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   Chapter 39 No.39

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 10931

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

A deadly faintness came over Beatrice. Torn and distracted as she had been of late, this last discovery was almost too much for her. She could only stand there with her hand upon her heart to still its passionate beating.

Yes, it was her father, beyond the shadow of a doubt. How he got there Beatrice could not possibly have told. He was looking much the same as when Beatrice had seen him last, save that his clothes were not so neat and he had not been shaved for some days. He seemed quite resigned to the situation although his expression was cross and irritable. He motioned to Beatrice to shut the door.

"Why don't you close the door?" he demanded. "Suppose anybody saw me?"

Beatrice was getting back some of her self-possession by this time. She closed the door and then took her seat on the edge of her father's bed.

"Why should you not be seen?" she asked. "What difference can it possibly make? We have all been looking for you everywhere. Where have you been?"

"I'm not quite sure," was the strange reply. "But you seem to have lost sight of my peculiar situation, Beatrice. My head is a little strange and confused, but I dare say it will come right presently. What happened to me on the night of the dinner party?"

"I did not see that anything happened," Beatrice said. "I suppose you went to bed in the ordinary way. I did not see that there was anything--"

"You didn't notice that I had too much wine with my dinner?"

Beatrice was fain to admit that she had not noticed anything of the kind. She wondered how much her father really knew as to what had happened.

"There has been a great deal of fuss," Sir Charles said. He proceeded to dress himself in certain old clothes and took up a beard and spectacles from the dressing table. Beatrice watched him with a growing feeling that he had taken leave of his senses.

"Why are you going to use those things?" she asked.

"Because it is absolutely necessary," Sir Charles said irritably. "I came here in this disguise to pick out certain things that I needed. A kind friend furnished this disguise, and also money for me to get away."

"But why do you want to get away?" Beatrice asked, more puzzled than ever.

"My dear child, your memory must be sadly defective," Sir Charles said sharply. "You seem to forget that I am in great difficulties. Richford was going to put me right, but Richford is dead. It is just my luck."

"Who told you that?" Beatrice asked. "Why it was only tonight--"

"My dear, there was a gentleman outside the hotel who told somebody else. Richford was arrested at the house of a friend of mine; I saw the thing done. Then I realized that my position was desperate. You see I have been stopping at Wandsworth with a friend for the last two or three days."

Beatrice began to understand a little. The cunning nature of the plot was beginning to unfold itself before her.

"The name of that friend is Mr. Carl Sartoris, I suppose?" Beatrice asked.

"That's the man. Though I cannot see how you came to know that. I met Sartoris before on business. He wanted me to sell him some rubbishy Ruby Mines concessions that Lord Edward Decié and myself procured years ago. I refused to take his money then; it did not seem fair. Besides I was in funds at the time."

Beatrice could hardly refrain from smiling at the na?ve confession.

"I should like to hear more about that," she said.

"I was just coming to it," Sir Charles went on. "I must have taken too much wine on that night; I seemed to sleep for days. When I came to myself I was in a strange room, with a doctor bending over me."

"A tall man with a beard? A man who carries drink all over him?" Beatrice asked.

"That is the fellow," Sir Charles said with obvious surprise, "though how you could know all these things puzzles me. Name of Bentwood. Sartoris was in the room, too. He told me that I had been found wandering about, and he told me that I was in danger of immediate arrest. When I suggested sending for Richford, he said that Richford had come to grief, and that the police were after him. Altogether, my dear child, my situation was not one to be envied."

"I quite understand that," Beatrice said, not without sarcasm.

"My dear, it was dreadful. Richford had come to grief. So far as I knew to the contrary, my only child was mated to a felon. Think of my mental agony!"

"I don't think we need dwell on that," Beatrice said with some traces of scorn in her voice. "You always knew that Stephen Richford was a scoundrel. He was not the less of a scoundrel because he could give me a position as the wife of a rich man, and because he could free you from a great and terrible danger. My mental agony counted for something too."

"I should think it did," Sir Charles said pompously. "I find that you were married, that all the papers were talking of my strange disappearance. Strangely enough, I never could get a sight of a daily newspaper. I don't know why. At any rate, you were married. Richford had come to grief, and thus was in hourly expectation of arrest. It was at this point that my friend Carl Sartoris came in. He kept me safe, he insisted upon giving me £500 for those concessions, which really was a delicate way of finding me the money to leave the country. Everything was arranged for my departure when the police came to the house of my friend Sartoris and took him off also. Directly I found that out, that something was wrong there

, I crept away from the house, and here I am."

Sir Charles held out his hands helplessly. He always expected other people to do things for him. Beatrice began to see her side of the case. Richford was dead, and the large sum of money that he had promised Sir Charles was no longer available. And Beatrice recalled the night of the dinner party, when her father had taken her to the window, and had shown her the two men watching silently below. The danger was just as great as ever; it was just as imperative that Sir Charles should leave the country.

Out of the whirling emotion in Beatrice's head order began to be restored. Everybody, so far as the girl knew, believed her father to be dead. The body had been spirited away for some reason known to Sartoris and his colleagues; nobody ever expected to see Sir Charles again. If he could slip out of the country now, and go abroad, the danger would be averted. Beatrice began to see her way to manage the thing.

"I will do what I can," she said. "You have that £500 intact? Very good. But there are some things that I am bound to tell you. People who are in a position to know, say that your mining concessions are very valuable indeed."

"Worth absolutely nothing," Sir Charles said. "Tried it before. Besides, if they were worth a lot of money, it is impossible to work the mine. The country is too disturbed and dangerous for anything of that kind. Besides, I have sold the concessions, and there is an end of it. Even without a business mind you can see that."

"All the same, I feel pretty sure that I am right," Beatrice said. "My dear father, you have been the victim of a strange conspiracy. You had not taken too much wine that night, but you were drugged by some mineral or vegetable in such a manner that the next day you were taken for dead. I did not know that fact till I was married; indeed, the news was kept from me and brought to me at church. The man whom you regard as your benefactor wanted certain papers of yours, and the doctor, Bentwood, was going to do the drugging. It was done too well; you were regarded as dead. Then, for some reason or other, probably because it was necessary for you to sign certain papers-your body was stolen, and you were taken, still in a state like death, to the house of Carl Sartoris at Wandsworth."

"God bless my soul, you don't really mean it?" Sir Charles cried.

"Indeed I do," Beatrice went on. "This Bentwood is a doctor who is an expert in the miracles and the hocus pocus of the East. The drug they administered to you is not known in England; the thing has never been seen here. I understand that they could have kept you in a state of suspended animation as long as they pleased. But they desired to see you in the flesh again so that you could sign that paper relating to those mines."

"I signed the paper this very morning," Sir Charles cried. "But I don't understand it all. Begin at the beginning and tell me all over again."

Beatrice did so, but it was a long time before her father appeared to comprehend. When he did so he was utterly incapable of seeing what Carl Sartoris had had in his mind.

"I can see that they didn't want to murder me," he said. "A post-mortem would have prevented that part of the scheme that required my signature-hence the daring theft of my body. But the main thing is that I have made £500 by the transaction."

Beatrice's lip curled scornfully.

"I had hoped that you would have taken another view of the case," she said. "I am afraid that you will never alter, father. Richford is dead, and I am free from him. Sartoris is dead, also, so we shall never know what his ultimate designs were. I don't see that you can keep that money under the circumstances, father."

Sir Charles was emphatically of a different opinion. Besides, as he pointedly put it, how was he going to get away without funds?

"I had forgotten that side of the matter," Beatrice said. "But I am not without friends. There is Mark Ventmore, for instance. If I were to ask him--"

"You are not to do anything of the kind," Sir Charles said angrily. "How on earth am I going to restore this money to Sartoris when the poor fellow is dead? He may not have a single relative in the world, for all I know. The money is honestly mine, and it is sufficient to take me out of this accursed country where detectives are waiting for me at every corner. And now you want to bring Mark Ventmore into it."

"Mark is the soul of honour," Beatrice said. "I am sure that he--"

"Has been in the past a confounded nuisance," Sir Charles interrupted. "It looks as if he were going to be just as much trouble in the future."

"He is the man I am going to marry," Beatrice said quietly. "I offered my life to save you and your good name, and a merciful providence released me from the sacrifice. Next time, I please myself. I shall never marry anybody but Mark."

"Of course you won't," Sir Charles said, in an aggrieved voice. "If you had never seen Mark Ventmore you would have been married to Richford a year ago, in which case I should not stand in my present awkward position. But we are only wasting time. Help me on with this beard and then walk as far as the hall with me. Then you can give me a kiss, and I'll take a cab and give you my blessing."

Beatrice said nothing. She would keep his secret. And all the world should hear that Sir Charles had been the victim of a calamity that could not be solved.

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