George Fenn.

Blind Policy

Then hell live, doctor? whispered the gentleman the others had addressed as Jem.

I hope so. He is sleeping easily now. I will come back about nine. There is not likely to be any change. If there is, of course I must be fetched.

Have some refreshment, doctor, said the gentleman he addressed. You must not leave him.

Wearied out as he was, this was enough to irritate Chester.

I am the best judge of that, sir, he said coldly. Of course the patient must not be left.

That is what we all feel, doctor. Ask what fee you please, but you must stay.

Yes, yes; pray, pray stay, doctor, cried the lady in a pleading voice which went to his heart.

It is impossible, madam. I have others to think of as well as your friend.

He could not for the life of him say husband.

I will be back about nine.

Sir, we beg of you to stay, said the gentleman who took the lead, earnestly.

I have told you, sir, that I cannot. I must leave you now.

No, no, doctor! whispered the lady.

Madam, it is not necessary for me to stay now. Silence, I beg. The patient must be kept quiet.

Yes quiet, said the chief speaker. Doctor, we have asked you not to leave us; now we must insist.

What! Why?

Because we decline to let you go till your patient is quite out of danger.

What! cried Chester, sharply, over-excited by what he had gone through. Am I to be kept a prisoner?

If you like to call it so. Everything you desire you can have, but you cannot leave here yet.

Absurd! said Chester, angrily, and as he spoke he saw that two of the gentlemen present moved to the door by which he had entered. I insist upon going at once.

You cannot, sir.

Stand aside, sir, and let me pass! cried Chester, sternly, as his opponent moved between him and the door.

Jem, for pitys sake whispered the lady. Doctor, I beg, I pray you to stay.

It is impossible, madam, now. Let me pass, sir. There was a fierce motion made towards the patient, but Chester did not heed it. He saw that the other occupants of the room were closing him in, in answer to a gesture made by the gentleman in front.

The spirit within him was roused now, and in his resentment he stepped fiercely forward with extended hand, when his opponent thrust his hand into his breast with a menacing gesture.

Quick as thought, Chester stepped back and caught up the revolver he had seen lying upon the table.

There was a faint cry, and two white hands were laid upon his breast.

Stand aside, Marion! and there was a click from the lock of another pistol.

Doctor! for his sake! pray!

Chester turned from her sharply, as if to avoid her eyes. Then flashed his own upon the man who barred his way.

Is this the rehearsal of some drama, sir? he said scoffingly. I refuse all part in it. Now have the goodness to let me pass, for pass I will.

He threw the pistol he held upon the carpet, and once more advanced toward the door, braving the weapon pointed at his head.

Bah! he cried; do you think to frighten me with that theatrical nonsense?

Keep back, sir, or I fire.

At that moment a white hand pressed the electric button by the side of the heavy mantelpiece, the room was suddenly darkened, and a sharp crack and rattling sound announced the locking of the door and withdrawing of the key.

Then there has been foul play, muttered Chester.

Into what trap have I fallen here?

Chapter Three.
Two Hundred Guineas

Chester took a couple of steps to his right, for there was a faint sound in the pitchy darkness which he interpreted to mean the advance of an enemy. Then in the perturbation of spirit and nervousness of the moment, he moved a step or two cautiously in what he believed to be the direction of the other door, and stopped short, half-dazed by the feeling of confusion which comes upon one in a dense fog.

Who did that? said the voice he recognised. You, Marion, of course. Here, you go to your room.

There was no reply.

Do you hear me? It is no time for fooling now.

Yes, I hear you, but I will not leave his side. You cowards! do you want to kill me too?

Hold your tongue. Di Paddy all of you, get hold of the mad fool before worse comes of it.

There was a faint cry, a panting and scuffling, the word Help! blurred and stifled as if a hand had been suddenly clapped over the speakers lips, and Chester mentally saw his beautiful companion of the brougham struggling violently as she was being half carried from the room.

Stirred by excitement to the deepest depths, Chester rushed to her help, and was brought up sharp by the dining table, while the scuffling continued upon the other side.

He felt his way along the edge, to pass round it in the darkness, but the noise he made betrayed his whereabouts, and his next step took him into the grasp of a pair of strong hands, which held him firmly, and before he could free himself, there was the sound of a door opening, a faint light showed for a moment, and before it was shut off he dimly saw the actors in the struggle; then the door was closed, and the voice of him addressed as Jem said sharply

Light up, Paddy.

A glass was knocked from the table; someone stumbled against a chair; an angry oath followed; and then came the rattle of massive fire-irons.

Are you drunk, man? came in the same voice.

Drunk? no! but Im not an owl, was growled. Ah! thats it.

The cluster of incandescent lights glowed golden, and then brightened, showing the doctor that the dining table was between him and the couch where his patient lay, white and motionless; the tall, decisive man standing where he had last seen him, close to the door; a heavy-featured young fellow with a family likeness close by the mantelpiece; another, the one who had held him, close by.

Well, doctor, said the chief spokesman, cynically, the storm has passed over. All unexpected only a few hours ago, and we were seated happily after our coffee and cigarettes, when that idiot began to play the fool with his revolver, and shot himself. Troubles never come alone. Now, my dear sir, let me apologise for what has happened since we all lost our tempers and behaved so foolishly.

Chester looked at him sternly and remained silent.

You will excuse my hastiness. I was excited in my anxiety about the poor fool there, and you see now how imperative it is that you should not leave him till he is safe.

Will you be good enough to unlock that door, sir, and let me pass through? said Chester, coldly.

To be perfectly plain, doctor no, I will not. Let us understand one another at once. You will have to stay and make the best of it.

I shall not stay, sir, and as soon as I leave here I shall take what steps seem, after due thought, to be correct over what has been an outrage toward me; and without doubt a murderous attack upon that unfortunate man.

Murderous attack? Absurd, doctor! An accident.

Do you take me for a child, sir? He could not have shot himself. Now, if you please, unlock that door.

When I unlock it, doctor, it will be to go out and lock you in, said the other, grimly. There, sir, it is of no use to struggle, so make the best of it. You are in for a week, but well make it as comfortable for you as we can. Like to send home a telegram?

Will you have the goodness to understand me, sir! said Chester, firmly.

I do, my dear doctor, but you will not understand me. A week with your patient will not hurt you, and a fee of a couple of hundred guineas shall be paid now, if you like. There, I will be plain with you, as a man of the world. It was a family quarrel, and two hot-headed fools drew their revolvers Yankee fashion. Here, Paddy, see that we have some coffee and liqueurs. Cigar or cigarette, doctor? Sit down, and lets chat it over like sensible men.

I do not wish to come to a struggle and blows again, sir, said Chester, firmly. Please understand that you are wasting words. I mean to leave this house at once.

We often mean to do things that are impossible, doctor. You cannot. So act sensibly. Take some refreshment, and attend to your patient. Will you have the goodness to look round this room?

Chester made no reply.

You will not smoke? I will. My nerves want soothing.

The speaker lit a large cigar, and left the gold-mounted case open upon the table.

Better take one, he said as he exhaled the fragrant fumes; they are rather fine. Now, doctor; that door communicates with the back the hall, and it is locked; that other one with a lobby from which the upper and lower parts of the house are reached; and it, too, is locked. You naturally intend to communicate with the outside. Well, you cannot. This dining-room has no windows, and is lit up night and day. You are a prisoner, my dear sir, and you will not communicate with the servants, for you will see none. These gentlemen will help me as your gaolers; an eminently respectable old housekeeper lady-like I may say, eh, Paddy?

The young man addressed nodded and grinned.

A lady-like body will see that all your animal wants are provided for; a chair-bed will be brought in; and to make your stay more pleasant two or three of us will take you to the billiard-room overhead and have a game with you by the way, that place has only skylights. Where we stand used to be a sooty cat-walk of a garden till we built these rooms over. A great improvement to the house.

Who are you? What house is this? said Chester, sharply.

Your host, sir; and the house is ours at your service. Better have a cigar. Needs must when the devil drives. That is your position now I playing the devil.

A low moan from the wounded man changed the current of the doctors thoughts; and with the others watching him curiously, he went straight to his patients side to place a cushion behind him and relieve the pressure upon his wound, after which the patient seemed to sink once more into a state of repose.

As Chester left him he received an approving nod.

We fellows would not have thought of that. Ah, heres the coffee. Come, doctor, accept your position. It is folly to beat against the bars of a prison when they are too strong.

For at that moment the heavy-faced young man, who seemed to be a thorough athlete, came back into the room from the other end, bearing a silver tray with handsome fittings; and Chester started slightly, for he had not seen him go, and he realised now that he must have been occupied for some little time with his patient.

Just then he saw that the leader of the little party whispered something which he interpreted to mean, Let him alone; hell come to his senses; and he began to think out his position.

Everything seemed in accordance with what had been told him: he was alone, one man against four gentlemen, evidently, but plainly enough strongly-built, athletic fellows, who looked to be lovers of out-door sports, and each of them in a struggle more than his match.

His rage had cooled down somewhat, and his common-sense began to prevail. It was hard to master his resentment, and he could not make out what was at the back of it all, more than what was evidently plain a terrible family quarrel, the participators in which were anxious to keep out of the papers, and possibly from the police courts. He did not know who they were, nor, as he realised now, in what street he was; but that, he felt, he could soon make out. It was awkward. They would be anxious in Raybeck Square, but he would send a message and set them at rest.

I wonder whether they kept Bel all night, he said to himself; and at this thought others came, and among them a strange feeling of annoyance with himself as he recalled his feelings, during the little journey, towards his summoner.

Then he hurriedly cast these thoughts aside, and began once more to ponder on his position, walking slowly to and fro, close to the couch, while the little party, who had lit up cigars, now began to sip their coffee.

The next minute the heavy-faced young fellow known as Paddy approached him with a cup and the cigar-case.

I put a liqueur of brandy in it, doctor, he said in a low voice. I say, do you think the poor chap will get over it?

I hope so, replied Chester, shortly.

Thank God! said the young man, warmly. I say, doctor, dont cut up rough. Youre in a hole, but Ill see youre all right. Youll take a cigar?

He said the last words so reproachfully that Chester could hardly forbear to smile; and he took a cigar, lit it, and then, feeling utterly exhausted, tossed off the coffee and brandy, after which he resumed his walk up and down by the couch.

Needs must when the devil drives, he said to himself. Its of no use to fight. I must pull this poor fellow through, but Ill make them pay for it. Seems like a dream. I suppose I am awake.

The coffee and cigar were having their effect, and at the end of an hour, during which the party at the end of the table had been conversing in a low voice, a moan or two from the sufferer finished the tendency towards submission, and Chester busied himself for some time about the couch. Then, rising once more, Pen and ink, he said shortly, and the heavy-featured young fellow fetched him a blotting-case and inkstand.

A telegraph form, too.

Plenty there, doctor.

Chester wrote quickly for a few minutes, and then handed a couple of papers to the young fellow, who had stopped close at hand.

I want this prescription made up at the chemists, and the telegram sent respecting a substitute to see my patients.

All right, doctor, and the recipient took both to the end of the table, and gave them to the man who seemed to be his brother.

The latter took the papers and rose to cross to Chester.

Thank you, doctor, he said quietly. You will do your best, I see. Please bear in mind that money is no object to us here. Our cousins life is.

He went out of the room directly, returned soon after, and brought with him a quiet, sedate-looking old lady in black silk and white apron.

She was very pale, and her eyes looked wild and strange, as she went straight to the couch, leaned over and kissed the patients forehead, and then set to work and cleared the disordered table, almost without a sound, two of the young men joining her and helping to carry the dessert things out by the farther door.

Chesters face must have told tales, for he started round in surprise to find that he had been carefully watched by the leader of the little plot to detain him.

You could not get out that way, doctor, he said quietly. We are a very united family here, and the housekeeper is devoted to us.

Chester frowned with annoyance.

I understand you, he said; but mind this: every dog has his day, sir, and mine will come, unless revolvers are brought into play and an awkward witness silenced.

My dear doctor, you are romantic, was the sarcastic reply. Dont be alarmed; we shall not shoot and bury you on the premises, for sanitary reasons. It might affect the nerves of our ladies, too. There, all we want of you is your skill to set that poor fellow right, and then you can return home, better paid than seeing ordinary patients. How does he seem?

An angry retort was at Chesters lips, but he did not utter it. He accepted his position, for the time being, and replied quietly

Going on well, but he will be the better for a sedative. Feverish, of course. Have you sent that prescription?

Yes, it has been taken, and the chemist will be rung up to dispense it. I say, doctor; no fear of a bad ending?

And no thanks to the man who fired at him from behind, said Chester, looking straight at his questioner as he spoke. Fortunately the bullet passed diagonally by his ribs, an inch to the right

Yes, yes, the old story, doctor; but I did not fire the shot.

Pray dont excuse yourself, sir, said Chester, coldly. I am not a magistrate; only a medical man with the customary knowledge of surgery.

And a little more, too, was the reply, with a smile. There, doctor, we will not quarrel this morning, and you will not introduce the matter to the police. It will pay you better to be silent; but if you preferred to talk about it Im afraid you would not be believed.

The speaker smiled cynically as he saw the effect of his words, and walked away, leaving Chester thinking deeply, and, in spite of his anger and annoyance, beginning more and more to feel that he had better accept his position.

It is a strange experience, he said to himself, as he sank back in an easy-chair by the couch; but a fee of two hundred guineas! Bel shall have it in the shape of a present. She will not fidget when she has had my wire.

Chapter Four.
The Strange Attraction Proves Too Strong

There, I promise I will be quiet and say nothing, if you let me stay. If you do not, Ill give the alarm in spite of you all.

Pat! Hes waking up.

With the tones of the sweet, rich voice thrilling his nerves, Fred Chester opened his eyes as he sat back in his chair, and gazed up at the cluster of soft lights glowing by the ceiling; but they did not take his attention. He was dwelling wonderingly upon the words he had heard as if in a dream.

His head was heavy and confused, and it was some moments before he could grasp his position. Whos waking up? he thought. Then his eyes fell, and he looked sharply down, and the blood rushed surging to his temples as he saw his beautiful visitor of the night before, then all came back in a moment.

She was kneeling beside the wounded mans couch, holding his hand, and she gazed at Chester with an appealing, wistful look in her eyes which again sent a thrill through him, and a feeling of misery and despair such as he had never before felt made his heart sink. He shivered slightly as he turned away, to glance round the room and note that four of those whom he had previously seen were still present.

Youve had a good nap, doctor, said a familiar voice.

Have have I been asleep? said Chester, involuntarily.

Beautifully. What a delightfully clear conscience you must have, doctor! said the speaker, banteringly, that is, if you did not take a chloral pill on the sly. Six hours right off.

Impossible! cried Chester, angrily.

Then my watch is a most awful liar, and the clock on the chimney-piece there has joined in the conspiracy.

Chester hurriedly took out his watch, to find that the hands stood at two, as he bent down over his patient, who was sleeping calmly.

We gave him a dose of the drops as soon as the bottle came, doctor, for we did not like to wake you after your hard night. He has slept like a lamb ever since.

Chester took no notice of the words, as he busied himself about his patient, the lady drawing back and going to a chair, waiting impatiently till he ceased.

How is he? she said then excitedly.

He could not be doing better, madam, said Chester, trying to speak coldly, and avoiding for a moment the eyes which seemed to plunge searchingly into his; and at his words he saw that they suddenly grew dim, and that she clapped her hands to her lips to keep back a piteous sob or two.

Hush, hush, my dearest, whispered the old housekeeper in a motherly way, and Chester saw that a strong effort was made, and the face from which he could not tear his eyes grew calm.

Well, doctor, if ever I am in a bad fix, I shall know where to apply.

Chester turned sharply to the speaker, and read from the cynical smile that he had seen the impression made upon him by the agitated face which possessed so strange a fascination.

You prove yourself quite worthy of your reputation, which has often reached us.

Any surgeon could have done what I have, sir, replied Chester, shortly, and then mastering himself, he continued, as he thought of home and all he had at stake, I presume that now you are at rest about your cousins state, this sorry farce is at an end.

Very nearly a tragedy, my dear sir, said the other, lightly.

You mistake me, sir. I mean this enforced detention.

Oh, tut, tut, doctor! I thought we had settled this. Surely after your telegram, taken to the chief office, madam, your wife, will not be uneasy.

As he spoke he gave the lady by the couch a mocking look, and Chester saw her turn angrily away.

It was on the doctors lips to say sharply, I am not married, sir, and he felt startled as he checked himself.

Why should he have been so eager to say that? he thought, and a peculiar feeling of resentment grew within, as a strange conscience-pricking began to startle him. Of what folly had he been guilty in thought?

Come, doctor, we have been waiting till you woke before having some breakfast.

The speaker rose and touched the electric bell-push, then led the way toward a small table at the far end of the room, the others waiting for the doctor to follow; but he stood irresolute.

You will join us at breakfast, doctor? said a low, sweet voice at his side, making him start slightly, and then follow to the table, to take the place pointed out by his companion on her right, as she took the head of the table.

: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19