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   Chapter 38 No.38

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11403

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Bentwood led the way from the dining-room up a back staircase, and paused before what looked like a portion of the wallpaper. There was a little discoloured spot about half way between the dado and the floor, and on this the doctor pressed a shaking thumb. A part of the wall fell away and disclosed a small room beyond. The room had evidently been occupied lately, for there was a fire in the grate and the remains of a meal on the table. The room itself was empty.

"Well, I'm hanged," Bentwood cried. "Gentlemen, I can't tell you now. You asked to see the body of Sir Charles Darryll, and I have done my best to satisfy your curiosity. The last time I saw the body it was here. It seems to have vanished, and I know no more than the dead what has happened. I'm telling you no more than the truth."

That the man was telling the truth was evidenced by the expression of his face. Field had no more questions to ask, because he was quite sure of the fact. On the table lay a letter, which the inspector first glanced at and then placed in his pocket.

"I am just a little disappointed," he said, "because I fancied that I had the complete and crowning surprise for you here tonight, Colonel. You had better go off with my men, because I have no further need of your services for the present, Dr. Bentwood. Perhaps to-morrow I may have the pleasure of calling upon you. Good night."

The doctor vanished from the house, which was empty now, save for Berrington and Field. The latter put out the lights and prepared to leave by way of the front door.

"What are you going to do next?" Berrington asked.

"Go back to headquarters and report progress," Field explained. "The rest is a matter of chance. I fancy I can see my way pretty clearly as to what has happened. Come along, sir; on the whole we have no call to be dissatisfied."

But the events of the night were by no means over yet. A battered constable at the Yard who had just had his head bandaged up had a story to tell. The prisoners from No. 100, Audley Place, had not been conveyed to durance vile without one accident that had been attended with a fatal tragedy. The officer told his story painfully.

"It was that little devil by the side of the driver," he said. "It's lucky for me that he was not a big man instead of a bag of bones. We'd come about half way when he turned and half throttled the driver and then put speed on the motor. There was a struggle for the steering gear, and then the whole show came to grief on a bridge. We were all pitched out, but we hung to our prisoners, who are a pretty sight, sir. Mr. Richford pitched over the side of the bridge on to the metals of the railway lines below and he was killed on the spot. I don't want another game like that."

Surely enough Richford had been killed. His neck had been broken, and he had died without the slightest pain. Berrington, listening gravely to the story, felt no shock from the recital that he had heard. The world was well rid of a poisonous scoundrel, and Beatrice would be free now to marry the man of her choice.

"Was Sartoris hurt?" he asked, a little ashamed to feel that he would have been glad to hear so for Mary's sake. "A delicate man like that--"

"Internally, the doctor says," the officer went on; "been spitting blood ever since he has."

Berrington expressed a desire to see the cripple, who received him without any sign of feeling. He was lying back in an arm chair, his face white and set.

"You need not condole with me," he said. "Don't ask me to make a deathbed confession, for that kind of thing is sheer waste of time. I know that I'm dying. I know that I may fall back at any moment, and then there will be the end. I'm full of blood inside. I might have told that fool of a doctor what he had come to find out-that a broken rib has pierced the lung, and I'm bleeding away quietly. Feel my hands."

Berrington touched the cold, clammy fingers. They were icy with the touch of death.

"Rigor mortis," Sartoris said. "Only a few minutes now. It's a good thing for you, and it's a good thing for Mary, who has been cursed with a brother like me. It's, it's--"

Sartoris said no more. There was a bubbling kind of sigh, blood welled from his mouth and ran down his coat, his head dropped on one side, and he was gone. There was nothing to be said, nothing to be done. On the whole it was just as well.

"It's a ghastly business altogether," Berrington said to Field. "Old soldier as I am, I have had quite enough of horrors for one night. I understand that Miss Grey returned to the Royal Palace with Mrs. Richford. I had better go and tell them both what has happened."

Field agreed, and Berrington departed on his errand. It was not much past eleven yet, so there was plenty of time. Mary and Beatrice had gone back to the hotel in care of Mark Ventmore. They were seated in the drawing-room when Berrington arrived.

Beatrice crossed the room quickly. She wanted to have a few words with Berrington before the others joined in the discussion; she wanted to know if anything had been discovered.

"About my father?" she asked. "This suspense is horrible. Have they not got on the track yet? Why did they want to do that disgraceful thing at all?"

Berrington explained as far as possible. Beatrice was quick to see the meaning of it all. The recital of the story made her a little easier in her mind.

"Possibly by this time to-morrow," Berrington said. "Meanwhile I have something to tell both you and Miss Grey that will be a shock to you, though personally it would be hypocritical to regard it in the light of a deplorable event. There was an accident to the motor car."

"Mr. Sartor

is, I mean Mr. Grey, has he escaped?" Beatrice cried. "Yes?"

"I don't think that he was trying to escape. I fancy it was more in the spirit of diabolical mischief than anything else, but he attacked the driver and made a grab for the steering wheel. The result was a smash on a bridge, and the motor was upset. Stephen Richford was pitched clean over the bridge on to the lines, and-and--"

"Killed on the spot?" Beatrice asked quietly. "Would that I could say that I am sorry. It is the best thing that could have happened. And the rest of them?"

"There was not much damage done, except to Sartoris, or Grey, rather. The body of the car struck him on the chest, and a rib stuck into his lung. He bled to death. I was the last person to see him. To the end he was as hard and callous as ever. Will you tell Mary, please? It would come better from you."

Berrington and Ventmore stood talking quietly together whilst Beatrice performed her sad task. Mark listened to all that Berrington had to tell.

"And yet all this bother might have been saved," he said. "My father knew all about those concessions, and he has a pretty good idea of the value of them. Only yesterday he was talking to me about it. If Sir Charles had gone to him, he could have got every penny that he required. But you see, I was not on good terms with my father at the time, though that is all forgiven and forgotten now. At any rate I think we should ask my father's assistance if only to clear the good name of Sir Charles, and make a provision for Beatrice. Now that Richford is dead, something will have to be done. Don't you think so?"

"I am quite sure that you are right," Berrington said. "Your father is rich, and a remarkably good man of business. He is the very one to put matters on a proper footing, and see that the money is returned to the company that Sir Charles was entangled with. You say that those ruby mines are really a good property?"

"My father says that they are splendid," Mark replied. "Enough to give Sir Charles a large income, pay his debts, and provide for Miss Decié besides. I shall see my father to-night, and will go thoroughly into the question with him."

The thing was left at that, and Berrington made his preparations to depart. Mary was crying quietly now with the keen edge of her grief taken off. Mark and Beatrice drew aside, so that the others could talk in private.

"What shall I say to you, Mary?" Berrington asked.

"What can you say?" the girl asked in a gentle tone. "You are a good man, Phil, and it is good to know that you have loved me so devotedly and sincerely. I shall be able to come to you now and take up the thread of my happiness, where I deliberately snapped it three years ago. If my brother had not been misled by a designing woman--"

"Mary," Berrington said with firmness. "You are utterly wrong. I have had the story from Field only to-night, who has heard it from the lips of Miss Decié herself. She is a girl as good and pure as yourself. From first to last she was deceived. If Frank Leviter, the man who sacrificed his life for her sake and whom she loved, had lived, the mask would have fallen from your eyes. Your brother treated Violet Decié as he treated you, as he treated everybody. He was bad to the core of his being, and he has been saved from a shameful death by an accident. If you will try to get all that into your mind you will be a happier woman. You have lost three of the best years of your life-years that belonged to me as well as to you-in pursuit of a mistaken sense of duty. This must be clearly understood between us if the path of our married life is to be free from care."

Mary bent her head and said nothing. And yet, deep down in her heart she knew that Berrington had said no more than the truth. She placed her hand in his.

"I am ready for you when the time comes, Phil," she whispered. "Only one thing I ask. Never let this be mentioned between us again."

"That I faithfully promise," said Berrington. "It is what I was going to suggest. Do you stay here to-night with Beatrice Darryll?"

Mary replied that that was the arrangement. Meanwhile Mark had been discussing the future with Beatrice. She had warmly approved of all that her lover had said about his father. She was glad to know that old Mr. Ventmore would not oppose the marriage, and that her love for him would not tend to keep Mark a poor man.

"So perhaps you had better let me have all those papers that Sartoris was so anxious to get hold of," Mark concluded. "Could you let me have them now?"

"Of course I can," Beatrice said. "I'll go and get them for you from my room. Mary Grey is sharing my bed with me to-night-to-morrow I shall arrange for her to have my father's room. I'll get the papers at once if you will wait."

The papers were found with some little delay, and Beatrice was preparing to come downstairs again when it seemed to her that she heard a noise in the room next to her, the bedroom that had been occupied by Sir Charles. It was a creeping kind of noise followed by what was most unmistakably a sneeze.

Beatrice hesitated just for a moment, for her nerves had been much strained lately. Then she put her fear from her and walked into the next room. Only one of the electric lights gave a feeble glimmer over the room. A man stood there, a man who was changing his upper garments. Beatrice gave a little cry and staggered back into the doorway. The man turned at the same time, and saw that he was observed. His face was as white as that of Beatrice.

"Father!" the girl said, "father! Is it possible that I am not dreaming and that you are in the flesh before me again? Oh, father, father!"

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