He looked in vain for the face he sought

Up to the present time the visit of Fanks to Taxton-on-Thames had been
a complete failure. He had been thwarted by Hersham; he more than
suspected that he had been tricked by Anne; and he saw no means of
obtaining any information likely to lead to the elucidation of the
mystery which enveloped the death of Sir Gregory Fellenger. It was in
very low spirits that the detective returned to the Royal Arms, and
after a good dinner, which somewhat cheered him, he sat down with a
pipe to consider what he should do next.

He had no hope of obtaining any information from Hersham or Anne
Colmer, as for some reason or another each of them declined to speak.
Fanks thought they could put him on the right track if they pleased;
but he saw no means by which he could force them to speak openly. In
spite of his threats he could arrest neither of them, as he had not
sufficient evidence to do so. Unable, therefore, to force or to
flatter them into plain speaking, he was completely baffled in his
efforts to solve the enigma in this direction. For the time being he
was at a standstill.

In this dilemma he left the decision regarding his future movements to
“chance,” and, in the expectation of hearing something of value to his
plans, he strolled into the tap-room of the hotel. Here he hoped to
find the village gossips, and to gather from their idle talk
information concerning Sir Louis Fellenger, Dr. Binjoy, and the negro
servant. However, there was no one in the room save a bent and crooked
old man, with a pair of keen eyes. He was seated in a corner of the
settle, with a tankard of beer before him; and with garrulous
complacency he introduced himself as Simeon Wagg, the parish clerk of
Taxton-on-Thames. He had a long tongue and a fund of gossip at his
disposal; and he was ready to afford Fanks all the information in his
power about the parish and its inhabitants.

“I hev more edication than the most folk about here,” piped this
ancient. “Theer ain’t much as I don’t know if I do so choose. Thirty
year, sir, hey I bin official in this yer church an’ village; and I’ve
buried an’ married an’ christened wi’ five passons. They come, they
go; but old Simeon he staay like t’ church itself. He! he! he!”

“I suppose you know Sir Louis Fellenger?”

“I knaw Mr. Louis Fellenger,” corrected the aged gossip. “He warn’t no
barrownit when I seed him. Now he hev gone inter th’ ‘Ouse of Lors, es
I hev heard. But he was in the third ‘ouse es you go down by Fox’s
Farm. Aw, yis, I knaws him; sold hisself to Ould Scratch, he did.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Wagg?”

“Whoy, this ere Mister Fellenger he was a-pothicary an’ a chimist, an’
he raised the ‘nemy of mankin’, as the saaying goes. An’ they do saay
es the black maan wor a devil, from all of which Good Loord deliv’r
us, es I ses i’ t’ church.”

“Did you know Dr. Binjoy?”

“Aye! He were laarge an’ beer-baarel like; aw, vis, an’ the woords he
sid, passon culdn’t spake like he. He wint awaay wi’ Mister Fellenger
t’ be a barrownit, es I hey heaard tell.”

“Did the negro servant go with them?”

“Aw, no. T’ blaack devil he was turned out o’ doors on t’ twenty
first, he was. I know t’ toime, I do, ’cause blaack maan he nearly run
me over on his bikikle, he did.”

Fanks pricked up his ears at this. It was on the twenty-first that the
murder had been committed in London. He addressed himself with renewed
attention to the task of extracting information from this piece of
antiquity.

“How was it that the negro nearly ran over you on his bicycle?”

“Naow, I’ll jes’ tell ye, I will,” said Simeon, settling himself for a
long story. “This yere blaack maan–Caesar is his name–he worn a
grean coat wi’ brass buttons, he did. I knawed him in t’ dark by that
coat, I did.”

“Was it in the dark that he ran over you?” asked Fanks.

“Aye; it jes’ were, Mister. I was on t’ Lunon Roaad, I was; about
nine, es I cud tell by t’ striking clock fro’ t’ church. An’ this yere
blaack maan he coom along, he did, on t’ divil machine, an’ he laaid
me flaat on my back, he did; an’ I bean’t so yooung es I was, Mister.
I shoated to he, but he niver saaid nothing, he didn’t. He run on an’
left me lying on my baack in t’ durt, he did. I were main aangry, I
were.”

“I don’t wonder at it, Mr. Wagg,” said Fanks, amiably. “But how did
you know it was the negro Caesar?”

“I seed his groan coaat, I tell ‘ee; his face were muffled oop-like,
but his coaat were plaain in t’ gaas lamp, it were. I hev seen t’
coaat heaps of times, I hev. An’ t’ nex’ day he were sent away, he
were.”

This story made Fanks wonder if Caesar had been up to town on the
twenty-first. A negro had committed the murder in Tooley’s Alley
between six and seven. So if he returned to Taxton-on-Thames on a
bicycle there was plenty of time for him to come down before nine
o’clock, or, as the old man said, after nine o’clock. A good wheelman
could easily cover the distance between London and Taxton-on-Thames in
two hours. Again, Mrs. Boazoph had sworn that the murderer had been
arrayed in a green coat with brass buttons; and this description
matched that of the negro who had so nearly run over Wagg on the
London Road. Time and date corresponded; and then the negro had been
dismissed the next day–he had been smuggled out of the way by his
master. On the whole, Fanks thought that matters looked rather black
against the stout doctor. He proceeded with his enquiries.

“Did Dr. Binjoy discharge his servant, or did Sir Louis?”

“Weel theer naow,” said the aged one, taking the pipe out of his
mouth, “blamed if I knaw who did give him t’ kickout. Muster
Fellenger, he were ill, he were, an’ hed bin fur weeks; t’ doctor he
was wi’ him, he was, an’ I niver saaw one of ‘en–an’ naw one else es
I heerd of did, fur daays an’ daays. But Missus Jerusalem, she es is
t’ housekeeper t’ Muster Fellenger, she said es haow Caesar hed bin
turned awaay. He got off fro’ t’ village, he did; an’ I niver see’d
him since, I didn’t. Then t’ cousin of Muster Louis died, he did; an’
Muster Fellenger he went awaay wi’ doctor to be barrownit, he did.”

“You don’t think that Dr. Binjoy was up in London on the night you met
Caesar on the bicycle?”

“Noa, sir, I doan’t. Whoy Muster Fellenger he were ill, he were; an’
t’ doctor he kep in t’ sick room, he did. No one iver saaw him for
daays, they didn’t.”

From this information, it seemed to Fanks as though there were an
understanding between Sir Louis and the doctor. This old creature who
represented the village opinion was quite sure that Dr. Binjoy had
been in attendance on Fellenger on the night of the twenty-first. Yet
Fanks knew by personal observation that Binjoy, under the name of
Renshaw, had been in Tooley’s Alley. He would not have returned to
Taxton-on-Thames on that night, as the house in Great Auk Street had
been watched. And yet Fanks had proved beyond all doubt that Renshaw
and Binjoy were one and the same person. Was it possible that Sir
Louis was telling a lie to screen Binjoy from the consequences of his
being in town; and was it possible that the two had employed the
negro, Caesar, to commit the crime, and then had smuggled him out of
the way–say to Bombay–so that he should not betray them. In a word,
were Fellenger and Binjoy guilty of the murder of the cousin of the
former? It seemed impossible; and yet, as Sir Louis was employing
Fanks to hunt down the assassin, it was hard to believe. The
conversation of Simeon Wagg only introduced a new perplexity into this
perplexing case.

There was nothing more to be got out of the old clerk; so Fanks
retired to bed in a very melancholy frame of mind. He did not know
which way to move in the midst of such contradictory information. The
night brought counsel; and the next morning Fanks arose with a
definite object. He would return to town and advertise for the negro.
Caesar must have left his bicycle somewhere, so if he advertised for a
negro in a green coat with brass buttons, he might find out something.
Those with whom the bicycle had been left would be able to give a
description of the negro who had arrived and departed with it; and so
Fanks hoped to learn if the black murderer of Tooley’s Alley was the
same as the servant Caesar of Dr. Binjoy. Regarding the shielding of
the doctor by Louis Fellenger, the detective resolved to leave that
question until he went to Mere Hall and saw the two men together.

“I am afraid that Crate will have to go to Bombay, after all,” said
Fanks to himself as he left the hotel.

He did not go at once to town, as he wished to see both Hersham and
Anne Colmer; also he was desirous of having an interview with the
mother. Half-way down the street he met with the journalist, who
saluted him in rather a sullen fashion.

“I was just about to call on you,” said Hersham. “I wish to go to town
by the midday train, if you have no objection.”

“You can go as soon as you please,” retorted Fanks, “you are not so
much good to me that I care to keep you here.”

“You need not make yourself so infernally disagreeable, Fanks,” said
the young man, tartly. “I have told you all I know, and so has Miss
Colmer.”

“As to that, I have my own opinion, Hersham. I certainly think that
you and she have a secret between you which you will not share with
me.”

“It does not concern you.”

“Ah, you have a secret, then?”

“Yes, I have, but it is private business, and has nothing to do with
the death of that titled scoundrel.”

“I should like to judge of that for myself,” said Fanks, coldly.
“However, I daresay I’ll find out all I wish to know without your
assistance.”

Hersham came forward, and laid his hand on the arm of the detective.
“I say, Fanks,” he observed, earnestly, “I know I’m not treating you
well, but you must make allowances for the natural fear I feel at
being brought into contact with the law. I know something; and I
should like to tell it to you, but I can’t make up my mind to do
so–yet. Still, I give you my word of honour that if you ask me again
next week I shall tell you all; I shall place my life and liberty in
your hands.”

“Good heavens, man!” cried the startled Fanks. “You don’t mean to say
that you are concerned in the murder?”

“No, I am not, but when I tell you all, you will see why I did not
speak before. Give me a week to make up my mind.”

“I’ll give you the week,” said the detective, briefly, and without
further speech, Hersham took his leave in an abrupt manner, evidently
relieved to be so dismissed.

On presenting himself at Briar Cottage, Fanks was at once admitted,
and was shown by the servant–a neat-handed Phyllis–into a different
sitting-room from the one he had seen before. In a large chair by the
window which looked out on the garden, an old lady was seated. She was
dressed completely in white; and the lower part of her body was
swathed in a shawl of Chinese crape. Her face was pale and careworn,
and her eyes were red-rimmed as from constant crying. An open Bible
lay on her lap, and from this she raised her eyes as Fanks entered. He
had little hesitation in guessing that this was Mrs. Colmer, the
paralytic mother of the living Anne and the dead Emma.

“You must excuse my rising to receive you,” she said in a low and
sweet voice, “but I am unable to move hand or foot. Doubtless, my
daughter has told you of my affliction. My daughter will see you
presently.”

Fanks bowed, and there was a silence between them for a few moments.
He glanced round the neatly furnished room; at the pictures and
photographs; but among them all he could not see one of the dead Emma.

At the elbow of Mrs. Colmer, on a small table, stood a pile of
photographs, at which she had evidently been looking prior to his
entrance, and Fanks surmised that a portrait of Emma might be there.
He was anxious to discover one, if possible, as Anne had denied that
there was a photograph of her sister in existence save the one which
she had sought at Sir Gregory’s chambers. Fanks thought that if he
could find another in the pile at Mrs. Colmer’s elbow he would be able
to convict Anne out of her own mouth, and expose the falsity of the
motive she gave for her visit. He cast about for some means whereby to
accomplish his purpose.

“You will excuse me, Mrs. Colmer,” he said, rising from his seat, “but
that is an excellent picture of the Bay of Naples.”

He had crossed over to the other side of the room to look at the
picture, and so found himself standing by the small table which held
the sundry pictures. In turning away he pretended to stumble, and so
knocked over the table and photographs.

“Thousand apologies,” said Fanks, in confusion, stooping to pick them
up.

He looked in vain for the face he sought; but he made a discovery
which startled him not a little. The last photograph which he picked
up off the carpet was one of–Mrs. Boazoph.

Before Fanks could remark on the strangeness of this discovery, the
door opened and Anne entered the room. With characteristic quickness
she recognised the photograph in the hand of the detective. At once
she came forward, and signed to him to be silent. At the same time she
spoke to her mother.

“Mr. Fanks has been shown into this room by mistake,” she said,
hurriedly; “so with your permission, mother, I shall conduct him into
the next room.”

“As you please, Anne; you know best.”

Accepting this permission Anne drew Fanks quickly into the passage,
and led him into the apartment he had seen on the occasion of his last
visit. He still held the photograph in his hand; and at this she
looked anxiously as she signed to him that he should take a seat.
Fanks placed himself in a comfortable armchair; Miss Colmer took up
her position opposite to him, and both prepared for a difficult
conversation. As was natural from her late action, she made an
observation on the picture of Mrs. Boazoph.

“I see that you recognise that face,” said Anne, coolly; “no doubt you
wonder how that photograph came to be in this house?”

“I do wonder. Am I to hear the truth from you, Miss Colmer?”

“Certainly; there is no reason why I should tell you a lie.”

Man and woman looked directly into one another’s eyes, and a look of
mutual distrust passed between them. It was Fanks who first took up
the unspoken challenge.

“I think you would tell me a lie if there was anything to be gained or
concealed by it,” said the detective, dryly.

“You are not far out there,” returned Anne, coolly. “I am above petty
moral doubts in such circumstances. But in this instance, Mr. Fanks, I
have nothing to gain or to lose by telling a falsehood. You saw Mr.
Hersham this morning,” she added abruptly and irrelevantly.

“Yes. Have I you to thank for the alteration in his demeanour?”

“You have; I persuaded him to tell you all. Has he done so?”

“No; he has postponed the confession for a week.”

“What foolish weakness,” muttered Anne, with a sigh. “I wish he had
told you this morning.”

“Do you? Why?”

“Because you may find out that which he wished to hide before he can
brace his mind to a confession. I love Edward Hersham dearly, Mr.
Fanks; but I can see his faults and weakness of character as plainly
as you can. I entreated him to tell you all at once. He consented; yet
you see when it comes to the point his feebleness makes him shrink
from the ordeal.”

“You hint at danger to Hersham. May I ask if it is connected with the
committal of this crime?

“No, you may not, Mr. Fanks. Edward can tell you the truth for himself
in a week; he is foolish but he is not guilty.”

Fanks was at once piqued and delighted with this woman. She was so
clever and so inscrutable that he could not help respecting her. For
the first time for many days he had met with a woman with the mind of
a man; and he felt that he would need all his intelligence to beat
her. On the other hand, he was not unprepared to expect defeat in
place of victory.

“What would you say, Miss Colmer, if I told you that I had found the
assassin of Sir Gregory?” he asked, craftily.

“I should at once congratulate you, and doubt you,” was the quick
response. “No, Mr. Fanks, you are not yet successful, else you would
not come to see me, nor would you be astonished at seeing the
photograph of Mrs. Boazoph.”

“You know her, it seems?”

“I do; but my mother does not know her under that name.”

“What do you mean?”

Miss Colmer made no immediate reply. She compressed her beautiful lips
tightly together, and looked out of the window.

“I see that I shall have to make a confidant of you, sir,” she said,
slowly, “although I do not recognise your claim to demand an
explanation.”

“Pardon me, Miss Colmer,” said Fanks, with the utmost politeness, “the
law gives me every right. By your visit to Half-Moon Street where the
murdered man lived you implicated yourself in the matter. I can see by
the hints of yourself and Hersham that you both know more than you
choose to tell; and as I am deputed to search out the truth, I can
call on you to reveal all you know.”

“I made my confession yesterday.”

“Was it the truth?”

“It was the truth so far as it went.”

“Ah! then there is more to tell?”

“Yes,” said Anne, after a pause; “there is more to tell; but not yet,
not yet.”

Fanks leaned forward and looked into her eyes. “Miss Colmer,” he said
in a low tone, “tell me who killed Sir Gregory?”

“I do not know; I swear I do not know. See here, Mr. Fanks,” she
cried, suddenly, “I do not know the truth, but I have an inkling of
the truth; I may be wrong; I fervently trust that I am wrong; still I
am doubtful; very, very doubtful. I can’t tell you of my suspicions:
they might get an innocent person into trouble.”

“Are you alluding to Hersham?”

“I decline to say; by my advice Mr. Hersham is about to tell you all
he knows; I cannot take the words out of his mouth; he would never
forgive me; and I do not wish to lose his love.”

“Then you mean Mrs. Boazoph?”

“I refuse to speak; I shall leave you if you ask further questions,”
she said, almost fiercely. “You nearly discovered what I think is the
truth in those chambers; I did not know that you were there, but I
went up to Half-Moon Street to prevent the truth being discovered, if
I could. I failed because you were present.”

Fanks sat up alertly. She had given him a clue. “Is the truth to be
discovered in Half-Moon Street?” he asked, eagerly.

Anne moistened her dry lips, and turned away her face. “Yes! I believe
it is,” she murmured, “and I hope you will never discover it.”

She was so moved that Fanks thought she was about to faint. With
considerable dexterity he left the question alone for a time and
turned the conversation toward the subject of Mrs. Boazoph.

“You have not yet told me about this portrait,” he said, gently.

“I will do so now,” said Anne, recovering her nerve, “Mrs. Boazoph is
my mother’s sister; she is my aunt.”

“Oh!” said Fanks, considerably astonished, “then how is it that your
mother does not know the name of Boazoph?”

“Because she only knows her sister as Mrs. Bryant.”

“But I do not understand,” said Fanks, rather bewildered.

“The matter is easy of explanation. My mother is a gentlewoman,
although we keep a shop; and she is very proud of her birth and blood.
The behaviour of my sister nearly killed her. You can, therefore,
guess what she would think of my aunt, Mrs. Boazoph, did she know that
she kept a notorious hotel in Tooley’s Alley; and was so well known to
the police as she is.”

Fanks looked at this woman in astonishment. It was so strange to hear
her speak in this manner of her own flesh and blood. Anne noticed his
astonishment; and a faint blush crept over her cheek. “I see what you
are thinking of, Mr. Fanks. But I know my aunt; she has told me all
about her unhappy life. Believe me, she is more to be pitied than
blamed.”

“Like Hersham?” said Links, dryly.

“Yes, like Mr. Hersham,” she retorted, defiantly. “My aunt made an
unhappy marriage with a man far beneath her. His name was Bryant, not
Boazoph, so my mother only knows her sister by that name. Bryant lost
all his money, and was set up by some of his friends in the Red Star,
in Tooley’s Alley. There, from some shame at his fall, he called
himself Boazoph. When he died, my aunt carried on the business; and I
daresay you know all the rest of her life.”

Fanks nodded. “I suppose Mrs. Boazoph visits you occasionally, as Mrs.
Bryant?” he said, inquisitively.

“She comes once or twice in the year; and, for my mother’s sake, I see
her; but I do not approve of Mrs. Boazoph’s misguided life, and I am
not what you would call friendly with her.”

“Yours is indeed an unfortunate family,” said Fanks, bluntly, and with
less of his usual courtesy. “Your sister driven to her death by that
dead scoundrel; your aunt one of the most notorious women in London;
your mother paralysed; your lover mixed up in this murder.”

Anne lost her temper at this brutal speech, which was just what Fanks
wished her to do, and why he had made it. Inherently a gentleman, he
would never have thought of taunting the poor girl with the crime and
follies of her family had he not desired to get the better of her; but
in this instance he desired to make her angry; and took this way–an
unworthy way it must be confessed. With a burst of indignation, Anne
rose to her feet.

“I always understood that you were a gentleman, Mr. Fanks,” she said
bitterly, “but I see I am mistaken. If you think to trap me into
helping you by insulting my family, you are mistaken. I shall tell you
nothing–now.”

“Perhaps I may force you to help me,” said Fanks, looking very wicked.

“I am afraid not. In what way do you hope to accomplish so impossible
a task?”

“Why,” said Fanks, keeping his eyes fixed on her face, “by arresting
your lover.”

“You dare not.”

“I dare! I dare anything. Look you here, Miss Colmer, I am
growing tired of being in the dark; and rather than remain in it any
longer, I shall resort to strong measures. In some way–of which you
know–Hersham is mixed up in this crime. If you won’t be persuaded to
tell, you must be forced to speak out, if only to save Hersham from
being tried for the crime. I shall arrest him.”

“Do so; and you will only be the loser by so rash an action.”

Fanks walked to the door. “Good day, Miss Colmer, I shall do as I say;
and the blame will lie at your door.”

Anne said nothing; but, very pale and very determined, she stood
looking at Fanks. He admired her for the way in which she was
fighting, and he privately considered that if the way to the truth lay
through Anne Colmer, there was small chance of it being discovered. He
made one more attempt to induce her to speak.

“Come,” he said, pleadingly, “be advised; save yourself and Hersham,
by telling the truth.”

“I don’t know the truth, I only guess it.”

“Your guess may be the correct one; let me know what it is?”

“No, no, no!”

“You won’t speak?”

“No. Not for worlds.”

It was plain that whatever she knew she would not reveal, so Fanks,
shaking his head, left the room. When he was out of the door, Anne
broke down, and, falling into a chair, she burst into tears. Yet she
had no idea of yielding: for better or worse the die was cast, and if
Hersham was arrested, at her door would lie the ruin and disgrace of
his life. Truly, it was a powerful reason which made Anne conceal the
truth at the expense of her lover’s liberty, and–it might be–of his
life.

As for Fanks, he went off to the station, and caught the train to
town. He had gone to Taxton-on-Thames full of hope of success; he left
it beaten on every point–and by a woman. His sole chance of learning
anything further lay in advertising for the negro; and in the chance
that Hersham would confess next week. Anne Colmer was as silent as the
Sphinx; all the same, Fanks had not done with that young lady.

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