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Our Library => Edgar Wallace - The Melody of Death (1927) => Topic started by: Admin on April 11, 2023, 07:59:12 am

Title: 10: The Necklace
Post by: Admin on April 11, 2023, 07:59:12 am
MRS. CATHCART was considerably surprised to receive an invitation to the dinner. She had that morning sent her daughter a cheque for three hundred pounds which she had received from her broker, but as their letters had crossed, one event had no connection with the other.

She did not immediately decide to accept the invitation; she was not sure as to the terms on which she desired to remain with her new son-in-law.

She was, however (whatever might be her faults), a good strategist, and there was nothing to be gained by declining the invitation, and there might be some advantage in accepting.

She was surprised to meet Mr. Warrell, surprised and a little embarrassed; but now that her daughter knew everything there was no reason in the world why she should feel uncomfortable.

She took him in charge, as was her wont, from the moment she met him in the little drawing-room at the St. John’s Wood house.

It was a pleasant dinner. Gilbert made a perfect host, he seemed to have revived within himself something of the old gay spirit. Warrell, remembering all that Mrs. Cathcart had told him, was on the qui vive to discover some evidence of dissension between husband and wife, the more anxious, perhaps, since he was before everything a professional man, to find justification for Mrs. Cathcart’s suggestion, that all was not going well with Gilbert.

Leslie Frankfort, a member of the party, had been questioned by his partner without the elder man eliciting any information which might help to dispel the doubt that was in Warrell’s mind.

Leslie Frankfort, that cheerful youth, was as much in the dark as his partner. It gave him some satisfaction to discover that at any rate there was no immediate prospect of ruin in his friend’s ménage.

The dinner was perfect, the food rare and chosen by an epicure, which indeed it was, as Gilbert had assisted his wife to prepare the menu.

The talk drifted idly, as talk does, at such a dinner party, around the topics which men and women were discussing at a thousand other dinner tables in England, and in the natural course of events it turned upon the startling series of burglaries that had been committed recently in London. That the talk should take this drift was more natural, perhaps, because Mrs. Cathcart had very boldly introduced the subject with reference to the burglary at Warrell’s.

“No, indeed,” said Mr. Warrell, shaking his head, “I regret to say we have no clue. The police have the matter in hand, but I’m afraid we shall never find the man, or men, who perpetrated the crime.”

“I don’t suppose they would be of much service to you if you found them,” said Gilbert quietly.

“I don’t know,” demurred the other. “We might possibly get the jewels back.”

Gilbert Standerton laughed, but stopped in the middle of it.

“Jewels?” he said.

“Don’t you remember, Gilbert?” Leslie broke in. “I told you that we had a necklace in the safe, the property of a client, one of those gambling ladies who patronise us.”

A warning glance from his partner arrested him. The gambling lady herself was rather red, and shot a malevolent glance at the indiscreet young man.

“The necklace was mine,” she said acidly.

“Oh!” said Leslie, and found the conversation of no great interest to him.

Gilbert did not smile at his friend’s embarrassment.

“A necklace,” he repeated, “how curious---yours?”

“Mine,” repeated Mrs. Cathcart. “I placed it with Warrell’s for security. Precious fine security it proved,” she added.

Warrell was all apologies. He was embarrassed for more reasons than one. He was very annoyed indeed with the indiscreet youth who owed his preponderant interest in the firm the more by reason of his dead father’s shares in the business than to any extent to his intelligence or his usefulness.

“Exactly what kind of necklace was it?” continued Gilbert. “I did not see a description.”

“No description was given,” said Mr. Warrell, coming to the relief of his client, whom he knew from infallible signs was fast losing her temper.

“We wished to keep the matter quiet, so that it should not get into the papers.”

Edith tactfully turned the conversation, and in a few minutes they were deep in the discussion of a question which has never failed to excite great interest---the abstract problem of the church.

Mrs. Cathcart, it may be remarked in passing, was a churchwoman of some standing, a leader amongst a certain set, and an extreme ritualist. Add to this element the broad Nonconformity of Mr. Warrell, the frank scepticism of Leslie, and there were all the ingredients for an argument, which in less refined circles might develop to a sanguinary conclusion.

Edith at least was relieved, however drastic the remedy might be, and was quite prepared to disestablish the Church of Wales, or if necessary the Church of England, rather than see the folly of her mother exposed.

Despite argument, dogmatism of Mrs. Cathcart, philippic of Leslie, and the good-natured tolerance of Mr. Warrell, this latter a most trying attitude to combat, the dinner ended pleasantly, and they adjourned to the little drawing-room upstairs.

“I’m afraid I shall have to leave you,” said Gilbert.

It was nearly ten o’clock, and he had already warned his wife of an engagement he had made for a later hour.

“I believe old Gilbert is a journalist in these days,” said Leslie. “I saw you the other night in Fleet Street, didn’t I?”

“No,” replied Gilbert shortly.

“Then it must have been your double,” said the other.

Edith had not followed the party upstairs. Just before dinner Gilbert had asked her, with some hesitation, to make him up a packet of sandwiches.

“I may be out the greater part of the night,” he said. “A man wants me to motor down to Brighton to meet somebody.”

“Will you be out all night?” she had asked, a little alarmed.

He shook his head.

“No, I shall be back by four,” he said.

She might have thought it was an unusual hour to meet people, but she made no comment.

As her little party had gone upstairs she had remembered the sandwiches, and went down into the kitchen to see if cook had cut and laid them ready.

She wrapped them up for him and packed them into a little flat sandwich case she had, and then made her way back to the hall.

His coat was hanging on a rack, and she had to slip them into the pocket. There was a newspaper in the way; she pulled it out, and there was something else, something loose and uneven.

She smiled at his untidiness, and put in her hand to remove the debris.

Her face changed.

What was it?

Her fingers closed round the object in the bottom of the pocket, and she drew it out.

There in the palm of her hand, clearly revealed by the electric lamp above her head, shone her diamond necklace!

For a moment the little hall swayed, but she steadied herself with an effort.

Her necklace!

There was no doubt---she turned it over with trembling fingers.

How had he got it? Where did it come from?

A thought had struck her, but it was too horrible for her to give it expression.

Gilbert a burglar! It was absurd. She tried to smile, but failed. Almost every night he had been out, every night in the week in which this burglary had been committed.

She heard a footstep on the stairs, and thrust the necklace into the bosom of her dress.

It was Gilbert. He did not notice her face, then----

“Gilbert,” she said, and something in her voice warned him.

He turned, peering down at her.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

“Will you come into the dining-room for a moment?” she said.

Her voice sounded far away to her.

She felt it was not she who was speaking, but some third person.

He opened the door of the dining-room and walked in. The table was spread with the debris of the dinner which had just been concluded. The rosy glow of the overhead lamp fell upon a pretty chaos of flowers and silver and glass.

He closed the door behind him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“This,” she replied quietly, and drew the necklace from her dress.

He looked at it. Not a muscle of his face moved.

“That?” he said. “Well, what is that?

“My necklace!”

“Your necklace,” he repeated dully. “Is that the necklace that your mother lost?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

“How very curious.”

He reached out his hand and took it from her and examined the diamond pendant.

“And that is your necklace,” he said, “Well, that is a remarkable coincidence.”

“Where did you get it?” she asked.

He did not make any reply. He was looking at her with a stony stare in which there was neither expression nor encouragement for speculation.

“Where did I get it?” he repeated calmly. “Who told you that I’d got it?”

“I found it in your pocket,” she said breathlessly. “Oh, Gilbert, there is no use denying that you had it there or you knew it was there. Where did you get it?”

Another pause, then came the answer----

“I found it.”

It was lame and unconvincing, and he knew it.

She repeated the question.

“I am not prepared to tell you,” he said calmly. “You think I stole it, I suppose? You probably imagine that I am a burglar?”

He smiled, but the lips that curved in laughter were hard.

“I can see that in your eyes,” he went on. “You explain my absence from home, my retirement from the Foreign Office, by the fact that I have taken up a more lucrative profession.”

He laughed aloud.

“Well, I have,” he said. “It is not exactly burglary. I assure you,” he went on with mock solemnity, “that I have never burgled a safe in my life. I give you my word of honour that I have never stolen a single article of any----” He stopped himself---he might say too much.

But Edith grasped at the straw he offered her.

“Oh, you do mean that, don’t you?” she said eagerly, and laid her two hands on his breast. “You really mean it? I know it is stupid of me, foolish and horribly disloyal---common of me, anything you like, to suspect you of so awful a thing, but it did seem---it did, didn’t it?”

“It did,” he agreed gravely.

“Won’t you tell me how it came into your possession?” she pleaded.

“I tell you I found it---that is true. I had no intention----” He stopped again. “It was---I picked it up in the road, in a country lane.”

“But weren’t you awfully surprised to find it, and didn’t you tell the police?”

He shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I was not surprised, and I did not tell the police. I intended restoring it, because, after all, jewels are of no value to me, are they?”

“I don’t understand you, Gilbert.” She shook her head, a little bewildered. “Nothing is of any use except what belongs to you, is it?”

“That depends,” he said calmly. “But in this particular case I assure you that I brought this home to-night with the intention of putting it into a small box and addressing it to the Chief Commissioner of Police. You may believe that or not. That is why I thought it so extraordinary when you were talking at dinner that your mother should have lost a necklace, and that I should have found one.”

They stood looking at one another, he weighing the necklace on the palm of his hand, tossing it up and down mechanically.

“What are we going to do with it now?” she asked. She was in a quandary. “I hardly know how to advise.” She hesitated. “Suppose you carry out your present intention and send it to the police.”

“Oh!” she remembered with a little move of dismay, “I have practically stolen three hundred pounds.”

“Three hundred pounds!”

He looked at the jewel.

“It’s worth more than three hundred pounds.”

In a few words she explained how the jewel came to be lost, and how it came to be deposited in the hands of Warrell’s.

“I’m glad to hear that your mother is the culprit. I was afraid you’d been gambling.”

“Would that worry you?” she asked quickly.

“A little,” he said; “it’s enough for one member of a family to gamble.”

“Do you gamble very much, Gilbert?” she asked seriously.

“A little,” he said.

“Not a little,” she corrected. “Stock Exchange business is gambling.”

“I am trying to make money for you,” he said brusquely.

It was the most brutal thing he had said to her in her short period of married life, and he saw he had hurt her.

“I am sorry,” he said gently. “I know I am a brute, but I did not mean to hurt you. I was just protesting in my heart against the unfairness of things. Will you take this, or shall I?”

“I will take it,” she said. “But won’t you tell the police where you found it? Possibly they might find the proceeds of other robberies near by.”

“I think not,” he replied with a little smile. “I have no desire to incur the anger of this particular gang. I am satisfied in my mind that it is one of the most powerful and one of the most unscrupulous in existence. It is nearly half-past ten,” he said; “I must fly.”

He held out his hand, and she took it. She held it for a moment longer than was her wont.

“Good-bye,” she said. “Good luck, whatever your business may be.”

“Thank you,” he said.

She went slowly back to her guests. It did not make the position any easier to understand. She believed her husband, and yet there was a certain reservation in what he had told her, a reservation which said as plainly as his guarded words could tell that there was much more he could have said had he been inclined.

She did not doubt his word when he told her that he had never stolen from---from whom was he going to say? She was more determined than ever to solve this mystery, and after her guests had gone she was busily engaged in writing letters. She was hardly in bed that night before she heard his foot on the stairs and listened.

He knocked at her door as he passed.

“Good-night,” he said.

“Good-night,” she replied.

She heard his door close gently, and she waited for half an hour until she heard the click of his electric switch which told her that he was in bed, and that his light was extinguished.

Then she stole softly out of bed, wrapped her dressing-gown round her, and went softly down the stairs. Perhaps his coat was hanging in the hall.

It was a wild, fantastic idea of hers that he might possibly have brought some further evidence that would help her in her search for the truth, but the pockets were empty.

She felt something wet upon the sleeve, and gathered that it was raining. She went back to her room, closed the door noiselessly, and went to the window to look out into the street. It was a fine morning, and the streets were dry. She saw her hands. They were smeared with blood!

She ran down the stairs again and turned on the light in the hall.

Yes, there it was on his sleeve. There were little drops of blood on the stair carpet. She could trace him all the way up the stairs by this. She went straight to his room and knocked.

He answered instantly.

“Who is that?”

“It is I. I want to see you.”

“I am rather tired,” he said.

“Please let me in. I want to see you.”

She tried the door, but it was locked. Then she heard the bed creak as he moved. An instant later the bolt was slipped, and the light shone through the fanlight over the door.

He was almost fully dressed, she observed.

“What is the matter with your arm?” she asked.

It was carefully bandaged.

“I hurt it. It is nothing very much.”

“How did you hurt it?” she asked impatiently.

She was nearing the end of her resources. She wanted him to say that it had happened in a taxi-cab smash or one of the street accidents to which city dwellers are liable, but he did not explain.

She asked to see the wound. He was unwilling, but she insisted. At last he unwrapped the bandage, and showed an ugly little gash on the forearm. It was too rough to be the clean-cut wound of a knife or of broken glass.

There was a second wound about the size of a sixpence near the elbow.

“That looks like a bullet wound,” she said, and pointed. “It has glanced along your arm, and has caught you again near the elbow.”

He did not speak.

She procured warm water from the bathroom and bathed it, found a cool emollient in her room and dressed it as well as she could.

She did not again refer to the circumstances under which the injury had been sustained. This was not the time nor the place to discuss that.

“There is an excellent nurse spoilt in you,” he said when she had finished.

“I am afraid there is an excellent man spoilt in you,” she answered in a low voice, “and I am rather inclined to think that I have done the spoiling.”

“Please get that out of your head altogether,” he said almost roughly. “A man is what he makes himself: you know the tag---the evil you do by two and two you answer for one by one; and even if you had any part in the influencing of my life for evil, I am firstly and lastly responsible.”

“I am not so sure of that,” said she.

She had made him a little sling in which to rest his arm.

“You married me because you loved me, because you gave to me all that a right-thinking woman would hold precious and sacred and because you expected me to give something in return. I have given you nothing. I humiliated you at the very outset by telling you why I had married you. You have the dubious satisfaction of knowing that I bear your name. You have, perhaps, half a suspicion that you live with one who is everlastingly critical of your actions and your intentions. Have I no responsibilities?”

There was a long silence, then she said----

“Whatever you wish me to do I will always do.”

“I wish you to be happy, that is all,” he replied.

His voice was of the same hard, metallic tone which she had noted before.

She flushed a little. It had been an effort for her to say what she had, and he had rebuffed her. He was within his rights, she thought.

She left him, and did not see him till the morning when they met at breakfast. They exchanged a few words of greeting, and both turned their attention to their newspapers. Edith read hers in silence, read the one column which meant so much to her from end to end twice, then she laid the paper down.

“I see,” she said, “that our burglars rifled the Bank of the Northern Provinces last night.”

“So I read,” he said, without raising his eyes from his paper.

“And that one of them was shot by the armed guard of the bank.”

“I’ve also seen that,” said her husband.

“Shot,” she repeated, and looked at his bandaged arm.

He nodded.

“I think my paper is a later edition than yours,” he said gently. “The man that was shot was killed. They found his body in a taxi-cab. His name is not given, but I happen to know that it was a very pleasant florid gentleman named Persh. Poor fellow,” he mused, “it was poetic justice.”

“Why?” she asked.

“He did this,” said Gilbert Standerton, and pointed to his arm with a grim smile.