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   Chapter 36 No.36

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11305

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Meanwhile Berrington had stepped aside after having arranged to give Field the signal. And Berrington had made a discovery, the importance of which it was impossible to overestimate. For the moment it had almost deprived him of the power of thinking about anything else, but now it came to him that Beatrice might be in some little danger.

In the first place, the girl was in possession of a parcel of valuable diamonds, the possession of which the others knew of and coveted. The rascals were in a tight place now, and they would not stick at much to make their escape. If they were short of funds the diamonds in Beatrice's pocket would come in useful. But Berrington, like the cool soldier that he was, had decided not to spoil the thing by an eager haste. There was plenty of assistance outside, and besides, he had a trusty revolver in his pocket. He stood now in the hall where he was in a position to hear all that was going on.

Beatrice had rushed to the door and beat her hands upon it. She was pulled away more or less roughly by the man called Reggie, but she did not seem to notice it.

"Am I mad or dreaming?" she said as she pressed her hands to her forehead. "I could have sworn that I heard a voice calling me, a voice--"

"All nonsense," said Sartoris hoarsely. "You are overstrung, and your imagination is too real for you. Did any of the rest of you hear a voice?"

The other two denied that they had heard anything. Beatrice broke out scornfully--

"It is a lie," she said. "You all heard it. Everybody heard it. If not, why are you all so white, and why do you all look so curiously at one another?"

It was quite true, and Sartoris had no reply for the moment. He seemed to be struggling to regain his lost self-possession. Then he glanced at the man called Reggie, who shrugged his shoulders. Sartoris was himself again by this time.

"It was certainly an effect of the imagination," he cried. "Let us talk of other things. My dear young lady, my friends here have been good enough to betray the fact that you have a lot of valuable diamonds in your pocket. Is that a fact?"

Beatrice scorned to lie, and now in any case it would have been useless. She looked from one to the other and wondered what had become of Berrington. Berrington was listening outside the door and feeling that the time for him to interfere was close at hand.

"It is exactly as these people say," Beatrice admitted.

"It is very good of them to take all this trouble," Sartoris said in a sulky voice. "Because of those stones in your pocket they are here to-night. They followed you here, because they are both lovers of that kind of thing. Out of purely disinterested motives, they had made up their minds not to tell me, but a little indiscretion on the part of my fair lady prevented that silent policy from becoming a success."

"What's all this about?" Cora asked uneasily.

"Why ask?" Sartoris said with contempt. "So that was your game, eh? Fill your own pockets and leave the rest of us to look after ourselves. Go off together and try the air of South America once more, you reptiles!"

The other two said nothing. They had a proper respect for the keen intelligence of Carl Sartoris, and they knew that he had found them out. There was a queer gleam in his eyes.

"We will have a friendly discussion on the ethics of the case some other time," he said with an ominous frown. "Meanwhile I think you can leave the matter to me. My dear young lady, I should very much like to see those diamonds."

"I regret that I cannot accommodate you," Beatrice said. "In the first place they are not mine."

"No, but they belong to Stephen Richford, which is much the same thing."

"Again I am sorry to have to disagree with you," Beatrice went on quietly. "The man who calls himself my husband has ended his career disgracefully. He has been guilty of fraudulent conduct, and even at the present moment he may be in the hands of the police."

Beatrice spoke more truly than she had imagined. She was not in the least frightened, and yet she knew perfectly well that these people would not stick at trifles.

"My husband came to me to-night," she said. "He came and asked me for these gems. He wanted to turn them into money to fly with; he desired to have a luxurious retreat. I might have parted with them but for one thing-he seemed to have no sorrow for those that he had robbed. So I declined to part with the diamonds. I am going to keep them and hand them over to my husband's creditors. I took them from the safe in my hotel, fearing that there would be complications, but I was wrong, and I am sorry that I did so."

"And why are you sorry?" Sartoris asked.

"Because the stones were far safer there than they are here," Beatrice said.

There was no mistaking the girl's insinuation; even Sartoris reddened.

"So you mean to say that you suspect me?" he asked.

"Most certainly I do," Beatrice said boldly. "I have only to look into your face to see that. You are all three together; there is no honesty between you. You are not even loyal to each other. And I know who you are and what part you all played in the removal of my father's body from the hotel. You who call yourself Sartoris, are the little cripple of the black hansom cab, you others are the rogues who posed as Countess de la Moray and General Gastang. And if those diamonds are to become your property, you must take them by force."

"Le brave chien," the woman sneered. "Well, I suppose what must be, must. Who will do it?"

"Who better than yourself?" Sartoris asked. "I had rather not lay hands on a woman, but--"

"There

is no necessity. The painful thing is not going to be done at all. It is well that I am here to shield your consciences from such an outrage."

The door had opened so suddenly that the man Reggie was almost carried off his feet, and Berrington stood in the room. Beatrice gave a sudden sob of relief, for she had forgotten Berrington altogether in the tension of the moment. He stood there erect and upright, his face pale with anger and his eyes blazing like stars.

Sartoris burst out furiously and impatiently--

"Damnation!" he screamed. "I had clean forgotten all about this fellow. His very existence had passed altogether out of my mind."

"Then your memory is very short and very convenient," Berrington said. "It is not so very long ago that my presence in the house was exceedingly convenient to you."

"You saved my life for what it is worth," Sartoris growled sullenly.

"Well, it may be worth a great deal to the police," Berrington retorted. "I saved your life, which was perhaps a foolish thing to do, especially as you had made preparations to sacrifice mine for so doing. Whilst your hands have been so full, I have been making investigations in the house. Really, I have been very well repaid for my trouble."

Sartoris started and looked up uneasily. For once his ready tongue failed him.

"Perhaps you had better be a little more explicit," he said.

"Time enough for that, presently. My first discovery was in connection with the dining-room fireplace. I fancy you know what I mean. The next item was connected with the stairs. You murderous dog, so that was the trap you laid for me. I was not to go until you had seen me again. I was to stay for the sake of your sister. Well, I am glad that I obeyed now. But my little discoveries did not end here. Mrs. Richford, what is this?"

Berrington held out a strip of soiled linen and Beatrice took it in her hand.

"It looks like a collar," she said. "It is a collar. If you have made a discovery, Colonel Berrington, I have made another. This collar belongs to my father; I marked it for him in some new ink that does not want heating. Melanyl, I think they call it. It was one of a set of a dozen collars and I marked them all, the day of that fatal dinner party. You see that, as my father had had no valet of late--"

"You acted in his stead," Berrington said eagerly; "when did you mark this?"

"About half-past four on the day of the dinner party."

"Not long before your father went up to dress for dinner, I suppose?"

"Yes, it would be about that time. After marking the collars that had just come from the makers, I placed them in father's wardrobe in his bedroom."

"Then this is the very collar that he wore for the dinner party," Berrington cried; "the very collar that he was wearing at the time he disappeared. And the same collar I found not an hour ago in Mr. Sartoris's dining-room. Not in the dining-room proper, but in a kind of vault under the floor. What is the explanation of this, I wonder?"

"If you are so cursedly clever," Sartoris sneered, "you had better find out for yourself. Get him out of the way, get both of them out of the way, get the diamonds, and let us disappear. The game is up so far as England is concerned. Get him out of the way."

Sartoris's voice had risen to a wild scream. He sent his chair rapidly across the room in the direction of the door. Berrington pulled him up sharp.

"No tricks," he said sternly. "Now none of those electrical contrivances of yours. If you move so much as an inch further I'll shoot you like a dog."

Sartoris pulled up suddenly. He did not need to look at Berrington's face to feel sure that he was in deadly earnest. At the same time the man called Reggie leaped at Berrington's throat and bore him backwards. The assault was so sudden that Berrington dropped the revolver that he had drawn, at the feet of Beatrice.

"Never mind about me," he called out. "Point the weapon upwards and pull the trigger."

In a mechanical kind of way Beatrice did as she was told. As the weapon swayed, the trigger clicked, and the bullet, deflected on the table, snapped the back leg of Sartoris's chair clean off, so that he came a huddled mass of bones to the floor. A report followed, and before the smoke had fully cleared away from Beatrice's eyes it seemed to her that the room was full of people. There were three or four policemen in uniform, Field cool and collected, Richford white and sullen, with the twitching face of Bentwood in the background.

As the man Reggie rose to his feet, the handcuffs were slipped over his wrists, and the woman was treated in a similar fashion. Only Sartoris, being absolutely helpless, was spared the like indignity. Field looked quite satisfied.

"Bagged the whole covey," he said. "Go and stand at the front door, one of you, and see that nobody goes out. There may be others present, of whom we know nothing as yet. Now, Mr. Sartoris, I should like to have a few words with you touching the disappearance of Sir Charles Darryll."

"You think that I murdered him?" Sartoris sneered.

"Certainly not," Field replied. "You can't have murder without a corpse, and in this case we do not even pretend to look for the corpse."

"Or a body perhaps," Sartoris went on. He was quite the coolest person in the room. "Well, what do you want me to say or do? If you produce the corpse--"

"As I said before, there is no corpse," Field said. "Colonel Berrington seems to have discovered something. He may be able to help us if you won't."

"I can help you," Berrington said in a thrilling voice, "beyond your most sanguine hopes."

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