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   Chapter 13 A FRIEND IN NEED.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 22120

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was natural that Lambert should talk of having Silver arrested, as in the first flush of indignation at his audacious attempt to levy blackmail, this appeared the most reasonable thing to do. But when Agnes went back to The Manor, and the sick man was left alone to struggle through a long and weary night, the reaction suggested a more cautious dealing with the matter. Silver was a venomous little reptile, and if brought before a magistrate would probably produce the letter which he offered for sale at so ridiculous a price. If this was made public, Agnes would find herself in an extremely unpleasant position. Certainly the letter was forged, but that would not be easy to prove. And even if it were proved and Agnes cleared her character, the necessary scandal connected with the publicity of such a defence would be both distressing and painful. In wishing to silence Silver, and yet avoid the interference of the police, Lambert found himself on the horns of a dilemma.

Having readjusted the situation in his own mind, Lambert next day wrote a lengthy letter to Agnes, setting forth his objections to drastic measures. He informed her-not quite truthfully-that he hoped to be on his feet in twenty-four hours, and then would personally attend to the matter, although he could not say as yet what he intended to do. But five out of the seven days of grace allowed by the blackmailer yet remained, and much could be done in that time. "Return to town and attend to your own and to your brother's affairs as usual," concluded the letter. "All matters connected with Silver can be left in my hands, and should he attempt to see you in the meantime, refer him to me." The epistle ended with the intimation that Agnes was not to worry, as the writer would take the whole burden on his own shoulders. The widow felt more cheerful after this communication, and went back to her town house to act as her lover suggested. She had every belief in Lambert's capability to deal with the matter.

The young man was more doubtful, for he could not see how he was to begin unravelling this tangled skein. The interview with Chaldea had proved futile, as she was plainly on the side of the enemy, and to apply to Silver for information as to his intentions would merely result in a repetition of what he had said to Lady Agnes. It only remained to lay the whole matter before Inspector Darby, and Lambert was half inclined to go to Wanbury for this purpose. He did not, however, undertake the journey, for two reasons. Firstly, he wished to avoid asking for official assistance until absolutely forced to do so; and secondly, he was too ill to leave the cottage. The worry he felt regarding Agnes's perilous position told on an already weakened frame, and the invalid grew worse instead of better.

Finally, Lambert decided to risk a journey to the camp, which was not so very far distant, and interview Mother Cockleshell. The old lady had no great love for Chaldea, who flouted her authority, and would not, therefore, be very kindly disposed towards the girl. The young man believed, in some vague way, that Chaldea had originated the conspiracy which had to do with the letter, and was carrying her underhand plans to a conclusion with the aid of Silver. Mother Cockleshell, who was very shrewd, might have learned or guessed the girl's rascality, and would assuredly thwart her aims if possible. Also the gypsy-queen would probably know a great deal about Pine in his character of Ishmael Hearne, since she had been acquainted with him intimately during the early part of his life. But, whatever she knew, or whatever she did not know, Lambert considered that it would be wise to enlist her on his side, as the mere fact that Chaldea was one of the opposite party would make her fight like a wild cat. And as the whole affair had to do with the gypsies, and as Gentilla Stanley was a gypsy, it was just as well to apply for her assistance. Nevertheless, Lambert was quite in the dark, as to what assistance could be rendered.

In this way the young man made his plans, only to be thwarted by the weakness of his body. He could crawl out of bed and sit before the fire, but in spite of all his will-power, he could not crawl as far as the camp. Baffled in this way, he decided to send a note asking Mother Cockleshell to call on him, although he knew that if Chaldea learned about the visit-which she was almost certain to do-she would be placed on her guard. But this had to be risked, and Lambert, moreover, believed that the old woman was quite equal to dealing with the girl. However, Fate took the matter out of his hands, and before he could even write the invitation, a visitor arrived in the person of Miss Greeby, who suggested a way out of the difficulty, by offering her services. Matters came to a head within half an hour of her presenting herself in the sitting-room.

Miss Greeby was quite her old breezy, masculine self, and her presence in the cottage was like a breath of moorland air blowing through the languid atmosphere of a hot-house. She was arrayed characteristically in a short-skirted, tailor-made gown of a brown hue and bound with brown leather, and wore in addition a man's cap, dog-skin gloves, and heavy laced-up boots fit to tramp miry country roads. With her fresh complexion and red hair, and a large frame instinct with vitality, she looked aggressively healthy, and Lambert with his failing life felt quite a weakling beside this magnificent goddess.

"Hallo, old fellow," cried Miss Greeby in her best man-to-man style, "feeling chippy? Why, you do look a wreck, I must say. What's up?"

"The fever's up and I'm down," replied Lambert, who was glad to see her, if only to distract his painful thoughts. "It's only a touch of malaria, my dear Clara. I shall be all right in a few days."

"You're hopeful, I must say, Lambert. What about a doctor?"

"I don't need one. Mrs. Tribb is nursing me."

"Coddling you," muttered Miss Greeby, planting herself manfully in an opposite chair and crossing her legs in a gentlemanly manner. "Fresh air and exercise, beefsteaks and tankards of beer are what you need. Defy Nature and you get the better of her. Kill or cure is my motto."

"As I have strong reasons to remain alive, I shan't adopt your prescription, Dr. Greeby," said Lambert, dryly. "What are you doing in these parts? I thought you were shooting in Scotland."

"So I was," admitted the visitor, frankly and laying her bludgeon-she still carried it-across her knee. "But I grew sick of the sport. Knocked over the birds too easy, Lambert, so there was no fun. The birds are getting as silly as the men."

"Well, women knock them over easy enough."

"That's what I mean," said Miss Greeby, vigorously. "It's a rotten world, this, unless one can get away into the wilds."

"Why don't you go there?"

"Well," Miss Greeby leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, and dandled the bludgeon with both hands. "I thought I'd like a change from the rough and ready. This case of Pine's rather puzzled me, and so I'm on the trail as a detective."

Lambert was rather startled. "That's considerably out of your line, Clara."

Miss Greeby nodded. "Exactly, and so I'm indulging in the novelty. One must do something to entertain one's self, you know, Lambert. It struck me that the gypsies know a lot more about the matter than they chose to say, so I came down yesterday, and put up at the Garvington Arms in the village. Here I'm going to stay until I can get at the root of the matter."

"What root?"

"I wish to learn who murdered Pine, poor devil."

"Ah," Lambert smiled. "You wish to gain the reward."

"Not me. I've got more money than I know what to do with, as it is. Silver is more anxious to get the cash than I am."

"Silver! Have you seen him lately?"

"A couple of days ago," Miss Greeby informed him easily. "He's my secretary now, Lambert. Yes! The poor beast was chucked out of his comfortable billet by the death of Pine, and hearing that I wanted some one to write my letters and run my errands, and act like a tame cat generally, he applied to me. Since I knew him pretty well through Pine, I took him on. He's a cunning little fox, but all right when he's kept in order. And I find him pretty useful, although I've only had him as a secretary for a fortnight."

Lambert did not immediately reply. The news rather amazed him, as it had always been Miss Greeby's boast that she could manage her own business. It was queer that she should have changed her mind in this respect, although she was woman enough to exercise that very feminine prerogative. But the immediate trend of Lambert's thoughts were in the direction of seeking aid from his visitor. He could not act himself because he was sick, and he knew that she was a capable person in dealing with difficulties. Also, simply for the sake of something to do she had become an amateur detective and was hunting for the trail of Pine's assassin. It seemed to Lambert that it would not be a bad idea to tell her of his troubles. She would, as he knew, be only too willing to assist, and in that readiness lay his hesitation. He did not wish, if possible, to lie under any obligation to Miss Greeby lest she should demand in payment that he should become her husband. And yet he believed that by this time she had overcome her desires in this direction. To make sure, he ventured on a few cautious questions.

"We're friends, aren't we, Clara?" he asked, after a long pause.

"Sure," said Miss Greeby, nodding heartily. "Does it need putting into words?"

"I suppose not, but what I mean is that we are pals." He used the word which he knew most appealed to her masculine affectations.

"Sure," said Miss Greeby again, and once more heartily. "Real, honest pals. I never believed in that stuff about the impossibility of a man and woman being pals unless there's love rubbish about the business. At one time, Lambert, I don't deny but what I had a feeling of that sort for you."

"And now?" questioned the young man with an uneasy smile.

"Now it's gone, or rather my love has become affection, and that's quite a different thing, old fellow. I want to see you happy, and you aren't now. I daresay you're still crying for the moon. Eh?" she looked at him sharply.

"You asked me that before when you came here," said Lambert, slowly. "And I refused to answer. I can answer now. The moon is quite beyond my reach, so I have dried my tears."

Miss Greeby, who was lighting a cigarette, threw away the match and stared hard at his haggard face. "Well, I didn't expect to hear that, now we know how the moon-"

"Call things by their right name," interrupted Lambert, sharply. "Agnes is now a widow, if that's what you mean."

"It is, if you call Agnes a thing. Of course, you'll marry her since the barrier has been removed?"

"Meaning Pine? No! I'm not certain on that point. She is a rich widow and I'm a poor artist. In honor bound I can't allow her to lose her money by becoming my wi

fe."

Miss Greeby stared at the fire. "I heard about that beastly will," she said, frowning. "Horribly unfair, I call it. Still, I believed that you loved the moon-well, then, Agnes, since you wish us to be plain-and would carry her off if you had the pluck."

"I have never been accused of not having pluck, Clara. But there's another thing to be considered, and that's honor."

"Oh, bosh!" cried Miss Greeby, with boyish vigor. "You love her and she loves you, so why not marry?"

"I'm not worth paying two million for, Clara."

"You are, if she loves you."

"She does and would marry me to-morrow if I would let her. The hesitation is on my part."

"More fool you. If I were in her position I'd soon overcome your scruples."

"I think not," said Lambert delicately.

"Oh, I think so," she retorted. "A woman always gets her own way."

"And sometimes wrecks continents to get it."

"I'd wreck this one, anyhow," said Miss Greeby dryly. "However, we're pals, and if there's anything I can do-"

"Yes, there is," said Lambert abruptly, and making up his mind to trust her, since she showed plainly that there was no chance of love on her part destroying friendship. "I'm sick here and can't move. Let me engage you to act on my behalf."

"As what, if you don't mind my asking, Lambert?"

"As what you are for the moment, a detective."

"Ho!" said Miss Greeby in a guttural manner. "What's that?"

"I want you to learn on my behalf, and as my deputy, who murdered Pine."

"So that you can marry Agnes?"

"No. The will has stopped my chances in that direction. Her two million forms quite an insurmountable barrier between us now, as the fact of her being Pine's wife did formerly. Now you understand the situation, and that I am prevented by honor from making her my wife, don't let us talk any more on that especial subject."

"Right you are," assented Miss Greeby affably. "Only I'll say this, that you are too scrupulous, and if I can help you to marry Agnes I shall do so."

"Why?" demanded Lambert bluntly.

"Because I'm your pal and wish to see you happy. You won't be happy, like the Pears soap advertisement, until you get it. Agnes is the 'it.'"

"Well, then, leave the matter alone, Clara," said Lambert, taking the privilege of an invalid and becoming peevish. "As things stand, I can see no chance of marrying Agnes without violating my idea of honor."

"Then why do you wish me to help you?" demanded Miss Greeby sharply.

"How do I wish you to help me, you mean."

"Not at all. I know what you wish me to do; act as detective; I know about it, my dear boy."

"You don't," retorted Lambert, again fractious. "But if you listen I'll tell you exactly what I mean."

Miss Greeby made herself comfortable with a fresh cigarette, and nodded in an easy manner, "I'm all attention, old boy. Fire away!"

"You must regard my confidence as sacred."

"There's my hand on it. But I should like to know why you desire to learn who murdered Pine."

"Because if you don't track down the assassin, Agnes will get into trouble."

"Ho!" ejaculated Miss Greeby, guttural again. "Go on."

Lambert wasted no further time in preliminary explanations, but plunged into the middle of things. In a quarter of an hour his auditor was acquainted with the facts of a highly unpleasant case, but exhibited no surprise when she heard what her secretary had to do with the matter. In fact, she rather appeared to admire his acuteness in turning such shady knowledge to his own advantage. At the same time, she considered that Agnes had behaved in a decidedly weak manner. "If I'd been in her shoes I'd have fired the beast out in double-quick time," said Miss Greeby grimly. "And I'd have belted him over the head in addition."

"Then he would have gone straight to the police."

"Oh, no he wouldn't. One thousand reward against twenty-five thousand blackmail isn't good enough."

"He won't get his blackmail," said Lambert, tightening his lips.

"You bet he won't now that I've come into the matter. But there's no denying he's got the whip-hand so far."

"Agnes never wrote the letter," said Lambert quickly.

"Oh, that goes without the saying, my dear fellow. Agnes knew that if she became a rich widow, your uneasy sense of honor would never let you marry her. She had no reason to get rid of Pine on that score."

"Or on any score, you may add."

Miss Greeby nodded. "Certainly! You and Agnes should have got married and let Garvington get out of his troubles as best he could. That's what I should have done, as I'm not an aristocrat, and can't see the use of becoming the sacrifice for a musty, fusty old family. However, Agnes made her bargain and kept to it. She's all right, although other people may be not of that opinion."

"There isn't a man or woman who dare say a word against Agnes."

"A good many will say lots of words, should what you have told me get into print," rejoined Miss Greeby dryly.

"I agree with you. Therefore do I ask for your assistance. What is best to be done, Clara?"

"We must get the letter from Silver and learn who forged it. Once that is made plain, the truth will come to light, since the individual who forged and sent that letter must have fired the second shot."

"Quite so. But Silver won't give up the letter."

"Oh, yes, he will. He's my secretary, and I'll make him."

"Even as your secretary he won't," said Lambert, dubiously.

"We'll see about that, old boy. I'll heckle and harry and worry Silver on to the gallows if he doesn't do what he's told."

"The gallows. You don't think-"

"Oh, I think nothing. It was to Silver's interest that Pine should live, so I don't fancy he set the trap. It was to Chaldea's interest that Pine should not live, since she loves you, and I don't think she is to blame. Garvington couldn't have done it, as he has lost a good friend in Pine, and-and-go on Lambert, suggest some one else."

"I can't. And two out of three you mention were inside The Manor when the second shot was fired, so can prove an alibi."

"I'm not bothering about who fired the second shot," said Miss Greeby leisurely, "but as to who wrote that letter. Once we find the forger, we'll soon discover the assassin."

"True; but how are you going about it?"

"I shall see Silver and force him to give me the letter."

"If you can."

"Oh, I'll manage somehow. The little beast's a coward, and I'll bully him into compliance." Miss Greeby spoke very confidently. "Then we'll see the kind of paper the letter is written on, and there may be an envelope which would show where it was posted. Of course, the forger must be well acquainted with Agnes's handwriting."

"That's obvious," said Lambert promptly. "Well, I suppose that your way of starting the matter is the best. But we have only four days before Silver makes his move."

"When I get the letter he won't make any move," reported Miss Greeby, and she looked very determined.

"Let us hope so. But, Clara, before you return to town I wish you would see Mother Cockleshell."

"That old gypsy fortune-teller, who looks like an almshouse widow? Why?"

"She hates Chaldea, and I suspect that Chaldea has something to do with the matter of this conspiracy."

"Ha!" Miss Greeby rubbed her aquiline nose. "A conspiracy. Perhaps you may be right. But its reason?"

Lambert colored. "Chaldea wants me to marry her, you know."

"The minx! I know she does. I warned you against having her to sit for you, Lambert. But there's no sense in your suggestion, my boy. It wasn't any catch for her to get Pine killed and leave his wife free to marry you."

"No. And yet-and yet-hang it," the young man clutched his hair in desperation and glared at the fire, "I can't see any motive."

"Nor can I. Unless it is to be found in the City."

"Gypsies are more lawless than City men," observed the other quickly, "and Hearne would have enemies rather than Pine."

"I don't agree with you," said Miss Greeby, rising and getting ready to go away. "Hearne was nobody: Pine was a millionaire. Successful men have enemies all over the shop."

"At the inquest it was said that Pine had no enemies."

"Oh, rubbish. A strong man like that couldn't make such a fortune without exciting envy. I'll bet that his assassin is to be found in a frock coat and a silk hat. However, I'll look up Mother Cockleshell, as it is just as well to know what she thinks of this pretty gypsy hussy of yours."

"Not of mine. I don't care for her in the least."

"As if that mattered. There is always one who loves and one who is loved, as Heine says, and that is the cause of all life's tragedies. Of this tragedy maybe, although I think some envious stockbroker may have shot Pine as a too successful financial rival. However, we shall see about it."

"And see about another thing, Clara," said Lambert quickly. "Call on Agnes and tell her that she need not worry over Silver. She expects the Deluge in a few days, remember."

"Write and tell her that I have the case in hand and that she needn't trouble about Silver. I'll straighten him out."

"I fear you are too hopeful."

"I don't fear anything of the sort. I'll break his neck if he doesn't obey me. I wouldn't hesitate to do it, either."

Lambert ran his eyes over her masculine personality and laughed. "I quite believe that, Clara. But, I say, won't you have some tea before you go?"

"No, thanks. I don't eat between meals."

"Afternoon tea is a meal."

"Nonsense. It's a weakness. I'm not Garvington. By the way, where is he?"

"In Paris, but he returns in a few days."

"Then don't let him meddle with this matter, or he'll put things wrong."

"I shall allow no one but yourself to meddle, Clara, Garvington shan't know a single thing."

Miss Greeby nodded. "Right. All we wish kept quiet would be in the papers if Garvington gets hold of our secrets. He's a loose-tongued little glutton. Well, good-bye, old chap, and do look after yourself. Good people are scarce."

Lambert gripped her large hand. "I'm awfully obliged to you, Clara."

"Wait until I do something before you say that, old son," she laughed and strode towards the door. "By the way, oughtn't I to send the doctor in?"

"No. Confound the doctor! I'm all right. You'll see me on my legs in a few days."

"Then we can work together at the case. Keep your flag flying, old chap, for I'm at the helm to steer the bark." And with this nautical farewell she went off with a manly stride, whistling a gay tune.

Left alone, the invalid looked into the fire, and wondered if he had been right to trust her. After some thought, he concluded that it was the best thing he could have done, since, in his present helpless state, he needed some one to act as his deputy. And there was no doubt that Miss Greeby had entirely overcome the passion she had once entertained for him.

"I hope Agnes will think so also," thought Lambert, when he began a letter to the lady. "She was always rather doubtful of Clara."

* * *

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