Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
But Alan never noted this home-thrust. He sat quite still, with a troubled look upon his face; seeing which, Mr. Follingsbee continued:
“This she firmly resolved that she would never do; and then came that masquerade.”
“Ah!” Alan starts as he involuntarily utters the ejaculation, but controls himself instantly, and says: “Go on, please.”
“That night they sent her a note,” continues Mr. Follingsbee. “It came when she was in the midst of her guests; and it was so urgent in its demands that she grew desperate, threw off her festive garments, and went, alone, in the night, to the hovel where these old impostors lived. She went to defy them, and she found herself entrapped.”
“Yes; while she talked, she was seized by two persons who crept upon her from behind. She does not understand their actual object; they seemed trying to secure the jewels which she had forgotten to remove from her ears. Just here she is not very definite; I will read the passage to you.”
He takes up the letter, searches out the lines referred to, and reads:
I can scarcely describe the rest. It is sufficient that a brave man rescued me – at what a fearful cost to himself, I only learned afterward. I escaped from the hovel, and reached my home. You know the rest: how Daisy vanished, and all the sorrow since. And now I tell you that I believe these two have stolen Daisy.
Here he breaks off abruptly. “The rest is a mixture of business affairs and hurried directions how to dispose of her property should she be long absent, or should she never return, etc. At the close she says, that on the night of her adventure at the hovel, and during the affray, a man was killed; and that either herself or her brave rescuer, she is informed, is likely to be arrested for that crime; and in case of the arrest of either, the other will be compelled to testify for or against.”
“And her motive for now quitting her home so suddenly?”
“Of that she says very little; merely that she is leaving, and that she hopes I will continue my confidence in her.”
“Which you do?”
“Which I do.”
For many moments Alan Warburton sat with his head bowed, and his face pale and troubled, saying nothing. Then he roused himself, and turned towards his companion.
“Mr. Follingsbee,” he said, very gravely, “if this story – a part of which you have told me, the rest being contained in that letter – is true; if Leslie Warburton has been a martyr throughout this affair, then I am a most contemptible scoundrel!”
“You!” ejaculated the old gentleman testily; “you a scoundrel! Good heavens, has everybody gone into high dramatics? What have you done?”
“I have accused Leslie of receiving a lover in her own house; of going from her home to meet him; I have heaped upon her insult after insult; I have driven her from her home by my cruel accusations!”
A moment Mr. Follingsbee sat looking as if about to pour forth a volume of wrath, upon the head of his self-accusing visitor; then he said, as if controlling himself by an effort:
“You had better tell the whole story, young man, having begun it.”
And Alan did tell the whole story; honestly, frankly and without sparing himself.
He began at the beginning, telling how, at the first, Leslie’s youth, beauty and vivacity, together with a certain disparity of years between herself and husband, had caused him to doubt her affection for his brother, and to suspect a mercenary marriage; how he had discovered her sending away notes by stealth; how his suspicions had grown and strengthened until, on the night of the masquerade, he had set Van Vernet to watch her movements; and how Vernet had discovered, or claimed to discover, a lover in the person of a certain Goddess of Liberty.
At this point in his narrative, Alan was surprised to note certain unmistakable signs of levity in the face and manner of Mr. Follingsbee; and presently that gentleman broke in:
“Wait; just wait. Let’s clear up that point, once and for all. That ‘Goddess’ was introduced into your house by me, and for a purpose which, to me, seemed good. Until that night he had never seen Leslie Warburton.”
“He! then it was a man?”
“It was; and Van Vernet, as I have since learned, knew him and laid a trap for him. Their feud dates from that night.”
“Ah, then our detective and the ‘Goddess of Liberty’ – ”
“Are the same. Now resume, please.”
Going back to his story, Alan tells how he had followed Leslie; how he had rushed in, in answer to her cry for aid; how he had rescued her, and had himself been rescued in turn by a pretended idiot. He told of his return home; his interview with Leslie after the masquerade, and their last interview; ending with the scene with Vernet and the organ-grinder.
“That fellow is the mischief!” said Mr. Follingsbee, rubbing his palms softly together. “He’s the very mischief!”
“By which I infer that my ‘Organ-grinder,’ my ‘Idiot,’ and the ‘Goddess of Liberty,’ are one and the same?”
“Precisely; I haven’t a doubt of it.”
“And that the three are identical with this ‘gentleman detective,’ who, in making war upon Van Vernet, has espoused my cause, or rather that of my sister-in-law.”
Alan leans back in his chair, and clutches his two hands upon its either arm, fixing his eyes on vacancy. Seeming to forget the presence of his vis-a-vis, he loses himself in a maze of thoughts. Evidently they are not pleasant thoughts, for his face expresses much of perplexity, doubt and disgust, finally settling into a look of stern resolve.
He is silent so long that Mr. Follingsbee grows impatient, and by and by this uneasiness manifests itself in a series of restless movements. At last Alan turns his face toward the lawyer, and then that gentleman bursts out:
“Well, are you going to sit there all night? What shall you do next?”
Alan Warburton rises from his chair and faces his questioner. “First,” he says slowly, “I am going to find Leslie, and bring her back.”
“You look incredulous; very well. Still, I intend, from this moment, to take an active part in this mysterious complication which has woven itself about me.”
“Have you forgotten Vernet?”
“Not at all; yet it is my duty to make active search for Leslie. Be the consequences to myself what they may, I can remain passive no longer.”
“Alan, you are talking nonsense. Do you suppose Vernet will let you slip now? Don’t you realize that if you are to be found twenty-four hours from this moment, you will be under arrest.”
“Nevertheless – ”
“Nevertheless, you will persist in being a fool! Sit down there, young man, and tell me, haven’t you been playing that role long enough?”
A hot flush rises to Alan’s brow, and an angry light leaps for a moment to his eyes; but he resumes his seat in silence, and turns an expectant gaze upon Mr. Follingsbee.
“Now, Warburton,” resumes the little lawyer in a more kindly tone, “listen to reason. I had a long talk with our unknown friend to-day; not so long as I could have wished, but enough to convince me that he knows what he is about, and that if you follow his advice, he will pull you through. Twice he has saved you from the clutches of this Vernet; leave all to him, and he will rescue you again, and finally.”
“He has, then, mapped out my course for me?” queries Alan haughtily.
“He has, if it suits you to put it so. Good heavens! man, it needed somebody to plan for you. You have done nothing but blunder, blunder, blunder. And your stupid mistakes have recoiled upon others. I tell you, sir – ” bringing his fist down upon the table with noisy emphasis – “that unless you accept the advice and assistance of this man, whom you seem to dislike without cause, you are lost, ruined, at least in your own estimation. Confound your Warburton pride! It has brought you into a pretty scrape; and all your Warburton wit won’t extricate you from it. Confound you! I’m sick of you, sir! If it were not for Leslie, and little Daisy, Van Vernet might have you, and the Warburton honor might go to the dogs, for all my interference!”
The mention of little Daisy had its effect upon Alan. As his companion waxed wrathful, his own mind became calmer; for a moment he seemed to see himself through Mr. Follingsbee’s spectacles. And then he said:
“I accept your rebuke, for I may have deserved it; certainly I have sufficient reason to feel humble. My unknown champion took pains to inform me that he did not serve me for my own sake; and now you proffer me the same assurance. I have blundered fearfully, but I fail to see what influence my conduct could have upon poor Daisy’s fate.”
“Oh, you do!” Mr. Follingsbee is not quite mollified. “Then you don’t see that Leslie was sorely in need of a friend in whom she could confide – just such a friend as she might have found in you, had you been, or tried to be, a brother to her, instead of a suspicious, egotistical enemy. She could not take her troubles to Archibald, but she might have trusted you – she would have trusted you, had your conduct been what it should.”
“I had not thought of that.” Alan becomes more humble as his accuser continues to ply the lash. “What you say may be true. Be sure, sir, if we ever find Daisy and Leslie, I shall try to make amends.”
“Umph! Then you had better begin now, by taking good advice when it is offered.”
“What do you advise, then?”
“I? nothing, except at second hand. It is this champion of yours who advises.”
“Then what is his advice?”
“He says that you must quit the country at once.”
“Nothing of the sort. The Clytie sails for Liverpool to-morrow. You and Leslie have taken passage – ”
“Taken passage! Leslie!”
“Just so; everything has been arranged by – ” He pauses, then says: “The ‘Organ-grinder.’”
“I repeat, it is impossible. Do you think I will leave the country while little Daisy’s fate remains – ”
“Oh, stop! stop! stop! Man, are you determined to be an idiot? Will you hold your tongue and listen?”
“I will listen, yes; but – ”
“But – bosh! Listen, then, and don’t interrupt.”
He lowers his voice, not from fear of an eavesdropper but because, having gained this point, his impatience begins to subside. And Alan listens, while for more than an hour the little lawyer talks and gesticulates, smiles and frowns. He listens intently, with growing interest, until at last Mr. Follingsbee leans back in his chair, seeming to relax every muscle in so doing, and says:
“Well, what do you think of it?”
Then Alan Warburton rises and extends his hand impulsively.
“I thank you with all my heart, sir, and I will be guided by you, and by our unknown friend. From this moment, I am at your disposal.”
“Umph!” grunts the lawyer, as he grasps the proffered hand, “I thought your senses would come back.”
A TRIP TO EUROPE
While Alan Warburton, closeted with Mr. Follingsbee, was slowly lowering the crest of the Warburton pride, and reluctantly submitting himself to the mysterious guidance of an unseen hand, – Winnie French, sitting beside her mother, was perusing Leslie’s note.
It was brief and pathetic, beseeching Mrs. French to go at once to Warburton Place; to dwell there as its mistress; to look upon it as her home, and Winnie’s, until such time as Leslie should return, or Mr. Follingsbee should indicate to her a change of plan. Would Mrs. French forgive this appearance of mystery, and believe and trust in her still? Would she keep her home open for Alan, and a welcome ever ready for the lost Daisy, who must surely return some day? Everything could be arranged with Mr. Follingsbee; and Leslie’s love and gratitude would be always hers.
This note was somewhat incoherent, for it was the last written by Leslie, and her nerves had been taxed, perhaps, in the writing of the longer epistle to Mr. Follingsbee.
Brief and fragmentary as it was, it furnished to Winnie and her mother food for much wonderment, long discussion, and sincere sorrow.
“Oh, Mamma!” cried Winnie, choking back a sob, “some terrible trouble has come upon Leslie; and Alan Warburton is at the bottom of it!”
“I tell you he is!” vehemently. “And only yesterday Leslie would have told me all, but for him.”
“Winnie, compose yourself; try and be calm,” said Mrs. French soothingly.
“I can’t compose myself! I won’t be calm! I want to be so angry when Alan Warburton returns for me, that I can fairly scorch him with my contempt! I want to annihilate him!” And Winnie flung herself upon her mother’s breast, and burst into a fit of hysterical sobbing.
Sorely puzzled, and very anxious, Mrs. French soothed her daughter with gentle, motherly words, and gradually drew from her an account of the events of the past two days, as they were known to Winnie.
“And so, between his interruption and your refusal to listen to him afterward, you are quite in the dark as to this strange misunderstanding between Leslie and Mr. Warburton?” said Mrs. French musingly.
“Misunderstanding! You give it a mild name, Mamma. Would a mere misunderstanding with any one, bring such a look to Leslie’s face as I saw there when I left her alone with him? Would it leave her in a deathly faint at its close? Would it drive her from her home, secretly, like a fugitive? Would it cause Alan Warburton to address such words to me as those he uttered in his study? Because of a simple misunderstanding, would he implore me to judge between them? Mamma, there is more than a misunderstanding at the bottom of all this mystery. Somewhere, there is a monstrous wrong!”
But discuss the mystery as they would, there seemed no satisfactory, no rational explanation. The evening wore on, and the ringing of the door-bell suddenly apprised them of the lateness of the hour.
“It’s Alan!” exclaimed Winnie, starting nervously. “Mamma, we can’t, we won’t, go with him.”
But it was not Alan. It was a servant, bearing a message from Mr. Follingsbee. A matter of importance had suddenly called Mr. Warburton away. Mr. Follingsbee would wait upon the ladies in the morning.
It was very unsatisfactory, but it was all. And Winnie and her mother, after exhausting for a second time their stock of conjectures, were constrained to lay their puzzled heads upon their pillows, and to await in restlessness and sleepless anxiety the coming of morning and Mr. Follingsbee.
It comes at last, the morning, as morning in this world or another surely will come to all weary, restless watchers. And just as it is approaching that point of time when we cease to say “this morning,” and supply its place with “to-day,” Mr. Follingsbee comes also.
He comes looking demure, unhurried, without anxiety; just as he always does look whenever he has occasion to withhold more than he chooses to tell.
“I hope you have not been anxious, ladies,” he says, serenely, as he deposits his hat upon a table and extends a hand to each in turn.
But Winnie’s impatience can no longer be held in check. “Oh, Mr. Follingsbee!” she cries, seizing his hand in both her own, “where is Leslie?”
Mr. Follingsbee smiles reassuringly, places a chair for Mrs. French with old-time gallantry, leads Winnie to a sofa, and seating himself beside her, says his say.
To begin with, the ladies must not expect a revelation; not yet. It will come, of course; but Mrs. Warburton, for reasons that seemed to her good, and that he therefore accepted, desired to keep her movements, for a time, a secret. There had been a slight misunderstanding between Mrs. Warburton and her brother-in-law; but, fortunately, that was now, in a measure at least, adjusted. It was, in part, this misunderstanding, and in part, some facts which Mrs. Warburton thought she had discovered concerning the unaccountable absence of Daisy Warburton, that had caused her to adopt her present seemingly strange course. It was owing to these same causes that Mr. Warburton had suddenly determined to absent himself from the city – in fact from the country. Mr. Warburton had taken passage in the Steamer Clytie, for Europe. This movement might seem abrupt, even out of place at this particular time, but it was not an unwarrantable action; indeed, it was a thing of necessity.
Mr. Follingsbee said much more than this, and ended his discourse thus:
“And now, ladies, I solicit, on behalf of my clients, your friendship, your aid, and your confidence. While I am not at liberty to explain matters fully, I promise you that you will not regret having given your confidence blindly. I, who know whereof I speak, assure you of this. Alan Warburton, while at this moment he is an innocent man, is menaced by serious danger. Leslie has gone on a Quixotic mission. The trouble will soon end, I trust, and we shall all rejoice together. In the meantime – ” He paused abruptly and turned an enquiring gaze upon Mrs. French.
“In the meantime, sir,” said that lady, with quiet decision, “you desire our passive co?peration. You have it.”
“Oh, Mamma!” cried Winnie exultantly, “I was sure you would say that. I was sure you would not desert poor Leslie!”
“It will be an equal favor to Mr. Warburton,” interposed the lawyer, with the shadow of a twinkle in his grey eye.
To which Winnie responded only by her heightened color, and a half perceptible shrug.
And so Mrs. French and Winnie were escorted by Mr. Follingsbee to the bereaved and deserted mansion: were fully instructed in the small part they were to play; and were left there in possession, – knowing only that Leslie and Alan were both in danger, and menaced by enemies, that their absence was necessary to their safety, and might also result in the restoration of little Daisy.
In the face of this mystery their faith remained unshaken. They accepted Mr. Follingsbee’s assurances, and also the part allotted to them, the part which so commonly falls to women, of inactive waiting.
Meantime, Van Vernet, in a state of exceeding self-content, was perfecting his latest plan.
He had failed in overtaking and identifying the troublesome Organ-grinder, who, he was more than ever convinced, was a spy, though in what interest, or in whose behalf, he could not even guess. But he had failed in nothing else. His ruse had been most successful. He had been admitted to the sanctum of Alan Warburton; had seen his face, heard his voice, noted his movements. And his last doubt was removed; rather, the last shade of uncertainty, for he could scarcely be said to have been in doubt at any time.
Alan Warburton, and not Archibald, had been his patron on the night of the masquerade. It was Alan Warburton who, in the guise of a Sailor, had killed Josef Siebel on that selfsame night. There was much that was still a mystery, but that could now be sifted out.
Why had Alan Warburton secured his services to shadow his sister-in-law? He could not answer this question; but it was now plain to him that he had been summarily dismissed from the case, on the following morning, because Alan Warburton, having recognized him in the hovel, had feared to meet him again.
Why had he sought the Francoise abode on that especial night? And why had he killed Josef Siebel? These were problems to the solution of which he could now turn his attention – after he had secured his prisoner.
He had consumed some time in his hot chase after the Organ-grinder, and then he had hastened to set a fresh guard upon the Warburton house. And this guard had just reported.
No one had left, no one had arrived, until this morning, when two ladies, escorted by an elderly gentleman, had driven to the door. The ladies had remained; the gentleman had departed almost immediately.
Vernet was more than satisfied. He sent a messenger to summon to his aid his favorite assistants, made some other necessary preparations, and sat down to scan the morning paper while he waited.
His quick eye noted everything of a personal nature, births, deaths, marriages, arrivals, departures, social items. Suddenly he flung the paper from him and bounded to his feet, uttering a passionate imprecation.
Then he snatched up the paper, and, as if for once he doubted his own eyes, reperused the startling paragraph. Yes, it was there; it was no optical illusion.
Alan Warburton, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Archibald Warburton had taken passage for Liverpool, on board the Clytie. And the Clytie was to sail that morning!
In one moment, Vernet was in the street. In five, he was driving furiously through the city. In half an hour, he had reached his destination.
Too late! The Clytie had cleared the harbor, and was already a mere speck in the distance.
“So,” he muttered, turning sullenly away, “he thinks he has outwitted me. God bless the Atlantic cable! When my aristocratic friend arrives in Liverpool, he shall receive an ovation – from Scotland Yards!”
While Vernet thus comforted himself, Mr. Follingsbee, seated in a cosy upper room of his own dwelling, addressed himself to a gentleman very closely resembling Mr. Alan Warburton.
“So here we are,” he said, with a chuckle. “The Clytie has sailed before now; you are on your way to Europe. Mr. Vernet will head you off, of course. In the meantime, we gain all that we wanted, time.”
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