The Mysteries of Heron Dyke_ A Novel of Incident. Volume 3 (of 3)
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MYSTERIES OF HERON DYKE.
A Novel of Incident.
By the Author of
"In the Dead of Night," "Brought to Light," etc.
IN THREE VOLUMES.VOL. III.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.
[All Rights Reserved.]
CONTENTS OF VOLUME III.
|I.||WHO DID IT?|
|II.||WHAT PRISCILLA PEYTON HAD TO TELL.|
|III.||MALACHITE AND GOLD.|
|IV.||MR. CHARLES PLACKETT IS PUZZLED.|
|V.||A FRUITLESS ERRAND.|
|VI.||COUNSEL TAKEN WITH MR. MEATH.|
|VII.||A STRANGER AT THE ROSE AND CROWN.|
|VIII.||TOGETHER AT LAST.|
|IX.||IN THE DUSK OF EVENING.|
|X.||THE TRUTH AT LAST.|
|XII.||MORE SURPRISES THAN ONE.|
|XIII.||THE LAST MYSTERY SOLVED.|
MYSTERIES OF HERON DYKE.
WHO DID IT?
Never as long as Ella Winter lives will she forget the picture thatimprinted itself on her brain, as instantaneously as though it hadbeen photographed there, at the moment when, startled by Aaron Stone'scry, she stepped out of the window of the sitting-room. On the bordersof the lawn, at the foot of a large holly-bush, the leaves of whichglistened brightly in the morning sun, knelt Aaron, his ruggedfeatures working convulsively, his trembling arms twined round theunconscious form of him who lay there in all the moveless majesty ofdeath. One glance at the white set face, and Ella knew that thewanderer, whose absence had caused so much speculation, had come backat last, but that whatever secrets he might have in his keeping wouldremain secrets still, and would never be whispered in mortal ear. Thepulses of her life stood still as she gazed in her shock ofbewilderment.
The old man's voice broke the spell: he saw her standing there.
"Oh, ma'am, my dear young mistress, it is my boy! My boy come back tome--dead. There has been murder done here!"
A shudder ran through Ella. Murder! Was it true?--or was old Aarondemented?
She rushed indoors to the sitting-room, ringing its bells as they hadnever been rung before; and then she sank into a chair. Never had EllaWinter been so near fainting.
The servants came running in, and she strove to collect her thoughts.Some one ran to the huge bell that rang in the stable-yard, andsounded a peal upon it. It brought forth the coachman, Barnet. JohnTilney came up with one of his men.
Barnet satisfied himself that Hubert Stone was really dead, also thathe had in all probability been murdered; he then sped back to hisstable-yard, and saddled a horse to ride forth in search of a doctor."Fetch the nearest doctor you can find," had been Miss Winter'sgasping order to him, and he hastened to obey it. By Barnet's ordersthe groom rode forth on another horse to summon the chief-constablefrom his office at Nullington.
The frightened maids had gathered round Miss Winter, when DorothyStone appeared in the doorway, tying her cap-strings withtrembling fingers. The bells and the commotion had startled her, butshe did not know what had happened. At sight of the patient, furrowedface and the dim blue eyes, just now full of anxious wonder, a greatpity took the heart of Miss Winter, and the tears filled her own eyesas she went up to the old woman and led her away. No need for her toknow the terrible news just yet.
Mrs. Toynbee next appeared upon the scene; she had waited to dress.Her first act was to order the white-faced servants away to theirduties; her second to speak with John Tilney. It was by her directionsthat he and his two men--for the other man had come up now--carriedthe ill-fated young fellow into a room on the ground-floor. Then,with much tact and gentleness, Mrs. Toynbee succeeded in persuadingAaron, who seemed half-stupefied with grief and horror, to allowhimself to be got into his own apartments by Tilney. Nothing morecould be done till the arrival of the doctor and the police.
Dr. Spreckley and Mr. Chief-Constable Wade reached Heron Dyketogether, driving over in a gig from the Rose and Crown. The firstthing they did was to look at the dead. That Hubert Stone had beenmurdered a very slight examination sufficed to prove. He had beenstabbed through the heart with a stiletto or some other sharpinstrument. The disordered state of his attire, as well as thecondition of the trimly-kept gravel walk, showed that he had not methis fate without a struggle; some desperate encounter must have takenplace.
But what had brought him there? Why had he come back to Heron Dyke inthe night-time?--or perhaps it might have been at the first glimmer ofdawn. These were the questions that ran around. Miss Winter'sthoughts, which she kept to herself, ran in somewhat a differentgroove. Might he not have come back by train the previous day, sheasked herself, and have intended to call on her in the evening, andbeen afraid or ashamed to do so, and so have lingered about thegrounds until it was too late? Too late also, perhaps, to gainadmittance to his old rooms at the lodge? and so he had probably pacedabout during the night hours, and had disturbed the thief or thievesin the act of rifling the bureau Miss Winter's mind lost itself introubled conjectures.
Examination showed that a hole had been cut with a diamond in thewindow of the room where the jewels lay, the window opened, and theshutters forced from their hinges. The bureau must then have beenopened by means of a chisel, or other blunt instrument, and the jewelsstolen from their receptacle. Most probably it was at the moment theburglar was leaving the room with his booty that he was encountered byHubert Stone; perhaps seized by him. How the probably unequal strugglehad ended was but too terribly manifest. Apparently nothing inHubert's pockets had been touched. His watch, chain, and leather pursewere all there, but no letters or papers of any kind from which a cluemight be obtained as to his recent movements, or to the place fromwhence he had come.
"His watch has stopped at twenty minutes past two," observed Dr.Spreckley, who was making this examination with Mr. Inspector Wade."And that may have been the time of the fatal occurrence, poor fellow.What's in here, I wonder?"
The Doctor was opening the gold locket attached to the watch-chain, ashe made the last remark. And it was as well, perhaps, all thingsconsidered, that the inspector did not hear it--that he had turnedmomentarily away. For inside the locket was a portrait of MissWinter. Dr. Spreckley's eyes opened, in more ways than one.
"Presuming rascal!" he involuntarily cried, apostrophising theunconscious dead. "My poor young man, you must have been more sillythan I gave you credit for. I'll take possession of this, any way: nogood to let the world see it," he decided, as he dexterously removedthe likeness and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
"What's that?" asked the inspector, coming back.
"Only this," said Dr. Spreckley, exhibiting the empty locket.
That the person or persons who committed the robbery had alsocommitted the murder, appeared perfectly conclusive to Inspector Wade;and so he informed Miss Winter, with whom he requested an interview.Of course she had herself drawn the same conclusion. He then askedMiss Winter whether she had the slightest suspicion with regard to thehonesty of any of her servants. It was quite evident that the thievesmust have had some acquaintance with the house, and knew the exactspot where to look for the jewels, and they had apparently made noattempt to obtain any other booty.
Miss Winter replied, in most decisive terms, that she had not theslightest reason to suspect the honesty of any person about her.
"But, indeed," she added, "it is impossible that any of the servantscan be guilty. They were not even aware of the existence of thejewels, much less of the place where they were deposited. Those werefacts known to no one save myself and Mrs. Toynbee."
The chief-constable, who had a pencil in his hand, passed it once ortwice thoughtfully across his lips.
"Pardon me the remark, Miss Winter," he said, looking up, "but may Iask how it came to pass that you found no safer receptacle for thisvaluable amount of property than an old bureau in a sitting-room onthe ground-floor--and which has a window opening to the ground? Anytyro of a burglar could force an entrance in ten minutes."
"But," she objected, "how was any burglar to know that such propertywas there?"
"It seems, madam, that one, at all events, did know it. It--pardonme--seems like throwing temptation in a thief's way."
"I again repeat that their being deposited there, and also that suchjewels were in existence, was an entire secret between myself and Mrs.Toynbee," she replied. "Had it not been so, I should have removed themto a safer place. If you will listen a moment, Mr. Wade, I will tellyou how it all came about, and how the jewels were found."
He listened as she related the facts: how she had caused thislong-unopened old carved bureau to be brought downstairs to hermorning-room, that she might search it for certain papers relating tothe estate, which she fancied might be in existence. She failed tofind the papers; but, to her intense surprise, she found, in a secretdrawer, this large quantity of jewels. Mrs. Toynbee was present, andshe had warned her that nothing must be said to the servants. Mrs.Toynbee fully agreed with her. After examining the jewels, they werereplaced in their hiding-place, until she could see Mr. Daventry, andtalk the affair over with him.
"It is impossible," concluded Miss Winter, looking at the inspector,"that the facts can have become known."
Mr. Wade, somewhat mystified, made no reply for a moment or two.
"But you cannot fail to see, madam," he urged, "that the fact of yourhaving found the jewels must have leaked out somehow, as well as aknowledge of the place where they were placed. This burglary was nomere happy-go-lucky affair; it was evidently premeditated--carefullyplanned beforehand."
"It certainly does seem like it," admitted Ella. "But I assure you Icannot understand it. Mrs. Toynbee----"
"I think I had better see Mrs. Toynbee."
Mrs. Toynbee was called in, and came, full of nervous trepidation. Shehad been sitting upon pins and needles, as old Dorothy Stone wouldhave expressed it, ever since Mr. Wade had been shut in with MissWinter. The inspector noted her aspect, and took the bull by thehorns. He did not say to her: "Madam, have you mentioned the fact toany one that such jewels were found?" He said, "To whom did youmention it?"
Her colour went and came; her heart was beating; her trembling fingerscould not hold the needle--for she had some wool-work in her hands.
"I am afraid that I have been very thoughtless and foolish," shebegan, with a quaver of the voice. "Of course, I quite understood thatno mention of the jewels was to be made in presence of any of thedomestics, but it never struck me that the prohibition was intended tobe a general one. You may remember, my dear Miss Winter, that I wentto The Lilacs, in your place, on Thursday afternoon, to the tea-party.And--and, somehow--we ladies were all talking together; one topic ledto another--and----"
Mrs. Toynbee broke down, from sheer nervousness.
"And you told of the finding of the jewels, and where they weredeposited," spoke up the inspector.
"It was led up to," she said, excusing her self in the best way shecould, and hardly able to keep from tears. "The ladies had been sayingto me that I must find a country life very much lacking in excitement,after the metropolis; to which I replied that we were not alwaysdestitute of excitement, even in the country; and I--I then did speakof the jewels. But who was to imagine," she added, plucking up alittle spirit, "that even the smallest danger could exist inmentioning it among ladies? They are all well-known; as trustworthy aswe are."
"Do I gather, madam, that only ladies were present?" said theinspector. "No gentlemen?"
"It was a meeting for ladies only," replied Mrs. Toynbee. "Onegentleman came in towards the last--Mr. Philip Cleeve. He came tofetch his mother. I remember he made a remark to the effect that thebureau was not a very safe place to leave the jewels in."
"A very sensible remark to make, under the circumstances," returnedthe inspector, drily. "Madam, can you give me the names