while under the influence. While in the trance--as it may be called--she never knew what she did, and she had hitherto had every confidence in Dido, as an old and faithful servant, that she--Dido--would not induce her to do wrong things while hypnotized. She had never seen the devil-stick, either at the house of Major Jen or in her own. The negress had prepared a drug for the cure of headaches, which witness believed was similar--as was judged from the perfume--to the poison contained in the devil-stick. She knew that her daughter wished to marry the deceased, but for certain reasons--not pertinent to the case--she had declined to sanction the engagement. She would not have permitted her daughter to marry Dr. Etwald, as she did not like him or approve of the influence which he exercised over Dido. She knew that prisoner possessed the Voodoo stone, and by means of it could make any member of the black race do his will. Prisoner was a declared enemy of the deceased, as a jealousy existed between them on account of her daughter. In presence of witnesses prisoner had threatened deceased. She knew nothing of the theft of the body.
Lady Meg Brance was called by the prosecution to prove that a certain mendicant, by name Battersea, had offered her the devil-stick for sale as a curiosity. Knowing that it was the weapon with which Mr. Alymer had been killed--according to the reports which were current at the time--she had brought it to Major Jen, along with the tramp.
Battersea entered the witness-box and deposed that he was of mixed negro blood, and by reason of his superstition, under the influence of Dido. At times she hypnotized him, but he did not know when she did it; he thought it was Obi--African witchcraft. Sometimes he carried messages between her and the prisoner. Dr. Etwald had told him to say one single word to Dido--that was "devil-stick." He did not know what it meant. Afterward the devil-stick--as he was told--had disappeared, and Mr. Alymer was murdered. He found the devil-stick on the grass, near the bushes, within the gates of "The Wigwam." Not knowing what it was, he took it to Lady Meg Brance, who sometimes gave him money. She took witness and the devil-stick to Major Jen, who now possessed it. With regard to the stealing of the body, witness said that he saw it placed in a carriage, and by clinging on behind he had traced the carriage to the house of Dr. Etwald, in Deanminster. Prisoner drove the carriage himself. Witness tried to get money out of prisoner by telling what he had seen; but Dr. Etwald had forced him to hold his tongue by threatening him with the vengeance of the Voodoo stone. Being half an African, witness was very much afraid of the charm.
In his turn Jaggard, but lately recovered from his illness, related how he had been drugged by Dido, and how she had been concealed under the bed. After his evidence, which did not take long, had been given, the principal witness for the prosecution was called, and the negress Dido, whose name had been so often mentioned, entered the witness-box.
In brief, her evidence was as follows: "I am a full-blooded negress, born in Barbadoes. My grandmother came from 'Ashantee,' and knew all about the wand of sleep. She taught me how to manufacture the poison. I came to England with my mistress and met with prisoner, who called at the house. He knew a great deal about Obi and showed me the Voodoo stone. A spirit dances in the stone, and I was bound to do what the spirit told me. It said I was to obey prisoner. Dr. Etwald wanted to marry my young mistress, but she was engaged to Mr. Alymer. Prisoner told me that Mr. Alymer must be got out of the way, and suggested the use of the devil-stick, which he had seen in the smoking-room of Major Jen. I agreed to help him, and by hypnotizing my mistress I made her steal the devil-stick. She brought it to me, all unconscious of having done so, and I filled it with fresh poison. On the night of the murder Mr. Alymer called to see my mistress, also Dr. Etwald. When Mr. Alymer left I gave the stick to prisoner, and he followed deceased to kill him. Next day I heard that Mr. Alymer was dead. After a time prisoner told me that we must steal the body, so that traces of poison should not be found when a post-mortem examination was made. I agreed to help him, and gaining admission into the chamber of death I hid under the bed. When Jaggard fell asleep I drugged him with the poison of the devil-stick and opened the window, outside of which prisoner was waiting. I assisted him to carry the body to his carriage, and then left him. That is all I know."
This evidence closed the case for the prosecution, and--as may be guessed--it caused a profound sensation in court. Everyone without exception looked upon the prisoner as guilty, and they considered it futile when David Sarby rose to deliver his speech for the defense. The young man was even paler than usual, and when he rose laid down the devil-stick, at which he had been looking. When on his feet he glanced round the court and caught the gaze of Isabella, who was staring eagerly at him. Then he turned to his client. Dr. Etwald, still composed--even after the frightful evidence which had been given--smiled coldly on his counsel. David shuddered, and picking up the devil-stick spoke sharply and to the point.
"My lord and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the evidence of the crown, which makes out that my client is guilty. That evidence is wrong, as can be proved by one witness. I am the witness. In my rooms there is lying a confession, signed and witnessed, which sets forth that I am the guilty person. It was I, not Dr. Etwald, who murdered Maurice Alymer." (Sensation in the court.) "Yes. I was in love with Miss Dallas, and therefore was jealous of Maurice. I knew that Dido possessed the devil-stick--how, it does not matter--and I bribed her to give it to me. I pretended to go to London on the night of the murder, but instead of doing so I remained in the grounds of Mrs. Dallas, where I obtained the devil-stick from Dido. I saw Maurice meet with Miss Dallas. I saw them kiss and part. Inflamed by jealousy, I rushed after him and met him on the road. He turned in surprise, and flung out his arms to keep me off. The devil-stick, with its poison fang protruding, was in my grasp, and in throwing out his arm I wounded him in the palm of the hand, thus--"
David took the devil-stick firmly in his grasp and compressed the handle. At once the iron tongue with its drop of venom appeared. With the sharp point he made an irregular wound on the palm of his hand, and cast the devil-stick on the table before him. A moment afterward, amid the silent horror of the crowded court, he fell down--dead.
Naturally the tragic end of the counsel for the defense created a great sensation. The trial was brought to an abrupt conclusion, the court was cleared, and the body of the dead man taken to the residence of Major Jen. In his rooms at Deanminster was found the confession signed by him, and which was substantially the same as that which he had made in court. At once--after the formalities of the law had been observed--Dr. Etwald was set at liberty on the charge of murder.
Whereupon he returned to his house as though nothing had happened. Mrs. Dallas and Isabella came back to "The Wigwam," but without Dido. On the day when the trial terminated in so tragic a manner the negress disappeared, and with her the famous Voodoo stone.
"I wish I could have caught her," said Arkel to Major Jen. "She committed perjury in order to get Dr. Etwald hanged, and she ought to have been punished for her wickedness. It has been a terrible affair, major."
Jen, who was now looking old and broken down, agreed with a sad shake of his gray head.
"My poor lads," said he, in a voice full of pathos. "First one and then the other--to lose them both in this awful fashion."
"What!" cried Arkel, in surprise. "Do you pity Mr. Sarby?"
"Why not?" answered the major, quietly. "To my mind, he needs more pity than poor Maurice. The lad was driven mad by jealousy, and he was worked on by Dido to commit the crime. The cause of all these troubles, Mr. Inspector, is not Dr. Etwald, but that black witch. I wish she could be caught."
"She may be, major. There is a warrant out against her for perjury."
Arkel spoke too hopefully, for Dido was never caught. She was too clever to give the police a chance of laying hands on her. Like a stone cast into a wide ocean, she disappeared from Deanminster--from England, no doubt, and possessed of the Voodoo stone, possibly took her way back to her native "Ashantee," there to become the high priestess in the horrible fetish worship of Africa.
For the next two days Major Jen stayed in his house and watched over the corpse of David. It was laid out in what had been the young man's bedchamber, surrounded by burning candles, and with pale flowers of virginal whiteness scattered on the bed. The whole scene was but a repetition of that which had taken place when Maurice had died. Both young men had perished from the effects of the infernal African poison. Both had perished in the bloom of youth; and on the right hand of each was the fatal wound which had corrupted the blood. But the corpse of David was here. The corpse of Maurice, where? Only Dr. Etwald could answer the question, and he, released on the charge of murder, was now out on bail for the theft of the corpse.
While the major was wondering what would be the outcome of all the terrible events which had filled the past few weeks, Jaggard--who, with his recovered health, had resumed his duties--entered the library and announced that Mrs. Dallas and her daughter wished to see him. Although he was unwilling to speak to those who had caused these troubles, Jen had no reasonable grounds for refusing an interview. Therefore, he gave orders that the ladies should be shown into the drawing-room. When he repaired thither, however, he found to his surprise that Mrs. Dallas only was waiting for him.
"I could not get Isabella further than the door of your house," exclaimed Mrs. Dallas, who was in deep mourning, whether for Maurice or David, or for the loss of Dido, it was impossible to say.
"Why did she not come in?" asked Jen, coldly, for he did not feel very amiably disposed toward the widow.
"I don't know. She is a strange girl, major, and the events of the last few weeks have shaken her nerves."
"They have shaken mine," retorted Jen, grimly. "But we need not discuss these things, Mrs. Dallas. May I ask why you have paid me this visit?"
"To tell you that we are going away."
"Going away, and where, may I ask?"
"Back to Barbadoes," replied Mrs. Dallas, with a sigh. "Yes, major, after what has taken place here, I can stay no longer in England. I shall sell my house and leave for the West Indies with my daughter within the month."
"I think it is the best thing you can do," said Jen, brusquely. "By the way, what has become of Dido?"
"She has left me in the most ungrateful manner. Since she obtained the Voodoo stone and gave evidence at the trial she has not been seen. I believe," added Mrs. Dallas, in a confidential manner, "that Dido has gone to Barbadoes also."
"To be queen of the black witches of Obi, no doubt. Faugh!"
"I am disgusted with her, too," said Mrs. Dallas, indorsing the major's exclamation.
"So you ought to be, Mrs. Dallas, for Dido has been your evil genius. If you had not submitted to her will, she would not have dared to hypnotize you. If you had not been hypnotized on that night, you would not have taken the devil-stick, consequently both David and Maurice would still be alive. Your negress has been a perfect Até, Mrs. Dallas."
"Major, major! Do not be too hard on me. I suffer--oh, how I suffer!"
"And I also. Both my boys are dead, one by the hand of the other, and that other by his own hand. It is you and your daughter and Dido who have brought about these things. Go to Barbadoes, Mrs. Dallas, by all means. You and yours have done quite sufficient mischief in England."
Just as Jen ended his speech and Mrs. Dallas was about to reply, the door opened to admit--Dr. Etwald. Both the major and the Creole stared at him in surprise, as neither for the moment could grasp the idea that he had been bold enough to present himself before those whom he had so deeply wronged.
"Ah," said Etwald, as complacently as ever, "I thought I should find you here, major, but I hardly expected to see Mrs. Dallas."
"You villain!" cried that lady, starting from her seat. "Do you think I want to see you after all the misery you have caused? Why, I refuse even to remain in the same room with you." And with a furious gesture the Creole swept past Etwald and out of the door, which she banged loudly. Etwald looked at the door, shrugged his shoulders, and turned politely to the major.
"It is just as well she is gone," said he, quietly. "It is better that our conversation should be private."
"I wish to hold no conversation with a scoundrel, sir," cried Jen, purple with rage. "Follow the example of Mrs. Dallas, if you please."
Etwald looked round for a chair, selected the most comfortable, and sat down with great deliberation.
"I never follow any one's example, major," he said, dryly. "It is always my custom to act independently."
"I'll have you turned out of the house."
"In that case you'll never hear what I have come to tell you."
"What is that, sir?" demanded Jen, in a calmer tone.
"Bah! I heard that in court."
"Indeed you did no such thing," retorted Etwald, coolly. "My story is quite different to that of Dido."
"David's was different also."
"I know it. But my story--the true story, mind you--differs even from David's. Will you hear it, major, or shall I leave your house before I suffer the disgrace of being kicked out?"
The major considered for a few moments before replying. There was a hinted mystery in the manner of Etwald which puzzled him not a little, and what this demeanor might mean he was anxious to learn. Moreover, he wished to know the actual facts of the case, and now that Dido had fled Etwald was the only one who could tell them. Acting upon these considerations, Jen sat down again in his chair and sulkily gave Etwald permission to remain and explain. This the doctor proceeded to do at once.
"As you are aware," said he, calmly, "I escaped the charge of murder, and very right, too, seeing that I was innocent of the crime. But as to the stealing of the body, I am guilty, and I do not--"
"Where is the body, you wretch?"
"Pardon me," said Etwald, raising his hand in protest. "If you interrupt or call me names, I shall tell you nothing. To proceed," he added, seeing the major held his peace. "I am out on bail, and must come up for trial soon on the charge I spoke of. However, I am not afraid, as I can defend myself in a manner you little dream of. But being out on bail, I came to see you."
"To tell me more lies?"
"To tell you the truth, my dear major, and I assure you that the truth will surprise you not a little."
"What is it?" demanded Jen, in a fever of excitement.
"Patience! Patience! I shall tell you when the time comes. But, by the way, major--Dido?"
"She has fled."
"I know it. She was afraid of me."
"Hardly," replied Jen, a trifle spitefully. "You have lost the Voodoo stone, remember."
"Yes. I was taken advantage of for once in my life. A cunning woman, that Dido. She got permission to see me in prison, and to talk to me alone, under the pretense of telling me about her evidence. Knowing that I could compel her to do what I wished by means of the Voodoo stone, I saw her with pleasure, as it was my intention to put the words likely to get me off--to prove my innocence--into her mouth. However, while I was talking to her, she suddenly produced a phial of the devil-stick poison and threw it in my face. Of course, I instantly became unconscious, and it was then that she wrenched the talisman off my watch-chain."
"Is the poison so quick in its effects then?"
"I should think so," said Etwald, coldly. "You saw how David fell in court, after wounding his hand. I fell in prison quite as quickly, but as my skin was not scratched, and the drug took effect only through the nostrils, I recovered."
"And when you recovered?"
"The jailer told me that Dido had called him in, saying that I had fainted. While they were getting me round--which took an hour--Dido went off with the Voodoo stone. Those about the prison had no reason to detain her, so she left. When I found the Voodoo stone gone," added Etwald, impressively. "I knew that the black wretch would give evidence against me, and that the game was at an end."
"You expected to be hanged?" suggested Jen.
"Well, no!" replied the doctor, with wonderful coolness, "I did not expect that. If the worst came to the worst, I knew that I could protect myself; but I must admit that the confession of my counsel, Mr. Sarby, took me somewhat by surprise."
"Poor David!" sighed Jen, thinking of the young man cut off in the bloom of his youth.
"Poor David!" echoed Etwald, with a sneer. "Foolish David, you might say, to die for the sake of a woman."
"Yet you risked death for the same woman."
"I risked danger for the woman's fortune," retorted Etwald, with revolting candor. "It was the money I wanted. But death--no, I did not risk that."
"I am not so sure of that, Etwald. How did you know that David would confess in so dramatic a fashion?"
"I did not know it, major. As I said before, his confession took me by surprise. Still, as I was innocent, I knew that I could not be hanged."
"Well," said Jen, growing weary of this long-continued conversation, which seemed to lead to nothing, "at all events you'll not escape a long term of imprisonment."
"Why?" said Etwald, with an agreeable smile. "There are two opinions about that. Mine is that I shall go free. Then," he added, coolly, "I intend to seek Barbadoes and search for that black witch in order to recover the Voodoo stone."
"I hope you'll get the chance of going, but I doubt it. However, if you do get as far as the West Indies you'll find friends there."
"Really! Any particular friends?"
"I don't know if you'll consider them so; but Mrs. Dallas and her daughter go back to their estates in Barbadoes within the month."
"Really!" said Etwald again, "Then I may marry her after all."
"She won't have you."
"Oh, I think so. I have a means of compelling her to marry me."
Jen jumped up with a scowl.
"I'm tired of your enigmas," he cried, angrily. "What is it you wish to tell me?"
"The name of the person who committed the murder."
"I know it. David Sarby!"
"Not at all. He accused himself to shield the real person."
"To shield the assassin?" gasped Jen, thunderstruck. "And who is the assassin?"
"Can't you guess from his self-accusation? Why, the woman he loved."
"Exactly. Isabella Dallas, and none other, killed your boy Maurice."
"Isabella killed Maurice!" said Jen, pushing back his chair. "Impossible, doctor. You must be mistaken."
"I don't think so," replied Etwald, dryly. "I saw her do it. So did David."
"You must be mistaken," insisted the major once more. "David was in London on the night when the crime was committed."
"By his own confession in court, David was in the grounds of Mrs. Dallas on that night."
"Yes, yes. You are right!" said Jen, in a bewildered tone. "Still, I cannot believe that Isabella killed Maurice. She loved him dearly, and had no reason to murder him."
"None in the world. Yet she certainly took his life."
"Why not?" said Etwald, coolly. "Mrs. Dallas had no reason to steal the devil-stick, yet--"
"Without a reason! I don't believe it."
"Ah, but she was hypnotized. She did not act of her own free will."
"Precisely the case with Isabella," said the doctor, nodding. "Come, major, I won't worry you any longer with inquiries. Dido hypnotized the daughter to commit the crime, as she had willed the mother to steal the devil-stick. Isabella is absolutely ignorant of what she did, and firmly believed that I was the guilty person. Now, of course, she thinks David--by his own confession--is the assassin."
"But David confessed himself guilty, to save her?"
"Of course; but Isabella does not know that. She thinks--and on the face of it, with reason--that David killed Maurice out of jealousy."
"How was it David saw the crime committed?"
"I shall explain," said Etwald. "David found out that Maurice was going to meet Isabella that night secretly in the grounds of Mrs. Dallas near the gates. Determined to see the meeting, and to learn if there was any hope for him, he feigned a journey to London in order to lull any suspicions which Maurice might have that he was being watched. Instead of going, however, he concealed himself at a spot where he could see the gates which opened onto the highway. Now," added Etwald, with a side glance at the major, "it so happened that I also wished to see that meeting."
"How did you know it was about to take place?"
"I learned the fact from Dido, who advised me of all which went on in the Dallas household, as you may guess. Well, I saw David in his place of concealment and guessed his reason for coming. Maurice appeared at the rendezvous, and shortly afterward Isabella, under the hypnotic influence, came down the avenue. In her hand she held the devil-stick, and came swiftly toward Maurice. He, not understanding the deadly weapon with which she was armed, came to meet her with outstretched arms. She thrust the devil-stick before her, and wounded him in the palm of the hand. With a cry he fell--dead!"
"Within the gates?" asked the major, much agitated.
"Yes, within the gates," responded Etwald. "When Isabella had struck the blow she dropped the devil-stick in the grass, where, if you remember, it was afterward found by Battersea. Then she returned to the house by the little path which leads thereto through the surrounding trees. The body lay in the bright moonlight, full in the center of the path, not a stonethrow from the high road. David and I rushed simultaneously from our hiding-places, and I explained hurriedly that the body must not be found in the grounds. He understood, and we carried the body onto the road. Before we had time to deliberate what was to be done we heard the noise of approaching footsteps, and afraid--both of us--of being accused of the crime, we fled. Then you came down the road and discovered the corpse."
"Yes. I heard the poor lad's cry," said Jen, simply, "and I ran down at once. You must have been very quick in your movements."
"There was ample necessity for prompt action," replied Etwald, with some dryness, "as neither David nor I wished to be arrested. But now you can understand how it was that David refused to reply to your questions and agreed to defend me."
"I understand. He said, poor lad, that I would approve of his reasons when I knew them, and now that you have explained his motives I quite agree with his saying. To protect that poor girl, to save you from suffering for a crime which you did not commit, he could have acted in no other fashion. Still, I wish both of you had been more open with me."
"I am afraid that would have been impossible, major," said Etwald, rising. "You were so distracted over the death of Maurice, and so unjust in your hatred of me, that it would have been dangerous to trust you."
"Am I unjust in my hatred of you?" demanded Jen, getting on his feet. "I think not. Dr. Etwald. Your desire to marry Isabella, or rather her fortune, has been the cause of all these ills. Dido was only your instrument, whom you compelled to work by means of the Voodoo stone. That she betrayed you in the end was your punishment. I do not blame her so much as I do you. You alone are responsible for the death of those two poor lads of mine."
"Well, have it your own way," said Etwald, carelessly. "I am a scoundrel in your eyes, I dare say; but if you will permit me to see you to-morrow at eleven o'clock I shall be able to prove that this particular devil--meaning myself, major--is not quite so black as you have painted him."
"I never want to set eyes on you again," said Jen, bluntly.
"Nor will you--after midday to-morrow. But you will regret if you do not grant me this interview."
"What do you wish to say?"
"I'll tell you to-morrow."
"Can't you say it now?"
"No, Major Jen, I can't, and I shan't," retorted Etwald, tartly. "If you are wise you will arrange to let me come here to-morrow at eleven, and meet Mrs. Dallas and her daughter."
"Both of them will refuse to meet you. You saw Mrs. Dallas to-day, how she behaved."
"Like the fool she is," said the doctor, putting on his hat. "Well, I am going. Will you see me to-morrow morning?"
"Yes. I don't know what possible things you can find to say to me after this interview; but, as you make such a point of it, I'll see you."
"And ask Mrs. Dallas and her daughter to be present?"
"Yes. I'll try and get them to come."
"Very good." Etwald walked toward the door, but there, struck by a sudden thought, he looked back. "Of course you will not tell Isabella that she killed Mr. Alymer?" he said, hurriedly.
"Not at present," said Jen, after a moment's thought. "But, later on, I shall, in order to clear the memory of David."
"And condemn the poor girl to eternal misery," said Etwald. "Well, I do not agree with you. But, at least, keep silent until after our interview to-morrow."
"Yes. I promise you I'll say nothing."
"Thank you, major. Good-by for the present."
"Good-by," said Jen, and as the door closed behind the doctor he muttered, "and may the devil go with you, for a greater scoundrel does not exist."
Later on in the day Jen sent a letter to "The Wigwam," asking Mrs. Dallas to come with her daughter the next morning at eleven o'clock. He did not explain that Dr. Etwald would be present, as he knew the temper of Mrs. Dallas. Whatever might be at stake, even if it was to her own interest, she would refuse to meet the man toward whom she bore so strong a hatred. Therefore, Jen decided to be diplomatic, and keep silent as to the visit of Etwald. During the afternoon a note was brought to Jen, in which Mrs. Dallas promised to come and to bring Isabella.
"Very good," said Jen to himself. "That matter is settled, and Etwald--confound him!--will obtain his desire. I wonder what he wants to see us all about."
In spite of all his conjecturing, the major found himself unable to answer this question. Therefore, like a wise man, he possessed himself in patience until the next morning. Most of the night he passed in the room where poor David was laid out, for he was determined that this time the body should not be stolen. As he pondered during the long and silent hours, he reflected that he had lost the opportunity of forcing Dr. Etwald to say what he had done with the body of Maurice. It had not been found in his house, and, notwithstanding all questioning, Etwald--with his changeless smile--had refused to state where it was.
"I should have wrung the truth from the villain to-day," thought Jen, as he paced the room. "But to-morrow! To-morrow! He shan't leave this house until he confesses what he has done with the remains of my poor boy. Ghoul that he is, wretch and scoundrel."
Toward the morning Jen slept for an hour or so, and when he rose and had taken his bath he felt much refreshed, and ready to face Etwald at this final interview. At eleven o'clock Mrs. Dallas arrived with Isabella, the latter looking wan and ill. Even had the major not promised to be silent, he could not have brought himself to tell the poor girl the truth at that moment. After all, she was perfectly innocent, and had committed the crime unwittingly. Dido was the culprit, not Isabella; and the major felt a profound pity for the miserable girl, who had been made a tool of by the unscrupulous negress and the evil-minded Etwald.
"Well, major," said Mrs. Dallas, after the first greetings were over, "what did that wicked man say to you yesterday?"
"He explained how my poor Maurice was killed."
"Ah," said Isabella, clasping her hands, "I am sure that it was that terrible man who made David kill Maurice. Oh, if I had only met Maurice on that night, I might have prevented the quarrel."
"Did you not meet Maurice, my dear?"
"Of course not," replied Isabella, in the most truthful manner. "I did not leave the house, and Dido was with me all the time. I expect Maurice was waiting for me, and that David saw him. No doubt they quarreled, and then the death took place."
From this speech it was quite evident that the girl was absolutely ignorant of the part which she had played in the affair. Still, to make certain, Jen asked why she had not kept the appointment.
"I had a nervous headache," she said, quickly, "and Dido hypnotized me. When I woke up it was too late to see Maurice."
This remark put the matter beyond all doubt. The girl, by her own admission, had been hypnotized by the negress, and, while in the trance state, with her will at the mercy of the other woman, she had killed her lover. Morally speaking, it was Dido, in the person of Isabella, who was the assassin. However, the major had learned all that he wished to know, and not wishing to pursue the subject, turned the conversation by explaining that Etwald was coming in a few minutes. Mrs. Dallas rose up in a cold fury.
"Did you ask me here to insult me, major?"
"I asked you here at the particular request of Dr. Etwald."
"Why? What can he have to say to my mother?" cried Isabella, in surprise.
"Miss Dallas, I know no more than you do; but he evidently desires to make a clean breast of this whole miserable business."
"I have heard quite enough about it," said Mrs. Dallas, marching toward the door, "and I refuse to meet that monster of iniquity!"
But she was too late, for, before she could escape from the room, Dr. Etwald--as smiling and composed as ever--entered the door. He placed himself quietly before the enraged Mrs. Dallas.
"Do not go, madam," said he, quietly. "I have something to show you."
"What is it?" asked Mrs. Dallas, her curiosity--like that of the major--getting the better of her rage.
"You will see in a few minutes. Miss Dallas, you look pale. I hope soon to bring back the roses to your cheeks. Major--"
"Don't speak to me, you scoundrel, until you tell me what you have done with the body of my boy."
"You shall know in a few minutes, major. Indeed, I think it is about time that this comedy should end!"
"Comedy!" echoed Mrs. Dallas, in scorn. "You mean tragedy!"
"I mean no such thing," retorted Etwald, opening the door. "All true comedies end in the meeting of lovers."
"Good heavens!" cried Jen, recoiling. "What do you mean?"
Etwald pointed to the open door.
"There is my explanation," said he, coolly.
The three people gave a simultaneous cry of amazement and delight, for there, on the threshold of the room, alive and well, stood--Maurice Alymer.
"My dear Major Jen:
"In the joy with which you and Miss Dallas hailed the appearance of the man whom you thought dead, I was--for the time being--quite forgotten; and very naturally too. Profiting by the occasion, I left the room and went to the bedroom where Mr. Sarby lay in a trance, similar to that into which Mr. Alymer had fallen, both trances being caused by the poison of the devil-stick. As you have learned from his own lips, I revived him, as I revived his friend; so now, my good Jen, you have your two boys with you again, alive and well. The comedy is finished; and was I not right in denying to these past events the misleading name of tragedy?
"Naturally, you wish to know how the dead came to be alive, and for what reason I behaved as I did. Well, here you shall find the whole explanation, so fully given that there will be no necessity for you to seek me at Deanminster. Indeed, if you do so, you will not find me, as by the time you receive this letter I shall be well on my way to London. Thence it is my intention to go abroad, and--as I told you at our last meeting--you will never see me again. When you finish this letter, you will, no doubt, be glad of this; and it is just as well that I should remain beyond your reach. You are a virtuous man, I am not--but our natures would prevent our ever assimilating, the one with the other. As to my promised explanation, here it is, and much good may it do you.
"I am--as you know--a physician, but I am also what you may not know--a man of genius. I have brains, but no money; and for experiments in chemistry, money, I regret to say, is extremely necessary. This being the case, I have needed money, and that in large quantities, all my life. As I could not make it for myself--not having the mercantile instinct--I resolved to gain it by making a rich marriage. For many years I have traveled the world. Like Ulysses, I have known men and cities, and some years ago, Chance--a deity at whose shrine I always pay my devotions--led me to Barbadoes. While there I was attracted, as I always am, by the weird and mysterious, by the superstitions of the African race. I studied the cult of Obi, the belief of the Voodoo stone, and by a strange train of circumstances, which I need not relate, I gained possession of that powerful talisman which is known to all negroid America. With this stone in my possession, I was king--so to speak--of all the black race. This power I determined to use to my own advantage, and through it to make a rich marriage.
"I discovered that Mrs. Dallas was the richest woman in the West Indies, that she had one fair and marriageable daughter, and that mother and daughter were under the influence of a negress called Dido, who was a profound believer in the cult of Obi. I determined, therefore, to bend the negress to my will by means of the Voodoo stone, and to marry the daughter. Unfortunately, Mrs. Dallas and her child were in England. So thither I went in order to prosecute my suit, and obtain a rich wife in the person of Miss Isabella Dallas. From information obtained in Barbadoes I found that they were living near Deanminster, so to that town I repaired, and established myself as a physician. I made the acquaintance of yourself, of Mr. Alymer, and Mr. Sarby, and also of Mrs. Dallas and her daughter, the young and charming girl whom I intended to make my wife.
"But here, as you may guess, I found an unexpected obstacle. The young lady was in love with Mr. Alymer, and would have nothing to do with an elderly bachelor like myself. I determined to remove that obstacle; not by death, but by gentler means which would do away with all risk, and place Miss Dallas in my power. Need I say that I allude to the devil-stick?
"I knew that you possessed it, my dear major, as I had been informed of its existence and of its owner by Dido. Over this negress, by means of the Voodoo stone, I possessed complete power. She was ready to do whatever I wanted, and I employed her in forwarding my schemes. Her grandmother had come from 'Ashantee,' the native country of the wand of sleep, and knew all about it; also she knew how to prepare the poison. These secrets she transmitted to Dido, and I resolved to obtain the devil-stick, to make Dido prepare fresh poison, and to use the devil-stick against my rival, Mr. Alymer.
"And now a word about this poison. It does not kill, but merely places its victim in a trance state, which so closely resembles death that not even the most expert doctor can tell the difference. If the trance continues the victim dies; but there is an antidote--which, by the way, I obtained from Dido--and this antidote, if used in time, can restore the victim from a state of catalepsy to his pristine vigor. I had made up my mind to use the devil-stick, and so, as I was anxious to give Mr. Alymer a chance to escape, I prophesied to him a state of life-in-death. This phrase describes exactly the trance state of those wounded by the devil-stick--impregnated with its poison.
"However, Mr. Alymer did not take my warning and leave off courting Miss Dallas. On the contrary, he announced his engagement, and carried off the young lady in triumph. As you may guess, from what I have said before, I doomed him from that hour. I made Dido hypnotize Mrs. Dallas in order to have the devil-stick stolen. If you remember, major, I offered to buy it, but as you refused, I had to have it stolen. In order to compromise the mother, I arranged that she should steal it. She did, and without having the slightest notion that she was committing the crime. When Dido obtained the devil-stick she filled it with the poison. Then she--by my directions--hypnotized Miss Dallas, put the devil-stick into her hand, and sent her forth to kill Mr. Alymer. But I should not say kill--as you know the devil-stick cannot kill--let us say, to cast Mr. Alymer into a trance. By this ingenious plot--you must admit, major, that it is ingenious--I got rid of the lover, and obtained a hold over mother and daughter.
"But to make a long story short, I had the body of Mr. Alymer stolen, with the aid of Dido, in order to revive my rival. I did not wish him to die, so I took away his body, and kept him in the trance for some weeks, feeding him in the meantime, so as to preserve life. While I was in prison. Dido attended him by my orders. Mr. Alymer was not concealed in my house; so that is why the police had a useless search for the body. Where was he concealed? Ah, that is my secret.
"After the trial, seeing that Mr. Sarby had behaved so foolishly, I decided to abandon the game. Evidently there was no chance of my winning the hand of Miss Dallas; and also I did not wish Sarby to die. But if I revived him, I would have to revive Maurice also, the more so as I did not want to stand my trial for stealing his body. The rest of my story you know. I revived Maurice and brought him to you; so I suppose he will now marry Miss Dallas. I also revived David to have the satisfaction of seeing the woman he loved in the arms of another. In both cases the antidote was efficacious. So now, my dear major, as I said before, you have your two dear boys once more in the flesh, and I hope you are satisfied. Did I not tell you that the devil is not so black as he is painted?
"Well, my plot has failed, and now I am departing to look anew for a rich wife. Also to find Dido, and get back the Voodoo stone, of which she robbed me. You will never meet me again, and I dare say you won't be sorry to see the back of me. And now, my dear major, I fancy I have told you all, and you know the meaning of the many mysteries which have puzzled you for so long. There remains only to say adieu, and remain your evil genius (now resigned), Max Etwald."
"My dear Major Jen:
"It is over a year since I wrote you my explanatory letter from Deanminster, and I little thought that it would be necessary for me to write to you again, least of all from this place. But here I came in search of Dido; and here I found Mrs. Dallas, and to my profound astonishment her daughter--still Miss Dallas. I sought an explanation. They would not give me one. In despair--having received the most uncivil reception--I left them. Then, to my surprise, I ran across Mr. David Sarby.
"He was glad to see me, and thanked me for bringing him back from the grave. I, on my side, complimented him for saving my neck from the hangman's noose. The first greetings thus being over, he told me the news which concerned those who where implicated in our little Deanminster comedy. I confess that the news surprised me; and I write to you for an explanation.
"In the first place, I learned from Mr. Sarby that Isabella Dallas refused to marry Mr. Alymer, and that, far from being offended, he appeared to be glad of the release from his engagement. I also learned that he has since married Lady Meg Brance, who has always been so deeply in love with him. Will you be so kind, my dear major, as to explain this sudden misplacing of Mr. Alymer's affections?
"I learned, also, from Mr. Sarby, that he has prevailed upon Miss Dallas, the deserted Ariadne of Mr. Alymer, to reward his long devotion by giving him her hand. I hear that they are to be married within the month, and that the match is one which meets with the full approbation of Mrs. Dallas. Under these circumstances I am afraid that there is no chance of my marrying Miss Dallas; so I must content myself with searching for another wife.
"I found in my brief interview with Miss Dallas that she had learned how she had tried to kill Mr. Alymer while under the hypnotic influence of Dido. Perhaps this knowledge broke off the match, and the young couple took a dislike to one another from the peculiar circumstances of that night. Certainly--hypnotism or not--one would not care to marry a woman who had attempted one's life; so that, I conjecture, is the reason of Mr. Alymer's withdrawal.
"Also, Miss Dallas must have had a horror of seeing constantly before her the man whom--innocently enough--she tried to kill. Hence her refusal to marry your dear Maurice. Am I wrong in these ideas? I think not. Still I should like an explanation from you. As I shall be here for some months--searching for the Voodoo stone and Dido--please send your letter to Barbadoes, directed to your anxious inquirer, Max Etwald."
"My dear Major Jen:
"It is now some months since I wrote you, making certain inquiries, yet you have not been courteous enough to gratify my curiosity. That is cruel of you! Miss Dallas is now Mrs. Sarby, the other lady is now Lady Meg Alymer; yet you will not tell me how this strange transfer of wives came about. Never mind, I am sure the explanation I fancied in my last letter is the correct one. But you are a rude correspondent. Fie, major. Fie! Fie! Fie!
"I shall return good for evil, and tell you that I have regained possession of the Voodoo stone. Dido is dead; killed by her own excitement at an Obi orgie. I am now the King of the Black Race throughout the world, by possession of the stone, but to you I shall remain, for the last time, my dear major, Max Etwald."