UNHAPPY LOVERS

Hersham brought his boat under the wall with a sweep, but before
disembarking he looked up to Anne with an anxious expression on his
face.

“Did you get my telegram?” he demanded hastily.

“Telegram!” she repeated. “I have received no telegram from you.”

“I thought so,” said the journalist, and laughed in a savage sort of
manner.

“What do you mean?” demanded Anne, noting how haggard he looked. “Is
anything wrong?”

“More than I like to say,” was his answer.

At that moment it seemed to Anne that her presentiments were about to
become true, and she waited with vague terror for his next speech. Ted
did not open his mouth for some minutes, being fully occupied in
making fast his boat prior to landing. In spite of the importance of
the interview, and his desire to prepare Anne for the immediate coming
of Fanks, he did not hurry himself, but executed his task with the
utmost deliberation. On her part the girl held her peace, and not
until her lover had taken her in his arms to kiss her passionately did
she speak. Then she led him to the summerhouse–out of sight of Mrs.
Colmer at the window–and broached the subject which was uppermost in
her mind.

“Ted,” she asked in a low voice, “is there any danger?”

“There is a great deal of danger.”

“From what quarter?”

“From the worst of all quarters. Fanks has found you out.”

“Ah!” she sat back suddenly and her face turned pale with
apprehension. “Is he here?”

Hersham nodded. “I sent a telegram to warn you not to answer his
questions.”

“I did not receive it.”

“I guessed you would not,” replied her lover, with a nod. “Fanks
visited me to-day, and left me with the intention of coming down here
to see you. I sent the wire. Then I fancied that he might manage to
get it delayed at the office here. I did not dare to go by Waterloo,
as I made sure he would have the station watched. In this dilemma
there was nothing left for me to do but to come down on my bicycle,
which I did. I rode to Warby’s boat-house, left my machine there, and
came on to warn you.”

Anne considered for a few minutes. “How was it that Mr. Fanks found me
out?” she asked anxiously.

“He saw your portrait in my rooms.”

“What was he doing in your rooms?”

“He came to question me about the cross tattooed on my arm.”

“Did you tell him anything?”

“Nothing! What could I tell him? I am quite unaware how the cross came
to be there. But with regard to his recognition of you; how was it
that you went to the chambers of that dead scoundrel?”

“I went to get a photograph of Emma’s that was in the possession of
her late husband.”

“Why did you wish to get the photograph?”

“It had some writing on the back, which may implicate another person
in this trouble of the death. I think,” she added, pointedly, “that
you can guess the name of that person.”

“I think I can,” replied Hersham, gloomily, “and the worst of it is
that Fanks will certainly find out that name.”

“Impossible! I may be able to thwart him on that point.”

“I hope so; but you do not know the man as I do. He is the most
patient and pertinacious of men. He will stick to this case until he
has the assassin of Sir Gregory in jail.”

“God forbid!” ejaculated Anne, with a shudder.

“Amen to that!” answered Hersham. “Oh, Anne, my dear Anne,” he
continued, taking her hand, “how I wish we could end all this and fly
to the ends of the earth!”

“My dear,” she said gently, “we have others to think of besides
ourselves. It would never do to desert them at the present moment.
Besides there may not be so much chance of discovery as you think.”

“I don’t know; I am certain of nothing,” said Hersham, with a sigh. “I
only dread one thing–lest Fanks should force you into betraying that
which you would rather hide.”

“Don’t trouble about that, Ted,” returned Anne, dryly. “I think Mr.
Fanks will find me more than his match. You need not have come to
prepare me, for I am quite ready for the gentleman as soon as he
chooses to call.”

“That will be very soon. He is in the village now. I don’t want him to
see me. For that reason I came here in a boat.”

“Do not be foolish, Ted,” said Anne, quickly. “You must let him see
you, else he will suspect that you know something about this matter.
And you must be aware, dear, that you have your own safety to look
to.”

“Oh!” groaned Hersham, “how are we to extricate ourselves from this
mess?”

“I think we will leave that to time; and you have me to comfort you.”

“Dearest!” he drew her towards him; “without you I should not be able
to move one step. At present all is dark and dreary; but let us hope
that there are brighter days in store.”

“I am certain that there are,” said Anne; “but we have a great deal to
endure before peace comes. We must go through the valley of
humiliation to reach the promised land.”

“Well!” said Ted, emphatically, “when we do reach it I think we must go
to America, there to commence a new life. It is no use trying to
construct a new one here out of the ruins of the old.”

“That we shall see,” replied Anne, with a sigh “God knows we have had
a great deal to endure since the death of my poor sister. But let us
for the moment banish this gloomy subject, and talk of ourselves. How
are you getting on with your work?”

Hersham smiled and kissed her. He saw that she was striving to lighten
the burden which had been laid upon him; and he was grateful for the
kindness. All the same he found it difficult to put his troubles out
of sight and memory, seeing that they were so insistent, and that
within the next half hour he might be called upon to defend himself
from a dangerous charge. Alone as they were in the summerhouse, they
were afraid to speak openly, lest the birds of the air should carry to
Fanks undesirable news which would please him, but ruin them. Under
these circumstances Hersham agreed with Anne that it was best to let
affairs connected with the case of Tooley’s Alley remain in abeyance,
until they were compelled to take action. In the meantime the unhappy
pair went hand in hand into a Fool’s Paradise of make-believe, and
hollow joys. There was something pitiful in this playing with
happiness.

“We will be very poor, my love,” said Hersham, somewhat later in the
conversation; “and I am afraid that you will miss all the luxuries to
which you have been accustomed.”

Anne laughed and kissed him. “You silly boy,” she said kindly; “my
luxuries are of the cheapest kind, as you well know. Besides I can
face poverty with a brave heart with you.”

“But your mother?”

“I am afraid she will not live long,” sighed Anne. “She is growing so
weak, and she has long, long fits of silence. Poor mother! she has had
a hard life. I do not think she ever got over the death of Emma.”

“Does she know anything about these other matters?”

“Very little. I kept as much from her as I could. Indeed, she would
never have heard of the death at all had it not been for Herbert
Vaud.”

“He might as well have held his tongue,” said Ted, angrily; “but the
fact is, that since Emma’s death and his illness he has not been quite
right in his head. He returned comparatively well, as you know; but
that journey to Paris to inquire after Lady Fellenger unsettled him
again.”

“Don’t talk of Lady Fellenger,” said Anne, with a shudder.

“Why not? Your sister was lawfully the wife of Sir Gregory.”

“I know that. All the same, I hate to hear the name of the family.”

“And yet,” said Hersham, meaningly, “you were fond enough of Louis.”

Again Anne laughed. “You must not be jealous of my friendship for
Louis, Ted. He is a good fellow in his way. I was never in love with
him as I am with you, but I liked him.”

“And Binjoy, that pompous doctor, did you like him?”

“I hated him. I hate him still,” she flashed out. “He is the evil
genius of Louis. If these matters only concerned Dr. Binjoy, I should
not keep silent and bear the burden I am doing.”

“You have me to bear it with you,” said. Hersham, softly.

“I know that, my dear. But there are some things which men and women
have to face singly. Such a thing is this coming interview with Mr.
Fanks. I wanted you to see him so as to disarm any suspicions which he
may entertain. Still, I wish you to take no part in the conversation.”

“But why?” asked Ted, with a frown. “I can’t leave you to fight my
battle.”

“You must in this case,” replied Anne, “you are a dear, good fellow,
Ted, but you allow your heart to govern your head.”

“That is very true. And it is the reverse with you, Anne.”

“Not so far as you are concerned, Ted. I am as weak as water with you.
If you see me hard to other people you must set it down to the severe
training I have had in the school of adversity. I am only a girl in
years, but I am a woman in experience.”

“You are the dearest and bravest woman in the whole world,” said
Hersham fondly, kissing her hand, “and if happiness comes to us in the
future, it will be through you. I shall do what you say and hold my
tongue. But, my darling, are you sure that you can cope with Fanks.”

“I do not know as I have only seen him, but once we cross swords and I
shall soon learn my strength. I have a large stake to fight for, and
the remembrance of that will make me desperate.”

“Well,” said Ted, dolefully, “we cannot turn back now. The enemy is
within our gates, and we must fight. ‘Væ victis.'”

“You may well say that,” said Anne, bitterly. “‘Woe to the vanquished’
indeed. Come let us go to the house and see my mother, but you must
say nothing to her about our conversation. She knows as much as is
good for her, and her health will not stand any great shock.”

“In that case,” observed Hersham, as they strolled up the path, “you
must not let her see Fanks.”

“Trust me, Ted. Forewarned is forearmed.”

Mrs. Colmer was delighted to see Ted, for he was a great favourite
with the invalid. She had no suspicion of what had brought him down in
so unexpected a manner, and chatted to the young man in the most
cheerful of spirits. Meanwhile Anne gave her lover a cup of tea, and
cut him some sandwiches. All the time she was straining her ears to
catch the fall of the knocker on the front door. Every moment she
expected to bear the crash which would announce the arrival of the
detective, and as the minutes went by her nerves became strained to
their utmost pitch. Ted saw what she suffered, but in the presence of
Mrs. Colmer he could say nothing, and the old lady went chattering on.
There was something cruelly ironical about the situation.

At last, Hersham could bear the suspense no longer, and making some
excuse to Mrs. Colmer, he drew Anne out into the passage. There he
placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Are you afraid?” he said, anxiously. “Are you afraid of the coming
interview with this man?”

“Yes,” said Anne, and shivered; the colour had left her cheeks, and
she suddenly appeared older, and more haggard.

“Why are you afraid? Because of your visit to those chambers?”

“That and another thing.”

“Does the other thing concern yourself.”

“Yes. It concerns a visit to London on that night.”

“Heavens! Where did you go?”

Before Anne could answer, a sharp knock came to the door, which drove
all the blood into their hearts.

They looked at one another, for they now felt that the danger was on
them. What would happen within the next hour.

“Where did you go on that night?” asked Hersham, hoarsely.

“To Tooley’s Alley–to the Red Star Hotel.”

“Anne, Anne. And you saw–”

Anne nodded. “Yes,” she said, steadily, “I saw.”

On arriving at Taxton-on-Thames Fanks had taken up his abode at the
Royal Arms Hotel. It was his intention to make inquiries about Sir
Louis Fellenger, Dr. Binjoy, and the negro servant of the latter.
Ignorant that he had been thwarted by Hersham, he had also intended to
interview Anne Colmer without loss of time, before she could see or
even hear from her lover. The intercepted telegram proved conclusively
that this girl knew something which Hersham did not want her to
reveal; and in the absence–as Fanks supposed of all warning–he hoped
to take her at a disadvantage. In this mood he took his way to her
home.

So far as the detective could see, his future plans depended almost
entirely upon the information which he expected to obtain from this
girl within the next few hours. And in that supposition lay the irony
of the situation. Being in this frame of mind, his astonishment may be
conceived when on the door of Briar Cottage being opened he saw before
him the man whom he thought was at that moment in London. For the
minute he was unable to speak, but recovered himself to ironically
congratulate Hersham on his dexterity in evading the machinery of the
law. In reality Fanks was angered, but he had too much good sense to
give way to bad temper. It was, in his opinion, useless to make bad
worse.

“So you have stolen a march on me, Hersham,” he said sardonically. “I
was doubtful of your honesty in London; I am still more so now. How
did you manage to dodge the traps I laid for you?”

“By knowing where they were laid,” said Hersham, sullenly. “I guessed
you would have the railway stations watched, so I came down here on my
bicycle.”

“A very ingenious idea; you have no doubt warned Miss Colmer not to
answer my questions?”

“Yes,” said Hersham, defiantly; “I have done so. As I did not receive
a reply to my telegram, I guessed that you had intercepted my message
in some way. It has arrived now, when it is too late. To see Miss
Colmer, to warn her, I came down here at the risk of my own safety.”

“Oh!” remarked Fanks, taking note of this injudicious speech. “That is
as much as to say that you risked being arrested by me. I don’t know
that you are wrong, my friend. You deserve punishment for your
trickery.”

“You have evidence against me?”

“I have sufficient to ensure your arrest. On the whole, Hersham,” said
the detective, “I should advise you to help me. Otherwise I shall
arrest you within the hour. Take your choice.”

Before Hersham could answer this question Anne appeared at the door
with a pale face and a determined manner. At once she intervened in
the conversation, and placed herself between the two men.

“There is no necessity to threaten, Mr. Fanks,” said she, quickly.
“Come inside, and let us discuss this matter calmly. I am sure that
Mr. Hersham will agree that this is the best course.”

The journalist nodded sullenly, and the two men passed into the house,
conducted by Anne. She led them into a room, the window of which
looked on to the road, and here, when they were seated, she addressed
herself more particularly to Hersham.

“You were wrong to speak as you did to Mr. Fanks,” she said meaningly.
“There is no reason why you or I should conceal anything. I am
perfectly willing to tell all that I know–which is not much–and to
afford this gentleman every information in my power.”

“You will regret it if you do, Anne,” said Hersham, warningly.

“You will regret it if you don’t,” interposed Fanks. “I really do not
understand why you should act in this childish manner. I have always
been your friend, yet you treat me a though I were your bitterest
enemy.”

“You are trying to trap me.”

“If your conscience is clear I do not think you need be afraid of
being trapped,” retorted Fanks; “but it seems useless to hope for any
sense from you. Perhaps this young lady may be more amenable to
reason.”

“You can depend upon me to help you, Mr. Fanks,” said Anne, calmly.

Hersham rose to his feet with an agitated look on his face. “I shall
leave you to reveal what you think fit,” he declared. “At the same
time I wash my hands of the consequences which may result.”

And with a significant look at Anne, he left the room.

Fanks gave him a parting warning as he passed through the door. “You
had better stay here, Hersham,” he said, “as I may want to see you
again. Whether you stay or go I can lay my hands on you at any
moment.”

“You are having me watched?” questioned Hersham, fiercely.

“Yes, I am having you watched; and you may thank yourself that you are
placed in so unpleasant a position. Now, then, will you go to London,
or stay here?”

Hersham hesitated for a moment, then, biassed by a look from Anne, he
compromised. “I shall stay in the village,” he said, and passed
through the open door, leaving the detective with Miss Colmer.

Strange to say, Fanks was by no means at his ease with this woman the
more so, as he mistrusted her promise to tell him all she knew. She
had deceived him by flying from the chambers in Half-Moon Street; she
might again mislead him with false reports. If she had anything to
conceal, this ready acquiescence hinted that she would not tell her
secret; and the detective was far more distrustful of her craft than
of the foolish behaviour of Hersham. He might combat obstinacy with
more or less success, but to deal with a diplomatic person like Miss
Colmer, required a dexterous use of all the intelligence he possessed.
Fanks, therefore, prepared for a duel of words; and weighed both
expression, and information, during the ensuing conversation.

“Well, Mr. Fanks,” said Miss Colmer, coolly, “I must congratulate you
on your cleverness in determining my identity; I thought when I left
you in Sir Gregory’s chambers that I should be able to elude you
altogether. I was wrong, it seems; you have found me out. Now that you
have done so, may I ask what you want to know?”

“I want to know a great many things,” said Fanks, emulating her
coolness; “but the question is whether you will consent to answer all
my questions?”

“You can judge for yourself. Ask me what question you will, and I
shall answer to the best of my ability. But,” added she, pointedly,
“before you begin, let me ask you one question. Do you suspect that I
have anything to do with the murder of Sir Gregory?”

“I can’t answer that until you have replied to my questions, Miss
Colmer; but, judging from your readiness to afford me information, I
fancy that you do know something of the matter.”

“You are right, I do know something of the matter; but I cannot
promise to tell you who killed Sir Gregory. I know that he was
murdered–no more; and even that information I gained from the
newspapers.”

Fanks made no reply to this remark; whereupon Miss Colmer continued:
“Why do you think that I know anything about the crime? I never met
Sir Gregory.”

“Why did you come to the rooms of Sir Gregory?” replied Fanks. “I
connect you with the murder because of that visit.”

“If you know the story of my poor sister, you know why I came to
Half-Moon Street,” said Anne, coldly. “It was to ask the servant,
Robert, for a portrait of Emma, that had been taken from her by Sir
Gregory.”

“I have seen that photograph, Miss Colmer. Did you want it back for
the picture, or because it had some writing on the back?”

“What writing do you mean?” asked the girl, sharply.

Fanks produced the celebrated envelope from his pocket. “That is the
writing,” he said; “whosoever wrote that, also wrote on the back of
the photograph of your sister. Perhaps you can tell me who is the
scribe.”

Miss Colmer looked earnestly at the envelope, and shook her head. “I
never saw that writing before,” she said, decisively.

“Yet you can see that the post mark is of this village.”

“So it appears; nevertheless. I cannot name the writer; and I cannot
understand why you show it to me.”

“Well, Miss Colmer,” said Fanks, disappointed with this answer, “when
I find out who wrote this envelope I shall know who killed Sir
Gregory.”

“I am sorry I cannot help you, Mr. Fanks. I see that you think the
envelope came from this house, but I assure you that you are wrong.
Both my mother and myself considered Sir Gregory a villain because of
his treatment of poor Emma; but we did not wish his death. If you came
here to find the assassin you have wasted your time. I know nothing
about the matter.”

“Then what is it that Hersham did not wish you to reveal?”

“Nothing; he wished me to deny that I had been at the chambers of Sir
Gregory on that day, lest you should think I had something to do with
the murder.”

“Oh!” said Fanks, disbelievingly. “And did Hersham wish you to deny
also that you had been in Tooley’s Alley on the night of the murder?”

Anne became pale at the directness of this attack, and took refuge in
a plain denial. “I was not there,” she said, obstinately. “Neither on
that night nor at any time.”

“Pardon me, I saw you myself.”

“You must have been mistaken.”

“I think not. Yours is not a face I could easily forget.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” said Anne, “but in this case I am
afraid it is unmerited. I was not at Tooley’s Alley on that night. If
you doubt me, you can ask my mother.”

“No!” said Fanks, after a moment’s reflection, “I shall not ask your
mother–yet.” As a matter of fact, the detective was well assured that
mother and daughter had prepared an alibi in case of discovery. Not
being ready to analyse the matter, by reason of lack of information,
and certain that Anne would persist in her denial, he wisely postponed
all discussion until a more fitting occasion. He, therefore, on the
face of it, accepted Anne’s assertion, and merely remarked that
Hersham was foolish to induce her to conceal what had better have been
told.

To this, Anne replied, promptly: “You must forgive him, Mr. Fanks,”
she said. “He knows that I hated Sir Gregory for his treatment of my
sister; and he fancies that my unlucky visit might implicate me in
this matter. But I have told you the reason I went there; so you must
blame or excuse me as you see fit.”

“I shall do neither, at present,” said Fanks, significantly. “But I
shall ask you why you ran away from me on that day?”

“I was afraid of you.”

“Why, you did not know me; you never saw me before.”

“I saw your portrait,” said Miss Colmer, frankly. “You gave one to
Ted–Mr. Hersham–and he told me that you were a detective. When I saw
you in those chambers I guessed that you had the case in hand; and I
was seized with a panic fear lest you should suspect me to be mixed up
in the crime. For that reason I fled. How did you trace me?”

“It was wrong of you to go, Miss Colmer,” said Fanks, not replying
directly, “and I was naturally suspicious of your flight.”

“But you don’t suspect me now?”

“Not since you have explained your visit. You ask me how I traced you.
First, from your marvellous resemblance to your dead sister; and,
secondly, from the post mark on this envelope. As I told you, the
writing on envelope and portrait are the same. You see the
connection?”

“Yes. I see the connection. And now, Mr. Fanks, I have told you all I
know; is there any other question you wish to ask me?”

“Yes. Where was this photograph taken you wanted?”

“In this village.”

“Was it your sister’s possession?”

“It was; it was the only photograph we had of her. The negative was
broken and there was no picture of my sister in existence. After the
death, my mother wanted this picture; and, as I guessed that it might
be at Sir Gregory’s chambers, I went up for it.”

“Did you see it in your sister’s possession before she went away with
Sir Gregory?”

“Yes. She took it from here when she went to London.”

“Was there any writing on the back then?”

Anne reflected a moment. “No,” she said. “There was no writing on it
then.”

“Do you think your sister wrote on the back of the portrait before she
committed suicide?”

“If the writing on the back of the photograph is the same as that on
this letter–or rather, envelope–I do not think she wrote it. This is
not my sister’s handwriting.”

“You cannot think who wrote it?”

“No, Mr. Fanks; I am entirely ignorant of that.”

Needless to say, Fanks took his departure from Briar Cottage in a very
puzzled frame of mind. Before leaving, he told Miss Colmer that he
would call again the next day. When he got back to his hotel he asked
himself how much of her story he could believe; and he came to the
conclusion that not one word of it was true. He was as far off
discovery as ever.

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