“You shall tell me how these months have gone with you while we dine,” said he. “Your letters told me nothing of your troubles.”
“I did not mean them to,” replied Sylvia.
“I guessed that, my dear. It was like you. Yet I would rather have known.”
Only a few hours before he had stood upon the deck of the Channel packet and had seen the bows swing westward of Dover Castle and head toward the pier. Would Sylvia be there, he had wondered, as he watched the cluster of atoms on the quay, and in a little while he had seen her, standing quite alone, at the very end of the breakwater that she might catch the first glimpse of her lover. Others had traveled with them in the carriage to London and there had been no opportunity of speech. All that he knew was that she had been alone now for some weeks in the little house in Hobart Place.
“One thing I see,” he said. “You are not as troubled as you were. The look of fear—that has gone from your eyes. Sylvia, I am glad!”
“There, were times,” she answered—and as she thought upon them, terror once more leapt into her face—“times when I feared more than ever, when I needed you very much. But they are past now, Hilary,” and her hand dropped for a moment upon his, and her eyes brightened with a smile. As they dined she told the story of those months.
“We returned to London very suddenly after you had gone away,” she began. “We were to have stayed through September. But my father said that business called him back, and I noticed that he was deeply troubled.”
“When did you notice that?” asked Chayne, quickly. “When did you first notice it?”
Sylvia reflected for a moment.
“The day after you had gone.”
“Are you sure?” asked Chayne, with a certain intensity.
Chayne nodded his head.
“I did not understand the reason of the hurry. And I was perplexed—and also a little alarmed. Everything which I did not understand frightened me in those days.” She spoke as if “those days” and all their dark events belonged to some dim period of which no consequence could reach her now. “Our departure had almost the look of a flight.”
“Yes,” said Chayne. For his part he was not surprised at their flight. He had passed more than one wakeful night during the last few months arguing and arguing again whether or no he should have disclosed to Sylvia the meaning of that softly opening door and the shadow on the ceiling as he read it. He might have been wrong; if so, he would have added to Sylvia’s burden of troubles yet another, and one more terrible than all the rest. He might have been right; and if so, he might have enabled Sylvia to avert a tragedy. Thus the argument had revolved in a circle and left him always in the same doubt. Now he understood that his explanation of the incident had been confirmed. The loud whistle from the darkness of the road, the yokel’s cry, which had driven Garratt Skinner from the room, as noiselessly as he had entered it, had done more than that—they had driven him from the neighborhood altogether. Some one had seen him—had seen him standing just behind Walter Hine in the lighted room—and on the next day he had fled!
“I was right,” he said, absently, “right to keep silent.” For here was Sylvia at his side and the dreaded peril unfulfilled. “Well, you returned to London?” he added, hastily.
“Yes. There is something of which I did not tell you, that night when we were together on the downs. Walter Hine had begun to take cocaine.”
“Cocaine!” he cried.
“Yes. My father taught him to take it.”
“Your father,” said Chayne, slowly, trying to fit this new and astounding fact in with the rest. “But why?”
“I think I can tell you,” said Sylvia. “My father knew quite well that he had me working against him, trying to rescue Walter Hine out of his hands. And I was beginning to get some power. He understood that, and destroyed it. I was no match for him. I thought that I knew something of the under side of life. But he knew more, ever so much more, and my knowledge was of no avail. He taught Walter Hine the craving for cocaine, and he satisfied the craving—there was his power. He provided the drug. I do not know—I might perhaps have fought against my father and won. But against my father and a drug I was helpless. My father obtained it in sufficient quantity, withheld it at times, gave it at other times, played with him, tantalized him, gratified him. You can understand there was only one possible result. Walter Hine became my father’s slave, his dog. I no longer counted in his thoughts at all. I was nothing.”
“Yes,” said Chayne.
The device was subtle, diabolically subtle. But he wondered whether it was only to counterbalance and destroy Sylvia’s influence that Garratt Skinner had introduced cocaine to Hine’s notice; whether he had not had in view some other end, even still more sinister.
“I saw very little of Mr. Hine after our return to London,” she continued. “He did not come often to the house, but when he did come, each time I saw that he had changed. He had grown nervous and violent of temper. Even before we left Dorsetshire the violence had become noticeable.”
“Oh!” said Chayne, looking quickly at Sylvia. “Before you left Dorsetshire?”
“Yes; and my father seemed to me to provoke it, though I could not guess why. For instance—”
“Yes?” said Chayne. “Tell me!”
He spoke quietly enough, but once again there was audible a certain intensity in his voice. There had been an occasion when Sylvia had given to him more news of Garratt Skinner than she had herself. Was she to do so once more? He leaned forward with his eyes on hers.
“The night when you came back to me. Do you remember, Hilary?” and a smile lightened his face.
“I shall forget no moment of that night, sweetheart, while I live,” he whispered; and blushes swept prettily over her face, and in a sweet confusion she smiled back at him.
“Oh, Hilary!” she said.
“Oh, Sylvia!” he mimicked; and as they laughed together, it seemed there was a danger that the story of the months of separation would never be completed. But Chayne brought her back to it.
“Well? On that night when I came back?”
“I saw you in the road from my window, and then motioning you to be silent, I disappeared from the window.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Chayne, eagerly. He began to think that the cocaine was after all going to fit in with the incidents of that night.
“Walter Hine and my father were going up to bed. I heard them on the stairs. They were going earlier than usual.”
“You are sure?” interrupted Chayne. “Think well!”
“Much earlier than usual, and they were quarreling. At least, Walter Hine was quarreling; and my father was speaking to him as if he were a child. That hurt his vanity and made him worse.”
“Your father was provoking him?”
Sylvia’s forehead puckered.
“I could not say that, and be sure of it. But I can say this. If my father had wished to provoke him to a greater anger, it’s in that way that he would have done it.”
“Yes. I see.”
“They were speaking loudly—even my father was—more loudly than usual—especially at that time. For when they went up-stairs, they usually went very quietly”; and again Chayne interrupted her.
“Your father might have wanted you to hear the quarrel?” he suggested.
Sylvia turned to him curiously.
“Why should he wish that?” she asked, and considered the point. “He might have. Only, on the other hand, they were earlier than usual. They would not be so careful to go quietly; I was likely to be still awake.”
“Exactly,” said Chayne.
For in the probability that Sylvia would be still awake, would hear the violent words of Hine, and would therefore be an available witness afterward, Chayne found the reason both of the loudness of Garratt Skinner’s tones and his early retirement for the night.
“Did you hear what was said? Can you repeat the words?” he asked.
“Yes. My father was keeping something from Mr. Hine which he wanted. I have no doubt it was the cocaine,” and she repeated the words.
“Yes,” said Chayne. “Yes,” in the tone of one who is satisfied. The incident of the lighted room and the shadow on the ceiling were clear to him now. A quarrel of which there was a witness, a quarrel all to the credit of Garratt Skinner since it arose from his determination to hinder Walter Hine from poisoning himself with drugs—at least, that is how the evidence would work out; the quarrel continued in Walter Hine’s bedroom, whither Garratt Skinner had accompanied his visitor, a struggle begun for the possession of the drug, begun by a man half crazy for want of it, a blow in self-defence delivered by Garratt Skinner, perhaps a fall from the window—that is how Chayne read the story of that night, as fashioned by the ingenuity of Garratt Skinner.
But on one point he was still perplexed. The story had not been told out to its end that night: there had come an unexpected shout, which had interrupted it, and indeed forever had prevented its completion on that spot. But why had it not been completed afterward, during the next few months, somewhere else? It had not been completed. For here was Sylvia with all her fears allayed, continuing the story of those months.
“But violence was not the only change in Walter Hine. There were some physical alterations which frightened me. Mr. Hine, as I say, came very seldom to our house, though my father saw a great deal of him. Otherwise I should have noticed them before. But early this year he came and—you remember he was fair—well, his skin had grown dark, quite dark, his complexion had changed altogether. And there was something else which shocked me. His tongue was black, really black. I asked him what was the matter? He grew restless and angry and lied to me, and then he broke down and told me he could not sleep. He slept for a few minutes only at a time. He really was ill—very ill.”
Was this the explanation, Chayne asked himself? Having failed at the quick process, the process of the lighted room and the open window, had Garratt Skinner left the drug to do its work slowly and surely?
“He was so weak, so broken in appearance, that I was alarmed. My father was not in the house. I sent for a cab and I took Mr. Hine myself to a doctor. The doctor knew at once what was amiss. For a time Mr. Hine said ‘No,’ but he gave in at the last. He was in the habit of taking thirty grains of cocaine a day.”
“Thirty grains!” exclaimed Chayne.
“Yes. Of course it could not go on. Death or insanity would surely follow. He was warned of it, and for a while he went into a home. Then he got better, and he determined to go abroad and travel.”
“Who suggested that?” asked Chayne.
“I do not know. I know only that he refused to go without my father, and that my father consented to accompany him.”
Chayne was startled.
“They are away together now?” he cried. A look of horror in his eyes betrayed his fear. He stared at Sylvia. Had she no suspicion—she who knew something of the under side of life? But she quietly returned his look.
“I took precautions. I told my father what I knew—not merely that Mr. Hine had acquired the habit of taking cocaine, but who had taught him the habit. Yes, I did that,” she said simply, answering his look of astonishment. “It was difficult, my dear, and I would very much have liked to have had you there to help me through with it. But since you were not there, since I was alone, I did it alone. I thought of you, Hilary, while I was saying what I had to say. I tried to hear your voice speaking again outside the Chalet de Lognan. ‘What you know, that you must do.’ I warned my father that if any harm came to Walter Hine from taking the drug again, any harm at all which I traced to my father, I would not keep silent.”
Chayne leaned back in his seat.
“You said that—to Garratt Skinner, Sylvia!” and the warmth of pride and admiration in his voice brought the color to her cheeks and compensated her for that bad hour. “You stood up alone and braved him out! My dear, if I had only been there! And you never wrote to me a word of it!”
“It would only have troubled you,” she answered. “It would not have helped me to know that you were troubled!”
“And he—your father?” he asked. “How did he receive it?”
Sylvia’s face grew pale, and she stared at the table-cloth as though she could not for the moment trust her voice. Then she shuddered and said in a low and shaking voice—so vivid was still the memory of that hour:
“I thought that I should never see you again.”
She said no more. From those few words, and from the manner in which she uttered them, Chayne had to build up the terrible scene which had taken place between Sylvia and her father in the little back room of the house in Hobart Place. He looked round the lighted room, listened to the ripple of light voices, and watched the play of lively faces and bright eyes. There was an incongruity between these surroundings and the words which he had heard which shocked him.
“My dear, I’ll make it up to you,” he said. “Trust me, I will! There shall be good hours, now. I’ll watch you, till I know surely without a word from you what you are thinking and feeling and wanting. Trust me, dearest!”
“With all my heart and the rest of my life,” she answered, a smile responding to his words, and she resumed her story:
“I extracted from my father a promise that every week he should write to me and tell me how Mr. Hine was and where they both were. And to that—at last—he consented. They have been away together for two months, and every week I have heard. So I think there is no danger.”
Chayne did not disagree. But, on the other hand, he did not assent.
“I suppose Mr. Hine is very rich?” he said, doubtfully.
“No,” replied Sylvia. “That’s another reason why—I am not afraid.” She chose the words rather carefully, unwilling to express a deliberate charge against her father. “I used to think that he was—in the beginning when Captain Barstow won so much from him. But when the bets ceased and no more cards were played—I used to puzzle over why they ceased last year. But I think I have hit upon the explanation. My father discovered then what I only found out a few weeks ago. I wrote to Mr. Hine’s grandfather, telling him that his grandson was ill, and asking him whether he would not send for him. I thought that would be the best plan.”
“Well, the grandfather answered me very shortly that he did not know his grandson, that he did not wish to know him, and that they had nothing to do with one another in any way. It was a churlish letter. He seemed to think that I wanted to marry Mr. Hine,” and she laughed as she spoke, “and that I was trying to find out what we should have to live upon. I suppose that it was natural he should think so. And I am so glad that I wrote. For he told me that although Mr. Hine must eventually have a fortune, it would not be until he himself died and that he was a very healthy man. So you see, there could be no advantage to any one—” and she did not finish the sentence.
But Chayne could finish it for himself. There could be no advantage to any one if Walter Hine died. But then why the cocaine? Why the incident of the lighted window?
“Yes,” he said, in perplexity, “I can corroborate that. It happened that my friend John Lattery, who was killed in Switzerland, was also connected with Joseph Hine. He also would have inherited; and I knew from him that the old man did not recognize his heirs. But—but Walter Hine had money—some money, at all events. And he earned none. From whom did he get it?”
Sylvia shook her head.
“I do not know.”
“Had he no other relations, no friends?”
“None who would have made him an allowance.”
Chayne pondered over that question. For in the answer to it he was convinced he would find the explanation of the mystery. If money was given to Walter Hine, who had apparently no rich relations but his grandfather, and certainly no rich friends, it would have been given with some object. To discover the giver and his object—that was the problem.
“Think! Did he never speak of any one?”
Sylvia searched her memories.
“No,” she said. “He never spoke of his private affairs. He always led us to understand that he drew an allowance from his grandfather.”
“But your father found that that was untrue when you were in Dorsetshire, ten months ago. For the card-playing and the bets ceased.”
“Yes,” Sylvia agreed thoughtfully. Then her face brightened. “I remember a morning when Mr. Hine was in trouble. Wait a moment! He had a letter. We were at breakfast and the letter came from Captain Barstow. There was some phrase in the letter which Mr. Hine repeated. ‘As between gentlemen’—that was it! I remember thinking at the time what in the world Captain Barstow could know about gentlemen; and wondering why the phrase should trouble Mr. Hine. And that morning Mr. Hine went to London.”
“Oh, did he?” cried Chayne. “‘As between gentlemen.’ Had Hine been losing money lately to Captain Barstow?”
“Yes, on the day when you first came.”
“The starlings,” exclaimed Chayne in some excitement. “That’s it—Walter Hine owes money to Captain Barstow which he can’t pay. Barstow writes for it—a debt of honor between gentlemen—one can imagine the letter. Hine goes up to London. Well, what then?”
“My father went to London two days afterward.”
“Are you sure?”
It seemed to Chayne that they were getting hot in their search.
“Quite sure. For I remember that after his return his manner changed. What I thought to be the new plot was begun. The cards disappeared, the bets ceased, Mr. Parminter was brought down with the cocaine. I remember it all clearly. For I always associated the change with my father’s journey to London. You came one evening—do you remember? You found me alone and afraid. My father and Walter Hine were walking arm-in-arm in the garden. That was afterward.”
“Yes, you were afraid because there was no sincerity in that friendship. Now let me get this right!”
He remained silent for a little while, placing the events in their due order and interpreting them, one by the other.
“This is what I make of it,” he said at length. “The man in London who supplies Walter Hine with money finds that Walter Hine is spending too much. He therefore puts himself into communication with Garratt Skinner, of whom he has doubtless heard from Walter Hine. Garratt Skinner travels to London, has an interview, and a concerted plan of action is agreed upon, which Garratt Skinner proceeds to put in action.”
He spoke so gravely that Sylvia turned anxiously toward him.
“What do you infer, then?” she asked.
“That we are in very deep and troubled waters, my dear,” he replied, but he would not be more explicit. He had no doubt in his mind that the murder of Walter Hine had been deliberately agreed upon by Garratt Skinner and the unknown man in London. But just as Sylvia had spared him during his months of absence, so now he was minded to spare Sylvia. Only, in order that he might spare her, in order that he might prevent shame and distress greater than she had known, he must needs go on with his questioning. He must discover, if by any means he could, the identity of the unknown man who was so concerned in the destiny of Walter Hine.
“Of your father’s friends, was there one who was rich? Who came to the house? Who were his companions?”
“Very few people came to the house. There was no one amongst them who fits in”; and upon that she started. “I wonder—” she said, thoughtfully, and she turned to her lover. “After my father had gone away, I found a telegram in a drawer in one of the rooms. There was no envelope, there was just the telegram. So I opened it. It was addressed to my father. I remember the words, for I did not know whether there was not something which needed attention. It ran like this: ‘What are you waiting for? Hurry up.’”
“Was it signed?” asked Chayne.
“Yes. ‘Jarvice,’” replied Sylvia.
“Jarvice,” Chayne repeated; and he spoke it yet again, as though in some vague way it was familiar to him. “What was the date of the telegram?”
“It had been sent a month before I found it. So I put it back into the drawer.”
“’What are you waiting for? Hurry up. Jarvice,’” said Chayne, slowly, and then he remembered how and when he had come across the name of Jarvice before. His face grew very grave.
“We are in deep waters, my dear,” he said.
There had been trouble in his regiment, some years before, in which the chief figures had been a subaltern and a money-lender. Jarvice was the name of the money-lender—an unusual name. Just such a man would be likely to be Garratt Skinner’s confederate and backer. Chayne ran over the story in his mind again, by this new light. It certainly strengthened the argument that the Mr. Jarvice who sent the telegram was Mr. Jarvice, the money-lender. Thus did Chayne work it out in his thoughts:
“Jarvice, for some reason unknown, pays Walter Hine an allowance. Walter Hine gives it out that he receives it from his grandfather, whose heir he undoubtedly is, and being a vain person much exaggerates the amount. He falls into Garratt Skinner’s hands, who, with the help of Barstow and others, proceeds to pluck him. Walter Hine loses more than he has and applies to Jarvice for more. Jarvice elicits the facts, and instead of disclosing who Garratt Skinner is, and the obvious swindle of which Hine is the victim, takes Garratt Skinner into his confidence. What happened at the interview between Mr. Jarvice and Garratt Skinner in London the subsequent facts make plain. At Jarvice’s instigation the plot to swindle Walter Hine becomes a cold-blooded plan to murder him. That plan has been twice frustrated, once by me in Dorsetshire, and a second time by Sylvia.”
So far the story worked out naturally, logically. But there remained two questions. For what reason did Mr. Jarvice make Walter Hine an allowance? And how would Walter Hine’s death profit him? Chayne pondered over those two questions and then the truth flashed upon him. He remembered how the subaltern had been extracted from his difficulties. Money had been raised by a life insurance. Again Chayne ranged his facts in order.
“Walter Hine is the heir to great wealth. But he has no money now. Mr. Jarvice makes him an allowance, the money to be repaid with a handsome interest on the grandfather’s death. But in order to insure Jarvice from loss, if Walter Hine should die first, Walter Hine’s life is insured for a large sum. Thus Mr. Jarvice makes his position tenable should his conduct be called in question. Having insured Walter Hine’s life, he arranges with Garratt Skinner to murder him. The attempt failed the first time, the slower method is then adopted by Garratt Skinner, and as a result comes the impatient telegram: ‘What are you waiting for? Hurry up!’”
The case was thus so far clear. But anxiety remained. Was the plan abandoned altogether, now that Sylvia had stood bravely up and warned her father that she would not keep silent? So certainly Sylvia thought. But then she did not know all that Chayne knew. It seemed that she had not understood the incident of the lighted window. Nor was Chayne surprised. For she was unaware of what was in Chayne’s eyes the keystone of the whole argument. She did not know that her father had worked as a convict in the Portland quarries.
“So they are abroad together, your father and Walter Hine,” said Chayne, slowly.
“Yes!” replied Sylvia, with a smile. “Guess where they are now!” and she turned to him with a tender look upon her face which he did not understand.
“I can’t guess.”
She saw her lover flinch, his face grow white, his eyes stare in horror. And she wondered. For her the little town, overtopped by its tumbled glittering fields of snow and tall rock spires was a place apart. She cherished it in her memories, keeping clear and distinct the windings of its streets, where they narrowed, where they broadened into open spaces; yet all the while her thoughts transformed it, and made of its mere stones and bricks a tiny city magical with light and grace. For while she stayed in it her happiness had dawned and she saw it always roseate with that dawn. It seemed to her that plots and thoughts of harm could there hardly outlive one starlit night, one sunlit day. Had she mapped out her father’s itinerary, thither and nowhere else would she have sent him.
“You are afraid?” she asked. “Hilary, why?”
Chayne did not answer her question. He was minded to spare her, even as she had spared him. He talked of other things until the restaurant grew empty and the waiters began to turn out the lights as a hint to these two determined loiterers. Then in the darkness, for now there was but one light left, and that at a little distance from their table, Chayne leaned forward and turning to Sylvia, as they sat side by side:
“You have been happy to-night?”
“Very,” she answered, and there was a thrill of joyousness in her clear, low voice, as though her heart sang within her. Her eyes rested on his with pride. “No man could quite understand,” she said.
“Well then, why should we wait longer, Sylvia?” he said. “We have waited long enough, my dear. We have after all no one but ourselves to please. I should like our marriage to take place as soon as possible.”
Sylvia answered him without affectation.
“I, too,” she whispered.
“To-morrow then! I’ll get a special license to-morrow morning, and make the arrangements. We can go away together at once.”
Sylvia smiled, and the smile deepened into a laugh.
“Where shall we go, Hilary?” she cried. “To some perfect place.”
“To Chamonix,” he answered. “That was where we first met. There could be no better place. We can just go and tell your father what we have done and then go up into the hills.”
It was well done. He spoke without wakening Sylvia’s suspicions. She had never understood the episode of the lighted window; she did not know that her father was Gabriel Strood, of whose exploits in the Alps she had read; she believed that all danger to Walter Hine was past. Chayne on the other hand knew that hardly at any time could Hine have stood in greater peril. To Chamonix he must go; and to Chamonix he must take Sylvia too. For by the time when he could reach Chamonix, he might already be too late. There might be publicity, inquiries, and for Garratt Skinner ruin, and worse than ruin. Would Sylvia let her lover share the dishonor of her name? He knew very surely she would not. Therefore he would have the marriage.
“By the way,” he said, as he draped her cloak about her shoulders. “You have that telegram from Jarvice?”
“That’s good,” he said. “It might be useful.”