In the Thick of the Fight/The Diamond Crescent
STORY III.—THE DIAMOND CRESCENT.
TOLD BY MATTHEW GRAY.
THE following is a strange story—I should like to tell it in as few words as possible. On a certain morning early in the month of August my wife and I, accompanied by my private secretary, Rudolph Maxwell, started for Clonfield Abbey, in Devonshire. We were going to spend a month with some old friends, and looked forward to our holiday with feelings of delight which only Londoners can understand.
Maxwell was a particularly good-looking, well set-up, handsome young fellow. He had been my secretary for a couple of months, and had given complete satisfaction. He belonged to the Maxwells of Apsley View, in Cumberland, a good old county family, who had held up their heads and done service for their country during many generations. Maxwell had come to me in answer to an advertisement; the fact that he was the son of my father's old friend, and his own personal appearance, were so satisfactory that I engaged him straightaway, and on the morning of my departure for Devonshire could not help congratulating myself on the acquisition he had proved.
The train by which we travelled into the country happened to be particularly full; we were a little late in arriving on the platform, and had to hurry from carriage to carriage to try and find seats; at last, two vacant places were discovered in a first-class compartment. I put Diana in, arranged our rugs and other possessions in the strap, and seated myself beside her.
“I will find room in the smoking compartment close by,” said Maxwell. “Excuse me for a moment,” he added, “I see they have put my rug strap in here. I think I'll take it with me into my own carriage.” He lifted it down as he spoke, and somewhat awkwardly—for he was, as a rule, full of grace even in his smallest actions—contrived to knock Diana's hand with the rugs; he apologised with much contrition, and the next moment vanished into his own compartment. The train proceeded on its way; I read my Times with the soothed sensation which a man must feel who is leaving his cares farther and farther behind him; Diana dipped into one of the monthly periodicals of the day; suddenly, she looked up and uttered a little cry of astonishment and distress.
I bent towards her.
“What is the matter? Are you hurt?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “but I cannot find my ring.” She held up her left hand as she spoke; her wedding ring alone adorned her third finger; the very beautiful engagement ring which I had given her, and which she always wore as a guard, had vanished; her face looked pale and startled.
“It has gone,” she said, “and yet I certainly had it on when I entered the carriage. What can have become of it?”
“You must have pulled it off with your glove,” said an interested fellow-passenger.
“Impossible,” she replied; “the ring is a little loose, but not so loose as all that. What shall I do? I would not lose that special ring for the world.”
It was a valuable one, being made of a solid hoop of the best gold, in which three valuable diamonds had been inserted. It had cost me something between seventy and eighty pounds, an extravagance which I thought nothing of in the first rapture of my engagement with Diana. I was as vexed as she was at its disappearance. Our fellow-passengers were full of sympathy, and we all commenced a vigorous search in the railway carriage. We turned up cushions, looked into cracks and crannies, shook out travelling rugs, and, in short, did not leave a stone unturned to discover the missing ring. All in vain; it could not be found, and Diana sat down at last pale and trembling, all the pleasure gone from her face, her eyes dark with unshed tears.
“Never mind,” I whispered to her; “you may not have had the ring on your finger, after all, and no ring is worth bringing that look to your face.”
“This ring is,” she answered with a sort of passion; “I know I had it on.” She winked her eyes to keep back the tears, and, turning her head aside, looked out of the window.
We reached our destination in the cool of a delightful evening. A wagonette with a spirited pair of horses was waiting for us, and an omnibus had also arrived far our luggage. Our host, Sylvestre, had come himself to meet us; he was a capital fellow, and a great friend of mine. He gave us all a hearty greeting, and then hurriedly took us to our carriage.
“Now, this is delightful,” he said; “I have a particularly pleasant house party to meet you. I do hope you'll have a right good time.”
“I am sure we shall,” I answered. “You don't know what a treat this country air is after London.”
“You look as if you wanted change,” said Sylvestre, “you in particular, Mrs. Gray. Is anything the matter? I am afraid your journey has quite knocked you up.”
Diana made an effort to recover her spirits when our host spoke to her in his kind voice.
“I certainly had no intention of worrying you,” she said, “but the fact is, I am really in great trouble. A strange thing happened on our way down here. I lost a very valuable ring.”
As she spoke she pulled off her glove, and showed the third finger of her left hand, which was now only ornamented by her wedding ring.
Sylvestre began to make inquiries. In the midst of them he was suddenly interrupted by my secretary. Maxwell bent forward, and spoke in an eager voice.
“You don't mean to say you have lost your beautiful diamond ring?” he said. There was surprise in his tone.
“Yes, I certainly have.”
“But when? I happened to see it on your finger when I was removing the rugs from the carriage.”
“There, Matthew,” said Diana, turning to me, “did not I say I had it on? Mr. Maxwell also saw it. My last hope has gone.” The tears started to her eyes; she made a great effort to recover herself; Maxwell and Sylvestre glanced pityingly at her.
“Yes, the ring was on your finger,” repeated Maxwell. “Are you certain that you thoroughly searched the railway carriage?”
“We certainly incommoded all our fellow-passengers,” I said. “But now, Diana, my dear, cheer up; it is unfair to Sylvestre to show him such a dismal face.”
“I'll be all right in a minute,” she answered. “If it had not been my engagement ring I should not mind, but——” she broke off, making a violent effort to recover her spirits.
We took nearly an hour driving to Clonfield Abbey, my friend's beautiful place, and when we did arrive there the colour had returned to Diana's cheeks and much of the brightness to her eyes.
At dinner that evening the subject of the lost ring was mentioned by Sylvestre. It was immediately taken up with interest by almost everyone at the table, and I heard Maxwell talking over the loss with his neighbour, a remarkably pretty girl—a Miss Gifford, a cousin of the Sylvestres.
“There can be only one solution of the mystery,” I heard him say.
“And what is that?” she asked.
“Mrs. Gray must have pulled the ring off with her glove. It must have fallen on the ground, and when the door was opened at one of the stations have tumbled on to the rails.”
As he spoke silence fell upon the party, and his words were heard by everyone in the room. Miss Gifford, who was seated not far from me, turned her sparkling eyes on my face.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“That may be the possible solution,” I replied; “but now let us say nothing more about the ring. It is unfair to worry others with a loss which only concerns my wife and myself.”
In our bedroom that evening, Diana reverted to Maxwell's solution of the mystery.
“I really think he may be right,” she said. “It is just possible that the ring may have fallen between the lines, and may still be there. Would it not be well to send telegrams to the different railway stations? Of course, we would offer a reward; then, if one of the navvies should have picked it up, we have a chance of getting it back again.”
I acted on my wife's suggestion the next morning.
A reward of five pounds was offered for the lost ring, and steps were taken to ensure an advertisement to this effect being posted up at every station on the line.
Diana and I now watched anxiously for the result, but days passed and there were no tidings of the ring. We were at last reluctantly obliged to make up our minds that it was quite lost, and I at least resolved to do my best to forget a very unpleasant episode.
“When I can, I'll give you another,” I said to her.
“You can never give me my engagement ring back,” she answered—tears springing to her pretty eyes.
She turned away as she spoke, and, walking to the window of our beautiful bedroom, looked out across the summer country. The window in question was a French one—it stood wide open. There was a balcony outside which was now protected from the hot rays of the afternoon sun by cool green blinds. Diana stepped on to the balcony; she remained there for about a minute, and then beckoned to me to follow her.
“Look at that couple under the trees to your left,” she said.
I followed the direction of her hand and saw my handsome secretary, Rudolph Maxwell, and Lucy Gifford pacing slowly up and down a shady path at some little distance from the house.
“They have been friends from the very first evening,” said Diana.
“More than friends, it seems to me,” I interrupted.
“I agree with you,” she cried. “How charming! What a handsome couple they would make! He is so dark, so distinguished looking, and she so dazzlingly fair. Then their characters, too——”
“My dear, what do we know about either of their characters?” I exclaimed.
“Well, are you not thoroughly pleased with Rudolph Maxwell?” she asked in her impetuous fashion.
“I am; he is a capital fellow.”
“And I am sure Miss Gifford is about the most delightful girl I ever came across,” said Diana. “Oh! this flirtation quite reconciles me to the loss of my ring,” she continued.
“Well, dear, I am glad it pleases you. Of course, Maxwell is without fortune, but he has plenty of brains, and belongs to one of the best families in Cumberland. Lucy Gifford is rich, but not so highly born. Yes, perhaps it will do—that is, if her people approve. But now may I give you a bit of advice, Di?”
“Yes, anything,” she answered.
“Don't interfere in the matter. Allow the young people to discover their secret for themselves.”
She promised me, and we went downstairs.
Our house party was a particularly cheerful one, and each day passed in a whirl of excitement and innocent gaiety. Day by day Maxwell and Lucy Gifford became better friends. Lucy's beautiful face assumed that sort of expression which a girl will wear when she is stepping, as she thinks, into Paradise. When Maxwell appeared on the scene a softer light came into her eyes, and a more tender radiance visited her lovely face.
One day about a fortnight after our arrival, as I entered the drawing-room before dinner I saw two or three ladies and several men surrounding pretty Lucy Gifford. She had just removed an old-fashioned pearl necklace from her slender throat, and was passing it round to be examined by the party. Amongst those who criticised and looked on was Rudolph Maxwell. He stood nearest to Lucy, and suddenly taking the necklace out of the hands of one of the ladies, examined it with critical and yet eager eyes. I noticed a covetous gleam in his face; his eyes narrowed themselves; an expression crept round his handsome mouth which gave his face an altogether foreign aspect. For a moment it looked sinister—only for a flashing moment, however. The next instant, with a smile full of the sweetest radiance, he gave back the necklace to Miss Gifford, who clasped it once again round her throat.
She was going after dinner with the other girls and young men of our party to a county ball which was taking place in the town hall at Wickton, five miles away. Lucy was all in white of diaphanous texture. Her golden-brown hair, her soft and yet bright grey eyes, the cloudy effect of her pretty dress, only needed the radiance of the pearls to complete the perfect picture. She stood straight and slim before us all, and talked eagerly about her necklace.
“It is an heirloom in our family,” she said. “I don't often wear it, for I believe it is valuable. Mother says that it cost quite eight hundred pounds. But I am very naughty,” she continued, “to have it at all. The fact is, I stole it.”
“Stole it!” cried Diana.
“Yes; am not I wicked? I stole it from mother's jewel case the night before I came here with—with some other jewels of value. I wrote to mother explaining what I had done. I have had such a letter from her with counsel and warning. I think it would kill her if anything happened to the necklace and to—to the other jewels.” She glanced up at Maxwell as she spoke. He smiled back into her eyes, and the next moment he and she had stepped out of the open drawing-room window to continue the very marked flirtation which was now patent to everyone.
Immediately after dinner the young members of the party started in a large covered wagonette for the ball. That evening I played billiards with Sylvestre, and he talked for a moment about Lucy and Maxwell.
“You are quite sure you know all about that young fellow, Gray?” said Sylvestre.
“Of course,” I replied. “He brought me unexceptionable references; and, to crown all, is the son of my father's old friend, Maxwell of Apsley View, in Cumberland.”
“Oh, if he belongs to those Maxwells, he is as right as rain,” said Sylvestre with a laugh. “You'll forgive my questioning you, won't you?—but Lucy is in our charge, and as she is an heiress to a considerable extent, we have to be a little careful.”
The conversation then turned into ordinary channels, and soon afterwards we both retired for the night.
I was late for breakfast the following morning, and when I entered the room was somewhat astonished to see the whole party in a state of alarm and agitation. Maxwell, who was standing in the midst of an eager group, was evidently the centre of attraction—he was telling something which was undoubtedly raising a storm in a teacup. His extraordinary news was as follows: he had just met Lucy Gifford, who told him that some person or persons unknown had broken into her sitting-room, where she had placed the pearl necklace the previous night, and had, she feared, absconded with it.
“She is in terrible distress,” said Maxwell, whose face looked white and full of agitation. “She burst into tears when she was telling me her story. Ah! here she comes; she will doubtless explain matters better than I can.”
“I am in such trouble, Dora,” said Lucy, running up to her hostess as she spoke.
“I have just heard about your loss,” said her friend. “I never was more astonished in my life. The necklace cannot possibly have been stolen: burglars did not break into this house last night; you must have just forgotten, Lucy, where you really put it.”
“I wish I could think so,” replied Lucy; “but I remember all the circumstances too well. When we were coming home from the ball last night, Mr. Maxwell and I talked about burglars, and one or two stories he told me rather frightened me. I felt afraid to sleep in the room with the pearls, and put them into the writing-desk in my little sitting-room. When I entered the room this morning, the writing-case was open and the necklace gone. Someone must certainly have stolen it. I shall never be able to face mother again.”
Lucy's story caused consternation amongst all our party; and as soon as ever breakfast was over we went up to her room, intending to have a right good search for the missing treasure.
Miss Gifford occupied a pretty little suite of rooms in the west wing. This wing was one of the oldest parts of Clonfield Abbey, and was said to be haunted. The ghost was supposed to walk when the moon was at the full—it made strange noises when it moved about: some nervous people went to the length of saying that it rattled chains; one or two servants had even seen it, and said that the face was of a peculiarly ghastly character. Neither Lucy nor the Sylvestres believed in the ghost, and Lucy gladly occupied the room which was supposed to be the most haunted. On this very account she was always given that special bedroom, with its accompanying sitting-room and dressing-room, when she stayed at Clonfield Abbey. The sitting-room was diagonal in shape, with pretty lattice windows; the bedroom beyond was small, and to increase its size a dressing-room had been thrown out, evidently as an after-thought, and made almost entirely of glass. The only light in the bedroom came from the dressing-room, which formed a sort of bay just outside the real window of the room. Sylvestre often talked of altering this queer arrangement; but it was unique, and Lucy enjoyed it so much that he had never yet done so.
We went to the old-fashioned rooms and began our search; no sign of the necklace could be found in any nook or cranny, and Sylvestre went downstairs presently to examine the servants. He returned in a short time to say that, as far as he could tell, they were all innocent. When he uttered these words Lucy burst into tears.
“Mother will never forgive me,” she cried. “I feel absolutely full of terror. I have the strangest premonition, too, that there is more to follow.”
“You must really not allow your nerves to get affected in that sort of way,” said Sylvestre. “Rest assured that I will do my utmost to get the necklace back for you; and, if no news comes of it during the next few hours, will telegraph to Scotland Yard for the assistance of an able member of the detective staff.”
No news being received of the necklace, this step was taken, and a grave-looking, gentlemanly man of the name of Markham arrived on the following day. The servants were told that he was an accountant; he was of middle height, slender in build, with watchful eyes, a keen mouth, and a very grave and unemotional manner. He quite looked his part, which he also filled ably, spending the greater part of his day in Sylvestre's study, looking over the different accounts of the large estate, and to all appearance setting them in complete order. He had several interviews with the steward, with the bailiff, and other members of Sylvestre's staff; the servants suspected nothing, and had little idea that they, as well as all the other people in the house, were really under strict surveillance.
Several days passed without anything special occurring. Miss Gifford recovered her equanimity; she ceased to speak about the necklace, except when in private with my wife or myself.
One day I surprised Diana and Lucy Gifford in earnest conversation.
“I have put it into such an unlikely place, that no burglar would think of finding it,” said Lucy. “Mr. Maxwell gave me the idea.”
“Are you talking secrets?” I asked. “Must I go away?”
“No; you are quite welcome to hear what I am saying to your wife, Mr. Gray, for I know you won't mention it to anybody else. The fact is this, valuable as the necklace is, I possess a treasure of much greater value.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“A diamond pendant, made in the form of a crescent; it is really a magnificent thing, and was given to mother by an aunt who is immensely rich. Mother had it valued, and I believe it is worth quite three thousand pounds. When I stole the necklace, I also took the pendant. I felt quite nervous about it for a short time; but now—oh, it is too funny!—but I must on no account tell you where I have hidden it.”
“I should much like to see it,” said Diana.
“Some day,” replied Lucy. “I may perhaps have the courage to wear it at dinner.”
“Why not to-night?” I asked. “They are going to have a large party; I wish you would.”
“Very well, I will!” she replied.
Sylvestre called me at that moment, and I went to join him. I saw Lucy looking anxiously in our direction, and was not surprised when Maxwell soon strode into view.
“Well?” he asked, as he passed my host and myself. “Any news yet from our friend the accountant?”
“Not yet,” answered Sylvestre. Then he turned to me.
“I am more anxious than I can tell you, Gray. I should consider it a blot on our honour if Lucy Gifford were to leave here without her necklace; and yet what further steps I am to take I cannot imagine.”
“Has Markham really nothing to say?” I asked.
“Well, he looked a bit mysterious this morning, but when I questioned him he would admit nothing the least satisfactory; of course, the only thing we can now do is to wait events, but I don't like the position of affairs.”
“Nor do I,” I answered.
“I wonder how your wife really lost her ring,” continued Sylvestre abruptly.
“It must have been in the way Mr. Maxwell suggested,” I answered. “After all, if it did slip from her finger, nothing was more likely than that it should roll out of the carriage when the door was flung suddenly open; Diana was sitting next the door, too.”
Sylvestre made no reply. Our conversation drifted into ordinary channels, and we soon afterwards started on a fishing expedition which occupied the whole afternoon.
I returned sooner than the other men, and, walking through the shrubberies, saw Markham, his hat well slouched over his eyes, a pipe in his mouth, pacing slowly up and down under the shade of some elm trees. As I walked forward I suddenly stepped on a rotten branch, which gave a loud crack; the detective turning, saw me and deliberately stood still under the shade of one of the trees. As I approached he took his pipe out of his mouth.
“What a beautiful afternoon!” I said, as I passed him.
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and put it into his pocket.
“The afternoon is all right,” he said in an abrupt voice. “Can I have a word with you, Mr. Gray?”
“As many as you like,” I replied.
“I want to ask you a question.” He turned with me, and we walked slowly together in the direction of the house.
“I hope,” I said, seeing that he was in no hurry to deliver himself, “that you have some definite news with regard to Miss Gifford's necklace.”
“The thread is in my hand,” he said then.
“Indeed, I am delighted to hear it.”
“But I can say nothing definite at present.”
“You have something to tell me,” I said.
“No, sir, I have nothing to tell you; but I have something to ask you.”
“Well, ask away,” I answered.
“I have,” continued the detective, “made since I entered these premises a complete investigation of all the circumstances of this mysterious loss. There is not a servant here, not a groom, not a stable boy, who has not been subjected by me, quite unknown to himself, to a complete cross-examination. I find, as I suspected from the first, that no servant in the house or outside the house is responsible for this loss; the theft has either been committed by a complete outsider, to whom at present I have no clue whatever, or——” He paused, and looked abruptly at me.
“Well, continue,” I said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sylvestre are themselves above suspicion,” he continued. “The search, therefore, narrows itself down; one of the guests is the guilty party!”
“Impossible,” I said, angrily. “I don't think Mr. Sylvestre would thank you for making an observation of that kind.”
“My dear sir, Mr. Sylvestre will thank me when I discover the real thief. Now, there is one man here whose antecedents I should like to know something about.”
“And who is he?”
“Your secretary—Mr. Rudolph Maxwell.”
“Come, this is too much,” I said. “You don't mean to tell me that you suspect that young man?”
“I say nothing, sir. I must search into the history of every guest at present staying in the house, and I choose to begin with Mr. Rudolph Maxwell. Will you kindly answer some questions about him?”
“Of course I will; but let me tell you at once that you are on a wild-goose chase.”
“That remains to be proved,” said Markham. “Now may I question you?”
“How did you first hear of this young man?”
“In answer to an advertisement.”
“In what paper did you advertise?”
“Will you oblige me by giving the date, or the approximate date?”
“As near as I can remember,” I answered, “I advertised for a private secretary on the 5th of May of this year.”
Markham took a small memorandum book out of his pocket, and entered the date I had mentioned in it.
“Had you many answers to your advertisement?” he asked then.
“Something like fifty.”
“Did this young man come to see you personally, or did he apply by letter?”
“He came to see me.”
“Did he bring references?”
“Naturally. Not that they were necessary, for the fact that he belongs to the Maxwells of Apsley View, in Cumberland, was in itself a guarantee of his respectability. The man whom you suspect is the son of one of my oldest friends. He is a Cambridge man of striking ability; in short, his career has been without reproach from the first.”
The detective took down some further notes in his memorandum book.
“Thank you, sir,” he said; “I don't think I have anything further to ask. I will now request you to be altogether silent with regard to this interview.”
I promised, and the man left me. I returned to the house, feeling more uncomfortable than I cared to own. A mixture of indignation and irritability possessed me.
Diana took care to make herself very beautiful that evening. She wore her wedding dress, which had been slightly altered to fit the required fashion; round her neck she placed a string of seed pearls, to which was attached a lovely little pendant, also of pearls; in her hair she wore a large pearl pin.
“I wonder you care to wear those,” I said. “They will remind poor Lucy of her loss.”
“I would not wear them,” she replied with spirit, “if Lucy had her own necklace, for these would lose so terribly in comparison; but Lucy is to wear her diamond pendant to-night, and you must allow me to try and look as well as I can by her side.”
I said nothing more, and we went downstairs. As soon as ever we entered the largest of the drawing-rooms I observed that Lucy wore her pendant; it flashed on her neck, taking many strange and fantastic hues. She was dressed in a cream-coloured silk dress, made in an old-fashioned manner; it had a long stomacher, and the dress opened below to give a peep of a petticoat of a deeper shade of the same satin, and also to show the little embroidered high-heeled shoes. Lucy's hair was piled high on her head; she looked striking and very beautiful. I observed that Maxwell scarcely took his eyes from her face—she seemed to mesmerise him; wherever she went, whenever she moved, her jewels flashed, and Maxwell's eyes followed her and them. I noticed once again a peculiar expression in his dark, well-formed eyes; there was that slight but somewhat disagreeable narrowing of the eyelids—a covetous look mingled with the tenderness which sat so well upon his handsome face. I could not help recalling the words Markham had spoken not two hours ago: “I must search into the history of every guest staying in the house, and I choose to begin with Rudolph Maxwell.”
I turned impatiently from the memory. Dinner was announced, and we all went into the great dining hall, which was separated from the drawing-rooms by a long passage, and belonged to an older part of the house. After dinner many fresh guests arrived; the ball-room was thrown open, and dancing became the order of the hour. Diana was not strong enough to dance, and I did not intend to spend much time in the ball-room I went there, however, for a few minutes, and sat down in the enclosure of a deep old window to watch the gay and animated scene. Presently, without noticing me, Maxwell and Lucy Gifford waltzed slowly by in my vicinity. They paused almost opposite my window.
“At last I have seen your diamonds,” said Maxwell. “They are even more beautiful than you gave me to understand; no wonder you take care of them, their price is above rubies.”
“Yes,” she replied, “I know that. I wish with all my heart I had never brought them from home. I have fearful dreams at night about them. I fancy that the burglar has come—the same dreadful burglar who took away my necklace—and that he is murdering me for the sake of the diamonds.”
“If you keep the pendant where I tell you, it is quite safe,” said Maxwell. “On no account go to bed with it round your neck. Did you place it——?” Here his voice dropped; they waltzed a few steps away, and I could not hear anything further. I was just about to leave the room when they came back again.
“Well, you astonish me,” said Lucy; “I always thought you were full of pluck.”
“It is you who have pluck,” he replied. “I would not sleep in that room of yours for all you could give me.”
“What? Do you mean to say you are afraid of ghosts?”
“I must confess to it!” he answered. A flush of colour came into his dark face; he bit his lips. “Early impressions are deep ones,” he continued. “I got a fright when I was a child; I also come of a superstitious race. I inherit superstitious terrors. My mother had the gift of second sight.”
“I wish I had,” said Lucy; “there's nothing in the world I should like more than to see the poor lady who is supposed to haunt my room.”
“Do not say so, I beg of you. You don't know what you are talking about!”
“Yes, I do; I simply have no terrors of the unseen. Material things frighten me—a burglar would send me into fits; but my poor ghost—if she came I should coax her to tell me her story.”
“God grant you may not be tempted,” said Maxwell.
“You look queer, Mr. Maxwell,” said the young girl, glancing up into his face; “are you faint?”
“No; but I tremble at your bold words. If I were to see an apparition, I believe I should die on the spot.”
“Why so? Surely you are too manly to give way to ungovernable terror at what cannot hurt you?”
“It is in my race,” he replied. “Shall I take you to the supper room?”
She put her slender hand on his arm, and they moved out of sight and hearing. The evening passed without any further event of special interest occurring, and we all retired to rest in the early hours of the morning.
The next day at breakfast all was bustle and excitement—a picnic had been arranged to take place on Wallington Plain. This famous place was ten miles from Clonfield Abbey; it boasted of a magnificent view, woods in the background, a river which many fishermen had made famous—in short, it had all the elements necessary to make up a day of complete enjoyment. The arrangement was that friends of the name of Harrington were to meet the Sylvestres and their party, and after a long day on the Plain we were all to go to the Harringtons' for supper and a dance. If the weather was fine enough, we were to dance out of doors; and Lucy looked forward to all the fun with a glow of health on her cheeks, and a sparkle of the sweetest hope in her eyes. She looked so bright, that I could not help bending forward to her and whispering—
“I am glad you are getting over your loss.”
“I have not got over it at all,” she replied; “but I have just made up my mind to enjoy the present. The fact is,” she continued, bending towards me, “I am hopeless about ever getting back the pearls. Are you aware, Mr. Gray, that the detective left here early this morning?”
“What!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, Mr. Markham has gone. I conclude that he considers the search quite useless. I heard the sound of wheels as I lay in bed, and jumped up to look from my window. He left Clonfield Abbey between six and seven this morning.”
“I don't believe for a moment he has given up the search,” I said.
Lucy sighed, and shook her pretty head.
Soon afterwards we rose from the breakfast table, and between ten and eleven o'clock were driving in two large wagonettes and a pony carriage to Wallington Plain. We arrived at our destination in excellent time. The Harringtons with their party appeared on the scene soon afterwards, and the pleasures of one of the happiest days I have ever spent began. No premonition told me of the catastrophe which was so quickly approaching. I felt well; Diana had nearly regained her normal health. The sight of so many young and happy faces was enough to put me in the best of humours—amongst them all, Lucy's charming figure, her gay laugh, the bright and yet tender light in her eyes, were the most conspicuous. Maxwell was unremitting in his attentions all day, and Diana and I quite expected that before they returned to Clonfield Abbey they would be an affianced pair. By tacit consent we each and all left these lovers to themselves—they wandered about together, exploring the beauties of the lovely neighbourhood. At last the evening set in, and the time came when we were to re-enter our carriages and go to the Harringtons' place, a distance of about five miles away. I had just been asked by Sylvestre to accompany a lady in the pony trap when someone exclaimed that Maxwell and Lucy had not yet put in an appearance.
“How tiresome!” I heard Mrs. Sylvestre say; “we shall be late for supper. Mr. Harrington is very particular with regard to punctuality, and eight o'clock is the hour named for the meal.”
“I'll go and look for them,” I answered. “I saw them about an hour ago going in the direction of the Hillside Woods.” I set off running as I spoke, and calling Miss Gifford's name aloud.
Suddenly I heard an answering voice, and Lucy, looking pale and startled, rushed up to me.
“Come at once,” she cried; “Mr. Maxwell has hurt himself badly.”
“What can have happened?” I asked.
“We were standing on the edge of Denver's Peak, and I was showing him the view,” she answered, “he had turned round to speak to me when his face grew pale, he tottered, and the next moment had fallen over the cliff.”
“Has he fallen from a height?” I asked.
“Fortunately not,” she replied—she was trembling excessively—“he managed by a miracle to catch hold of a ledge of rock; I saw him writhe and then lie still. Oh, I had a moment of agony; then I managed to get at him by climbing down a little side path. I think just for an instant he must have been unconscious, but when I reached him he had come to himself; he was unable to move, however, and I ran off to find you all.”
“Fortunately, I have a brandy flask in my pocket,” I said; “I have no doubt that after I have given him a dose he will be better.”
She hurried on in front of me without speaking; her face was as pale as it had been bright and rosy; her eyes were full of trouble.
We reached the Peak, and found that Maxwell had already sufficiently recovered to climb to the top; he was half-sitting, half-lying on the grass; his face was ghastly, and when he saw us approaching he put his hand to his head.
“Here's a nice state of things,” he said, trying hard to smile; “I fell with some force on my back and hurt my head. Oh, I am much better already.” Here he glanced at Lucy with a sort of queer pathos which I could scarcely understand. “I shall be all right after a little rest. There is nothing serious; only the fall has made me dizzy.”
“How did you lose your balance?” I asked.
“I had a fit of giddiness. From a child I have had, at intervals, similar attacks; I am afraid I shall be good for nothing for the rest of the evening. I must go back to Clonfield Abbey, and get to bed at once. I shall be quite myself to-morrow, Miss Gifford.”
“Yes,” she answered. Her lips trembled; she tried to keep the tears back from her eyes.
“Let us go back,” she continued; “I, for one, have no heart to dance.”
“That will not do,” I said. “I am afraid you must go with the others to the Harringtons'. I am very sorry, but it cannot be helped. The pony carriage only holds two, and I must take Maxwell back to the Abbey.”
She looked distressed, but a little reflection showed her that there was no alternative. She went up to Maxwell, who held out his hand; they looked into each other's eyes. The expression in his I could not fathom; his face was quite haggard.
After administering brandy, my patient was sufficiently recovered to stagger to his feet. I led him to the pony chaise, and a few minutes later we were driving rapidly back to the Abbey. During the drive Maxwell scarcely spoke.
When we got into the house, I turned to ring the bell to get some refreshment; he came up to me at once, and put his hand on my arm.
“Do not order anything for me,” he said. “I could not eat. I want to lie down and shut my eyes. A few hours in the dark will quite restore me.”
“Ought you not to see a doctor?” I said, for his looks alarmed me.
“No, this is no case for a doctor,” he answered. His lips trembled.
“You look fearfully depressed,” I said. “Have you any reason?”
“None—none,” he cried in agitation.
“Then you have not put your fortune to the test?”
“Good God, no! I can't talk of this to-night. Let me get off to my room. I am only fit for solitude and my own thoughts.”
I saw this was so, and allowed him to depart. I then went into the smoking-room, and, sitting down, began to think over the queer aspect of affairs; the detective's words kept coming back to me again and again; the loss of Diana's ring and the pearl necklace would haunt my brain. Suddenly I started to my feet.
“An opportunity has occurred,” I said to myself; “I will go straight away this minute and search Miss Gifford's rooms. Who knows but I may, after all, discover the missing necklace.”
No sooner had this thought come to me than I resolved to act upon it.
Having secured a candle and a box of matches, I went at once to the west wing. I think I have already described the peculiar build of Lucy's bedroom; the window, instead of boasting of a through light, looked into the dressing-room, which, having been built out as an afterthought, was mostly composed of glass; in consequence, except on very bright days, Lucy's bedroom was considerably in shadow. Exactly facing the window of the bedroom, a large looking-glass was placed. I do not know why this queer arrangement should flash now before my memory. At this hour the west wing would, of course, be empty; I had no fear of the ghost, and would take the opportunity to have a good search for the necklace. Perhaps Miss Gifford had never placed it in her writing-desk; it is well known that people often completely forget where they have put their greatest treasures. I entered through the sitting-room, which was now quite dark, and went straight into the little bedroom. The moon was shining outside, and the first thing I saw was that the housemaid had forgotten to draw down the window blind, and that in consequence the looking-glass, placed just behind the window in the dressing-room, made queer reflections. A ray of moonlight had struck across the glass, and the first thing I perceived was my own figure dimly outlined in it and, as it were, coming to meet me into the room. Had I not been possessed of really strong nerves I might have been startled; and, as it was, the thought of the ghost flashed across my brain. But I quickly guessed the true nature of the apparition, and lighting my candle set it down on the window sill. When I did so I discovered that I had heightened the power of reflection in the looking-glass; all its surroundings were lost in indistinctness, but my own figure stood boldly out in perfectly clear and startling outline. I went backwards and forwards between the door of the bedroom and the window, and saw myself many times coming to meet myself.
“This would really be ghostly,” I murmured under my breath, “it I did not know what it meant. But I have no time now to think of this; I must get on with my search.”
I was just about to take the candle to go into the sitting-room, when I heard footsteps soft and yet hurried coming along the passage outside. Was it possible that the maid was coming back to conclude her half-done work? My first instinct was not to show myself. I stepped behind the door. The footsteps came nearer—they were too heavy for a woman's; my heart jumped into my mouth. All of a sudden, I recollected that of course Lucy Gifford must have left her diamonds behind her. Was it possible that the person who had secured the necklace was now coming to possess himself of the valuable pendant? Who could the thief be? I stood motionless, scarcely daring to breathe. The footsteps went quickly through the sitting-room and entered the bedroom. All of a sudden there was a cry—a cry of the greatest horror I have ever listened to; my blood curdled at the sound. I looked up; I could distinctly see Maxwell's figure reflected in the looking-glass. His hands were raised, as if to motion back some ghostly visitant; his eyes seemed to start from his head; his face was the colour of death itself. The next moment, with a crashing sound, he had fallen on the floor.
This was no moment for reflection. I rushed forward, lifted him up, unconscious as he was, and took him into the sitting-room. There I laid him on a sofa, and began to apply remedies. He looked as if he were stone dead. At last, with a long shivering sigh, he opened his eyes.
The moment he did so, he seemed to be aroused to the most full and terrible consciousness.
“I will confess! I will make amends!” he cried. “Merciful God in Heaven, have pity on my soul! Don't cut me off in the midst of my sin.” He sat up; I stood near him, but he did not recognise me. “I have just had a token for death,” he gasped. “I saw my own apparition when I entered that accursed room.” He covered his face with his hands.
“For God's sake, pull yourself together, Maxwell,” I said then. “Tell me at once what you were doing in Miss Gifford's room.”
He turned and clutched me with both hands.
“Were you there? Did you see it?” he whispered, his face the colour of chalk. “It wore my face; it came to meet me, to warn me. My doom is sealed. I shall die immediately; that token has never yet failed.”
“Doomed or not, speak out now,” I said. “Tell me what all this means. What were you doing in Miss Gifford's room?”
“I will tell you the truth, Mr. Gray; I will hide nothing.” He dragged himself from the sofa, and dropped on his knees. “I deceived you. I am not what I said I was; my name is——”
At this steps were heard approaching. They were quick and hurried, and evidently belonged to persons who had not the slightest desire for concealment. The flash of approaching lights came through the open door of the octagon room. I heard Markham's quiet and self-contained voice.
“This way, if you please, Mr. Maxwell.”
“Maxwell!” I murmured.
“This is the room, sir; the fellow must have come here at night. There is a bedroom beyond, and a dressing-room; but the pearls——” Here Markham's voice dropped; he had entered the room and seen the extraordinary spectacle which there awaited him.
“Good Heavens! what has happened?” he cried; he looked from me to my secretary, then his brow cleared.
I am glad to see you, Mr. Gray,” he said; “I have good news for you. Everything has been discovered. That scoundrel on his knees there is no more Maxwell of Apsley View than I am. Allow me to introduce you, sir, to the real Rudolph Maxwell, the son of your old friend.”
A gentlemanly, handsome man between twenty and thirty years of age had followed Markham into the room. He came up and held out his hand to me.
“Forgive me for intruding in this fashion,” he said, “but there really was no other way. I could not have my name and personality played with. Markham has told me everything. Ah, I guessed at once that we should trace the crime home to Lawson. So you are there, Lawson. Well, your game is up!”
The miserable scoundrel, who was still kneeling, made an effort now to stagger to his feet.
”You can all say what you like to me,” he exclaimed. “I care nothing. God has struck me down Himself. My doom is fixed.”
“Hold your tongue, man, and let others speak,” said Markham. “When I had a word with you yesterday, Mr. Gray, my suspicions were almost certainties. I knew I could not establish my case, however, until I found the real Mr. Maxwell.”
“Yes, Lawson, you were a clever scoundrel,” continued the real Maxwell, “but Markham here was too much for you. You stole my letters and cards when you also stole my watch and diamond studs.”
“As the game is up, you may as well tell me the meaning of all this,” I said, turning with a white face to my unfortunate secretary.
“I am quite willing to explain,” he answered. “I took you in, Mr. Gray. You were good to me, and so was your wife, and if I could be sorry at having deceived you, I would. The fact is, I belong to a gang of burglars, called the Apollo gang. In our profession we live altogether on our wits, and no subterfuge which attains our object is below our adoption. Two years ago I was valet to that gentleman.” He nodded as he spoke in the direction of Maxwell. “While with him it occurred to me that some of his cards and a few letters might prove useful later on. I stole them, and found, as I had anticipated, that they would serve me. I saw your advertisement, and it occurred to me that as I had been well educated in my youth I might apply for your post and do something to aid my confederates while with you. I showed you one or two of Mr. Maxwell's letters, and sent in his card on the day of my first interview. I found that you were easy to impose upon. I think you know the rest. I abstracted Mrs. Gray's diamond ring during our journey here—I obtained it by a trick common enough to myself and confederates. The ring has been melted down long ago, and I fear the diamonds are sold. I quickly won Miss Gifford's confidence, and having advised her where to place her necklace it was no difficult task to gain possession of it. I worked on her fears for my own purposes, and advised her where to place the diamond pendant in her room. You will find it, if you go to look, in an old chimney ornament which has been pushed out of sight, as if by accident. I meant to secure the diamonds to-night, and for that reason I threw myself over the cliff in order to be able to feign illness so as to get back to the Abbey while the rest of you were away. Had you, Mr. Gray, not returned with me, I might have succeeded in obtaining my booty—but no, I forgot,” he added, turning white once more to his very lips, “the awful sight I saw in that room would have upset nerves stronger than mine. My doom is fixed. I go to a higher Tribunal than any earthly to answer for my crimes.”
“You have said quite enough now,” said Markham, coming forward; “and as I hold a warrant for your arrest, you will allow me to slip these on you, for greater safety.”
As he spoke he produced a pair of handcuffs, which he fastened round the prisoner's wrists.
When last I heard of Lawson it was to learn that he had received a sentence of seven years' penal servitude. He had got over the shock which the supposed apparition had caused, and is now working out the punishment he so richly deserved, not in another world, but in this.
As to Lucy Gifford, the shock of this extraordinary dénoûement affected her health for a long time. Her nerves were shaken. She refused to occupy the haunted room; and having been once told the real story of the supposed Maxwell, begged that his name should never be mentioned to her again.
There are whispers now with regard to this young lady and the real man of the name—but, perhaps, I ought not to divulge anything further.