ONE person, however, had not forgotten it. At the farther end of the spacious entrance hall Detective Hobson was watching the drive expectantly. It was no part of his plan that Warren should meet Leigh and thus learn of Lester's rescue. So he sent Wilson to find the agent, with a message that Mrs. Warren wished to see him immediately. Hobson caught the sound of distant wheels, and his face brightened. Then, at length, a dog-cart came into view, driven in Warren's usual furious style. That was enough for the detective. He walked up to Lester and Bradshaw, drawing them aside for a moment, and then he led them onward and out on to the drive.
He hailed Warren, who pulled up his steaming horse.
"Oh, Mr. Warren," said the detective, genially, "your mother has been asking for you everywhere. I saw her inside there a moment ago."
Warren beckoned to a gardener's boy. "Here, take the cart to the stables," he said, striding toward the door which the detective had purposely left open.
Hobson followed close at his heels. Shutting the door before the waiting footman could intervene, he touched his quarry smartly on the shoulder. "I want you, Warren," he said with an ominous change in the tone and manner of his address.
Warren turned and put up his hands with the sheer instinct of self-defense. It was what Hobson wanted. The young agent, scarcely yet realizing the dread truth, found himself securely handcuffed after a brief struggle.
The two girls started apart, each clinging instinctively to the man of her heart. It was Hobson's great moment, and he made the most of it.
"Harry Warren," he said in a loud, clear voice, "I arrest you for the murder of Lord Arncliffe and the attempted murder of Thomas Aingier. I warn you that anything you may say will be taken down in writing and used in evidence against you."
For a moment Warren became blind with terror, but that and all other emotions gave place to the sense of shame at standing there manacled before women — before Edith, whom, in his way, he loved. And so he hung his head and stood silent, until a strangled sob made him look up. It came from Edith, who had caught sight of Mrs. Warren standing like a statue at the foot of the staircase.
The old housekeeper was so ghost white that the very sight of her brought a tightening of the heart. Warren laughed hysterically when he saw his mother and he turned to Hobson with an air of bravado.
"All right!" he said gruffly, "I confess the whole business. I poisoned Lord Arncliffe and I attacked Mr. Aingier to obtain possession of the books which showed my defalcations. Sorry, Mr. Aingier, but ‘needs must when the devil drives' — you know. Now, is that sufficient, or am I to be kept here any longer to amuse the company and torture a poor old woman?"
"Yes," broke in Lester, always generous. "This is infamous, Hobson. "You might very well have arrested Mr. Warren privately. In fact, I understood —"
"You will please allow me to carry out my business in my own way, Dr. Lester," said the police officer, with a certain stern dignity. "I represent the crown now, and I will not allow you or anybody else to interfere with me in the execution of my duties."
While this unexpected altercation was taking place Mrs. Warren came forward slowly, with the firm step and impassive face of a woman born to command.
"It is all over, mother," muttered Warren, hurriedly. "I have confessed to the murder of Lord Arncliffe and everything else, so the less said the better."
"I am glad to hear you say that, Harry," she answered, a gleam of the wonderful mother-love coming for a fleeting instant into her calm eyes. "You were always a loving son, whatever else you have been. But this farce must stop before it becomes a tragedy."
"Not another word, mother!" growled Warren, almost brutally. "Don't listen to her," he shouted in a frenzy, raising his manacled bands in entreaty. He almost flung himself on Hobson. "Take me away, d—n you. Why are you keeping me here?" he bellowed again.
Mrs. Warren silenced him with a pitiful gesture.
"No, my boy," she murmured. "At the best, I could look forward to only a few more years, while you, even if they imprison you, may yet enjoy something of life. Gentlemen, it was I who poisoned Lord Arncliffe!"
Mrs. Aingier and the two girls looked at the stately housekeeper in wondering horror, but the old solicitor, learned in the ways of the world, shook his head.
"What a miraculous thing is that maternal love which lasts from the cradle to the grave!" he whispered to Lester. "But it will not save her son, poor woman."
Hobson, however, seemed to be of a different opinion. "I quite believe you, madam," he said. "But do you understand the consequences of such a confession?"
"Perfectly," replied Mrs. Warren, quietly. "I make the statement of my own free will, and I am prepared to give proofs of all I say. There," she said, laying a bundle of letters on the table, " are papers which will bear me out, and here is the bottle which contained the poison I administered to Lord Arncliffe, together with a description, in his lordship's own handwriting, of the nature and action of the poison. He had forgotten it, or he would surely have mentioned it in the codicil to his will."
She handed Hobson a quaint old Venetian flask as she spoke. It was iridescent with age, and as the rainbow gleams caught Bradshaw's eye the American started forward.
"Why," he cried, "that was the thing I saw from the tree!"
"So it was you?" said Mrs. Warren, curiously unemotional. "I rather suspected it. I ought to have killed you."
Harry Warren had broken down now. He was sobbing like an overgrown child, but his grief was so plainly in his mother's behalf that none could feel anything except pity for him. Mrs. Warren glanced at her son, but she obviously nerved herself to continue.
"Let us reach the end," she cried imperiously. "I killed Lord Arncliffe because I was afraid he would discover my son's defalcations, and I knew that from him no mercy was to be expected. Most people have regarded Lord Arncliffe as the famous philanthropist, the benefactor of his species. To me he was an unrelenting and inveterate enemy."
She paused, and seemed to sway a little, but she waved aside the chair which Lester offered her.
"Forty years ago," she went on, "William Bradshaw and I were engaged to be married. Then I met Harry Warren, and, although Mr. Bradshaw was even then wealthy, I gave up riches for poverty and married the man I loved. I never regretted it, and my discarded lover never forgave me. When my husband died, fifteen years after our marriage, I was left destitute, with a baby three years old dependent upon me. It was then that Lord Arncliffe asked me to come and see him. As he was an invalid at the time, I thought," and her features yielded to bitter memory for an instant," he intended to renew his old proposal. For my son's sake, I was prepared to accept it, but I soon learnt that he merely required a housekeeper — some one to look after his servants and see that his table was kept creditably.
"I was glad! A competence was forthcoming, and I had my son at my side. And I was free to live with the undimmed memory of my dear husband! Then Lord Arncliffe began a system of petty persecution. He always treated me with the most scrupulous respect, but he never lost any opportunity of pointing out how different my position might have been. I endured it for my child's sake, and I cultivated a calm indifference which has made me more like a sphinx than a living woman. His hatred was unwavering. I nearly killed him once before. My husband, God help him! was given to drink. It was his only failing, and I found Lord Arncliffe — Lord Arncliffe, the advocate of temperance! — giving wine to my boy of ten!"
"But tell me, Mrs. Warren," interposed Lester, who, like the others, was watching her narrowly, and whose professional instinct was aroused, "what was the poison you gave Lord Arncliffe?"
"I found it in a secret drawer, there," said she, feebly indicating a Florentine cabinet at the head of the stairs. "The secret drawer had warped a little, and when I opened it I found an old bottle and some directions, written by Lord Arncliffe himself, many years earlier. It said that five drops a day would kill a man in a month; ten drops a day in a fortnight; twenty in a week, and so on. I had a special reason for hastening the end, so I gave Lord Arncliffe five drops daily, and he died exactly in the month. I think he guessed the truth -- I hope he did!"
Lester picked up Lord Arncliffe's paper. "'Acqua Tofana'" he read aloud; "Manna of St. Nicholas! Good Heavens! To think that it duped me and Mathieson! Is there any left, Mrs. Warren?" he demanded, with a fresh anxiety which communicated a thrill to the listeners.
"No," was the answer, given faintly, and with something of a ghastly smile. "I took all that remained an hour ago when I knew that you had escaped from Leigh and my son. And I think," she confessed, with a little gasp, "I have only about five minutes of life left."
Lester knew, then, that he had not been mistaken when he saw death in the unfortunate woman's face.
"Take the ladies away at once," he whispered to Bradshaw.
Mrs. Aingier was only too anxious to quit the room, and butterfly Phyllis needed no entreating; but Edith put a tender arm round Mrs. Warren and drew her to an armchair.
"Oh, how could you have done it!" she whispered tearfully. "How could you? Yet I am so sorry for you, Mrs. Warren!"
"You are a good girl, Edith," said the dying woman with a wan smile. "Don't be too hard on my boy!"
shall not do anything to him," promised
Lester, oblivious to all other considerations, was listening to Mrs. Warren's heart with his stethoscope, and endeavoring to slap some life into her icy hands, while she, conscious of the futility of resistance, submitted passively.
"Brandy and hot-water bottles, quick!" he cried to Edith, with full faith in her powers of self-control. "And you had better have a bed prepared with hot blankets."
Mrs. Warren lifted a weak, restraining hand. "Please do not torture me any more, Dr. Lester," she pleaded. "You must see that it is only a matter of minutes. If you want to do me a real kindness, let me speak my last words to my son."
Lester, indeed, knew that she was right, but it is only natural that a doctor should think he has achieved a triumph if he keeps some poor wretch gasping in agony for a few hours longer than nature has seemingly ordained. Now, however, he walked over to Hobson and his prisoner.
"Take those off!" he said curtly, pointing to the handcuffs.
The detective hesitated a moment, but even his calloused heart was touched, and he slipped the fetters from Warren's wrists.
"You are on your honor," he whispered, and the unfortunate young man, even in the agony of the moment, was grateful for the words as well as for the action.
Warren laid his head on his mother's lap as might a frightened child, and she tried to caress it with a palsied hand.
"Be a good boy in future, dear. Always be a good boy, whatever happens," she whispered. "I will. But mother! Oh, mother!"
"Always a good boy!"
And so he sobbed his protests and promises, until presently Lester led the poor, headstrong victim of heredity and of a calculated vengeance gently away; for Mrs. Warren had gone where God would judge between her and Lord Arncliffe.
Next morning, when Inspector Hobson was about to convey Harry Warren to the jail at Alnwick, Edith called a general council.
"Now, I want you all to help," she began, with true feminine directness. "What is to be done about Harry Warren? He must not be punished any more."
The man from Scotland Yard was in authority now, and he did not shirk his task.
"I am afraid it cannot be avoided, Miss Holt," he said. "Regarding the murder of Lord Arncliffe, he will have to stand his trial as an accessory after the fact. I don't think, in view of Mrs. Warren's statement and the papers she left, that the police will charge him with anything more, and, in case of a mother and son, he will get off with next to nothing. Of course, there are the three other charges — the robbing of Lord Arncliffe, and the attacks on Mr. Aingier and Dr. Lester. However, if those are dropped, I do not suppose the public prosecutor will take them up."
"Well, Dr. Lester is not going to take any proceedings, and I am sure Mr. Aingier will not."
"Why, my dear," said the old lawyer, mildly, "the young rascal hit me a very severe blow on the head, and the place is exceedingly tender. Still, if you wish it—"
"I am sure," interrupted Mrs. Aingier, who had not slept all night, "I do not want to be vindictive or unchristian, but my dear husband might have been killed, and I really feel that Warren deserves some little punishment. Fifteen or twenty years' penal servitude —"
"I think, Mrs. Aingier," interposed Edith with a slight accession of the marquise manner, "you owe me some reparation for the manner in which you behaved toward me. Certainly, no one who disobliges me now in this matter can again become or remain my friend."
"Oh, very well," sighed the lawyer's wife, "but don't blame me if we are all murdered in our beds."
"Very well, miss," said Hobson. "You need not have any further anxiety in the matter. What is wanted is a little influence, and, considering what an old friend Mr. Aingier is of the treasury solicitor, I do not think influence will be lacking."
Aingier, thus attacked, had to admit that he was not without power in certain quarters.
And it may here be said that Harry Warren was acquitted, there being no direct evidence that he was aware of his mother's crime. Edith's liberality gave him every chance of making a fresh start in the world. When he bade Lester, ever kindly and generous, good-by at Liverpool, he unquestionably quitted Britain with the intention of living a clean, honest life in the future.
Respecting Lord Arncliffe's legacy of ten thousand pounds for the discovery of his murderer, Hobson pointed out that from the first he had suspected Mrs. Warren to be the guilty party, and he arrested her son in such a dramatic manner only to force a confession from her lips; but Edith, having discretionary powers, awarded half the money to him and half to Wilson and May Mannering on their marriage. The detective proved his statement, but even he could not deny that the true dénouement came with the rescue of Lester. Further, Edith was convinced that the fortunate accident of May Mannering seeing something unusual in Warren's dog-cart alone saved her lover from all sorts of horrible fates.
Twilight was just falling over the wide expanse of the park as Edith and Lester sat on the balcony at Arncliffe. It was, of course, a secluded part of the balcony, and therefore their conversation mainly consisted of the "soft nothings" which mean so much. From the garden came occasional peals of merry laughter. Phyllis and Bradshaw were an altogether more lively pair of lovers than their friends.
"Dear Phyllis!" murmured Edith. "She is a warm-hearted little darling, but I really think she has secured the only man in the world who could manage her. I wanted to ask you something, George. Would you mind if I settled a large sum of money on Phyllis? Lord Arncliffe's fortune is so great that we can well spare it."
"My dear one, it is your own money; but I think your idea is creditable to your bright little head. Bradshaw cannot very well veto a proposal of that sort, and he is certainly entitled to some share of his uncle's money."
"You are a darling!" said Edith. And, as Lester put it, she "kissed him all by herself."
"Dearest," he whispered, "would you mind disposing of a large number of other bequests instantly and submit them for my approval on the same terms?"