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   Chapter 17 ON THE TRAIL.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 24502

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Great was the excitement in society when it became known-through the medium of a newspaper paragraph-that Lady Agnes Pine had surrendered two millions sterling to become Mrs. Noel Lambert. Some romantic people praised her as a noble woman, who placed love above mere money, while others loudly declared her to be a superlative fool. But one and all agreed that she must have loved her cousin all the time, and that clearly the marriage with the deceased millionaire had been forced on by Garvington, for family reasons connected with the poverty of the Lamberts. It was believed that the fat little egotist had obtained his price for selling his sister, and that his estates had been freed from all claims through the generosity of Pine. Of course, this was not the case; but the fact was unknown to the general public, and Garvington was credited with an income which he did not possess.

The man himself was furious at having been tricked. He put it in this way, quite oblivious to his own actions, which had brought about such a result. He could not plead ignorance on this score, as Agnes had written him a letter announcing her marriage, and plainly stating her reasons for giving up her late husband's fortune. She ironically advised him to seek out the person to whom the money would pass, and to see if he could not plunder that individual. Garvington, angry as he was, took the advice seriously, and sought out Jarwin. But that astute individual declined to satisfy his curiosity, guessing what use he would make of the information. In due time, as the solicitor said, the name of the lucky legatee would be made public, and with this assurance Garvington was obliged to be content.

Meanwhile the happy pair-and they truly were extremely happy-heard nothing of the chatter, and were indifferent to either praise or blame. They were all in all to one another, and lived in a kind of Paradise, on the south coast of Devonshire. On one of his sketching tours Lambert had discovered a picturesque old-world village, tucked away in a fold of the moorlands, and hither he brought his wife for the golden hours of the honeymoon. They lived at the small inn and were attended to by a gigantic landlady, who made them very comfortable. Mrs. "Anak," as Noel called her, took the young couple for poor but artistic people, since Agnes had dropped her title, as unsuited to her now humble position.

"And in the Colonies," she explained to her husband, during a moorland ramble, "it would be absurd for me to be called 'my lady.' Mrs. Noel Lambert is good enough for me."

"Quite so, dear, if we ever do go to the Colonies."

"We must, Noel, as we have so little to live on."

"Oh, one thousand a year isn't so bad," he answered good-humoredly. "It may seem poverty to you, who have been used to millions, my darling; but all my life I have been hard up, and I am thankful for twenty pounds a week."

"You speak as though I had been wealthy all my life, Noel. But remember that I was as hard up as you before I married Hubert, poor soul."

"Then, dear, you must appreciate the fact that we can never starve. Besides I hope to make a name as a painter."

"In the Colonies?"

"Why not? Art is to be found there as in England. Change of scene does not destroy any talent one may possess. But I am not so sure, darling, if it is wise to leave England-at least until we learn who murdered Pine."

"Oh, my dear, do let us leave that vexed question alone. The truth will never become known."

"It must become known, Agnes," said Lambert firmly. "Remember that Silver and Chaldea practically accuse us of murdering your husband."

"They know it is a lie, and won't proceed further," said Agnes hopefully.

"Oh, yes, they will, and Miss Greeby also."

"Clara! Why, she is on our side."

"Indeed she is not. Your guess that she was still in love with me turns out to be quite correct. I received a letter from her this morning, which was forwarded from Kensington. She reproaches me with marrying you after the trouble she took in getting the forged letter back from Silver."

"But you told me that she said she would help you as a friend."

"She did so, in order-to use an expressive phrase-to pull the wool over my eyes. But she intended-and she puts her intention plainly in her letter-to help me in order to secure my gratitude, and then she counted upon my making her my wife."

Agnes flushed. "I might have guessed that she would act in that way. When you told me that she was helping I had a suspicion what she was aiming at. What else does she say?"

"Oh, all manner of things, more or less silly. She hints that I have acted meanly in causing you to forfeit two millions, and says that no man of honor would act in such a way."

"I see," said Mrs. Lambert coolly. "She believed that my possession of the money would be even a greater barrier to our coming together than the fact of my being married to Hubert. Well, dear, what does it matter?"

"A great deal, Agnes," replied Noel, wrinkling his brows. "She intends to make mischief, and she can, with the aid of Silver, who is naturally furious at having lost his chance of blackmail. Then there's Chaldea-"

"She can do nothing."

"She can join forces with Miss Greeby and the secretary, and they will do their best to get us into trouble. To defend ourselves we should have to explain that Garvington wrote the letter, and then heaven only knows what disgrace would befall the name."

"But you don't believe that Freddy is guilty?" asked Agnes anxiously.

"Oh, no. Still, he wrote that letter which lured Pine to his death, and if such a mean act became known, he would be disgraced forever."

"Freddy has such criminal instincts," said Mrs. Lambert gloomily, "that I am quite sure he will sooner or later stand in the dock."

"We must keep him out of it as long as we can," said Noel decisively. "For that reason I intend to leave you here and go to Garvington."

"To see Freddy?"

"Yes, and to see Chaldea, and to call on Silver, who is living in my old cottage. Also I wish to have a conversation with Miss Greeby. In some way, my dear, I must settle these people, or they will make trouble. Have you noticed, Agnes, what a number of gypsies seem to cross our path?"

"Yes; but there are many gypsies in Devonshire."

"No doubt, but many gypsies do not come to this retired spot as a rule, and yet they seem to swarm. Chaldea is having us watched."

"For what reason?" Agnes opened her astonished eyes.

"I wish to learn. Chaldea is now a queen, and evidently has sent instructions to her kinsfolk in this county to keep an eye on us."

Agnes ruminated for a few minutes. "I met Mother Cockleshell yesterday," she observed; "but I thought nothing of it, as she belongs to Devonshire."

"I believe Mother Cockleshell is on our side, dear, since she is so grateful to you for looking after her when she was sick. But Kara has been hovering about, and we know that he is Chaldea's lover."

"Then," said Mrs. Lambert, rising from the heather on which they had seated themselves, "it will be best to face Mother Cockleshell and Kara in order to learn what all this spying means."

Lambert approved of this suggestion, and the two returned to Mrs. "Anak's" abode to watch for the gypsies. But, although they saw two or three, or even more during the next few days, they did not set eyes on the Servian dwarf, or on Gentilla Stanley. Then-since it never rains but it pours-the two came together to the inn. Agnes saw them through the sitting-room window, and walked out boldly to confront them. Noel was absent at the moment, so she had to conduct the examination entirely alone.

"Gentilla, why are you spying on me and my husband?" asked Agnes abruptly.

The respectable woman dropped a curtsey and clutched the shoulder of Kara, who showed a disposition to run away. "I'm no spy, my angel," said the old creature with a cunning glint in her eyes. "It's this one who keeps watch."

"For what reason?"

"Bless you, my lady-"

"Don't call me by my title. I've dropped it."

"Only for a time, my dear. I have read your fortune in the stars, my Gorgio one, and higher you will be with money and rank than ever you have been in past days. But not with the child's approval."

"The child. What child?"

"Chaldea, no less. She's raging mad, as the golden rye has made you his romi, my sweet one, and she has set many besides Kara to overlook you."

"So Mr. Lambert and I thought. And Chaldea's reason?"

"She would make trouble," replied Mother Cockleshell mysteriously. "But Kara does not wish her to love the golden rye-as she still does-since he would have the child to himself." She turned and spoke rapidly in Romany to the small man in the faded green coat.

Kara listened with twinkling eyes, and pulling at his heavy beard with one hand, while he held the neck of his violin with the other. When Mother Cockleshell ceased he poured out a flood of the kalo jib with much gesticulation, and in a voice which boomed like a gong. Of course, Mrs. Lambert did not understand a word of his speech, and looked inquiringly at Gentilla.

"Kara says," translated the woman hurriedly, "that he is your friend, since he is glad you are the golden rye's romi. Ever since you left Lundra the child has set him and others to spy on you. She makes mischief, does the child in her witchly way."

"Ask him," said Agnes, indicating the dwarf, "if he knows who murdered my late husband?"

Gentilla asked the question and translated the reply. "He knows nothing, but the child knows much. I go back to the wood in Hengishire, my dear, to bring about much that will astonish Chaldea-curses on her evil heart. Tell the rye to meet me at his old cottage in a week. Then the wrong will be made right," ended Mother Cockleshell, speaking quite in the style of Meg Merrilees, and very grandiloquently. "And happiness will be yours. By this and this I bless you, my precious lady," making several mystical signs, she turned away, forcing the reluctant Kara to follow her.

"But, Gentilla?" Agnes hurried in pursuit.

"No! no, my Gorgious. It is not the time. Seven days, and seven hours, and seven minutes will hear the striking of the moment. Sarishan, my deary."

Mother Cockleshell hobbled away with surprising alacrity, and Mrs. Lambert returned thoughtfully to the inn. Evidently the old woman knew of something which would solve the mystery, else she would scarcely have asked Noel to meet her in Hengishire. And being an enemy to Chaldea, who had deposed her, Agnes was quite sure that Gentilla would work her hardest to thwart the younger gypsy's plans. It flashed across her mind that Chaldea herself might have murdered Pine. But since his death would have removed the barrier between Lambert and herself, Agnes could not believe that Chaldea was guilty. The affair seemed to become more involved every time it was looked into.

However, Mrs. Lambert related to her husband that same evening all that had taken place, and duly delivered the old gypsy's message. Noel listened quietly and nodded. He made up his mind to keep the appointment in Abbot's Wood the moment he received the intelligence. "And you can stay here, Agnes," he said.

"No, no," she pleaded. "I wish to be beside you."

"There may be danger, my dear. Chaldea will not stick at a trifle to revenge herself, you know."

"All the more reason that I should be with you," insisted Agnes. "Besides, these wretches are plotting against me as much as against you, so it is only fair that I should be on the spot to defend myself."

"You have a husband to defend you now, Agnes. Still, as I know you will be anxious if I leave you in this out-of-the-way place, it will be best for us both to go to London. There is a telephone at Wanbury, and I can communicate with you at once should it be necessary."

"Of course it will be necessary," said Mrs. Lambert with fond impatience. "I shall worry dreadfully to think that you are in danger. I don't wish to lose you now that we are together."

"You can depend upon my keeping out of danger, for your sake, dear," said the young man, caressing her. "Moreover, Mother Cockleshell will look af

ter me should Chaldea try any of her Romany tricks. Stay in town, darling."

"Oh, dear me, that flat is so dingy, and lonely, and disagreeable."

"You shan't remain at the flat. There's a very pleasant hotel near Hyde Park where we can put up."

"It's so expensive."

"Never mind the expense, just now. When everything is square we can consider economy. But I shall not be easy in my mind until poor Pine's murderer is in custody."

"I only hope Garvington won't be found to be an accomplice," said Agnes, with a shiver. "Bad as he is, I can't help remembering that he is my brother."

"And the head of the Lamberts," added her husband gravely. "You may be sure that I shall try and save the name from disgrace."

"It's a dismal ending to our honeymoon."

"Let us look upon it as the last hedge of trouble which has to be jumped."

Agnes laughed at this quaint way of putting things, and cheered up. For the next few days they did their best to enjoy to the full the golden hours of love, and peace which remained, and then departed, to the unfeigned regret of Mrs. "Anak." But present pleasure meant future trouble, so the happy pair-and they were happy in spite of the lowering clouds-were forced to leave their temporary paradise in order to baffle their enemies. Miss Greeby, Chaldea, Silver, and perhaps Garvington, were all arrayed against them, so a conflict could not possibly be avoided.

Agnes took up her abode in the private hotel near the Park which Lambert had referred to, and was very comfortable, although she did not enjoy that luxury with which Pine's care had formerly surrounded her. Having seen that she had all she required, Noel took the train to Wanbury, and thence drove in a hired fly to Garvington, where he put up at the village inn. It was late at night when he arrived, so it might have been expected that few would have noted his coming. This was true, but among the few was Chaldea, who still camped with her tribe in Abbot's Wood. Whosoever now owned the property on mortgage, evidently did not desire to send the gypsies packing, and, of course, Garvington, not having the power, could not do so.

Thus it happened that while Lambert was breakfasting next morning, somewhere about ten o'clock, word was brought to him by the landlady that a gypsy wished to see him. The young man at once thought that Mother Cockleshell had called to adjust the situation, and gave orders that she should be admitted. He was startled and ill-pleased when Chaldea made her appearance. She looked as handsome as ever, but her face wore a sullen, vicious look, which augured ill for a peaceful interview.

"So you cheated me after all, rye?" was her greeting, and her eyes sparkled with anger at the sight of the man she had lost.

"Don't be a fool, girl," said Lambert, purposely rough, for her persistence irritated him. "You know that I never loved you."

"Am I so ugly then?" demanded the girl bitterly.

"That remark is beside the point," said the man coldly. "And I am not going to discuss such things with you. But I should like to know why you set spies on me when I was in Devonshire?"

Chaldea's eyes sparkled still more, and she taunted him. "Oh, the clever one that you are, to know that I had you watched. Aye, and I did, my rye. From the time you left the cottage you were under the looks of my people."

"Why, may I ask?"

"Because I want revenge," cried Chaldea, stepping forward and striking so hard a blow on the table that the dishes jumped. "You scorned me, and now you shall pay for that scorn."

"Don't be melodramatic, please. What can you do to harm me, I should like to know, you silly creature?"

"I can prove that you murdered my brother Hearne."

"Oh, can you, and in what way?"

"I have the bullet which killed him," said the gypsy, speaking very fast so as to prevent interruption. "Kara knifed it out of the tree-trunk which grows near the shrubbery. If I take it to the police and it fits your pistol, then where will you be, my precious cheat?"

Lambert looked at her thoughtfully. If she really did possess the bullet he would be able to learn if Garvington had fired the second shot, since it would fit the barrel of his revolver. So far as he was concerned, when coming to live in the Abbot's Wood Cottage, he had left all his weapons stored in London, and would be able to prove that such was the case. He did not fear for himself, as Chaldea's malice could not hurt him in this way, but he wondered if it would be wise to take her to The Manor, where Garvington was in residence, in order to test the fitting of the bullet. Finally, he decided to risk doing so, as in this way he might be able to force the girl's hand and learn how much she really knew. If aware that Garvington was the culprit, she would exhibit no surprise did the bullet fit the barrel of that gentleman's revolver. And should it be proved that she knew the truth, she would not dare to say anything to the police, lest she should be brought into the matter, as an accomplice after the fact. Chaldea misunderstood his silence, while he was thinking in this way, and smiled mockingly with a toss of her head.

"Ah, the rye is afraid. His sin has come home to him," she sneered. "Hai, you are at my feet now, my Gorgious one."

"I think not," said Lambert coolly, and rose to put on his cap. "Come with me, Chaldea. We go to The Manor."

"And what would I do in the boro rye's ken, my precious?"

Lambert ignored the question. "Have you the bullet with you?"

"Avali," Chaldea nodded. "It lies in my pocket."

"Then we shall see at The Manor if it fits the pistol."

"Hai! you have left the shooter at the big house," said the girl, falling into the trap, and thereby proved-to Lambert at least-that she was really in the dark as regards the true criminal.

"Lord Garvington has a revolver of mine," said the young man evasively, although the remark was a true one, since he had presented his cousin with a brace of revolvers some twelve months before.

Chaldea looked at him doubtfully. "And if the bullet fits-"

"Then you can do what you like," retorted Lambert tartly. "Come on. I can't wait here all day listening to the rubbish you talk."

The gypsy followed him sullenly enough, being overborne by his peremptory manner, and anxious, if possible, to bring home the crime to him. What she could not understand, for all her cleverness, was, why he should be so eager to condemn himself, and so went to The Manor on the lookout for treachery. Chaldea always judged other people by herself, and looked upon treachery as quite necessary on certain occasions. Had she guessed the kind of trap which Lambert was laying for her, it is questionable if she would have fallen into it so easily. And Lambert, even at this late hour, could not be certain if she really regarded him as guilty, or if she was only bluffing in order to gain her ends.

Needless to say, Garvington did not welcome his cousin enthusiastically when he entered the library to find him waiting with Chaldea beside him. The fat little man rushed in like a whirlwind, and, ignoring his own shady behavior, heaped reproaches on Lambert's head.

"I wonder you have the cheek to come here," he raged. "You and this beast of a girl. I want no gypsies in my house, I can tell you. And you've lost me a fortune by your selfish behavior."

"I don't think we need talk of selfishness when you are present, Garvington."

"Why not? By marrying Agnes you have made her give up the money."

"She wished to give it up to punish you," said Lambert rebukingly.

"To punish me!" Garvington's gooseberry eyes nearly fell out of his head. "And what have I done?"

Lambert laughed and shrugged his shoulders. In the face of this dense egotism, it was impossible to argue in any way. He dismissed the subject and got to business, as he did not wish to remain longer in Garvington's society than was absolutely necessary.

"This girl," he said abruptly, indicating Chaldea, who stood passively at his elbow, "has found the bullet with which Pine was shot."

"Kara found it, my boro rye," put in the gypsy quickly, and addressing Lord Garvington, who gurgled out his surprises, "in the tree-trunk."

"Ah, yes," interrupted the other. "The elm which is near the shrubbery. Then why didn't you give the bullet to the police?"

"Do you ask that, Garvington?" inquired Lambert meaningly, and the little man whirled round to answer with an expression of innocent surprise.

"Of course I do," he vociferated, growing purple with resentment. "You don't accuse me of murdering the man who was so useful to me, I hope?"

"I shall answer that very leading question when you bring out the revolver with which you shot Pine on that night."

"I only winged him," cried Garvington indignantly. "The second shot was fired by some unknown person, as was proved clearly enough at the inquest."

"All the same, I wish you to produce the revolver."

"Why?" The host looked suspicious and even anxious.

It was Chaldea who replied, and when doing so she fished out the battered bullet. "To see if this fits the barrel of the pistol which the golden rye gave you, my great one," said she significantly.

Garvington started, his color changed and he stole a queer look at the impassive face of his cousin. "The pistol which the golden rye gave me?" he repeated slowly and weighing the words. "Did you give me one, Noel?"

"I gave you a couple in a case," answered Lambert without mentioning the date of the present. "And if this bullet fits the one you used-"

"It will prove nothing," interrupted the other hurriedly, and with a restless movement. "I fired from the doorstep, and my bullet, after breaking Pine's arm, must have vanished into the beyond. The shot which killed him was fired from the shrubbery, and, it is quite easy to guess how it passed through him and buried itself in the tree which was in the line of fire."

"I want to see the pistols," said Lambert insistently, and this time Chaldea looked at him, wondering why he was so anxious to condemn himself.

"Oh, very well," snapped Garvington, with some reluctance, and walked toward the door. There he paused, and evidently awaited to arrive at some conclusion, the nature of which his cousin could not guess. "Oh, very well," he said again, and left the room.

"He thinks that you are a fool, as I do, my Gorgious," said Chaldea scornfully. "You wish to hang yourself it seems, my rye."

"Oh, I don't think that I shall be the one to be hanged. Tell me, Chaldea, do you really believe that I am guilty?"

"Yes," said the girl positively. "And if you had married me I should have saved you."

Lambert laughed, but was saved the trouble of a reply by the return of Garvington, who trotted in to lay a mahogany case on the table. Opening this, he took out a small revolver of beautiful workmanship. Chaldea, desperately anxious to bring home the crime to Lambert, hastily snatched the weapon from the little man's hand and slipped the bullet into one of the chambers. It fitted-making allowance for its battered condition-precisely. She uttered a cry of triumph. "So you did shoot the Romany, my bold one," was her victorious speech.

"Because the bullet fits the barrel of a revolver I gave to my cousin some twelve months ago?" he inquired, smiling.

Chaldea's face fell. "Twelve months ago!" she echoed, greatly disappointed.

"Yes, as Lord Garvington can swear to. So I could not have used the weapon on that night, you see."

"I used it," admitted Garvington readily enough. "And winged Pine."

"Exactly. But I gave you a brace of revolvers of the same make. The bullet which would fit one-as it does-would fit the other. I see there is only one in the case. Where is the other?"

Garvington's color changed and he shuffled with his feet. "I lent it to Silver," he said in a low voice, and reluctantly.

"Was it in Silver's possession on the night Pine was shot?"

"Must have been. He borrowed it a week before because he feared burglars."

"Then," said Lambert coolly, and drawing a breath of relief, for the tension had been great, "the inference is obvious. Silver shot Hubert Pine."

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