The old Italian woman looked very ill. Her form was shrunken, her face
thin and white, her eyes unnaturally large. Evidently the misty
climate of the midlands chilled her to the bone. She had developed a
hacking cough, and shook with ague when the east wind tormented
Beorminster. Herrick was shocked at the change which had taken place
in her appearance during these few short weeks. Apparently Petronella
was not long for this world. But the near approach of death did not
appal her; she was terribly lonely, now that her mistress was gone.

“Signor Dottore,” she croaked when Herrick made his appearance, “you
have come to see me. That is good. But you will not cure me. No. I am
dead Signor. Dio mio! what does it matter?” and she ended with a
characteristic shrug, punctuated with a cough.

“Indeed you do look ill Petronella,” said Dr. Jim sympathetically. “I
must ask the Squire to send over someone to look after you.”

“No,” replied the old woman obstinately, “I am well here. And it will
not be for long signor. Soon shall I be in my beautiful Italy.”

“At least, come over to ‘The Pines’ Petronella. You will be better
attended to there, and it is warmer.”

But Petronella crossed herself with pious horror. “Go to that devil
casa Signor! Not me. He had the evil eye, that man who died. Si
Signor. I went one day with the padrona, and he swore at me. I had an
accident the next day. Cospetto; a jettatura that Signor. But come in,
come in, Signor Dottore. This is the best room,” she led Herrick into
what had once been the drawing-room. “Un bicchiére de Chianti Signor.
Signor Stefan sent me some Chianti.”

“No thank you Petronella,” replied Herrick sitting down on a dusty
seat, “I want to have a chat with you. We will talk in your own
language if you like.”

“Ah no, Signor, I speak the English well, thanks be to the saints. My
padrona was fond of speaking the English. So, we will talk Signor

Herrick acquiesced with a shrug. He was quite prepared to talk any
language she chose provided he got what he wanted. He was not very
certain how to go about the matter. Petronella was a shy bird, and
inclined to be obstinate. He felt his way in a round-about fashion, so
as to take her by surprise.

“You will be glad to get back to Italy Petronella?”

“Si! Si. To the little town by the Adriatic. There I was born Signor,
and there will I die–if I die not here. Ah Dio!”

“You are in pain I fear?”

Petronella shrugged her lean shoulders “I am always in pain,” she
said, “my legs and body–all pain. But the padrona left me something
to take thanks be to her, povera signora, and the pain goes.”

“Not chloral, I hope?”

“Si Signor. A little bottle of chloral. I take not much, only when I
am bad, so bad. Then the pain goes.”

“Be careful what you do Petronella. Remember your mistress died from
taking too much.”

“I shall be careful,” muttered the old woman, “eh Dio mio! what does
it matter if I die? All alone in this big house, and Signor Stefano

“You saw him the other day he told me,” said Dr. Jim carefully
approaching his business, “he told me you had some message for me.”

Petronella nodded and screwed up her thin lips. “Only when he is in
danger Signor. Not now. He is too well.”

“What do you mean Petronella?” asked Herrick puzzled by her nods.

“Signor Dottore,” said Petronella standing very straight, “my padrona
before she died called to me. She gave me a large letter, and told me
to give it to the Signor Dottore when Signor Stefano was in danger.”

“Oh!” Herrick’s eyes flashed. He had always wondered how it was that
Mrs. Marsh had died without making any sign. After the conversation
she had had with him he quite expected that she would have left him a
farewell message. It appeared that she had done so, but that the
letter had been withheld by Petronella, according to instructions.
“When did she write this Petronella? You said nothing about it at the

“No. I did what I was told to do Signor. Ecco Signor Dottore, it was
in this way. After my padrona got the letter from the postman in the
middle of the day, she was very angry and afraid.”

“Afraid! Why was she afraid?”

“Chi lo sa,” shrugged Petronella, “she said nothing to me. But she
told me to bring pen and ink and paper. All the afternoon she was
writing. Eh, how she did write! Then she put all the writing into an
envelope Signor, and wrote our name on it. She told me to give it to
the Signor Dottore when Signor Stefano was in danger. She said the
Signor Dottore was a good man.” I give it to you Signor, but not now;
“No,” and Petronella closing her mouth firmly shook her aged head.

“I think you had better give it to me this very minute Petronella,”
said Herrick rising, “for Signor Stefano is in very great danger

“As how Signor Dottore?”

“He may be accused of murdering his uncle, Colonel Carr!”

“Eh Dio mio!” crowed the old women. “Did I not say that the dead man
had the evil eye! Did I not tell the Signora that evil would come to
the young Signor from this death?” She caught Herrick’s arm and fixed
her glittering eyes on his face. “You swear to me that this is true
what you say? Signor Stefano is in danger. Eh? Eh?”

“I swear he is Petronella,” replied Herrick earnestly, “and this
packet you talk of may save him.”

“Ah si! Well do I know Signor Dottore that is so. My padrona said that
it told how the danger could be set aside. You understand. In this
letter Signor, there is a strange story.”

“Do you now what it is Petronella?”

“No, Signor Dottore. The padrona did not tell me. But she said it was
a strange story. And to be read when my young Signor was in danger. I
will go and bring it. La! La! La! It is danger. Dio mio! That wicked
Signor who is dead–birbanti–ladroni. The evil eye–the evil eye.”

Coughing as she went the old woman hobbled out of the room. Dr. Jim
sat still wondering if he was about to learn the truth at last. If
Pentland Corn was to be believed, Mrs. Marsh had been at “The Pines”
about the hour when the crime had been committed. Herrick did not now
believe that she had killed the man herself, as she had been possessed
of the modern revolver with which the three shots had been fired. It
was impossible to imagine that she had fired one shot with an
old-fashioned weapon, and had then reverted to the use of the new
revolver. No! The first shot,–the death shot had been fired by some
one else, possibly by Frisco. Mrs. Marsh had met the assassin in the
house, but for reasons of her own had not divulged the name.

Also judging from her conversation she had known a great deal about
Carr and Frisco, especially about the latter, seeing that she had
warned Jim that Frisco might attempt to kill Stephen. As a matter of
fact although the man had not struck the blow himself, he had guided
the hand of Santiago to strike it. Herrick wondered if Mrs. Marsh
would say anything about the Mexican. “At all events I shall know the
truth at last,” he said. “After reading this letter, the mystery will
be one no longer. But why did Mrs. Marsh delay such important
information all this time?”

This was a question he could not answer. He was still puzzling over it
when Petronella entered the room carrying a large blue envelope,
sealed with the Carr crest. This she handed to Herrick with much
ceremony. “There is my trust Signor,” she croaked, “bear witness by
all the saints that I gave it only when the young Signor was in

“That is all right Petronella. I shall read it here. Will you stay?”

“No, Signor Dottore. I do not want to hear the secrets of my padrona.
I go to make myself a meal Signor. You stay here and read. A glass of
wine Signor Dottore. Eh, pour l’amor di Dio, un bicchiére de Chianti?”

Herrick politely refused the attention, and Petronella went grumbling
out of the room. She was a hospitable old soul, and liked the doctor.
When he was alone in that dismal, deserted, apartment, he drew up his
chair close to the window and opened the envelope. Five or six sheets
of closely-written paper fell out; also a typewritten letter. After a
glance at this last, Dr. Jim smoothed out the paper and began to read.
The story—as it might be called–commenced abruptly. This
impetuosity was extremely characteristic of Mrs. Marsh. After a glance
round the room Dr. Jim settled to read. The manuscript was as

“I am a wicked woman and an evil woman. There you see Mr. Herrick I
place my character before you in ‘the first line. I know you are no
fool, or I should not make such a confession. But when you read these
pages I shall be in my grave, so what you say or think does not
matter. If these pages are made public, there will be blame enough
from other people. To save my boy they must be made public. I can
foresee that he ‘will be accused of the murder of that beast Carr. I
swear that he is innocent. He knows nothing. From the grave I send out
my voice to defend him. And you are a clever man Herrick. The defence
of my poor boy I confide to you. If you do not do your best I swear to
haunt you if it be possible for the dead to return. But after all, you
are too sensible to be frightened by this ‘talk. Let me get to the
facts of the case. Those will interest you more than the ravings of a
dying woman. So I begin:–”

“I have said that Colonel Carr was a beast. I repeat ‘it. He was a
cruel tiger. Rolling in wealth, he refused ‘to give me any money. Yet
he knew that I was accustomed to luxury, and that Stephen was his
nephew. No wonder I hated the man. Again and again I implored ‘him
almost on my knees to allow me sufficient to live on. He always
refused with his sneering laugh. Often I wonder that I did not kill
him. Yet he had one good point. He had loved his sister, and out of
love for her memory, he made Stephen his heir. He also caused him to
be educated, but when that was done, he refused to ‘allow him an
income to live like a gentleman. I hated Carr for that. Even if he had
not allowed me money, still his own sister’s child should not have
felt the pinch of poverty. I love Stephen. He is a kind, good boy, and
has put up with my vile temper all these years. Now that he is rich I
hope he will marry Ida (if she does not ‘prefer you, and I do not
think that is likely), and live the happy life of a country gentleman.
My blessings on them both.

“To come to the point which I know you want to reach. On the night of
Carr’s murder I was at the rectory. It came to my ears through some
words dropped by Frisco when he was intoxicated, that Carr intended to
disinherit my son. Whom he intended to favour I do not know, nor do I
care. But I could not stand meekly by and see the lad robbed of what
was righteously his own. I went into Saxham that afternoon to see Carr
and to remonstrate against his committing the monstrous injustice he
contemplated. He saw me with the greatest coolness and behaved quite
in accordance with his character. In vain did I point out that Stephen
was the sole living representative of his blood, and was entitled by
law to the property. Carr said that he had another relative living; a
cousin descended from an uncle of his, who had been turned out of
doors by his grandfather. This uncle had married in America, and had
died, leaving a daughter who married a Yankee. It was the son of this
daughter to whom Carr referred as his cousin. Furthermore he declared
that his cousin had a son about the age of my Stephen. I asked him if
he intended to leave the property to this cousin and his brat. But
this he denied. He said that he had made the money himself and would
leave it to whomsoever he pleased. In a word he defied me. I was
helpless. I could do nothing, and that afternoon I left ‘The Pines’
mad with rage, after a threat to kill Carr. Needless to say he laughed
at my threat.

“Why did I not kill him then you will ask? Because I wanted to give
the man one last chance. I warned him that I would shoot him if he
persisted in his injustice. I said that I would return that evening
for my answer. Then I went to the rectory and had dinner with Pentland

“Here, my dear Herrick, I may state that I had brought a pistol with
me–or rather a revolver. It belonged to Stephen who at one time had a
craze for shooting. The revolver was put away in its case, which was
on the mantelpiece of his study. I remembered that it was there, and
on looking I found that all six chambers were loaded. I knew that
Stephen never troubled about the weapon, so I took it with me to ‘The
Pines.’ But on that afternoon I did not use it. Carr, I said to
myself, should have his chance.

“Stephen was to come to the rectory for me about nine. Some time
before that I told Corn that I would go to the Carr Arms to meet
Stephen, but I intended to go to ‘The Pines;’ Corn never suspected my
intention. I went quickly up to ‘The Pines’ shortly before nine. I
found no one in the lower part of the house. Frisco, I suppose was
sleeping off his drunken fit, as I heard from Napper that he had been
drinking in the afternoon and had uttered threats against his master.
I knew that if anywhere, Carr would be in the Tower. The table was
laid out for dinner, but he was not in the dining-room. I went
upstairs, and found him in the tower chamber. He was in evening dress
lying dead with his face downward. I turned him over, and saw that he
had been shot through the heart. At once I guessed that Frisco had
carried out his threat and had murdered the Colonel. But I thought
Carr might have altered his will before dying. I was quite mad with
rage, thinking he had cheated me. Then I did what you will consider a
terrible and a barbarous thing. I fired three shots into his dead
body. I suppose it was wicked of me, seeing that the man was dead. But
I am Italian as you know, and I was mad with fury at the thought of
how this he had treated me. The only revenge I could take was to
have my share in his death, so I fired three times. It did me good,
and I came away much calmer. I see you raise your eyebrows in
horror, my virtuous Herrick! Ah bah! you are English, and cold-blooded
as a frog. I am Italian, and I did what I did. I have no other excuse
to make.

“I was only a few minutes in the tower chamber. Then I came down to
get away lest I should be accused of the crime. At the door below I
met Frisco. He had his hat and coat on, and a small bundle in his
hand. I said, ‘You have killed him. He lies dead upstairs.’ Frisco
denied that he was guilty, and referred to my three shots. I
explained, and told him he could call up the whole countryside to
hear what I had done. At the same time I warned him that as I had
found the Colonel dead I would accuse him of the murder. Frisco
repeated that he had not killed him, but said he might have done so
later on, Carr had treated him so badly. He was entitled to the money:
he was a relative of Carr’s. I saw at once that this was the cousin,
and said so. Frisco did not deny it. He told me he would have to go
away as he might be accused of the murder, and could not afford to
remain and face the matter out. But he warned me that if Stephen took
the property he would find means to get rid of Stephen. I laughed at
him: but I was afraid. Frisco was almost as big a brute as his master
and cousin. Then seized with a sudden panic, he ran out of the house
and into the Pine wood. I left also, and got down to the Carr Arms,
where afterwards Stephen came for me. I told him that I had ‘been
there all the time but that he must have missed me.

“That is the truth as regards the events of that night. I found Carr
dead, and in anger I fired those three shots. Who killed the man I do
not know. I am inclined to believe it was Frisco in spite of his
protestations of innocence. But you know how he ran away. He went to
London, and from London he wrote to me. I enclose his letter.

“The next few days and the murder was known. I said nothing. I
replaced the revolver in its case; I persuaded Stephen that I had not
been to ‘The Pines’ on that night, and he believed me. Then he became
possessed of the property, on certain conditions. I breathed freely.
Carr had not had the time to make a new will, and my boy was safe.”

“So far, so good, then came the bolt from the blue. I received the
enclosed letter from Frisco, in which he threatened to write to the
police and denounce me. If he does this I am lost. It will be
difficult for me to defend myself. The evidence against me, if the
matter is looked into, will be too strong. But you can see that for
yourself Herrick, so I need not be more explicit. Under these
circumstances and to save Stephen I have made up my mind to die. If
the truth about my visit came to light, even although I were proved
guiltless of the murder, Stephen is quite foolish enough to give up
the money. He is a good boy but weak,–quixotic. The only way I can
save him–and myself also for that matter–is to die.

“I am not afraid; I have had such a wretched life that I do not think
things will be worse in the next world. Besides the chloral, against
the abuse of which you are always warning me, affords me a chance of
slipping quietly and painlessly out of a world that is much too hard
for me. If I die, Stephen will be safe, for Frisco can do nothing. His
threats will fall harmless on the dead. The man is dangerous though.
He might try to murder Stephen. I gave you a hint of that Herrick. But
I know you are clever and so long as you are with my boy I do not fear
for him in that way.

“Yet as regards the rest. It is possible that Frisco may denounce
Stephen as guilty of murder. Stephen told me he went to ‘The Pines,’
that night to see if I had gone up there. Some one may have seen him.
Then I used his revolver. That would also be evidence against him, and
even if I destroyed the weapon that would still be evidence against
him. While I live I dare not tell the whole truth. Therefore I make
this confession and I shall give it to Petronella. She will deliver it
to you when danger threatens Stephen. From the contents of this you
will know how to act, so as to thwart Frisco. Stephen is innocent, and
I verily believe that Frisco is guilty in spite of his denial.

“I can die in peace now, for I know when this confession is in your
hands that Stephen will be safe. I trust to your head and to your
heart, Herrick. I am sure you will not fail me. No doubt you think I
am going to extremes in dying. That may be. But I am sick of this
life. Even if I lived I should have nothing but trouble. Besides my
poor Stephen has had quite enough of me. I hope he will marry Ida and
be happy. Were I to live and remain with them I should spoil their
happiness. What would a sour old woman do with two such lovers? Well
Herrick I am about to seal this up and then I shall take a dose of
chloral–an overdose. Thus my death will appear to be an accident.
The world will think so. I wonder if you will? You also may be
deceived. But I think you will be clever enough to doubt the accident,
for you know I am not the woman to be careless.

“Do not show this to Stephen unless you are absolutely compelled. I
love the boy and I want him to think the best of the woman who is
gone. So no more. Good-bye to you, my dear Herrick. You have been a
good friend to me. Continue to be so to my boy. And also if you have
any religion (which I doubt) pray for the soul of Bianca Marsh!”

“And here I sign my name for the last time.


When Herrick finished this extraordinary document, he laid it down
with a sigh for the memory of the wrong-headed impulsive woman who had
written it. She had acted foolishly, but for the best. And since the
poor soul had gone to her account Herrick could not find it in his
heart to blame her. After a pause he took up the typewritten letter.

It was typed in purple ink, was without date or address, and even the
signature of Frisco was in print. It ran as follows:–

“If you do not make your son do justice to me and to my ‘son, I will
write and tell the police that you murdered Colonel Carr. I must have
half the money left by Carr allowed to me by arrangement. You can
answer my letter by an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph. Then I
will write to you and make arrangements. All I want to know now is
whether you will insist upon your son giving the money, or face the
disgrace of being arrested for the murder. I have a witness who can
prove your presence in the house. If necessary I will come forward and
give myself up. I can save myself and condemn you. Choose. I shall
look every morning in the paper.

Herrick read this precious letter over twice. He wondered that it was
typed instead of written, not that he did not see the reason for this,
but that he wondered how a hunted fugitive like Frisco could procure a
machine. Then the truth flashed into his mind.

“Robin,” said Herrick rolling up the papers, “Frisco met him, went to
his chambers, and disclosed the fact that he was his father. Ha!
Between the two of them they wrote this letter so as to frighten Mrs.
Marsh into giving them the money through her influence over Stephen.
Robin typed the letter and sent it. The little scamp. He did not tell
me that. Humph! I shall go again to town and see him. Then Frisco must
be produced from his hiding-place. Robin can and shall do that.”

This was all very well, but still the mystery of Carr’s death was
unsolved. Mrs. Marsh was innocent. She declared Frisco to be guilty.
On the face of it, he was. But Herrick had his doubts. The case was
getting more difficult at every fresh discovery. For the first time he
mistrusted his own powers of dealing with the matter.

“I must consult Stephen and Bess,” said Dr. Jim, and left the house.
In his pocket was the confession of the late Mrs. Marsh.