Emma Orczy.

The Heart of a Woman



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"Very soon, I should say. But the other?"

"I saw the other gentleman this morning, sir."

"Where?"

"Mr. Travers from the police, sir, 'e called to see me at the club, and 'e took me in a taxicab to Grosvenor Square, and told the shoffer, sir, to pull up by the curb on the garden side. Then 'e told me to watch a partik'lar 'ouse opposite and see 'oo was goin' in or out. I didn't 'arf like it, sir, because I'm not supposed to absent myself for very long of a morning, though the committee ain't very partik'lar. But Mr. Travers 'e was of the police, sir, so I thought it was right to do as 'e told me."

"Quite right. And what did you see?"

"Nothing much for close on an hour, sir; a carriage drew up to the door of the 'ouse and an elderly gentleman got out. Mr. Travers told me that it was the doctor. 'E rang the bell and went into the 'ouse. Then after a bit 'oo did I see walking down the street and straight up to the front door of the partik'lar 'ouse, I'd been told to look at, but Mr. de Mountford's visitor of last night."

"You recognized him?"

"Couldn't mistake 'im, sir."

"Did you call Mr. Travers's attention to him?"

"Yes, sir. I told 'im that was the gentleman 'oo'd 'ad an awful quarrel with Mr. Philip de Mountford at the club last night."

"That's all, Power. I won't trouble you further now."

"No trouble, sir."

"Your position at the club is a permanent one?"

"Yes, sir."

"You are always to be found there?"

"Always, sir, whenever you want me."

"Well, send a line to the chief superintendent at Scotland Yard in case your plans get suddenly modified and you are no longer to be found at the club."

"Not likely, sir. Thank you, sir. Good morning."

"Good morning."

Sir Thomas touched the electric button in the wall behind him, and a man in a dark blue uniform appeared. Frederick Power was dismissed. He saluted both gentlemen and turning on his heel in proper military fashion, he marched out of the room, obviously delighted with his own importance and with the adventure which varied so pleasantly the monotonous evenness of his existence.

CHAPTER XXI
HAVE ANOTHER CIGAR

"Well, William, what do you think of it all?"

The two men had sat in silence for quite a considerable time after Frederick Power had marched out of the room. Colonel Harris buried in thought was in no hurry to talk things over. Sir Thomas Ryder – a very busy man – was the more impatient of the two.

"I must tell you," he said, seeing that his brother-in-law seemed disinclined to speak, "that our man Travers, as soon as Power had pointed Luke out to him, went and rang the bell at Radclyffe's house and quickly enough established beyond a doubt that the man who had just entered it was Mr. Luke de Mountford. I tell you this now, so as to disabuse your mind once and for all in case you should imagine that this might be a case of mistaken identity.

Moreover you yourself know and have admitted to me that Luke's intention was to seek out his uncle and his cousin at the Veterans' Club, after he parted from you at eight o'clock last night."

"Yes," said Colonel Harris, "I know that. I was not thinking of mistaken identity."

"You," rejoined the other, "were thinking of Luke, and so am I. I have thought little of any one else since first the crime was reported to me last night. And long before Travers gleaned the outlines of the story which Power has just amplified for us, I vaguely guessed at the broad lines of it. Now that I know it in all its details, I can see the whole scene in the lobby of the Veterans' Club before me. You may believe me or not as you like, but as a matter of fact I know quite a good deal about Luke de Mountford. I have often met him, of course, and though we have never been very intimate – for I am a busy man and have but little time for intimacy with my fellow-men – I have had many opportunities of studying him. He has a very curious power of self-control – almost an abnormal one I call it, and a morbid hatred of public scenes or scandal. This of course he shares with a great many men of his class, and his self-control is all the more remarkable as he is not by any means the impassive young man about town which he pretends to be. Well, that same power, I suppose, stood him in good stead in the lobby of the Veterans' Club. In Power's picturesque parlance 'there was murder in his eye.' Of course he had been provoked beyond the bounds of endurance, and if he had rushed at Philip de Mountford and strangled him then and there, no one would have been astonished. I should," continued Sir Thomas with emphasis, "because it would not have been like the Luke whom I had studied. The picture of two gentlemen at fisticuffs like a pair of navvies would not have been an edifying one, and Luke – as I know him – would above all wish not to make a spectacle of himself before the hall porter or before a crowd in the ante-room of a second-rate club. He naturally – for that sort of thing becomes second nature – pulled himself together and walked out into the street."

You must not think for a moment that Sir Thomas Ryder was habitually a talkative man. Englishmen of his class and type are rarely talkative, and Sir Thomas's position and occupation had rendered him less communicative than most. But Colonel Harris and he had been brother officers, friends long before family ties were closely knit by marriage, and he considered the present crisis a very serious one.

He had had enough to do with crime in the past few years since he had obtained the interesting post which he now occupied, but never with a crime which affected him personally as this one did. Luke de Mountford was of course nothing to him, except in connection with Louisa Harris. But this was a strong tie. Louisa was his own wife's niece; she was the daughter of a friend, of a brother officer. No one who is not in some manner or other in touch with military men can have the slightest idea of how much those two magic words mean: "brother officer": what magnetism lies in them: what appeal they make to all that is most loyal, most willing, most helpful in a man.

Sir Thomas felt that the mud of irretrievable disgrace which was bound to smirch Luke de Mountford would in no small measure redound on Louisa too. Instinctively too all his sensibilities recoiled against the idea of a gentleman, one of his own caste, being dragged in this peculiarly loathsome mire. It seemed impossible that that type of man should commit a murder – a murder – just an ordinary, brutal, commonplace murder, such as the rough and tumble herd of humanity commit when under the stress of vulgar passions: greed, avarice, jealousy. It was this juxtaposition of the mean and sordid against his own class that revolted Sir Thomas Ryder. He was loyal to his brother officer in his endeavour to induce him to keep out of all that mud which would be scattered all round presently, when the papers came out with their sensational headlines; but he was also – perhaps more so – loyal to his caste: his was the esprit de corps, not only of militarism but of birth and breeding. He would not, if he could, have a gentleman held up to opprobrium, and if this could be avoided by the unfortunate criminal's flight from justice – well, Sir Thomas was ready and willing to take upon his shoulders the burden of contempt and ridicule, which the press and the general public would presently be hurling at him and at his department for their hopeless incompetence in allowing a murderer to escape.

Therefore he was putting the case against Luke more clearly and with a greater wealth of detail before his brother-in-law than the conscientious discharge of duty should have allowed. In fact we see Sir Thomas Ryder – a hard disciplinarian, a hide and tape bound official – freely transgressing the most elementary rules which duty prescribes. He was sitting in his private office with his brother-in-law, giving away secrets that belonged not to him but to his department, conniving through the words which he spoke at the fleeing from justice of a criminal who belonged not to him but to the State.

He was making the case against Luke de Mountford to appear as black as it was in effect, so that Colonel Harris and Louisa might take fright and induce the unfortunate man to realize his danger in time and to shrink from facing the consequences of his own terrible deed.

But Colonel Harris – with the obstinacy of those who throughout life have never led but have always been ruled – would not see the case through his brother-in-law's spectacles. He clung to his own repudiation of the possibility of Luke de Mountford's guilt. He behaved quite unconsciously, just as Louisa would have wished him to behave, had she been present here to prompt him.

To Sir Thomas's most convincing expos? of the situation he lent an attentive ear, but the shrug of his shoulders when the other man paused to take breath was in itself a testimony of loyalty to Luke's cause.

"Hang it all, man," he said, "you are not going to sit there and tell me that Luke de Mountford – the man whom I myself would have chosen as a son-in-law had Lou not forestalled me – that Luke would commit a deliberate murder? In the name of common-sense, Tom, why it's unthinkable! Do you mean to say that you actually believe that Luke, after he left that God-forsaken club, joined his cousin again as if nothing had happened; that he got into a taxicab with him, and poked him through the neck whilst the man was looking another way."

"Roughly speaking," assented Sir Thomas, "I believe that's what happened."

"And you call yourself a shrewd detective!" exclaimed Colonel Harris hotly. "And you hold the lives of men practically in the hollow of your hand! Why, man! have you forgotten one thing?" he continued, his gruff voice assuming a note of triumph, "the most important in all this damnable business?"

"What have I forgotten, Will?" asked the other not at all ruffled by the gallant colonel's sudden tone of contempt.

"The weapon, Tom!"

"I haven't forgotten the weapon," rejoined Sir Thomas calmly.

"Oh, yes, you have! Do you mean to tell me that Luke de Mountford habitually walks about the streets of London with an Italian stiletto in his trousers pocket? for I am told that it was with a thing of that sort that the murder was committed. Or according to you did Luke escort Louisa to a dinner-party with the avowed intention at the back of his mind of committing a murder later on if occasion offered? Did he bring an Italian stiletto from home when he came to meet his fianc?e at the Langham Hotel, or did he buy one on the way to the Veterans' Club? Which of these cock-and-bull theories do you hold, Tom?"

"Neither," admitted Sir Thomas with a placid smile.

"Then," concluded Colonel Harris contemptuously, "you think that Luke was – as I said – in the habit of carrying an Italian stiletto in his trousers pocket?"

"No," rejoined the other, still unruffled, "but I know that Luke de Mountford is in the habit of carrying a snake-wood walking stick, which he once bought – years ago – somewhere abroad, and the top of which contains a short pointed dagger which fits into the body of the stick. And what's more you know that stick too, Will; you have often seen it. Are you prepared to swear that Luke hadn't it with him last night?"

"He hadn't it with him."

"You are prepared to swear to that?" insisted the other earnestly.

Colonel Harris was silent. For the first time since the beginning of this long interview he felt as if all the blood in his body was receding back to his heart causing it to beat so wildly that he thought it was about to choke him. The colour fled from his cheeks and the cigar dropped from between nerveless fingers. Swift as lightning a recollection came back to him – a vision of Luke entering the sitting-room of the Langham Hotel with his coat on and his hat and stick in the left hand.

But he would not give in even now – not on such paltry surmises. Any number of men he knew carried sticks that contained weapons of self-defence. He himself possessed a very murderous-looking swordstick which he had once bought in Paris. He fought down this oncoming attack of weakness, and blamed himself severely for it too. It savoured of disloyalty to Louisa and to Luke. He stooped and picked his cigar up and looked his brother-in-law boldly in the face.

"I wouldn't," he said, "swear either way, whether Luke had his stick with him last night or not. I know that stick, of course. I have got one very like it myself."

"So have I," rejoined Sir Thomas with his placid smile.

"And if that's one of the proofs on which you are going to accuse my future son-in-law of having committed a murder, then all I can say is, Tom, that you and I are seeing the last of one another to-day."

But Sir Thomas took this threat, as he had taken Colonel Harris's undisguised expressions of contempt, with perfect equanimity.

"If," he said quietly, "I did accuse Luke de Mountford or any other man of murder on such paltry grounds as that, Will, you would be perfectly justified in turning your back on me, if for no other reason than that I should then be an incompetent ass."

"Well, what more is there then?"

"Only this, Will. That the stick which you have so often seen in Luke de Mountford's hand, was found this morning inside the railings of Green Park; it bears unmistakable signs of the use to which it was put last night."

"You mean – that it was stained – ?"

How long a time elapsed between the beginning of that query and its last words Colonel Harris could not say. The uttering of the words was a terrible effort. They seemed to choke him ere they reached his lips. A buzzing and singing filled his ears so that he did not hear Sir Thomas's reply, but through a strange veil which half obscured his vision he saw his brother-in-law's slow nod of affirmation. For the first time in his life, the man who had fought against naked savages in the swamps or sands of Africa, who had heard, unflinching, the news of the death of his only son, felt himself totally unnerved. He heard as in a dream the hum of the busy city in the street below, hansoms and omnibuses rattling along the road, the cries of news vendors or hawkers, the bustle of humdrum, every-day life: and through it the ticking of his own watch in his waistcoat pocket.

He remembered afterward how strangely this had impressed him: that he could hear the ticking of his own watch. He had never been conscious before of such an acute sense of hearing. And yet the buzzing and singing in his ears went on. And he was horribly, painfully conscious of silly, trivial things – the ticking of his watch which obsessed him, the irregularity in the design of the wall paper, the broken top of the inkstand on Sir Thomas's desk.

The great, all-important fact had escaped momentarily from his consciousness. He forgot that Philip de Mountford had been murdered, and that Luke's stick, bloodstained and damning, had been found inside the railings of the park.

A cycle of time went by – an eternity, or else a few seconds. Sir Thomas Ryder pulled open the long drawer of his monumental desk.

Colonel Harris watched him doing it, and long before Sir Thomas took a certain Something from out the drawer, the colonel knew what that something would be.

A familiar thing enough. The colonel had seen it over and over again in Luke de Mountford's hand. A slender stick of rich looking, dark wood, only very little thicker at the top than at the base and with a silver band about six inches from the top. On the band the initials L. de M. daintily engraved.

"Put it away, Tom, for God's sake!" Colonel Harris hardly recognized his own voice; he had spoken more from a sudden instinct of shrinking from loathsome objects, than from any real will of his own. One glance at the stick had been enough. It was thickly coated with mud, and about six inches from the top there where the silver band showed a deep dark cleft between it and the length of the stick, there were other stains – obvious stains of blood.

Yet Colonel Harris had seen worse sights than this in Zululand and at Omdurman. But on this stained stick, that discoloured silver band, he felt it impossible to look.

"I have broken it to you, Will, as gently as I could," said Sir Thomas, not quite as placidly as before. He too was not unmoved by the distress of his old friend. "You see that I had no option, but to tell you all. You must keep out of all this, old man, and above all you must keep Louisa out of it. Take her abroad, Will, as soon as you can."

"She won't go!" murmured the father, dully.

"Nonsense!"

"She won't go," he reiterated. "She has given her heart to Luke."

"She'll soon forget him."

"Not she!"

"And she'll be horrified – when she knows."

"She'll not believe it."

"If he is wise, he'll plead guilty – his solicitor will advise him to do that. It is his one chance.."

"His one chance?" queried the other vaguely.

"Of escaping the gallows. If he pleads guilty, many extenuating circumstances will be admitted – his own spotless reputation – and also intense provocation. He'll get a life sentence, or even perhaps – "

But with a loud oath, the most forcible one he had ever uttered in his life, Colonel Harris had jumped to his feet and brought a heavy fist crashing down upon the table.

"And by the living God, Tom," he said, "I'll not believe it. No! not for all your witnesses, and your cross questionings, and your damnable proofs. No! I'll not believe it, and I know that my girl will not believe it either – not until we hear the word 'guilty' spoken by Luke's own lips. And we'll not leave London, we'll not go abroad, we'll not desert Luke; for I swear, by God that I don't believe that he is an assassin."

Men who have always been accounted weak often have moments of unexpected strength. Colonel Harris now seemed to tower morally and mentally over his brother-in-law. The passion of loyalty was in him, and caused his eyes to sparkle and his cheeks to glow. The oath he uttered he spoke with fervour: there would be no faltering, no wavering in his defence of Luke.

Sir Thomas waited a minute or two, allowing his old friend to recover his normal self-control as well as his breath, which was coming and going in quick gasps. Then he said quietly:

"As you will, old man. Have another cigar."

CHAPTER XXII
THEN THE MIRACLE WAS WROUGHT

When Colonel Harris once more arrived at the Langham he found Luke and Louisa comfortably installed in front of the fire in the private sitting-room up stairs. She was leaning back against the cushions, her head resting in her hand, he at the foot of the sofa, his hands encircling one knee, gazing now and then into the fire, now and then into her face.

Not troubled creatures these, not man and woman fighting a battle against life, against the world, for honour, for peace, and for love; not souls racked by painful memories of the past or grim dread of the future: only two very ordinary human beings, with a life behind them of serene contentment, social duties worthily performed, a smooth lake whereon not a ripple of sorrow or disgrace ever dared to mar the shiny surface.

And the ruling passion strong in death was stronger still in face of this new life to be led: the life of to-morrow, full of the unknown, the ugly, the sordid and mean, full of nameless dangers, and of possible disgrace. The puppets were still dancing, moved by the invisible strings held by the hand of the implacable giant called Convention: they danced even as though no gaping and ravenous lions, no Bulls of Bashan, were there to see. Even before each other they hid the secret mysteries of their hearts; he his overwhelming passion for her, she her dread for his immediate future.

They had not forborne to talk of Philip de Mountford's death; they would not have admitted that there was anything there that could not be discussed with perfect indifference – she, reclining against the cushions, and he in immaculate morning coat, with hair smoothly brushed, and speckless tie and linen, talking of things which meant life or death for them both.

He had told her all he knew, his visit to Philip at the Veterans' Club, his quarrel with him, the hatred which he bore to the man that was dead. He made no secret of the police officer's questionings, nor of Doctor Newington's extraordinary attitude.

"One would think those fellows had a suspicion that I had murdered Philip," he said quite lightly.

And her face never moved whilst she listened to these details, analyzing them in her mind, comparing them with those at which the morning papers had hinted, the "clues" and "startling developments," to obtain confirmation of which her father had gone out to seek Sir Thomas Ryder.

Luke de Mountford would no more have dreamed of telling Louisa of the dark suspicions which really threatened him, than he would have laid bare before her some hideous wound, if he happened to be suffering from one. The police officer's insolence and the doctor's easy contempt had sounded a note of warning of what was imminent, but beyond that he had no fear. Why should he have? And having none, why worry Lou with plaints that might agitate her?



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