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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 12583

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Beatrice had not long to wait. Only a few minutes elapsed before the door flew open and Richford came out so gently that Beatrice had barely time to step into a friendly doorway. Her senses were quick and alert now in the face of this unknown danger, and the girl did not fail to note the pale face and agitated features of the man who had so grievously harmed her. Evidently Richford had been drinking no more, but certainly he had had some great shock, the effects of which had not passed away. He muttered something as he passed Beatrice, and looked at his watch. Directly he had disappeared down the corridor, Beatrice stepped into her room.

The Countess was standing by the dressing-table picking up the odds and ends there in a careless kind of way, but evidently in an attitude of deep attention. Beatrice's feeling of alarm became somewhat less as she saw that the case of diamonds on the dressing-table had not been touched. If anything like a robbery had been contemplated she was in time to prevent it. Just for the moment it occurred to Beatrice to demand coldly the reason for the intrusion, but she thought the better of that. Clearly there was some conspiracy on foot here, and it would be bad policy to suggest that she suspected anything. So Beatrice forced a little smile on her lips as she crossed the room.

"I shall have to give you in charge as being a suspicious character," she said. "I shall begin to believe that your dressmaker only existed in your imagination."

The Countess gave a little scream, and her face paled somewhat under her rouge. But she recovered herself with marvellous quickness. Her lips had ceased to tremble, she smiled gaily.

"I am fairly caught," she said. "There is nothing for it but to plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court. You see, I have not taken the diamonds, though I have looked at them."

It was all so admirably and coolly said, that it might have deceived anybody who did not know quite so much as Beatrice. But she had made up her mind that no suspicion of the truth should come out. Quite carelessly she opened the lid of the jewel cases so that she might see for herself that she was not the victim of this magnificent adventuress.

But the gems were there right enough. Their marvellous rays seemed to fill the room with livid fire. Beatrice glanced at her companion; the latter had caught her underlip fiercely between her teeth, her hands were clenched. And Beatrice knew that but for the intervention of that stranger in the drawing-room and the sudden flight of the General, she would never have seen those diamonds again. And yet Stephen Richford had been in the same room with this brilliant adventuress! Beatrice would have given a great deal to see to the bottom of the mystery.

"Oh, it is indeed a narrow escape that you have had," the Countess said. "I was not feeling very well, so I sent my maid to ask you to come to my room. She said you had already gone, so I took the liberty of coming here. Is not that so?"

"Then we had perhaps better stay and talk here," Beatrice suggested. "Adeline, will you take this case down to the office and ask the manager to place it with my other valuables in the safe? Be very careful, because they are diamonds."

Adeline, who had just come in, took the case in her hand. The Countess had turned her back, but Beatrice caught sight of her face in the cheval glass. It was livid with fury, and all wrinkled up with greed and baffled cupidity. The girl was afraid to trust her voice for a moment. She knew now that unless she had taken this course, the diamonds would not have been hers much longer. A woman who could look like that was capable of anything. Some cunning plan, perhaps some plan that took violence within its grasp, would have been carried out before the evening was over. So alarmed was Beatrice that she followed Adeline to the door. She wanted to see the jewels safe and regain her lost self-possession at the same time. It seemed to be a critical moment.

"If you will excuse me," she said, "I had forgotten to give my maid another message."

The Countess nodded and smiled gaily. She was master of herself once more. Beatrice stepped out of the room and followed Adeline at a safe distance to the end of the stairs. So far as she knew to the contrary a confederate might be lingering about waiting for a signal. Surely enough, General Gastang was loitering in the hall smoking a cigarette. But he seemed to be powerless now, for he made no sign, and with a sigh of relief Beatrice saw Adeline emerge presently from the office minus the cases which she had previously carried.

"Now, I fancy I have finished my business for the evening," Beatrice said. "I have been thinking over the very kind offer you made to me a little time ago. You can hardly understand how anybody as lonely as myself appreciates such kindness as yours."

The Countess raised her hands as if to ward off the gratitude. They were slim hands with many rings upon them, as Beatrice did not fail to notice.

And on the finger of the left hand something was hanging that looked like a wisp of silk thread.

"Excuse me," Beatrice said, "you have something attached to one of your rings. Let me remove it for you. That is all right. It seems very strange, but--"

Beatrice checked herself suddenly and walked rapidly across the room. She had made what in the light of recent events was a startling discovery. At first she had imagined that the long silken fluff was attached to one of the rings, but this her quick eyes had proved to be a mistake. On one of the slim fingers of the Countess was a thick smear of wax.

Beatrice could see a little of it sticking to the palm of the hand now. She understood what this meant. That neat little woman was by no means the sort of person to dabble habitually in tricks of that kind, and Beatrice suddenly recollected that wax was used for taking impressions of locks and keys and the like. But surely there could be nothing worth all that trouble in this room, she thought. Nor would anything of that kind have been necessary to get possession of the jewels. Besides, if any waxen impression of anything had been taken, Stephen Richford would have done it. Just for a moment it occurred to Beatr

ice that it would be a good idea to change her room, but she dismissed the impulse as cowardly, and besides, the manager had advised her that he had not another room at his disposal in the hotel.

Still, she was on her guard now, and she made up her mind to slumber lightly to-night. After all the exciting events of the day, it was not likely that she would sleep at all. And yet she felt very dull and heavy; she could think of nothing to say, so that the Countess rose presently and proclaimed the fact that she was quite ready for bed herself.

"I am selfish," she said. "I am keeping you up, for which I should be ashamed of myself. Good-night, my dear, and pleasant dreams to you."

The speaker flitted away with a smile and a kiss of her jewelled fingers. Beatrice drew a long sigh of relief to find herself alone once more.

She locked the door carefully and commenced a thorough examination of the room. It was some time before her quick eyes gave her any clue to the meaning of the wax on the Countess's hands. Then she found it at last. There was another of the silken threads hanging on the lock of the door leading to the room where Sir Charles lay. On the official seal placed there by the police officers was a tiny thread of silk. It was not attached to the seal in any way. It came away in Beatrice's hands when she pulled it, as if it had been fixed there by gum. Beatrice knew better than that. On the silk was wax, as she discovered when her hand touched it. A piece of soft white wax had been pressed on the seal, and had left strong traces behind.

Now, what did this strange mystery mean? Beatrice asked herself. Why did anybody require an impression of that seal? What object could anyone have in getting into the room where the dead man lay? The more Beatrice asked herself this question the more puzzled did she become. She thought it over till her head ached and her eyes grew heavy. So engrossed was she that she quite failed to notice several little impatient knocks at the door. Then the girl came to herself with a start, and opened the door to admit her maid, as she expected.

But it was not Adeline come back, but the Countess with a dazzling white silk wrap over her shoulders. She was profoundly apologetic, but what was she to do? Her maid had been taken ill and she had been commanded to bed by a doctor. The Countess was very sorry for Marie, but she had a little sympathy left for herself. It was impossible for her to unhook the back of her dress. Would Beatrice be so kind as to do it for her?

"Of course I will," Beatrice said. "It is awkward being without a maid. Let me shut the door."

It was no great task that Beatrice had set herself, but it was not rendered any more easy because the Countess pranced about the room as if unable to keep still. She held in her hand a smelling bottle with a powerful perfume that Beatrice had never smelt before. It was sweet yet pungent, and carried just a suggestion of a tonic perfume with it. But the task was accomplished at length.

"I fancy that is all you require," Beatrice said. "What scent is that you are using?"

"It is some new stuff from Paris," the Countess said carelessly. "It is supposed to be the most marvellous thing for headaches in the wide world. Personally, I find it a little too strong. Do you like perfumes?"

"I am afraid they are a weakness of mine," Beatrice confessed. "It is very silly, I know, but it is so."

The Countess removed the glass stopper from the bottle.

"Try it, if you like," she said. "Only you must not take too much of it at first."

Beatrice placed the bottle to her nostrils. A delicious thrill passed through her veins. All sense of fatigue had gone; she felt conscious of only one thing, and that was the desire to lie down and sleep. In a dreamy way she watched the Countess depart and close the door behind her; then she crossed over to the bed and lay on it just as she was-her thoughts seemed to be steeped in sunshine.

When Beatrice awoke at length, it was broad daylight, and Adeline was leaning over her. The girl's face was white and her lips unsteady.

"I am glad you have come round, Miss," she said. "You wouldn't believe the trouble I have had to arouse you, and you such a light sleeper as a rule. Don't you feel well?"

"I never felt better in my life," Beatrice said. "I have slept for hours and hours. But it is for me to ask if you don't feel well, Adeline. Your face is so curiously white and your lips tremble. What is it? Has something happened? But that is quite out of the question. All the dreadful things came together yesterday. Tell me, what time is it, Adeline?"

"It's a little past ten, Miss," Adeline said in a low voice that shook a little. "On and off, I have been trying to wake you since eight o'clock. And there is a gentleman to see you in the sitting-room as soon as you have time-two gentlemen, in fact."

Beatrice asked no further questions, though she could see from Adeline's manner that something out of the common had taken place. But Beatrice felt curiously strong and steady to-day. It seemed impossible that fate could have anything worse in store than had already befallen her. With a firm step she went into the sitting-room where two men rose and bowed gravely. One she recognized as the inspector of police who had come after the tragedy yesterday, the other was Dr. Andrews.

"You sent for me, gentlemen?" she said quietly. "It is a matter of the inquest, of course? Will you have to call me? I am afraid I can give you no information-my father never had anything the matter with him as far as I know. If you could spare me the pain--"

Dr. Andrews nodded gravely; he seemed unable to speak for the moment.

"It is not that," he said quietly. "If we spare you one pain we give you another. Miss Darryll, I should say Mrs. Richford, a terrible thing has happened, a strange, weird thing. As you know, the inquest was to have been to-day. Events have rendered that utterly impossible. Please be brave."

"You will not have to complain of me on that score," Beatrice whispered.

"Then it is this. By some strange means, certain people entered Sir Charles's room last night and carried him away. It is amazing, but the body of Sir Charles has disappeared!"

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