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   Chapter 15 GUESSWORK.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 22515

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Whether Miss Greeby found a difficulty, as was probable, in getting Silver to hand over the forged letter, or whether she had decided to leave the solution of this mystery to Mother Cockleshell, it is impossible to say. But she certainly did not put in an appearance at Lady Agnes Pine's town house to report progress until after the new year. Nor in the meantime did she visit Lambert, although she wrote to say that she induced the secretary to delay his threatened exposure. The position of things was therefore highly unsatisfactory, since the consequent suspense was painful both to Agnes and her lover. And of course the widow had been duly informed of the interview at the cottage, and naturally expected events to move more rapidly.

However, taking the wise advice of Isaiah to "Make no haste in time of trouble," Agnes possessed her soul in patience, and did not seek out Miss Greeby in any way, either by visiting or by letter. She attended at her lawyers' offices to supervise her late husband's affairs, and had frequent consultations with Garvington's solicitors in connection with the freeing of the Lambert estates. Everything was going on very satisfactorily, even to the improvement of Lambert's health, so Agnes was not at all so ill at ease in her mind as might have been expected. Certainly the sword of Damocles still dangled over her head, and over the head of Lambert, but a consciousness that they were both innocent, assured her inwardly that it would not fall. Nevertheless the beginning of the new year found her in anything but a placid frame of mind. She was greatly relieved when Miss Greeby at last condescended to pay her a visit.

Luckily Agnes was alone when the lady arrived, as Garvington and his wife were both out enjoying themselves in their several ways. The pair had been staying with the wealthy widow for Christmas, and had not yet taken their departure, since Garvington always tried to live at somebody's expense if possible. He had naturally shut up The Manor during the festive season, as the villagers expected coals and blankets and port wine and plum-puddings, which he had neither the money nor the inclination to supply. In fact, the greedy little man considered that they should ask for nothing and pay larger rents than they did. By deserting them when peace on earth and goodwill to men prevailed, or ought to have prevailed, he disappointed them greatly and chuckled over their lamentations. Garvington was very human in some ways.

However, both the corpulent little lord and his untidy wife were out of the way when Miss Greeby was announced, and Agnes was thankful that such was the case, since the interview was bound to be an important one. Miss Greeby, as usual, looked large and aggressively healthy, bouncing into the room like an india-rubber ball. Her town dress differed very little from the garb she wore in the country, save that she had a feather-trimmed hat instead of a man's cap, and carried an umbrella in place of a bludgeon. A smile, which showed all her strong white teeth in a somewhat carnivorous way, overspread her face as she shook hands vigorously with her hostess. And Miss Greeby's grip was so friendly as to be positively painful.

"Here you are, Agnes, and here am I. Beastly day, ain't it? Rain and rain and rain again. Seems as though we'd gone back to Father Noah's times, don't it?"

"I expected you before, Clara," remarked Lady Agnes rather hurriedly, and too full of anxiety to discuss the weather.

"Well, I intended to come before," confessed Miss Greeby candidly. "Only, one thing and another prevented me!" Agnes noticed that she did not specify the hindrances. "It was the deuce's own job to get that letter. Oh, by the way, I suppose Lambert told you about the letter?"

"Mr. Silver told me about it, and I told Noel," responded Agnes gravely. "I also heard about your interview with-"

"Oh, that's ages ago, long before Christmas. I should have gone and seen him, to tell about my experiences at the gypsy camp, but I thought that I would learn more before making my report as a detective. By the way, how is Lambert, do you know?"

"He is all right now, and is in town."

"At his old rooms, I suppose. For how long? I want to see him."

"For an indefinite period. Garvington has turned him out of the cottage."

"The deuce! What's that for?"

"Well," said Agnes, explaining reluctantly, "you see Noel paid no rent, as Garvington is his cousin, and when an offer came along offering a pound a week for the place, Garvington said that he was too poor to refuse it. So Noel has taken a small house in Kensington, and Mrs. Tribb has been installed as his housekeeper. I wonder you didn't know these things."

"Why should I?" asked Miss Greeby, rather aggressively.

"Because it is Mr. Silver who has taken the cottage."

Miss Greeby sat up alertly. "Silver. Oh, indeed. Then that explains why he asked me for leave to stay in the country. Said his health required fresh air, and that London got on his nerves. Hum! hum!" Miss Greeby bit the handle of her umbrella. "So he's taken the Abbot's Wood Cottage, has he? I wonder what that's for?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," said Agnes restlessly. "Of course I could have prevented Garvington letting it to him, since he tried to blackmail me, but I thought it was best to see the letter, and to understand his meaning more thoroughly before telling my brother about his impertinence. Noel wanted me to tell, but I decided not to-in the meantime at all events."

"Silver's meaning is not hard to understand," said Miss Greeby, drily and feeling in her pocket. "He wants to get twenty-five thousand pounds for this." She produced a sheet of paper dramatically. "However, I made the little animal give it to me for nothing. Never mind what arguments I used. I got it out of him, and brought it to show you."

Agnes, paling slightly, took the letter and glanced over it with surprise.

"Well," she said, drawing a long breath, "if I had not been certain that I never wrote such a letter, I should believe that I did. My handwriting has certainly been imitated in a wonderfully accurate way."

"Who imitated it?" asked Miss Greeby, who was watching her eagerly.

"I can't say. But doesn't Mr. Silver-"

"Oh, he knows nothing, or says that he knows nothing. All he swears to is that Chaldea found the letter in Pine's tent the day after his murder, and before Inspector Darby had time to search. The envelope had been destroyed, so we don't know if the letter was posted or delivered by hand."

"If I had written such a letter to Noel," said Agnes quietly, "it certainly would have been delivered by hand."

"In which case Pine might have intercepted the messenger," put in Miss Greeby. "It couldn't have been sent by post, or Pine would not have got hold of it, unless he bribed Mrs. Tribb into giving it up."

"Mrs. Tribb is not open to bribery, Clara. And as to the letter, I never wrote it, nor did Noel ever receive it."

"It was written from The Manor, anyhow," said Miss Greeby bluntly. "Look at the crest and the heading. Someone in the house wrote it, if you didn't."

"I'm not so sure of that. The paper might have been stolen."

"Well." Miss Greeby again bit her umbrella handle reflectively. "There's something in that, Agnes. Chaldea told Mrs. Belgrove's fortune in the park, and afterwards she came to the drawing-room to tell it again. I wonder if she stole the paper while she was in the house."

"Even if she did, an uneducated gypsy could not have forged the letter."

"She might have got somebody to do so," suggested Miss Greeby, nodding.

"Then the somebody must be well acquainted with my handwriting," retorted Lady Agnes, and began to study the few lines closely.

She might have written it herself, so much did it resemble her style of writing. The terse communication stated that the writer, who signed herself "Agnes Pine," would meet "her dearest Noel" outside the blue door, shortly after midnight, and hoped that he would have the motor at the park gates to take them to London en route to Paris. "Hubert is sure to get a divorce," ended the letter, "and then we can marry at once and be happy ever more."

It was certainly a silly letter, and Agnes laughed scornfully.

"I don't express myself in that way," she said contemptuously, and still eyeing the writing wonderingly. "And as I respected my husband and respect myself, I should never have thought of eloping with my cousin, especially from Garvington's house, when I had much better and safer chances of eloping in town. Had Noel received this, he would never have believed that I wrote it, as I assuredly did not. And a 'motor at the park gates,'" she read. "Why not at the postern gate, which leads to the blue door? that would have been safer and more reasonable. Pah! I never heard such rubbish," and she folded up the letter to slip it into her pocket.

Miss Greeby looked rather aghast. "Oh, you must give it back to me," she said hurriedly. "I have to look into the case, you know."

"I shall not give it back to you," said Agnes in a determined manner. "It is in my possession and shall remain there. I wish to show it to Noel."

"And what am I to say to Silver?"

"Whatever you like. You can manage him, you know."

"He'll make trouble."

"Now that he has lost this weapon"-Agnes touched her pocket-"he can't."

"Well"-Miss Greeby shrugged her big shoulders and stood up-"just as you please. But it would be best to leave the letter and the case in my hands."

"I think not," rejoined Agnes decisively. "Noel is now quite well again, and I prefer him to take charge of the matter himself."

"Is that all the thanks I get for my trouble?"

"My dear Clara," said the other cordially, "I am ever so much obliged to you for robbing Mr. Silver of this letter. But I don't wish to put you to any more trouble."

"Just as you please," said Miss Greeby again, and rather sullenly. "I wash my hands of the business, and if Silver makes trouble you have only yourself to thank. I advise you also, Agnes, to see Mother Cockleshell and learn what she has to say."

"Does she know anything?"

"She gave me certain mysterious hints that she did. But she appears to have a great opinion of you, my dear, so she may be more open with you than she was with me."

"Where is she to be found?"

"I don't know. Chaldea is queen of the tribe, which is still camped on the outskirts of Abbot's Wood. Mother Cockleshell has gone away on her own. Have you any idea who wrote the letter?"

Agnes took out the forged missive again and studied it. "Not in the least," she said, shaking her head.

"Do you know of any one who can imitate your handwriting?"

"Not that I know-oh," she stopped suddenly and grew as white as the widow's cap she wore. "Oh," she said blankly.

"What is it?" demanded Miss Greeby, on fire with curiosity. "Have you thought of any one?"

Agnes shook her head again and placed the letter in her pocket. "I can think of no one," she said in a low voice.

Miss Greeby did not entirely believe this, as the sudden hesitation and the paleness hinted at some unexpected thought, probably connected with the forge

ry. However, since she had done all she could, it was best, as she judged, to leave things in the widow's hands. "I'm tired of the whole business," said Miss Greeby carelessly. "It wouldn't do for me to be a detective, as I have no staying power, and get sick of things. Still, if you want me, you know where to send for me, and at all events I've drawn Silver's teeth."

"Yes, dear; thank you very much," said Agnes mechanically, so the visitor took her leave, wondering what was rendering her hostess so absent-minded. A very persistent thought told her that Agnes had made a discovery in connection with the letter, but since she would not impart that thought there was no more to be said.

When Miss Greeby left the house and was striding down the street, Agnes for the third time took the letter from her pocket and studied every line of the writing. It was wonderfully like her own, she thought again, and yet wondered both at the contents and at the signature. "I should never have written in this way to Noel," she reflected. "And certainly I should never have signed myself 'Agnes Pine' to so intimate a note. However, we shall see," and with this cryptic thought she placed the letter in her desk.

When Garvington and his wife returned they found Agnes singularly quiet and pale. The little man did not notice this, as he never took any interest in other people's emotions, but his wife asked questions to which she received no answers, and looked at Agnes uneasily, when she saw that she did not eat any dinner to speak of. Lady Garvington was very fond of her kind-hearted sister-in-law, and would have been glad to know what was troubling her. But Agnes kept her worries to herself, and insisted that Jane should go to the pantomime, as she had arranged with some friends instead of remaining at home. But when Garvington moved to leave the drawing-room, after drinking his coffee, his sister detained him.

"I want you to come to the library to write a letter for me, Freddy," she said in a tremulous voice.

"Can't you write it yourself?" said Garvington selfishly, as he was in a hurry to get to his club.

"No, dear. I am so tired," sighed Agnes, passing her hand across her brow.

"Then you should have kept on Silver as your secretary," grumbled Garvington. "However, if it won't take long, I don't mind obliging you." He followed her into the library, and took his seat at the writing table. "Who is the letter to?" he demanded, taking up a pen in a hurry.

"To Mr. Jarwin. I want him to find out where Gentilla Stanley is. It's only a formal letter, so write it and sign it on my behalf."

"Like an infernal secretary," sighed Garvington, taking paper and squaring his elbows. "What do you want with old Mother Cockleshell?"

"Miss Greeby was here to-day and told me that the woman knows something about poor Hubert's death."

Garvington's pen halted for a moment, but he did not look round. "What can she possibly know?" he demanded irritably.

"That's what I shall find out when Mr. Jarwin discovers her," said Agnes, who was in a low chair near the fire. "By the way, Freddy, I am sorry you let the Abbot's Wood Cottage to Mr. Silver."

"Why shouldn't I?" growled Garvington, writing industriously. "Noel didn't pay me a pound a week, and Silver does."

"You might have a more respectable tenant," said Agnes scathingly.

"Who says Silver isn't respectable?" he asked, looking round.

"I do, and I have every reason to say so."

"Oh, nonsense!" Garvington began to write again. "Silver was Pine's secretary, and now he's Miss Greeby's. They wouldn't have engaged him unless he was respectable, although he did start life as a pauper toymaker. I suppose that is what you mean, Agnes. I'm surprised at your narrowness."

"Ah, we have not all your tolerance, Freddy. Have you finished that letter?"

"There you are." Garvington handed it over. "You don't want me to address the envelope?"

"Yes, I do," Agnes ran her eyes over the missive; "and you can add a postscript to this, telling Mr. Jarwin he can take my motor to look for Gentilla Stanley if he chooses."

Garvington did as he was asked reluctantly. "Though I don't see why Jarwin can't supply his own motors," he grumbled, "and ten to one he'll only put an advertisement in the newspapers."

"As if Mother Cockleshell ever saw a newspaper," retorted his sister. "Oh, thank you, Freddy, you are good," she went on when he handed her the letter in a newly addressed envelope; "no, don't go, I want to speak to you about Mr. Silver."

Garvington threw himself with a growl into a chair. "I don't know anything about him except that he's my tenant," he complained.

"Then it is time you did. Perhaps you are not aware that Mr. Silver tried to blackmail me."

"What?" the little man grew purple and exploded. "Oh, nonsense!"

"It's anything but nonsense." Agnes rose and went to her desk to get the forged letter. "He came to me a long time before Christmas and said that Chaldea found this," she flourished the letter before her brother's eyes, "in Hubert's tent when he was masquerading as Hearne."

"A letter? What does it say?" Garvington stretched out his hand.

Agnes drew back and returned to her seat by the fire. "I can tell you the contents," she said coolly, "it is supposed to be written by me to Noel and makes an appointment to meet him at the blue door on the night of Hubert's death in order to elope."

"Agnes, you never wrote such a letter," cried Garvington, jumping up with a furious red face.

His sister did not answer for a moment. She had taken the letter just written to Jarwin by Garvington and was comparing it with that which Miss Greeby had extorted from Silver. "No," she said in a strange voice and becoming white, "I never wrote such a letter; but I should be glad to know why you did."

"I did?" Garvington retreated and his face became as white as that of the woman who confronted him, "what the devil do you mean?"

"I always knew that you were clever at imitating handwriting, Freddy," said Agnes, while the two letters shook in her grasp, "we used to make a joke of it, I remember. But it was no joke when you altered that check Hubert gave you, and none when you imitated his signature to that mortgage about which he told me."

"I never-I never!" stammered the detected little scoundrel, holding on to a chair for support. "I never-"

"Spare me these lies," interrupted his sister scornfully, "Hubert showed the mortgage, when it came into his possession, to me. He admitted that his signature was legal to spare you, and also, for my sake, hushed up the affair of the check. He warned you against playing with fire, Freddy, and now you have done so again, to bring about his death."

"It's a damned lie."

"It's a damned truth," retorted Agnes fiercely. "I got you to write the letter to Mr. Jarwin so that I might compare the signature to the one in the forged letter. Agnes Pine in one and Agnes Pine in the other, both with the same twists and twirls-very, very like my signature and yet with a difference that I alone can detect. The postscript about the motor I asked you to write because the word occurs in the forged letter. Motor and motor-both the same."

"It's a lie," denied Garvington again. "I have not imitated your handwriting in the letter to Jarwin."

"You unconsciously imitated the signature, and you have written the word motor the same in both letters," said Agnes decisively. "I suddenly thought of your talent for writing like other people when Clara Greeby asked me to-day if I could guess who had forged the letter. I laid a trap for you and you have fallen into it. And you"-she took a step forward with fiery glance so that Garvington, retreating, nearly tumbled over a chair-"you laid a trap for Hubert into which he fell."

"I never did-I never did!" babbled Garvington, gray with fear.

"Yes, you did. I swear to it. Now I understand why you threatened to shoot any possible burglar who should come to The Manor. You learned, in some way, I don't know how, that Hubert was with the gypsies, and, knowing his jealous nature, you wrote this letter and let it fall into his hands, so that he might risk being shot as a robber and a thief."

"I-I-I-didn't shoot him," panted the man brokenly.

"It was not for the want of trying. You broke his arm, and probably would have followed him out to inflict a mortal wound if your accomplice in the shrubbery had not been beforehand with you."

"Agnes, I swear that I took Pine for a burglar, and I don't know who shot him. Really, I don't!"

"You liar!" said Agnes with intense scorn. "When you posted your accompl-"

She had no chance to finish the word, for Garvington broke in furiously and made a great effort to assert himself. "I had no accomplice. Who shot Pine I don't know. I never wrote the letter; I never lured him to his death; he was more good to me alive than dead. He never-"

"He was not more good to you alive than dead," interrupted Lady Agnes in her turn. "For Hubert despised you for the way in which you tried to trick him out of money. He thought you little better than a criminal, and only hushed up your wickedness for my sake. You would have got no more money out of him, and you know that much. By killing him you hoped that I would get the fortune and then you could plunder me at your leisure. Hubert was hard to manage, and you thought that I would be easy. Well, I have got the money and you have got rid of Hubert. But I shall punish you."

"Punish me?" Garvington passed his tongue over his dry lips, and looked as though in his terror he would go down on his knees to plead.

"Oh, not by denouncing you to the police," said his sister contemptuously. "For, bad as you are, I have to consider our family name. But you had Hubert shot so as to get the money through me, and now that I am in possession I shall surrender it to the person named in the sealed envelope."

"No! No! No! No! Don't-don't-"

"Yes, I shall. I can do so by marrying Noel. I shall no longer consider the financial position of the family. I have sacrificed enough, and I shall sacrifice no more. Hubert was a good husband to me, and I was a good and loyal wife to him; but his will insults me, and you have made me your enemy by what you have done."

"I did not do it. I swear I did not do it."

"Yes, you did; and no denial on your part will make me believe otherwise. I shall give you a few days to think over the necessity of making a confession, and in any case I shall marry Noel."

"And lose the money. You shan't!"

"Shan't!" Agnes stepped forward and looked fairly into his shifty eyes. "You are not in a position to say that, Freddy. I am mistress both of the situation and of Hubert's millions. Go away," she pushed him toward the door. "Take time to think over your position, and confess everything to me."

Garvington got out of the room as swiftly as his shaky legs could carry him, and paused at the door to turn with a very evil face. "You daren't split on me," he screeched. "I defy you! I defy you! You daren't split on me."

Alas! Agnes knew that only too well, and when he disappeared she wept bitterly, feeling her impotence.

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