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   Chapter 37 No.37

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11355

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Sartoris sat a huddled heap on the floor, with his white snarling face looking out like the head of an angry snake. He was not in the least afraid, and yet the expression of his eyes told that he knew everything was over. As he struggled painfully to his feet, Mary ran forward and guided him to a chair. He did not thank her by so much as a gesture. All the care and tenderness was wasted upon that warped nature.

"If I were not a cripple," he snarled, "this would never have happened. And yet a cursed bag of aching bones has got the better of you all, ay, and would have kept the better, too, if I could only have moved about like the rest. But you are not going to get me to say anything if I sit here all night."

It was a strange scene, altogether,-Sartoris a huddled heap, cursing and snarling in his chair, the man Reggie and the woman Cora standing by, with uneasy grins on their faces, trying to carry it off in a spirit of false bravado. To the right of them stood Bentwood, now quite sober and shaking, and Richford sullen and despairing. Beatrice was in the shadow behind Mark Ventmore. Mary moved forward, followed by Berrington.

"What is the charge?" the man Reggie asked. "What have we done?"

Field shrugged his shoulders. Really the question did not deserve a reply. Sartoris took up the same line in his snarling voice.

"That's what we want to know," he said. "What is the charge? If you have a warrant, read it aloud. We have every right to know."

"I have a warrant so far as you are concerned," Field replied. "For the present, you are charged with forgery and uttering a certain document, purporting to be an assignment of mining interests in Burmah from Sir Charles Darryll to yourself. The document is in my pocket, and I can produce it for your inspection, if you like. I need not tell you that there will be other charges later on, but these will suffice for the present."

"That does not touch us, at all," the woman Cora said.

"I am arresting you on my own responsibility," Field said curtly. "If I have made any mistake, then you can bring an action for illegal detention later on. Colonel Berrington, we are wasting time here. Had we not better get on with our search?"

Berrington nodded approval. There was an exulting gleam in his eyes that betokened the discovery of something out of the common. Mary crossed the room rapidly and threw herself in an utter abandonment of grief at her brother's feet.

"Oh, why don't you tell them everything?" she cried. "Why don't you tell the whole truth and save yourself? I have friends here, more than one, who care for me, and who for my sake would do much to save you from the shame and humiliation that lie before you. I know much, but I do not know all. For the sake of the old name--"

"Burn the old name," Sartoris said. "What has it done for me? You have been a good sister to me, but your attentions have been a little embarrassing sometimes. And if you had hoped to change me, you had your trouble for your pains. You may put me on the rack and torture me, but not one word do I say."

"It seems so hard, so very hard," Mary moaned. "And when I look back to the time--"

"Oh, never mind looking back to any time," Sartoris muttered. "The game's up, I tell you. I have been beaten, and there's an end of it. I should play the same hand again if I had the chance, so make no mistake about that. Wheel me as far as the dining-room."

"It will not be of the slightest use," Berrington said in a cold, clear voice. "I know that you would blow the whole lot of us to Eternity if you got the chance, as a kind of revenge for our victory, but I have put an end to that. You will find all the wires disconnected from your battery. After that you are quite free to go into the dining-room."

Sartoris grinned and displayed his teeth in an evil smile. Heaven only knows what new form of villainy he was plotting. And he would cheerfully have blown up the house and destroyed everybody there, including himself, if he had had the opportunity to complete his revenge.

"We are wasting time," Field said. "Take all the prisoners away, except Dr. Bentwood. I have very good reasons for asking him to remain."

Bentwood smiled in a mean and sinister way. He had tried to hide himself in a corner of the room. There was something so cringing and fawning about the fellow that Berrington longed to kick him. Sartoris spoke in a waspish whisper:

"So the land lies in that quarter," he said. "We have an informer amongst us. If I had known that before, my good Bentwood,-if I had known that before!"

Big as he was, Bentwood looked small and mean at that moment.

"You are quite mistaken," he cried. "You are altogether wrong, my dear Carl. I am as much of a prisoner as any of you. I was taken in fair fight outside after a desperate struggle. What have I to gain by an attitude of unreasonable obstinacy?"

"Oh, nothing," Sartoris replied. "But you can make things easy for yourself by affording the police information. You will probably get off with ten years. I would fight the thing out to the bitter end and chance it. But you and I are made of different stuff."

Mark Ventmore, watching the two men, thought so too, but he said nothing. One was a mere bag of bones, the other a fine figure of a man, but Mark would have preferred the cripple, who made no sign and showed no feeling as he tottered to the door, between the policemen. Mary would have said something to him, but he waved her back.

"Now don't you trouble about me any more," he said. "I shall be safe for some years to come, the law will see to that. We shall never meet again, for the simple r

eason that a physique like mine will not stand the prison treatment. I shall die there. Good bye."

Mary kept back her tears. She would have felt better if she could have seen even the slightest trace of remorse in her brother.

"Marry Berrington," he said. "He has been pretty faithful to you and you will be alone in the world now. You should think yourself lucky with a man like that to fall back upon. I have to say adieu to the lot of you."

Sartoris was gone at last. In fact the whole lot were packed on the motor car which the police had sent down at Field's instigation. Being a cripple, Sartoris had been accommodated in the seat by the driver. With her eyes heavy with tears, Mary watched them depart. Sartoris was fatally correct in his prophecy; it was the last time that Mary was destined to see him. He had always recognised the fact that jail would be the death of him. He had the germs of a disease in his breast that he had only kept at bay by constant occupation and mental activity. Mary never looked upon the face of her brother in the flesh again.

Field turned to Berrington and drew a long breath.

"The atmosphere smells all the sweeter for the loss of that lot," he said. "My word, this has been an anxious night for me. I don't know when I have felt so nervous. But I see that you have made a discovery, Colonel Berrington. What is it?"

"It seems to me that I have made more than one," Berrington said. "In the first place my suspicion that the body of Sir Charles Darryll was brought here has been confirmed. To begin with, I have got to the bottom of that mysterious dining-room business. Come this way and I will show you. Bentwood and that officer of yours had better stay here for the moment."

"Anything that I can do for you, gentlemen," Bentwood said meekly. "Any information that lies in my power. You have only to command me, and I will respond."

"Presently," Field said contemptuously. "We will question you later on. Then you shall tell me all about that secret Eastern drug that you understand so well, and what effect it is likely to have on a sleeping man."

Bentwood gave a gasp, and his face grew livid. It was evident that Field had struck and tapped a mine that the doctor had considered to be hidden from everybody. Then Bentwood sat down moodily and looked into the fire.

Berrington led the way into the dining-room, where he proceeded to explain everything in relation to the room under the floor and the vault in connection therewith. Field was particularly interested. All this worked out beautifully with his theory.

"I expect the body was concealed here," he said. "The thing has been well worked out. But do you suppose that Sartoris went to all this trouble and expense for the simple reason--"

"He didn't," Berrington explained. "Miss Sartoris, or Miss Grey as I prefer to call her, told me all about that. The house was taken four years ago and occupied by an American electrical engineer whom Sartoris knew quite well. It was he who put in all these dodges. When he died, Sartoris took the place, doubtless feeling that he might be able to use the mysteries here to good effect. I don't suppose at that time that he knew anything about the full value of Sir Charles Darryll's concessions. But once he had to take action, then this room came in very usefully."

"Do you know why they brought the body here?" Field asked.

"Yes, I have a pretty good idea on that score. Sir Charles had certain papers in his room in the Royal Palace Hotel, and these people wanted to gain possession of them. The robbery was fixed to take place on the night of that dinner party. Mind you, Richford did not know anything about that, because Sartoris had kept him in the dark. Bentwood was to work it. Bentwood was to administer the drug, but he gave too much. The consequence was an overdose, as you may gather."

Field smiled peculiarly, but he gave no hint as to the extent of his own discovery.

"These people did not want a post mortem," Berrington said. "They did not desire that any traces of that practically unknown drug should be discovered."

"And you think that they all ran that risk to guard their secret?" asked Field. "Well, you have provided me with one or two surprises, but I am going to provide you with as many before we go to bed. Have you discovered anything further?"

"Oh, yes," said Berrington, "this collar, for instance. I am in a position to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Sir Charles wore it on the night of the dinner party. I found that down here in this very vault. No further proof is wanted that the body was here. But what puzzles me is this: we were so quickly on the spot that those rascals had not the slightest chance of disposing of the corpse. What then has become of it-why can't we find it? Now that one knows all about the ruby mines and the concessions-which appear to me to be very valuable-the mystery becomes tolerably clear. But the corpse, where is it?"

"Are you quite sure that there is a corpse?" asked Field drily. "Let us go and ask Bentwood."

Bentwood sat up and smiled as his two chief tormentors came back. He was ready to afford any information that the gentlemen required.

"It is not much that I am going to ask," said Field. "Only this: Please take us at once to the spot where we can find the body of Sir Charles Darryll."

Bentwood jumped nimbly to his feet. The question seemed to fairly stagger him. If he had thought of concealing anything, he abandoned the idea now.

"Come this way, gentlemen," he said. "You are too many for me altogether. I wish to heaven that I had kept my medical discoveries to myself."

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