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   Chapter 32 No.32

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 10418

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Berrington was at a loss to know whether to be pleased or not at his discovery. It might prove to be an important clue, on the other hand it might point to more violence than Berrington had anticipated. It was not an old collar, as Berrington could see by the date of it; apparently it had only been worn once, for there was no laundry mark upon it, though it was dirty, more dirty than a fastidious man like Sir Charles would have used.

There was absolutely nothing further to be seen in the vault, so Berrington climbed thoughtfully out of it again. He readjusted the floor, for he had no wish for his handiwork to remain. He would wait now for Beatrice to emerge and see her safely on her way home. A little later on, perhaps, and he would have a great deal of useful information to impart to Inspector Field.

He opened the door of the dining-room and listened. It seemed to him that the voices in the study had been raised a little. If he could give Beatrice a warning he would do so. Very quietly he pushed back the swinging baize door and looked in. At the same moment Beatrice was adjusting her hat before the mirror. Their eyes met and Berrington was satisfied. He had told Beatrice as plainly as if he had spoken in words, that he was close by and that she was to look to him for protection if necessary. That being so, he crept silently away again.

It was a wise precaution, for the front door opened and two people came in, giving Berrington hardly time to get in the shelter of the dining-room. He was at no loss to identify the newcomers, for had he not met them in that very room when he had discovered the gang who were more or less instrumental in the disappearance of Sir Charles Darryll?

That the precious pair were after no good, needed no saying. Berrington grimly congratulated himself on the fact that Sartoris had provided him with a weapon which was in his pocket at the very moment. He would lounge in the vicinity of the study, and if anything happened, if Beatrice called out for assistance or anything of that kind, he would be in a position to render efficient service. It was no part of his game to show himself to these people without urgent reasons for so doing.

He waited there while Beatrice was confronting the trio; she had made her discovery, and the others were aware of the fact. Beatrice was conscious that her heart was beating faster. She looked around for some avenue of escape. Then her courage rose again as she remembered that Berrington was close at hand and ready to assist her.

"I will not stay here any longer," the girl said. "It seems to me that I am in the way. Please to step aside and let me pass. Do you hear me?"

The man called Reggie grinned. He did not make the smallest attempt to move from the door. He would have touched Beatrice had she not drawn back.

"I do not desire to detain you," he said. "Only you made a certain remark just now that calls for an explanation. You mean that this lady and myself--"

"You know exactly what I mean," Beatrice cried. She was getting angry now, and the sneering smile on the face of Sartoris did not tend to soothe her. "Out of your own mouth you have proved what I did not know-that you are dangerous thieves."

"Oh, indeed. Do you not know that such language is actionable?"

"I know that it is true," Beatrice said coldly. "There are your photographs up there. Did you not say so only a moment ago? I am greatly obliged for the information."

The girl stepped across the room and removed the two photographs from their places. Nobody interfered; as a matter of fact, they were all secretly admiring the girl's courage.

"These two faces I know," she said. "That is Countess de la Moray, and that is the man who called himself General Gastang. They were staying at the hotel on the night that my poor dear father's body so strangely disappeared. The Countess was so good as to extend to me her deepest sympathy; she asked me to go and stay with her in Paris."

The woman called Cora laughed. The comedy of it appealed to her and she could not help it. She was thinking of the easy way in which she had deceived Beatrice. Something like an oath came from Sartoris. He had his own very good reasons why Beatrice should be deceived in this matter.

"I assure you that you are quite mistaken," he said.

"Indeed I am nothing of the kind," Beatrice cried. "Now that I know the truth, I can see the likeness plainly enough. I don't say that I should have done so had I not had so strong a hint a little while ago, but you cannot disguise features out of recognition. And I say that those two people are no more than vulgar swindlers."

Again the woman laughed, but the man's face grew dark.

"You are very bold," the man called Reggie growled. "If you have any friends near--"

It was on the tip of Beatrice's tongue to say that she had, but she wisely restrained herself. At the same time it was good to be reminded that Berrington was close by and that perhaps he was listening to the conversation at the present moment.

"I am stating no more than the truth," Beatrice went on. "The so-called Countess came to me and she pretended sympathy. She made me believe th

at she was an old friend of my father. Then she went away, leaving General Gastang to talk to me. I will tell you presently what she was going to do. I have been finding out things for myself."

The woman did not laugh this time; there was an angry spot on either cheek.

"You are piquante and interesting," she said. "Pray believe that I am listening to you with the deepest attention. It is good to have one's thoughts read for one in this fashion."

"I was alone with the General," said Beatrice, ignoring the last speaker altogether. "Fortunately for me, the General recognized some acquaintance-probably a police officer-for he disappeared discreetly and left me to myself and my suspicions. My suspicions led me to my bedroom presently, where I had left some extremely valuable diamonds."

"The same that you have in your pocket at the present moment," the woman Cora exclaimed. "If--"

A furious oath rang out from the man Reggie. Just for a moment it looked as if he were about to strike the incautious speaker. She reddened and grew confused. Sartoris listened, with an evil grin on his face. He seemed to be amused at something.

"It is good of my friends to come here to-night," he said. "So kind and disinterested. I shall know how to thank them later on. Pray proceed."

"In my bedroom was the Countess," Beatrice cried. She was so staggered to find that her possession of the gems was known to this couple that she could hardly proceed. "The Countess had evidently been overhauling my belongings. But I was just in time."

"Call me a thief at once," the woman burst out furiously. "Why don't you do it?"

"As yet I have no legal proofs to justify me in so doing," Beatrice said. "But I have not the least doubt in my own mind. You were good enough to come back and pretend that your maid was ill, and you were good enough to let me smell that scent, so that you gave me a sleep that rendered me insensible to the strange things that were taking place so near me."

"You seem to know a great deal," the woman Cora sneered.

"Indeed I do," Beatrice went on. "I know that you were in my bedroom planning some villainy with my husband; I know that you took wax impressions of the seals of my father's room; I know the part you both played afterwards. Then you disappeared, leaving no signs behind. But you have been so kind as to confess your own identity. You will be well advised to stand aside and let me pass."

Just for a moment it looked as if Beatrice's audacity was going to carry her through. But it was Sartoris who interfered this time. His face had grown black; he had thrown aside all traces of amiability now.

"You are a very clever young lady," he said with a dry sneer. "A most exceedingly and remarkably clever young lady. But you are too proud of your discoveries, you talk too much. You see, these good people are friends of mine."

"I know that," Beatrice retorted. "But one thing I am certain of-had you known what was going to happen, those photographs would never have been left for me to see. You need not have been under the necessity of lying about them, and I should have gone away, never dreaming that I had met the Countess and the General again."

"Do I understand that you drag me into your charge?" Sartoris demanded angrily.

"Certainly I do," Beatrice cried. Her blood was up now; anger had got the better of discretion. She was furious to feel that she had been lured into a den of swindlers, and so all her sagacity and prudence had gone to the winds. "Those people are accomplices of yours; the very lie that you told me proves the fact. And you, the lame man in the hansom cab--"

Beatrice got no further, for a howl of rage from Sartoris prevented more words. The cripple wheeled his chair across the room and barred the door.

"You shall pay for this," he said furiously. "You know too much. That anybody should dare to stand there before me and say what you have said to me--"

He seemed to be incapable of further speech. The man called Reggie bent over Beatrice and whispered something in her ear. She caught the words mechanically--

"Give me what you have in your pocket," he said, "and I will see you through. Don't hesitate-what are a few paltry diamonds compared with your life? For that is in danger, and far greater danger than you know. Pass those stones over, quick."

But Beatrice was not going to be bullied like that. Above all things-the knowledge stood out before her that Berrington was not far off. She had only to call for assistance, and he would be by her side at once. The girl's eyes dilated, but not with fear as the man imagined.

"I am not so helpless as you imagine," Beatrice said. "And you will never get what you want unless you resort to violence. Now you understand me."

The man smiled. He had an eye for beauty and courage, rogue though he was. But he had to reckon with Sartoris, who seemed to be recovering his self-possession.

"What are you muttering about?" he asked suspiciously. "Ah, what was that? Did you hear it?"

The trio stood listening, quivering with excitement, tense in every limb. With a loud cry Beatrice flung herself at the door and beat upon it madly.

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