The Heart of a Womanскачать книгу бесплатно
Her eyes, and the pressure of her hand bade him "good-night" and she passed on into the lighted hall of the hotel. He followed Colonel Harris into the lobby.
"You have heard?" he asked quickly and in a whisper, lest Lou should hear.
"Yes," replied the other.
"And Louisa? Does she know?"
"Gossip was all over the confounded place," was Colonel Harris's muttered comment.
"But you've heard no details?"
"No. Have you?"
"Very little. Only what the police officer chose to tell me."
"Then," queried the older man, "it's an absolute fact?"
"Hm! As to that – have you seen your uncle?"
"No. I went round as soon as I knew, but the police had forestalled me and broken the news to him."
"But why didn't you see him?"
"He sent word that he would rather I come back in the morning. Philip's influence still prevalent, you see."
"Well, it's a confounded business," ejaculated Colonel Harris with hearty conviction, "but I'm not going to lament over it. After all's said and done it's a very simple way out of an impossible situation."
"A very horrible way."
And the good-natured old man shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of supreme indifference.
"Well," said Luke quietly, "it's late now, sir. You'll want to get to bed."
"Well," retorted the other with quite a touch of joviality "it's an ill wind – you know."
"Good night, sir."
"Good night, my boy. How will you get back?"
"Oh, a taxi is the quickest. Edie might have heard something, and be anxious. I must hurry home now."
Louisa was standing in the hall at the top of the steps. Luke raised his hat to her and having shaken hands with Colonel Harris quietly turned to go, and was soon lost in the gloom beyond.
No one who had been standing in the lobby of the hotel would have guessed that these three people who had talked and bowed and shaken hands so quietly were facing one of life's most appalling, most overwhelming tragedies.
The world's puppets had been strung up again, because indifferent eyes were there to watch and gape, and in the presence of these modern Bulls of Bashan the puppets danced to the prevalent tune.
AND WHAT OF THE SECRET?
When Luke arrived at his uncle's house early the next morning, he was met in the hall by Doctor Newington, who was descending the stairs and who gravely beckoned to the young man to follow him into the library.
"They called me in last night," he said in reply to Luke's quick and anxious query. "The butler – or whatever he may be – told me that he was busy fastening up the front door preparatory to going to bed when he heard a heavy thud proceeding from the library. He found his master lying full length on the floor: the head had come in violent contact, as he fell, with the corner of this table; blood was trickling from a scalp wound, and Lord Radclyffe himself was apparently in a swoon.
The man is a regular coward and a fool besides. He left his master lying just as he had fallen, but fortunately he knew me and knew where to find me, and within ten minutes I was on the spot, and had got Lord Radclyffe into bed."
"Is it," asked Luke, "anything serious?"
"Lord Radclyffe has not been over strong lately. He has had a great deal to put up with, and at his age the system is not sufficiently elastic or – how shall I put it? – sufficiently recuperative to stand either constant nerve strain or nagging worries."
"I don't know," interposed Luke stiffly, "that my uncle has had either nerve strain or worry to put up with."
"Oh," rejoined the doctor, whose gruff familiarity seemed to Luke's sensitive ear to be tainted with the least possible note of impertinence, "I am an old friend of your uncle, you know, and of all your family; there isn't much that has escaped my observation during the past year."
"You have not yet told me, doctor," said Luke, a shade more stiffly than before, "what is the matter with Lord Radclyffe."
There was distinct emphasis on the last two words.
Doctor Newington shrugged his shoulders good-humouredly.
"Your uncle has had something in the nature of a stroke," he said bluntly, and he fixed keen light-coloured eyes on those of Luke, watching the effect which the news – baldly and crudely put – would have on the young man's nerves. He was a man with what is known as a fashionable practice. He lived in Hertford Street and his rounds were encircled by the same boundaries as those of the rest of Mayfair. He had had plenty of opportunity of studying those men and women who compose the upper grades of English society. They and their perfect sang-froid, their well-drilled calm under the most dire calamities, or most unexpected blows had often caused him astonishment when he was a younger man, fresh from hospital work, and from the haunts of humbler folk, who had no cause or desire to hide the depth of their feelings. Now he was used to his fashionable patients and had ceased to wonder, and Luke's impassiveness on hearing of his uncle's sudden illness did not necessarily strike him as indifference.
"Is it serious?" asked Luke.
"Serious. Of course," assented the doctor.
"Do you mean that Lord Radclyffe's life is in danger?"
"At sixty years of age, life is always in danger."
"I don't mean that," rejoined Luke with a slight show of impatience. "Is Lord Radclyffe in immediate danger?"
"No. With great care and constant nursing, he may soon rally, though I doubt if he will ever be as strong and hearty as he was this time last year."
"Then what about a nurse?"
"I'll send one down to-day, but – "
"Lord Radclyffe's present household is – well, hardly adequate to the exigencies of a long and serious illness – he ought to have a day and a night nurse. I can send both, but they will want some waiting on and of course proper meals and ordinary comforts – "
"I can see to all that. Thank you for your advice."
"A good and reliable cook is also necessary – who understands invalid cooking – all that is most important."
"And shall be attended to at once. Is there anything else?"
"Perfect rest and quiet of course are the chief things."
"I shan't worry him, you may be sure, and no one else is likely to come near him."
"Except the police," remarked the doctor dryly.
The grave events of the night before, and those that were ready to follow one another in grim array for the next few days had almost fled from Luke's memory in face of the other – to him more serious – calamity – his uncle's illness.
"Oh! Ah, yes!" he said vaguely. "I had forgotten."
"The nurses," rejoined the doctor with a pompousness which somehow irritated Luke, "will have my authorization to forbid any one having access to Lord Radclyffe for the present. I will write out the certificate now, and this you can present to any one who may show a desire to exercise official authority in the matter of interviewing my patient."
"I daresay that I can do all that is necessary at the inquest and so on – Lord Radclyffe need not be worried."
"He mustn't be worried. To begin with he would not know any one, and he is wholly unable to answer questions."
"That settles the matter of course. So, if you will write the necessary certificate, I'll see the police authorities at once on the subject. Would Lord Radclyffe know me, do you think?" added the young man after a slight pause of hesitancy.
"Well," replied the doctor evasively, "I don't think I would worry him to-day. We'll see how he gets on."
"He'll probably ask for me."
"That is another matter, and if he does, you must of course see him. But unless there is a marked improvement during the day, he won't ask for any one."
Luke was silent a moment or two while the doctor sat down at the writing table and sought for pen and ink.
"Very well," he said after awhile, "we'll leave it at that. Lord Radclyffe – I can promise you this – shall on no account be disturbed without permission from you. How soon will the nurse arrive?"
"Within the hour. The night nurse will come after tea."
Doctor Newington wrote out and signed the usual medical certificate to the effect that Lord Radclyffe's state of health demanded perfect quietude and rest and that he was unable to see any one or to answer any questions. He read his own writing through very carefully, then folded the paper in half and handed it to Luke.
"This," he said, "will make everything all right. And I'll call again in a couple of hours' time. You won't forget the cook?"
"No, I won't forget the cook."
When the doctor had taken his leave, Luke stood for a moment quietly in the library: he folded up the medical certificate which he had received at the hands of Doctor Newington, and carefully put it away in his pocket-book.
"You won't forget the cook?"
I don't think that ever in his life before had Luke realized the trivialities of life as he did at this moment. Remember that he was quite man of the world enough, quite sufficiently sensible and shrewd and English, to have noticed that the degree of familiarity in the doctor's manner had passed the borderland of what was due to himself; the tone of contemptuous indifference savoured of impertinence. And there was something more than that.
Last night when Luke wandered up and down outside the brilliantly lighted windows of the Danish Legation, trying to catch a few muffled sounds of the voice he so passionately loved to hear, he heard the first rumours that an awful crime had been committed which, for good or ill, would have such far-reaching bearings on his own future; but he had also caught many hints, vague suggestions full of hidden allusions, of which the burden was: "Seek whom the crime benefits."
Luke de Mountford was no fool. Men of his stamp – we are accustomed to call them commonplace – take a very straight outlook on life. They are not hampered by the psychological problems which affect the moral balance of a certain class of people of to-day; they have no sexual problems to solve. Theirs is a steady, wholesome, and clean life, and the mirrors of nature have not been blurred by the breath of psychologists.
Luke had never troubled his head about his neighbour's wife, about his horse, or his ass, or anything that is his; therefore his vision about the neighbour himself had remained acute.
Although I must admit that at this stage the thought that he might actually be accused of a low and sordid crime never seriously entered his head, he nevertheless felt that suspicion hovered round him, that some people at any rate held it possible that since he would benefit by the crime, he might quite well have contemplated it.
The man Travers thought so certainly; the doctor did not deem it impossible – and, of course, there would be others.
No wonder that he stood and mused. Once more the aspect of life had changed for him. He was back in that position from which the advent of the unknown cousin had ousted him so easily – the cousin who had come, had seen, and had conquered the one thing needful – the confidence and help of Uncle Rad.
By what means he had succeeded in doing that had been the great mystery which had racked Luke's mind ever since he felt his uncle's affection slipping away from him.
Uncle Rad who had loudly denounced the man as an impostor and a blackmailer before he set eyes on him, was ready to give him love and confidence the moment he saw him: and Luke was discarded like an old coat that no longer fitted. The affection of years was turned to indifference; and what meant more still the habits of a lifetime were changed. Lord Radclyffe, tyrannical and didactic, became a nonentity in his own household. The grand seigneur, imbued with every instinct of luxury and refinement, became a snuffy old hermit, uncared for, not properly waited on, feeding badly, and living in one room.
All this Philip de Mountford had accomplished entirely by his mere presence. The waving of a wand – a devil's wand – and the metamorphosis was complete! What magic was there in the man himself? What in the tale which he told? What subtle charm did he wield, that the news of his terrible death should strike the old man down as some withered old tree robbed of its support?
Now he lay dead, murdered, only God knew as yet by whom. People suspected Luke, because Fate had given a fresh turn to her wheel and reinstated him in the pleasing position from which the intruder had ousted him.
Luke de Mountford was once more heir presumptive to the earldom of Radclyffe, and the stranger had taken the secret of his success with him to the grave.
IT WOULD NOT DO, YOU KNOW
Since Lord Radclyffe was too ill to attend to anything, or to see any one, it devolved upon Luke to make what arrangements he thought fitting for the lying in state and the subsequent obsequies of the murdered man. For the present, Philip de Mountford lay in the gloomy mortuary chamber of the Victoria police court. Luke had sent over massive silver candelabra, flowers and palms and all the paraphernalia pertaining to luxurious death.
The dead man lay – not neglected – only unwatched and alone, surrounded by all the evidences of that wealth which he had come a very long way to seek, but which Fate and a murderer's hand had snatched with appalling suddenness from him.
And in the private sitting room at the Langham, Louisa Harris sat opposite her father at breakfast, a pile of morning papers beside her plate, she herself silent and absorbed.
"That's a queer tale," Colonel Harris was saying, "the papers tell about that murder in Brussels a year ago – though I must say that to my mind there appears some truth in what they say. What do you think, Louisa?"
"I hardly know," she replied absently, "what to think."
"The details of that crime, which was committed about a year ago, are exactly the same as those which relate to this infernal business of last night."
"Are they really?"
No one could have said – and Louisa herself least of all – why she was unwilling to speak on that subject. She had never told her father, or any one for a matter of that, except – that she had been so near to the actual scene of that mysterious crime in Brussels, and that she had known its every detail.
"And I must say," reiterated Colonel Harris emphatically, "that I agree with the leading article in the Times. One crime begets another. If that hooligan – or whatever he was – in Brussels had not invented this new and dastardly way of murdering a man in a cab and then making himself scarce and sending the cab spinning on its way, no doubt Philip de Mountford would be alive now. Not that that would be a matter for great rejoicings. Still a crime is a crime, and if we were going to allow blackguards to be murdered all over the place by other blackguards, where would law and order be?"
He was talking more loudly and volubly than was his wont, and he took almost ostentatiously quantities of food on his plate, which it was quite obvious he never meant to eat. He also steadily avoided meeting his daughter's eyes. But at this juncture she put both elbows on the table, rested her chin in her hands, and looked straight across at her father.
"It's no use, dear," she said simply.
"No use what?" he queried with ungrammatical directness.
"No use your pretending to talk at random and to be eating a hearty breakfast, when your thoughts are just as much absorbed as mine are."
"Hm!" he grunted evasively, but was glad enough to push aside the plateful of eggs and bacon which, indeed, he had no desire to eat.
"You have," she continued gently, "read all the papers, just as I have, and you know as well as I do what to read between the lines when they talk of 'clues' and of 'certain sensational developments.'"
"Of course I do," he retorted gruffly, "but it's all nonsense."
"Of course it is. But worrying nevertheless."
"I don't see how such rubbish can worry you."
"Not," she said, "for myself. But for Luke. He must have got an inkling by now of what is going on."
"Of course he has. And if he has a grain of sense he'll treat it with the contempt it deserves."
"It's all very well, father. But just think for a moment. Place yourself in Luke's position. The very idea that you might be suspected must in itself be terrible."
"Not when you are innocent," he rejoined with the absolute certitude of a man who has never been called upon to face any really serious problem in life. "I shouldn't care what the rabble said about me, if I had a clear conscience."
Louisa was silent for a moment or two, then she said:
"Luke is different somehow. He has been different lately."
"He has a lot to put up with, with old Radclyffe going off his head in that ridiculous way."
But Louisa did not reply to that suggestion. She knew well enough that it was neither Lord Radclyffe's unkindness, nor the arrogance of the new cousin that had changed and softened Luke's entire nature.
The day that he had sat beside her on the stain at Lady Ducies' ball, the completeness of the change had been fully borne in on her. When Luke said to her: "I would give all I have in the world to lie on the ground before you and to kiss the soles of your feet," she knew that Love had wrought its usual exquisite miracle, the absorption of self by another, the utter sinking of the ego before the high altar of the loved one. She knew all that, but dear old Colonel Harris had forgotten – perhaps he had never known.
That knowledge comes to so few nowadays. Life, psychology, and sexual problems have taken the place of the divine lesson which has glorified the world since the birth of Lilith.
All that Louisa now remarked to her kind and sensible father was —
"You know, dear, suspicion has killed a man before now. It was but a very little while ago that a noble-hearted gentleman preferred death to such dishonour."
"You've got your head," he retorted, "full of nonsense, Lou. Try and be a sensible woman now, and think of it all quietly. Is there anything you would like me to do, for instance?"
"Yes, if you will."
"What is it?"
"Couldn't you see Uncle Ryder?"
"At Scotland Yard, you mean?"
"He is at the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, isn't he?"
"I've always understood so."
"Would he see you, do you think, at his office?"
"Tom not see me?" exclaimed Colonel Harris. "Of course he would. What do you want me to see him about?"
"He could tell you exactly how matters stood with regard to – to Luke, couldn't he?"
"He could. But would he?"
"You can but try."
"It's a great pity your aunt is out of town; you might have heard a good deal from her."
"Oh, Sir Thomas never tells aunt anything that's professional," said Louisa with a smile. "She'd be forever making muddles."
"I am sure she would," he assented with deep conviction.
"Do you think I might go with you?"
"What? To Tom's? I don't think he would like that, Lou: and it wouldn't quite do you know."
"Perhaps not," she agreed with hardly even a sigh of disappointment. She was so accustomed, you see, to being thwarted by convention, whenever impulse carried her out of the bounds which the world had prescribed. Moreover, she expected to see Luke soon. He would be sure to come directly after an early visit to Grosvenor Square.
She helped her father on with his coat. She was almost satisfied that he should go alone. She would have an hour with Luke, if he came early, and it was necessary that she should have him to herself, before too many people had shouted evil and good news, congratulations, opprobrium, and suspicions at him.
Colonel Harris, she knew, would get quite as much if not more information out of his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Ryder, than he could do if she – a mere woman – happened to be present at the interview. Sir Thomas would trust Colonel Harris with professional matters which he never would confide to a woman, and Louisa trusted her father implicitly.
She knew that, despite the grumblings and crustiness peculiar to every Englishman, when he is troubled with domestic matters whilst sitting at his own breakfast table, her father had Luke's welfare just as much at heart as she had herself.
NOT ALL ABOUT IT
Colonel Harris sent in his card to Sir Thomas Ryder. He had driven over from the Langham in a hansom – holding taxicabs in even more whole-hearted abhorrence than before. He inquired at once if Sir Thomas was in his private sanctum, and if so whether he might see him.
Curiously enough the chief, usually quite inaccessible to the casual visitor – whether relative or stranger – received his brother-in-law immediately.
"Hello, Will," he said by way of greeting, the way Englishmen have of saying that they are pleased to see one another.
"Hello," responded Colonel Harris in the same eloquent tone.
And the two old boys shook hands.
Sir Thomas then resumed his official chair behind his huge desk and motioned his brother-in-law to an arm-chair close by.
"Have a cigar," said the host.
"Thanks," rejoined the other.
The box was handed across, a Havana selected.
The cigars were lighted, and for quite three minutes the two men smoked in silence. One of them had come here to find out how much of his daughter's happiness lay in jeopardy; the other knew what was in the balance, the danger to his niece's happiness, the terrible abyss of misery which yawned at her feet.скачать книгу бесплатно