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MRS. WARREN IS SURPRISED
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR HOBSON fidgeted up and down the broad drive leading to Arncliffe Hall. True to his instincts, he lurked more or less among the bordering bushes. To do him justice, he acted so that he could see without being seen. That humiliating experience with Leigh had not been lost upon him.
But, when he caught sight of Lester and Bradshaw approaching the Hall there was no necessity for concealment; so he ran out and waved them a triumphant greeting. "I've got him!" he cried. "I've got him!"
"Got whom?" asked Bradshaw, as they came up. "Have you tracked the fell mare of night to her nest at last?"
"Oh, you may chaff, sir," cried Hobson, cheerily. "Anyway, I have laid by the heels the man who knocked Mr. Aingier on the head, and I think I have got hold of the man who murdered Lord Arncliffe. He is one and the same person — Mr. Harry Warren; and if Harry Warren does not stretch a rope pretty soon you may call me an idiot!"
"But," said Bradshaw, mildly, "I have called you an idiot all the time. No doubt you are right about Warren; at the same time, if you are so sure of your man, I want to know why in thunder you cast suspicion on Miss Holt?"
Hobson smiled in what he thought to be a superior manner. "My dear sir," he said, with a touch of condescension, "you don't understand the methods of the force. I simply pretended to suspect Miss Holt in order to throw Warren off his guard."
"Then you always believed him to be the real culprit?"
"I never had a doubt from the first. The trouble was that I hadn't a scrap of evidence to act upon."
"Hobson," said the American, earnestly, "you are wasted in an effete country like this. Come with me to New York. I'm a big man there — bigger than you'd guess — and I'll guarantee you'll be bossing police headquarters inside of six months."
"But," murmured the other, deprecatingly, "wouldn't the appointment of a foreigner like me cause a lot of jealousy?"
"Foreigner! My dear Hobson, an artistic perverter of the truth like you cannot selfishly be claimed by any one country. He belongs to humanity."
The detective's inordinate vanity so often led him into the traps prepared for him by Bradshaw that he had ceased to acknowledge compliments of the sort with anything more than a sickly smile.
"Never mind, Sherlock," continued the New Yorker, patting him on the shoulder. "I once met an easier mark than you — in Sacramento about ten years ago. Tell us how you got on."
"Splendidly, sir," answered Hobson, glad of an opportunity to show himself in a favorable light. "I obtained a search-warrant and went to Leigh's cottage — accompanied, I don't mind telling you, by P. C. Fox, who is as strong as a bull, for that poacher would be a deuced nasty customer to tackle."
"Easy!" cried Bradshaw, complacently. "Dead easy!"
He intended presently to allow the full details of his battle with Leigh to be dragged from him.
"However, there was no need to produce the warrant," went on Hobson. "There was no one in the place excepting an old woman who might have been a hundred. And she was as dead as a door-nail!"
"What I expected," interposed Lester. "I might have staved it off for a time, but when I told Leigh my opinion he thought I was working for my own ends, and would not believe me."
"Well, gentlemen, we made a quick search. There was not much furniture in the place, yet nothing turned up at first. There was an old ironbound box, and in it, if you'll believe me, we found a stocking with nearly a hundred pounds, some of the money dating back to George III."
"Of course," said Bradshaw, with a little cough, "P. C. Fox, as your subordinate, cannot expect to share —"
"Oh, do let him tell his story, there's a good chap," interrupted Lester, earnestly. "This is a serious matter, and considering what it means to Miss Holt —"
Bradshaw shrugged his shoulders. "If I can't infuse innocent joy into the proceedings, I'll dry up," he said. "Proceed, Vidocq."
"So," continued the detective, "we moved the poor old woman eventually, and searched the bed. And there we found what we were looking for — Lord Arncliffe's private account-book, and his passbook as well. Although the items in the private book had all been checked, they did not tally with the pass-book in dozens of cases. I should judge, speaking roughly, that there is a defalcation of at least three thousand pounds."
"But how does that incriminate Warren?" asked Bradshaw, aware that the detective was unaware of Lester's exciting adventure, and wondering how Hobson had reached his conclusions.
"Wait a minute, sir. I telephoned the bank at Alnwick, and learnt that Warren had a small account there. And from the day he opened it, he has never once sent in his pass-book to be made up."
Lester, thinking abstractedly of Edith, had scarcely assimilated half the conversation, but he dropped in a question. "What do you gather from that?"
"Well, sir," replied Hobson, with the dignity of the man who has "arrived," as the French say, "I can't bring myself to call people 'fools,' and 'idiots,' and 'beasts,' like some others I could mention. But, if I wanted to be rude, I should say any one was very dense who could not realize how Warren had robbed Lord Arncliffe and kept things going with a false pass-book."
"You've hit it, Hobson," agreed the American, heartily, "and I take back all I've said — I didn't mean five per cent. of it, anyway. Just listen to this," and he ran rapidly over the details of Lester's kidnapping and subsequent rescue. "Now, where is Warren? Have you got him in the calaboose?"
"So far as I know, sir, he is down in the village, visiting the various public-houses. When I said I had laid him by the heels, I did not mean that I had actually arrested him. But it will come before the day is out, and nothing will be lost by a little delay. Meanwhile, Fox is shadowing him, and if he attempts to escape, he will be arrested at once. What I want to do is to net his mother, too, as an accessory after the fact."
"But this is simply outrageous!" exclaimed Lester, indignantly. "Do you think any judge in the land will sentence a mother for endeavoring to shield her son?"
Hobson ceded the point for the moment. He had a theory which he had mentioned to none. It would not be his fault if the Arncliffe puzzle did not attract widespread attention in its ultimate solution.
Bradshaw, by the grace of Miss Phyllis Harland, having little, now, save a friendly interest in Edith, had made Lester happy, were it not for the haunting fear that he had offended his divinity beyond forgiveness. Lester had never learned the golden rule that no one should fall in love for the first time. And so, when he found himself almost in the presence of his lady he sheltered himself behind an armor of icy reserve, after the manner of his caste.
"Wait here," said Bradshaw, as they entered the library. "I won't be a minute."
Lester, left to himself, glanced out over the broad acres of Arncliffe, and the sight of the rolling meadows and noble woods brought back to him all the old question of disparity. Before, at least, she was under a cloud, and he could offer her something of protection. But now —
So he built up a harrowing picture of himself dying in an African swamp with her dear name upon his lips, and in the midst of this pleasing reverie, which lasted for perhaps ten minutes, he was interrupted by the voice of Bradshaw.
"There you are, Miss Holt. Behold him, safe and sound! Had a nasty smack on the head, but I understand the great British people have remarkably, thick skulls. Good-by! I'll see you later."
Edith, lured into the room on utterly false pretenses, stood spellbound at the sight of the man in whose behalf she had been suffering agonies of anxiety.
Lester, taken off his guard, bowed stiffly. "How d'ye do?" he said.
"Oh — how do you do?" answered Edith, with equal formality. She felt something of the instinct which prompts a mother to slap her child because he has just escaped being run over. She eyed him, too, surreptitiously, and was indignant to see that he looked well and strong as ever.
Lester stole a glance at her. The little red-gold head was poised haughtily, and the scarlet flower of a mouth was shut tightly as a poppy, at nightfall. And lo! as Miss Phyllis predicted, Dr. Lester became abject.
"Edith," he began.
"I was jealous," he said. "Oh, my dearest, forgive me: I was jealous!"
"Jealous?" exclaimed Edith, with scornful indignation. "I am not a housemaid, Dr. Lester, to 'walk out' with this man to-day and that to-morrow. I am glad I have learned in good time the sort of estimation in which you hold me."
"Yes, in time. Jealous!"
"Well," said he, miserably, "Mr. Aingier unfortunately chanced to tell me it would be an ideal way of settling the difficulty about Lord Arncliffe's money; and Bradshaw had your arm in his, and — and — you were laughing."
"Terrible crimes! I gave my arm to a man who was ill — and I was laughing! I won't detain you any longer, Dr. Lester." She moved toward the door with graceful dignity.
With hopeless despair in his eyes, he stepped forward mechanically to open it for her. Then, by instinct, he did what he ought to have done at the beginning of the interview — he took her in his arms, resist she never so strenuously, kissed the determined little mouth until it quivered into weakness and her cheeks challenged its scarlet.
"Oh!" she gasped. " Oh! Please!"
"My little girl!"
"But I don't love you any more!" emphasizing the fact by slipping a soft arm round his neck.
"Have you forgiven me, darling?"
"Perhaps I have," in a whisper.
"Then kiss me all by yourself."
Bradshaw, coughing to an extent that was entirely uncalled for, and apparently in serious difficulties with the door-handle, entered the room.
"Sorry to interrupt you," he said, looking mercilessly at Edith's rosy cheeks, "but Hobson is anxious to see you both in the main hall. I told you, Miss Holt, to expect developments, and although any sort of scene must be unpleasant for you, I am sure you will welcome anything which puts an end to the strain of the past few weeks. Moreover, I have a little surprise of my own for you."
"I shall indeed welcome an end to all these bewilderments and outrages," was the reply. "I hope, however, that your surprise will be a pleasant one?"
"Pretty good, I think."
In one of the corridors they encountered Mrs. Warren, and it seemed to Bradshaw that for a fraction of a second her cheeks paled at the sight of Lester. But her step remained so firm and her voice so unbroken that he told himself he must be mistaken.
"Good day, Dr. Lester," she said. "I am glad to see you safe and well. We were beginning to fear that you were fated to add another to the mysteries of Arncliffe." She passed on, with a jingle of her keys.
Bradshaw looked after her curiously. "Have you talked to Mrs. Warren about Lester's disappearance?" he asked Edith.
"Ah!" he said to himself, "a slip! She knows the whole business. Well, I am sorry for the poor woman."
Arncliffe Hall was so extensive that ere they had covered half their journey Edith was asking Bradshaw coaxingly what his surprise was.
"Patience is a virtue," he said, with a smile. But he broke out: "You won't have to wait. Here comes the surprise, right in front of you!"
Edith looked up, and then, with a shriek of "Reggie!" flung herself into the arms of a handsome youth, kissing him with a delighted abandon which made Lester's blood run cold, until the likeness helped him to realize that this was the brother whom Edith held so dear.
"You dear, bad boy! Why didn't you let me know? Did you receive my letter? Of course not. There has not been time. Why did you come?" And she asked so many questions in a breath that the newcomer had no chance to answer a single one of them.
"Cabled him to come over," explained Bradshaw, tersely, when order was at length restored.
"But how did you know?" asked Edith in utter astonishment.
"Clerk in my office. He used to talk so much about the place in England where his sister lived that he riled every free-born American in the place. Said it knocked spots out of the Central Park — which it does, for a fact. Anyway, I heard him mention as a coincidence with my name that Lord Arncliffe was originally Sir William Bradshaw, and that is really the chance which led to my coming here."
"I am so glad Reggie was in your office," said Edith. "I understood he was employed by one of those horrid trusts."
"The fact is, Miss Holt," confessed the American, "I am a 'horrid trust.' Amalgamated Lumber — that's me."
"Do you mean to tell me," exclaimed Lester, "that you are Bradshaw the millionaire? Why, I thought he was a middle-aged man."
"Well, I am middle-aged — for the States."
"And do you force other people to sell their businesses to you or else crush them?" asked Edith, reproachfully.
"Sure," answered Bradshaw, cheerfully. "That's part of the game. And if you'll believe me, Miss Holt, I have a list of the widows and orphans I have despoiled brought up to me every morning before breakfast. It amuses me, and keeps me from becoming a dyspeptic, like other masters of the art."
He said this so solemnly that Edith, a little bewildered by the events of the past quarter of an hour, looked at him doubtfully. Then she saw light. "But you would not take any of Lord Arncliffe's money," she cried triumphantly.
"Why no, I don't value any money unless I earn it. And, to tell you the truth, I have rather more than I know what to do with, anyway. If you like, I will give a free library to Arncliffe. Or," he added, "if Dr. Lester intends to practise here I might endow a cemetery."
"You are a horrid man," cried Edith with mock indignation, "and I am glad Reggie won't be under your influence any longer."
"Why," exclaimed young Holt, aghast, "you are not going to get rid of me, Mr. Bradshaw"
"It is not that," interrupted Edith. " Of course you cannot remain a clerk under present circumstances. If you would like to go into the army —"
"The army!" cried Reggie, with an emphatic sniff, for he had imbibed much of the American spirit in a short period. "I mean to work, and I am going back to New York just as soon as you are comfortably fixed."
And later Edith realized that her brother was right. Only in strenuous endeavor lay redemption of the past and salvation for the future.
Mr. and Mrs. Aingier were sitting in a windowed recess in the entrance hall listening to the seemingly artless prattle of Miss Harland, when Edith and the rest came up. Lester and Phyllis had not, of course, met. Indeed, he was unaware of her presence at the Hall — and hence he naturally regarded the dainty little beauty with some curiosity.
Phyllis also was interested in the man who had caused her bosom friend so many heart-burnings.
"Just as I said!" she commented to herself. "A nasty square jaw and a mouth like a rat-trap. I should like to punish him."
Phyllis had only one way of punishing a man. To Bradshaw's unutterable indignation, she left her hand in Lester's for a full ten seconds, gazing up at him the while with big trustful eyes that had in them a suspicion of naive admiration. Men are only human, and Lester regarded this welcome as a natural tribute to his manly excellence.
Meanwhile Edith lost no detail of the pretty little scene. Perhaps the ultimate results of Miss Harland's flirtatious habits might have been disastrous but for the intervention of lucky chance. After giving Lester a full discharge from her optical battery, Phyllis averted her eyes in shy confusion, as was her usual custom, and the first person they fell upon was Bradshaw.
Good gracious! His jaw was square too, and if Lester's mouth was like a rat-trap it seemed to her terrified imagination that here was a trap equal to holding a lion. William Lincoln Bradshaw was madly in love. In days to come he would, if his fortunes changed, toil unceasingly in the inferno of New York's climate for the dollars his wife would fritter away at Paris or Monte Carlo. But he would stand no nonsense, now or then.
Thus it was that presently, when they stood a little apart from the rest, he spoke to her. No word of love had passed between them, but there was no need for explanations. "Say," he said quietly, "I won't have it."
Phyllis had a tear which she had managed to keep unshed through many desperate encounters, and now she summoned it up. But the granite mouth remained unmoved. That tear had never failed Phyllis yet, and she began to feel frightened.
"I did not mean anything," she faltered, not even attempting to deny the unspoken charge. And lo! the tear fell, a pearl of price, splashing itself into diamonds which cost Bradshaw two thousand pounds in sterling money, just as quickly as a jeweler could be summoned from London.
So it was evident that in their new-found happiness, Edith and Lester had, like their friends, forgotten the shadow of tragedy which still draped Arncliffe Hall in somber hues.